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Hoover Wilderness, California

Lay claim to your own California mountain valley and bask in utter solitude.

Little Known Fact: Around August 12, the annual Perseid Meteor Shower lights up the night sky in Bridgeport Valley in the Hoover Wilderness.

To find California’s steep and narrow Hoover Wilderness, look along the eastern Sierra escarpment that plunges from the alpine heights of Yosemite’s North Boundary region to the Great Basin desert. There you’ll find the home of what photographer Galen Rowell says are the world’s most beautiful mountains. After a day on the trail, I’d have to concur; the play of atmosphere and light swirling around the jagged spires is unsurpassed.

We pitched camp at Barney Lake, whose south end is a marshy delta that’s threatening to overtake the lake with woody debris. The situation is being helped along by the logging practices of beavers, who entertained us that evening with willow-branch-pulling exercises across the water.

The next morning, after breakfast and a liberal dose of mountain coffee, we continued hiking up, alternately trading cool forest shade along the stream with baking sun on barren switchbacks. We bore right at the Crown Lake Trail junction and topped out at Peeler Lake. At some vantage points along the trail we gazed east into the mysterious hazy recesses of the Great Basin, where row after row of north-to-south mountain ranges rumple the landscape all the way across Nevada.

Peeler Lake straddles the apex of the Sierra crest. The 60-acre, deep-blue pool is ringed with a rocky shoreline, the towering hulk of Crown Point looming overhead. Trout fishing can be good for those with the finesse and patience to coax the brookies and rainbows up, but we decided to push on after a relaxing lounge and lunch.

Past Peeler, the path meanders down Rancheria Creek to the flowered grassland of Yosemite’s Kerrick Meadow. The sound of falling water lured us off trail, and considering our grubby condition, no discussion was required; packs and clothes were dropped, and we splashed off for a natural shower. Just the right amount of water fell from the perfect height into a sandy pool with no rocks. Nirvana.

On down Rancheria Creek we camped at the edge of a meadow with a commanding view. The valley was ours and solitude prevailed. Come evening, the “Range of Light” did its thing, painting alpenglow on the ridges and setting the cumulus billows floating overhead on fire. A full moon spread its cold light over our valley and turned the stream into a shimmering silver ribbon.

We grunted back into the Hoover via Rock Island Pass. From our viewpoint on the saddle between summits, the Sawtooth Ridge jutting up behind Snow Lake filled the eastern horizon. With Snow Lake in the background, we zigzagged down a rocky canyon and crisscrossed a stream choked with bank-hugging, water-loving wildflowers. Past the junction to Burro Pass and Matterhorn Peak, we dropped into the Crown Lake bowl.

Crown Lake’s setting and beauty border on alpine cliche. Glacier-carved granite rises from water’s edge on three sides, and greenery fills the canyon corridor. We spent our afternoon huddled in camp apprehensively watching thunderheads build, then pound, the Sierra crest.

The hike home took us down through hemlock and pine clinging to glacially polished granite. The trail splits the two shallow Robinson Lakes, passes Barney Lake, travels down the riparian canyon of Robinson Creek through stands of thirsty aspen and cottonwood, and eventually ends at the western shore of Twin Lakes.

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