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TR: Big Pine Lakes 10/7 - 10/8

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TR: Big Pine Lakes 10/7 - 10/8

Postby chrismis21 » Mon Oct 12, 2015 11:37 am

My wife and I don't get out to backpack together often thanks to kids in the house. After I took my 6-year old on her first trip in August, my wife couldn't stand the thought of another year without a trip. So we decided to make a last-minute trip happen with our 9-month old.

This was going to be a short trip. Next year we can leave all the kids behind and we're planning a Horseshoe Meadows to Whitney trip. But this year, something 1-2 nights was sought. Originally I was looking at far southern Sierra (Kennedy Meadows/Haiwee Pass/Wildrose area), because of cooler temps up north and up higher. But I was having a really hard time getting updated info on trail conditions or finding a route that seemed interesting to me, and seeing the temperature swing in SoCal made me nervous it might even be too warm.

jessegooddog suggested a northern hike (Big Pine and north) to see some Fall colors. So I pulled out my maps and noticed the Big Pine Creek/Big Pine Lakes area. I've never visited the Palisades but it looked perfect. Checking old TRs, it seemed going at the beginning of October the colors would be awesome.

Of course the snow fell a few days before, and I figured we'd encounter some. Still, most seemed to think the majority would be melted by our second day up there, and we had the warm gear to give it a shot, so we set out with low expectations.

We arrived in Lone Pine around 10am on Wednesday, 10/7. No trouble getting a walk-in as I figured would be the case (though all of the reservable spots for the North Fork trail had been reserved, I don't know how many were actually picked up). The ranger advised there was some snow, but it was minimal and wouldn't cause any issues. We had a nice chat about the mountains, WAG bags and the wilderness experience before we headed up.


I dropped my wife and daughter off at the end of the road by the Glacier Lodge TH and drove back down to the hiker lot. I headed back up the road on foot and met them. We got on the trail around noon under perfectly sunny skies.

And the aspens were gorgeous! I didn't bring a camera on this trip, only my phone, so the pictures don't do the scene justice, but it was beautiful. The snow-capped mountains all around added to the contrast of colors.




We saw a couple of day hikers headed up that passed us, but no other backpackers. We met a couple of groups coming down who had horror stories of the snowy conditions and miserable nigh(s) they had up on the mountain. We were comforted to receive some actual beta on the trail conditions, and built a contingency on how far we'd back-track if the snow got to be too much.

Bringing the little one, we had to stop a few extra times so she could eat or my wife could rest her shoulders (though I carried the bulk of the gear on my pack, my wife had a baby in carrier plus a pack with her water and some clothes, so plenty of weight on the shoulders!). Still, our little trooper was great and my wife was absolutely awesome.

It was slower going headed up with muddy trail once past second falls, and the snow kicked in on the sides around 9k feet and on the trail at 10k. First Lake was beautiful, but instead of descending toward Second, we continued on the trail above.


By the time we got 2/3 of the way next to it, the snow started getting deeper. Though it was probably 3:30 in the afternoon, the sun was already down where we didn't get any direct sunlight, and the temperature was dropping. In the interest of having a more comfortable evening, we bounced back to the mid-point along Lake 2 and started looking for a spot.

Heading up the hill off-trail, I found a great spot with a magnificent view of the lake. The snow was only about 4 inches deep here (which we cleared a bit for the tent footprint), and there was some exposed rock as well. We set up the tent in our cleared area and used the dry area for our gear and eating space.


It was amazing how quickly it got cold that evening. The forecast was for lows in the mid-30s, but the next morning it was obvious that the snow had re-frozen. I didn't check with a thermometer, but it was more than cold enough ;)

After dinner with the fading light and a restless baby, we retired to the tent. I think we were in by 6:30. The little one and my wife shared a cozy bag. I know the close quarters weren't ideal, but I was a little jealous of the additional heat generated that I was certainly missing in my solo bag!

I got up once around midnight to grab some more water from the pack. There was very little moon, and in combination with the cold air, the stars were remarkable. The last few trips I've made have been near or on full moons, so seeing that volume of stars was inspirational.

The next morning we were up at first light. My wife got up to catch sunrise, but I was in less of a hurry. Still, we were packed back up and on the trail at 8am. We headed back down toward the warmth. Spending a second night seemed less than ideal with the baby and knowing that any exploration was going to involve trudging through the snow. We were flexible with our trip plans and didn't feel we were cheated out of the experience even though it was quick.



We made great time on the way down. 3 hours including a few stops for baby eating time or a diaper change and a couple of trailside chats with some day hikers and one group of backpackers making their way up. Instead of going back to the Glacier Lodge TH area, we hiked all the way back to the parking lot. Since it was cloudy, it wasn't hot though still exposed. I believe we also saved some time hugging the side of the mountain instead of snaking our way through the groves below.

The clouds started rolling in that morning (10/8), but the colors were still breathtaking.


Since we exited early, we had time for a few side trips. We made a stop at Manzanar. I've driven past a few times but never stopped. Very interesting visit! We also stopped at Fossil Falls and Indian Wells Brewing.

Coming back to Orange County and the heatwave was remarkable. In just a day we went from 30 degrees to 102; I was ready to melt!

It was a fun trip and good to see what we could do bringing a little one with us. Certainly a logistical challenge (packing extra clothes, food and packing out diapers), increased by the cold conditions, but a good check. Also a great confidence boost for our trip next year, knowing how smoothly this went, and next trip it will just be the two of us!

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Re: TR: Big Pine Lakes 10/7 - 10/8

Postby balzaccom » Mon Oct 12, 2015 12:05 pm

Great report--glad you managed to get out on the trail...

The only thing missing is a photo of the baby!

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Re: TR: Big Pine Lakes 10/7 - 10/8

Postby Sittingbull » Fri Oct 16, 2015 3:01 pm

Beautiful, great wife and baby for being team players!

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Re: TR: Big Pine Lakes 10/7 - 10/8

Postby cslaght » Sat Oct 17, 2015 10:29 am

Awesome TR, I really want to check out this area as well. It's always nice on the little getaways to get the escape out of the area. As the big temperature change, I feel you! Last year while returning from Lake Edison, my dad and I were dumped on with a huge summer storm, the top of Kaiser Pass was about 38 degrees if I remember, by the time we were in Prather on 168 (hour-hour 1/2) it was about 104. 65-70 degree change is quite uncomfortable indeed!
"The mountains are calling, but can't find my phone"

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Re: TR: Big Pine Lakes 10/7 - 10/8

Postby balance » Mon Oct 19, 2015 5:02 pm

Well, they say climbing K2 takes courage. You and your wife are right up there with them! And you did everything with good judgment.

Hats off to you guys.
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Re: TR: Big Pine Lakes 10/7 - 10/8

Postby bbayley80 » Tue Oct 20, 2015 3:35 pm

great report and adventure with the little one!

balzaccom wrote:The only thing missing is a photo of the baby!

totally agree! although the one cruising through that nice aspen stand is pretty solid.
as a father of a new 7months old i can appreciate the effort it took to take the baby-but what an experience!
looking forward to takin my little guy out at some point.

i was out on a three day trip up and over Bishop Pass to Dusy basin that same weekend-and smartly decided to breakup the hike out-and get over the pass- a day early to beat the snow-which arrived overnight. not heavy-but looked nasty, windy, and cold up high.

as a Long Beach resident i too felt the crazy temp shift! ridiculous....
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