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TR South Lake to North Lake Loop (July 16-21 2013)

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TR South Lake to North Lake Loop (July 16-21 2013)

Postby alpinemike » Sat Nov 23, 2013 12:59 am

This was my 2nd solo backpacking trip this summer. Apologies for the delay in writing up the has been getting in the way. This is an absolutely fantastic loop that I can easily recommend to anyone that would love to see some of the finest basins, valleys, and canyons the High Sierra has to offer. Initially I planned to do this with my cousin but due to transportation issues he couldn't make it. The original plan was to head into Ionian Basin en route but since I had just finished an 11 day solo backpacking trip I decided to forgo the extra alone time and decided to stick to the trails. Ionian Basin I will definitely come back to see. I started at South Lake on July 16th and ended at North Lake on July 21st. So here goes...

Day 1- South Lake to Dusy Basin 7 Miles
Started at the trailhead around 10ish and enjoyed some excellent weather up to Bishop Pass. It was my first time in the area so the views towards Agassiz were splendid along with the view back towards South Lake. The trail up Bishop Pass is probably the tamest high elevation pass trail I had ever done. Considering my experiences with Elizabeth and Colby just 2 weeks prior it was a walk in the park. I started to get my first glimpses of the Palisade Crest as I walked down into Dusy Basin. I decided to camp higher up in the basin as compared to the several parties that passed me. I figured there would be less mosquitoes and I wanted unimpeded views to the Palisade Crest at sunset. I camped at 11,350FT which was my highest camp ever since I started backpacking. The air was clean and refreshing. I explored around the basin a little bit and found to my surprise more trees and shrubs than I had expected there to be at such and altitude. The views to Isosceles and Columbine were phenomenal. As I was eating dinner the light show began. I think anyone who has ever been in Dusy Basin at sunset can attest and know what I mean when I say light show. The setting sun on the Palisade Crest created some of the starkest most beautiful light I have ever seen. I manged to capture this all reflected in a tiny pool by my camp. Needless to say I was ever bit as impressed with Dusy Basin as I had read about almost 8 years prior. The night wasn't too cold or windy and the mosquitoes were tame so I enjoyed a very pleasant nights sleep.

Looking Back from Bishop Pass

Reflections in Dusy Basin

Day 2- Dusy Basin to Starr Camp 8 Miles
The day started out great with nice weather and phenomenal scenery of lower Dusy Basin. As I descended further I began to catch glimpses of the fabled LeConte Canyon. It was every bit as impressive as I had imagined. The stark granite walls on either side with the carpeted forest at the bottom with the majestic Kings river carving away created a majestic and timeless scene. I was very impressed with the way the Dusy Branch cascaded on polished sparkling granite as it descended 1000's of feet into the canyon. The descent was steep but manageable. I eventually reached the bottom where I met the ranger and saw the beautiful ranger cabin which was newly rebuilt. He told me of stormier weather to come so I had something to look out for. My trip now would take me North on the John Muir Trail. I met a man (John) who had celebrated his 70th birthday that year and who was hiking the John Muir Trail for the 2nd time around. I applauded his resilience and will to keep trekking the mountains. Little did I know that we'd be spending the next 3 days mostly following each other's path and sharing many a great conversation. I continued up the canyon to Little Pete Meadow where I met John again and told him of a nice camp further up which was where I was going to camp. Eventually we both made it to Starr camp around 6 or so. The trail up the benches were amazing how they were blasted out to the sheer rock walls. The views at Starr Camp were unparalleled down the Canyon and up to the Black Divide where the Black Giant loomed overhead. John and I both had dinner and I told him of my plans to camp at Evolution Lake which he said was his next camp spot as well so I figured I'd see him the next day.

