Steph and I hiked to Red Lake, below the north side of Split Mountain (CA 14er above Big Pine). Red Lake is just behind Mt. Tinemaha, the big one in the middle. Cardinal Peak is on the left with snow showing. This hike to Red Lake was about 4000' in 5 miles . The terrain is very steep and loose around 8000', and has you following cairnes at times left by other hikers and climbers. Big Pine, CA is a 20 minute drive south of Bishop, CA on hwy 395 in the Eastern Sierras.
This is an adventurous undertaking even if you manage to stay on the trail. I'll admit I consulted no guidebooks other than the Tom Harrison Map for the area. Finding the trailhead actually isn't easy either. You'll want 4x4 and an hour or more of extra daylight to figure out how to reach it. There are 2 signs along a few mile dirt-road journey that has at least 10 turns. I figured it out over the winter however, skiing neighboring Cardinal Peak. I knew this would be a quiet and beautiful day. Steph and I rarely get to do a full day outdoors together, so thanks to mom and dad for taking the kids!
I assumed the trail would follow the drainage, be near the trailhead, be where the map showed it, and be the thing we started walking on that LOOKED like a trail. After 100 yards, the user-created trail died and we just started bushwacking up the canyon.
You can't get near the creek due to heavy vegetation. My Tom Harrison Map didn't have enough detail. So we just enjoyed the flowers, accepted our scrapes from occasional cactus and sharp bushes, and went XC. I knew where the lake was.
We found the trail just as we were about to turn back a few miles in. It was a hot day, and we finally found a little trickle of water where the trail gets steep and loose, about half way in. If you don't see snow on the peaks above, you're not going to find water until you get 3000' above the car. Chester is young and dumb, but I found he drinks well if you squeeze water at him from a camelbak hose.
There is a small grove of huge pine trees around 9500'. This tree was at least 15 feet wide.
I'll skip the pictures of groveling up the slippery canyon in case a certain hiking partner decides not to follow me anymore with this memory. Here's the lower and smaller lake 400' below Red Lake. Split Mountain is 14k and has a few snow couloirs that climbers and ski mountaineers drool over.
I've skied many of the neighboring peaks, but not this one yet. The pencil thin couloir in full view, right of the summit, is the St. Jean Couloir. The actual "Split" Couloir is hidden from view behind rocks in this shot, dropping from the summit to the west end of the lake.
Good to know this refuge from rain is up there, right next to the trail about 100' below Red Lake. I doubt you could find it in the winter though.
I assume people scramble up the peak on the right at the Sierra Crest. I believe the NW side of Split Mountain is low angle.
Here is that awsome old growth stand just below Red Lake.
The weather looked like it would turn to rain, but never did. Time to get going, and hopefully follow the trail all the way to the car.
I was curious where we missed it. In the end, I couldn't even tell. It's just too overgrown where the trail gets near the creek, and there isn't enough traffic to justify an improved trail I assume. The trailhead is just too hard to get to for most people. Just the way I like it.
And this kind of beauty sure over-powers any trail finding issues.
We are on the trail at this point. You can see we are at least 500' higher than the creek, where the truck and trailhead are.
We followed the trail as it stayed high, bending around and out of the canyon, onto an east facing slope. And the trail showed no signs of going near the truck.
At a certain point I had had enough of walking AWAY from the truck, and took us back on track with some more bushwacking. We didn't look really hard, but we failed to spot where the trail we were on meets the 4x4 dirt roads.
Steph is a dot in the bushes, right of center in this picture.
I skied Cardinal Peak with two friends in April of this year with ideal snow conditions.