While we enjoyed our visit to Death Valley, going up to the Sierra Nevada was a welcome relief from the valley’s triple digit heat. For our first Fall color hike, we selected a loop around Chocolate Peak southwest of South Lake in the John Muir Wilderness. We added a short side trip to the Marie Louise Lakes simply because that’s where I’d had my very first backpacking experience (and several other outdoor firsts as well). I just wanted The LovedOne to see where my obsession with the outdoors and love of the Sierra Nevada got their starts. So Fall color enlivened with a little nostalgia…
The Bishop Pass Trail out of South Lake is pretty popular, so we got a somewhat early start just to be sure of finding a parking space at the trailhead (the lot was full when we got back – yes, even on a weekday in Fall). Our reward for starting early was seeing a cougar flit across the road ahead of us just short of South Lake. Clean, silent power – with a tail!
From the trailhead, we went south on the Bishop Pass Trail, through a little Fall color,
into the John Muir Wilderness,
and then a little farther to where the trail to Marie Louise Lakes turns off to the east.
I don’t recall there being a trail to the lakes back in the day and it still doesn’t show on many maps. I hadn’t been back to those lakes since that first trip some 50 years ago. It was a great comfort to find them as glorious now as they were then. The passage of time does not diminish all things (but it can do a number on your knees). One look at this charming little lake and The LovedOne saw immediately why I’ve found the Sierras so beguiling for so long.
From the Marie Louise Lakes, we did a short bit of cross-country to connect with the trail to the Chocolate Lakes at Bull Lake. Surrounded by towering Sierra summits and sporting a splash of Fall color, Bull Lake was doing its best to score points as the prettiest alpine lake amongst tough competition.
From Bull Lake, we followed the trail up past Lower Chocolate Lake,
around Middle Chocolate Lake,
to the end of Upper Chocolate, where the trail starts climbing up the southwest side of Chocolate Peak.
We noticed that the trail was a bit sketchy as it crossed the divide between Upper Chocolate and Ruwau Lakes. Today you’ll find a “Chocolate Lakes” sign at one end of the loop and a “Ruwau Lake” sign at the other. Our guess is that today’s loop started as separate trails to each of the lakes which then got linked by a use trail.
We descended the trail from Ruwau Lake to its junction with the Bishop Pass Trail and then took that trail back to the trailhead.
The Marie Louise Lakes were just as pretty and amazing as when I first saw them. While they will always hold a special place in my heart, all of the lakes on this 7 mile loop are alpine gems, each deserving of appreciation. Make of “wilderness” what you will but to me it means being able to, after all these years, bring the one I love back to a place I love so she could see for herself why I love it. I won’t be around 50 years hence, but I sure hope the Marie Louise Lakes are.