9 Lakes Basin


I was up at 6:00 AM, and took care of packing for the day hike and closing up the tent. It’s nice to pack light! By 7:30 AM, I was up at Kaweah Gap. On the way up, I stopped to look a stag whose antlers were gilded by the morning sun. Tried to take photos, but of course they were out of focus. I was trying not to move much so I wouldn’t scare him away.

IMG_3274IMG_3276It’s a beautiful clear, cloudless day. I saw a flock of birds break from the lodgepole pines in the shade below and then spiral upwards into the sun. They circled and then dispersed around the basin. Two landed on a boulder close by me, and I was able to identify them as juncos. I didn’t know that flocks nested/roosted close together at night. Now I do.


One of the little mini terraced gardens on the trail to Kaweah Gap.


I took off cross-country into 9 Lakes Basin

Sitting among the lodgepoles in 9 Lakes Basin, I see a little nuthatch calling and climbing up and down among the boughs.



In amongst the lodgepoles, I wanted to take portraits of each one.


9 Lakes Basin is pretty barren, when it comes to vegetation over 6 inches high. But under 6 inches, it is teeming with life.

I saw a tiny hummingbird or a huge bug harvesting nectar from the salvia growing along the trail. About 1.5″ long. The wings didn’t seem large enough in comparison to the body for a hummer. Also, it had two antennae sprouting from its head. A moth? Slight flash of magenta on the wings. The body looks striped. The face looks bird-like. It never sat still so I couldn’t observe better than just a blur. It continued working its way through every blossom, but as some point seemed to become aware of me. It flew around my legs and took off. NOTE: I found out later that it was a white-lined sphinx moth. Wow! The field guide I consulted said it flies during the day (unlike other moths) and acts like a hummingbird. Here’s a link to photos and more information.

IMG_3287I spent hours hiking around 9 Lakes Basin. There are no trails, so I tried to keep to the rocks whenever possible and not tread on the tender plants. I imagined if I went missing, they would hunt for me with dogs. They wouldn’t find any footprints. I wondered if anyone would comment on my careful path. I found myself on a shelf of slick granite, and considered climbing along a very tiny ledge to continue. Thought again and decided on the more prudent path of backtracking and descending along a different plane. After all, I am alone out here. I already slipped once on the granite yesterday. I navigated by sighting on one wind-blasted lodgepole and heading toward it, then finding another and heading toward that one.



This tree, one of my landmarks, looked like it was casually relaxing against a nice smooth boulder.


The clouds were ever-changing toward the east, alternately threatening rain and then suddenly clearing up.


Here, I’m looking northward toward Triple Divide, which is named for the Kern, Kings and Kaweah rivers. 9 Lakes Basin drains to the Kern. 

I only spent time at two of the nine lakes for which this basin is named. Too cold for even a ceremonial dip (for me, in any case).


But my feet enjoyed it!


It’s easy to tell which way the prevailing winds come from in this area. They funnel up the valley from Arroyo Grande, and all the trees bend away.



I almost took a dip in the creek running from the high lake, but used the excuse of too many bugs (there really weren’t that many) and too-cool air to dissuade me.


Eagle Scout Peak rises above 9 Lakes Basin


Even with all this grass growing, it’s pretty easy to find a route from rock to rock, to avoid trampling the growing stuff. Sun and shadows are so bold!


Just me and my knees back at Kaweah Gap.

After my hours of solitude, I returned to Kaweah Gap, and decided to sit there and enjoy the view until someone came along the trail for me to talk to. In no time at all, a handsome 30-something man appeared and asked, “May we join you?” Of course! This is how I met Tony and his hiking companion, Asenath. She is a gorgeous Kenyan woman who is spending 33 days touring national parks all over the West, from Glacier through Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon to Sequoia and on to Yosemite, mostly solo except for this one little stint with Tony. What a great trip! We instantly fell into that camaraderie that sometime happens on the trail, where like minds meet, all overcome with a common sense of awe for our surroundings. They had taken a day hike up from Hamilton, and shortly they headed back down. But not before Asenath took a couple of photos of me against the backdrop of the Gap.


There are so many little chores to do all the time, to keep all my items together and working. But even so, when they are all taken care of–the water is filtered, the tent is up, sleeping pad inflated, sleeping bag ready should I feel a nap coming on, cookware properly stowed, shirt and socks washed out–still, there are hours and hours of daylight left. What to do? Pack up and hike back to Hamilton Lake, where at least there are trees under which to shelter. Too much sun up here. My legs started getting burned, and there’s not a bit a shade. Plus, I will have a shorter hike back to Bearpaw tomorrow (more on that later).

IMG_3321 These little guys are Ranger’s Buttons. A great name for the button-sized blooms.


On the trail back down, the golden chinquapin was so thick in places that it scratched my legs at every step. I didn’t remember it being so overgrown on the hike up. So many flowers! The scent of pennyroyal and some sort of sage-y stuff  with clusters of tightly-packed white flowers cleansed my soul.


A marmot posed for photos. At first, I thought I’d have to be quick to get a photo before it ran off, but it just came closer and closer, looking for a handout.



I set up my phone camera on my trekking poles to get a photo of me in the little tunnel.


Looking down at Hamilton Lake on the way back down. The lighting difference between morning and late afternoon gives the view an entirely new feel.

