GIANT LOOP: Rock Creek to Pine Creek

Trip Details

Duration: 7 days

Group size: 4-12 participants

Trip Rating: Moderate

Price: Approximately $2000 per person

Date:August 22-28, 2017

  5. MAPS
Trip Overview:

Experience the beauty of the countless granite peaks, streams, lakes and meadows of the California Sierra. The route crosses the Sierra Crest at Mono Pass into the Mono Creek drainage known for sharply glaciated granite walls, rushing streams, and beautiful lake basins. The path then follows the John Muir Trail south to the spectacular lakes and side canyons of Bear Creek before crossing over Seldon Pass to the San Joaquin River. The route leaves the John Muir Trail to follow the cascades of Piute Creek to French Canyon before exiting over Pine Creek Pass.

Arrive at Rock Creek Pack Station by 7:00 AM where your gear will be weighed and you will be served a hearty breakfast. Your personal vehicles will be left in the pack station parking area.

Begin at Rock Creek Pack Station; Ending at Pine Creek.

Hikers should be able to walk 12 miles, 3,000’ elevation gain and 4,000’ loss. You should acclimate to at least 8,000’ to 10,000’ for 1-3 days prior to the trip.

The beautiful Little Lakes Valley hike is an excellent acclimatization hike, starting from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead at 10,250 feet. The trail climbs 500’ over four miles into the glaciated, granite-walled valley past lakes and meadows.

Distance: 60 miles, 10,800’ total gain and 13,600’ loss on moving days.

Elevation Profile:

Day 1: Mosquito Flat Trailhead to Third Recess
8.1 miles, 1,900’ gain, 2,550’ loss
You will be driven one mile to the Mosquito Flat Trailhead. The trail climbs gently beside Rock Creek before ascending a rocky section to the Little Lakes Valley Trail junction in ½ mile. Turn right toward Mono Pass and then left in 1/10 mile at an unsigned junction. The path climbs steadily through forest, opening to beautiful views of the lakes and glaciated peaks of Little Lakes Valley. A junction at mile 1.8 offers a Ό mile side trip to Ruby Lake, surrounded by towering granite walls. The Mono Pass Trail leaves the trees, ascending long, sandy switchbacks up the southern flank of Mt. Starr to cross 12,075’ Mono Pass at mile 3.5. The trail descends easily through the barren landscape past Summit Lake to unrestricted views of the peaks surrounding Pioneer and Hopkins Basins. The path continues past Trail Lakes, skirting meadows and dwarf forests, to an easy stream crossing at Golden Creek before dropping down through dense forest to the valley. Camp is beneath towering Mono Rock near the confluence of Third Recess and Mono Creeks.
Water is available at Ruby Lake and then readily available from the Trail Lakes to camp.
The Mono Creek drainage is a destination in itself. Consider adding at least one layover day to enjoy this beautiful area. Possible day hikes from camp are described in the Mono Creek: Third Recess Camp Day Hikes section after this moving day summary.

Day 2: Third Recess to Quail Meadow
8.7 miles, 450’ gain, 2,200’ loss
The trail follows rushing Mono Creek for seven miles as the conifer forest eventually gives way to quaking aspen. Be prepared for several stream crossings, which can usually be crossed on rocks. The easy 1,500’ descent through the steep-walled valley is eventually blocked as the creek rounds a 400’ granite knob that we must climb over to meet the John Muir Trail at mile 7.1. The path turns left, following the North Fork of Mono Creek down to the junction to Lake Edison in 1.4 miles. Continue right down Mono Creek for another Ό mile to our camp at Quail Meadows.
There is reliable water the whole day.

Day 3: Quail Meadows over Bear Ridge to Bear Creek
9.7 miles, 2,850’ gain, 1,100’ loss
Return to the Lake Edison/JMT junction and follow the JMT to the right, crossing the bridge over Mono Creek, and then beginning the 2,100’ climb through pine forest over Bear Ridge. The trail passes the Bear Ridge Trail junction as it begins to drop 1,000’ in 2.5 miles down the mostly forested south side of the ridge to Bear Creek. Watch for some great views through openings in the forest. Pass the Bear Creek Trail junction to begin the easy climb along the creek of 600’ over three miles to our camp near the Bear Creek crossing.
There is reliable water at Mono Creek and along Bear Creek.
There are wonderful day hikes from the Bear Creek camp. Consider adding at least one layover day to explore this beautiful area. Possible day hikes from camp are described in the Bear Creek Camp Day Hikes section after this moving day summary.