LeConte Canyon

Day 3- Starr Camp to Evolution Lake 11.3 Miles
This was going to be a longer day with a good amount of adventure. I had plans of summiting Black Giant before heading off to camp at Evolution Lake. I got an early start around 6:40 and headed up the trail when the views continued to inspire awe and amaze me. The scenery before Helen Lake was gorgeous with the creeks coming off the sides of the mountains and the Black Giant casting an awesome dominance over the area. The ridge-line of the Palisades to the South provided a great backdrop whenever I looked back. I eventually reached Helen Lake where I would journey a bit cross country to a lake below Black Giant Pass. This cross country was easy and straightforward. At the lake I encountered quite a swarm of flies and other insects that appear to have all hatched and made my travel through there quite slow. I stashed my pack and climbed up to Black Giant Pass for my first view of Ionian Basin. The view was lacking but I knew the view from the top of Black Giant would be unrivaled so I made my way up. I made the summit within an hour of the pass which I figured was a great time. I climbed over talus, talus, and then some more talus. It was pretty easy and straightforward with a Class 2 Rating. There was a snowfield on the summit ridge that was very refreshing. There was also water that literally came out of the cracks on the side of the mountain. It was the cleanest, most refreshing water I have ever drank and it was absolutely glorious that it was cold. The views from the summit were unreal and stark. I could see for close to a hundred miles in every direction. Almost every major sub-range was visible. This accomplishment was a grand one for me as it was my first major High Sierra Peak that I climbed. Nothing quite prepared me for the views and the rewards. After a little while I made my way down to my pack at the lake and slogged my way through more talus to Muir Pass. Finally got to see the fabled hut I had heard so much about. This area truly was spectacular and I was really glad I was finally able to see it. A friend of mine and I last year were supposed to finish the whole JMT but only managed to do the first half. We definitely missed out!! But alas we plan on returning to finish the whole thing next year. The views from the pass itself were phenomenal with not a single tree in sight the words Moonscape and desolation come to mind. Took a relaxing break in the hut and then made my way down to Evolution Lake. Wanda lake is huge and is pure blue. The trail winding down to Evolution lake took quite a bit longer than I anticipated so I arrived later than I thought and quite a bit more tired. The several thousand feet of uphill on Black Giant took their toll. I met John when I arrived into camp. We shared a great dinner with conversations about my climb and more. The weather was great and the views at sunset were stunning. Evolution Lake ranks as the 2nd most beautiful lake in the Sierra that I've been to.

Top of Black Giant (13,330FT) with the Palisades in the bakground

Black Giant is to the left of the hut

Day 4- Evolution Ramblings
My goal for the day was to climb 2 evolution peaks... Mt. Wallace and Mt. Haeckel. That plan went a bit awry but I'll get to that. I ventured into the upper reaches of Evolution Basin beneath Wallace and Haeckel to start my approach. These parts were very beautiful with not a soul in sight. The lakes were pure and the cross country terrain was fairly gentle. These are the parts of Evolution Basin few get to see and I was really enjoying the solitude and majesty of the High Sierra. Looking down on Sapphire Lake was another pretty sight. As I made my way to the base of the western side of Mt. Wallace I noticed my enemy this time around would not be talus but instead the dreaded scree. Oh I how I hated scree and the associated trudging. This is what eventually caused me to give up on my quest to summit the mountain. I just didn't wish to keep going when the slope got to steep. I could have tried another way but my motivation gave way partly due to the fact that I had no climbing partner to egg me on. The view though from where I stopped climbing was equally rewarding. That day a great deal of clouds started to build. It was the first day this occurred and so I knew that the thunderstorms were coming. I made my way down the mountain with half the mountain sliding underneath me quite literally. After a few hours I got back to camp where John had decided to take a rest day. We talked some more and a few drops of rain greeted us there by Evolution lake. This made way for a fantastic evening and an even more spectacular sunset. I got some great views of Evolution Valley as the sun was setting. Those I will never forget.