On the trail back down from Precipice to Hamilton, I met a number of hikers heading up. A boy scout troop was on their way to climb Eagle Scout Peak. I met a lots of hikers of various ethnic origins–-an all-American mix of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Latino, African and European. So interesting! Everyone is out here, sweating together for the same thing: a chance to feel  wonder and connectedness to our beautiful Earth. Or that’s what I imagine, anyway…



I love the junipers! That’s some good-looking fiddleback figure in the wood.


Peeking through a juniper’s boughs down to the intense blue of Hamilton Lake.


Bye-bye, Precipice Lake and Eagle Scout Peak!

Back down at Hamilton, I lucked out and got a great campsite, overlooking the lake and Tony and Asenath’s campsite. It was good to break up the hike, as my knees started hurting a bit today. I took a long swim in Hamilton, which feels perfect temperature-wise after having experienced the chill of Precipice. Mmmm!


My campsite, private and flat. What more could you ask for? A view? Got that, too.


These beautiful junipers formed the backdrop to my tent site.


The view from my campsite, looking down at Tony and Asenath’s camp.


As the sun sank, the peaks came alive with lovely pink light.


I forgot to mention my mileage for the last couple of days. Yesterday was a light day: 7.48 miles and–WHOA–80 flights of stairs. I guess that is quite a climb from Hamilton to Precipice. Today I climbed 58 flights of stairs and hiked 10.71 miles, but who’s counting? Time to sleep.

5 thoughts on “9 Lakes Basin

  1. Love your hiking postings, thanks so much. Altho I’ve not been quite there where you were for this one, I know those places in topo maps we studied in the 70’s, but never got there, then. The high country, lodge pole’s, the junipers, the lakes, the granite, passes, and moon scapes, are so eerily familiar to those climes north of this hike, north of Kings Canyon, up there near Wishon, Cortwright and the Blackcap Quad. Way high up, 12K or more. Hell For Sure Pass, Devils Punchbowl, and more, way up, there. Thank you so much for the hiking, and the pictures. You remain not only a musical legend, but a High Sierra Forager. You are a marvel, for us boomers, ma’am, and an inspiration. Thank you so much for it all. I bow, to all your wow thru the years.


  2. Hi Laurie — I’m greatly enjoying your postings on your latest hiking/camping odyssey. Both your words and your photographs are so beautifully and mindfully framed.
    And, yes, sphinx moths are amazing! I saw one several years ago in a friend’s flower bed here in central New Jersey. I was amazed at seemed to be an impossibly tiny hummingbird feeding on nectar — and then, bending over to examine it closely, was absolutely astonished to see that it clearly wasn’t a bird but an insect! An impressive example of convergent evolution (or of creation, depending on your perspective).
    Ah, what wonders we see by liberating ourselves from enslaving communications interfaces and, instead, communing face to face with the natural world.
    You inspire us all.


  3. Hey Laurie, my name is Steven. I live next to the beautiful Smoky Mountains and that’s where I got my itch for hiking and exploring. I plan on hiking the nine lakes basin loop in the second week of May 2019. I am very grateful for you sharing your experiences and giving such in-depth detail on the trail. I’m looking forward to the breathtaking views. I know what stood out to me was how it was very difficult for you to stay on the trail and how you kept close to the rocks. What makes me a little nervous is when I go everything is going to be blanketed in snow. I’m flying into Sacramento international airport May 4th and starting my journey at Yosemite National Park and then heading to Sequoia and Kings Canyon national Park. Then I’m heading north to the Redwood national forest where I will be spending my last couple days before flying back to Knoxville Tennessee. I try to plan an epic trip every year. Earlier this year I drove from Knoxville to Yellowstone national park and did some hiking in Lamar Valley amongst the buffaloes. I caught a gray wolve chasing down an antelope across the valley as well as a lone black wolf cutting across. Then I headed to the Grand Tetons and hiked up Paint brush Canyon and down Cascade Canyon. The views from there were breathtaking. Then I headed down south to the Colorado Rocky Mountain national Park. I was able to hike Longs peak mountain before the thunderstorms came in around noon. I continued my journey south to the North rim of the Grand Canyon. I was told by park rangers that hiking from the North rim to the South rim in one day was impossible in the month of August because of temperatures being so high. So I started my hike at 1 o’clock in the morning via headlamp and made it to Phantom Ranch just in time to see the sunrise. My entire hike up Bright angels trail to the South rim was in the shade. I made it up to the South rim by 11 AM just in time for lunch. I figured I would share a tidbit of my experiences with you. Thank you and Happy trails Laurie


    • Hi, Steven,

      I’m not sure that you will be experiencing the best time of year to visit 9 Lakes Basin. It is sure to be mostly a bowl of snow (we hope) in May. There aren’t really marked trails through the 9 Lakes, except for very faint ones, and they will be invisible under the snow. Will you hike in on the High Sierra Trail? That is very beautiful.
      You seem to be a very intrepid hiker, so I assume you will be OK. It’s easy to orient yourself in the Basin by the surrounding land formations. I don’t envy you sleeping and hiking in the snow. Generally, snow at that elevation stays through much of June, or that what we in lower elevations hope for and depend on for our water. Have a wonderful time, and say hi to the pikas from me.


      • Hi Laurie. Thank you for your response and the heads up. I kind of got a little head over heels when I purchased my flight before I did any real research. However I’m going to make the most of it. To be honest I am extremely stoked about the trip. I read that California gets 1/3 of their water from the basin. So I could definitely see how you are doing the snow dance. Especially after everything you’ guys have gone through there with the fires. I hope you and yours fared well. Yes I plan on taking the high sierra trail there. I’m definitely going to make the best of it. Again thank you and happy trails young lady 😁


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