Saturday, July 26

25 Days Of Vacation

Day 6: Pinecrest Lake, CA

Time for a refreshing dip in a lake, and one of my favorite places for that is at
Pinecrest. This small lake sits in a corner of the Sierra mountains at 5,600' elevation. It is drained in the winter, when everyone goes instead to the Dodge Ridge ski area up the road. Locals and tourists start to swarm the lake in late spring when the air is clear and warm, the water clear and COLD. In my teen years every Memorial Day weekend, some guy would drive his Amphicar straight into the lake, while onlookers gasped, then laughed. This semi-officially kicked off the summer festivities for the regular crowd.

The broken spine of the Sierra Nevada range rises east of here, topping out at 9,620' Sonora Pass. Spring lasts about 6½ days there, so plenty of glacier and snow melt rush down the mountains to fill Pinecrest. The water has a silky-mineral brainfreeze quality to it, pure and invigorating. It's hard to stay in too long if you aren't in the warmer shallows. This makes it perfect for trout, though, and the lake is well stocked. The picture to the left is typical of the shoreline, great granite blocks thrust out into the water, pines receding into the ever higher distance.

Despite the crowds, this is a beautiful spot with areas for quiet introspection, if you're willing to work for it. A four mile trail meanders around the lake, over granite and meadow, beneath stone cabins and towering ponderosas. At the midway point (the "back end" of the lake) you can deviate due east and strike your own path up the Stanislaus River into the wilderness.* It's tough to describe the grandeur of Sierra birds, waterfalls, achingly blue sky, wildflowers, and the ever present dark grey stone to someone who hasn't seen it. I spent so much of my teens and twenties tramping through this part of California that I can feel the throb of the Sierras in my blood like a potent drug.

There is no other spot on the Earth quite like this. At first glance it appears to be just another mountain lake resort. But Pinecrest has a dual personality. The west has its fishing, swimming, paddleboats, ice cream stand, and bikinis by the yard. The east has the unspoiled vigor and rugged confidence of young California, inviting to those with strength of heart and character. It is a soul calming, mind restoring, magical place.

Teasers this trip: whatever you empty out of your head

* NEVER hike into wilderness areas alone or unprepared.
* Check with the Forest Service for local regulations and permits.
* Inexperienced hikers should remain in well-established recreation areas.

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