“And the red pines will bow their heads,
The rivers and the watersheds
Will swallow up my tears”
– from “The Mountains and MaryAnne” by Gordon Lightfoot.
I just winnowed down many photos to forty-five or so, representing the last three days of backpacking in the Sierras. A video will be posted to You-tube sometime before I die. For now, you guys get most of the cream. And I get the pleasure of once again viewing what God’s back yard looks like. The route taken is called the Robinson Creek Loop. A popular one and rightfully so, it is easily accessed, achingly beautiful, majestically soaring and madly intimate with the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Though it is a popular trail, I saw few other people from Friday to Sunday afternoon. Wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Humans are definitely a small piece of the puzzle out here.
Arriving around 3:30 or so in the afternoon on Friday, the light was already softening. Secure parking is available at the beautiful but commercialized Twin Lakes, Ca. Essentially the trailhead begins after the lakes ends and past the RV parking.
The elevation is 7120 ft.
The flat terrain starts off with meadows on your left and the trail is quickly enveloped in pine and aspen trees till you are birthed into a gradual uphill panorama of granite cliffs and talus slopes on your right. The Sawtooth Range stands on your left, upheaved from deep within the earth unspeakably long ago, now showing itself, tantalizing you with what is to come as the footsteps give way to yards which yield to miles and leads into the heart and crown of the mountains.
Early on, the mule ear wildflowers provide bright color, while the aspen, translucent to the angled light, quiver in the breeze and dance their dance of summer’s touch.
Glaciers moved through here millions of years ago, carving away a path and leaving broad valleys below while above the earth held firm as narrow canyons and walls of granite. It’s four miles from Twin Lakes to Barney Lake. East in the beginning, the hike is moderately challenging as you arrive at Barnerys 8528 ft. elevation.
Dusk- the magical transitional time. Not quite dark, not light anymore, it is a paradox of calmness and activity, the earth settling down as its tenants go about finding dinner or making their beds.
Getting there around 7:00 pm, I busied myself setting up camp while beavers and ducks swam in the quarry-like lake just below. Ground squirrels scurried about, curious as to who their new neighbor was and several birds eyed me from the tops of the battered and twisted pine trees that semi-circled my home for the night. Unbeknownst to me, the moon was making its way to a spectacular arrival. It was a gifted surprise.
Graceful and elegant as the moon was that evening in its reception of the sun’s light, the sun itself was pure force the next morning, brilliantly warming the granite slopes that surround Barney lake and illuminating its waters.
The trail leaving Barney Lake is the last opportunity to enjoy some level walking. The mountains that widely boundaried the valley below, now narrow and for the next four miles the trail goes up. And up. Diplomatically put, it’s a bitch. But worth it.
It is more like a pilgrimage than a hike. Difficult yes, but intimate with the essence of the Sierra Nevada. The wide valley has now become the water shed canyons, the trail moving in and out of fir and pine trees, granite sculpture gardens, around quite a few downed trees and over still present snow. There are two creek crossings where one needs to either wade across or take the fallen log hi-way trusting your balance with a pack on your back.
The water alternately shifts between roaring, swiftly moving and gently running, as it finds its way down these mountains into the thirsty water table of California. At times while on a different route than the water, when the trees and earth and stone are your only companions in this upward and downward place, the quiet is like a thick fog, tangibly wrapping itself around your senses, stilling the mind.
Four miles up from Barney Lake sits Peeler Lake at 9600 ft.
It is a most welcome sight and an expansive one as the top of your head suddenly has a lot of room above it, the close environment of stones and trees and switchbacks giving way to the dome of sky.
There is stark difference between Peeler and Barney Lake. Barney is at a more verdant elevation. It has a more protected quality, almost nurturing. Whereas Peeler is quiet and austere. It feels like a large mirror that reflects you back to yourself, demanding introspection and release of what may be small within you. Or not. The lake doesn’t really care one way or the other.
There are some fine camping areas around Peeler Lake. No one was there so I had my choice of them and settled on one close to a sandy little beach. After setting up the tent and getting things squared away I stripped off the sweaty hiking clothes and putting my mind on hold made a run to the beach and dove into the lake. This was the world record for the shortest bath. Maybe seven seconds. Frigid is too mild a word to describe the temperature of the waters. But damn, it felt good afterwards.
It was a full moon night – powerfully serene. There was sound sleeping that night, no wind, no critters, the lake lapping at its shore not far away. I was awakened around 4:30 in the morning by what sounded to be a singular cough of an animal with a very large set of lungs about twenty feet from me. My heart went from sleep mode to 100 beats a second in less than a second as my animal instincts were seriously attempting to convince me to run like hell even though I was in a sleeping bag in a tent. But, no other coughs, no sounds of anything big rummaging around, no bear, no nothing. Maybe it was one just passing by on its way to sleeping somewhere after a night of foraging. This was an excellent time to breathe and lie still.
Heart calmed down, I actually slept a while longer but got up not long thereafter to break camp and enjoy the sunrise. Alpenglow is a special occasion occurring morning and evening, sunlight flashing for a brief, short while as it hits just the right prismatic angle on the mountains, painting them an exquisite rose color.
The air was cold and fresh. Knowing that it would take but a few minutes to generate plenty of body heat, I stuffed my jacket and warm shirt into the pack with the rest of the gear, opting for the thinner long sleeve shirt for the almost nine mile hike back to the car.
Mostly all downhill, thankfully.
Thanks for taking some LIP from me,
P.S. Do yourself a big favor and click on any of the photos to enlarge them. Grab yourself a cup of tea, have a seat and enjoy all of them.