Frolick in the Palisades

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 13, 2007
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer

Plans for A Modest Adventure

The hardcore will want to click past this TR. I report here a fun, leisurely family outing in the Eastern Sierra Nevada with no 18-hour days or near epics. I picked the Palisades area for the annual backpack that I take with my daughter and youngest son. Rather than pack crampons, I opted to stay away from the glacier area, and decided to visit a place I’d never been to, the area around Sam Mack Lake. Maybe we would climb Mt. Robinson, which is just northeast of Sam Mack Lake.

We drove from L.A. on Sunday, August 12, and picked up our permit in Lone Pine. As an aside, the displays at the Visitor’s Center on Sierra Nevada topics are worth a visit even if you’re not picking up a permit. We then drove to Big Pine and up Glacier Lodge Road. We lucked out and got the last spot at the Big Pine Creek campground. It was nice to be able to build a fire and just sit around talking or staring into the flames. We threw our pads and sleeping bags on the ground and got a good night’s sleep.

North Fork Trail of Big Pine Creek: Singular Beauty

In the morning, we arranged our packs after breakfast. I then dropped Alicia and Daniel, and the packs, off at the trailhead gate and drove back to the Hiker’s Parking Lot to leave the car. I jogged back to the gate where we shouldered our packs and headed off. The day was perfect: mild weather with clear skies. Arrival at Seconds Falls signals the start of the most scenic part of the North Fork Trail of Big Pine Creek. These falls are always breath-taking. From here, the trail begins hugging the creek and passes through an aspen grove known as Cienega Mirth. We stopped at the former Lon Chaney cabin to have a snack and filter some water.

North Fork Big Pine Creek, Sierra NevadaNorth Fork of Big Pine Creek near 2d Falls

Past the cabin, the next scenic milestone is the dark mass of Temple Crag. No matter how many photos I’ve taken of Temple Crag in the past from this trail, I always have to take another one, or two or three.

Temple Crag (12,999 )Temple Crag from North Fork Trail, 8.13.07

This was Daniel’s and Alicia’s first time on the North Fork Trail and they were duly impressed when we rounded a corner and there was First Lake spread out in its deep hued splendor. You hardly get a chance to recover from the first shock of blue when Second Lake suddenly appears. It is by far the largest of the first three Big Pine Lakes. When we reached Third Lake we noticed that it seemed to the most popular of the three for campers. About a mile past Third Lake, we came to the junction with Glacier Trail.

First Lake seen from N. Fork TrailFirst Lake seen from North Fork Trail, 8.13.07
First Lake seen from N. Fork TrailAnother view of First Lake from North Fork Trail, 8.13.07

Up to now, we’d seen plenty of day hikers. This changed after reaching Glacier Trail. At this junction, we stepped aside for a string of pack horses. After resuming, we found ourselves stepping gingerly around lots of fresh horse doo. This is perhaps the only negative (a very minor one in my view) about this trail.

After dropping into the creek, the trail then began a relatively steep rocky climb. The weight of our packs become more noticeable. As the grade began to ease, the beautiful treeline hollow of Sam Mack Meadow came into view. We had no competition in choosing a campsite because no one else was there.

Sam Mack Meadow, Sierra NevadaSam Mack Meadow, 8.13.07. Me snoozing at right.

Sam Mack MeadowOur water source in Sam Mack Meadow, 8.13.07.

We set up camp and had an afternoon of unmitigated relaxation: we soaked our feet in the frigid waters of the creek, read, napped, and explored the perimeter of the meadow. Mack the Marmot also introduced himself to us. It came to pass that he visited us every day we were there. It reminded me to hang the food bag well.
Mack the MarmotMack the Marmot, our daily visitor

Sam Mack Lake and the Slopes of Mt. Robinson

Tuesday morning we slept to the obscene alpine time of 7 a.m. and had a leisurely breakfast. We then prepared our day packs and set off to find Sam Mack Lake. Our route began up a large chute at the south end of the meadow. We followed the chute and gained a ridge where we turned left. We followed the ridge further, dropped into a small saddle, and ascended a boulder field to the northern end of Sam Mack Lake.

Sam Mack Lake (11,793 ), Sierra NevadaLooking SE across Sam Mack Lake (11,793') 8.14.07.

Sam Mack Lake (11,793 )Alicia, Sam Mack Lake (11,793') and the Palisades 8.14.07.

After a short break at the lake, we picked a chute on the south slope of Mt. Robinson that seemed to offer the easiest access to getting to a point where we could make the selection of an upper route. Much of the terrain above the bottom chutes looked technical so we would have to chose our route carefully.

Big Pine Lakes, Sierra NevadaBig Pine Lakes looking NE : middle left to right, First, Second and Third Lake, 8.14.07.

It didn’t take long before we encountered a couple of unquestionable 4th class sections. I figured that if there were only a few such sections, I could protect Alicia and Daniel on the downclimb with a belay (I had a short rope and some slings with me). They are both very athletic and good climbers so making a few 4th class moves on the ascent was no problem. However, as we kept moving and I surveyed the scene above, it looked like additional 4th class sections would be difficult to avoid. At his point, I decided that it was too risky to continue. For me personally, it would have been a fun route, but I was not willing to risk harm to my kids just to get to a summit. It might have been a different matter with more time (it was late afternoon by this point) and it would have given me more comfort to have had helmets, harnesses and locking ‘biners for all.

