TR: Big Pine Lakes and Palisades Glacier Aug 4-7 | High Sierra Topix  

TR: Big Pine Lakes and Palisades Glacier Aug 4-7

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TR: Big Pine Lakes and Palisades Glacier Aug 4-7

Postby kpeter » Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:10 am

Big Pine Lakes and Palisades Glacier
August 4-5-6-7

One of the areas I had never visited in my Sierra trips was the Palisades glacier and associated Big Pine lakes west of Big Pine. My buddies had already planned this trip for this year, and I was thoroughly impressed. This trip rated as one of my favorites in 23 years in the Sierras, with perfect conditions and spectacular scenery. The region has craggy mountains, the biggest glacier in the Sierra, lakes and streams with the unusual milky blue hue caused by glacial silt, emerald green meadows, and numerous places to explore.

No mosquitoes and perfect weather also contributed to a spectacularly successful trip. We were also fortunate that the smoke from the recent Aspen fire stayed north of us. On the drive in we saw that it ended around Bishop and was completely absent in Big Pine (15 miles south) where we started. We saw no smoke on our trip except when looking out to the Owens Valley.

Day 1

The hardest thing was finding the road leading out of Big Pine to the Glacial Lodge trailhead. It turned out to be Crocker Street–otherwise unlabeled. The trailhead is marked “Hiker Parking” and starts off across a dry, sunny hillside. In fact it is further away from where you want to be than even the horsepacking station, which the trail passes. I would recommend getting an early start, since there is unremitting sun until the trail gets to Second Falls.
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From Second Falls on the trail becomes delightful. It passes Lon Chaney’s old cabin–although it is not labelled as such as you pass it on your left just above the falls.
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http://articles.latimes.com/2003/jun/07 ... -outthere7
It was built just before he died in 1930, sitting next to the Cienega Mirth section of the creek, which was prime trout fishing. Chaney had camped in this area with his family long before the cabin was built. The cabin was on a lease that reverted to the Forest Service, and volunteers have maintained its exterior after its historic value kept it from being demolished after wilderness designation.

The trail continues up North Fork of Big Pine Creek, gently ascending with a few switchbacks here and there. I love a “wet trail” and being able to hear and see the stream as we slogged our packs uphill on the first day makes a big psychological difference to me.
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After a relatively late start, we reached the intersection of the 1st-7th lake trail with the Black Lake trail in mid afternoon. This intersection had water–the outlet of Black Lake was still providing a very small stream, although it might not continue to flow for much longer in the season. We collected water and headed up the very steep Black Lake trail. This trail was unremittingly steep but steady, with relatively few switchbacks. It provides a magnificent view of 1st and 2nd lakes and the Palisade range as it ascends. It was a hard climb with full packs in the sun, and when we reached Black Lake we were ready for a significant rest.
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Black Lake struck me as merely “OK.” It lacks the glacial coloration of some of its neighbors and does not have quite such a craggy backdrop. There were many campsites tucked away around the outlet end of the lake.

Late in the afternoon we resolved to push on from Black Lake to reach Fifth Lake, our destination. The trail was a little steep leaving Black Lake but basically did a little up and down, skirting 4th Lake before depositing us at Fifth.
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Fifth Lake proved to be a worthy location–far and away the most scenic of all the lakes in the area. A dramatic backdrop of two huge peaks--Mount Robinson and Two Eagle Peak–surrounded the glacial blue of this lake. There was plenty of granite and plenty of forest mixed around the shoreline. There were at least two large horsepacker camps tucked away in the vicinity of the lake (cross below the outlet and around the south side for one), but neither had a direct view. There were also two superb sites a bit above the NE side, provided one was willing to haul packs across a talus field. There were also some sites in the small pass connecting Fifth and Fourth Lakes. Ultimately we wound up in a series of conventional sites near the outlet–magnificent but no doubt usually occupied.
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Last edited by kpeter on Tue Aug 13, 2013 8:01 am, edited 14 times in total.



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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby kpeter » Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:10 am

Day 2
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Today we dayhiked from Fifth Lake to see Sixth and Seventh Lakes, and then climbed up the slabs to point 11818. We started off on the marked trail that bypasses Fourth Lake and Summit Lake and curves N and then W to get to Sixth Lake. Along the way we discovered that there is a new trail on the North side of Fourth Lake since the topos were created, and it leads to a magnificent viewpoint over Fourth Lake.
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The trail gets a little less developed as it continues toward Sixth Lake, and we began to wonder why it took such a roundabout route to get there. It comes in above the lake and drops down to vanish in the willows and meadows between Sixth and Seventh. We crossed this damp area and continue to Seventh Lake on the SE side of the meadow.
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Sixth and Seventh lakes are not glacial colored, but they are surrounded by flowers and meadows and filled with frogs and tadpoles. As we climbed to point 11818 we found ducks that were no doubt part of a climber’s route and got increasingly impressive views out to the Owens Valley. At 11818 we found ourselves looking at an impressive grey granite bowl surrounding us on three sides.
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We descended back to Seventh Lake and then picked our way all the way to the outlet of Sixth Lake. Since Sixth lake was immediately above Fifth lake we determined to find out if there was a cross country route down that could avoid the long trail back. In fact there was–we went left down a slot rather than trying to follow the outlet, and while the hillside was steep at times, it was not particularly difficult.
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We were back to Fifth lake and picked our way along its shore, which was more difficult than the descent.
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Last edited by kpeter on Sun Jul 13, 2014 6:27 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby kpeter » Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:11 am

