Backpacking in November: Glacial Lake Hike in Hoover Wilderness

Eastern Sierra, Hike Reports / Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

*sponsored by Zappos

HIKE TO: backcountry glacial lake  
MILES:  7.77 miles out and back
TIME:  6 hours (3:25hr hike in; 2:30hr hike out)
DATE I WENT: 11/16/19 - 11/17/19 
DIFFICULTY: strenuous 
ELEVATION: 11,311 ft
SLOPE GRADE: 51 degrees max, 15 deg avg
HIKE PERMIT: yes for overnight camping
LOCATION: Hoover Wilderness, Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra

DISCLAIMER, PLEASE READ: This trail is not recommended for inexperienced hikers as it requires some gnarly class 2 scrambling down a steep slope.

Please read through the entire post if you’re interested in hiking in this area. I thought a lot about this although I normally share all detailed locations on my blogs, I will not be disclosing the specific location of this lake or trailhead at this time. I did provide enough information that you can find it on your own with plenty of research 😉

Please be respectful of the wilderness – Practice LEAVE NO TRACE. Pack it in, pack it out.

I’m so excited to share with you my journey to this glacial lake that I’ve been waiting for months to visit.

The first time I attempted to visit this lake in Sept, I got to a similar area at the top of the mountain pass with a beautiful overlook of the lake but I couldn’t find a trail down. I was disappointed but determined to find my way. The second time I attempted to visit this lake in Oct, I had downloaded a partial GPX track so I thought I was golden – we entered from a different trailhead only to find that it required the worst bushwacking of my life and the trail was no longer visible. I was frustrated because I was so sure this was going to be it. Third time’s the charm!

Getting There: Trail to Mountain Pass to Lake Overlook

Last weekend [Nov 16-17] was the perfect backpacking weather, sunny with a high of 54° and a low of 27°. I honestly couldn’t believe how perfect the temps were for the Eastern Sierra in November! I still packed plenty of layers to be fully prepared, including my rain jacket, down jacket, down vest, and Hot Chillys midweight baselayer.

We started at 12:10 pm and the first three miles of the trail is a gradual incline, passing through the forest and numerous alpine lakes which were all starting to freeze over. With a high of 46° on day one, we breezed through this section, heading above the tree line and up the mountain pass. We spent some time enjoying the view of the lakes basin from the top of the pass before starting the real adventure.

girl in hot chillys micro elite baselayer top

From there, we left the hiking trail for some route finding, cross country hiking. We headed in the direction of the viewpoint according to my GPS and forged our own path up the rocky mountain for 15 minutes before reaching the unofficial glacial lake overlook. This is the point where I would recommend most hikers stop unless you have mountaineering experience. It’s a beautiful, moderate, short trail just to get to this viewpoint and worth the day hike on its own. Do not attempt to go down if you don’t have climbing experience.

Climbing Down Scree to Get to Glacial Lake

It was a sketchy class 2 climb to get down to the glacial lake. I have some experience climbing and scrambling, but not much. The unmarked route goes down 0.6 mi in 722 ft, at an average slope of 45° and max slope of 51° (half dome cables are 39° for reference… but at least there are ropes to hold onto there). It doesn’t sound or look as bad as it was – the beginning part was easy for me, but the middle section got so steep with scree (small loose stones that cover the mountain) that I was terrified looking down at what looked to be the best route and I literally slid down onto my behind on my step down.

Moving slower with caution, we made it safely to the bottom of the bowl in under an hour, and took another twenty minutes or so to walk to our dispersed campsite by the glacial lake, 10,486 ft, at 3:35 pm. If you make your way out here (or any other backcountry wilderness for that matter), don’t forget to camp at least 100 ft away from lakes/ streams and the trail!

Backcountry Camping in November

Since we lost all sunlight in the bowl already, the temperature was dropping quickly. 40° in the mountains isn’t bad at all when it’s sunny, but the shade is a whole different story. I was surprised I stayed warm in my Hot Chilly’s Micro Elite baselayer top. I usually get cold in the mountains fast and always put on my down or other insulating jackets when I get camp set up, but this midweight top definitely served its purpose and all I had to add on was an ultralight down vest. To be honest, I’m actually really surprised how warm and comfortable this kept me (it’s super soft) and how much I like it.

