Within the past two decades I have been fortunate enough to visit Lake Italy twice. Once from the Bear Diversion Trailhead located north of Kaiser Pass. The second and most recent hike was from North Lake Trailhead outside of Bishop.
The drive to Bear Diversion will test your driving skills on a one lane mountain road. From this historic road the views of the surrounding mountains will be your first introduction to the grandeur of our Sierra Nevada Mountains. Next will be the introduction to the four wheel drive road leading to Bear Diversion Dam and Trailhead.
A four wheel drive vehicle is a must after departing from the paved road. South of the trail head is Bear Diversion Dam at an elevation of 7,350 feet. If trout fishing is your sport, try your skills on the German Browns that occupy the waters behind the dam.
This will be a five day solo hike with the highest elevation of 11,219 feet at Lake Italy. The weather report stated scattered thunder showers and after two hours into my hike the sky turned black and within 10 minutes, the thunder and rain arrived.
I set up camp early at Twin Falls. Watching the water cascade down over a 30-foot rock wall into the rocks below, made for an ideal sight from my campsite. Between the thunder showers I climbed above the falls and to my surprise there were small pools of water roughly the size of a bathtub. These pools were heated by the warm sun so tonight I will be looking forward to a warm natural bath.
The trail starts increasing in elevation after Twin Falls. Following Bear Creek the deep gorges, small water falls, rock formations and tree cover add to the beauty of this historical trail. After three hours of hiking I arrived at the junction to the John Muir Trail. For the next three miles I’ll be hiking south on the Muir Trail as it follows Bear Creek. The elevation will increase to over 9,500 feet upon arrival at the junction to Lake Italy.
The thunderstorm that cost me valuable hiking time, I can now gain back by setting up a base camp north of this trail junction. Tomorrow I’ll lighten my load and complete my round-trip hike to Lake Italy with only a day pack.
I awoke at 4:30 a.m. the next morning and discovered my cooking water was frozen. A small camp fire handled that problem. After breakfast I was on the trail before 5:30 a.m. with my objective being a round trip of 14 miles.
The Lake Italy trail leads through Hilgard Canyon and is not recommended for horses or mules with its narrow ledgesand huge boulders that lead down to the lakes run-off stream. In some areas the trail vanishes into the rocks completely. At times I was forced to search both sides of the stream to locate its direction.
Hilgard Canyon had its difficult moments but the rewards were in its views. To the north appearing over the canyon walls was Mt. Hilgard at an elevation of 13,361 feet. The south canyon wall displayed its height of 12,287 feet. The trail itself started at 9,564 feet and rises to 11,219 feet at Lake Italy.
At the eastern end of Lake Italy the mountain rises to an elevation of 12,546 feet. Behind it is Mt. Julius Caesar with an elevation of 13,196 feet. One has the feeling of walking into a huge box canyon.
A point of interest was on the south side of the lake - rocks are stacked at independent locations in a horseshoe shape. During the night the winds increased and temperatures can dip below freezing. With the wind gaining speed moving up the canyon these rock formations deflect the wind upward from these man made shelters.
1992 was the year for my first adventure to Lake Italy, and the surrounding mountains were still displaying their white snow caps, unlike recent years. With only a day pack, I wasn’t equipped to stay over-night. So time and daylight were my main concern for the seven miles returning to my campsite. Once again I can enjoy the view of those towering canyon walls following the lake run-off stream directing me back to my base camp.
My second adventure was a strenuous hike from North Lake, west of Bishop, to Lake Italy and loop back to Mosquito Flat Campground Trailhead on the east side. Elevations from 9,360 to 13,040 feet set up this 50-plus mile adventure with six major passes and more than 25 high elevation lakes.
For a slide show, and further details of this second hike, come see my free presentation this Saturday at 7:30 p.m., at Yosemite Southgate Hotel & Suites on Highway 41 behind Denny’s. I will introduce you to the beauty and grandeur of a high elevation route across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The photo journey will allow you to experience the trails and endless beauty of this trip as if you were there.
REI of Fresno will have hiking equipment on display and Crab Cakes Restaurant will provide complimentary hors d’oeuvres.
After the presentation, I will be happy to sign one of my books for you. Hope to see you there.