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TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

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TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby BigTime » Sun Aug 03, 2014 3:41 pm

My girlfriend, Julie, and I recently spent a week in Inyo National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park. We started at the North Lake Trailhead, hiked in via Piute Pass and out via Lamarck Col. Along the way, we visited Humphreys Basin, French Canyon, Evolution Valley, McGee Lakes, Evolution Basin and Darwin Canyon. I've pasted the text of the report and few pictures below, but also included a link to the full report with more pictures: http://thewindblowshigh.blogspot.com/20 ... s-and.html

Day 1

We headed over Piute Pass and into Humphreys Basin from the North Lake Trailhead. After we got a bit past Summit Lake, we left the trail and headed to Lower Desolation Lake, Desolation Lake and Mesa Lake, where we camped for the night. It was cloudy for much of the way, but it only rained briefly. Mesa Lake offered excellent views of Mt. Humphreys and the Glacier Divide.

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Day 2

The forecast called for a 30% chance of thunderstorms, but the sky looked completely blue when I peeked out of the tent in the morning. Then, as we were packing up, the clouds seemed to came at us from every direction. Shortly after we started hiking the skies got angry and the thunderstorms began. The open terrain of Humphreys Basin was not where we wanted to be, so we hightailed it down to lower ground and waited out the storm for about an hour.

After the storm had passed, we starting hiking again. The original plan was to to head over to French Canyon that day via the saddle below Pilot Knob, but that would have to wait until the weather improved a bit more. Instead, we just made it a short day and camped at Knob Lake.

After we set up camp, four other hikers arrived at the lake. They seemed to be heading right towards our campsite, not noticing us already there, so Julie popped out to say hi and made them aware of our presence. They ended up being an extremely nice group of people that invited us over to their camp that evening, shared some scotch with us, and gave us advice on some parts of our intended route that they were familiar with.

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Day 3

The weather improved considerably overnight, so we headed over to French Canyon. We don't usually incorporate any peak bagging into our trips, but since we were passing by Pilot Knob we decided to hike up and check out the view.

After hiking back down to the saddle, we descended a fairly steep chute down to Alsace Lake where we took a break. From there, we roamed around French Canyon, passing Paris Lake, Puppet Lake and Star Lake. Eventually, we descended towards Moon Lake and camped there for the night, with views of Royce and Merriam Peaks across the canyon.

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Day 4

We continued our tour of French Canyon by hiking back up to L Lake and then over to Steelhead Lake. After that, we decided to check out the Royce Lakes area and get a closer look at Royce and Merriam Peaks. On the way, we connected with the trail up to Pine Creek Pass for about five minutes before leaving it again and heading towards the lakes. We weren't expecting to cross over the Royce Merriam saddle since it has been described as requiring an ice axe year round to negotiate the snowfield, but we read reports that it might be possible to skirt around the snowfield, so we kept the option open. When we got there we decided that we weren't comfortable with it, so we just took a nice, long break near Lake 11656. During the break we heard voices and noticed someone appear on Merriam Peak. That made us feel a little more wimpy for not even going up to the saddle, but not enough to change our minds :)

After the break we headed back down into French Canyon and camped about a mile before reaching Hutchinson Meadow. The wildflowers throughout French Canyon were quite impressive.

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Day 5

We hadn't been on a maintained trial very much or seen many people over the first four days of our trip, but we spent the entire fifth day on trails and saw plenty of people. Passing through Hutchinson Meadow in the morning, we must have seen about 50 tents. I think they were part of an organized group since there was even what looked like some sort of toilet tent -- or maybe a shower tent? Needless to say, we were happy that we decided not to camp at Hutchinson Meadow the night before.

We cranked out the first 6-ish miles pretty quickly before taking a break just shy of the Piute/JMT junction. The next few miles to the Goddard Canyon junction were a little bit slower as the day started to heat up. Then we starting climbing up the Evolution Valley and the sun was blazing. We were really dragging at this point and took another long break after crossing Evolution Creek.

Eventually, we made it to McClure Meadow and set up camp there. What this area lacked in solitude, it made up for with an outstanding view.

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Day 6

This would be a short day, so we slept in. When we finally emerged from our tent, all of the JMT hikers that were camping close by were long gone. Once we got going, we hiked about a mile to Colby Meadow and left the trail again on our way to McGee Lakes. When the terrain started to level off in McGee Canyon, we took another long break near the stream running through the canyon and with The Hermit towering above us.

From there, it was a nice short hike to the lakes, where we spent a leisurely afternoon.

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Day 7

We started the day by hiking over McGee Lakes Pass. Getting to the top was pretty straight forward, but we initially botched the descent and had to turn around and start over. Once back at the top, we found an easy way down a little further south and picked up the trail above Sapphire Lake. At this point we had a a decision to make -- we could either head south over Muir Pass and exit to South Lake via Bishop Pass (our original plan) or head north and exit back to North Lake via Lamarck Col. Either way, we wanted to spend some time at Evolution Lake, so we delayed the decision and hiked to the lake and had some lunch.

Since we were behind our original schedule, wanted to check out Darwin Bench, and didn't want to rush through Dusy Basin, we made the easy decision to exit via Lamarck Col. It was also nice to not have to worry about hitching a ride back to our car this way. So, after lunch we hiked past Evolution Lake and headed up to Darwin Bench, where we planned to camp. It was still pretty early in the day though, so we decided to continue to Darwin Canyon and ended up camping near the northern shore of Lake 11623 in a spot barely big enough for our tent.

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Day 8

We hadn't been over Lamarck Col before and it turned out to be easier than we expected. Coincidentally, the couple that parked next to us and started their trip at the same time as us the week before was about 15 minutes ahead of us on the way up. Another friendly hiker, Robert, was also on his way up, so having some people to follow surely contributed to the ease of finding the correct route to the col.

We took a short break once at the top and then began the decent. There was one more tricky section of snow and talus to negotiate on the way down. The couple ahead of us had taken a route mostly through the talus to avoid most of the snow, while Robert went straight down through the snowfield, avoiding most of the talus. We opted to go the talus route, which wasn't bad at all. After passing the tarn below Lamarck Col, it was smooth sailing, or hiking in this case, back to the car.

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Last edited by BigTime on Mon Aug 04, 2014 3:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby kpeter » Sun Aug 03, 2014 5:41 pm

Lovely photos!

You made a lot of ground on Day 5.
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby RiseToADry » Sun Aug 03, 2014 5:43 pm

Stunning pictures of some incredible terrain. Love all the X-country travel. Congrats on a great trip.
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby Mradford » Mon Aug 04, 2014 6:58 am

Great trip report and photos. I absolutely love that area and just did a similar trip there last year. Darwin canyon is such a beautiful spot, one of my favorites.
Thanks for taking me back. ;)
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby davidsheridan » Mon Aug 04, 2014 12:48 pm

Excellent TR and photos, thanks for posting. Looked beautiful.
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby Bluewater » Mon Aug 04, 2014 1:41 pm

So many great photos! I really like your website, it was fun following along on your trip. Those are some of my favorite places in the Sierra!
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby tie » Mon Aug 04, 2014 1:45 pm

Thank you for the trip report, with such beautiful photos.
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby maverick » Mon Aug 04, 2014 4:52 pm

Thank you for your Great TR and lovely photo's, love those wispy clouds.
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Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop via Piute Pass and Lamarck Col

Postby BigTime » Mon Aug 04, 2014 4:55 pm

Thanks for the comments everyone. It sure is a beautiful area and I'm already looking forward to going back to see some of the areas I missed on this trip, like Dusy Basin.
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