On this trip in to the Sierras we decided to enter at one trailhead and exit at a different one. By doing this we were able to cover just under 65 miles trail and only retraced our steps exiting lakes we visited. In order to do this we needed a ride from Crown Valley Trailhead where we dropped the Jeep off to Courtright so we can take Maxson Trailhead. Fortunately, since John wasn’t making this trip, he agreed to be our shuttle.
Day 1 Courtright Reservoir to NF Kings River 14 miles.
It was around 10:30 when we started up the trail. Not long after we started we came across members of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew taking a break alongside the trail. We ended up hiking with the trail crew until our junction after crossing Post Corral Creek.
Following the creek crossing we had lunch at a nice little camp above the creek. After lunch we headed towards the Kings River. Within a couple of hours we were on the Kings. We hiked up river a couple of miles before we found a nice spot to camp on a granite slab just above a snow measuring station.
Just below camp the river provided a nice little pool to soak our tired bodies and clean up a little. Feeling refreshed we headed back to camp to make some dinner, which consisted of what I like to call backcountry pizza. All you need is a cheese bagel, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, pepperoni and string cheese.
Since we wanted to get started early in the morning, it was bedtime after dinner.
DAY 2 NF Kings River to Pearl Lake 10.8 miles.
Today we got up at first light to get coffee going and pack up camp. We just about finished getting our packs loaded, when we heard a group of hikers admiring the river below our camp. About the time the group moved on, we were ready to follow the trail up river.
The trail was heavily covered in trees and you can hear the sound of water running in the river, which made for a very relaxing hike. Around 9 o’clock we came across 2 hikers on their way back to the trailhead and they would be the last people we see for the rest of the week.
Not long after seeing the other hikers, we entered Big Maxson Meadow. The meadow had a tinge of yellow in it. At the south west end of the meadow there is an old forest service camp, which consisted of a cabin, tool shed and a pretty cool fire pit. It didn’t look like this camp had been used in years.
After a little breather, we headed back up the trail a couple of miles to a spot on the river where we could wash our clothes and have lunch.
With our bellies full and our wet clothes tied to the outside of our packs we headed up trail to our destination for the day. This section of trail was by far my favorite part of the trail for the week. Walking through pines and firs listening to river water flow while admiring the granite peaks around you. Right when you think the trail couldn’t provide anymore beauty it opens up to an amazing upper elevation meadow.
We worked our way through the meadow and up a steep climb to Portal Lake and then up to Pearl Lake. We arrived at Pearl close to 3. Didn’t take us long to drop packs and get started fishing. While we were fishing, a thunderstorm was a brewing. With each of us having a couple of nice size fish on the stringer and it looking like rain, we go up to set up camp.
Unfortunately, it started to pour before we had the tent set up. As we were placing tent stakes, rain turned to hail. By the time we got the tent situated with our gear inside of it, the rain stopped long enough for us to have a little trail guacamole and a watermelon lime margarita.
Almost immediately after we finished our appetizer/cocktail it started to pour again and we headed in to the tent to take cover. I’m not sure exactly how long we were in the tent but, I do know we were in there long enough for Nathan’s mug to collect almost a half a cup of rain water.
Just before dark the storm stopped and we went to cleaning fish and cooking some dinner.
Day 3 Pearl Lake to Halfmoon Lake 9.6 plus 3 miles touring Battalion and Division Lakes for a total of 12.6 miles.
We woke up to frigid temperature and frozen rain drops on the tent. That is when I noticed I had lost my thermometer I had clipped on the outside of my pack. After retracing our steps to where we first took our packs off at Pearl, Nathan found my thermometer. At 8 o’clock it was 39 degrees.
Since the tent needed to dry, we headed for a little hike up to Division Lake, First Battalion Lake and Second Battalion Lake. Each of these lakes were easy on the eyes.
From Second Battalion Lake you can look over the edge and look down on to Pearl Lake. Not only did we enjoy the view of the lake but we spotted a steep drainage we could follow back to camp.
All packed up and ready to go, Nathan spotted a cloud off in the distance and jokingly mentioned there was another thunderstorm brewing. We head off trail down to the meadow below where we picked up the trail and down the Kings River to our junction. We were on trail about about 2 hours before it started to bang and boom in the sky, followed by light rain. We had off and on rain most of the way to Halfmoon.
