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Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

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Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 29, 2015 10:56 am

This was my first trip with a HST member! After chatting on the forum about Tehipite Valley, “Ska-T” notified me that this was also on his bucket list. I preferred not to solo due to the bears. After several e-mails, we agreed on a route from South Lake. Then, two days before the trip, forecasted temperatures in the high 90’s threw a wrench in the plan. Tehipite was scrapped and I pulled out a 7-day higher altitude loop from North Lake that was in the works for later in the summer. This turned out to be a wise choice as it was hot enough at 11,000 feet. I cannot imagine the misery at 4,500 feet! I had never seen the lower Piute Canyon, Evolution Valley or McGee Lakes and Ska-T also had not seen Darwin Bench or Lamarck Col, so this “Plan B” had lots of new areas for both of us.

Day 1, June 18: TH to Muriel Lake: 5.2 miles, about 4.5 hours, 2125 feet gain.

We met in the Bishop City Park to coordinate in mosquito-free conditions. Lunches were devoured and packs were ready; we drove to North Lake and were on the trial at 1:30 PM. Although hot, a nice breeze kept it tolerable and tamped down the few mosquitoes. We kept to a slow trudge (both driving from sea level the altitude was very apparent) all the way top Muriel Lake where we found an established campsite. No sooner had we set up and a young couple plopped down 50 feet from us, clueless that they were in a wilderness with unlimited campsites that would not crowd us; at least they were quiet. It was late and I was too tired to fish so we cooked dinner and the wind died down just in time to make eating a bit challenging. The late day lighting was perfect for photos. Nearly the solstice, it seemed to stay light forever. Light or not, I was beat, and happy to watch the sunset from inside my tent while lying down. Sleep was spotty due to first day aches and pains. Ska-T “cowboy camped” at an adjacent site, perhaps not the best idea as it cooled off, dew condensed and there was a light frost by early morning.

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Piute Lake

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Muriel Lake

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Muriel Lake


Day 2, June 19: Muriel Lake to San Joaquin: 10.8 miles, about 8 hours and 3440 feet of descent.

It was light before 5AM. We planned on an early start to beat the heat, as we would drop down to about 8,000 feet elevation and expected Piute Canyon to be a bit of an oven. It did not take the sun long to dry everything, and we headed cross-country to Wahoo Lakes by 7:30AM. As we crossed the outlet of Muriel Lake, we ran into another fellow. From Wahoo Lakes we dropped to Upper Golden Lake and I waded across while Ska-T with his longer legs found an upstream rock-hopping crossing. I had thought of a side trip to Packsaddle Lake, but decided that we had better stick to our objective (reaching McGee Lakes the next day). I had forgotten about the five stream branches that have to be crossed near Hutchins Meadow. Luckily each branch had sufficient logs or rocks to hop. We stopped for lunch, filled up water bottles and continued down into the furnace.

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Upper Golden Lake

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Piute Canyon

I had not been through the lower Piute Canyon and enjoyed scoping out everything. Piute Creek was beautiful as it tumbled down below the trail. The lower part of the canyon became quite impressive. There was little shade. Ska-T took out his silver Go-lite umbrella as I simply suffered the heat. We both suffered sore feet. My new shoes, new Superfeet and new thick socks added up to a tight fit; Ska-T because of the opposite problem of old shoes with rough seams inside. Lumpy old shoes, too-tight new shoes, old knees, heat and a rough trail made for slow going. We met two groups sweating profusely ascending as we descended. At least there were no mosquitoes! Finally we reached the bridge at the confluence with the San Joaquin and settled on a well-used campsite near the river. A bucket bath never felt so good! A nearby camper came by and caught a small fish. Again, I was too tired to bother with fishing. I needed to eat up that heavy food in the bear can! As the evening cooled temperatures were perfect and there was not a single mosquito in sight.

Day 3, June 20: San Joaquin to McGee Lakes: 11 miles, about 9 hours and 2820 elevation gain.

Once on the trail at 7:30 a continual procession of hikers passed us going north, many appearing to be PCT thru-hikers. Goddard Canyon was as beautiful as Piute and in the early morning hours there was plenty of shade. Nearing Evolution Valley a few mosquitoes appeared but again a nice breeze helped. At the crossing, several others were stopped, drying off feet. The crossing was high-thigh deep on me but relatively easy. I did not bring wading shoes, but just an extra set of insoles. This turned out to be fortunate, since the Superfeet were too thick. With one pair of thinner socks and the cheap insoles from an old pair of tennis shoes, I was able to give my feet more breathing room and the wet cool shoes actually felt good. We stopped for lunch at the ranger’s cabin. I was a bit disappointed in Evolution Valley. It was scenic but not outstanding.

