Day Hiking in Big Pine Canyon

Most visitors driving along Hwy 395 don’t notice Big Pine, because they are usually going to Mt. Whitney or Mammoth Lakes. There is not much happening in Big Pine and that is how the residents like it. They are proud of their backcountry and the geological wonders that await there to be explored.

Big Pine has still retained its small town character even though millions of tourists pass through all year long skiing, fishing, hiking, off-roading or visiting the Palisades mini-glaciers. The east side of the town is primarily Paiute Indian reservation land and all others live across the highway to the west. The town definitely has its host of characters including mountain men, cowboys and Indians. The people are as tough as the temperature extremes they live with from high altitude cold to intense desert heat.

Heading west out of Big Pine toward the trailhead up the canyon is the McMurray Meadows Road. Take a left before the road crosses the creek and drive up the hill to the backside of Crater Mountain (BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern). It’s fun to hike up on Crater Mountain through the lava fields and search for caves that the Indians visited. They actually left hunting blinds and sites up high on the crater that are situated where the animals passed through. Tule Elk still pass by these very same places today. Crater Mountain is an archeological wonder and that is only one out of many reasons why it is a sensitive area.

The road continues through barren, sage covered hills for miles until it enters the Jeffrey forest, gets real pleasant and more Sierra-like. Defunct mining operations are visible high up the hillsides on the south side of the road. The trailhead is small but it leads to big places on the south and north fork of Big Pine Creek like the indescribable Kings Canyon National Park.

This country is so rugged that there are no constructed trails going over the crest, except Bishop Pass to the north and Taboose many miles to the south-a virtual paradise for serious mountaineers. This is a situation where I hope there is reincarnation so I can come back and hike to new places, because it’s impossible to see it all in a hundred lifetimes. All the stories of the people who have been there before us that were never recorded speak volumes.

We feel their presence at places like the Lon Chaney cabin along the North Fork Trail. The famous silent film actor, who was the son of deaf parents, hired a famous African American architect, Paul Revere Williams, to design the cabin. Forest Supervisor, Eugene Murphy, ensured that the cabin would be protected to this day as a historic monument, and it remains in perfect shape.

Beyond the Lon Chaney cabin on the North Fork Trail are a series of outstanding lakes called One through Seven, the Inconsolable Range, Palisade Glacier and Kings Canyon National Park.

Palisade Glacier is the largest and southern most mini-glacier in the Sierra and was formed 700 years ago in the Little Ice Age. This is where one can still see a bergschrund and a randkluft. A bergschrund is formed when moving ice separates from stagnant ice and forms a crevasse. A randkluft is where the ice separates from the rock face from melting action and can be hundreds of feet deep. Both of these features are very dangerous and not something you would ever want to fall into.

The South Fork Trail is steeper and goes to the Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Glacier. Middle Palisade Peak tops out at 14,012 feet. cheney cabin

Above First falls on the North Fork Trail, another trail takes off to Logging Flat and the Baker Lake area in the Coyote Mountains. This spot is outside of wilderness and a permit is not needed, except for Baker Lake. It was sure nice of the old loggers to leave a fair amount of trees at Logging Flat, and things have recovered nicely.

There are many things to do at the Big Pine Trailhead. There are also nice little cabins left over from the Glacier Lodge days and a pack station that offers horseback rides and mule pack trips into the backcountry. Anyone who visits this place will be back for more of the exciting Eastern Sierra.


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