From the side of Mt. Wallace. Look at that Glacially colored lake

Sunset at Evolution Lake

Sunset over Evolution Valley

Day 5- Evolution Lake to Piute Creek Jct. 10.6 Miles
This was going to be a fairly mellow day as just about all of it is downhill. In the morning I had a water reservoir issue where I noticed I had a small hole in it and it was leaking in my pack. This was caused by my sliding on scree on Mt. Wallace the day prior. I manged to fashion it in a way that seemed okay and headed down into Evolution Valley. The descent down was spectacular. The valley itself was pristine with it's gorgeous meadows and meandering Evolution creek. I noticed it getting quite warm which foretold the oncoming thunderstorms. The views of The Hermit along with Mt. Darwin and Mendel from McClure Meadow were splendid. The clouds were building heavily and I knew I was going to be in for some more interesting weather as the day progressed. I talked with the ranger there and he mentioned the thunderstorms sticking around the next few days. I continued down to the creek crossing where it got quite hot which meant the thunderstorms were going to get strong. As I descended down into the canyon I could see the clouds come together and the storms were already going off around Florence Lake and Muir Trail Ranch. I was headed in that direction so I getting ready for inclement weather. I passed by John for the last time at the Goddard Canyon Jct where I bade him a great trip. I continued down the canyon to Piute Creek Jct. where I made my camp among the trees and enjoyed the company of 2 sisters and a brother from Michigan that were doing the JMT for the first time. I told them about Muir Pass and some of their scenery to come. We all watched the thunderstorm grumble a bit and drop a few drops but it never rained on us. I could tell though that Evolution Basin was getting a good dose of rain and thunder. The night was very very warm..possibly the warmest night I have ever experienced in the Sierra.

The Classic Evolution Valley view

Day 6- Piute Creek Jct to North Lakeish 18+Miles
This day was not supposed to be this long but I decided it was time to head on out today if I could. It was filled with a good deal of adventure and some really awesome views and some really awesome weather. And when I say awesome weather I mean the heavens really told everyone who was in charge that day. I started out around 7:30 or so. Going up into Piute Canyon was gorgeous but also hot and dry at times. Eventually I made it to Hutchinson Meadow in really good time. I was impressed with my pace since it was all uphill. My body clearly was up for the challenges of uphill and I think I really wanted to get home. I started thinking about how I might get home a day early. My plan originally was to stay at Upper Golden Trout Lake that night and camp somewhere by Sabrina the following night and wait for my dad to pick me up on Tuesday morning. I called my dad figuring he might pick me up sometime on Monday. Certainly I didn't think he'd say he would come Monday early morning like 3 A.M. I went along with it. The plan was for me to get to North Lake or so that night and wait for him. I definitely felt very grateful for the satellite phone at that point. So I pressed on quite quickly to get to Piute Pass before the thunderstorms started. The clouds had been building heavily all day. I figured if I got there by 2:30-3 I’d be safe. I didn’t even bother filtering water when I stopped to refill by a creek that flowed out of upper Humphreys Basin. I made it to the pass just when I thought and not too soon either as the storms were building and getting stronger by the minute. The views from the pass were surreal with Mt. Humphreys looming overhead and Glacier Divide off in the distance. I was already tired considering I was pulling a marathon day. In total that day I hiked 18 miles in about 9 hours with over 3,500 FT of elevation gain. It was a really long strenuous day just for the muscles. Mentally I got very tired toward the very end. I met a fellow about an hour or so from the trailhead. Found out he was a ranger that had just free climbed and solo Mt. Emerson on a 5.6 route. Pretty impressive and quite insane considering he said he started climbing no earlier than 1. That part really got me because of the thunderstorms. He fortunately was nice enough to give me a ride to Lake Sabrina where I earnestly awaited some Chili and Pie. I was dead beat tired at this point. I practically collapsed when I got to the boat landing store. I first thanked the owners there for getting me into Atmospheric Science (as my major) because of their website and link to other weather sites. I had first stumbled upon their internet site 8-9 years prior and my life would never be the same again. I then asked if there was an Chili..the lady was nice enough to cook some for me even though the kitchen was closed. I was extremely grateful as the Chili was absolutely glorious. And the pie…my God it was amazing with homemade ice cream. I managed to get ahold of my mom to tell her to tell dad that I wouldn’t be at North Lake and that I’d be by the road crossing. I finally got to see Lake Sabrina, which was a sad sight as the lake was extremely low. By 7:30 or so the rain started. And with the rain of course came the classic thunderstorm. This of course seemed to last quite a while. The gusts really picked up. As I was about to leave this started and the wife told me I could stay until the storm cleared out. Well..the storm never seemed to want to die down so she was extremely nice and gave me a ride to the intersection between the main road and the road to North Lake. There I pitched my tent literally by the creek and side of the road and it was around 8:30 or so. I had a long time to I really didn’t think I’d really have much of a shot of falling asleep. I basically lay in my tent for about 20 min or so and then the thunderstorm really started. The lightning flashed across the sky and lite up my white tent. It was so exhilarating and amazing. And the claps of thunder were so loud usually that I knew the storm was right above me. The rain also came down hard for quite a while. This lasted for at least an hour or so. And the rain continued off and on till midnight or so. The wind was never above 30-40 MPH so my tent stood up just fine. Eventually it all died away by around 12:30 A.M. and I could finally see moonlight shrouded in clouds. Dad finally arrived after 4ish. What a night that was..I had to keep all my things tight so that nothing got wet especially my camera gear. We drove down to Bishop and ate at Denny’s and I drove all the way back to Tahoe and came into town around 8 A.M. What an adventure the last day was. I hiked 18 miles in 9 hours..climbed over a pass..lay in my tent for about 7 hours with little to no sleep and drove about 200 miles back home all in the span of 1 24 hour period. That was an adventure not to be forgotten.

