We finally got to do a hike off of Ebbetts Pass today that my husband has had his eye on for several weeks. The trail information in AllTrails app said it was a 10.6-mile out-and-back hike rated "hard". But when you read some of the user comments, one guy contested that he tracked it and it was over 12 miles. Another person commented on how "flat and easy" the trail was, so the rating of "hard" was inaccurate. AllTrails shows 1,771 feet of elevation gain, so logically, it can't exactly be "flat". Going into this hike, we didn't really know if it would be 10 miles or 12 miles, if it would be easy or difficult, or if the lake would really even be worth it. Despite the unknowns, we went for it anyway.
The trailhead, located on the windy, narrow Ebbetts Pass, had a beautiful view of Noble Canyon.
But let me say this ended up quite the hike, not only because it was the longest hike of our 2021 season so far, but for the fact that we came across a few surprises.
I will start out telling you about the biggest surprise on this hike.
A few miles in, we started hearing this odd noise in the distance. At first we thought it was a car, but then to me it sounded too constant to be a car engine. So then, we thought maybe it was an airplane approaching overhead, but that still didn't seem right. I finally decided that it sounded like music, of all things, in a canyon in the middle of nowhere.
So now, my interest was fully piqued. Here is what we were hearing in the distance, but recorded as we got closer to the source.
We had heard of this group a while back, and I guess I knew that they hiked to some locations in the area and would play, but in all the hikes we've done the past 8 years, we'd never run into them. As my husband said, "It's like we found the pot of gold today."
I was nerding out, big time. I couldn't believe we caught them here. We actually stopped for about 20 minutes to chat with the group and they told us we had gotten there just in time, because they were just getting ready to pack up and head back to the trailhead. What luck!
They asked if we were hiking to the lake, and we said yes. The elder of the group looked at his watch and said, "You'd better hurry because it's going to get dark on you."
I told him, "Oh, I'm not too worried. I'm a fast hiker."
Not sure he believed me because later he asked if we had camping gear with us should we not get out in time before dark.
Nice group, the Sierra Alphorn Players. They played one last song for us before we headed back out on the trail toward our destination. (In the background, you can also hear the roaring creek rushing at the bottom of the canyon.)
I still can't believe we ran into them! It's probably something I will never forget.
Well, that surprise is a tough one to follow. But, here are a few more...
Last spring, we did see the most snow plants we'd ever seen on a few of our short in-town hikes, but on this 12-mile hike today in Noble Canyon, I've never seen so many snow plants in my life. Not one or two every couple of miles, but entire clusters of snow plants emerging from the soil every few feet we hiked. It was incredible.
Here is a very small percentage of all of the snow plants we saw today.
It is prime season for snow plants to be emerging, but nonetheless, the sheer volume of them on this hike was a pleasant, unexpected surprise.
The second unexpected thing was the creek crossing. While it is still considered early in the hiking season at higher elevations, we also had a mild winter, so none of the water sources are exactly "overflowing" this spring. But about 1.5 miles into this hike, we came upon Noble Creek, which was flowing pretty good. We wandered up and down the shoreline, hoping to find a way to cross, but try as we might, we could not find a suitable crossing without having to remove our shoes and socks to get to the trail on the other side.
It was over 70 degrees outside, but I will tell you, that water was freezing cold. (And, because this trail was an out-and-back, we had to cross this creek again on our way back to the trailhead later on!)
Something that was particularly fun about this hike was how much moving water we were near. Most of the lower part of the trail parallels the creek. So, we had many more smaller water crossings throughout the hike (so many that I lost count), which is to be expected this time of year, but this first (and last) crossing was the only one that required us to walk across barefoot.
A few of the water crossings required some creative planning and navigation of (perhaps some leaping) the rocks to get across it, but fortunately, we made it across them all without incident.
Another somewhat unexpected thing along this trail was some of the huge trees. Overall, the area is quite wooded, but every so often you'd see a really huge tree amongst the "normal-sized" trees.
This one I nicknamed "Chewbacca" because its bark looked really hairy, it was huge, and it was about the same color as Chewy's fur.
Once you get out of the mostly-shaded wooded areas, the trail gets more rocky and opens up to full exposure.
This stretch of trail is also where the noticeable climb starts, just before you cross over onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). But the view of Noble Canyon is awesome. Can you spot me making my way up the switchback?
Once we crossed over onto the PCT, we ran into several snowy sections. Coming upon snow on this hike wasn't super unexpected, but at one point, we did kind of lose the trail, and I'm glad that my husband was able to find it again so we could continue on our way to Noble Lake.
After these snowy patches, the trail gets substantially more rocky, and the switchbacks are criss-crossed with little water crossings that will be dried up in a week or two. And we started to see some wildflowers. But this was also the point where I said at least twice, "My legs are dead." My husband showed me where we were on the trail map and reminded me that it's less than a mile to the lake and we were so close we couldn't turn back now.
"My legs are so dead."
I burned up so much energy hiking fast since we left the alphorn players that during this rocky incline to the lake, my legs were done. My pace had slowed to a snail's pace, I'm sure of it. It was all I could do to keep moving.
And at this point, we were well over 5 miles of hiking – so much for a 10-mile hike – and we really didn't know for sure how much longer we'd have to hike until we reached Noble Lake. I think, psychologically, that unknown was killing my motivation.
My husband looked at his watch and said, "It's 4:06. Let's go until it's 4:30 and then we'll head back no matter where we are at."
That decision was primarily fueled by the remaining daylight in front of us.
Just then, we rounded a minor ridge with a small water crossing below it, and we got our first glimpse of Noble Lake. Whew. We made it.
I would not call this lake spectacular, but simply because it was our destination and we had made it, I was pretty happy about it.
We literally sat for 5 minutes while we scarfed down our snacks and water, we snapped a few photos, and then we got back on the trail to descend, hoping to make it out before dark – after all, we don't exactly have the best track record for finishing hikes while it's still light out.
We hiked back down at a great pace, dodged snow patches as best as we could, tried making all of the same water crossings successful a second time, removed our shoes and socks for the final big creek crossing (the water might have been even colder the second time) and, in 2 hours, we made it back to the Jeep parked at the trailhead.
This hike felt exhausting and I'm not really sure why. In the end, it was 12.66 miles with 1,690 feet of elevation gain, which isn't really indicative of a crazy hike. We'd climbed up the 6.33 miles to the lake in 2 hours and 30 minutes, so that was a pretty decent pace, but the hike itself wasn't all that hard.
We both said that even though Noble Lake wasn't that impressive compared to some of the other lakes we've hiked to, seeing the alphorn players on this hike made the whole trek worth it.
This was the last pic of the day. (Also, proof that it was still daylight when we finished. 😉)