I actually ordered this base layer top from Zappos just two days before my trip and got free expedited shipping as a Zappos Rewards Member (free to sign up)! It arrived in one day so if you’re in a pinch to get some last-minute layers for your next trip, check out their large selection!

We had an early dinner, watched the sunset around 4:45 pm, filtered water and got ready for an early bed night by 5:15 pm. I normally sleep with minimal clothes on in my sleeping bag in the warmer months, but I packed my 15° quilt (expecting it to be a low of 32° this night when it actually turned out to be 27°) so I was looking forward to sleeping in my midweight baselayer!

I was surprised how warm it kept me through the night! I don’t own anything like it so it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to having in my cold season backpacking gear set. The only other midweight top I own is my favorite fleece jacket which it did remind me of a lot, just slightly thinner with no zippers and no hoodie which makes for a more comfortable sleep and easier to layer. I wore normal, thin baselayer bottoms though and I definitely could have been a tad warmer… I’m thinking about getting the matching tights now. I think that’ll actually be really nice for winter camping 😀

I don’t know about you, but I hate having to get out of my tent to use the restroom once I’m cozied-up inside. It often takes me a while to warm up my body when camping in cooler conditions so I try to not get out until the morning, but nature called so when I stepped out in the darkness around 8 pm in my down jacket, vest, and the midweight top. I was shocked by how warm it was outside. This was the only time of the trip I wore my down jacket and didn’t find it necessary. I’d say the Hot Chilly’s Micro Elite top can be a good replacement for a fleece jacket/ mid-layer in terms of warmth, but with the cold season upon us, always be prepared with layers!

Sunday Morning at the Lake

The temperatures hit below freezing point overnight, freezing the stream and even the top layer of the lake partially!

The next morning, we stayed bundled up in bed until the sun fully came out so we could enjoy the color of the lake. It was 30° but the weather felt perfect to me with my baselayers (I can’t get over how warm this shirt kept me). I rarely spend my mornings just hanging out at camp but it’s something I’d like to try to do more instead of always being on the go.

Since I’ve waited so long and put in so much effort to see this beautiful, turquoise glacial lake, we literally spent the entire morning hanging out at the lake, staring in disbelief, ooh-ing and aah-ing, playing with the ice, and eating lunch.

The morning did heat up fairly quickly and was 46° by 9 am when I finally felt warm enough to un-layer… and even try a quick dip in the partially frozen lake! Talk about an ice bath…

Hiking Out: Gnarly Class 2 Scramble

We packed up and left camp around 12:45 pm on day 2, and trekking out was the most strenuous section of this journey. It’s all rocks, boulders, a ton of scree… and uphill of 0.7 mi in 725 ft. Again, it may not sound so bad if you’re used to doing strenuous hikes when training for something big, but remember that this isn’t a normal dirt hiking trail – the terrain is what makes it dangerous.

We took different routes going up and down depending on what looked easier in the appropriate direction. As we got closer to the middle/ top half on our way up, we trekked along a large rock structure jugging out of the ground so I always had at least one hand on a firm ridge-like formation since I was scared to slide down.

I am extremely grateful my friend, Kinga, was so supportive, patient and encouraging on our climb out. I’m terrified of heights (and maybe there’s a thrill in that to some degree) but I’ve always said that mind over matter is a powerful tool and the right adventure partner makes all the difference.

It took us just under an hour to reach the top and then the 3+ downhill miles to get back to the car.

Elevation profile

Final Words…

Just because Winter is coming, that doesn’t mean backpacking season is over (I just recently learned this as well). With the proper gear and layers, your adventures can continue through the cold season as well!

I hope this post inspires you to get out more and explore, but more to help you see that if you do a ton of research, you can find many secluded areas in the backcountry. I will tell you there are multiple trailheads to this specific alpine lake and I dropped plenty of hints to assist you in your research if you’re determined to make it here.

Thanks for reading!

Let me know if you have any questions/ comments/ suggestions in the comment section below (aside from asking for the location names)
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