“Partially off-trail route to one of the most spectacular areas in the Sierras.”
— Lee Watts
Birding · Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers · Commonly Backpacked
Wilderness permits are required with year-round daily trailhead quotas. 40% of the quota is available on a walk-in basis at a Forest Service office. Reservations are accepted up to one year in advance, but permits must be picked up in person. No campfires above 10,000 feet.
The Seven Gables trail climbs the East Fork of Bear Creek. I have separately met two experienced Sierra hikers who say that the area of Seven Gables, Vee Lake, and Bear Lakes Basin is their favorite in all of the Sierras.
Shortly after the trail's signed branch from the JMT, another sign says, "Dangerous, not recommended for stock travel". While some scrambling is required, it is not dangerous for hikers who take the right route—after the snow has melted.
The first half of this hike is a regular trail with many cairns that make it easy to follow. A campsite near the creek at about 0.5 miles is the last site low enough for legal campfires. At about 1.5 miles, the route makes a rough 10-15 foot drop from the cliffs above Bear Creek. This requires care and the use of hands. After that—although the route is popular, there are many cairns, and a trail is often a visible—it is essentially an off-trail route.
A little further up, there is about a mile of talus. You can avoid crossing most of the difficult talus by climbing slightly above it on polished granite slabs and by climbing small grassy paths within the talus, but you cannot avoid about 400 yards of difficult talus. After the talus, it is an easy climb to the pond where the East Fork makes a sharp right. Pass the pond on the north side. To get around a steep cliff next to the pond, continue straight ahead and climb the rocks.
From there, you should not attempt to follow the creek. It leads to more small, but steep, cliffs. Instead, follow the cairns up a low gap east of the creek until the route drops down next to the pond directly west of Vee Lake. Then climb a narrow notch to Vee Lake. Near the top, the notch becomes very narrow and requires some scrambling, but at least in 2017, staying in the notch is easier than climbing above it.
Vee Lake is immediately above the notch. The lake has large and small rocky islands and peninsulas and extraordinary views from everywhere. There are great campsites on the north side.
The fastest way to Claw Lake is up the low gap east of Vee Lake. Magnificent views of Vee Lake and the Seven Gables can be seen from a high point that is an easy climb from the gap.
An easy off-route climb up the ridge on the northeast side of Vee Lake leads to the superb Bear Lakes Basin, starting with Little Bear and Big Bear lakes.
To reach the spectacular but barren Seven Gables Lakes, follow Vee Lake's outlet stream down easy slopes.