Eastern Sierra: Day 9 – Upper Pine Lake
I woke up feeling like a six year old that has just been informed he has five minutes left to play on his favorite ride… Today was the last full day and night I would spend in the wilderness.
There was some distance to cover today, with one more obstacle; Pine Creek Pass. After the pass, it would be all downhill to the truck.
I kept the camera battery in my pocket and would use my cell phone to take pictures while hiking the trail. There was still about a 15% charge left on my cell battery, and I was hoping that would last until Upper Pine Lake, where I would see if I could coax a couple more pics from the Nikon.
Once back on the trail, it was pretty simple going. I walked past one meadow after the other on the way up, and couldn’t help but be reminded of a cartoon where the character was running and they just looped the same background.
To fight the monotony, I began thinking about the history of the place I was in. These trails I had used during this trip had been here for hundreds of years, used by the local Indians and earliest settlers as pack and trade routes. I found myself wondering who had been here before me; what were they carrying and what was their business?
It wasn’t difficult to picture whole Indian villages moving down this trail to get to the lower elevations for winter. Moving their belongings down the trail; hearing the voices of men, women, children playing along the route while horses and dogs helped carry the load; or trappers coming down out of the mountains to trade with the Indians, their packhorses and mules loaded with skins and furs, and dried fish and meat.
…back before Indians were bad…and treaties were broken…
Before long, I found myself climbing up Pine Creek Pass. Once at the top, I found the marker
and looked off into the distance. I located the ‘striped’ mountain I was looking for and marked that as my destination for today. Upper Pine Lake was at the base of this mountain, and that six year old kid in me knew exactly how he was going to spend his last five minutes…
I started down the other side of the pass and it was pretty steep for a while but eventually decreased into a nice, even, downward slope that would last until just before the lake.
I was hearing voices during my descent; at first, it would be a muffled word, or a voice cut off mid sentence. I couldn’t see anyone on the trail yet, but I knew we’d meet before too long. I started listening before continuing through areas that were one person wide where I couldn’t see the whole route through and it was at the top of one of these cuts that I was able to hear them coming up.
I took my pack off and waited for them to get to the top. They came into view after about five minutes and were at the top of the cut in another five. It was a welcomed rest. I noticed that they were travelling light; they just had fishing poles and water bottles and one hiker was carrying a very light pack.
The hiker without the pack had a prosthetic leg and I have to admit, that was the very last thing I was expecting to see out here, but it goes to prove that there is no fighting the call that brings us out here. The leg looked to be of newer technology and reminded me more of Terminator than anything else. It bent at the knee and ended in a foot that was made up of a bent piece of metal that looked like it would ‘put some spring in your step’, so to speak. There was a rubber, sole, on the bottom of the foot that he said offered excellent traction on the granite surfaces and watching them come up the cut, I had no idea.
These guys had spent the summer in various camps, leading church groups on hikes through the mountains. They were finished with their season and were just spending the last couple of days camped at Pine Lake, alone, fishing.
They were the only ones there and didn’t recall seeing anyone camped at Upper Pine when they passed it earlier.
We talked for a few more minutes and then packed up and headed off. They were headed over Pine Creek Pass, to the lakes on the other side, near Merriam Peak and I was headed for the striped mountain.
I stopped at a small pond just above the trail from the lake to eat lunch. This pond had a great reflection of the mountains behind it, but before I could get the cell phone powered up, the breeze started blowing and didn’t stop. While I was sitting there, I noticed there was a huge bird flying around the peaks above the pond. This was too big to be a hawk, so I’m assuming that it was an eagle. I tried taking pics with the cell phone, but it was too far in the distance to pick up clearly. After a few minutes, I noticed another one flying around.
From their actions in fight, one could tell they were together. They flew in harmony, above the valley, sometimes touching; one would dive and the other would follow, they would circle at the bottom and ride the air currents back up and do it again, talking to one another the whole time. The impression left with me was that they were having fun, enjoying a beautiful day.
I reluctantly continued on after about a half hour.
There was one more steep part of the trail and some places I’d have to cross Pine Creek. Lucky for me, it was downhill, but it was still slow going.
When I reached Upper Pine Lake, it was about 5pm. I started looking for a suitable campsite and found the places around the south end of the lake were pretty hard packed ground, and finding myself without a sleeping pad, I was looking for something a little more comfortable.
I continued around to the north end of the lake and found a place with some nice sandy ground, situated between some pine trees and boulders. I set up there and went out to explore.
The north end of Upper Pine Lake is dotted with many small islands that offer exquisite photo ops. There was no wind and the reflection on the lake was close to perfect. Pine Creek Pass, and Royce and Feather peaks made up the background of this amazing view.
I went back to the tent and got the Nikon, put the battery in and had one bar!
The first thing I noticed was a reflection of the peak across the lake; the sun was hitting it and it was lit up, golden in color, reflecting off of the still water.
I walked around the banks of the lake, taking pictures until the battery gave out and then ate dinner and sat for hours, watching and listening.
I saw the two hikers coming down the trail that had gone fishing earlier. It was just after dark and they would be at Pine Lake in about another mile.
I spent the rest of the night reflecting on the previous days, enjoying every memory…The six year old in me wasn’t sure yet if he would go quietly tomorrow…or throw a fit all the way to the truck.
I fell asleep listening to the birds and squirrels, breathing the pine air and listening to a waterfall in the distance.