Hiking in the Kaiser Wilderness, CA
Updated: Sep 1, 2022
Hiking the Twin Lakes Trail in the Sierra National Forest's Kaiser Wilderness.
It's 5:35 am on Saturday morning, as I grab my hydration bladder and stainless steel containers of water from the refrigerator and cram them into my hiking backpack. I am 30 minutes behind my schedule. Luckily, I had gathered all my supplies and equipment the night before, so there wasn't much to prepare. By 5:45 am, Maverick was loaded into the car with a smile on his face. The road was quiet and the sun had not yet risen over the distant mountain range as we made our way up Highway 168 toward the Sierra National Forest and the Kaiser Wilderness.
The Kaiser Wilderness was established in 1976 and is located immediately north of Lakeshore, the home of Huntington Lake. Named after Kaiser Ridge, the wilderness is separated into two different regions. As SierraWild.Gov states, most of Kaiser Ridge is 10, 320 feet high and Kaiser Peak provides a commanding view of the central Sierra Nevada. The northern portion is much steeper and more open than the more gentle terrain found in the southern portion of the wilderness.
I had not ventured passed Shaver Lake since the 2020 Creek fire that destroyed 379,895 acres of the Sierra National Forest. I had witnessed the burned areas around Cressman's General Store and in the distance from Shaver Lake, but nothing had prepared me for the devastation I observed beyond the Tamarack Sno-Park.
About 11 miles east of Shaver Lake, burned trees in muted lines of black and gray, stood lifeless. The scars left by the Creek fire are still haunting almost two years later.
By 7:15 am, we had reached Huntington Lake and turned onto Kaiser Pass Road. On the left, about 5 miles up Kaiser Pass Road is the Twin Lakes Trailhead. The trailhead can be found across the street from a parking area and restroom.
The Twin Lakes Trail is rated as a moderate challenge hike by alltrails.com. I would agree that this trail is a mostly moderate hike with some elements more challenging than others. The start of the trail is a zig-zagging incline. The hardest part of the start is the altitude. At the trailhead, the elevation is approximately 8,350 ft. Unless you are used to a workout in this elevation, you will have to adjust. I was breathing very heavily for the first mile uphill even though the trail itself was not that difficult at this point.
Although there were a few vehicles in the parking lot, we did not pass anyone on our journey out. It was so peaceful and quiet being in the woods with just the sound of birds chirping in the trees and the rustling of squirrels in the bushes.
I think John Muir said it best, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
After about 2.5 miles of steady upward climbing through beautiful Giant Sequoias, we came out of the tree line at Potter Pass. Potter Pass, a mountain pass on the Kaiser Ridge is roughly 8,975 ft elevation. Providing excellent panorama views, we took a moment to drink some water, snap a photo at the Kaiser Wilderness sign, and consult the GPS. At Potter Pass, there are a few trail offshoots. To continue to the Twin Lakes, we weaved down the back of the ridge along the rocky trail.
Mountain Pass: the location in a range of mountains of a geological formation that is lower than the surrounding peaks. - Vocabulary.
After about half a mile of descent, we came to a fork in the trail with signage directing us to make a left and traverse the narrow maze of rock and plant life. This section of the trail was very open and devoid of trees. I made a mental note of this, as well as the time of day, knowing that this area would be a hot spot upon my return. At the three-and-a-half-mile mark, we entered the forest again and came upon Lower Twin Lake. Walled by the shark-finned ridges to the West and thick lines of trees on three sides, Lower Twin Lake was a gorgeous site to behold.
The reflection of the surrounding landscape appeared as a mirror on the water. Maverick and I found a rock at the edge of the water to eat a snack and enjoy the peaceful creation around us.
After taking our short break, we continued the 3-minute hike to Upper Lake. Here we were greeted with the first sign of other humans lol. Some fishing, some swimming, all enjoying the amazing scenery surrounding us. Maverick and I both soaked our legs in the water for a while and chatted with a group fishing. They had backpacked in the previous day and camped overnight about 300 ft from the lake edge.
I had actually considered backpacking in and staying overnight as well. Unfortunately, this had been a spontaneous trip. Wilderness permits are required in the area for any overnight camping. Permits can be reserved online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/sierra/passes-permits, however, they must be picked up in person at a Ranger Station. The station closest to home for me is the High Sierra Ranger District Office in Prather (a small community about 45 mins from home that I pass to get up to Shaver Lake and Huntington Lake). This office is only open from 8 am-5 pm, which meant I would have had to start the hike much later after obtaining the signed permit.
After spending about 45 minutes relaxing at the Upper lake. I gathered my pack and we began our journey back. By this time it was roughly 10:15 am. The sun was already getting hot and I knew that the journey back up the rocky ridge would be a challenge for me in the direct sun. This time, we were not alone on the trail. We passed many groups of day hikers and backpackers coming in as we were heading out. I am glad that we left when we did or we would soon find the area crowded, and the heat unbearable. It was about 11:45 am when we emerged from the forest back at the parking lot. Another fantastic trail explored.
What's in my pack - Gear List
2.0L Hydration Bladder - Outdoor Products
All Purpose Dry Sack - Outdoor Products
17L Backpack with Hydration Compartment - Outdoor Products
Emergency Survival Kit - Verifygear
17oz Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle (for Mav's Water) - Triple Tree
Lightweight Collapsible Trekking Poles -Cascade Mountain