This is my first trip report posting so feel free to offer tips to make my next one more helpful. Keep in mind, I am a chubby, 48 yr old coastal female, and this is only my second season backpacking:). To acclimate, We spent 3 days hiking at elevation, sleeping in Big Pine, then 1 day of rest (where I carb loaded at the Glacier Lodge store…mounds, coke, ice cream, and a nerd rope:) and a night at the very beautiful and clean (kudos to the camp host!) Big Pine Creek Campground, where I discovered I had accidentally packed my son's sleeping bag - which fit me like a caterpillar in a cocoon . There was no moving around inside the bag, if I rolled, it rolled! -
and no, this had nothing to do with my carb-loading!)
We departed Big Pine Creek trailhead at 7 AM as suggested by the Glacier Lodge store man (I think his name is Gary) and we are thankful that we did. You can't depart early enough, and next time, I would shoot for 6am, or before light. The route to the top of the waterfalls can be tricky as there are many junctions - keep your head up and trail notes handy. An important point to note, if you are interested in the glaciers, as you pass the South Fork Canyon to Brainerd Lake, look to the left, you are looking at one of them!!!
The forecast was clear with a high pressure system, and proved accurate for our entire trip. I could kiss whoever designed this trail, it is wide and in beautiful condition with a manageable grade. The refreshing sound of the creek and falls stays with you for the first couple miles, and then the wildflower displays begin in earnest. As you pass the cabin, the best part isn't visible from the trail, make sure you walk past the front of it, streamside, to see the personal fishing hole and inviting porch! The hardest part of the trail is after the cabin. At this point, even with an early departure, the sun will be hitting the switchbacks where it's dry and hot. Start sucking on those Jolly Ranchers!! Just when you are using the idea of an icy dunk in the lake to get you through, you round a corner and catch sight of that beautiful turquoise…then realize that the trail didn't take you TO the lake, rather it took you AROUND and ABOVE the lake by 50 to 100 feet. By this time, the idea of trekking all the way down there and all the way back up is difficult to accept. Make sure you get water at the stream crossings before the lakes. The next water source is on a rise between Lakes 2 and 3, where the trail nears the rushing stream (listen for it). This is where we camped, and while I really wanted to keep it a secret, because it is the BEST campsite on the mtn, well, I decided to share the love instead:)
We passed about 3 or 4 groups of people coming down as we went up and they all advised against the upper lakes due to mosquitoes, and highly recommended Sam Mack meadow for it's beauty. Everyone seemed very experienced.
There were mosquitoes at Lakes 1,
2 and 3 but they were manageable with long sleeves and a mosquito net hat if you generally avoided the shady, green areas. The next day we hiked to the meadow. My friend had a nap there and I went on to the glacier. The meadow is beautiful and the mosquitoes were fierce. Stay in the windy areas to avoid them. There seemed to be some confusion as to whether the glacier trail existed or not, and if it was rockhopping and scrambling. It's a perfect trail, with a sign, and I highly recommend it. I felt that the best part of the trail to the glacier was the first half. So if you don't feel like you can do the whole thing at least climb up 20 minutes to the views of the first 3 glacial lakes, and the 14'ers. Once at the Glacier, stay off of it unless you have crampons, an ice pick and are experienced! There was a fatality the day before we arrived. On the way down a quick swim in the stream and a foot soak refreshed us.
The following day we broke camp and hiked to Lakes 4, 5, 6 and Black Lake, upon the recommendation of some fellow hikers we chatted with at the meadow. Again, we got an early start to avoid the sun on the 2nd set of switchbacks after lake 3, so perfectly designed you almost don't notice them, but that put us at the lovely lakes too early in the morning and the mosquitoes were lively. Too lively to actually hang up a food bag or set up a tent. (We realized the hikers the day before had been there briefly about midday) so we decided to head home, since we were all packed up! Our mistake was in assuming that downhill would be easy but by now it was so hot that we could feel the heat coming through our boots. The skin on the front of my shins cracked, even protected by long pants. Even with trekking poles it was a difficult descent. I was one of those staggering, crazy looking packers coming off the mtn.
It's hard to stop once you're in a rhythm but I encourage everybody to take frequent breaks; snacking, hydrating and soaking their feet frequently. Stay cool and rested, because if you fatigue you could trip and hurt yourself. There are many shady, inviting pools streamside, just waiting to be appreciated.
I felt for those we passed ascending the trail midday. "Are we almost there?" they would ask with hope on their faces. How could I ever break it to them that the most difficult was yet to come? I wanted to tell them all to find shade and wait til evening! However, the lakes are at their brightest with the midday sun on them. They change color as the angle of the sun changes, and by evening their vibrant turquoise dims.
While staying at the campground the day before, we noticed many hikers coming off the mtn after dark, with headlamps. I would highly recommend it.
As we were heading up, it was mostly technical climbers coming down. On our way down, it was fishermen and families coming up. We must have passed 15+ backpackers coming up, which made us laugh that somebody wasn't permitted, since the quota is 10!
While we experienced warm temperatures, the climber coming down who relayed the news of the fatality, was badly frostbitten. Forecasts can change, so be prepared:)
Big Pine Creek caused me to decide to learn how to nature sketch to more fully appreciate the details in the beauty around me; from the way the water dances off the rocks as it falls down the canyons, the bright stars shining THROUGH my tent ceiling, the unusual mushroom shapes, and the patterns and colors in bark.
I might add that I didn't know there was a difference between Pine Creek and Big Pine Creek until this trip!!
(And in slightly related news…the Ranger in Bishop said South Fork had a creek crossing that was too high to ford)
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