Bear Creek & Hilgard Branch

September 2006: John Muir Wilderness

Bear Creek is a fabulous climb from mature forests to the granite wilderness above tree line. The trip started with a long hike up the canyon formed by Bear Creek; we then took the Hilgard Branch, topping out in the rugged country above the lovely Lake Italy.

Access to the trailhead is via Fresno, east on Highway 168, Kaiser Pass Road, up Edison Lake Road (and past the Mono Hot Springs Resort), and finally two miles along the really rough dirt road that goes to the Bear Diversion Dam.



Working up the Bear Creek canyon; a warmup of just under three miles and a 748-foot climb.

One of the many pretty cascades along the lower reaches of Bear Creek.

The start of the trail passes along a narrow canyon.

The creek reveals and polishes slabs of granite.

Bear Creek is a classic Sierra stream — cold and clear.


A solid climb of nearly six miles and a bit over 2,000 feet.

We pass many beautiful pools.

Water sparkling in the sun as it passes over rock.

Another fabulous cascade.

Moving slowly above tree line. Old and massive Junipers seemingly rise out of solid stone.


Taking the Hilgard Branch, we move up to the beautiful Lake Italy, well above tree line.

I'm seemingly loaded for the long haul.

A land of stunning light and shadows.

A rocky road ahead into the heart of the Sierras.

Massive granite slabs make for relatively easy walking.

We arrive at our third campsite, Lake Italy, at 11,200 feet.

Even in August, there are still a few patches of snow.

Without crampons, we decide to try bypassing the icy and steep snowfield.

Evening light in the high Sierras can't be missed.

A fairly cold and hard place to camp.

Sundown, and night comes on quickly.

Alpenglow on the far peaks.


A short way up—and a long day down.

Sunrise at Lake Italy camp.

A hot breakfast and we break camp.

With the sun up, beautiful reflections fill the calm waters.

Moving further into a rocky world.

Picking our way carefully through granite blocks. We've temporarily lost the trail.

Approaching Jumble Lake, at 11,550 feet.

Late wildflowers along the trail.

Working our way above Jumble Lake.

The way ahead to Italy Pass, at 12,400 feet. But one of our party is suffering from altitude sickness. The only cure is to head back down.

Passing by Lake Italy again. I hope to return someday, but there are too many peaks, passes, and alpine lakes still to see.


Morning after a cold night; should have not left my socks out to dry.

Back along Bear Creek, heading down.

Afternoon light on rock and water.

Indian Paintbrush is always a happy sight.

A ancient juniper along the trail.