When a friend of mine reached out because a spot became available on her backpacking permit, the answer was a no-brainer. This was both my longest and furthest backpacking trip at 72 miles and 15k of vertical feet over 7 days.
Wolverton Trailhead to Mehrten Creek
7.00 miles | 1,795 ft elevation gain
The explosion of gear at the parking lot was comical. I'm still impressed that we were able to consolidate it all into just 4 dense packs. We set foot on the trail late afternoon, and despite my body being tired from the long drive and early wakeup call, my mind was giddy with anticipation for our journey. Upon arriving to our first campsite, the looming dusk treated us to a beautiful cotton candy gradient in the sierra sky.
Mehrten Creek to Hamilton Lake
10.75 miles | 2,142 ft elevation gain
Our first morning waking up in the sierras. I didn't know exactly what to expect for the day ahead. We wandered through the lush forest for miles, and at one fateful pee spot, we were greeted with the presence of a bear cub sprinting up a tree! Moments later we spotted the mama bear in full lounge mode resting on a log. This was my first bear encounter while backpacking, what a gift! I was too enthralled to capture a decent photo, but in the 4th image below, you may be able to spot the little bear cub's haunches dangling out of a tree top.
The day was warm and the ta-da's were stellar. Our lunch spot view parted the trees to provide our first glimpse of the granite landscape ahead of us. A pre-dinner dip in Hamilton lake was the ideal way to end the day and treat our tired, dirty bodies.
Hamilton Lake to Big Arroyo (+ Bonus Lake!)
8.99 miles | 4,334 ft elevation gain
Waking up at such a spot as Hamilton Lake doesn't instill a strong sense of urgency to hit the trail and leave it all behind. So, we set our unspoken agreement that a lazy morning of swimming and sun-bathing was probably the best way to begin our "rest" day. "Rest" in quotes because while the distance may not have been far, the elevation gain and unrelenting sun would be our most draining encounter yet.
Our mid-hike stop at Precipice Lake was awe-inspiring. Something about it made my eyes well up. Maybe the grandiosity of the stark contrast of sharp granite cliffs to a warm hue (cold temps) of turquoise water, maybe the graceful ribbon-like waterfall with a glimpse of the source, maybe the sheer human powered effort it took to arrive there. Whatever it was, I was moved. And we swam.
This day contained the most beautiful stretch of trail I have seen in the sierra, it even included a walk-thru tunnel above a gorgeous canyon. We arrived to our destination with plenty of daylight left in the sky and Brooke treated me to a lesson in fly fishing, a sport I have much yet to learn or reap the benefits of.
Big Arroyo to Little Five Lakes (+ Big Five Lakes)
11.91 miles | 1,155 ft elevation gain
This day looked and felt more like a rest day. A mostly flat trail led us from nine lakes basin to little five lakes. Along the way we crossed creeks and walked along fields of beautiful wildflowers. When we arrived at our campsite, the full Kaweah range came into view, a sight I had been looking forward to seeing after first learning of it's remoteness.
Deirdre and I took a bonus walk to Big Five Lakes basin. There, we found ourselves a beautiful desolate lake with an unnamed peak backdrop surrounded by a perfect mix of granite, trees, and the tiniest sandy beach just big enough for a hiking boot.
Little Five Lakes to a bluff near Redwood Meadow
13.66 miles | 1,591 ft elevation gain
We got a bright and early start knowing we had a good distance and a formidable Black Rock Pass ahead of us. Slowly the trail guided us past the remaining of the Little Five Lakes and up to a spectacular ridge. From the top we counted 7 lakes in our view.
Beyond the ridge was a descent long and steep enough to have us constantly remarking, "so glad we're not doing this loop counter clockwise!" The descent wandered down, down, down to a river called Cliff Creek. Between the heat and our aching joints, the river beckoned us for a splash.
Continuing downwards we crossed paths with what felt like 100s of different ecosystems, until we found ourselves in a dark, slightly eerie, humid forest. A few minutes into this new world, we discovered a giant peeking through the trees, towering over what I already considered to be massive pine trees. Standing at the base of a millennia old giant sequoia grove deep in the wilderness is an experience I will not forget.
After being awestruck by the gentle giants for a good chunk of time, we moved onward and found a bluff seemingly built just for us to camp at, complete with a surreal sunset that led to a night of star-gazing, silly story telling and wishing upon shooting stars.
A bluff near Redwood Meadow to Buck Creek
8.23 miles | 1,985 ft elevation gain
We woke up with the sun, processed the bittersweet fact that we had only one night remaining on this epic adventure, and set out on our day. We made our way to Redwood Meadow, feeling grateful that the sky called us to stay at our special bluff the previous night. In the meadow we found an endless field of warm yellow sunflowers (sierra sunflowers? I'm not sure) that seemed to dance alongside us as we moved through the trail.
Eventually we made our way to the end of the loop, with new terrain behind and familiar landscape ahead, drawing us ever nearer to the now foreign pavement at the trailhead.
We found ourselves back at Buck Creek and declared it an appropriate final place to rest our heads. It was an idyllic evening complete with creek swimming, sun bathing, eating all the excess food we had carried for miles, and we were even treated to a beautiful tune by Mary herself.
Buck Creek to Wolverton Trailhead
11.00 miles | 1,903 ft elevation gain
Our final day. Excited to bathe and wear clean clothes again, yet mourning the departure of our new reality. We moved more quickly this day than any other, but still found time to stop and soak it all up at the top of a ridge and say a 'goodbye for now' to the (finally) cool mountain breeze.
I'm so very grateful for this trip, the women who shared it with me and the deep, restorative joy that nature always provides.