August 9th to 11th, 2009
While Emily and PJ were in the LA area visiting her parents I took the opportunity to head into the mountains in ultra simple and lightweight style. Specifically, my trip required no advance planning in terms of permits, didn't require a car shuttle, utilized a very simple kit in terms of number of items brought, and consisted of simple no-cook food. Put another way, this was a trip in which I could pack gear and shop for food in under an hour and be on my way! More detailed information about the trip, which starts and ends in the hills west of Bishop, CA is below.
- 53.8 Miles
- 47 Hours (12:30 pm Sunday, August 9th to 11:30 am Tuesday, August 11th)
- 3 days, 2 nights
- 3 Passes (11,423’ Piute Pass, 11,955’ Muir Pass, 11,972’ Bishop Pass)
- Spectacular Terrain (Humphreys Basin, Evolution Basin, Dusy Basin)
Around 10 am I arrived at the Ranger Station in Bishop, having driven for 5 hours from the Bay Area. To avoid potentially slow tourists I opted to take Highway 108, Sonora Pass, over the mountains, but will probably take Highway 120, Tioga Pass, next time, despite the $20 park toll. At the ranger station, I signed in for a walk-in permit (I was unable to reserve a spot in advance) and was told to come back a few minutes before 11 am. When I returned after getting gas and buying Chapstick the previously empty station was full of people. Shortly after 11 am one of the rangers called my name and 5 minutes later I had a free permit which allowed me to start my hike tomorrow. Instead of sitting around, I drove to the trailhead and started walking.
At elevation 9,350 feet, at 12:30 pm, I left the North Lake trailhead and hiked for 5.0 miles to Piute Pass at elevation 11,243 feet. Despite coming from sea level, I felt pretty good, plus the weather was perfect. Specifically, the skies were a deep blue but snow white clouds blocked the sun which can be brutal at higher elevations.
1:12 pm - Beautiful golden cliffs just minutes from the North Lake Trailhead.
2:33 pm - Snow just south of Piute Pass.
Around 2:30 pm I reached Piute Pass and was blown away by the terrain, certain I had been transported to the high plains of Tibet. For several miles the terrain was wide open and flat with easy walking on smooth packed sand trails so that I could focus on the jagged, snow capped ranges in the distance instead of my foot placement. Why I didn’t take photos at the time is unclear to me.
However, I had to go down, and in doing so entered more forested area that paled in comparison to the plateau and much later, at 6:45 pm, I reach the JMT junction at elevation 8,050 feet. It was a good half day, but I still felt like walking, so I decided to start hiking south on the JMT until I found a nice campsite next to the river at 7:30 pm. After setting up my tent, I rinsed in the river then sat clean and refreshed in my underwear, marveling at the lack of mosquitoes, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before re-dressing and hitting the hay.
4:45 pm – Despite being the size of my thumb I could clearly see this little guy's heart beating 200 times a minute.
6:47 pm – Flashing the horns in excitement due to a) reaching the JMT and b) finishing the descent from Piute Pass.
Anxious to put in another big day, I broke camp around 6 am and headed up to Evolution Valley. I took off my shoes when crossing Evolution Creek, the only time I had to do so on the entire trip, and was glad the cold water only came up to my knees. Around 8:30 am I reached the McClure Meadow Ranger Station and had a nice chat with Ranger Dave from Bonny Doon, a town next to Felton in the Santa Cruz Mountains where I grew up. Dave recognized my Dirty Girl Gaiters and thought my home-made poles were from Gossamer Gear due to their grips. He gets to spend 4.5 months a year at this cabin and gets paid for it!
6:29 am – Crossing the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. I walked from morning to night in the outfit you see here, shorts and long sleeve shirt, and was comfortable the entire time.
Evolution Valley was nice, but Evolution Basin is perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever been, the perfect combination of rock, water, meadows, and sky. I’m very happy the pictures turned out so well, but the area must really be seen in person.
10:56 am – Walking around Evolution Lake. I'm not sure how I managed to get so far away from my COTOB (camera on tripod on backpack) with only a 10 second timer.
11:48 am – Strolling through Evolution Basin. This is without a doubt one of my favorite photos.
