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Highland Lakes Trip

Day 1 of 3

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Thursday, July 3rd
Drive to Highland Lakes Campground; Asa Lake hike

Thursday morning I left the Bay Area around 9:10am. I was making a solo trip to the Sierras for the first time, really. I had made some solo trips before, including Lassen Volcanic National Park, but none to the Sierras (unless you count staying in a motel in Lake Tahoe).

Traffic was light, and it took me about 4 1/2 hours to reach the campground. What I didn't know was that Highway 4 past Bear Valley (the part that's closed during winter) has no dividing line. While it's usually wide enough for two cars to pass each other, expect to drive around 25 mph here. I endured 14 miles of this before turning right onto Road 8N01 (which is well-signed for Highland Lakes). The first mile of this road is paved, but the last 4 miles are unpaved. In all, it takes nearly an hour to drive the last 19 miles past Bear Valley. I definitely recommend an SUV for this drive. While it's a beautiful drive, including sections of road past Lake Alpine and right next to Mosquito Lakes, the road conditions make it hard to enjoy.

Highland Lakes campground sits at about 8640 feet elevation, near the northern shore of Upper Highland Lake, which sits just south of the larger Lower Highland Lake. Hiram Peak dominates the view to the southeast of Upper Highland Lake, as it rises directly from the southeastern shores of the lake. A forest hampers views to the west from camp.

Tired from the drive, I set up camp at a site closest to the lake. At the time, I hadn't realized that there's a second half of the campground above the lake to the east. Those sites are more private, but I don't think they provide as nice a view. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Meanwhile, the early afternoon wind blowing down from Hiram Peak was making my task of setting up the tent difficult. Before I could stake it down, the wind was treating it like a big parachute and threatening to blow it away. Eventually I was able to stake it and put my gear into it to stabilize it.

Today was my take-it-easy-to-acclimatize day. I found myself noticeably short of breath due to the elevation, so I knew I could use an easy day. So, after a quick lunch of bagel and peanut butter, I made the short drive to the northern end of Lower Highland Lake and set off on a short hike to Asa Lake.

After the hike I returned to camp to clean up and make dinner. There are pit toilets and a single well for drinking water (the upper campground has its own well). It's a little difficult to hold a water container while pumping with the other hand. I managed to do that later on, but my first time to the well, a woman in the next camp was kind enough to help. She was part of a big group in the camp across from me, including several kids and two dogs who seemed to think I was encroaching on their territory. They'd probably been there for a few days before I arrived.

Flowers in front of Upper Highland Lake

While I was making dinner, a man came over to my camp and started talking to me. Let's call him Dave (I don't know his actual name, but he looks like he could be a Dave). He suggested a hike to Half Moon Lake, which the book I had only described because there was a trail to it. But, to each his own. More on Dave later...

For dinner, I had turkey and mashed potatoes (being lazy, I bought a package from REI). I was surprised at how light the freeze-dried turkey was, and how normal it tasted after being reconstituted. I'll have to look into freeze-dried meats for my next backpacking trip. It would be better than the tuna packages I've taken recently.

Nearing sunset at Upper Highland Lake

After dinner, I walked along the lake shore, carrying my camera and tripod. I mainly took photographs of Hiram Peak. I was mostly scoping out ideas for sunrise or sunset. While I was walking down the road on the western shore, I noticed three people (one carrying a tripod) on the opposite shore, walking in the same direction. As the sun dipped lower, I reached the end of the road, walked a bit further, then turned around. I figured it would be a nice place to take pictures if I arrived earlier the next night.

Hiram Peak over Upper Highland Lake


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