Gardiner Basin Loop

July 16-20, 1991

by Bill Finch

I got a late start, 9:55, an had a lot of new equipment to test on this first trip of the 1991 hiking season. My pack weighed about 50 pounds, about ten more than I am used to carrying on a trip of this length. The cross country route up Charlotte Creek was very steep but not dangerous. Rather than continuing up Charlotte Creek to the Gardiner Pass trail, I hiked up the branch of the creek that flows just north of Charlotte Dome to a flat area just below the trail crossing. Charlotte Dome
Charlotte Dome fills the view from the campsite where I stayed the first night.

The view of Mt Brewer and adjacent peaks was lovely as usual. Mt Brewer
This telophoto shot is my favorite of Mount Brewer. It was taken in the evening and the mountains are bathed in alpenglow.

As on all first days, it was a great feeling to finish the day's work.

Like most first days, I arrived at my campsite exhausted. All the new equipment performed well. The new boots felt like I had worn them forever. The backpack became more and more comfortable as I learned how to adjust the multitude of straps. The tent was easy to set up and worked as well as I suspected it would. The new camera was worth taking despite the extra weight. There was a lot more water in the creek than the last time I came through here a few Augusts ago.

Weird dreams filled the night as I slept too hot in the new tent. Despite the heat, I awoke refreshed the next morning. As I climbed toward Gardiner Pass, I caught a glimpse of Charlotte Lake, something I had missed on the last trip. Charlotte Lk
Charlotte Lake looks like a small pond in this view.

The remaining climb followed trail and I arrived at Gardiner Pass at 9:00. The view of the Brewer Group to the south was lovely. Brewer Group
The view to the south from Gardiner Pass includes Mount Brewer and North Guard across Bubbs Creek Canyon.

The west branch of Gardiner Creek and the lakes along it lay stretched out to the north. W Fk Gardiner Crk
West Fork Gardiner Creek from Gardiner Pass - The view to the north from Gardiner Pass includes the creek and numerous lakes that lead down to the main fork of Gardiner Creek.

The north side of Gardiner Pass is much steeper than the forested south side. Gardiner Ps
Gardiner Pass from the North - This shows the steep north side of Gardiner Pass from one of the lovely lakes at the headwaters of the West Fork of Gardiner Creek.

Once in the basin, double crested Mount Gardiner made an impressive statement. Mt Gardiner
Mount Gardiner from lake below Gardiner Pass - Mount Gardiner is one of the three major peaks surrounding the basin. The pass at its base is a little used short cut to the upper Gardiner Basin.

The descent past the chain of lakes was swampier than last trip and the area looked a little more heavily used than I had remembered. The trail is still spotty, though. A party was camped at the large lake at the bottom of the chain. The trail to Gardiner Creek was very steep and it would be difficult to find if you were coming from the other direction. While in the basin, I did my best to stay on trail even though it may have been a little slower than going cross country.

At mid-afternoon, I had reached the middle fork of Gardiner Creek and decided to explore the lakes that fed it. M Fk Gardiner Crk
Middle Fork of Gardiner Creek - The middle fork of Gardiner Creek has a very remote feel about it. If you get off the beaten path in the Sierra Nevada, you can enjoy a true wilderness experience.

I hiked to the second to the highest lake and then returned to the best camping spot I had seen on the way up. M Fk Gardiner Crk
Middle Fork of Gardiner Creek from Above - This is a view of the middle fork of Gardiner Creek from the top of the cirque wall at the creek's south end, i.e., the view is to the north.

There were very few signs of any camping in this pristine area.

Animals in this part of the basin seem fearless. A curious pine marten came to visit me but I scared him away because I did not want him to share my dinner. I caught a couple of beautiful golden trout but threw them back. It felt good to take a bath in the small lake next to my campsite.

The next morning, I was awakened by the sharp and mournful howl of a coyote. He was just across the lake and the howl was very loud. He moved up the valley and continued letting out his howl for the next half hour as if to say, "Each lake that I howl by is my territory!" If I hadn't heard someone let out a whoop at a lower lake yesterday, I would have felt all alone. As it was I saw no one else on this day until I got to the lower end of Sixty Lake Basin.

I followed the trail through Gardiner Basin as closely as possible to the pass into Sixty Lake Basin. At first glance, it does not look like there is any place to camp around the upper reaches of Gardiner Basin. Mt Clarence King
Mount Clarence King and Mount Cotter - This photo of the upper reaches of Gardiner Basin was taken from the seldom used pass at the base of Mount Gardiner. It shows a couple of the smaller lakes in the upper part of the basin but not the largest lake or the pass to Sixty Lake Basin.

Further examination uncovers numerous protected flat areas among bushy, low-growing pines. There are one person campsites for the most part. The area is ideally suited for a retreat, given that it is at upper reaches of tree line and the landscape has a surreal feel about it.

I reached the pass to Sixty Lakes Basin at lunch time. The descent was easy, but there were so many ducks that they became distracting. Every possible route seems to be marked by them. The upper lakes are full of fish. I took the wrong trail for a while and started toward Rae Lakes but soon I was back on the path to the lower lakes.

At a water stop, I lost my balance and twisted my right foot in my boot. One of the bones in my foot popped and my foot began to swell. Walking became painful but not impossible. At a creek crossing, I took off my shoes and soaked my feet. I changed into water shoes and wore them for the rest of the day.

I camped on the shores of the lowest lake in the chain. 60 Lks camp
Campsite at lowest of Sixty Lakes - The view to the south across this small lake is just one of many lovely scenes in the area.

There were about a million mosquitos for every lake in the chain. A party of eight was camped nearby and I went over for a visit. They had decided to climb Mount Cotter the next day and I invited myself along.

The next morning, my foot was black and blue and even more swollen. One of the guys in the nearby group said it looked like I had suffered a stress fracture. I begged out of the climb and decided to begin the trip home a day early.

I spent an hour or so exploring the area and enjoying the magnificent views including Fin Dome.
60 Lks and Fin Dome
The views in Sixty Lake Basin are as lovely as in the Rae Lakes Basin but the Sixty Lakes have fewer visitors. Fin Dome lies between Sixty Lakes Basin and Rae Lakes Basin.

and the other country that surrounds Rae Lakes. L 60 Lk Basin
Lowest of Sixty Lakes from Above - If you climb up above the basin a little, the views of the basin are breathtaking.

The views up here are as spectacular if not more so than those in the Rae Lakes Basin itself.

The cross country route to the John Muir Trail from Sixty Lakes Basin was not difficult but it was steep at the bottom. x country rte
Cross Country Route to Sixty Lake Basin From John Muir Trail - The route from Sixty Lake Basin to the John Muir Trail is not difficult. It gets a little steep at the last but most of it is an easy stroll.

I soaked my foot at a creek crossing and marvelled at the beautiful rock work that the trail crew had put in since I had last passed through. The swelling actually went down and at the end of the day most of the bruise had gone away. It was still a bit painful to walk on, though.

I stayed all night at the uppermost Paradise Valley camp and was visited by a bear, the first one I have ever knowingly camped near. It was nice to have a bear box to store my food in an area occupied by so many experienced bears.

The final day was an easy jaunt down Paradise Valley, past the beautiful light-green pools of the meandering Kings River. I had a chance to visit with other hikers and managed to get in a little fishing. At Mist Falls, I took an extended break because I didn't want to get to the trail head too early in the day. The trail was very congested since it was a Saturday. It was a totally atypical day and I enjoyed it a great deal. I picked up a lot of garbage from the trail during the last leg of the hike and decided that it had been a great day.

6 February 1998
One Page Version 27 January 2013