Mt. Humphreys

Truly an amazing trip that I loved and especially the last day with all it's adventures that I'll never forget. Nothing quite like watching the sunrise on US 395 just 24 hours after being almost straight in the middle of the Sierra.

Happy Trails Everyone!
Never put off a backpacking trip for tomorrow, if you can do it today...
Alpine Mike-

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Re: TR South Lake to North Lake Loop (July 16-21 2013)

Postby balzaccom » Sat Nov 23, 2013 9:16 am

Nice trip report! Well worth waiting for!

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Re: TR South Lake to North Lake Loop (July 16-21 2013)

Postby giantbrookie » Sat Nov 23, 2013 10:50 pm

Now that's exactly the kind of report that will keep us daydreaming during the "off season". Thanks for posting.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR South Lake to North Lake Loop (July 16-21 2013)

Postby kpeter » Sun Nov 24, 2013 5:53 pm

A spectacular loop hike, the favorite such loop I have ever done, with a lot of trail camaraderie. When I did it it was a week later in July and Muir Pass was solid snow. How fun to see the same old haunts wearing new clothes.
Last edited by kpeter on Sun Jul 13, 2014 7:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TR South Lake to North Lake Loop (July 16-21 2013)

Postby LMBSGV » Sun Nov 24, 2013 8:32 pm

A wonderful read and photos. Like kpeter, seeing the photos with the lack of snow was a a big kick since every time I've done any part of this route there's always been some snow. I also enjoyed the Black Giant climb and photos since the one time I was thinking of climbing it while exiting Ionian Basin the impending storm clouds (they exploded an hour later) prevented it. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: TR South Lake to North Lake Loop (July 16-21 2013)

Postby scottg1178 » Mon Nov 25, 2013 4:39 pm

Great Report! Those are some of the most beautiful areas in the entire Sierra. Thanks for sharing.

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Re: TR South Lake to North Lake Loop (July 16-21 2013)

Postby hikerdmb » Tue Nov 26, 2013 11:18 pm

It was great meeting you and John at Evolution Lake that night. That sunset was amazing to say the least. Your photos are all wonderful. I guess it was worth carrying all that gear.
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