Day 3

This day we decided to ascend the Glacier Trail and have a look at Sam Mack Meadow and Palisade Glacier. We had to lose a little elevation to get down to the Glacier Trail turnoff, but discovered that there was no good cross country shortcut that could have avoided this. The Glacier Trail is somewhat more primitive than the immaculately groomed main trails, but it was perfectly easy to follow and I enjoyed it more than the superhighways. It took a great many short switchbacks up to Sam Mack meadows, then climbed steeply out of the meadows up onto a ridge and wound its way to the base of the moraine below the Palisades Glacier.
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Here the trail ends in front of the terminal end of a large morraine.

From this point it is still a ways to go to get to a view of the Glacier. There are many ducks–too many in fact, but there seem to be many viable routes to the top of the morraine. All of them start going left around the end of the moraine.
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This means climbing across loose talus for a few hundred yards before coming to granite slabs. Once you reach the granite slabs there are numerous ways to go up–we ultimately concluded that it was easier to stay to the right of the major ravine that bisect the slabs, but we and others also cross the ravine and made our way up the left of it.

At the top of the slabs you climb up onto the high end of the moraine and find yourself looking down into a bowl scooped out of the talus by the glacier, looking at a muddy glacial lake and the end of the glacier calving icebergs into the lake.
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Your vantage point is near Mount Gailey and you have clear views of the glacier as it continues up the north slopes of Mt. Sill, North Palisades Peak, and Thunderbolt Peak. You can also see how very far the glacier has retreated since the map was made. At one point it connected with another lobe across the NE spur coming down from Thunderbolt, but now it is not only separated but far below the spur in elevation.
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At this vantage point we found a crude climbers shelter–little more than a rock windbreak–and a decaying cache in a five gallon paint can–complete with "Newman’s Own" salad dressing and an old Coleman stove.

On our return we spent some more time in Sam Mack meadows.
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This was actually one of the highlights of the trip. There were places in the meadows that seemed like a putting green. The milky blue stream snaking its way around red rocks in this verdant green oasis was stunning.

We descended the trail and made our way back to Fifth Lake.
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Last edited by kpeter on Sun Jul 13, 2014 6:29 pm, edited 9 times in total.
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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby kpeter » Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:11 am

Day 4
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This day I packed out, but I did not go via Black Lake. Instead I came out on the 1-7 lake trail, and took my time enjoying Third, Second, and First lakes along the way. Second lake in particular seems to be the most popular destination in the area, since it is closer to the trail head and has ample camping. It has a dramatic setting with Temple Crag towering over it.
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The trail, too, is gentler and longer than the Black Lake trail. It probably is the better route, staying in the shade, contouring around Second and Third lakes, and with an almost manicured feel to it.
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As I passed the cabin and Second Falls on my way out, I was again reminded how much I disliked the first mile or so of trail on this trip–what a contrast with the splendid trails that it connects to! After slogging down the hot, dusty trail back to the car, I loaded up and headed home, with memories of Fifth Lake and Sam Mack meadows beginning to seem like fantasies.
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Last edited by kpeter on Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:56 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:54 am

Nice report and photos of a classic part of the High Sierra. The photo of the Palisades glacier really brings out the alpine character of the area and it is an angle we don't often see.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby SweetSierra » Sun Aug 11, 2013 10:36 am

Thanks Kpeter for the beautiful photos and report. I've also descended from 7th lake through that slot you mentioned. It does save that long walk back on the trail. We also stayed at 4th lake at a huge spot above the lake that faced the Palisades and had no view of the lake. Gorgeous place. I think from the 7th lake you have Thunderbolt Col in view.
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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby mello » Sun Aug 11, 2013 12:47 pm

Thanks for the awesome report! :thumbsup:

Having overnighted at Big Pine Creek campground and day hiked around the area, it's a place I've wanted to get back to for a more extended length of time.
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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby Ska-T » Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:58 pm

Thanks for the trip report and photos! I have fond memories of the North Fork of Big Pine Creek in part because it was my first backpacking trip when I was 3 yrs old.

My friend and I did a trip similar to yours Oct 13 & 14 last year.

North Fork Big Pine Creek drainage
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Above 1st and 2nd Lake
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I have to say that when I saw your TR title, Palisades Basin Aug 4-7" and read that you were starting from the Big Pine Creek trailhead I was expected a fastpack style report of crossing Agassiz and Thunderbolt Cols and a return via Potluck and Scimitar Passes!! :lol:
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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby texan » Mon Aug 12, 2013 3:56 am

Great TR. Thanks for sharing.

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Re: TR: Palisades Basin Aug 4-7

Postby maverick » Mon Aug 12, 2013 3:34 pm

Beautiful TR as always, but a misleading title Kpeter since Palisade Basin is located on
the western side of the Sierra Crest. :)
Continue to be surprised by the abundance of flowers this late into the season during
a drought year.
I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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