The Mountains are Calling ~ John Muir Wilderness ~ Eastern Sierras, CA

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”  ~  John Muir

Majestic snow-capped peaks

We share this esteemed naturalist’s views, the allure of these mountains is that strong.  It is a spiritual experience, for sure, and the recommended hike passed on to our friend Nina by a forest ranger was to most definitely do Little Lakes Trail.  We were blessed with a rainstorm a few days earlier so we knew without a doubt there would be snow topping the rugged peaks of the John Muir Wilderness where this hike was to take us.

Terry at one of the many striking trailside lakes

Looking at the topographical map at Mosquito Flats, our jumping-off point, we saw evidence of literally hundreds of lakes dotting the mountainsides.  Our hike was to take us by a mere six of these sparkling jewels, ending at Gem Lake, where we lunched lake-side, surrounded by snow-covered granite peaks.  Could life possibly get any better than this?!

The gang lunching at Gem Lake

Considering the hikes we had done at June Lake and many others that were available in this area, Little Lakes was relatively easy, a 7-miler beginning at 10,300 feet and  topping out at just shy of 11,000 feet…piece of cake!  For sightseeing, these are my kind of hikes, not too taxing to leave me huffing and puffing, just a nice, easy hiking pace while enjoying the grandeur all around me, and there was plenty of that!  Sparkling lakes, alpine meadows and many thirteeners surrounded us, Mt. Dade, Mt. Abbot, Mt. Mills, and Bear Creek Spire, to name a few.

The pack, as Nina would say
Paul having a Zen moment

We marveled at the condition of this trail as we wound along meadows and shimmering lakes. Perhaps it is so well-maintained because it is a popular trek. Going early and in the off-season is recommended, as we did, and were rewarded with very few hikers on our way out. This trail is also popular with the fishing and climbing enthusiasts.

Lovely snow-covered hillsides

From our campground at Horton Creek, it is an approximate 45-minute drive on Hwy 395 to get to this lovely trailhead, where the mountains are calling anyone who wants to experience Mother Nature at her finest.

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Hiking High ~ Eastern Sierras, CA

View from the summit at Virginia Lakes

Hiking high (as in elevation, not in how fuzzy my brain feels), is inevitable if you are in the Eastern Sierras. The Oh! Ridge NFS Campground where we are hangin’ out sits at roughly 7600 feet so it’s pretty much a given that you will be movin’ on up from there! Since altitude and I are not on the best of terms, I can be plagued with vertigo, headaches and nausea if I’m not careful.  Acclimatizing to this altitude has made all the difference in my hiking enjoyment, and we do love our hiking.

Eastern Sierra sunset

The Eastern Sierras are particularly special: 360º mountain views, crisp sunny days, deepest azure skies, striking fall colors, gorgeous alpine lakes, breathtaking sunsets. Hiking doesn’t get much better than this.

We did a couple of hikes early on to get us in the mood and get me acclimatized.  Parker Lake, with its golden quaking aspens along the trail and crystal-clear blue lake and Lundy Canyon Trail, with a great overlook sporting golden meadows, aspens, and a lovely waterfall were great starter hikes.

So, I think I’m prepared to stretch myself a bit further, to experience the true grandeur of the Sierras.  To ensure a safe hike and stave off altitude sickness, we have called upon our buddy Paul to call forth the Paiute “Great Spirit”, to guide  us on our journey.  Ok, I’m being a little silly but I love how Paul was captured in this photo so I just had to add it.

Paul calling forth the “Great Spirit” at Lundy Canyon Overlook

On a quest to further prepare myself, our next hike was Yost Lake.  With an elevation gain of 1800 feet and ~ 3.2 miles each way, it was fairly grueling from the time we set boots on the trail.  The alpine lake at the top was the prize and a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch, basking in the sun.

Yost Lake
Balancing act

Yosemite was calling us back so we decided a short hike in the park was not to be missed.  The recommendation given us by a couple of friends was Gaylor Lakes.  Located just inside the eastern entrance to the park, Gaylor Lakes trailhead sits at roughly 10,000 feet, with only a 500 foot elevation gain – easy, right?  Once again straight up we go and then straight down to the lakes.  Terry even said it was a b@!ch of a little hike, and when I caught my breath, I had to agree.

Gaylor Lake

For me, the granddaddy of our hikes in this area was to be Virginia Lakes.  Our traveling buddies Nina and Paul had already tackled it so I knew what to expect. Beginning at an elevation of ~ 9800 feet, it tops out on Summit Pass at 11,140 feet and is roughly 8 miles round-trip.

One of the many splendid Virginia Lakes

Nina and Paul agreed to come along for their second hike to the lakes (oh the beauty of youth!).  With a little trepidation (wondering if my body would remember it does not like these altitudes), we hit the trail.  Winding through aromatic pine forest and past five of the loveliest little alpine lakes, I decided to go for the summit.  Although a little windy and a lot colder at the top, I could not have been happier.  The views from the top were breathtaking!

Nina & Polly at Virginia Lakes
Terry & I on the summit

The Eastern Sierras have given us some of the best hiking we have done.  If you come, be prepared for a hiking high that will challenge and inspire you.  The beauty here is nothing short of heavenly.  But all good things must come to an end, and with temps dipping into the 20’s at night, it’s time to head south to Bishop.

Miner’s camp on Virginia Lakes trail

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