Going “off the grid” to some means turning off their cell phone for a few hours. For me last fall, it meant driving 9 miles up a mountain road with absolutely no cell reception, staying in a Wi-Fi-less cabin powered only by hydroelectricity and then hiking 10 miles farther into the wilderness. (Go big or go home, right?)
The Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail in California’s Inyo National Forest takes hikers through the seven lakes that comprise Big Pine Lakes, which lie on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The lakes are named for the order in which they appear, beginning at First Lake and ending at Seventh Lake.
The entire trail is about 16 miles round-trip. Campers often spend multiple days exploring the area, but visitors can choose shorter day hikes and see just as much natural splendor. I opted to visit Second Lake one day (4.8 miles from the trailhead), and on the next day, I hiked a side trail up to nearly 3,000 feet in elevation to Black Lake (5 miles from the trailhead). Suckers for punishment may enjoy the latter hike and the views it affords of the Sierra Crest ridgeline and Palisade Glacier, but any visitor to the John Muir Wilderness must at least venture to Second Lake.
Though First Lake is beautiful, Second Lake is where it’s at. A brilliant turquoise blue from glacier runoff, the lake sits in front of Temple Crag, an impressive 13,000-foot peak popular with rock climbers. I went into the icy waters up to my calves and stood still until a rainbow trout swam by. Then, I dried myself off on a sunny rock while two squirrels chased each other up and down a Jeffrey pine tree, all blissfully unconcerned with my presence.