Backpacking Finger Lake | John Muir Wilderness

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Finger lake is an unknown gem that gets over looked because of its popular neighbor, the Seven Lakes Loop trail. This loop which includes Second Lake and Temple Crag is known to fill summer quotas early in the season. If you know me well, I like my solitude and go where its not busy. I do extensive research looking for stunning yet relatively unknown places to go. Finger Lake is one of those places. Mind you, this hike is not a walk in the park but the reward of witnessing this small and narrow turquoise blue lake, palisades ridge towering over the lake, and view middle palisade glacier, is well worth the struggle.

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The trail starts at Big Pine Creek Trail head and then tails to the left towards Finger Lake. If you head right then you head towards Seven Lakes Loop trail. This trail-head is called Big Pine South Fork Trail and starts out along an open valley that starts to narrow in as you get closer and higher in altitude. We crossed a creek that does not have a bridge so we had to tread some swift moving water that was thigh high. Swift as in, my dog tried to swim across 10-15 feet and was turned sideways and couldn’t swim upstream or out so we had to grab her before something bad happened. I would recommend taking off your shoes and socks to cross. Then a short hike until you see the sign as you enter the John Muir Wilderness.

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The farther and higher we went, the better the views got. Pictured above is from the top of a point that overlooked the valley that leads into Lone Pine, California where we started our hike. We were rewarded with Ancient Bristlecone Trees throughout the hike which was awesome. Those trees grow between 9800-11000 feet and are up to 4000 years old. pretty crazy huh?

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Along the way were dozens of photo opportunities. I am a huge fan of leading lines and inserting the human element, in this case, three of them add scale of how massive these peaks were and how tiny we are.

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The boulder field right before reaching Finger Lake was tough. It is about a quarter of a mile of 45 degree field of boulders that range from 20 inches in diameter to 3-5 feet in diameter. One small miscalculated step and you could be smashed by one of the boulders or tumble down the field. There is no actual route as you navigate through the field however you are able to find paths from previous hikers. We came up one way where the rocks were very loose and then we went back down a different way (pictured above) that lead us towards Brainerd Lake. If you are on this hike, take the longer way near Brainerd Lake. It is easier to navigate and the lake itself is worth exploring or camping at.

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After we settled down and find our campsites, it was time to take a dip in the frigid glacier fed lake. Frigid is an understatement. I put my feet in up to my shins and I was presented with an incredible painful feeling from how cold it was. I ended up jumping in and getting out immediately. There is something about jumping in a near freezing lake then the body takes over and goes into survival mode. A crazy sensation was sent throughout my body that I can not explain. But I loved it. I felt energized for the rest of the day. Try it sometime. Pictured above is my friend Stephen sending it.

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Kelle and I stayed up a little bit after sunset to watch the Milky Way rise above us. It was a beautiful sight to see while the temperature outside was mild and bearable. Yes, we did sleep in that particular spot. It was away from the other sites and this was the only spot that was flat, level, and just big enough to handle our tent. Was it the best choice? No, definitely not. The end poles hung off the edge of the tent but Kelle, Joose, and myself were all able to sleep there.

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We woke up to a glass like reflection over the lake. No wind at all. It was a picture perfect morning to start the day.

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Kelle soaked in the views while in the tent as I ran around hopping and skipping boulders chasing the sunrise. Even Joose was enjoying the views before we ate breakfast, broke camp, and met up with Stephen and his buddy before we started our trek back down the trail to eat some pizza back in town.

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Useful information about this hike:

GPS Track (our route on the way back)

5.1 mile trail

4-8 hours to the lake

2-5 hours back

Elevation Start - 7670

Elevation End - 10700

Elevation gain - 3170 feet within 5 miles

Difficulty - Strenuous

Dog Friendly

Wilderness Permits are required for overnight camping

There were a few streams to fill up on water so fill up when you have the chance.

Bring bug spray! Mosquitos by the streams were intense.

There is minimal campsites available. The most ideal sites will be at the beginning of the lake. In the pictures you see my tent is ideal for a 1 person or a small 2 person tent. It is the only spot that is flat however not the most ideal spot.