Bear Lakes Basin, California

June 22, 2013 by  

Bear Lakes Basin, California, The main goal of this entire trip was to visit Bear Lakes Basin and climb Seven Gables. It is an area neither of us had seen and we really wanted to enjoy it, so we had two full days planned: one for the peak and one to freely explore the area. On this day, we decided to wander the Basin and scout the route for Seven Gables which we would climb the following day.

Bear Lakes Basin is only accessible via cross-country travel. No maintained trails go into the area which means there are very few people and the area has not been impacted by heavy hiker and stock use. The cross-country travel in this area is quite easy and fun. It is peaceful, incredibly scenic, and a perfect example of everything I love about being in the Sierra.

We had entered the basin the prior day via Dancing Bear Pass and saw no one while working our way down to Big Bear Lake via Black Bear and Ursa Lakes. However, as we started off this morning it wasn’t long before we ran into a group of three guys camped by Little Bear Lake. After a nice friendly chat that was only cut short by the need to escape mosquitoes, we continued down towards Vee Lake.

Tarn between Little Bear and Vee Lakes
Wandering by beautiful unnamed tarns and interesting land features, we noted some nice campsites as we worked our way down to Vee. We descended to Vee via some granite ramps and found the enormous lake empty of visitors – we had it to ourselves. I went to stick my feet in the water and naturally it was freezing. I observed a bunch of nice sized trout cruising along the line made by a cliff that dropped off into the dark water a few feet off shore.

Use trail along Vee (and Seven Gables)
Continuing along the shore towards the outlet, we found a nice outcropping that perched above Seven Gables Lakes canyon. We scrambled up to the top of the rock and stared across at Seven Gables. This was what we needed – from our campsite a few miles back the chute we were planning on following to the summit ridge looked super steep and choked with a snowfield at the top. But from this new, closer perspective it looked much less terrifying. We studied the chute and planned our route for the following day. Then we put it out of our heads and turned back to hike around Vee Lake.

A closer look at the east chute of Seven Gables
We ran across the group of three guys again – they had moved their camp down to Vee – and were attempting to swim. It was cold – thus the ‘attempting’. We continued around the lake until we reached the southern inlet. Here we found a beautiful meadow with running creeks and a huge wildflower bloom. Beautiful!

Vee Lake East inlet
Following the inlet, we reached the seemingly dead Claw Lake. It was strangely still with no life – no bugs, fish, birds, etc. The lake gave us an uneasy feeling so we kept going to Tooth Lake. That was more like it – Tooth was beautiful with lots of fish and activity. We had lunch here and then headed back towards Vee. While passing Claw we saw dead fish in the lake. Creepy.

Back at Vee Lake we hiked over to the eastern inlet stream and followed it up the slope to the top of the ridge dividing Vee from Ursa and Bear Paw. There was a beautiful tarn at the top that reminded me of Precipice Lake along the High Sierra Trail – deep turquoise in color with an intricately patterned granite wall rising from the far end. Peeking over the ridge to Bear Paw Lake, we found ourselves walled out at a steep snowfield. We retraced our steps and checked an alternate route and sure enough we found a nice path down relatively quickly.

Climbing the grassy ramp to the pass, Vee Lake below us
Returning to camp around 3 pm, I grabbed my laundry and a fishing pole and headed down to a nice private beach area below our camp on Big Bear Lake. I rinsed my clothes and caught several beautiful golden trout (with amazing orange bellies). Strangely, I heard voices from above. It turns out our friend Gordon was able to find us and joined us in camp.

Venus-set over Seven Gables
I enjoyed yet another beautiful evening with moonrise over Feather Peak and Venus-set over Seven Gables before heading to bed. We were planning on an early departure for Seven Gables the next morning. I fell asleep both excited and nervous about the upcoming climb.

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