Despite my daughter’s urging that we should go for it, it was not a close call for me to stick to my decision to start back down.
On the descent, we happened to wander near a beautiful little pinnacle whose chair sized summit was at about 12,300’. We decided to go for this summit which was only about a 75-yard 3d class scramble with a single 10 foot section of Class 4. It was a great photo op for everyone to get their turn straddling the summit chair.
Rock Pinnacle (12,300 ) Above Sam Mack LakeRock Pinnacle (12,300') above Sam Mack Lake which we scrambled up.
On Pinnacle (12,300 ) Above Sam Mack LakeI straddle chair sized summit of pinnacle above Sam Mack Lake.

On the descent, I provided Alicia and Daniel with a hip belay on the 4th Class section.

Coming Down Pinnacle (12,300 ), Sierra NevadaI get ready to belay Daniel on the downclimb

We then bounded down the talus back to Sam Mack Lake and retraced our steps back to camp. We still had the meadow to ourselves if you don’t count Mack the Marmot. We played in the creek for awhile. There is nothing like glacier-cold water to soothe hot, puffy and tired feet. Predictably, Mack came to visit us at dinner time.

Burgers ‘n Beer

The next morning came too soon and it was time to pack up and head down the hill. Even bereft of spring flowers, the Glacier and North Fork trails put on a show of incredible beauty with their meadows, groves, deep blue lakes and stunning peaks of the Palisades.
Temple Crag (12,999 ) Above 2d LakeLooking across Second Lake to Temple Crag, 8.13.07.

It was not exactly pleasant to step outside into the oven-like conditions of the Owens Valley, but we had to make a stop at the Lone Pine MacDonald’s to satisfy Daniel’s hamburger craving. My craving for a cold beer had to wait until we got home. And what beer satisfies best the thirst brought on by a wilderness outing? The answer to that awaits in a future SP thread.


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Viewing: 1-8 of 8
Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Aug 23, 2007 3:01 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Cool stuff

Thanks, Ryan. Hope you can get to the area soon.



bechtt - Aug 24, 2007 10:53 pm - Voted 10/10

Another great trip

Glad you made it back to the Sierra with your busy schedule. Nice prominence with the pinnacle!

knkmom - Oct 18, 2007 6:39 pm - Hasn't voted

Great memories

Not a hiker, but looking for info on Mack Lake. A relative of mine was a pretty famous painter of California landscapes and when I was 5 (in 1958)I got to pick any picture she painted to keep. I picked Mack Lake because my favorite color was blue. Never paid any attention until now. Am planning a trip to California to visit some of her favorite sites and the art museum that has a lot of her work. Your pix of Mack Lake, "looking SE" of Aug. 14, '07 is it! Brought tears to my eyes! Beautiful. Thanks!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Oct 18, 2007 7:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great memories

I really appreciate your sharing that information with me. The lake is gorgeous and is in a gorgeous setting. Who was your relative and which art museum has her works? Will you be going to Sam Mack Lake? This is so cool: a choice at 5 years old kind of "connects up" on a mountaineering website nearly 50 years later!


P.S. My last name is Medina. Thought I'd throw that in there after noticing where you live.

knkmom - Oct 19, 2007 11:37 pm - Hasn't voted

Heading West

Evylena Nunn Miller was born 1888 and died 1966. Numerous degrees and art awards thoughout her lifetime. The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Santa Ana, has many of her works. They must be stored away as they said they would need to schedule a special viewing when we arrive. She traveled extensively around the world to paint, but I especially love her works from the Sierras, Western National Parks, and the California desert. Your photo of Sam Mack Lake is nearly the EXACT one that she painted all those years ago! As a child, I imagined the rock and snow formations in the picture to be animals, much like one "sees" shapes in clouds and there they were again in your photo! What a treasure!

We hope to visit CA next summer. Thanks for your kindness.


Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Oct 21, 2007 12:17 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Heading West


Thank you for your reply. The Bowers Museum is well known in southern California. If they ever put her works on general display, I would certainly go. I'm so thrilled to know my photo was the exact view she painted decades ago. Hope you do get to visit out here.

Best regards,



MelbaToast - Jan 17, 2008 5:15 pm - Voted 10/10

Dad of the Year

Augie, when I was about 11 my family started going on annual backpaking trips to, you guessed it - Sam Mack Meadow! We got blisters, bug bites, and the first year even got rained out of our tube tents. It was the best time ever! The trips stopped when my parents got divorced a few years later but I went back with a girlfriend when I turned 18 and then just went again this past May. I am so grateful now for those trips. I'm not sure I'd have discovered climbing at age 40 and been able to appreciate hiking and camping now if it hadn't been for those glorious trips when we were kids. Yay! I called my dad the other day and thanked him for giving me the mountains and he actually cried. I hope you won't cry but if my experience is any indication, your kids will grow up and be very, very glad you took them to the Palisades!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Jan 17, 2008 6:10 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Dad of the Year


Thanks so much for sharing that background with me. That's the way you always hope it will work as a parent--that you'll plant a seed that your kids will nurture and maybe pass along to their kids. "Glorious trips" is exactly right. That was so neat that you called your Dad and thanked him.


P.S. My daughter put together a montage of photos from our Sam Mack trip in wooden frames and gave it to me for Xmas. That was so cool.

Viewing: 1-8 of 8



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