Sabrina Basin

Sabrina Lake completes the Bishop Creek trilogy of hikes. There she sits like a princess between her fair sisters to the north and south. The Sabrina Basin is so vast; I haven’t begun to approach it yet. There are so many drainages and so little time. If there were ever one constant thing about the mighty Sierra Nevada it would be that it doesn’t matter where you go, because it is all good.

On this adventure I am going to head up to George Lake in a side canyon off the main trail. It is a nice leisurely stroll around Sabrina to get to the George Lake junction. It can also be hot and nasty on the dog’s feet in mid-summer, because there is very little shade to cover the hot, decomposed granite. It is best to hit this one early. It is always a good climb up the hill wherever you go in the mountains and the elevation and altitude get a good heart rate going. In fact, if you are going to have a heart attack, the mountains will make or break you. Up and down the trails we go, the older we get, the weaker our knees grow. It is kind of like going from four-wheel back to two-wheel drive. Getting to the top of the trail is always worth the effort, because things mellow out and have a nice way of putting one into cruise control.

There are lots of things to see up at George Lake: meadows, lodgepole and limber pine forests, small lakes and riparian zones all along the way. It is as beautiful as can be with peaks rising up out of the hanging valleys. Make no mistake that every place is special in these mountains. Off the George Lake trail the ponds and small lakes seldom get visited. They are choice and lead up to the outlet of George, where it is barren, long and narrow. At the end of the lake a trail goes up and over Table Mountain to join with the Tyee Trail on the other side.

Midway on the trail are some luxurious spots with small meadows. One of the meadows is a snow survey station, where snow depths are recorded every year. Metal signs nailed high on the trees designate it as a snow survey area. At this location a small ten-inch lodgepole tree hangs over the trail. On the backside of this tree is carved a date of 1896. This was a prime area for Basque sheepherders, and they hammered the meadows to the full extent. Everybody and their brother walks under this tree not knowing what is right on the other side or what ghosts of history linger there.

All these side canyons are typical U-shaped glacial valleys that were cut off by the main ice sheet as it advanced out and down the canyon. A lot of times huge talus rocks are left on the sides of the valleys. It was in one of these places in the High Sierra that the famous naturalist John Muir surfed a giant granite talus rock down a steep slope in his younger days. This is the story as it was told to me by my uncle Ernest, who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle.

At one of the early Sierra Club meetings in the1890’s, John Muir told a story to some of the young ladies in attendance about a harrowing experience he had while hiking in the mountains of the Eastern Sierra. He described how he was traversing across a steep talus slope of granite rock, when a large slab that he was standing on dislodged and began to slide. He realized immediately that he was helpless to do anything about it. As the slab gained momentum he yelled to his dog Stickeen, “Hoot Laddy! I’m going to have to ride her out, so stay where you’re at!” And with that John Muir rode that giant granite slab all the way down the talus slope with sparks flying in the dust and the smell of sulphur in the air. As the slab hit the bottom of the slope, John jumped off into some soft sand and took a wee tumble. Stickeen was soon by his side licking his face and whimpering. After John dusted himself off none the worse for wear, they merrily went their way.

All this reminiscing about old surfer John made me feel a little tired. I started to doze off along the trail and for a moment almost forgot that I was at George Lake. Well, I think it’s time for Windy and me to take a little snooze under the shade of a big lodgepole tree in the soft pine needles on this warm summer’s day, so, until I write again, happy trails to you.


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