Thursday, September 6, 2018

Big Pine Lakes Loop Trail Run

This past weekend (since we were going to have an extra day due to the Labor Day holiday), the hubby and I decided on a last minute road trip. A friend of ours had recently done a hike in Big Pine and the pictures made the area look absolutely stunning. Seeing as we didn't have any plans, I threw the idea out there and the hubby bit - hook, line and sinker! The weekend was pretty amazing (and exactly what we needed for a little recharge) and I thought I'd share about the trail run we did while we were there in case anyone is ever in the area and looking for some dirt to pound.

The game plan was to leave Oceanside around 6:30am on Saturday morning - that way we could avoid the Friday afternoon/evening holiday traffic and hopefully still get up to Lone Pine around lunchtime. Our plan worked out perfectly and we barely had any traffic on the way north. We stopped for gas (and a potty break) and the hubby grabbed a Subway sandwich before we pulled into the Lone Pine Ranger Station right around midday. The visitor center was POPPIN' - assuming it was due to everyone who was picking up their permits to hike Mount Whitney that weekend. We grabbed a couple souvenirs (a button for my hiking backpack, a sticker for my water bottle and a cute print to hang on our wall once we tackle Mount Whitney together), snapped a few photos and then made our way to Whitney Portal.

Pointing out the peak of Mt Whitney

Whitney Portal was crazy busy with a capital B. I had never been there before (the hubby hiked Mount Whitney with a friend a couple years back and also stopped at Portal with his dad on one of their fly-fishing trips so he was familiar with the area), but the parking situation alone alerted me to the higher than normal number of people hanging out in the area. Once we finally found a spot to park (on the side of the mountain, slightly off the road), the hubby and I were able to explore around, check out a waterfall, look through the store and hike a bit to get our legs moving after the 6ish hours in the car. It was awesome to see and I can't wait till we are able to head back and tackle the beast that is Mount Whitney (FYI - It is the highest summit in the continental US and tops out at over 14,000 feet above sea level. You have to have a permit to hike it. We didn't get a permit during the lottery process, but did get one twice early in the season... the only issue was the trail was still covered in ice and we would have had to have been mountaineers with pickaxes to make it to the summit... so we considered our permit fees "donations" to the great outdoors and have delayed our trip.).

Even with all the people there was still serenity to be found

Eventually it was time to head back down the hill to our "campground" (I wouldn't really call it a campground - it was more of a dusty parking lot with a few trees, a little stream flowing through it and a couple vaulted toilets - but, hey, for $14 it worked for what we needed). Thankfully the temperatures didn't feel terrible when we got there (the car said it was still in the 90s but the breeze and shade made it feel more like it was in the 70s). We set up camp, made some dinner (campfire pizza), read a bit and finished the night with one of my favorite parts about camping - S'MORES!

We stayed about 30 minutes away from the Big Pine Lakes Trail, so the plan was to be up by 5am so we could pack up the car by 5:30am and be to the trail by 6am. I was rather impressed with our tear down of camp - especially in the dark - because I was able to let the hubby sleep an extra 15 minutes and we were still on the road in plenty of time.

I made sure to lay out a #FlatCarlee before we left, even though I normally reserve them for races, to make sure I had everything I needed

Once we got to the trail head we realized it was a little colder than we were expecting. Don't get me wrong, we had packed plenty of gear, so we weren't worried about it, but having the temps in the mid to upper 90s driving into Big Pine the day before we weren't really expecting the high 40* when we got out of the car. This delayed our start a bit because we would get out of the car to fill our hydration packs, then get back in the car to de-thaw our hands... get out to spray on sunscreen, get back in to warm up... get out to use the bathroom, get back in to re-situate everything. But we knew the temps would start rising now that the sun was out so we double checked our gear and got ready to hit the trails.

The gate at the beginning sort of reminded me of the Barkley Marathons 

The AllTrails overview of the trail had the distance at 13.5 miles, but our friend who had recently hiked it got in a little over 17 miles (and 4,000 feet of elevation gain) by adding in Lakes 6 and 7 so that's what we decided to do since we both had longer runs on our training plans for the day. We figured we'd hike the uphill and run the downhill (similar to what we did when we tackled the Grand Canyon earlier in the year). Seeing as we would be running at elevation (you start over 7,000 feet above sea level and top out a little over 11,000 feet above sea level), we knew we would be taking plenty of breaks (both the soak in the scenery and to catch our breath) and had zero time goal for the run. #SundayRunday

The data from my Garmin Forerunner 935

I'll be honest, we hiked a lot more than I may have wanted (there were definitely some areas I would've been okay running but the hubby wanted to take it easy, so that's what we did), but with the views that we had, who could argue?!

With a beautiful bridge and waterfall near the beginning of the trail I knew we would be in for an amazing day!

The Big Pine Creek made for the perfect soundtrack for our hike in the John Muir Wilderness

The trail reminds me of a lollipop. It's about four miles via the North Fork Trail to the Lake Loop (the stick), then the loop is probably about 8 miles around if you hit Lakes 1 through 7 and Black Lake (the candy) and then back to North Fork Trail.