Rain let up while we set up camp and got a fire going. With trees all around our camp, we were able to stand under them while keeping warm next the fire.
Around 4ish the storm started to break up so we went to fishing. Halfmoon is full of 5 to 6 inch Brook Trout. It took about an hour to catch enough brookies for our trout stew.
After dinner we sat around the fire until we were ready to call it a day.
Day 4 Halfmoon Lake to Elizabeth Lake 9.8 miles.
Since today was supposed to be a short mileage day, we took time for a couple cups of coffee and a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon (powdered eggs and hormel real bacon bits). We even did a little laundry.
All packed up, we left camp around 9:30 and headed to Crown Lake for the lunch. Leaving Halfmoon Lake you immediately start climbing Crown Pass. You can pretty much see Halfmoon Lake through the trees all the way up to the pass except for the last little bit.
At the top of Crown Pass, we took a break and then headed down to the junction for Crown Lake. Crown Lake has roughly a hundred yards of grass all the way around it with small groves of trees. As we approached the lake, we came up one of the better spots I have seen on trail. Unfortunately, it was an illegal spot since you can’t have a fire within a 1/4 mile of the lake. We proceeded through a small grove of pines and headed to a little spot on the lake where we decided to have lunch. While eating, we took notice on how quick the clouds were forming.
My plan was to jump in to Scepter Lake when we got there but with the sky turning dark gray, I decided to clean up in Crown Lake.
With a little over a mile to go to get to Scepter Lake we got back on trail with a mission to got to Scepter before the clouds opened up. Somehow someway we missed the unmarked junction to Scepter Lake. Neither of us wanted to climb back up the trail a 1/4 mile so we looked how far it would be to the next water source since we only had enough to get us to Scepter.
According to the map, we had a couple of creek crossings approximately three miles away. We reached the first crossing and spotted a spot to camp. At that point, I looked at my GPS to mark this area when I noticed that just under a mile further was Elizabeth Lake.
Since Elizabeth Lake was not on the map, we were taking a chance there was even water in it. Fortunately, Elizabeth Lake turned out to have everything we needed, fresh water and a spot to pitch a tent. A walk around the lake revealed some recent bear activity.
Since Elizabeth Lake didn’t contain any fish, it was Idahoan Mashed Potatoes and summer sausage.
Day 5 Elizabeth Lake to Upper Geraldine Lake 9.2 miles.
We got packed up and headed through Crown Valley around 8:30. The trail ended up going alongside a beautiful meadow, which is where Johnson Cow Camp is located. What a beautiful location for a summer ranch with cabins, tack room and corrals.
After passing the cow camp, we followed cows down the trail for about a mile or so before they decided to go off trail. Not long after the cows ditched us the trail turned to complete shit, there was down trees and overgrown brush everywhere, which made it difficult to follow the trail. Fortunately, someone put out marking tape every so often. In addition to humans marking the trail, a resident bear also did it his way.
We finally make it to Lower Geraldine Lake where we took in a swim and had some lunch. Since clouds were rolling in, we headed up to Upper Geraldine Lake.
Once we had camp set up, we set out to catch some fish for dinner. The first spot we tried, Nathan caught a couple and tossed them back since the last time we were here, we caught bigger fish. We moved to the other side of the lake where we caught some brookies that varied in size from 6 to 10 inches.
Day 6 Upper Geraldine Lake 0 miles.
Today was a scheduled relaxation before our hike back to civilization. We spent the morning catching fish. We both turned back more than we kept.
We fried fish and had another bag of mashed potatoes for lunch. After lunch, we grabbed our sleeping pads and took a nap around our small fire. It felt good just to sit back and enjoy our surroundings.
Day 7 Upper Geraldine Lake to Crown Valley Trailhead 8.6 miles.
After a long week, we were surprisingly up and ready to leave camp by 8. It took us about an hour to get to the other side of the canyon where we had a snack next to Fin Rock over looking Lower Geraldine Lake.
Ready to tack on miles, we headed towards Statham Meadow and down to Statham Creek where we had some lunch. Refueled and ready to call it a trip, we completed the last couple of miles pretty darn quick.
This trip ended up being 7 days, 6 nights and 65 miles. The lower section of the John Muir Wilderness was definitely a great choice for our last trip of the year.