Scouting for locations in the Sierra high country

After an unusually long, cold, and very wet winter and spring, I was beginning to wonder if I’d EVER be able to get up into the Sierra high country this year.  The big thaw usually starts up in late May, but things were much slower this year–the Tioga Pass didn’t open until June 5, and most of the upper elevation backcountry was still heavily snowed in.

But once things do start to thaw, it doesn’t take long for the creeks to swell and lush green meadows to emerge for their beautiful if short-lived season.

I made a trek up to the eastern Sierras this weekend to do some work on my documentary project, and set aside some time to scope out the conditions in the high country for a photo trip next month.  We drove to one of my favorite places–Horseshoe Meadows–which is the southernmost and most easily accessible high elevation trailhead into the Sierra Nevada backcountry, a lucky thing for those of us in southern California.

One of the truly wonderful things about the eastern Sierras is that its unusually steep escarpment makes it almost ridiculously easy to get up into the high country.  Point your car west on almost any of the roads branching off of Highway 395, and in 15 or so miles you’ve ascended to 8,500 feet (or higher!).  For those of us who enjoy hiking and backpacking in the backcountry, this kind of access is a marvel.

The road to Horseshoe Meadows takes you right up to the trailhead at 10,000 feet, making for a relatively easy hike into the Cottonwood Lakes basin, and the Kern Canyon backcountry just beyond that.

The short summer and fall means access into these areas for only four to five months every year, so I’ll do my best to venture into the high country as much as possible this summer.  We’re headed back to Horseshoe Meadows in a few weeks to photograph the Cottonwood Lakes in the Golden Trout Wilderness, and have other trips planned to the Big Pine Lakes basin near the Palisade glacier, as well as the high country lakes near Paiute Pass west of Bishop, California.

These lakes are fed in part by glacial runoff, which contains fine silt that turns the waters at high elevation an almost impossible turquoise blue.  And that’s what I hope to capture this summer, hopefully more than once.  If you have any time at all–even just a weekend–I highly recommend a trip (even just a day hike) into some of these stunning areas.  It’s good for the soul.  The link below will take you to a short video I took at the meadow this weekend.

Horseshoe Meadows in the Golden Grout Wilderness

2 replies on “Scouting for locations in the Sierra high country”

Now you’re talking about my country! 🙂

I’ve backpacked in the Sierra for decades. (Just how many decades? I’ll keep that a secret for now.) I’ve been out of Cottonwood a few times – backpacked into the Lakes area and have been over Army (not maintained, a bit dicey, very scenic and alpine) and New Army (nice, easy, scenic) passes and have climbed Langely.

This is beautiful country and, as you point out, once your body gets over the shock of finding itself at 10,000′ the hiking into the nearby areas isn’t as difficult as it is in some other east side locations where you go up, up, up from the trailhead.


Dan–I think I’ll be limited to just weekend and long weekend trips this summer, but next year I’m hoping to do a week-long trip back into the Evolution Basin. We’re going up to upper/lower Lamarck Lakes and the Wonder Lakes this weekend–hoping that the short hike from North Lake will be a good breaking-in trip and physical primer for the rest of the summer.

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