TR: North to South Lake via Lamarck Col 8/26 - 8/31 | High Sierra Topix  

TR: North to South Lake via Lamarck Col 8/26 - 8/31

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TR: North to South Lake via Lamarck Col 8/26 - 8/31

Postby mpeters » Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:13 pm

How to summarize? Sublime.

The jewel of the Sierra, and other words are used to describe Evolution Basin and the surrounding areas. Three friends and I found that words really can't describe the terrain traveled on the popular North Lake to South Lake loop. Below is my best attempt...

What started out as two, became four when two other friends decided to hike with us to Dusy Basin where they had a second trip planned to summit Starlight Peak/Milk bottle. Due to issues procuring permits for Wed, we decided to leave a day early and hike to Lamarck Lake. In retrospect, not being able to dash off on the trip and make it a 5 day excursion made for an extremely enjoyable trip, one that didn't feel rushed at all. Plenty of time for photography and fishing!

Day 1: Drive from Modesto to Bishop, stopping briefly to pick up permits at Mono Lake. Incidentelly, we were informed that having your permit reservation is the surefire way to get your permits picked up quickly. Without the number, it becomes a mult-jurisdiction search for names and depending on how the permits were filed, it can be clunky. Anyway, no issues and we were off to Bishop, looking for the self proclaimed "World Famouns Schat's Deli". Fresh turkey, roast beef, and a mule kick sandwich. Nothing more needs to be said.

On the trail about 530 pm and a nice cool hike to a small bump abutting Upper Lamarck Lake was our site for the night. Even in our current drought conditions, a scampering creek provided the first of what would be 4 nights with running water in earshot. The trail to Lamarck splits off right away from the Bishop Pass trail and following it didn't create any challenges. We met a Ranger about 1/2 mile into the trail and talked to him for a few minutes. It was his 10th trip this summer over Lamarck Col and he seemed eager to get back to the TH. We found out the next day(from another ranger) that he was 68 years old. Made me smile.

Day 2: The normal backpacker's fare for breakfast and we headed towards the col. We didn't know what to expect regarding the trail, but although unmarked, it was beat down pretty good and following/finding it is no issue. No snow visible and only ice left at the pass. A quick scramble up the left side of the ice put us on the top of the pass with a unbelievable view into Darwin Canyon. As the intel suggested, taking a route to the 2nd lake proved to be the right choice. The west side of the pass is very sandy and it looks like people take any number of routes to the lake. The glacial fed inlet of lake #2(or is it 4) was a perfect place to soak our feet, make that freeze our toes off! Our goal for the night was "somewhere on Darwin Bench" and we decided that we would hike to the drop off into Evolution Valley/Basin before stopping.

Near the inlet of Lake #3, there were 4-5 large trout lazing near the surface of the water. I know readers may think this is a fish story, but we all agreed that the fish we saw were between 18-24 inches. Unbelievable, right? They looked like mini-sharks down there. We threw a few rocks into the water but they barely acknowledged the splash. There was a fishing pole with the group, but nobody was in the mood to stop and fish. As the trail passed the two westernmost lakes, we saw many other trout, but all in the 6-10" range, or smaller. Finally, we arrived at the last little pond on the edge of the bench and a perfect site was picked near a truck sized boulder near the creek that falls into the canyon. Dinner and then a quick walk to the edge of the canyon to watch the sunset. During this time, the fish were going crazy, projecting themselves vertically towards any flying creature. They hit anything thrown at them. Easily 10-15 fish were pulled out in 30-40 minutes. All tiny Goldens. Did I mention the stars? It was a new moon.

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The Hermit, as seen from Darwin Bench

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Darwin Bench, looking towards Evolution Basin


Day 3: Leaving such a picturesque camp sight was tough, we had a short day ahead of us and nobody was in a hurry. Descending via the use trail to Evolution Basin, we lost a little altitude but quickly gained it back on our intersection with the JMT and hike south to Evolution Lake. Amazing trail construction and we speculated several times about who hauled all of the rocks around to make the trails. Beautiful scenery and it is understandable why this area is often referred to in glowing terms. We soon made it to Sapphire Lake, and although we entertained the idea of hopping over the ridge to McGee lakes, we couldn't drum up any real enthusiasm for a side trip. Instead we found a camp on the slope between the JMT and the Sapphire Lake outlet. Running water and a perfect series of waterfalls for washing off. Add some Fireball and Jamesons to the mix, and the day couldn't have been more splendid.

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Sapphire Lake Camp


Observations from days 1-3...
1. Eat at Schats
2. Need 11.5 size boots. Will be losing a couple of toenails
3. A Sawyer squeeze with Platypus gravity feed configuration is the easy way to filter
4. The perfect size for a backpacking group, while debatable; seems to be 3-4 persons.
5. Going over Lamarck Col from E to W appears to be much preferred to the reverse direction.



I'll get days 4-6 posted soon. Some other images from this trip are here...
Last edited by mpeters on Tue Sep 30, 2014 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: TR: North to South Lake via Lamarck Col 8/26 - 8/31

Postby Rockyroad » Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:19 pm

Beautiful photos! Looking forward to the rest of your TR.
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Re: TR: North to South Lake via Lamarck Col 8/26 - 8/31

Postby Bluewater » Tue Sep 30, 2014 9:03 am

Really like your Darwin Bench and Sapphire Lake pxts. Two of my favorite places. Look forward to days 4-6.


