Up, Up, Up to Hamilton Lake



Leaving the lowlands behind

A punishing day. It started out really nice: up at 5:30 AM and packed up and on the trail by 6:30, hoping to beat the sun for a few hours. At about 9:00 I found myself at Bearpaw, about halfway through the day’s hiking, in terms of mileage. The first few hours of the day, I had the trail to myself. I was the first hiker out, breaking through spider silk stretched across the trail. It felt good!


The trail cuts across occasional little streams.


At Bucks Creek bridge, I was plunged back into shade for the climb to Bearpaw Meadow. That worked out well!


I couldn’t believe the colors on this guy! He looked exactly like one of those touristy artworks that you find all over the Southwest, with turquoise inlaid all down his back.


Looking east up the Kaweah River canyon toward Lake Hamilton, where I am bound.


Looking up toward where I know the trail winds. I couldn’t see it ahead of me, but when I came back down and looked behind me, it was easy to spot. You have to know what you’re looking for.


View from the bridge above Lone Pine Creek. This is near the junction of the Elizabeth Pass trail and the High Sierra Trail, so from now on, I have a new road under my wheels.


I took advantage of the scant shade along the climb up to Hamilton Lake. I’m thankful for these scrubby live oaks that manage to grow on these exposed south facing cliffs. Thank you, little tree!

The last 2.5 miles of the trail up to Hamilton Lake were very steep and hot. I started to feel physically ill, and took the last mile very slowly.


Eventually, I got some welcome, albeit temporary, cloud cover, and the views were fantastic!


I heard a canyon wren last evening, at Mehrten Creek. That’s a song that always lifts my spirits! Heard it again this morning as I was packing up. I was the only camper on Mehrten last night. There were lots meteors. I was lucky enough to poke my head out of my tent at one point just in time to see a big one that came straight down and exploded in a brief but huge-looking flash of white light toward the east. The crescent moon rose at about 3:00 AM and chased the stars away.

I saw hummingbirds, a white-headed woodpecker, a sooty grouse, flocks of juncos, a couple of nuthatches, and I heard a mountain chickadee calling, “Here kitty, here kitty.” Oh, and the ever-present stellar jays yelling through the woods.


I saw this lake on my map, and thought maybe I would stay there, rather than at Hamilton, but I see it’s inaccessible, with nary a level few feet for pitching a tent. I was disappointed, because I thought when I got here my hike for the day would be done.


The peaks of so-called Valhalla rise above me. Stunning!


A closer shot of that stair-step broken granite. I feel so insignificant, surrounded by this ancient (though in geological terms, fairly young) landscape.


And still the trail leads upward…


That little lake is nestled right below this photo, where this caption is. Couldn’t fit it all in the picture.

Here at Hamilton Lake, it’s crowded with campers, and I found a spot to pitch my tent close by a 37-year-old woman who is hiking solo to Mt Whitney. She told me that she was about to accept a very good job at the SF botanical gardens, but just decided against it because she wanted to have the freedom to hike whenever she wanted. So she kept her waitress job. She’s got her priorities straight. I can’t believe the size of her pack! It looks really heavy! I silently thank Betty Wheeler for being such a stickler about weight on our JMT hike. It got me off on the right foot in understanding that less is truly more when you have to carry it all on your back.

Hamilton Lake, at long last!

Hamilton Lake, at long last! Too big for one photo, so here are numerous ones. The constantly-changing light was captivating.




Looking back toward the peaks of Valhalla. This lake has awesome views!

Looking back toward the peaks of Valhalla. This lake has awesome views!

3:00 PM and I’m already making dinner.

5:00 PM Big windstorm! I had to help secure my neighbor’s tent, which seemed on the verge of flying away. There’s thunder and lightening up higher in the mountains, maybe right at Precipice Lake, where I’m bound tomorrow. I hope it blows through and is gone. Here comes the rain! It’s not cold, but crazy windy. Exciting (as long as we don’t blow away). My tent stayed put, but is full of dry dusty sand, because I didn’t think to close one of the flaps in the excitement while I helped my neighbor.


Suddenly little whitecaps appeared on the lake and the sky over the peaks became one big plum-colored bruise.

I retreated into my tent, and took a little video of of how it felt in there. I was cozy, but the wind was whippin’!

IMG_31827:15 and I’m in my tent. The sun is back out, and Katy, my neighbor, is just finishing dinner. My phone informs me that today I climbed 51 flights of stairs and hiked 13.52 miles. I’m ready to snooze. I can hear the various groups of campers chatting away around me, and fear they will keep me awake (spoiler alert: they didn’t).

4 thoughts on “Up, Up, Up to Hamilton Lake

  1. The lizard photo is nice, and the lizard itself is pretty special–it’s the high altitude version of our common western fence lizard, seldom encountered that high and when it is it is always remembered for its bright colors (Sceloporus occidentalis taylori)


  2. Do you think it would have been absolutely brutal to continue to Precipice Lake instead of camping at Hamilton Lake? I’m trying to make an itinerary with a limited number of days, and really wanted to get the chance to camp at Precipice, but it’s only really doable if I get there my first night.


    • Hi, Shannon, I recommend camping at Hamilton Lake, which has great campsites and is a good swimming place (if you like that sort of thing!). The hike up to Precipice is gorgeous, and it makes sense to be rested and able to enjoy it. Plus, while Precipice is beautiful, it is rather bleak for camping. And if weather is bad, it’s much more exposed. Then you can continue over the pass into 9 Lakes Basin, which is gorgeous. That’s my opinion on the matter. But I always will vote for stopping and smelling the flowers, given the choice. Curious what your itinerary is. I’ll be up there again near the end of July.


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