“An off-trail route that goes from Blackcap Basin to Bench Valley via Blackcap Gap.”
— Lee Watts
Lake · 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. You should never hike alone in remote areas without a personal locator beacon. These can be rented.
This route starts from near Lightning Corral Meadow. The small lakes in this area are shallow and fairly swampy. The hike up the pass is not difficult. Head northwest towards the peak. As you near 11,000 feet, swing northeast towards the easier slopes and then back to the pass.
The difficult part of this route is the descent from the pass towards Guest Lake. The pass is rated Class 2, but it is a steep climb down the rocks. I am a 70 year-old hiker, not a rock climber, and this pushed the limits of my comfort zone. I would not have tried it if there was snow. It gets easier after you have dropped about 200 feet.
About half way down, there is a flat draw, but it leads to a steep drop to Guest Lake. To avoid that drop, before you reach the draw, traverse the wooded slopes to the north, climbing slightly and then follow the easy slopes down to the Bench Valley Trail
near Colt and Horsehead Lakes.
From Horsehead Lake, there is an easy off-trail route (Upper Bench Valley Lakes
Route) that leads to a series of superb lakes of upper Bench Valley. It is less than three miles to Bullet Lake.