I drove down from Rock Creek thinking I might still use my overnight permit to get to where I wanted (Rae Lakes and Sixty Lake Basin) so I headed south and thought to stay the night at Onion Valley. I got a sub sandwich for dinner and picked up two PCT through-hikers on the way up. They were from Germany and we chatted about trail stuff like food and their heavy, newly-loaded packs, and their hike thus far. Later I was told that there were a lot of Germans on the trail this year due to a documentary a countryman made, and there were a good amount of Dutch due to a book or something.
It was still windy. Really bad and not just gusts – the area was still in the grip of high, loud, sustained winds and here it was very cold. I ate food and started thinking about the next day’s hike. The forecast for wind was supposed to clear up, and I think it did, but I didn’t see it because I decided to leave. I drove back north and decided on another day hike I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time but haven’t had the chance.
I’ve hiked all around the absolutely stunning Bishop Creek area and never been disappointed, but have been shut out of the middle ground, Lake Sabrina, for a long time. My first try, years ago, there was too much snow for my comfort and experience level at that time so I had turned around. Next couple times I just never made it early in the morning enough for the lack of parking and found it ridiculously crowded – typical for summer and colorful autumn. This time was a success! I was so excited to be at the trail head a bit after sunrise, though I sat in my car cuddled in my sleeping bag while I awaiting for the sun to make its way over the high ranges on either side of the valley to warm the temps above 30F – yeah, it was cold overnight!
Since I had a long day planned, I finally got myself moving, all bundled up, at 7:40am. I dropped my trash bag and small food bag and tiny cooler off in the bear box and started moving on the trail which first heads south around the east side of the dammed Lake Sabrina which was lovely in the morning light. Some boats were just starting to head out for a day of fishing.
Just before 3 miles, which felt longer both in and out, I was at Blue Lake at long last! It is a lovely location at 10,400′ elevation surrounded by dramatically jagged ridges high above and the lake is worth a visit as it’s a pretty one. It does have the most people, day hikers and backpackers, but it’s a big place and a long western shore to search for solitude. After one area of steeper switchbacks climbing from Sabrina to Blue to gain 1,400′ everything else on the trail is very mild. Between tall mountains it’s a winding kind of basin with lots of lakes hidden around corners of granite slabs so it’s less a climb now and more just walking to get to whatever lake strikes your fancy.
I was going to the furthest on the established trail: Hungry Packer Lake. It was very large and dramatic with Picture Peak behind absolutely dominating the scene, but when I arrived what really floored me was the drainage basin below it. The series of waterways coming out of two lakes tumbles and falls down granite slabs into green and flower-lined creeks and fills a bunch of pools. This looks absolutely regular on the map, labeled Sailor Lakes, but it was a special place.
There are places on this Earth where the air is thin and it seems that another world bleeds into this one. I turned a corner and found myself walking into one of these wonderous breakthroughs and realized I was being given a rare gift: a mortal entering a slice of Valhalla. I stopped and cried and barely kept myself from falling to my knees.
The absolute magic of the place was healing. Did my feet still hurt? Was I tired any more? Where my knees still complaining? I tell you it all melted away. I hopped over boulder fields for fun and didn’t feel my fingers get raw on the rough granite (they did peel 2 days later). I nearly skipped up large slabs for a better view of things. I followed some use path up a bit too far before coming back down and adoring the teal color of Moonlight Lake during a small lunch break at its shores, thinking an inflatable kayak would be useful to get to that island around the corner. I nearly ran down large rocks to get up close to Moonlight Falls and admired the ice sculptures from it’s light spray. I paused at gentle waterways and turned in circles above small, flower-filled fields to take it in from all angles. I have looked at pictures and it is lovely but maybe it was more the feel of the area, something in the air, something intangible.
It was sometimes cold in the wind, but otherwise warm in the sun, though I was still wearing all my layers. There were mosquitos in the boulder fields, but they seemed new and non-biting and stayed out of the breezy open places. It was difficult to leave, but I eventually did. I paused for a better view lovely, jewel-colored Topsy Turvy Lake on the return. I was still feeling rejuvenated so added a mile to head up to Midnight Lake. That turned out to be just okay, and I think some people there were not my favorite and it was a long day (over 9 miles) so I left quickly, but the way up is in the drainage and it is sweet and peaceful and has a small waterfall.
The rest of the way felt a bit like a slog, being so level, but I wasn’t up for other side trips: I was tired and couldn’t imagine any place being nicer. The last 3 miles down from now empty and quite Blue Lake were not my favorite despite still being lovely. I was done! Tumbling creeks to cross, long, dusty paths to walk, flowers to admire, views of the dam and down across the high desert and across to the White Mountains now lit nicely in late afternoon light… still, tired and anxious to be done for the day now.
I was outside for 11 hours and 30 minutes, but the ~14.6 miles (that felt like 17) had a moving time of about 7:40 to get only 2,000 ft gain – that is a lot of breaks for me. Maybe time in that lovely place stopped having meaning. It’s happened in a few precious places and they are all fond memories. Other than health, time is incredibly special and finding a way to feel every second is a treasured space to exist in. Maybe, because I have felt it before, it’s what I am chasing out here in the mountains of the vast Sierra Nevada. An endless quest to feel at peace and whole for just a few moments.