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Potter Pass to Twin and George Lakes Hike

Where can you go to escape the hot weather and smoky, hazy skies? How about a nice hike to clear blue alpine lakes with giant granite slabs surrounding them in the nearby Kaiser Wilderness?

Where: Kaiser Wilderness, Sierra National Forest
Distance: 10.5 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 8,307′ – 9,123′
Date: August 29, 2013
Maps: Kaiser Peak, Mount Givens

Highlights: Finding a nice spot to hike where we could get away from the smoke from the Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and nearby Yosemite National Park, also avoiding the fires in Sequoia National Park was a challenge but my hiking partner came up with a perfect solution.

We hadn’t been hiking in the Kaiser Wilderness for a couple of years and headed through Potter Pass at 8,980′ elevation to the Twin Lakes, then on to George Lake. Before the breeze kicked up, we had the lakes to ourselves and incredible crystal clear reflections of the surrounding Kaiser Ridge in the lakes.

We headed east on Highway 168 past Huntington Lake, turning right onto Kaiser Pass Road. We continued 4.8 miles from the junction to the large trailhead parking (aka Horse Staging Area) with nice, clean restrooms on the south side of the road. They also have bear lockers at this parking lot, where we stowed our food, drink and other things that bears would like to get into.

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The trail started across the road.

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We headed up the trail through a shaded forest of Jeffrey Pines, Junipers and Red Fir, while catching some nice views of Huntington Lake in spots where the forest thinned out. After about 2 miles, we made it to Potter Pass and the entrance to the Kaiser Wilderness where Gail Gilbert took this picture of me posing with the sign. Potter Pass 4

The Kaiser Wilderness was established in 1976, is 22,700 acres and was named after Kaiser Ridge. Most of Kaiser Ridge consists of Kaiser Peak, which is 10,320′ high. Although this is a small wilderness, it is part of the almost contiguous federal Wilderness areas along the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range with the John Muir Wilderness on the east, and Ansel Adams Wilderness to the northeast.

OK, so we know how the Wilderness got its name but how did Kaiser Ridge get its name? That took a bit of sleuthing. Francis P. Farquhar’s book, “Place Names of the High Sierra” (1926) says “Kaiser or Keyser: both are used locally. The name is very old, and its rightful spelling unknown.

I remember hearing the old miners speak of Kaiser Gulch (a placer district) way back in 1862, the year of the big flood; but I know nothing as to the name. (L. A. Winchell: Manuscript, 1896.) Kaiser Gulch appears on Hoffmann’s map, 1873. “

You may not realize it, but people did prospect for gold down in the San Joaquin River area back in the gold rush era but it just did not get the success that the area farther north in the Sierras did.

From Potter Pass, you can see forever, well at least east to the Minarets.

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We headed down the trail past a couple of beautiful meadows.

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We reached a junction that was signed and we took the trail to Twin Lakes.

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Our first lake was Lower Twin Lake. Aren’t these reflections gorgeous?

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Most of the wildflowers along the trail had faded long ago but I was surprised at how many were still holding on such as this Bigalow’s Sneezeweed.

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Even the small unnamed pond that we passed by had great reflections.

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Upper Twin Lake

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At the northern side of Upper Twin Lake, we were surprised to see a pocket of willow already turning a vibrant yellow color. And it didn’t make a bad photo opportunity for each of us to get a picture taken with that backdrop of the lake.

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More colorful hints at changes in the season.

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We made it up to George Lake with plenty of time to do whatever struck our fancy.

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So you know what I did. . .

Fishing photos 2 and 3 by Gail Gilbert

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And you know what Gail did. . .

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As we headed back, we took a slightly alternate route to circle around the east side of Sample Meadow. I know you have seen this picture previously on this hike, but this is where that alternate trail tied back in with our morning’s trail at this junction below Potter Pass.

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The Gooseberry fruit were very ripe and both Gail and I were thinking the same thing: where were the bears? They love these. We didn’t see any bear though.

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We sure achieved our goals on this hike and were surprised that we didn’t see any hikers or backpackers in the morning and very few in the afternoon. I neglected to mention that this was the Thursday before the Labor Day weekend to boot!

This hike is a very nice backpack trip also. If you decide to do that, you will need to obtain a wilderness permit. 60% of the permit spaces are available for reservation ahead of time, while 40% are kept for first-come-first-served visitors 24 hours prior to their intended trip. There is a $5.00 non-refundable reservation fee for each person for all trailheads and reservations can be made six months prior to your trip. To reserve obtain a Wilderness Permit contact:

Potter Pass 34High Sierra Ranger District
P.O. Box 559
Prather, CA 93651
(559) 855-5360

Place Names of the High Sierra (1926) by Francis P. Farquhar

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