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Sabrina Basin
Bishop Creek Recreation Area, California

     Sabrina Basin, dotted with lakes nestled below massive mountain peaks, represents the great outdoors at its best—irresistible to the eye in its picture-perfect Eastern Sierra setting. To experience all the basin has to offer—to feel the mountain breeze off an alpine lake, hear the joyful song of a stellar jay, dip your toes in a rushing creek, smell the wildflowers, rejoice in the brightly colored leaves and crisp air of an autumn day—you need to leave the highway.

     From US Highway 395 in Bishop, California, drive west on Highway 168, following signs to South Lake, North Lake, and Lake Sabrina for approximately 15 miles before reaching a junction—at the Y intersection, stay right for Lake Sabrina and Sabrina Basin. The backpackers’ parking area is located just before the trailhead at the North Lake turnoff, 18 miles from Bishop, day hikers can continue another half-mile and park near the trailhead (parking is limited) or at the north side of the dam.

     The trail into the basin is far from easy (it’s a 12 to 14 mile roundtrip hike to the farthest lakes, Midnight and Hungry Packer), but the challenges it affords are well worth the effort—one such challenge is the high elevation. Starting at 9,080-feet and climbing 3.3 miles to Blue Lake at 10,390 feet makes it difficult to catch your breath, especially if you are not acclimatized—with that said, Blue Lake, the first accessible lake in the Sabrina Basin, is considered an intermediate destination.

     Setting our sights on Blue Lake, we began climbing from the trailhead, rising above the dam and then traversing the wide-open slopes above the east shore of Sabrina Lake—cloudy skies accentuated the yellow aspen leaves, and turned the lake a cold gray color. As we climbed deeper into the basin, passing a trail off to the left at 1.2 miles that climbs steeply to Lake George, the mild weather continued to provide perfect hiking temperatures and contrasting landscapes—bright colorless skies loomed above shaded foregrounds, making photography a challenge to say the least.

     Shortly after passing the Lake George Trail, the main path fords two creeks, both of which were running low during our hike—boots still dry, we began climbing a series of switchbacks under the cover of lodgepole pines. The beautifully constructed trail tops out above the valley, where a viewpoint yields excellent panoramas of Mount Emerson and the jagged peaks of the red-hued Piute Crags.

     Climbing higher into the basin, the beautiful views cross over into the realm of the magnificent—reaching the shores of Blue Lake at the 3-mile mark, your senses rejuvenate at the sight of the rugged Thompson Ridge reflecting in the calm waters.

     Blue Lake, our destination for the day, is the perfect place to relax and reanimate your spirit—beginning at the marsh-lined shores, rock-hop your way across the wide outlet to the boulder bound shores of Blue Lake proper. Once across the watery obstacle, look for an intrusive layer—reminiscent of a highway lane marking—in a granite rise next to the trail. This granite vein, known as an aplitic dike, seems to lead the way to the lakeside paradise—follow it with reckless abandon.

     Arriving at Blue Lake in the late afternoon, we were mesmerized by the beautiful light of the fading sun—the towering peaks of the Thompson Ridge taking on the pastel hues of alpenglow. The superlative Sierra setting worked its magic, compelling us to linger amid the dramatic landscape—passing the time taking photograph after photograph, we could have stayed for hours. But alas, it was time to retrace our steps back to the car and while descending the switchbacks above the valley, we were treated with a parting gift from Mother Nature—sunbeams spread out across the sky like the points on a crown!

     Our final steps along the Sabrina Basin Trail were just as enjoyable as our first, truly a great hike from start to finish—we arrived back at the car at 7pm, for a 6.6-mile roundtrip hiking time of four hours. We vowed then and there to return with our backpacks, intent on exploring as far as Hungry Packer Lake on our next visit. However, if like us, you find yourself a little short on time, do not hesitate to hike as far as time allows into the Sabrina Basin—her majesty beckons.


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