Bear Lake Basin Route
ElevationAscent: 825' 252 m
Descent: -100' -30 m
High: 11,892' 3,625 m
Low: 11,162' 3,402 m
GradeAvg Grade: 7% (4°)
Max Grade: 18% (10°)
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“Off-trail route to one of the most beautiful areas in the Sierras, filled with a series of gem-like lakes.”— Lee Watts
From Vee Lake, you can visit six of the lakes in the Bear Lakes Basin with only 800 feet of climbing over about 2.5 miles. While I have only drawn one route, most of this area can be crossed in several different ways.
The 200-foot cliffs on the northwest side of Vee Lake are an easy climb by any of several routes (superb views of Vee Lake and surrounding mountains). From the top, there is an almost level grass-and-pond-filled valley headed northeast towards Little Bear Lake. Little Bear has two narrow lobes connected by an even narrower channel. Hike along the low mound of rocks on the southeast side and then climb over a higher mound for an overview of Big Bear Lake.
Big Bear is probably the most beautiful of these lakes. It is completely surrounded by low rocky cliffs with the exception of a few deep grassy glacial grooves that go down to the lake. When hiking around Big Bear or onto Ursa Lake, you can avoid the deepest climbs into and out of these grooves by staying a few hundred yards away from the lake. Snow seems to stay late here. In mid-September 2017, it was still necessary to cross some large snow patches while hiking around the lake.
The shortest way to Ursa Lake is to climb up the next gap to the south of Ursa's outlet stream. This will take you between Ursa and Bear Paw Lakes. In his book, "Timberline Country, The Sierra High Route", Steve Roper describes how to reach these lakes by climbing over Feather Pass.
To go on to Black Bear Lake, hike around the north side of Ursa Lake until you reach a cliff. Turn right for a short ways up a grassy gully and then cross the rocks to the stream coming from Black Bear Lake. Follow the stream up to the lake. During this climb, there are great views back towards the Seven Gables and the lower Bear Lakes.
From the western shore of Black Bear, it is only a short climb up between two ponds and across a sandy draw to White Bear Lake, and from the western shore of that lake, only a few more feet of climbing is required to reach White Bear Pass.
Steve Roper's book, "The Sierra High Route", describes the descent from White Bear Pass down to Brown Bear Lake and onto the Lake Italy Trail for those interested.
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