Another backpacking post

I was gone for a week on another backpacking trip to Colorado earlier this month.  But before I write about that trip, I wanted to write a little bit about my previous trip over the Fourth of July holiday to Sequoia National Park in California.  Sarah and I had planned on hiking to the top of Alta Peak, but because of the large snowfall last winter, even in July the top of the trail was impassable (unless you had ice picks, which we did not).  So, a little disheartened, we settled on a different trip to Bearpaw Meadow, about 11 miles in that would follow the general path of our earlier Memorial Day trip but at a higher altitude.

The draw for this route was being able to hit a few glacial lakes, notably Hamilton Lakes.  It was only a couple of miles from our backpacking campsite, so we set off in the morning.  Like much of the other hiking we’ve done in Sequoia, you would go down to a water crossing, cross it, and then head back up.  There was a very impressive waterfall that you passed on the way to the lakes, and you could sit on the flat top above the falls.  We stopped there for a snack and it was relaxing hearing the rushing water and looking back out at the views from where we’d hiked.

After a little while longer, we reached the first of the Hamilton lakes.  It was inaccessible from the trail and there didn’t really seem to be much in the way of a shore, so we marched on.  We were soon rewarded with the second Hamilton lake, and the view to the left.  A crystal clear lake surrounded on three sides by mountains, with various streams of snowmelt feeding the lake.

There were a smattering of people at the campsite and main shore of the lake, so we crossed some logs over to the left of the lake and found a nice open spot on the rocks.  Both of us were hot so we decided to test the waters.  Oh my, that snowmelt wasn’t warming up much on its way down.  I waded out to a rock that got me knee-deep.  It felt good after getting past the initial shock.  We both eventually did a full dip, which amounted to jumping in, coming up gasping for air, and quickly clambering out of the water.

As we sat drying on the rocks, we noticed a couple other people that looked like they were going to take a dip on the main shore.  Except, in the case of two gentlemen, they decided to go the fully monty.  Sarah mentioned that, hey, that guy is getting naked.  I said nah, he’s got some kind of speedo underwear on.  After a closer look, no indeed he was letting it all hang out.  Now I’m no prude, but standing around naked while others are trying to enjoy the lake (people were flyfishing, camping, eating lunch) is a bit much.  Oh well, we were far enough away to not really care, and it did provide a source of amusement.  The best part was when of the naked guys ventured out a little bit into the water, stood around, then returned to the shore for what we assumed was to put back on his finery.  Au contrare, he was retrieving his hat.  Guess he wanted to protect his face from sunburn.  Seems sensible.

Growing bored of the nakedness, we turned our attention to the matter of our hike.  There was another set of lakes, Precipice Lakes, that was only another 3 miles away, but the ranger stationed near our campsite had said that the trail was impassable.  It was about 1, so we decided it was too early to go home.  We’d see how far we could go before the trail got too bad or it hit 4 PM, and then we’d turn back.  Before we left, we discovered that somewhere on the hike up I’d lost my Gorillapod from my pack.  Disaster.  That thing was great.  Oh well, we hoped we’d find it somewhere along the trail on the way back.  We didn’t.  A moment of silence please……..

Ok, back to the hike. The trail basically went straight up through a series of switchbacks until we were well above Hamilton lake, which offered some awesome views of the entirety of the lake.  The trail was completely free of any impediment until we across what is pictured at left.  This picture was actually taken on the way back, so we approached this from the right.  I found a picture online of what the trail was supposed to look like (see the fourth picture in the Hamilton Gorge Tunnel section).  Basically, the trail was blocked by a wall of snow.  We went through the blasted rock tunnel and checked out the situation.  Going over the snow was out.  Sarah was pretty confident that we could climb down a couple feet to a shelf below the snow, walk through the small waterfall created by the melting snow, and then climb back up on the other side.  The soil was very loose and rocks gave way easily (reading afterwards this section of the trail is prone to rockslides).  But we went slowly and deliberately.  After a few minutes we made it to the other side, then had to slide through a narrow opening between a fallen boulder and the trail to continue on.  Later when we came back to this area we saw several other guys that were crossing.  Apparently, one group had simply walked under the snow on the trail.  Between the time they went under and we came across this section, the snow had collapsed and covered the trail.  Scary.  Glad no one was trying to go under when that happened.

After that, we had a few small water crossings where snowmelt was going over the trail and then we started hitting the snow.  Parts of the trail were now covered with snow, but we could still follow it.  That soon ended.  We were close to where we thought the lower Precipice Lake was, but we were confronted with a snow field.

This is a picture that gives you an idea of what we had run into.  We knew we were close and knew the general area where the first lake should be.  We rechecked the map.  We tested out the snowfield and it still seemed deep enough and solid enough to hold us, and we saw footprints that were leading in the direction we thought the lake was.

So we set off.  We don’t use hiking poles, but the snow was pretty firm.  When we reached solid ground again, it was a quick walk to the lake.  The lake was that deep, deep blue that I’d only seen on nature shows about Antartica/Alaska/Artic regions. It was the beginning of July and at least a quarter of the lake was still covered in ice.

We hung out at the lake for awhile and had a snack.  We were up around 9500 feet, which for this East Coast guy, was the highest I’d ever been.  I think I was starting to get the first hints of altitude sickness as I had a slight headache.  Sarah was looking longingly up, she wanted to try and make it to the second lake.  It was still a good way up, and it looked like there was no recognizable trail, all snow, and it was much steeper than the bit we had just done.  We saw some guys coming down and they all had poles.  We were also running up on our turnaround time, so we decided to turn back.  Apparently we didn’t miss too much (we saw the guys who had been coming down, and the great view we thought would be available at the second lake wasn’t there because there was another ridge you had to cross to see anything).

When we got back down to Hamilton Lake, we were able to look up and see how far we had gone up.  The Precipice Lake was not visible, you’d never know that a large body of water was up there.  Here’s another picture we took and if you look in the upper right hand side, and go down slightly from the V made by the two ridgelines, you can see an indentation.  That is where we were.  Pretty cool.

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