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TR - SF Big Pine Creek - 8/7 - 8/10/16

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TR - SF Big Pine Creek - 8/7 - 8/10/16

Postby Pulpit » Tue Aug 16, 2016 10:41 am

Flew into San Diego the night of Thurs. 8/4, had the traditional crispy carnitas dinner at Old Town Café with bro and nephews. Friday 8/5 was spent gathering supplies and packing. Saturday 8/6 drove to Big Pine Creek Campground. We chose Big Pine Creek again because a) we like it, b) we wanted to camp at Finger Lake after having day-hiked it previously, c) the convenience of being able to leave camp setup at the campground and simply walk into the wilderness from there is hard to beat, especially when travelling with a 7 year old.

At any rate, on Sunday 8/8 we used the day to take a day hike on the North Fork to acclimatize. There is a nice flat spot at Cienega Mirth just before the Lon Chaney Cabin with a "beach" and sand bar for fishing and abundant shade that we sort of spent the whole afternoon lounging around and fishing.
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E fishing at Cienega Mirth

We also took the short stroll from there up to the cabin for a little more fishing and lounging. Went back to camp had a nice dinner and got ready for Monday's hike to Finger Lake.

Monday morning we were packed up and on the South Fork Trail by 0930 (early for us!) and within an hour we had made the creek crossing, which was simple and only knee high and were on the switchbacks up towards Willow Lake, which is my least favorite part of this hike.
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Switchbacks past creek crossing.

At the end of the switchbacks, the trail opens up above Willow Lake to gorgeous expansive views of the glaciers and peaks of the South Fork.
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Eric and I just past switchbacks

Our pace on the trail was about 1 MPH to Brainerd Lake, as Kain seemed to need a break every 20 feet as the altitude increased and his energy ran low. We made it to Brainerd Lake and took a refreshing break wading around in the water before the final push to Finger. There are 3 use trail routes to Finger and we took the northernmost chute, which was well cairned, but very steep and boulder strewn. It took about an hour to make this quarter mile stretch with Kain. We arrived at the lake to find two other climbing parties of 2, but alas we found a very nice spot just off of one of the use trails (it seems all the desirable camping spots at Finger are adjacent to the use trails) with excellent views back over the Owens Valley and White Mountains and up towards the crest and glaciers. Kain was exhausted and was in his tent by 7PM for the night. Eric and I sat up watching the sunset, then some excellent shooting stars before turning in around 9 PM or so.

Woke Tuesday morning and climbed up in the rocks near campsite while the boys were still sleeping. Kain woke up and somehow spotted me up in the rocks (even though I was probably 200 yards from camp) and climbed up to meet me and take in the morning alpine glow.
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Morning alpenglow

I had initially hoped to try to climb Middle Palisade, but after speaking with some experienced climbers we met while hiking (I am not a climber by any means) who had abandoned due to it being sketchy the day prior I decided to scrap those plans and stick together with Eric and Kain and just see how far we could make it. We were out of camp by 0930 or so again and made our way around the lake to the outlet and crossed.
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View over Finger Lake just before outlet crossing.

The going on the ascent from Finger was initially not too bad with a combination of use trail and simple bouldering/scrambling. Pretty soon we had this view back over Finger and Willow Lakes.
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Kain scrambling above Finger

With the 7 year old in tow over tough-ish going our pace was very slow to allow him to have as many breaks as he needed.
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Break time

As we got higher and higher and could see back to Owens Valley I figured I would check to see if I had phone reception from up there to let my wife know we were safe. She immediately text me back to let me know that Eric's 4yo had been backed over by a car at day care and escaped death by a few inches essentially. He was badly burned on his back by the engine block. Eric was obviously terribly shaken up, but after speaking with his wife and finding out that the boy was stable and there was nothing that we could really do, we decided to cut the trip a day short and go back to SD on Friday instead of Saturday as originally planned. We also cut the backcountry portion of the trip down to 2 nights instead of 3 in order to have a day to relax at the campground before returning. I am happy to say that after going back to the doctor his son won't need any skin grafts to heal the large burn on his back. The irony is that we did not bring him on this trip because we didn't feel that he was ready for it and that he might hurt himself.

