Photos on Strava
I decided to run this loop after several of my avid hiker friends hiked the loop and came back with reports of how beautiful and difficult it was. As it turns out, it is phenomenally gorgeous, and worth every step.
I drove up to the trailhead the night before and slept in the parking area, which feels remote and quiet. I started early (ish) in the morning to try and avoid the heat. I noticed a little bit of smoke in the air at the start. Like a bad Californian, I forgot to check the fire status for the surrounding areas, and I find out quickly that there was a fire nearby. As I gained elevation, the smoke got worse, and I thought about turning around. I passed through beautiful meadows full of wildflowers, over creeks and streams and traveled through shady groves of evergreen trees. By the time I got to the halfway mark, the air was so thick with smoke that I could hardly make out the pretty alpine lakes at the top. I stopped and chatted with a few PCT hikers, who reported that the smoke had been bad for the last couple days. I hoped the smoke would start to clear as I turned onto the Right Hand Branch and descended back towards Bucks Lake. Luckily, I was right! I got a little off trail in a particularly lush meadow, but easily found my way back on trail. The day got hot and by the time I got to Bucks Lake,I was very tempted to hop in. I kept moving forward, knowing I had one last steep climb left, and but was it a doozy! It was a short climb, but steep, hot, and no breeze. There was a tiny cold stream crossing the trail about halfway through this climb and I stopped to splash water on my face and neck. When I got to the road, I thought the trail crossed it, and so spent some time looking for a trail before realizing I had to just stick to the road. After about half a mile on the road, I got back on the trail and jogged out the last little bit back to the register.
I took a well-earned dip in Mill Creek afterwards.