Monthly Archives: September 2016

Backpacking Tank Lakes

Once again I am behind on my posts but finally we have a rainy day, which encouraged me to stay inside and write instead of hitting the hills. Last week I was lucky enough to have 4 days off, with an available friend and a good weather forecast. With so many options to choose from, we chose to head into the remote and spectacular Alpine Lakes  Wilderness, to explore as much of the area as we could.

Our plan started out with a hike up Necklace Valley, a deep, lush forest that kept us out of the intense sun. The first five miles were mostly flat, but soon enough we were climbing up a steady grade to reach the first of many lakes. After nearly 8 miles of hiking, we reached Jade Lake, where there were a couple of campers already staked out. Originally we had planned to get all the way up to La Bohn Lakes today but with a late afternoon start and a a heat-induced pace, it was already getting dark when we reached Jade Lake. We raced against the growing gloom and found a secluded spot at Emerald Lake, just as we needed to pull out headlamps.

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Jurassic Park tree in Necklace Valley
Jurassic Park tree in Necklace Valley
Jade Lake
Jade Lake

The next day, we had big plans of heading up to La Bohn Lakes, dropping our stuff and heading up Mount Hinman. We had a too late start of 9am and headed up one mile to the end of the maintained trail, passing a historic cabin on the way. Once we reached the boulder field, we followed the “waterfall route” up towards La Bohn Lakes. This consisted of climbing talus up towards climber’s left, skirting the cliff until a boot path appears around the corner. From here it was a steep, but easy to follow trail to the lakes. We saw only one other person heading up.

Once at the lakes, we scouted out the perfect camp spot to drop our stuff so that we could go adventuring. Now down to our day packs, we set out with intentions of summiting  Mount Hinman. We were soon to learn why this peak is usually climbed when there is a decent snow cover.

This cabin has been here since WW2
This cabin has been here since WW2

After the lower La Bohn Lake, we dropped over the gap to spectacular views of Chain Lakes, Summit Chief, Bears Breast, Chimney and Overcoat. This was also where we could see the massive boulder field that we would have to cross to get to La Bohn Gap. We made a long traverse towards the gap, to avoid having to lose elevation. In retrospect, it would have been much easier and faster to drop down to Chain Lakes on a faint trail, then head straight up from there.

We took a steep, loose gully up to La Bohn Gap, where we were rewarded with views of Mount Hinman, Lake Rowena and Mount Daniel. We managed to find a slightly less treacherous way down, where we cooled off at Chain Lakes and looked for old mining gear.

Exploring La Bohn Lakes
Exploring La Bohn Lakes
endless talus looking towards La Bohn Gap, can you spot the hiker?
endless talus looking towards La Bohn Gap, can you spot the hiker?
Chain Lakes and Bears Breast Mountain
Chain Lakes and Bears Breast Mountain
gully we scrambled up to La Bohn Gap
gully we scrambled up to La Bohn Gap
Descending La Bohn Gap
Descending La Bohn Gap
Alpine oasis at Chain Lakes
Alpine oasis at Chain Lakes
Camp at La Bohn Lakes
Camp at La Bohn Lakes
ready to watch the sunset
ready to watch the sunset
The end of another great day in the mountains
The end of another great day in the mountains

On Day 3 our goal was Tank Lakes, which required us to descend the steep trail and talus we had come up the day before, bringing us back down to the end of the maintained trail. From here, it was back up the other side, which started as a decent boot path, marked with cairns, but eventually disappeared into open, rocky terrain. Luckily, visibility was good and we knew which direction to head. There were three hikers coming down, but we were the only ones ascending. Perhaps it was quiet because it was a Monday, or maybe it was the forecast of an approaching cold front? hmmm

When lower Tank Lake comes into view, it almost forces you to stop walking so that you can absorb the view without tripping. Jaw-dropping craggy peaks tower over the sparking lakes and portray a true alpine feeling. I could not believe that there was nobody else there!

Open country approaching Tank Lakes
Open country approaching Tank Lakes
First view of Tank Lakes
First view of Tank Lakes
Most excellent campsite!
Most excellent campsite!
Happy is a show-off porcupine
Happy is a show-off porcupine

After some time exploring the area, we found upper Tank Lake as well as views of the remote Bonnie Lake. As we retreated to camp with thoughts of cold beer and lake floating, the predicted weather arrived at a startling speed. Dark clouds were building and soon we could no longer see any of the surrounding peaks.  Quickly, we put up the tent fly and dove inside, as cold winds began to blow and drops of rain filled the air. Our streak of perfect weather had come to an end at last. I slept like a baby as the rain fell, and woke up to a chilly morning, wishing that I hadn’t forgot to pack my gloves. Too cold for morning coffee, we packed up and got moving as quick as we could. Fortunately, it was no longer raining but the clouds hung low and heavy.

Bonnie Lake
Bonnie Lake

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Upper Tank Lake
Upper Tank Lake
Incoming storm, soon the mountains would be totally obscured
Incoming storm, soon the mountains would be totally obscured

It was back down the way we came, for a knee-bashing eleven mile descent. After 4 day, we had seen more lakes than people and I felt truly blessed to experience such a gorgeous alpine region.  Now I just need to get back up there and climb Mount Hinman 🙂

Notes: lots of travel is off-trail, you must be savy with route-finding and navigating with a map or gps

log crossing on the way down
log crossing on the way down