A cool mountain treat awaits at Nellie Lake

When Valley temperatures are pinned in the high 90s, nothing beats a cool plunge in a mountain lake.

Then top it off with one of the finest views of the Central Sierra.

Sound good? The hike to Nellie Lake and Peak 9,658 in the Kaiser Wilderness offers both, so let's get moving.

Starting from the Billy Creek Trailhead, the first mile climbs through the dense forest that surrounds Huntington Lake. The ascent gets more gradual after the turnoff to Mary's Meadow at 1.3 miles.

The easy hiking along the Kaiser Loop Trail continues for another 1.3 miles until the signed junction to Nellie Lake. Go left. The trail climbs steadily -- steeply at times -- for the next mile before heading downhill to the lake.

By staying on the trail, you'll arrive at a small sandy beach perfect for wading -- or just soaking your feet. (Be on the lookout for fish hooks.) Situated at 8,898 feet, Nellie Lake is ringed by trees and grasses. It's a great place to relax and enjoy the cool breeze.

Hike along along the lake's south shore you'll see a mountain rising to the north. This is Peak 9,658, affectionately known as Nellie's Nipple. (It can also be seen from Highway 168 near China Peak.)

What's the view like from up there? You're about to find out. There is no official trail, but it's a relatively simple cross-country hike.

From the north side of Nellie Lake, follow the creek drainage up the hill through the dense forest. After about 10 minutes, you'll see a rocky pinnacle looming above on the left. This isn't Peak 9,658, so keep following the drainage uphill. A use trail exists, but it's faint.

Eventually, you'll emerge on a broad ridge overlooking the massive San Joaquin River Gorge. From here, Peak 9,658 stands out as a pile of boulders. To avoid manzanita, loop around until you reach a prominent foxtail pine on the mountain's north side. From there it's a 150-foot scramble up stable talus.

From the summit, most of the Central Sierra spreads out in front. Besides Kaiser Peak, obvious to the east, prominent formations include Mount Ritter/Banner Peak, Mount Lyell, Balloon Dome, Triple Divide Peak and Shuteye Ridge. China Peak, Huntington Lake and Shaver Lake also are visible. And to the west, beneath the brownish haze, sits the San Joaquin Valley.

Makes you almost not want to go down.

Nellie Lake & above

Location: Kaiser Wilderness

Length: 7.6 miles out and back to Nellie Lake; 8.6 miles to Peak 9,658 (aka Nellie's Nipple)

Difficulty: Moderate

Fees: None (permits required for overnight stays)

Trailhead: From the west end of Huntington Lake, enter Upper Billy Creek Campground. Keep right and follow the signed spur road 0.5 miles to parking area. Suitable for medium-clearance two-wheel drive.

Maps: USGS, Kaiser Peak; National Geographic Trails Illustrated, Shaver Lake

User groups: Hikers and horseback riders