Day 4: Bear Creek to San Joaquin River
11.4 miles, 1,500’ gain, 3,350’ loss
Our path follows the John Muir Trail south past the junctions to Lou Beverly and Rose Lakes and skirts Marie Lake to Seldon Pass gaining 1,300’ in 4.1 miles. Be sure to stop at the top to take in the breathtaking view of Marie Lake surrounded by granite peaks. The trail drops 300’ to Heart Lake and then another 400’ to the lovely Sallie Keyes Lakes. The path continues to drop another 1,800’ as it passes first through forest and then manzanita-covered slopes to the junction of the Cutoff Trail, 5.9 miles from Seldon Pass. Follow the Cutoff Trail to the right 0.9 miles down to the Florence Lake Trail and then turn left to follow the San Joaquin River 1/4 mile up to our camp on the San Joaquin River near Shooting Star Meadow. There is reliable water at lakes and stream crossings throughout the day.


Day 6: San Joaquin River to French Canyon
10.5 miles, 2,700’ gain, 500’ loss
The path continues easily up the San Joaquin River to join the John Muir Trail and then to the Piute Trail junction in three miles. The John Muir Trail continues across the bridge into Kings Canyon, but our path turns left to follow cascading Piute Creek. The trail climbs steadily along the creek through open forest to Hutchison Mead and the French Canyon Trail junction, gaining 1,550’ over 5.3 miles. The path follows the French Canyon Trail 1.9 miles to our camp by the creek. There is reliable water throughout the day. High-country lovers consider French Canyon one of the jewels of the Sierra. Possible day hikes from camp are described in the French Canyon Camp Day Hikes section following this moving day summary.

Day 7: French Canyon over Pine Creek Pass to Pine Creek Pass Trailhead
11.6 miles, 1,400’ gain, 3,900’ loss
The path follows the creek to climb 1,155’ in 3.4 miles through forest and alpine meadows to 11,135’ Pine Creek Pass. Dropping down from the pass, the trail continues through alpine meadows into forest passing the junction to Honeymoon Lake and Italy Pass in 1.8 miles to reach the shores of Upper and Lower Pine Lakes. Resupply with water at the lakes before dropping 2,500’ in 4.8 miles to the Pine Creek Pass Trailhead.
The pack station will arrive at the trailhead by 2:00 to transport you and your gear back to the pack station.


Option 1: Pioneer Basin
4.4-9 miles round trip, 900’-1,600’ gain and loss
Pioneer Basin is one of those hikes you will think of when people ask you about your favorite places in the Sierra. The mix of flowered meadows, glacier scoured granite, pristine lakes, expansive views, and towering peaks make this a special place. Follow the Mono Creek Trail back toward Mono Pass for 1.3 miles to the junction to Pioneer Basin. Turn left and follow the trail 0.9 miles to Pioneer Lake #1, also called Mud Lake. The lake is surrounded by meadow and there is a beautiful view into the Fourth Recess basin. Mud Lake could be a goal in itself, but much more is to be discovered by walking further into the basin using one of two trails. The eastern trail follows Pioneer Basin Creek, which flows into and out of Mud Lake. The path climbs through flower dotted meadows eventually reaching a junction with Lake #4 to the right and Lake #3 to the left. The other option is the trail that leaves Mud Lake WNW toward the outlet of Lake #2 and then follows the eastern shore of #2, #2A, and #3. Lake #5 offers stunning views and is worth the climb. The ideal walk is to follow the streams and meadows to Lake #4, cross country over to Lake #5 and circle the basin following the eastern shores of Lake #3, Lake #2A, and Lake #2, before dropping back to Mud Lake.

Option 2: Hopkins Lakes
5.8-11 miles round trip, 1,300’-2,500’ gain and loss
The Lower Hopkins Lake is a charming pocket lake surrounded by meadows. From camp, follow the Mono Creek Trail 0.9 miles down to the Hopkins Lake junction. Turn right and switchback up 1.3 miles to the junction to Lower Hopkins Lake. Follow the trail to the left 0.7 miles to the lake. Return the 0.7 miles to the Hopkins Creek Trail. Turn left to continue up 2.5 miles to the Upper Hopkins Lake on a use trail or turn right to drop back down to the Mono Creek Trail where you will turn left to return to camp.

