Some of my best trips have been the result of aborted expeditions and the thereafter. Such was our late autumn hike to to Kinney Lake.
Our original plan was to complete an eight-mile hike from Ebbetts Pass to Reynolds Peak. But when we got to the trail head parking at Ebbetts Pass, I discovered that my gas “empty” light had turned on. It would be 45-50 miles back to Arnold. There would be no way we could make it. Our only alternative was stopping in Bear Valley for gas on the way back down.
“When do you think they close?” my friend Matt asked.
With my wife Polly, the three of us hit the trail at a brisk pace. It was a beautiful, easy trail, with a dusting of snow here and there. It was the last day of October. The summer and holiday crowds were long gone; we didn’t encounter a single soul on the way out. The area was expecting snow in the next couple of days and then the pass would be closed until the following spring. When we passed by magnificent rock formations, Matt, the climber, would stop and gaze longingly up at them. No doubt he was sizing them up for a return trip.
After an hour, Polly and I asked to stop for a break. Matt said, “Let’s go a bit longer. There’s a nice lake up ahead. We can have a proper lunch then.”
It was also at this time that Matt suggested we put off Reynolds Peak for another day. Once we got to the bottom of it, there would be a “Class Three” climb to the peak. These things always take longer than you think, Matt reminded us. We decided to take a longer lunch and then go for a walk around the lake. Why rush ourselves to make it to Reynolds Peak? The gas station at Bear Valley closed at five.
A few minutes later, we came upon the Kinney Lake, and it was breathtaking. Behind it in the distance were high Sierra peaks. After our lunch, we walked the entire perimeter of the lake, exploring. We came upon abandoned campsites, and we all agreed that it would be nice to return in the summer to camp. The water might be warmer then, and more suitable for swimming. As it was, we dipped our hands in the water and it was freezing cold.
When we walked to the far end of the lake, we saw a much smaller lake below it. And then we returned to our trail and back toward our starting point. Upon leaving Kinney Lake, Polly said, “That was the most beautiful lake I’d ever seen!”
On the way back, we stopped by Ebbetts Peak. We scampered our way up to the top where it was really windy. We took a picture and headed back down.
We got back to the parking lot just before 3 p.m. Our whole outing had been just under four hours. We would come back another day to climb Reynolds Peak. As Matt said, “It’s not going anywhere.”
The day also reminded me of something I had learned before: Not all outings have to be epic. Sometimes, the small trips can be extremely pleasurable and memorable, too.
If you go
Go up Highway 4 past Bear Valley and Lake Alpine until you reach Ebbetts Pass (elevation 8730 feet). Drive on for another quarter mile to a road on the right that leads to the parking lot and trailhead. It’s about four miles (round-trip) to Kinney Lake.