Drive up Bishop Creek Canyon, and you will find gushing streams, subalpine lakes, and dense groves of aspens, which around this time of year, begin turning lime green, yellow, orange, and red. Hike further up past and above Lake Sabrina, and you will find a gorgeous network of alpine lakes and jagged peaks.
Elevation Gained: 1,600′
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Critters: squirrels, a deer, a massive rabbit
Ever since before I went to Hawaii in early September, I had been daydreaming about driving up to Mineral King in Sequoia National Park. Every time I go to Sequoia, I skip Mineral King, largely because I have enjoyed the familiar for a long time. In addition to the deep valleys and towering peaks, I wanted to enjoy the aspens at Mineral King, which I knew would be turning right about now. I anticipated a combination of fall color and a place I had never been before.
However, the Federal Government had other plans. The shutdown led to Mineral King, and every other National Park, being closed. For a while, it appeared that I would be completely thwarted in my quest for mountains and fall color. I would later learn that even though National Forest campgrounds and facilities are closed, the trails would be open. This is largely due to the impossibility of blocking access to the National Forest, most of which doesn’t have gates like the parks.
After keeping tabs for a week on the excellent California Fall Color blog, I decided to drive up to Bishop Creek Canyon, where I would hope to find a place to camp down in the desert. I did attempt to camp in the desert, but the wind was brutal, and I wound up sleeping in the back of my car at a Best Western parking lot. After an uncomfortable night of sleep, I was up before the dawn and heading up the canyon to Lake Sabrina, with a goal to make it up to Blue Lake.
Those who revere the Northeast as the pinnacle of autumn colors may be surprised to find that the eastern Sierras put on displays that can be every bit as spectacular. While the aspens and cottonwoods lining the watercourses here are not nearly as omnipresent as the deciduous trees in New England, they are capable of turning all shades of vivid lime green, yellow, orange, and red. Furthermore, as these trees hug watercourses, they create the impression of rivers of fire running down the canyons.
I hit the trail around 7 AM, with the sun barely starting to graze the highest peaks. I followed along the south shore of Lake Sabrina, where the trail began to climb upward. The lake is partially man-made, and it was mostly dry, save for the naturally occurring portion. The dam blocks off Bishop Creek, although the creek was flowing through the viaduct. I found most of the best color right around the dam and the creek just below it.
The trail climbed up the slope above Lake Sabrina, revealing views of a criss-crossing pattern of aspens on the opposite shore, indicating water flowing down from lakes at higher altitude. Eventually, this view is lost as the trail follow a southward bend and begins to climb up a moraine to a ledge which hides gorgeous blue lake. This segment of the hike is rich and rewarding in itself as the sun gradually gained a sharper angle in the sky and greater sections of craggy Eastern Sierra peaks became more visible and pronounced.
The trail the dove into a small, but steep canyon. As it climbed up a partially man-made staircase, the sun disappeared again for a while and the air grew crisper and colder. I was approaching 10,000′, and the thin air was icy cold. I soon gained the crest of this canyon and saw a small side pool for Blue Lake, and I knew that I was almost at my goal.
I’ve now seen quite a few alpine lakes in the Sierras. Every single one of them is gorgeous and unique, but perhaps none moreso than Blue Lake. While Soldier Lake in Sequoia National Park had previously been my favorite alpine lake, I’m going to have to grant the title to Blue Lake. It’s a combination of surroundings and the actual lake itself, and I don’t exactly know how to describe what made this lake so spectacular to me. However, I hope to come up here for a two night backpacking trip to explore the myriad lakes in the basin. Side note: some of the lakes here have ridiculous names like Donkey Lake, Dingleberry Lake, Topsy-Turvy Lake, and Hungry Packer Lake.
After enjoying a snack on a sunbathed boulder, I turned around and headed back the way I came. On the return, the sun had come up, throwing a sharper contrast on the color around Lake Sabrina. The air became warmer without actually becoming warm, and I became grateful that I had wound up here. I still wish I could have gone to Mineral King, but that isn’t going anywhere.
I’m still and pretty pissed about what is going on with the government, but in a place like this, it is hard to believe that there are such things as governments and shutdowns.