Option 3: Third Recess Lake
3.6 miles round trip, 950’ gain and loss
The Third Recess Lake is a pretty lake in a glacial cirque. Cross Mono Creek and follow the east side of the Third Recess stream up almost two miles to the lake. This is an unmaintained trail in fairly good condition.

Option 4: Fourth Recess Lake
3.6 miles round trip, 600’ gain and loss
Fourth Recess Lake is a beautiful lake nestled in a deep glacial trough. Follow the Mono Creek Trail back toward Mono Pass for 1.3 miles to the junction to Fourth Recess Lake. Follow the forested path to the right for ½ mile to the lake.

Bear Creek Camp Day Hikes

Option 1: Seven Gables Basin
8 miles round trip, 1,700’ gain and loss
This hike is into a magnificent, lightly used basin on the northeast side of Seven Gables. You need a good map as much of the hike is on use trails that occasionally fade. Return to the Bear Creek crossing and then turn right up the East Fork trail. The trail is maintained for the first mile and then drops down a rocky section to a use trail that generally follows the East Fork. Follow the creek to Vee Lake or the Seven Gables Lakes for stunning views of Seven Gables and the surrounding mountains.

Option 2: Lou Beverly, Sandpiper, Medley, and Three Island Lakes
9 miles round trip, 1,400’ gain and loss
This is a beautiful, lightly used lake basin well worth the steep climb up to Sandpiper Lake. The path follows the John Muir Trail 1.4 miles before turning left onto the Lou Beverly Lake trail. The trail is maintained to Lou Beverly Lake. The use trail crosses the Lou Beverly Lake inlet creek and then climbs steeply up the left side of the creek to Sandpiper Lake at mile 3.5. Follow the faint trail another mile along the east edge of the meadow past Medley Lake and then climb easily across slick rock on the east side of the knoll south of Medley Lake to Three Island Lake. The route on the west side of the knoll is more difficult, requiring some boulder hopping.

Option 3: Orchid Lake
4 miles round trip, 1,050’ gain and loss
Orchid Lake is set in a deep cirque with fabulous views across the valley to Seven Gables and the surrounding mountains. The outlet creek from the lake joins Bear Creek near the camp. The use trail generally follows the creek up to the lake, sometimes veering to the south and then returning to the creek.

Option 4: Rose Lake
4.8 miles round trip, 950’ gain and loss
Rose Lake is easily accessed on good trails for a great day of fishing. Follow the John Muir Trail 1.4 miles to the Rose Lake Junction. Turn right to follow the trail one mile to Rose Lake.

French Canyon Camp Day Hikes

Option 1: Elba, Moon and L Lakes
8 miles round trip, 1,140’ gain and loss
Follow the Pine Creek Pass trail 2.5 miles to the Elba/Moon/L Lakes junction. The trail to the right climbs 460’ in 1.5 miles, passing Elba Lake and Moon Lake to L Lake.

Option 2:Merriam Lake
4 miles round trip, 1,000’ gain and loss
The unmaintained trail follows the north side of Merriam Creek, leaving the French Canyon Trail just north of the creek crossing. The path climbs out of the forest into the rocky domain of Merriam Lake.

Please note that this represents the planned itinerary. Weather or other factors may affect the choice of campsites and daily travel. All decisions are made by the Head Packer with attention to the safety and comfort of guests and stock.

Expected Campsite Locations

Day To Elevation Latitude N Longitude W Miles Gain Loss
1 Third Recess 9,600 37.443 118.807 8.1 1,900 2,550
2 Quail Meadow 7,870 37.413 118.9298.7 450 2,200
3 Bear Creek 9,850 37.33 118.868 9.7 2,850 1,100
4San Joaquin River 7,750 37.232 118.876 11.4 1,500 3,350
5French Canyon 9,980 37.285 118.767 10.5 2,700 500
6 Pine Creek Pass Trailhead7,480 37.361 118.683 11.6 1,4003,900
Total 60.0 10,800 13,600
*Mileage based on Tom Harrison Maps. gain and loss is based on TOPO! software.
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What you need to know…for hikers on pack stock supported trips

Dunnage limit is 30 lbs. per person (this includes sleeping bags, fishing equipment, liquor, etc.)

You may bring your own tent up to 10 pounds that is in addition. The PCT 28 day trip allows 35 pounds of duffel.


