Big Pine Lakes

For the first time in my life, I had Columbus Day off and decided to go on a solo hiking trip for the long weekend. One of my most favorite areas of California is the Eastern Sierra – the valley between the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains which run along the California/Nevada border. The area is beautiful; full of sage brush, aspen, hot springs and mountain views. There was one place in particular that I’ve been wanting to get to for a couple years and figured this was as good a weekend as any. So Saturday morning I woke up early, loaded the car, and drove to a little town called Big Pine.


I got there in the afternoon as a few storms were blowing around, but I was so excited to hike that I went out anyway, chasing views of the high peaks. Pretty quickly it started to snow, and then it started to thunder. I loooove hiking in the snow, but I don’t mess with lightning, so I high-tailed it back to my car and had a restorative evening snuggled in the back of my car with beer, M&Ms and a good book. It brought me back to my cross-country travels and made me very happy.

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The next morning I was at the trailhead at 7 and on the trail by 7:30, just after the sun came up. I didn’t see another person until I was almost up the the lakes, and then it was only people who had spent the night camped up there during the storm who were hurrying down to the sunshine and the warmth. Mornings after a snowstorm are the most beautiful mornings in the world to me, especially when the aspen trees are just turning to gold.

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It was 6 miles to the second lake, with 2,250 ft of elevation gain, and I was there at 9:30. It took my breath away. I put on all my extra layers and just sat in awe of the view.

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Once my body temp started to drop I knew it was time to start moving again, and since it was still only 10 am I wasn’t ready to head back down so I decided to make a loop past Third lake, Fourth Lake, and Black Lake. I passed a couple guys who had camped up at Fourth Lake and they assured me the conditions were safe without needing crampons or poles so away I went. The further up I got the more snow was one the trail, and the colder it got, but I felt pretty safe the whole time. I made sure to eat a lot of snacks and put on more layers and enjoyed the day. None of the other lakes were quite as breathtaking as Second Lake but they were each beautiful in their own way.

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Surprisingly the most emotional point of the day was on my way back down from Black Lake, when I got an unexpected view back at Temple Crag and Second Lake from across the canyon. Looking at the view of the lakes on top of the sparkling snow, golden aspen, with the warmth of the noonday sun, made me literally cry with happiness.


122 comments for “Big Pine Lakes

  1. October 14, 2018 at 7:50 am

    Yow, Nicole. Hiking solo in a place you’ve never been. How do you do it? Last night I crouched in a corner, not wanting to go to bed because of loud thinking noises upstairs. It sounded like a big person angrily throwing furniture around. It was definitely not a mouse or squirrel. I was ready to phone the state police but gathered up my dog first and listened for the regularly occurring sounds again. They stopped. It took a while to stop clutching the dog and go to bed. So – how do you do what you do? Aren’t you terrified sometimes? Of humans or beasts or bad weather. Do you ever get immobilized by fear?

  2. Robert Reynolds
    October 14, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Nicole –
    I really can’t express how much I enjoy your adventures and blogs. It has been 55 years since I hiked this area but the memories are vivid. It is reassuring to hear and see that at least this corner of earth has not yet been destroyed by humankind and to know that there are still those who value wilderness experiences. Keep on trekking, and sharing! Thx, Bob

  3. October 15, 2018 at 12:17 am

    Hi Robin! Honestly it’s strange, I still get creeped out by strange noises in the night, especially when I’m at home alone, but when I’m outside I do seem to be less afraid. I’m not afraid of critters (they’re all more scared of me anyway) and I usually trust my judgement regarding other people or the weather, and I’m usually REALLY excited to see and experience whatever the goal is, so any fear is worth it. However it’s ironic that you ask this question on this post, because the truth is that I was nervous for part of it. I have a rule to not hike by myself during the winter (the reasoning is that in the summer I could survive a broken leg outside but not in the winter), and this was right on the cusp of that harsh season. I still kept going, just making sure to be extra careful with where I put my feet and to stop walking when I was taking pictures. I did accidentally let myself get too cold at one point and did get a little worried but after forcing myself to eat a snack and put on another layer everything turned out fine. Also, sound travels really far up at elevation, especially when it’s cold, so I knew if I needed help I could get it from any of the day hikers coming up for the view. I’m going to think about the things I’m afraid of a little deeper because it is a great question. I wonder what you were hearing in the attic?? Is it still a mystery?

  4. October 15, 2018 at 12:20 am

    Hi Bob! I was thinking similar thoughts about how this site is still as incredible as it has always been since time immemorial, and wondered what Native Americans call it and how our experience of such beautiful places has changed, if it has. There are a LOT of day hikers coming for the view in the afternoon (I’m sure thanks to social media) but yes, it still takes work to get there and is still generally safe from our meddling. Thanks for reading!!

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