North Lake

One of the more popular little lakes in the Bishop Creek Canyon area is North Lake. About 17 miles from the town of Bishop, North Lake is accessed by a scary one-lane dirt road up the mountain. If one wheel goes off the shoulder of this road, you better hope you can get your seat belt off and bail out in time. Otherwise, they will find what remains of you a thousand feet below at the Cardinal Lodge, and you won’t be checking out.

My adventure on this trip is going to be up the old trail to Grassy Lake and loop around via the little peak that overlooks Sabrina Lake. It was off this old trail that I came across a Jeffrey pine tree at a higher elevation than I have ever seen before. At 10,500 feet the only other trees that surround this Jeffrey are Limber pines. The closest Jeffrey pine to that location is at least 1500 feet lower and miles away. The seed for this tree had to be transported by a bird or animal and by some miracle; it sprouted and grew at that special place. I am astounded how this Jeffrey pine is proof that there are many bizarre adaptations in nature. It is very possible that this single tree is the highest growing Jeffrey pine in the Sierra.

Grassy is an awesome little lake not far from the trailhead. I don’t like the half-mile walk from the parking lot through the campground, so I take a shortcut up the old cowboy trail. It starts where the road crosses the creek before you turn right to head to the parking area. Straight ahead is the campground. The trail is short and steep and levels out at the top. It turns into a beautiful walk through a lodgepole pine forest along the creek. There are small meadows and riparian zones along the way with lots of flowers. The lodgepole pine forests are buffed out and look like the forest fairies came in at night and raked up all the branches and debris. The floor is perfect in these quiet places deep in the forest, where it is more protected from the violence of the storms. In other places there are many blow-downs where the trees have been thinned by the wind.

There is a price to pay in these deep, lush places. The lusher the riparian zones, the thicker the mosquitoes. It is always a trade off in the woods. Many a hiker has been known to run out of the mountains driven to madness by the unrelenting mosquitoes. You have to keep moving all the time and can never relax. Just when you are tired, hot, sweating profusely and need to rest, the mosquitoes will swarm on you. Your breath is exuding heat way out from your body that the little blood suckers home in on. How did the Indians do it without repellent? Don’t forget yours!

The farther I went up the trail to Grassy Lake; I started to notice that the sagebrush and rabbit brush looks like it wants to bloom a full month earlier than usual. Things are different now. Climate change and drought are doing weird things. A lot of trees are dying from blister rust or beetles in different locations. I walked beneath waterfalls at South Lake that you could never do this time of year, and I cannot remember a summer that has ever been this dry in the Sierra. As I arrived at Grassy Lake, I thought about how this is one of the most beautiful views around. It is luxuriously green with the rust colored Paiute Crags shooting straight up. It has a long history of sheepherders, cowboys and Indians.

An old trail leads up out of the inlet creek of Grassy to the second Lamarck Lake. Two people a year probably use it: a guy named Mark and me. Another well-built trail goes up to the first Lamarck Lake and the wonderful Wonder Lakes basin. Talk about outstanding, this area has it all. Above the second Lamarck Lake is the famous Lamarck Coll, where all the backpackers and climbers take a short cut over the crest without having to face death defying cliffs. As I stood in the meadow at Grassy Lake watching my dog Windy running through the grass and looking at the 360 degree beauty, I thought to myself, I don’t know how much closer a person can get to heaven on earth than this.

I decided to climb up a small peak that overlooks Sabrina Lake in the next basin over. Everywhere there is evidence of where massive ice sheets pushed up huge blocks of granite and plowed them into the sides of mountains leaving moraines. It is steep and a little scary, and I have to scramble up the slope. Windy has no fear, but I fear for her. I keep telling myself not to look down and keep moving up. The trees are getting gnarlier from the severe blasts of wind, sand and snow in the exposed areas. I arrive at the top on a knife back ridge that looks straight down on Lake Sabrina. It is so steep that I would never go down it. Even in an emergency it would be tough. Sabrina is beautiful even though it is a reservoir. It must have been enchanting before the dam was built, when the creek rolled through stunning meadows. Nevertheless, it is still outstanding, multi-colored, and is one fantastic destination to hike, boat and fish.

Well, that about does it for my little trip today. I am going to head back down a sandy slope that I scoped out from down below. It is always important to plan where you are going to enter and exit when you go cross country. It is all about staying out of the cliffs. Then it’s back to the car and homeward bound. What a lucky guy I am! I just bagged another wonderful hike and learned all kinds of new things about nature. I never get tired of it.

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