As we continued on we passed the "frog pond" at about 11,500.
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Frog Pond, 11,500'

A couple hundred feet above the frog pond, the going became trickier with loose shifting talus/boulders. Kain's pace became glacial and it was apparent that he should not continue on for sake of safety and time so I continued on to the base of the Middle Palisade Glacier which was as far as I would go, not wanting to lose the other two as I had the only means of navigation and worried that something might happen to the two of them and I wouldn't be able to find them or vice versa.
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Kain on boulders
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View of Middle Pal just below glacier.


We made the decent back to camp by 430P took a little nap, then cooked a nice dinner. We were treated to a sublime sunset over White Mountains, which we could see the entire breadth of right next to our tents, while Willie Nelson played over the radio.
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Sunset over Owens Valley / White Mountains

Sat up stargazing again this time until about 11P and saw several shooting stars once again. Woke up early to catch the alpenglow.
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Morning glow on the Thumb and Middle Pal

We then took about 4.5 hours to hike back down to the campground for a fantastic meal at Glacier Lodge, then spent the next two days lounging around the campground, fishing, bullshitting and creek swimming before heading back to San Diego. It was a fantastic trip, Finger Lake and environs is the most awe inspiring place that I have been in the Sierra.

Mosquitoes were probably a 2-3 in the boggy areas near Willow Lake, 0-1 everywhere else.
Last edited by Pulpit on Tue Aug 16, 2016 8:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: SF Big Pine Creek - 8/7 - 8/10/16

Postby rlown » Tue Aug 16, 2016 11:24 am

Nice report! glad the boy will recover.
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Re: SF Big Pine Creek - 8/7 - 8/10/16

Postby maverick » Tue Aug 16, 2016 11:30 am

Thank you for the TR and pictures. :thumbsup:
She immediately text me back to let me know that Eric's 4yo had been backed over by a car at day care and escaped death by a few inches essentially. He was badly burned on his back by the engine block. Eric was obviously terribly shaken up, but after speaking with his wife and finding out that the boy was stable and there was nothing that we could really do, we decided to cut the trip a day short and go back to SD on Friday instead of Saturday as originally planned. We also cut the backcountry portion of the trip down to 2 nights instead of 3 in order to have a day to relax at the campground before returning. I am happy to say that after going back to the doctor his son won't need any skin grafts to heal the large burn on his back. The irony is that we did not bring him on this trip because we didn't feel that he was ready for it and that he might hurt himself.


Wish Eric's son a fast and full recovery.
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Re: SF Big Pine Creek - 8/7 - 8/10/16

Postby rayfound » Tue Aug 16, 2016 12:14 pm

Great post, but really sorry to hear about Eric's son, glad to hear he's doing okay.
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Re: SF Big Pine Creek - 8/7 - 8/10/16

Postby Pulpit » Tue Aug 16, 2016 6:06 pm

Thank you for the well wishes regarding my nephew, guys, I really appreciate it. We are all obviously very relieved that he will be none the worse for wear.
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Re: TR - SF Big Pine Creek - 8/7 - 8/10/16

Postby deenad » Tue Aug 23, 2016 9:53 pm

What a fantastic report! I want to do the south fork solo in mid-September. (I hiked to Brainard lake when I was a child, but sadly got altitude sickness. STill do!) I tried last year but the stream crossing was too high and I was alone, so I came back down and did the North fork. Cienega Mirth is one of my favorite places on earth!
thank you for this... I"m glad your nephew is doing well!
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Re: TR - SF Big Pine Creek - 8/7 - 8/10/16

Postby Pulpit » Thu Aug 25, 2016 6:10 am

Hi Dee, thank you for the kind words. There are a few different places to cross the creek, we use the one where the old bridge was washed out in an avalanche (in 2011 I think). The place we crossed wasn't bad at all, knee high at most and not flowing to swiftly. Try to hug the left side, closer to the little cascade, this is where it is most shallow, you shouldn't have any problems if you cross there.

Yes, Cienega Mirth is one hell of a special place. I could live out the rest of my days there with nary a complaint!
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