|Where:||Inyo National Forest|
|Mileage:||12 miles, option to do Pine Creek & Italy Passes adding 19 miles|
|Difficulty:||Moderate to Difficult|
|Elevation gain:||3000 ft to Honeymoon Lake|
To get to the trailhead: Coming from Los Angeles from the 14 take 395. Once you pass Bishop northbound, about 12 miles down the road turn left onto Pine Creek Canyon Road (West). Take the road all the way to the end and park in the dirt lot near Pine Creek Pack Station. You will have to walk through the pack station to the base of the hill to find the trailhead.
Description: Our Labor Days are typically spent backpacking due to the extra day we have off from our jobs. Most places like cities, famous national park monuments and beaches get so crowded. Something pleasant: the backcountry does not. We had a couple weeks left till our Mt. Whitney trip and decided to use this trip as a training opportunity. We climbed two passes and even in the meantime managed to relax and enjoy this portion of the Inyo National Forest.
Day 1: Trailhead to Pine Lake (3.6 miles)
We arrived at the trailhead around 6:15pm on Friday night and after some last minute packing and frolicking we headed to Pine Lake for the evening. Pine Creek Canyon sits at 7,400 feet. For the first mile or so there is a jungle-like feeling with Juniper, Jeffrey Pine, Aspen, Birch, Red Fir shading our path following a small creek. The trail then merges with an old mining road and emerges out into a more open area with a view of the mine (Pine Creek Tungsten Mine).
For the next mile, the trail climbs about 1700 feet until a nonfunctional and unused mine (Brownstone Mine), which lies about 2 miles into our trek. We kept at it, so we could try to get to Pine Lake before complete darkness. At about 2.25 miles we passed a sign that showed that we were entering John Muir Wilderness, which we could barely see as darkness turned upon us, but we were only about a half a mile from the Pine Lake.
9:45pm hit when we reached the lake. Took about another mile to finally find a wooded area off the trail a bit. We set up camp, had a warm miso soup before passing out quite fast.
Day 2: Pine Lake to Honeymoon Lake (2 miles)
Ha, woke up only to find ourselves with rather pleasant view of Pine Lake. Good Morning Pine Lake (9,942 feet)! The view of the lake and the valley below was a perfect spot for us to have some coffee and cast out. With no quick luck, we packed up and headed to Honeymoon Lake. 500 feet later there’s a fork in the road that leads up to two passes (Pine Creek and Italy) and a turnoff to the west side of the lake.
Found a spot on the Northwest portion of the lake. Set up camp for the 3 nights we were to spend here. Today was different than most of our trips, because our main objective of the day was to try to catch fish and relax and that is exactly what we did. The ENO rain tarp came in handy as a lean-to for cooking and hanging out in this cold and windy weather.
Day 3: Honeymoon Lake to Pine Creek Pass/French Canyon (8.2 miles)
After an early breakfast we packed up our day packs to head up into French Canyon. We left camp at 8am, giving us perfectly enough time to head up to Pine Creek Pass and check out a waterfall in French Canyon, before meeting up with another person who would join our group. Our goal for today was to get some elevation training in for Whitney.
Pine Creek Pass (11,140 feet) was a gradual 1,000 foot climb over 1.5 miles from Honeymoon Lake. 1,000 feet to get the Pine Creek Pass from Honeymoon Lake. Pine Creek Pass is quite picturesque with the two small lakes at the pass itself. Heading into French Canyon we were offered 360 views of the mountains around us. Perfect spot for a short rest and snack.
The way to the waterfall is on a well maintained trail with little to no elevation gain/loss. The waterfall was a bit off-trail, but we could at least see it from a distance. The water from the falls comes from Royce Lakes another option of an off-trail destination that I’d like to come back to. French Canyon is lucky enough to have many lakes that are accessible off this main trail.
We turned around at the waterfall and I just so happens that when we reached back to the junction for Honeymoon Lake/Italy Pass, we ran into the last of our party to join us. We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in the lake, fishing and relaxing. It was another tough cold and windy night.
Day 4: Honeymoon Lake to Italy Pass (11.6 miles)
We woke up with unfortunately another day of smoke. There were some fires in the area and we actually had to move our hike more North and found this trail. Too bad we had to hike in this smoke as the views were not so clear. We packed up our gear, fishing stuff and some snacks. After reaching the junction, Italy Pass trail climbs just above Honeymoon Lake. The trail offers place to stop by a small waterfall, some off trail surprise ponds some good looking fish swimming in them.
Once we hit above 11,000, we hit the beautiful alpine meadows above tree-line and some stunning lakes where my sister and I left the rest of our party to climb up to Italy Pass for Mt. Whitney training. The trail is definitely harder to follow in Granite Park. The smoke rose from the wind, which created a much clearer afternoon for our climb up to Italy Pass.
From Granite Park to Italy Pass, it took us a lot longer than we thought because of an unmaintained trail. This part of the trail we were hunting for cairns on granite slabs. The view behind us was of two more vast lakes along the trail before hitting the granite rocks.
We were greeted at Italy Pass by another group of hikers that approached from the other side and quite a bit of wind coming from the west. Italy Pass sits at a mere 12,408 feet and this is the first time my sister and I were above 11,000 feet. We took a short break hiding from the wind behind a big rock stuffing some electrolytes into our system for the return back to Granite Park to meet back with others. It took us 1/3 of the time it took from Granite Park to Italy Pass, back down the Granite Park and trotted down just in time before the day got colder/windier.
After returning, we decided to try fishing on the other side of the lake while enjoying the beautiful sunset. Tonight dinner was rather tasty: chili and chips. Even though I managed to drop the chili bowl, we were able to save most of it. The chips, the chips. Let me tell you about the chips. Our friend who came a day later, literally walked the bag of chips in his hand the entire way up from the car to the campsite. Well, let me tell you after being out for a couple days, it was the best tasting food we had.
Day 5: Honeymoon Lake to Trailhead (5.6 miles)
We dressed in layers this morning. The way down took us a little over 2 hours and by the time we reached the cars we were all ready for that burger we salivated to on the entire downhill. It was a lot of downhill a little of 3,000 feet.
Till next time Eastern Sierras! You always make us happy!
Note to self: FOCUS and listen when passing food. *this was the second time I dropped a whole pot of dinner.