Thursday, November 13, 2014

High Sierra Trail Part 2 - Buck Creek Crossing to Big Hamilton Lake

Day 2 Buck Creek Crossing to Big Hamilton Lake - 6 miles; 980 ft elevation gain

Short mileage day today!

We awoke this morning to sounds of a few early hikers trudging along the trail, just a bit above our camp. By breakfast, more hikers were hiking by. Waved and raised our coffee cups to them in greeting. Some we recognized from meeting the day before and had camped out at Nine Mile Creek.

Given that we pushed those extra miles yesterday, today was going to be a short one for us.. 6 miles! We were not at all in a hurry. We savored breakfast before taking down camp. Our camp neighbors, who were using this spot as a base camp, have already gone to do some exploring.

The sky was still overcast by the time we were leaving, still no sign of some sunshine! Packs on our backs, we did a final sweep of our camp, making sure no gear nor trash got left behind. Gotta practice those ninja skills and leave nothing behind to incriminate that we were ever there!

Hopped back on the trail. We crossed Buck Creek on a wooden bridge.. more like a platform, really. Then the trail just immediately started going straight up ascending to take us out of Buck Canyon! Talk about a warm up! That woke me up more than coffee!

After climbing about a couple of steep switchbacks, the trail lets up to a gradual climb before eventually flattening and then we found ourselves surrounded by trees.

A mile and some 600 feet higher later, we started smelling something baking - oh it was pure torture knowing we can't stay and have some of those fresh baked goods! We have arrived at the Bearpaw Campground, the High Sierra Camp of Sequoia National Park located at 7,820 feet. A place for glamping at its finest. Trust.

A little description of Bearpaw High Sierra Camp and its difference from its sister high sierra camps over at Yosemite (an information of what I've gathered ever since I started eyeing this place):

Straight on, past the ranger station (right) the HST continues.
  • Bearpaw High Sierra Camp has 6 tent cabins, equipped with a couple of twin beds with bedding, too!
  • Included in your stay are your breakfast and dinner meals served family-style - lunches and alcoholic beverages purchased separately.
  • Staying here needs an advance reservation. While unlike the high sierra camps at Yosemite, you do not need to enter any lottery in hopes of getting picked to be able to make that reservation.
  • Also unlike it's sister high sierra, when there's just 2 of you staying, you don't get to be paired with other people to share a tent cabin with. You book it, it's yours and yours alone.But note that lodging is limited to 6 tents, chances are availability is hard to come by so best be ready when reservations start becoming available for the next season.
  • And as of 2014 price is at $175 per night, per person - totally, not cheap.
If I ever get to becoming old, retired and/or filthy rich, apart from my regular backpacking, I'd stay there every summer for at least a week and not worry about anything else but getting myself there and bringing clothes and books to read! I'll stroll that 11.5 miles all day with practically almost nothing on my back. Oh to dream.

But I digress.

Back on the current adventure!

We stopped for a bit here as the views by the main hall were spectacular, even with low clouds rolling and still overcast. We had a quick chat with a some folks who were staying at the High Sierra Camp. We got forewarned of a bear in the direction we were headed.

A few quick pictures here and there and we were back on the trail. We didn't get to see that bear though, much to Joe and Ryan's disappointment. They were on a sub-mission to see a bear in the backcountry on this trip.

One thing this trip is never going to be short on.. are the VIEWS! (Yes, in all caps.) Amidst the clouds, the Great Western Divide will be watching us as we trek along to our next destination: Hamilton Lakes. And down below us is Middle Fork Kaweah River, which can barely be seen, probably a combination of the low clouds, mist and this year's drought that the water is not flowing well or maybe we're just too high up or maybe 'cause I'm far-sighted - I'll go for the latter.

The trail continues along the ridge before it starts to descend to about 400 feet to cross Lone Pine Creek. On our hike down, wincing on my bothersome right knee ( minor injury from a recent face plant, kiss-the-ground-while-you-are-down-there fall on a previous trip), I still practically ran the rest of the way down as soon as I saw the first glimpse of a bridge.

I think bridges are amazing! And even more amazing are backcountry bridges. It's in the middle of nowhere! Lugging the materials alone must have been a chore on its own. Then you still gotta build it! A couple of hikers, who we saw taking a quick rest at Bearpaw, had their camp chairs popped up and were having their lunch break on the other side of the bridge. Yup, they sure had their lunch with a view!

We dilly-dallied for a bit, looking over one side of the bridge.. then the other. Taking pictures. Prolonging to deal with the inevitable climb we still have to slog through before we can properly prop our feet up and relax the rest of the day away. Below the bridge, we saw traces of probably remnants of the befallen old steel bridge that was once used to cross here.

We continued on, as the bridge, now behind us, started looking smaller and smaller as we climbed up. We did a quick rest stop at the Tamarack Lake junction to shed some layers. Blue sky started appearing but it was short-lived. As we kept climbing up, thick clouds started covering up the sky again (bye bye blue!). I kept looking up watching, observing. We were keeping attentive in case we need to haul it out there. We were on an exposed environment, did not want to get caught out there if thunder and lightning decide to party it out.

Following the very well maintained trail, we eventually found our way atop the Hamilton Creek waterfall we've been admiring from afar. And got to see a little ways below from where we had come from. We could actually make out the trail that led us down to the bridge at Lone Pine Creek from where we were standing.

One of us finally put a halt on our goofing around, so we continued on. But just before leaving the top of the falls, we came across our former camp neighbors from Buck Creek. They were already on their way back from Hamilton Lakes.

The trail continued on up till we came up to a sign that indicated we were finally at Hamilton Lakes. A few feet beyond the sign is a spur trail turning right and leading to one of the best viewed outhouses I've seen. I could sit there all day.. but I'd probably need to breathe at some point. It's a pit toilet. And guessing the amount of visitors this area gets.. yeah, I'll leave it at that.

The lake and campsites are further down to the left of the trail, past the spur trail to the pit toilet. There are 3 food lockers in the vicinity. The largest one is right close to the trail going towards the lake There is one closer by the lake, in the middle of a big clearing. The other by a few camp spots above the lake.

Joe was the first to get there. When the rest of us followed, we saw a large group of boy scouts already set-up amongst other campers who are also already set-up. Sites were plenty, but so were campers. We did get advised it was a popular spot. And looking around, we understand why. It had all the perfect formula of a good camp spot: a beautiful lake, flat spots, boulders strewn around, trees, and a clear, unobstructed view of the sky.

In our quest to find us a better spot to camp, away from the big boy scout group, we found a few cozy places perfect for one or two people, above and a little bit further from the lake than we'd like. Though we couldn't utilize it ourselves, we were able to pass it on to other smaller group of hikers.

That evening, we were blessed with clear skies. And with the generosity of other campers with their information, we were able to observe the International Space Station float across directly above us. That was a pretty cool experience! I totally geek-ed out on that one, Not a science nerd myself, just a little human being always easily amazed by amazing things.

Our only decent photo of the International Space Station passing by.

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