Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Lone Pine Lake (10,050') - John Muir Wilderness (Eastern Sierras) - 9/24/16

Lone Pine Lake (Mid-Morning)

Lone Pine Lake (Mid-Morning)

Heading into the Canyon

Dow Villa Motel
 On the last day of Tim's hike of the John Muir Trail, five club members woke in the little bustling town of Lone Pine, CA and met for breakfast while watching the sun rise on Mt. Whitney. Tim would be summitting that highest peak in the continental United States in the morning, then he and Dennis would descend down the trail into Whitney Portal. The five club members spent the day climbing almost thirty switchbacks and five times as many steps to the edge of the "Whitney Zone."

Morning Sun on Mt. Whitney from Lone Pine, CA
 The Whitney Zone (or everything above Lone Pine Lake) is where hikers need a special Mt. Whitney permit. Our hike did not require it.

Mt. Whitney Trailhead in Whitney Portal
 Expected to be 4 miles for the out and back, we realized about half way up that the calculations did not take into account the many many switchbacks involved in the, actually, 6 mile hike!

Trail climbs around to the Switchbacks

A Friendly Face
 We rode up Whitney Portal Road without construction interruption on this Saturday. Arriving at the Portal trailhead, we grabbed the last two parking spots in the lot nearest the trailhead. The lots fill very early in the morning since a summit climb usually begins around 3am. If your car is going to be parked in these lots overnight, they must have a permit in the windshield. Richard relocated his ice chest into one of the bear lockers but, on our return, there was an admonishment from a roving ranger that he did not write his name on it. Lesson learned.

Passing through the Smaller Cross Canyons
 So, we started up the trailhead that begins by leading underneath a specially built informational wooden structure. It gives the Whitney hike a special meaning.

Five Happy Hikers (add photographer)
 After circling up the hill and around the contour, the trail crosses two creeks. The second (bigger) creek has several rocks to balance on for crossing. It is here that the mountaineer's route junctions to climb Mt. Whitney from a steeper and more difficult canyon. Jerry has climbed this route before and there is a blog offered on this site.

Mountain Mahogany stands in front of Whitney Portal Below

Lots of Switchbacks into Canyon
 There were not many switchbacks until we reached the mountainside of the main canyon above Lone Pine Creek. Then, it was switchback after switchback. There were around thirty in all before our turnoff for Lone Pine Lake. Really, this was not a problem. We like switchbacks! The real annoyances were the multiple rock steps (some very high) within the switchbacks. It was definitely a morning on the stair climber!

Nearly Thirty Switchbacks to Lone Pine Lake
 So, our pace was somewhat slow with few stops for photos since the switchbacks did not provide for very many different views.

The Wonderful Log Bridge
 Finally, the trail seemed to take a break from the endless switchbacks and we came to another creek crossing. This one had a wonderful bridge built of one foot square logs laid end to end. With a little balance, this was fun to cross!

Found it!

Dropping Down to Lone Pine Lake
 After the log bridge, we entered a forest of trees and granite then found the junction of the Lone Pine Lake trail. There was a sign for the lake indicating a turn to the left. Down we went for a short descent. Below us, we could see the lake in the morning shadows. A small unattended tent was placed among the trees. We arrived at the open sandy shore to the light show in front of us.

David at Lone Pine Lake
 Once again, we had arrived at a lake at the perfect time of morning with perfect conditions. Calm water. Mirrored reflections. Light and shadows.

Lone Pine Lake
 Cameras came out and we spent several minutes plus a snack break in the area. There was a small trail that circled the lake on each side to provide many different angles to the display. We shared the experience with only two other hikers.

Other Hikers at Lone Pine Lake

Old Wood at Lone Pine Lake
 When we left the lake, the light had begun to change a bit; the magic hour was complete. Climb back up to the junction, cross the log bridge, and begin the endless switchback descent. Yes, it was worth it! Absolutely gorgeous! On our way down, we passed many hikers. Most of the hikers at this time of day were likely going only to Lone Pine Lake. They should have started earlier! This is a recommended hike for a climb of 1700 feet in only 3 miles.

6 miles; 1700 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Descent down the Many Switchbacks

Still Switchbacking

Crossing the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek

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