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Big Pine Lakes Trail to Second Lake, CA
mini location map2018-09-13
17 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Big Pine Lakes Trail to Second Lake, CA 
Big Pine Lakes Trail to Second Lake, CA
Hiking avatar Sep 13 2018
Hiking9.20 Miles 2,430 AEG
Hiking9.20 Miles   8 Hrs   48 Mns   1.05 mph
2,430 ft AEG
1st trip
Partners none no partners
This was the second hike on my tour of the Eastern Sierra trailheads on a driving/camping trip that would take me north to Big Lake in the Oregon Cascades to meet some friends on Sept 26 before returning to Phoenix on Oct 5. I set up camp in the Big Pine Campground near the historical site of Glacier Lodge and within 0.3 miles of the trailhead. This campground normally requires reservations but this late in the season it had started accepting first-come-first-serve. I arrived in the late morning in the middle of the week and had my choice of several sites. The campground water supply was out of commission which may have contributed to the vacancies. The lack of water was not a problem since I had stuck to my AZ camping practice of carrying 13 gallons of water. I would discover that the campgrounds at higher altitudes in the Eastern Sierras start shutting down water supplies in the Fall after several nights of freezing temperatures to avoid damage to the water pipes.

I started the hike the next morning at 8:00 am and encountered several fishermen already returning to camp. One smiling fellow was carrying two trout on his stringer. This area has the reputation of being one of the most scenic in the Eastern Sierras, probably because of the combination of the Palisades Peaks and Glaciers and the Big Pine Lakes Basin. It did not disappoint although every high mountain trail in the Eastern Sierras that I've been on has amazing scenery.

It's a popular hike and I encountered many hikers on the trail. Everyone was friendly and talkative which considerably slowed my progress. I ran out of time and energy upon reaching Second Lake. My goal had been Fifth Lake but realized it was beyond my capabilities for a day hike. Most of the day hikers I encountered were turning around at either Second or Third Lake. A number of backpackers were continuing on to the lakes basin. Shortly after starting the return hike I stopped to talk to a backpacker on his way up the trail. His backpack was the old external frame type but he did not have the usual sleeping bag and tent strapped on to the frame and the small canvas pockets on the frame did not appear to be full so I thought he was a day hiker. But no, he told me he would be out for several days and was a happy advocate of ultralight backpacking. From our discussions I assumed he was solo. About a mile further down the trail I stopped to talk to another backpacker and noted that he had the same brand and type of external frame backpack as the guy I had met earlier. This guy's pack was overloaded with lots of stuff strapped on the frame. With the weight of the overloaded pack and the extra pounds carried around his girth this guy was really struggling up the trail. When I mentioned the odd coincidence of meeting two guys on this trail with the same model and color of a somewhat rare external frame backpack the guy spewed out several profane expletives and said: "That was my friend, I'm going to kill that guy! He shows up for our BP trip with practically nothing in his pack and announces he's now into ultralight backpacking. If he thinks he's going to use any of my stuff he's got another think coming!" He then recounted several instances of this friend causing trip canceling problems on previous backpacks. I was about to suggest he should take up solo backpacking but decided to keep my mouth shut.

Historical stuff: This area has some interesting history so after getting back home I did a little research. I pieced this info together from scattered sources and I cannot swear to its accuracy.

Glacier Lodge: Although the location is noted on maps only the lodge foundations still exist but nine small cabins remain of what is still called the Glacier Lodge Resort. One of the cabins is used as the front desk, small store and very small "restaurant" The other 8 cabins are available for rent. The original lodge was built in 1917 and consisted of a small hotel and several cabins. A fishing camp of several tents was maintained at Fourth Lake. During the depression a local lumberyard in Big Pine with no customers and out of work residents combined resources to turn the site into a resort with a new beautiful lodge building. A smaller version of the lodge with kitchen and small dining hall was built at the Fourth Lake tent camp site. The resort enjoyed some success and was often booked solid during fishing and hunting seasons. The second owners even setup up a couple of ski tow ropes on the slopes to lure visitors in the winter in the late 1940s. The lodge met disaster during the heavy snow winter of 1959 when it was temporarily closed because it was covered with snow. They forgot to turn off the propane to the lodge, something caused a leak in the line and the lodge blew up after an avalanche buried the building sealing in the leaking gas. Many of the cabins collapsed under the weight of the snow. The main lodge was rebuilt but was later destroyed by fire in 1999. The Lake Lodge at Fourth Lake was torn down in 1963 due to the Wilderness Act of 1943 which stated that no permanent buildings could exist above 9000 ft and owners were given 20 years to comply.

Lon Chaney's Cabin: Lon Chaney Sr was a famous early movie actor, make-up artist, screen writer and director. He starred in the silent movies "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) and "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925). Chaney enjoyed camping and fishing in the upper North Fork Big Pine Creek and in 1929-30 had a cabin built there on the bank of the creek at a cost of $12000. It was designed by Los Angeles architect Paul Revere Williams who was the first African American granted a fellowship in the American Institute of Architects. He was only able to enjoy the cabin for a few months before he died at age 47 in August 1930 from bronchial cancer. The cabin was taken over by the Forest Service in 1980 and has been preserved as an historical building.

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