Okay, so maybe adding in Lake 6 off the top and the different trails at the
end to make up distance screwed up the lollipop look, but you get the idea

By the time you get to Lake 1, you have climbed over 2,000 feet in a span of about 4 miles. I'd say that although it's pretty constant uphill, none if it is insanely steep. It isn't like some trails where you are scaling rocks or feel like you're on a stony stair climber... neither the hubby nor I found it overly difficult. And you are awarded with quite the payoff at the first lake!

I have never seen a glacial lake before and the color was amazing!

We read in the reviews that some people do the loop counter-clockwise (starting at Black Lake, then going from Lake 7 and ending at Lake 1) because they get prettier in descending order, but looking at the elevation chart we decided to go clockwise. (By the way, apparently the creative team was on vacation when they were naming these lakes... because, yes, they really are simply named "Lake 1", "Lake 2", "Lake 3", "Lake 4", "Lake 5", "Lake 6", and "Lake 7".)

After snapping some pictures and enjoying the views at Lake 1, we decided to press on to Lake 2 - which came fairly quickly. The blues of these lakes is unreal. I know pictures never accurately capture the true beauty, and the sun shining in our eyes wasn't helping the matter either... but believe me, it was amazing! There's even still snow on some of the hills!

Lake 2

There was a little more climbing and about a mile before we got to Lake 3. The scenery was absolutely awe-inspiring.

Tried to do a panorama shot from one of the coves but this was as much of Lake 3 as I could capture

Lake 4 wasn't the glacial blue like the first three, but it was beautiful in its own way. There was a little peninsula that went out into the middle of the lake that we decided to explore a bit on. It felt so lush and green compared to the trail (which did offer some shade in places, but for the most part was pretty exposed).

Definitely different from the other lakes but still just as awesome

Although the hubby had taken screenshots of the maps and directions in case we didn't have cell reception, he decided to leave his phone in the car (because it was "too heavy" for his pack - HA!) so we were mostly just going off memory and the signs on the trail. There were a couple signs that were missing, but thankfully our friend gave us the heads up to be on the look out and we were able to navigate without too many issues. Well, we did have to double back to Lake 5 after we went to Lake 6 (the hubby wouldn't listen to me since I am normally terrible with directions but thought I remembered our friend mentioning the trail that went from 5 to 4), but it wasn't too much of an overlap.

Signage always makes me feel a little more comfortable 

A few of the different terrains we were running on

Originally we thought we made it to Lake 7, but apparently we did not. (After chatting with our friend, he told us you had to do a bit of bush-whacking from Lake 6 to get there. We just assumed when the trail ended near Lake 6 that we had made it to Lake 7 and the swamp/ barely filled pond we had passed on the way was Lake 6.) Once we got back to the "stick" of the trail we realized we were going to be short on our mileage so we added on a little extra distance on an off-shoot trail.

The view coming back down from Black Lake (looking toward Lakes 1 and 2)

We loved finding the Big Pine Creek along our journey

In case you were wondering, we took PROBAR BOLT chews along with us for our fuel. We took 4-5 chews around Mile 3.5, Mile 7, Mile 10.5 and Mile 14. (The hubby prefers the Berry Blast with caffeine and my favorite is the Pink Lemonade flavor.) [We also each had 2.5 liters of water and purification tablets in case we ran out and needed to refill but didn't go through our reserve - probably due to the fact that we started early and had cooler temps for the first part of the trip.]

The hubby and his chews ;) 

By the time we finished we had over 17 miles - BOOM! (I actually had a 20 mile run on the calendar but knew I would probably only get in 17, since that's what the hubby had on his schedule, so turned my Friday 10-miler into a 13 mile run.)

We ended up averaging 19:30/mile pace, which isn't terrible with 4,000 feet of elevation gain (between 7,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level), stopping for photos, walking the uphills and running the downhills, etc. I know it isn't the 60-90 seconds slower than marathon goal pace I normally stick to for my long runs, but, you know what?! It was totally worth it!

Our surroundings kept our mind off the work we were putting in and helped us focus on the creation around us

I don't know why but I sort of love this picture I snapped of the hubby. #SpeedBlur

And then we decided to do some campfire nachos at the day-use area near the trail head after we finished before hitting the road and heading to Mammoth Lakes to meet up with some of our friends for the afternoon/ evening.

Not sure if the hubby is thanking the nacho gods or tanning with the help of his aluminum foil, hehe

I know I am very much a numbers girl and pounding the pavement was my first love, but man, any time I can get out onto the dirt I definitely pondering throwing the road running (and speed goals) out the window and sticking to the trails!

Trail running makes me jump for joy!

If you're ever in the Big Pine area, we would highly recommend this trail! It isn't a walk in the park, that's for sure, but if you take it at a comfortable pace, you'll be rewarded greatly for your effort! (PS Some people break this into a multi-day hike or go to Lake 1 and 2 before turning around - both great options if you don't think you can do it in one push.)

What's your favorite trail to run?

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