Crescent Meadow Trailhead to Big Hamilton Lake
(16.6 miles, +2,000/-1,000 feet).
The drive from San Diego to Sequoia is long. We left this morning around 4am and arrived at the Backcountry Permit desk around 11am. We originally were planning to camp overnight at Lodgepole Campground to acclimatize, but when we discovered there were two open permits for the High Sierra Trail to start right away, we decided to go for it. The only problem is that we would have only half a day to make it to Hamilton Lake. But we had fresh legs, and we felt confident we could make it before dark.
We were surprised to find that the High Sierra Trail starts out on pavement!?! It is part of the network of accessible trails for day hikers and families to wind in and out of the Sequoia groves on the western side of the Park. I came here with my own kids when they were still in strollers — I just forgot!
But soon, the trail climbed up away from the pavement and out onto a slowly climbing traverse looking out over the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River Valley.
We passed some day hikers who warned us about a rattlesnake, and sure enough it was there. It hid itself well in a bush beside the trail, but we could definitely hear it!
Although it was warm, the air was dry so we did not get too sweaty as we hiked quickly up a gentle incline.
It was around this part of the trail that my hiking partner talked about ultra running when he was younger. Apparently, some veterans of the sport told him he was ideally suited for it because he wasted no energy in his stride. Instead of a run, it was more of a shuffle. I said: “That’s the perfect trail name for you! UltraShuffle!”
Ultrashuffle is an Eagle Scout and he’s done a lot of hiking back East. But this was his first Sierra trip, and he was fascinated with all things large and small.
We expected to see a lot of people on this trail, but it wasn’t too bad. In fact, we startled a deer on one part of the trail that was pretty empty.
There were lots of opportunities to get water since this was a normal snow year, and many of the seasonal sources are (probably) safe to drink without filtering if they originate far from trails, camps, or flat areas.
We continued to make good time. The trail is relatively flat, and often on duff, though it does sometimes rollercoaster up and down between drainages.
One interesting stream crossing was the bridge over Pine Creek. I thought we might be able to get water here, but I really misread my topo map!
The bridge passed over a deep gorge, where far below laid the remains of a previous bridge that must have gotten crushed by rocks at some point.
Past Pine Creek we had come about 15 miles but still had 2 to go and the sun was getting low.
It was a rugged 800 foot climb up to Big Hamilton Lake.
But we managed to arrive just before dark, and just as the nearly-full moon peaked its face over the Great Western Divide.
The good camp spots had all been taken, so we found a social trail away from the main trail and away from the lake and set up our tent and bivy right on top of it. Before long we were sound asleep.