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TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Mon Jul 29, 2019 11:01 am
by kpeter
Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Sabrina Basin is well known and there are many other TRs for this outstanding region. This was my 5th trip to Sabrina Basin. This time I brought my brother along. He is a very experienced backpacker and a professional ecologist for the Forest Service in another part of the country—but this was his first trip into the Sierra. Unfortunately, the monsoonal flow started on the first day of our trip, and we had rain of varying lengths and intensities every afternoon. The mosquitoes were also bad, but we managed to enjoy ourselves anyway with the usual precautions.


The permit is obtained through the Inyo National Forest. I was lucky to find two spots left to this popular area in June when we decided late to do the trip. We drove to Mammoth and picked up our permit there the day before. This let us sleep at elevation (Mammoth is higher than Bishop) and enjoy a little sight seeing there before heading in the next day.

The trailhead—at 9000 feet-- is at Lake Sabrina, sandwiched a few miles between the North Lake and the South Lake trailheads. These three trailheads off of 168 west of Bishop constitute three of the most popular and spectacular jumping off points for the eastern Sierra. Parking for overnight is a ways back from the trailhead, meaning you have to walk a quarter mile or so of road to get started.

The hike

On the first day we hiked to Blue Lake—intending to go longer but forced to stop due to rain. Blue Lake is about 1400 feet above the trailhead and only 3 miles in, making it a particularly easy destination—I have taken young children there. For such an easy destination its scenic value is outstanding.
Most people camp near the outlet end between the outlet and the next trail junction, but there are also camps in less traveled locations for those willing to look.

On the second day we dayhiked to Baboon Lakes, hoping to fully explore their basin and maybe even climb up to Sunset Lake, as I have done in the past. In the past I found the use trail to Baboon very sketchy, but was able to follow it the full distance this time. The intersection with the trail from Blue to Donkey was marked with a pole with the destinations written in sharpie. The trail does not at all follow the spur marked on the USGS maps. It goes high above the outlet stream--never coming close to it-- and instead of contouring around the granite hump to the direct north of Baboon, it goes over that granite hump it and drops down to the lake at its NW inlet.
Baboon still had a lot of snow, but the outlet was raging and just barely too wide for us to feel we could cross it safely.
Unfortunately, this cut us off from all but a short piece of shoreline. After enjoying the views, we returned to camp at Blue Lake, packed up, and moved over to Dingleberry, where we had the lake to ourselves for the evening. There we discovered that the crossing over the Middle Fork of Bishop Creek that is just upstream from the lake looked challenging. All the stepping stones were under water, and it looked as if the wade would be thigh deep and more than 50 feet across.

On the third day we set out cross country, avoiding the ford, and climbed the granite ridge SE of Dingleberry. There we enjoyed the views, including of Topsy Turvy lake, before we found a way down from the ridge to Pee Wee Lake. We circled this lake and came to the jumble of boulders at the outlet end of Topsy Turvey. We picked a path and boulder-hopped across the outlet—much of the water was underneath the jumble of boulders, and this proved to be a dry way of getting across the stream that seemed better than the cold ford close to Dingleberry. From Topsy Turvy we climbed SW to rejoin the trail toward Hungry Packer. As you come up this trail you get a splendid view of a mountain valley filled with small lakes, and dominated by pretty waterfalls coming from the outlet of Moonight Lake. From here you can explore Moonlight Lake, Sailor Lake, Hungry Packer lake, and a plethora of small streams and granite mounds. It is one of the most magical places in the Sierra.
We did explore, but rain once again chased us back to camp. On the way, we did ford the Middle Fork above Dingleberry and found that the sandy bottom was very safe, the current not dangerous, and the depth mostly shallower than we feared. The biggest problem was the bitter cold that caused pain long before the lengthy ford was completed.

On the fourth day, after suffering yet another rainstorm as we woke up, we decided we had explored as far as we could given the conditions, and we headed out.
We got out in time to drive up to the Bristlecone Pines visitor center and explored the world’s oldest living (non clonal) things.

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:02 am
by mckee80
Awesome report. Thanks! One day I hope to get to the falls at Moonlight Lake. That area just moved up on my list. So many places, so little time.

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Tue Jul 30, 2019 11:52 am
by Cycleboy
I've been up that way 5 times, and may go for a 6th this year if we can put a trip together. Interesting to see the snow around the shoreline of Lower Baboon and at Moonlight Falls. We camped on the rocks in between the beach where the trail comes up and the outlet stream.

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Tue Jul 30, 2019 12:46 pm
by Rockyroad
Beautiful photos. I wouldn't have crossed the outlet of Baboon Lake either!

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:57 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Sabrina Basin is always wonderful, even when it is a bit crowded. We went up early one year and the waterfall below Moonlight was flowing; the next time it was bone dry.

Interesting to see your description of the use-trail up to Baboon Lakes. From the photo it looks like you were well above the lake. I have always lost it and simply scrambled up the drainage; I do not even remember that crossing, perhaps because I crossed down further since I missed the trail. Once I went up from Donkey Lake which avoids the crossing at Baboon Lake outlet. It was not that hard.

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Wed Jul 31, 2019 8:16 am
by gary c.
Agree about that entire basin being so beautiful. Our first time up there we followed the trail and did ok. The second time we pretty much went cross country in both directions.

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Wed Jul 31, 2019 12:48 pm
by cantare
Beautiful photos/report. That sure was a crap week to be in the Sierra, weather-wise...I went over Avalanche Pass out of Roads End and got the full monsoon heat/humidity/downpour treatment.

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Wed Jul 31, 2019 2:01 pm
by giantbrookie
No matter how popular it is, Sabrina Basin is one of those places that never gets old. Yes, the monsoonal flow did in fact get going just about when you hiked in, based on a perspective from further north in the range (no thunderstorms until the 23rd).

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Wed Jul 31, 2019 7:33 pm
Thanks for sharing! Looks like a beautiful area.

Re: TR: Sabrina Basin July 23-26

Posted: Fri Aug 02, 2019 10:21 pm
by davidsheridan
Thanks for the great TR KPeter! So great you got to go up with your brother! Sounds like you got a great tour of the area in spite of the rain. (Blue/Baboon/Dingleberry/Sailor/Tospy Turvey/Pee Wee/+ more). I like the fact you guys went off trail to move around the various lake basins.

My wife and I had a similar trip last year where afternoon/evening rains that curtailed some of our most ambitious plans.

Thanks for posting beautiful pics, I particularly like the flowers in front Sailor Lake with Picture Peak in background.

Any more trips this summer? I am headed to Yosemite tomorrow. Wish me luck with crowds...