In the Sierra again with Will Jones
When it comes to hiking in the Eastern Sierra, I agree with the person who first said “You can’t get too much of a good thing.” In back-to-back weeks I was able to hike many beautiful trails, first on an annual backpacking trip with a good friend, and then on a series of day hikes out of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes with my wonderful and intrepid wife, Melinda.
We left San Luis Obispo and drove to Bishop on the day after Labor Day. It was her first time traveling glorious Highway 395, the road that gives access to all of the Eastern Sierra trailheads, most noteworthy of which is Whitney Portal out of Lone Pine, the trail to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower forty-eight states.
The beauty of driving 395 north is the ability to turn left at 3000’ and end up at anywhere between 7000’ and 10000’ in thirty minutes or less. The climb in the Eastern Sierra is steep like a roller coaster ride with breathtaking scenery. We first hiked the Rock Creek Trail, nine miles round trip through Little Lakes Valley to Morgan Pass and back. Turn left at Tom’s Place, drive to Mosquito Flats at 10100’ and start hiking. Think Shangri La, and when your hike is over, stop at the Pie-in-the-Sky Café for an outrageous slice of homemade pie-a-la-mode.
Our second big day, twelve miles altogether, included three hikes in Devil’s Postpile National Park: the Devil’s Postpile trail, the Rainbow Falls Trail and Shadow Lake. The Devil’s Postpile is astonishing, a dense collection of vertical hexagonal basaltic columns that look like pipe organs from the bottom and like nature’s dance floor on top. Rainbow Falls is a wide, majestic 100’ drop along the middle fork of the San Joaquin River, still running strong in November.
After lunch at Red’s Meadow, a resupply stop for John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail hikers, we completed our Eastern Sierra trip with a seven mile round trip to Shadow Lake, the last half mile including a 900’ elevation gain on granite switchbacks to a pristine lake surrounded by jagged peaks dotted with snowfields and glaciers.
In addition to the exhilaration experienced from moderate to strenuous exercise, Melinda and I both felt the sense of “being here now” and the serenity that being surrounded by majestic Big Nature (as my brother calls it) evokes. Since it was her first time in the Eastern Sierras, I felt like I was giving her a special gift. It was a splendid holiday that concluded with a drive home over Tioga Pass Road and through Yosemite.
As John Muir wrote, “Keep close to Nature’s heart. Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” Hiking in the Eastern Sierras will make your heart sing and your spirit soar.
photo by will jones
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