Bear Lakes Basin Loop from Pine Creek
This year’s big trip was not the John Muir Trail (again) or the High Sierra Trail (again), or any other big-mileage trip. Instead, I decided to join my friend Sooz on a cross-country adventure out of Pine Creek on the east side of the Sierra. While the mileage was low, the majority of the travel was off-trail and physically demanding. Our days were long but satisfying and I was exhausted every night.
Over the course of eight days in late August we traveled a little over sixty miles, bagged four SPS peaks, followed a stretch of the Sierra High Route, and went over six(ish) passes. We camped every night at over 11,000 feet in elevation. I caught more golden trout than I could count. When off-trail, we only saw a handful of people, all who were delightful backcountry enthusiasts eager for a friendly chat. I saw some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever encountered in the Sierra, and I swear I’m not exaggerating.
Mostly, this trip really fed my growing desire to depart from the freeways of signed trails and experience the Sierra in a more intimate way. During the past few years I’ve found myself drawn to the challenges of off-trail travel and more complicated peaks, and this trip pushed all of those buttons at just the right time. I no longer look at maps of the mountains and see only areas limited by trail access – I see everything open and accessible as long as I’m willing to put in the hard work to get myself there.
During the next week or so I’ll be posting the daily reports from this trip. Each day was remarkably different and unique from the others; this is one of the many ways that this trip seemed different than the longer through-hikes I’ve done in the past. Because of this I want to focus on the successes and challenges of each day in separate reports.
Our general route and itinerary was a ‘lollipop’ loop style hike out of Pine Creek. We headed into Granite Park and over Italy Pass, bagging Mt Julius Caesar along the way. From Italy Pass we contoured over to Bear Lakes basin via Dancing Bear Pass. We spent a few days in the basin, exploring the endless lakes and easy cross-country travel, as well as bagging Seven Gables. Eventually we picked up the Sierra High Route over Feather Pass and enjoyed some time in the lakes between LaSalle and Merriam, with an exciting climb of Royce Peak.
Back in French Canyon we joined trail for a few miles before abandoning it once again to head over to Steelhead Lake. We spent two freezing cold nights at Steelhead, using it as our basecamp for a more-exciting-than-expected climb of Four Gables. On our last day, being chased by cold and dark clouds, we hoofed it over to French Lake from Steelhead, then over to Pine Creek Pass where we met the trail yet again, marking the end of our cross-country adventure. Only a few miles before we met up with the trail that we had come in on a week prior, and before we knew it we were back at the trailhead. This was accompanied by the normal emotions: the happiness and satisfaction of a successful trip, but the sadness and disappointment that it was over too soon.
I have really been looking forward to writing these reports and reliving the trip. My little piece of notepaper is filled with notes and scribbles from my nightly journaling, and I haven’t read it since I returned. Stay tuned for the details…