Lakes Basin Camping Trip with Andrew

October 18 – 20, 2012
Packer Lake; Lower Sardine Lake; a hike to Deer Lake, and around the Sand Pond
Total distance: 7.75 miles

Every once in a while I am blessed with a day that I can claim as one of my favorites. I experienced one of those special times during an autumn camping trip with my youngest son, Andrew.

Autumn, at last!  Trees at our campsite.

Autumn, at last! Trees at our campsite.

Day One

Andrew came home from college during his four-day mid-term break. We left home the next morning and drove over five different highways to reach our destination: a remote corner of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Tahoe National Forest.  Four of the five highways we traversed had areas under construction causing delay-after-delay to our trip.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“a job and economic stimulus bill intended to help states and the nation restart their economies”) was in full force repairing roads.

After a five-hour journey, we reached the vacant Diablo Campground in the Lakes Basin area, and headed straight to Site #13 where our family spent many summer vacations cooking and sleeping outdoors. This was the first time that Andrew and I camped alone, and I have to admit to missing my husband.  It was strange being at this meaningful place without him while he worked.

The familiar campground sign.

The familiar campground sign.

As soon as we set up the tent, we drove to nearby Packer Lake to fish (elevation 6200 feet).

Packer Lake.  Andrew, fishing from the floating dock.

Packer Lake. Andrew, fishing from the floating dock.

There were several people on the rock, a prime fishing spot, so Andrew fished from the dock. The water was very low and he caught only snags.  On the west shore is Packer Lake Lodge, a rustic mountain resort that was closed for the season.  We walked around the lake (¾ mile) taking in the beauty of the fall colors and looking at the different cabins we stayed in each summer when Andrew and his siblings were young.

Walking through the cabin area that's closed for the winter.

Walking through the cabin area that’s closed for the winter.

Fall colors on the trail around Packer Lake.

Fall colors on the trail around Packer Lake.

Afterwards, we drove up the steep and narrow forest service road near the Sierra Buttes Lookout Trail then headed back to camp.

The Sierra Buttes from Packer Lake.

The Sierra Buttes from Packer Lake.

The original idea for this escapade was to backpack somewhere in Yosemite instead of camping so far from home.  Although we changed the trip format, the menu stayed the same, consequently we had only dehydrated meals with us.

Dinner time.

Dinner time.

During dinner, we planned the next day’s itinerary: a hike to the top of the Sierra Buttes, one we’ve done many times.  Andrew was only three years old the first time he walked it, although I remember carrying him part of the way.

Warming up by the fire.

Warming up by the fire.

There wasn’t much to do at night so we went to bed early, around 8:00 p.m.  Once bundled into our mummy bags, we gazed up at the bright, twinkling stars.  We talked about the time my nephew camped here alone and encountered a charging bear who stole his food.  Then we slept as the cold air nipped at our noses.

Day Two

At 9:30 a.m. from the warmth of my sleeping bag, I looked over and saw Andrew walking up the hill carrying firewood.  Without my glasses on he looked like a young version of his dad; he even had coffee and oatmeal ready like Chris would do.  I felt a tinge of melancholy at my husband’s absence.  During a leisurely breakfast we changed the plan for the day and decided instead to hike the Deer Lake trail.

Oatmeal and coffee for breakfast.

Oatmeal and coffee for breakfast.

With two essentials in hand (water and camera) and a few other things in the day pack, we headed out on the 2 ½ mile, 1,000 foot heart-pounding climb up the wooded and talus-covered slope to the lake.  As a brisk but gentle breeze blew through the trees on the switchbacks, we could hear the rustling of the leaves.  The colors were amazing in this area: warm orange, bright yellow, burnished brown, and rich red.

Autumn's beauty.

Autumn’s beauty.

We crossed over four tributaries of Packer Creek (two of them dry) and after an invigorating hike were rewarded with a view of the craggy peaks of the Sierra Buttes.

The Buttes in the distance.

The Buttes in the distance.

Deer Lake.

Deer Lake.

Once we reached Deer Lake (elevation 7110), Andrew began to fish.  I sat for a moment and took in the beauty of the area looking deep into the clear rippling water.

Relaxing after the hike.

Relaxing after the hike.

As Andrew continued to cast his line from different positions, I walked around the lake (one mile).  This would be a fine area for backpacking if one would want to make the haul up the mountain with pack in tow.