1:38 pm – Just below Muir Pass, looking north at the trail and basin. Note the lone hiker on the trail for scale.
Around 1:45 pm I reached Muir Pass at elevation 11,955 feet. At the summit I rested with a few other hikers but didn’t dilly dally too long as I had a date with Helen. Helen Lake that is, just a few minutes south of the pass and 400 feet lower in elevation; the lake provided the perfect blue/green water for refreshing a sore, dusty hiker. That short dip is perhaps my most favorite mountain swim.
2:13 pm – Helen Lake, elevation 11,617 feet, on the south side of Muir Pass, the site of my most memorable mountain dip to date. The water was clear, clean and cold and I kept it that way as I only added dust to it, having not used any sunscreen or DEET.
While the hike up to Muir Pass was very gradual with few switchbacks, the descent down the south side was extremely rocky and rugged. Indeed, countless times I found myself first shocked by the audacity of the persons who decided to put a trail here and then awed by the work required by the trail builders to create the trail through the rock. As was the case yesterday, descending from a pass meant entering the forest and more ho-hum terrain, and my trip into LeConte Canyon was no exception. By the time I reached LeConte Canyon Ranger Station at 5:45 pm and elevation 8,750 feet I was wasted.
5:56 pm – Inspiration from “pretty much the best little guy that their ever was…”, Gatorade and Cliff Bars as I rested, ate, drank, and studied the maps at the bottom of the trail up to Dusy Basin.
My extreme state of being both helped and hurt me. First, about an hour before I reached the ranger station, I met a ranger who asked to see my permit. Given my state of being (along with my light pack), I didn’t have to work hard to convince him that I had left North Lake today, around 2 am, instead of yesterday at 12:30 pm. However, once I reached the sign that indicated the junction to Bishop Pass, where I would leave the JMT, I couldn’t find the junction. At the junction sign, I looked high and low, went off trail, consulted my map, and cursed, yet the trail was not obvious. After a good 5 minutes of frustration I sheepishly, but with considerable relief, realized the junction sign was located about 30 feet north of the actual junction.
Even though I was really tired, having put in my longest day ever, I decided to get a jump on Bishop Pass and began climbing the switchbacks. However, instead of being intolerable, the climb wasn’t that bad since I was using my uphill muscles which had been resting during the descent from Muir Pass. Plus, the views were spectacular. From the switchbacks I could look down into LeConte Canyon and 12,018-foot Langille Peak on the other side. Plus, to the right of the trail was a long, flat, stretch of rock inclined at 30 degrees from vertical, along which ran water from Dusy Basin.
7:25 pm – A long day ends at a rocky campsite with view of 12,018-foot Langille Peak. Without the freestanding pitching option utilizing my trekking poles, it would have been much more difficult to camp here.
Hiking on my final day began around 6 am and around 7:30 am I entered Dusy Basin, a spectacular plateau above LeConte Canyon and below Bishop Pass. I immensely enjoyed my morning stroll through the basin which ended when I reached Bishop Pass at 9 am. As with Muir Pass, the trail up to Bishop Pass was very gradual while the initial descent down the other side was 100% rocks which once again had me in awe of the trail planners and builders. However, after the initial rocky switchbacks, which went down a near vertical face, the remainder of the trail consisted of beautiful valleys with lakes the entire way down to South Lake.
7:30 am – Dusy Basin. Bishop Pass is visible in the upper left.
9:59 am – A view of the eastern side of Bishop Pass, which is much more rugged than the western side.
11:34 am – Hooray! But how do I get back to my car at the North Lake Trailhead?
When I reached South Lake at 11:30 am, 47 hours after leaving North Lake, I was able to get a ride immediately down the Highway 168 and then after a few minutes of walking got another ride to my car. After rinsing in the creek and changing into clean, cotton clothes I drove back to South Lake and picked up Will and Nate, two hikers I met on Bishop Pass from upstate New York who were ending a hike from Yosemite and dreaming of burritos. I dropped them off in Bishop, then headed down the 395 towards LA where I would meet Em and PJ at her parents' house in Rowland Heights.
For more photos, my gear list and food details please see the backpacking section of CaseyAndEmily dot com.