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Re: TR: North to South Lake via Lamarck Col 8/26 - 8/31

Postby mpeters » Wed Oct 01, 2014 9:25 pm

Day 4:
We left our campsite above Sapphire Lake around 830(McGee Lakes will have to wait) and headed towards the John Muir hut. Amazing how the barren landscape around Evolution and Sapphire Lakes turned into an absolute moonscape as we approached Wanda Lake. Nothing but rocks and a few sparse patches of grass. The gentle climbs through this upper part of the EB were very pleasant and we soon arrived at the Muir hut where we took all the requisite hut pictures(it was a first visit for each of us).
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Looking back the trail towards Evolution/Sapphire Lakes

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Muir Hut(yours truly on the far right).


We had decided end our day at the Le Conte Ranger station so we could get a good start up to Dusy the next morning. I left my camera in my pack for the entire stretch from Muir hut to Le Conte Cyn and the views heading down into the canyon were awe inspiring(although I have little evidence). We grabbed a well worn campsite by the creek, took turns on a hammock and I read my kindle(not ultralight but worth every ounce). Again, the trail-work descending from Muir Pass was nothing short of amazing. As a teenager, I spent several summers horse packing in the Emigrant wilderness and I'd want to have complete trust in my horse before taking him on some of the trails we traveled. Of course we stopped at the rock monster...
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Rock Monster receiving some dental work


A campsite, a little more Jamesons and Liquefied Red-hots along with our first sunset clouds made for an enjoyable evening.

Day 5:
Two of the guys from our party headed out early as they were meeting climbing partners at the top at Bishop pass around 11. We headed out about an hour behind them, up the switches(as they were called by a young trail crew lady), with the cascade churning away down the rocks to our right. The climb up to lower Dusy basin wasn't too bad, we were in the shade, it was cool, and the acclimated had finally kicked in.
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On the way out of Le Conte Canyon

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Juniper Bark


Stopped for a quick snack in lower Dusy basin then struck a line x-country towards the lake just north of Isosceles Peak. We found another great campsite on the ridge just SW from lake 11388, overlooking some of the lower lakes. It was our first campsite without the sound of running water.
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View south from our campsite


Since we still felt fresh, we decided to boulder hop to Knapsack pass. Turns out we were too determined not to lose elevation, and we payed for our choice by having to scramble up too many largish boulders. It was particularly difficult, just time consuming to navigate the rocks. On the way down we followed a use trail down to the lower lake before veering back towards the upper lakes. The view from Knapsack was cool as you could see way down through the Palisade Basin.
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View south from Knapsack pass


After dinner I spent the rest of the evening making photos while my friend fished. As at Darwin Bench, the fish would hit anything thrown at them. We found out later that the ones he pulled out were Rainbow Golden hybrids. Very pretty and up to 8/10" long.
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Sierra at her best; The Palisades and Isosceles Peak

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Nightfall at Dusy


Day 6: A few more early morning photos
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Highest Dusy Basin Lake, Palisades and Thunderbolt Pass


and then anxious to get back home to our families(and a burger tip provided by a hiker at the Muir Hut), we packed up and headed towards Bishop Pass. The last of my camera batteries died early in the morning so I only took a few shots on the last morning. I decided later that a hand warmer pack for each night would have made my batteries last longer. I kept them close by me in the tent but didn't want to sleep with them in my bag. I'm guessing temps were in the mid-high 20's at night. A quick 700' to the top of Bishop Pass, then the long slog back to South Lake(which looked to be about 25% full), where we found our car, just as we had left it.

If there is a more beautiful hike in the Sierra's, I'll be a skeptic until I see it. 6 days was perfect, unhurried, time to relax and enjoy, with a perfect cadence for my hiking speed. 5 days would have been OK but the first day travel over Lamarck Col to Darwin Canyon would have killed me. And had we done that the first day, it is doubtful we would have pushed on to Darwin Bench, thereby missing out on possibly the best campsite I've ever experienced.

Hope you enjoy my pictures. I had a blast making them and the camera gear was worth every ounce. I'll follow up with a post on some gear and other observations. You know, less fluffy stuff!
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Re: TR: North to South Lake via Lamarck Col 8/26 - 8/31

Postby EpicSteve » Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:11 pm

Great TR and awesome photos!

You reached South Lake the day my partner and I crossed Lamarck Col. I have to agree about that first day's hike: We too ended up leaving the TH a day earlier than planned and camped between Lower and Upper Lamarck Lakes after a short but arduous afternoon hike with 9 days worth of food and other consumables in our packs.

At our 2nd night's camp on Darwin Bench, we both agreed that if we'd hiked all the way from the TH over the Col on Day 1, we probably would've camped in Darwin Canyon instead of descending to the Bench and we would've been pretty sluggish the next day.
“I don’t deny that there can be an element of escapism in mountaineering, but this should never overshadow its real essence, which is not escape but victory over your own human frailty.”

- Walter Bonatti
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