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blue Blackcap Basin Lakes Route


6.5 mile 10.5 kilometer point to point


Ascent: 914' 279 m
Descent: -1,186' -361 m
High: 11,100' 3,383 m
Low: 10,053' 3,064 m


Avg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 15% (9°)


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Trail shared by Lee Watts

This off-trail route visits all of the easy-to-reach lakes in the upper Blackcap Basin.

Lee Watts

Features Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views

Wilderness permits are required and there are daily quotas, but walk-in permits are easier to get for this area than many other regions in the Sierras. Walk-in permits can be obtained from the ranger station in Prather.


Once you've made the 20-mile trek to Portal Lake, you definitely should visit the other lakes in the area.This off-trail route passes the eight lakes that are relatively easy to reach. They range from shallow tarns like Ram and Ewe Lakes to the spectacular Ambition Lake.

From Portal Lake, hike north about 0.5 miles, passing an unnamed lake, to where the slopes become easy enough to make the short climb to Pearl Lake. Pearl is a large lake below a rugged pyramidal peak on the White Divide. The most commonly used route to the beautiful Chapel and Cathedral lakes and Finger Col leaves from here, climbing the sharp ridge southeast of Pearl.

From Pearl, it's a short, easy climb to Division Lake, only about 1.5 miles from Portal Lake. To reach Regiment Lake, hike up the ridge southeast of Division Lake. This climb gives you a good opportunity to study the route to Blackcap Pass and Blackcap Mountain (Blackcap Pass Route).

Regiment Lake sits between two moraines. Although slightly below timberline, it is barren except for grass along the edges and low bushes around the stream inlet. From the inlet, Battalion Lake is only about 0.3 miles away and a little higher. Battalion is a shallow tarn below the rugged peak 12323.

To reach Ewe and Ram Lakes, hike the opposite way, up the slopes to the north. From there, you get views back towards the steep granite cliffs of Finger Peak and Kettle Ridge. Ewe and Ram Lakes are shallow tarns in a flat, talus-filled basin. Fortunately, between the flat surfaces and patches of grass, this talus is not difficult to cross.

From Ram Lake, climb down the ridge to the west which curves north as it drops to Bighorn Lake. This descent provides superb views of Bighorn and Ambition lakes and the surrounding area. Ambition Lake can be reached by climbing the easy slopes on the north side of Bighorn Lake. Valor Lake and Valor Pass are above Ambition, but they require much steeper and more difficult Class 2-3 climbs.

Halfway between Ambition and Bighorn Lakes, you can make an easy descent towards Lightning Corral Meadow. Before you reach the small lakes, you have a choice. If the water level in the North Fork River is high or you are returning to Portal Lake, follow the route I show over the ridge so that you are crossing individual streams rather than the full river. Otherwise, you can make a direct descent to the North Fork Trail by following the stream coming from Lightning Corral Meadow.


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