Day 16: Split Lake to Twin Lakes
Waking up at 11,600 feet is a rather chilly affair. We were up before the sun crested the eastern ridges. We bundled up in our down jackets, toques and mitts to help keep us warm until the sun found us. After a warming breakfast of oatmeal and tea, we made our way cross-country to rejoin the main trail.
The first section of trail that morning took us through the Upper Basin, a sandy and rock-filled area, mostly barren of life. We walked past a number of tarns (small lakes) and ended up following the ridge of a small moraine from the last glacial period. Through the early morning we dropped first into alpine meadows and then reached the tree line. The trail continued to drop elevation as it followed alongside the South Fork of the Kings River.
After about 3 miles of hiking, we reached the main crossing of the Kings River. This would be our low point for the day, at a measly 10,040 feet. We managed to cross the river without having to remove our boots, thanks to it being a lower flow early in the day.
Our next mile was a steeper switchbacking ascent through lodgepole forest. It was a relatively easy section of trail, though the heat of the day was starting to set in and wear at us a bit.
We reached the junction for the Taboose Pass trail by about 11 am. It was unfortunately at this point that our friends Joe & Kristie would be leaving us. We said our goodbyes and each took our path, them heading east towards 11,360′ Taboose Pass, and us heading south to tackle 12,130′ Pinchot Pass.
Dan and I hiked on, getting another mile along the trail before stopping at a lake for lunch. We nabbed a shady spot beside a tree and enjoyed the beautiful colours of the lake and the many-coloured rocks of the nearby ridge line.
Eventually we pressed on, climbing the last meadowy tarn up to the shoreline of Lake Marjorie. I was severely tempted to just stop there for the rest of the day. The lake was an amazing emerald colour and looked very welcoming in the mid-day heat. There was even a group of hikers getting ready to jump in!
The pass was calling and we knew we needed to get more miles under our boots before the day was through. We climbed away from the lake, passing another emerald-coloured lake and eventually hiking through large talus from the nearby slopes.
The last mile or so before the pass went surprisingly well for me. I was feeling strong and was thoroughly enjoying the views. I was also feeling driven by the age-old desire to see what was on the other side!
Upon reaching the summit of Pinchot Pass I was rewarded by a beautiful view south of the next alpine basin, filled with small lakes and dominated by awesome peaks. We also got to enjoy the company of a friendly marmot hanging out nearby and munching on the grass.
As with the earlier alpine lakes, I was quite content to just sit and enjoy my surroundings, and could have lingered through the better part of the afternoon. As it was, I believe we were in the pass for nearly an hour, enjoying a well-earned break from the uphill trek.
Eventually we had to move on, dropping along the switchbacks on the south side of the pass and into the alpine basin below. The trail stayed high above the lakes we had seen.
Our goal for the night was Twin Lakes, about three miles south of the Pass and a drop of about 750 feet. This was definitely the hardest part of my day and I struggled to keep up a good pace as we made our way back into the tree line.
Dan maintained a positive attitude and allowed me a couple breaks through the last miles. It was worth pushing on as the campsite we found near the outlet of Twin Lakes was secluded and beautiful. We were able to rinse off the sweat and dust from the day in the cool waters of the lake and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the Woods Creek drainage.
We had put in a strong 12 miles of hiking, and our reward would be a shorter day to the famously beautiful Rae Lakes.