South Sierra Backpacking
In two days you can follow a major Sierra stream Bear Creek from nearly one end to the other. While partly using the John Muir Trail, this trip still offers a chance to avoid its heavily used campsites. The headwaters of South Fork Bear Creek provide plenty of rugged and remote side-trip possibilities.
First Hiking Day: Follow Trip 1 to Twin Falls, 5-1/2 miles.
Second Hiking Day (Twin Falls to Medley Lakes, 11 miles): Today's first 2 miles are steep, followed by much gentler ground. Leaving Twin Falls and the creek, we climb steadily. The route alternates between steep, rocky areas and shady aspen groves. After 100 feet of climbing, the views open up and we cross a ridge before heading toward Bear Creek. Our route levels off near the creek and we pass the first of many overused camping areas. Beyond a wet, muddy area we reach Old Kip Camp a poor, sloping camping area.
Just above is the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail, where we turn right. The shaded trail stays near dashing Bear Creek for most of a mile. Beyond a narrow canyon the grade eases, and for the next 1/2 mile the trail is again away from the creek. Anytime now you can veer right to one of several good campsites on either side of Bear Creek (9100'). Golden trout enjoy the waters, and there are nice slabs for sunbathing by the creek.
From the camping areas along the creek, the gentle ascent continues up the east side of Bear Creek. The trail parallels the creek as it turns into a narrow section of canyon. Soon it levels off away from the creek and you reach the Italy Pass Trail junction.
Continue on the John Muir Trail, immediately crossing the multiple channels of Hilgard Branch. The bridge here was built by Sierra Club volunteers. Unfortunately, the Forest Service wilderness budget continues to play second fiddle to resource extraction, especially clearcutting of ancient forests.
Nearly level now, the trail gently ascends wide Bear Creek canyon for 1-1/2 miles to the signed junction with the Seven Gables and Vee Lake Trail. The Muir Trail then fords Bear Creek (wet in early season) and begins a more shaded ascent that steepens until you're close to Rosemarie Meadow. At the foot of the meadow you cross the West Fork Bear Creek. Partway around the east side of the meadow you turn left onto the signed trail to Sandpiper Lake. Now off the main drag, your trail climbs over a low ridge to the west shore of shallow Lou Beverly Lake. This lake has golden trout (to 10"), and being marshy it supports a variety of marsh species such as Brewer's blackbird, a small bird that feeds among the reeds.
Proceeding around the south side of the lake you can boulder-hop the inlet. The trail then heads straight uphill toward Seven Gables. The grade eases as the trail veers right. Nearing some falls you take a sharp left and climb steeply to the lip of the glacial bench just above. Now in open country, you turn south and soon as you arrive at the outlet of Sandpiper Lake (10,450'). Ford the outlet and skirt the northwest shore to avoid the overused campsites in this area. On the west side of the lake the trail turns right and climbs up through a small cleft in the bedrock. A short distance southwest the trail passes two small Medley Lakes and then disappears near the westernmost lake. These three lakes are fishless but there are some secluded campsites here, especially by the last lake. The other Medley Lakes to the south have golden trout, and you can find your own secret place among these jewels. Views from the ridge to the west are well worth the climb.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication