Date: Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Mileage: 7.4 miles
And on Day 2, we went up on a Tuesday.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. We woke up around 7am on Tuesday morning (Laura around 5:20am because she is a complete psychopath), after the stillest night of camping I’ve ever had. It was absolutely nuts – there was truly no wind to be had. The stillness kept the temperature warm, so we basically all slept outside of our sleeping bags all night.
We had a pretty lazy start, choking down oatmeal, drinking coffee, and enjoying a morning chat with a nosey deer in the campground. We finally left around 8:30am and began our day with an insane (albeit short) hill back up to the High Sierra Trail from the Bearpaw backpacker’s camp (if you know, you know). Quite a warm-up to the day.
We checked out the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp and it was being refurbished. If it had been up and running, it would be so cool!! You get an insane view of the Western Divide, and we were able to take in the grandeur of the exact mountains that we were about to climb that day. I’ve also heard they make a mean brownie that you can purchase as a snack for your day ahead.
We then began a slight descent down to Lone Pine Creek, which was confusing because I expected today to be all uphill (but don’t worry – it was coming!). The bridge at the creek is really cool because you can see the old bridge that collapsed down into the canyon (the new bridge will seem a little wobbly after this).
Afterwards, we went up some switchbacks, down some switchbacks, and back towards Crescent Meadow (trail be crazy) before finally coming to a nice granite area with a creek and a waterfall. This was the first real opportunity to get water since Bearpaw. I filled up 2Ls, popped some blisters on my left foot, we took some pictures, and we were on our way for the final push to Hamilton.
At some point during the morning, we made the grave discovery that our large bottle of sunscreen had completely exploded in Laura’s backpack, and we were officially left with only a few ounces of sunscreen for the rest of the week. This would not bode well during our exposed climb later on that very day, but we had to make do with what we had. It was only day two, and we were officially conserving sunscreen.
We had some more steady incline, passed by a smaller (but equally beautiful) Hamilton Lake, and hiked in the beautiful shadow of Valhalla and Angels Wings. We were officially hiking in my favorite type of Sierra – the granite Sierra. The gorgeous surroundings made the final push up to Hamilton go fairly quickly, and before long, we had arrived!
Hamilton Lake is SO STUNNING. It was huge, very dark blue, with large granite slabs to the west (perfect for sunbathing and swimming), and granite walls to the east with waterfalls cascading down. We were all super hot from our climb, so we all immediately jumped into the water! We swam and floated for about 20 minutes before shivering our way onto the granite rocks and laying down on the hot granite.
We sat and enjoyed lunch for probably an hour and discussed how Hamilton Lake is a vortex that reels you in and tries to keep you forever… before finally beginning to pack up and get moving. After watching countless hikers turn into ants on their climbs up and out of Hamilton, and after watching what we had to do that afternoon, spirits to begin the climb already started low… and they did not get much better.
We began the march up to Precipice Lake… at about 2pm…. at the hottest part of the day… up almost 2500 feet… on a trail that had about three shady spots in total. I just about died.
I was dragging ass like crazy and was just going so slow. The heat and exposure were no joke – at one point, I draped my rainjacket over me for some respite from the sun (the lack of sunscreen really didn’t help either).
About 2/3 up, we went through the Hamilton Gorge Tunnel, which was nice and perked me up a bit. The tunnel was blasted in the rock after an avalanche in 1937 took out a suspension bridge spanning the gorge. The tunnel (and trail itself) is an extremely impressive feat, and it is cool to see the remnants of the old bridge alongside the trail!
It was overall just such a hard climb to do in the sun. I would highly, highly recommend trying to do the climb in the morning if possible, but we really wanted to camp at Precipice Lake, so climbing in the afternoon was really the only option. There was one false summit, which broke my heart to see, but we pushed on the final climb and when we finally got to the top, we realized it was all worth it.
Precipice Lake is known as Ansel Adam’s favorite place in the entire Sierra – and for good reason. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The walls surrounding the lake are painted with black and white stripes, and there was a small braided waterfall coming down into the inky black water below. It was so much bigger than I expected it to be too – it honestly was like an amphitheater. Truly magical. No wonder it is Ansel Adam’s favorite place in the Sierra! I wonder if his soul remains there – I sure wouldn’t mind if mine did!
Unfortunately, the magnificence of Precipice Lake did not distract me enough for me to ignore the wave of nausea that had crashed down over me during the last 30 minutes of the climb. I knew I had a touch of sun stroke and needed food and water, but nothing sitting right in my stomach. I found the babiest amount of shade in the rocks above Precipice and sat down to drink water and force-feed myself a tortilla. Laura and Erin pumped our water and put up our tent and were the true MVPs of the day.
After getting out of the sun, I slowly started to feel better. I choked down dinner as well and (to no surprise) felt pretty normal as the night wore on. I don’t think it was the altitude (although it could have been) – but I think it was just way too much sun. We might have all been suffering from a bit of sunstroke that night, because we only ate one of our planned two-and-a-half dinners.
Despite the absolute brutality of the day, I think it may have been one of my favorite days. Before the trip, I was most excited to see Precipice Lake – and it was even so much better than I could have even imagined. If you have a long weekend and are looking to spend some time in the Sierra, hike to Precipice Lake and back. Everyone should see this side of the Sierra at least once.
We watched the sunset in the canyon and then flipped over to the lake to watch the stripes turn pink. Such a beautiful ending to the day – every step up that climb was so worth it!
Day 1 of the HST: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow
Day 2 of the HST: Bearpaw Meadow to Precipice Lake
Day 3 of the HST: Precipice Lake to Moraine Lake
Day 4 of the HST: Moraine Lake to Junction Meadow
Day 5 of the HST: Junction Meadow to Crabtree Ranger Station (coming soon!)
Day 6 of the HST: Crabtree Ranger Station to Guitar Lake (coming soon!)
Day 7 of the HST: Guitar Lake – Whitney Portal (coming soon!)