North Fork of Big Pine Creek
June 18, 2018
My fifth solo backpacking trip would be along the North Fork of Big Pine Creek in mid-June. It was my second time backpacking this trail, and the first time back on this trail since August 2017.
I started from the North Fork of Big Pine Creek trailhead just a few minutes before midnight, with millions of stars filling the sky on this moonless night. I took off my beanie after about a half-mile of hiking, not realizing that my headlamp would go flying. It crashed down onto a rock, breaking the bulbs, and leaving me without light. So a few minutes later I set up camp about a mile from the backpacker trailhead.
Campsite from night one
The next morning was the first of three beautiful cloudless days in the Eastern Sierra. Surrounded by Jeffrey Pines, I packed everything up and set off for my destination near Fourth Lake. The first section of the trail is open and exposed until near Lon Chaney’s cabin where the pines and aspens provide steady shade.
Trail just after Second Falls
About 3.5 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain into the day I had finally arrived at First Lake. It’s always a great feeling once you finally arrive at the lakes—the turquoise hue has a magical way of taking over your body, where you’re frozen and can only wonder if this is real.
Getting from First Lake to Second Lake may only take five minutes, but the beauty may be five-fold. Second Lake is much larger and situated right at the base of Temple Crag, one of the most recognizable peaks in the canyon, if not the entire Eastern Sierra.
The section of trail from Second Lake to Third Lake might be my favorite part of this trail. It’s covered by a thick forest of pines which provides shade and blocks out wind, plus is nice to walk on in between two very scenic spots. But the closer I got to Third Lake, the more the mosquitoes worsened due to the abundance of sitting water.
I reached my destination for the day at Fourth Lake after hiking for another four hours with only a short stop at Second Lake. I set up camp, ate lunch, and took a quick nap before heading out to other lakes.
After waking up from my nap under a nearby tree, I packed up a small bag with my fishing gear and hiked up to Sixth Lake. The views here were amazing. This lake felt like it was situated above Temple Crag, looking down on the mountain spires.
After hanging out at Sixth Lake, I headed back down the trail to Summit Lake for some fishing. The scenery along this part of the trail was gorgeous, and I hadn’t seen anyone for hours. Down at Summit Lake, I got a few nibbles, but no luck.
Sunset over Fourth Lake and the Palisades
I packed up at Summit Lake, grabbed some water for filtering, and headed back to camp. It was getting dark, and as I was now without a headlamp I wanted to get dinner cooked while I still had daylight. I ate my last meal of the day while sitting on a ledge, overlooking Fourth Lake and watching the sun creep up the granite walls of the Palisade Crest.
Campsite from night two
I slept great after hiking in the previous day, and woke up early to catch the sunrise on Mt. Robinson. After packing up I walked about a mile down to Fifth Lake—probably my favorite lake in this basin—where I spent a few hours fishing. Lots of brook trout in the area, but none of them took my bait.
From Fifth Lake it was about a mile and a half up to Sam Mack Lake. I’d been here before a few years prior in late fall and was anxious to see the differences in summertime.
Sam Mack Meadow looking towards the Palisade Crest
It was incredibly windy once I reached the meadow, but the views were spectacular. I hadn’t noticed before that the stream running through the middle contained the same turquoise-colored water as the first three lakes. The grass wasn’t quite as green as I expected, but the abundance of wildflowers made up for that.
Sam Mack Meadow looking towards Big Pine Canyon
There were some snowy patches on the switchbacks of this section, but they were easily avoidable. Luckily the trail was littered with large rocks, because trying to walk over the snow resulted in postholing up to your waist in some areas.
Trail to Sam Mack Meadow
Once back on the main trail, I made good time getting back down the mountain. I stopped for one last break at Third Lake to fill up on water and enjoy the views of Temple Crag one last time.
Another hour and a half later, I was back at my truck. What a great weekend, with most of my time spent deep in the canyon where only backpackers and the most dedicated of day-hikers dare. The solitude never fails to reset your mind after months in the distractions of a big city.
Norman Clyde and Middle Palisade Glaciers