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Heiser and Bull Run Lakes

Day 2 of 3

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Sunday, August 23rd
Heiser Lake to Bull Run Lake
2.4 miles
640 vertical feet (ascent)
610 vertical feet (descent)
3:19


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GPX File

It was still raining when we woke up in the morning. I stayed in my sleeping bag, hoping it would stop before I got out. No such luck. Eventually, around 8:30am, I put on my rain jacket and went outside. Robert and Evelyn were already up, packing. I boiled water, then ate my oatmeal in the light rain while the others ate in the tent. Yes, I know you're not supposed to eat in the tent in bear territory, but I wasn't about to drag our two kids outside in the rain just so they could eat breakfast.

The rain finally stopped around 9:45am. I could even see a patch of blue sky on the horizon, so it looked like it might not rain the rest of the day. We said goodbye to Robert and Evelyn, who were only doing a 1-night trip this time.

Morning mist on Heiser Lake, just after the rain stopped

There was no particular reason for us to leave right away, so we took our time packing up. We basically had the lake to ourselves now; I couldn't see the only other tent that had been here the night before. As we packed up, we discovered that there had been a depression underneath the tent where water had flowed, making a couple sleeping pads slightly wet, but it wasn't too bad. The rain fly and ground cover were soaked, of course. I was hoping that the sun would come out later and we could dry them off once we got to our next camp site.

After lunch, we headed off on the trail, circling back around the lake and up the trail we had come in from. On our way up, we passed a couple day hikers who were coming down to Heiser Lake. After reaching the trail intersection at 0.5 miles, we turned left to head to Bull Run Lake. By this time the sun had started to poke out from behind the clouds.

The trail heads downhill through the forest, gradually at first. Shortly, however, the trail leaves the forest and makes a very steep descent down a rocky section of trail. We made sure to look for rock stacks and I-blazes to follow the trail here. With each step down I realized that we'd have to head back up this section tomorrow.

View just above the steep descent

At the end of this rocky section, the trail levels off a bit. At 1.2 miles, we reached the next trail intersection. Continuing straight leads to Stanislaus Meadow. The trail to the left heads to Bull Run Lake. We stopped here on some large boulders for a snack break before heading to the lake. While we were here, a couple day hikers came from the direction of Stanislaus Meadow, then headed up toward Bull Run Lake.

Hiking through one of the few grassy areas on the trail

View from the Bull Run Lake trail intersection

This part of the trail starts off flat. That doesn't last long, however. After this initial flat section, the trail veers uphill to the left, up a rocky section of trail that would be impossible to follow without all the rock stacks here and there. This section seemed to go on and on before mercifully giving way to a series of switchbacks on solid ground. At this point there are also some nice views of the mountains behind us.

View looking down from the switchbacks

We shortly came to a small pond on the right, but it wasn't anything worth stopping for. We continued on up the trail, which again turns rocky, although not as bad as the earlier section. The frustrating thing about this climb had been that we couldn't tell where our final destination was. Here on this last rocky section, however, we started to sniff the finish line. Then we saw the 2 day hikers we'd seen at the trail intersection. They were coming down from the lake and confirmed that we were only 5-10 minutes away.

Encouraged, we made the final push up to the top and then almost immediately spotted the lake through the trees. We put down our packs and started to look for a camp site. We had our choice of sites since, amazingly, we were the only ones here. Well, it was a Sunday afternoon, after all, so maybe it wasn't too surprising that there weren't any other backpackers. But I would have at least expected to have seen more day hikers. Not that I was complaining, of course. We had this beautiful lake all to ourselves. It's a much larger and prettier lake than Heiser Lake.

Granite island in Bull Run Lake

Granite island in Bull Run Lake

We eventually decided to camp at the northeastern corner of the lake, where there was a large forested flat section with several sites for tents and a campfire ring with enough log seating for 20 or more campers. This was well away from the lake shore, but it was the only campfire ring in sight and the lake was still less than a minute's walk away. Also here was a large granite outcropping right at the edge of the lake. The sun was completely out now, and we laid out our rain fly and tent ground cover on the granite to dry. The wind helped dry them out quite quickly.

Northern shore of Bull Run Lake

Northeast shore of Bull Run Lake

Granite outcropping next to lake

The trail continues around the lake, leading to a flat sandy area near our camp site. After that, it didn't look like there were many good flat camping spots except possibly at a couple places on the opposite side of the lake, and maybe some spots closer to where the trail originally reaches the lake at the northwest shore.

Our camp site

The water right below the granite outcropping is quite deep, enough so that I'm sure more than a few people have taken a running leap off it into the water. If you're going to do that, you do need to make sure you'll clear the rocks halfway down, though, as it's not quite a sheer drop. In any case, the deep water provided a very convenient place for me to get water to filter.

After dinner, we realized that we were sort of running out of food. Breakfast would be fine, but we were cutting it close with our lunch tomorrow. I had budgeted 6500 calories of food per day for us; I figured about 3000 for me, 2000 for Jean, and 750 each for the two kids. I didn't think they would eat very much, but apparently all that hiking makes them hungry. I'm pretty sure they were the reason we were eating more than expected. Well, that and the fact that they accidentally dropped pieces of food on the ground every so often, wasting a few hundred precious calories. That's something I'll have to factor in next time.

Bull Run Lake (edge of granite outcropping at top right)

It was hard to start a campfire because all the wood was wet from the rain. We kept at it, though, and eventually got it going. Because of the clearing storm I had high hopes for the sunset, but it was a bit disappointing. Almost all the clouds were already gone, which took all the drama out of the sunset.

Sunset at Bull Run Lake

While sitting by the campfire I noticed an animal chewing at the bag holding my toothbrush. It was a little mouse. I chased it off. Later, when I put out the fire, I noticed that he was not alone. At least half a dozen mice ran around in seemingly random fashion. Their eyes reflected spookily in the light of my headlamp. Shortly after I went into the tent, I heard a loud thunk which scared me. At first I thought it might be a bear trying to get into our bear canister, but I checked and it was undisturbed. I heard that sound at least 2 or 3 times that night, and I'm still not sure what it was. It's possible it could have been a branch or something falling down from high above in a tree. In any case, that didn't really keep me awake. The mice did, though. I could hear them scurrying about outside the tent.


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