Bring belongings in stout canvas or nylon duffels; side zipper recommended, ideal size approximately 14" x 32". It is a good idea to use a large plastic bag INSIDE of the duffle to protect contents from external moisture.

Sleeping bags can be in separate duffels --again, line the inside of the duffle against rain. Place all cosmetics, soaps, medications, etc into small plastic containers with close-fitting caps, THEN into sturdy resealable plastic storage bags. If anything breaks or bursts from altitude changes, the plastic bag contains the spill. When possible, it is a good idea to transfer alcoholic beverages to sturdy plastic bottles with well fitting caps - it will save weight and protect against breakage.


  • Footwear. For this trips a medium-weight pair of hiking boots. We do not recommend lightweight hikers or tennies since they give little ankle support and the soles are often thin.
  • Camp Shoes. A lightweight pair of tennies or Tevas to wear in camp. This will reduce vegetation damage at our campsites.
  • A day pack. It should be large enough to take water, extra clothing, rainwear, camera, etc during the days.
  • Sleeping Bag. Most summer trips are warm and a bag rated to about 25°F will be plenty warm enough. We much prefer down bags, and good quality ones at that. Your bag should weigh in around 3 pounds.
  • Sleeping pad. A 3/4 or full length closed cell foam or Thermarest. If you bring a Thermarest also bring a repair kit to fix pesky holes!
  • Coffee mug (plastic for camp)


  • 2 pair synthetic liner socks.
  • 2 pair heavier synthetic or wool blend socks.
  • Long underwear top. Capilene, some other synthetic or the new pure Merino wool types.
  • Long underwear bottom.
  • Warm pants. Tights or Expedition Weight Capilene.
  • Warm shirt. Synchilla or R2 weight works well.
  • Another fuzzy sweater top or pile jacket of some sort
  • GoreTex Jacket and Pants. A lightweight set is sufficient and heavy bulky clothing is unnecessary. Side zips on the pants should be long enough to slide over boots. Jacket must have a hood. Do not skimp on your rain gear. Nylon ponchos are not acceptable.
  • Shorts for on the trail
  • Tee shirt for on the trail
  • Lightweight capilene or similar gloves.
  • Warm hat. Synthetic or wool.
  • Sunhat


  • Sun glasses.
  • Water Bottles. Two quart (1 liter) wide mouth bottles and/or a hydration system holding up to 50oz. (2 liters). Don’t bring bike bottles or any bottle that doesn’t have a wide opening.
  • Headlamp. --and a spare set of batteries!
  • Pocket knife. Swiss army style.
  • Personal toiletries. It is not necessary to smell like a rose each day so do not over do it.
  • Ear plugs are great to have in a noisy tent.
  • Personal Medical Kit. The guide will carry a large kit so yours will predominately consist of foot repair items, mild pain killer such as Advil and bandaids.
  • Sunscreen and lip screen. SPF 30+. A 1oz. bottle will be enough. Make sure the lip stuff actually contains a sunscreen.
  • Bug repellent.
  • Camera. A spare battery and card are good backups
  • Ski/trekking poles. These are not essential, but can be handy on the trail. It is your choice, but they do save wear on the knees.
  • Plastic trash bag. Handy for keeping gear in outside the tent should it rain.
  • Optional reading material, etc.


We provide the all meals on scheduled trips. You can bring your favorite "on-the-trail" snacks.


  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Collapsible plastic wash basin (optional)
  • Solar shower (optional)
  • Water filtering pump (optional)
  • Liquor (be sure to check in with the packers to see that your liquor is packed safely)
  • Fishing equipment (optional)
  • Rod/reel/line (a rod that breaks down into 3 or more pieces is recommended)
  • Compact metal rod case to carry on saddle
  • Canvas creel (no tackle boxes)
  • Leader material (1-3 lb.)
  • Flies: black gnat, mosquito, grey hackle, brown hackle, & royal coachman (No. 12-14 hooks)
  • Bait: worms & Pautzke red eggs
  • Egg hooks, worm hooks (No. 10-14)
  • Split shot
  • Lures (personal choice)
  • Pliers
  • Tom Harrison Maps, paper or download onto phone/tablet:
    Mono Divide High Country
  • Apps for Smartphone/Tablet, download applicable areas prior to departure: Gaia GPS
    Topo Maps

You can purchase quality topo maps at TOM HARRISON MAPS.