Fishing, a favorite pasttime when near a lake.

Fishing, a favorite pastime.

When I returned, Andrew was on the other side of the lake.  When he came back, we made quick tracks as we retraced our steps downhill and back to the car.

The colors of fall are everywhere.

The colors of fall are everywhere.

Next, we drove to Lower Sardine Lake (elevation 6000 feet) also home to an intimate mountain resort.  Andrew immediately cast his line as I set the water to boil for our noodle lunch, albeit a late meal.  Hungry from the strenuous walk, we sat at the picnic table near the water and ate quickly as the wind blew and the sun shone in our eyes.

Sardine Lake with the Sierra Buttes in the background.

Sardine Lake with the Sierra Buttes in the background.

Fishing in Sardine Lake.

Fishing in Sardine Lake.

As the sun lowered, Andrew walked to the other side of Sardine Lake to fish and I walked over to the sand pond.  An interpretive panel at the pond said, “The Sand Pond was created from a depression caused by mining tailings dumped at the site from the nearby Young America Mine. When those tailings were later relocated, the resulting low spot filled with water from nearby Sardine Lake resulting in the pond known as the Sand Pond.”

While walking, I brought to mind each one of my children and the times we spent picnicking and swimming together.  It was a sentimental walk through the one-mile interpretive loop.

The Buttes reflecting in the pond as I reflected on the past.

The Buttes reflecting in the pond as I reflected on the past.

Andrew and I met back at the car within minutes of each other, and ended the day at Packer Lake.  We were all alone this time, save for the quacking ducks gliding along the water.  It was from the rocks that Andrew caught and released four trout.

Andrew fishing from the rocks at Packer Lake where he caught four trout.

Andrew (pictured in the forground) fishing from the rocks at Packer Lake where he caught four trout.

From the top of the rocks I saw brightness in a forest of green.

From the top of the rocks I saw brightness in a forest of green.

Dried flowers.

Dried flowers.

As I lay my head to rest that night, my heart sang with joy for the magnificence that God allowed me to encounter all day.

Day Three

I awoke to the sound of two young boys squealing with excitement and chatting with their dads.  They were on a nature walk—right through our campsite (boy was I happy that we decided to attach the fly the night before).  I poked my head out of the tent and said, “Good morning,” shocking the group.  The dads apologized profusely for walking through our camp saying the tent blended in so well they didn’t even see it.

The camoflauged tent.

The camoflauged tent.

It was another lazy morning at camp spent drinking coffee and working the San Francisco Chronicle’s crossword puzzle.  Packing up was a breeze and by lunch time we decided to head for home.

Enjoying the warmth of the morning sun and a cup of coffee.

Enjoying the warmth of the morning sun and a cup of coffee.

This autumn adventure is one that I will recall with fond memories: quality time spent with my son on our first camping trip; the Sierra Buttes as a backdrop to every lake we visited; and splendid fall colors enhancing a picturesque area.

14 thoughts on “Lakes Basin Camping Trip with Andrew

  1. Paul Corbin SR

    Another great camping trip and terrific pictures and narration. I’m really glad you had a great time. Being able to spend alone time with you children is very special, especially in such a beautiful area.
    Dad

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  2. robinwinter

    I’m perishing of nostalgic envy, sitting down here on the California coast in a late morning fog. I love the simplicity and evocative nature of your prose, I admire your photographs. Our daughter’s in college now too, so we have to fight for times when we can all camp together. The Lakes Basin area lies deep in our best memories, full of color and grandeur. Thank you for this lovely post that reminds me of so much that is good.

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  3. motioners

    When I was young our whole family would camp at Sand Pond. Up above Sardine Lake was an old boy scout camp that we use to hike up to, although not sure it’s still there? Great story and terrific photos. bill

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    1. Janet Post author

      Bill, I didn’t see the Boy Scout camp up high, but on the road is a Girl Scout Camp. There’s also a new Christian Camp that wasn’t there the last time we visited. If we had more time I would have liked to have hiked to Upper Salmon Lake.

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  4. Nicholas Osborn

    Thank you for this post. This is where my father and I spent many summers and that exact campground which unfortunately I think is closed now according to online maps. Many memories of doing the exact things you are doing with your son

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    1. Janet Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Nicholas. As far as I know, the campground is still open. My sons camped there two weekends ago. The only difference is now, you have to sign up on-line to reserve a spot during peak season. I hope you can make it back there one day.

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