HIKE TO: Seven Big Pine Lakes & Cloudripper TRAIL: Big Pine Creek North Fork MILES: 19.92 miles out and back (8.4 miles one-way to Seventh Lake) TIME: DATE I WENT: 6/25/21 - 6/27/21 DIFFICULTY: moderate ELEVATION GAIN/ LOSS: 5823 ft HIKE PERMIT: yes for overnight, no for day hike PARKING PERMIT: no CAMPFIRES: NOT ALLOWED - please practice leave no trace LOCATION: Eastern Sierra, Inyo National Forest
Things to know before I dive into my Cloudripper trail experience:
- This trip can be done as one long strenuous day hike instead of an overnight trip. Wilderness camping permits are hard to come by for this specific trail.
- I have written about Big Pine Lakes to the popular Third Lake before so there may be some overlap here – this report is for all seven lakes and Cloudripper. There is a hiking trail up to 6th lake and it’s cross country hiking after that.
- This trail for Big Pine North Fork to the famous Big Pine Lakes is different than the Big Pine South Fork trail to Finger Lake. A South Fork permit does not allow you to camp here.
- Cloudripper is the first 13er I ever attempted and failed at due to lack of research/ preparation on my end (I simply jumped onto a group trip and didn’t think to ask twice about anything). Live and learn. Make sure you do your due diligence before heading out for a climb! Cloudripper is the highest peak of the Inconsolable Range in the Sierra Nevada.
First lake, second lake, third lake, and fifth lake are all turquoise colored, but second lake tends to be the most vibrant.
There are seven Big Pine Lakes, but nearby on the same trail is Black Lake and Summit Lake. Finger Lake also starts at the same trailhead but heads down a different trail and requires a Big Pine South Fork permit for overnight camping.
The best time to see the colors when they’re most vibrant tends to consistently be mid-June through August. In September and early October, the turquoise color is still there but it’s a deeper turquoise color that could still brighten up when the sun hits it mid-day, but nothing compares to seeing it in the summer time!
3 days/ 2 nights Backpacking Trip Report
My backpacking trips lately have all included a climbing objective, so I’ve enjoyed hiking in to our camp later in the evening to arrive around sunset before setting out for a climb the following morning. We started hiking at 4:15 pm on Friday evening and arrived to camp at Second Lake in 2.5 hours. I’m going to skip through this section of the hike but you can read about it on my previous blog post here.
The mosquitos are currently horrendous but the wildflowers are all out.
Hiking to Big Pines Seventh Lake and Climbing Cloudripper 13,517 ft
Cloudripper is the 58th highest peak in California and the tallest in the Inconsolable Range near the Palisades. This hike passes all seven Big Pine Lakes, but Fifth Lake is a small detour. We had a leisurely start in the morning around 7:50 am from Second Lake (10,113 ft), 5 miles from the trailhead. At 6.5 miles from the TH, you reach the junction for Glacial Trail (to Sam Mack Meadow and Palisade Glacier) but continue on the trail to 4th-7th Lakes. The trail follows a dirt path all the way until Sixth Lake with plenty of tree coverage and shade, at which point you will need to cross country hike (navigate yourself off-trail) in mostly exposed terrain – be sure to follow the path that looks worn so you don’t damage the wilderness any more. At 8.4 miles from the TH, you reach Seventh Lake (11,188 ft).
It’s all uphill from here. Cloudripper is a class 2 scramble, meaning the trail is nonexistent, you need to have some map-reading skills, a good sense of direction, and you will be walking/ scrambling up boulders/ talus/ scree and may be using your hands for balance. When you’re looking at Cloudripper during the approach, the route up will be the obvious low point on the right side of it, the saddle between Cloudripper and Sky Haven. Remember, the climb tends to look worse than it actually is from afar. Once you get up closer, it’s less intimidating.
Always pick the path of least resistance. To get to the beginning of the scramble section, hike up from Seventh Lake in the direction of the saddle and stay between the trees and the lower boulders hill. Once you get as close to the talus as you can, the scramble up is about 0.9 miles and 996 ft of elevation gain. Stick to the larger boulders on the right side as opposed to the loose scree on the left. From the top of this saddle, you’ll see Thunder and Lightning Lake which drops down on the North-side of the saddle, and Vagabond Peak rising up to the Northwest, but you will not see Cloudripper yet. Head left to traverse to Cloudripper. There is a slightly worn sandy-dirt trail you can follow to navigate the left side of the ridge, but eventually, you’ll choose your own path up the talus. The mountain you see in front of you at first is not the summit, but once you get on top of that, you will see the traverse to the left that leads to Cloudripper. This section of the scramble is 0.82 miles and 1,202 ft of elevation gain.
After a long and slow day, we finally arrived at Cloudripper (13,517 ft) at 1:30 pm. The 360 views of Big Pine Lakes, the Palisades, and Bishop were absolutely breathtaking. Soak it all in!
We enjoyed the summit for an hour before making the long trek back to camp for another night and took a refreshing, icy dip in the lakes before hiking out the following morning.
The water at Big Pine Lakes is never as cold as I think it would be… or maybe I’ve just been in worse lately. When I swam in the lake last July, someone told me they measured the water temperature of Second Lake, along the edge in the middle of the day, and it was 50 something degrees.
- Sun shirt: OR Echo Hoodie
- Leggings: EB
- Tent: BA Tiger Wall UL1
- Sun hat: Sunday Afternoons
- Sleeping bag: EB Flying Squirrel 40
- Sleeping pad: Thermarest NeoAir XTherm
- Camp sleep shirt (white long sleeve)