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A backpacking trip to Sequoia National Park: Pear Lake (The Lakes Trail)

Sequoia 6-1996 008  Pear Lake

Most folks visit Sequoia National Park to see its giant sequoia trees, the largest living things on the earth!  That’s a great reason to go and there are wonderful hikes through these amazing forests of giants and the meadows that surround them.  But Sequoia National Park also provides access to the high Sierra Mountain range comparable to what you find in the high country of Yosemite National Park (like around the Tioga Pass Road).

When I lived in Southern California, Pear Lake was one of my favorite places to go backpacking, having made five separate trips there (two with my oldest son when he was just a boy, and one with my dear friend Dr. Gary Schwartz, the best oncologist in southern California).  The trip can be done as a long day hike but it’s best if you can to spend a few nights at Pear Lake to enjoy the beauty of this cirque and the stark rocky environment of the High Sierra.  I’ve seen several of the most beautiful sunsets in my life here, the otherwise gray granite of the cirque glowing pink and orange as the sun set —  it was absolutely amazing!  Wish I’d had my camera at hand, but there’s times in life when it’s just best to enjoy a beautiful thing, rather than obscess about photographing it.

The Lakes Trail begins by the Wolverton Parking Lot, not far from the facilities at Lodgepole.  The first four miles of the trail involves a lot of uphill climbing mostly through thick forest, the trail never leaving the Tokopah Valley.  Views in this section are mostly limited to forest with occasional glimpses of the hills and granite outcroppings across the Tokopah Valley.

Topokah Valley, The Lakes Trail, Sequoia National Park

The trail switchbacks through forest and leads you to a branchpoint.  One arm of this branch is know as the “Watchtower”, wherein you hike on trail that takes you through the forest to an exposed area in the valley and across a fairly narrow trail (it’s carved from the rock of a cliff, maybe 3-4 feet wide with ice and snow lingering well into summer); your reward for doing this is great views of the Watchtower, a colossal granite spire to the south, and expansive view of Tokopah Valley and Falls.  The other option is to take “the Hump”‘ harder, more forested and less scenic, but a lot safer (especially when hiking with kids).  That was always my option.  I don’t like hiking along sheer drops, especially when carrying a heavy backpack and there’s a chance you might encounter slippery rock.  Besides, the best scenery on the Lakes Trail doesn’t come until after the two trails re-join and you’re walking among the glacial lakes near the treeline, with splendid views for endless miles.

At 4.1 miles you leave the forest behind and reach subalpine Heather Lake, named for the shoreline shrubs (beautifully colored in the fall).   From here, the trail climbs a ridge separating Emerald Lake (to the south, the second lake you encounter on this trail) and Aster Lake (to the north).  Another half-mile takes you to Pear Lake, tucked into a beautiful cirque and at the end of the developed trail.    You’ll get some views of the Watchtower and Tokopah Falls from this high vantage of the trial.

Sequoia National Park. Heather Lake

Both Emerald and Pear lakes are exposed and you’ll be camping on rock, not in the forest.  Camping is in designated sites (permit required and available at the Lodgepole station).  Bear boxes are provided for your food and other scented items (eg. sunblock) and actually are more effective at keeping marmots out of your food than bears, of which I never saw none.

It’s a fairly difficult but very scenic hike into another world of sheer granite and water.  A beautiful place to visit.

Trail length:  5.8 miles (9 km) one way          Altitude gain:  2,270 feet (690 m)

Rating:  First part is difficult; from Heather Lake to Pear Lake, moderate but rocky

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