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The High Sierra Trail: Segment 2 of 7

9-Mile Creek to Precipice Lake

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Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 9.8 miles
Duration: Full day

Overview :  This is the second of a series of Guides to the High Sierra Trail, an approximately 70 mile trail that runs from Crescent Meadow on... more »

Tips:  Campsites

There are many campsite opportunities on this stretch of trail: Buck Creek, Bearpaw Meadow Backpacker's Camp, Lone Pine... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Buck Creek

Buck creek is the second campsite opportunity along the High Sierra Trail. Here, the terrain is a bit more open than what is found at 9-mile creek. There are a few places to pitch a tent and a bear box to help protect food. Bears and marmots are active in this area. There is a bridge across the creek - no need to worry about a crossing here.

2. Bearpaw Meadow High Sierra Camp

Bearpaw High Sierra Camp is the last outpost of civilization along the High Sierra Trail. Here, people who want to pay a lot of money can live the life of backcountry luxury with tent cabins, a camp chef providing fresh and hot meals, and running water. But although these things aren't for us rugged backpackers, there are some opportunities here. A backpacker's camp offers plenty of space to camp and several bear boxes. There are pit toilets for backpackers (flush toilets are for paying guests) and a water pump for easy water access (as of 2009, the water from this pump still needed to be treated).

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3. Lone Pine Creek Fallen Bridge

After leaving the High Sierra Camp the trail winds gradually downwards, passing through a colorful assortment of wildflowers. It's a bit discouraging to lose this elevation while staring at the big climb ahead, but the scenery has now opened up and towering rocks and deep canyons are a nice distraction from those thoughts.

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4. Hamilton Creek Foot Soak (water access)

After about a mile of dry hiking from the bridge, this water crossing of Hamilton Creek provides a perfect opportunity for a water refill and a foot soak. The trail crosses this creek at the top of a waterfall and the view is spectacular.

5. Hamilton Lake

This is a backpacker's dream destination. Campsites abound at this lake, complete with bear boxes, and even an open-air pit toilet. It is often used as a basecamp for the trail crews working on the rugged trail above, so make sure to stop and say thanks if you see them.
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Hamilton Lake is a perfect place for a swim and fish, with a beach-like area to lull you into a long rest if only passing through. Across the lake you can watch the cascade of water falling from the higher lakes, surrounded by the giant mountains like Valhalla.

If you started off the day at 9-Mile Creek or Buck Creek, you've climbed about 2000 feet already. Although it isn't a long distance, many people choose to camp at Hamilton since the next campsite opportunity requires a long ascent. From here, it is approximately a 2500 foot climb to Kaweah Gap so if you are continuing on, this is a great place for a long rest to recharge the batteries.


6. Hamilton Gorge Tunnel

Here is the famous High Sierra Trail tunnel. Blasted out of solid granite, this tunnel was built after attempts to build a bridge across the gorge failed (pesky avalanches). You will still see the cables and concrete footings for the attempted bridges, but now the trail is cut out of the solid granite.

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The trail is wide and spacious along here, but people with a fear of heights may feel their heart rate increase a bit (if it's not already pounding from the climb). This can be a tricky section in the early season - snow and ice lingers in this shadowy canyon and you may have to negotiate some of it. See the 'tunnelandgorge' photo below to see the chute, trail, and tunnel clear of snow.

You'll probably see trail crews along this stretch - the trail is under constant maintenance due to the regular rockfall damage that occurs throughout here.


7. Precipice Lake

While this entire segment scores high on the 'wow' charts, the best view is found here. Made famous by Ansel Adams' "Frozen Lake and Cliffs", Precipice Lake is one of the jewels of the Sierra. You'll love to fill your water bottles in its pristene, cold water. Snow lingers here well into August and you may hear the 'whump' of pieces falling off... More

Surrounded by a boulder field, Precipice is not an easy or particularly hospitable place to camp, but it has been done. There are few to none places to pitch a tent, but bivying is possible.