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Goddard Canyon

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Evolution Valley

We overshot the turn-off to McGee Creek, and came back and found the upstream “log crossing”. It was too precarious for me so I waded part way and then climbed up onto the log at the deep point. There was no distinct use-trail but the terrain continuing up was relatively clear of underbrush. At one point we crossed McGee Creek and eventually bumped into the real use-trail. This was the one area where mosquitoes were quite pesky so we had little rest until we reached the upper crossing of McGee Creek. The valley was quite lush and green and broader than I had anticipated. We debated camping here to avoid backtracking for our next day’s hike, but decided we rather camp up at the lakes. We followed cairns upward, on a very steep hillside. Upward, it appeared that there were several variations. The one we took was likely just a game trail to which someone added a few cairns. We popped out on the bench that contains the McGee Lakes, and found a nice campsite at the small unnamed lower lake. I fished the outlet for about a half hour and caught one rather meager little fish. Ska-T went above the waterfall and came back reporting more fish up there, but I was too beat to take advantage of that information. We were blessed with a great sunset. The wind died down just in time to make eating dinner a bit unpleasant. All in all it was a good day.

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Wide spot in river above confluence with McGee Creek

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McGee Creek

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Camp at small unnamed lowest McGee Lake



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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:02 am

Day 4, June 21: Day hike and short move to next McGee Lake: 6.1 miles, about 7 hours and 1800 feet elevation gain.

My original plan was to circle around the set of lakes to the northwest. Instead, we opted to visit Lake 11140 and then traverse to Lake 10865, climb up the pass and simply peek down at Lake 10918. With an easy day’s schedule, we started later in the morning. We tried to traverse to Lake 11140 and ended up being forced to drop to the head of the valley anyway. To avoid brush we climbed up a rocky debris fan between Lake 11140 and Lake 10865. The Lake 11140 cirque was quite stark. We traversed and dropped about 200 feet to Lake 10865 which was quite beautiful and lush with grass and some timber. We then climbed to the pass staying to the right (north) slope where there was evidence of others taking this same route. We took photos. The descent to Lake 10918 was cliffy but looked feasible. The view was quite good from the pass and we chose not to descend. Back at the unnamed lake above Lake 10865 we stopped for lunch.

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Lake 11140

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Lake 11140

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Lake 10865

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Lake 10918 from Pass

We returned a different route, directly dropping to near the location where we crossed Mc Gee Creek the day before. This time we took another upper branch of the use-trail back to camp. Although this trail seemed to be more “officially” cairned it crossed some soggier places but overall was a bit easier. Back about 2PM, we packed up and moved less than a mile to the outlet of McGee Lake 10821. The peninsula between the two large lakes had several established campsites. A great flat slab provided a perfect place for washing clothes and a refreshing dunk in the lower lake. Later I took a hike to the unnamed lake to the south and then returned to fish quickly catching three nice 8-9 inch fish. I think they were golden trout. We both were able to get good photos during the drawn-out sunset hours. A lovely breeze kept up all day and only a few mosquitoes were seen. Since leaving the PCT we had the entire drainage to ourselves.

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McGee Lake 10821 outlet

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Lake 11816
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:11 am

Day 5, June 22: McGee Lakes to Darwin Bench with side-trip above Evolution Lake: 8 miles, about 9 hours, 2400 feet elevation gain.

We were again moving by 7:30 and circled Lake 10821 on the southwest shore. As we climbed towards McGee Pass, the views back to the lakes were great. The pass is on a broad saddle and the actual pass is not evident. Luckily we picked the correct route and bumped into a distinct use-trail. At the top we scouted the descent. Once sure of our route, we continued. The upper 100 feet or so is quite steep and required some rock scrambling. Then we traversed south to descend less steep slopes. It was slow going but relatively easy. At first we had the PCT all to ourselves, but shortly, many hikers passed us going north. We stashed packs up in a tree (marmots were very active in this area) after crossing the inlet to Evolution Lake. Then we hiked up to Lake 11594 below Mt. Spencer. A rocky moraine dams Lake 11594 which is quite stark. We ate lunch at a grassy spot on the northeast shore. Unfortunately the harsh mid-day lighting did not produce photos of this impressive cirque. Peak 13332 is quite impressive, as is the ridge to Mt Darwin. Both lakes had deep aqua crystal clear water.

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McGee Lakes from near the top of McGee Pass

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Other side of McGee Pass

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Sapphire Lake

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Unnnamed lake below Mt Spencer

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Lake 11594

Back at out packs, we continued on the trail to the outlet of Evolution Lake were packers were delivering supplies and we talked with a father and 10-year old who were doing the High Route- quite impressive for such a young boy. We took the use-trail up to Darwin Bench. In spite of the elevation it was still very hot and I wilted. We followed the use trail and about 100 feet below the lower Darwin Canyon Lake 11592, I changed my mind and we instead went up to camp near the small pond on a bench southeast of Lake 11540. This turned out to be quite a nice campsite. The sites along the shore of Lake 11540 were still quite soggy from recent snowmelt. I dropped to the large lake to get water, take a bath, wash clothes and take some photos. Later I walked over to the outlet to check out crossing for the next day’s hike. There were no mosquitoes at our campsite so we enjoyed a great dinner watching the sunset. The little adjacent pond was the perfect mirror to reflect Mt. Mendel.

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Evolution Lake

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Mt. Mendel reflected in little pond near camp
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Lake 11540

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Looking over the edge to Darwin Canyon

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Camp

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Sunset
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:20 am

Day 6, June 23: Day hikes and move to Lake 11592 (lowest lake in Darwin Canyon).

My goal for the day was to fish both Lake 11540 and Lake 11546. I suspected these lakes were barren, but wanted to give it a try. Ska-T’s goal was to check out either Alpine Col or the “Keyhole”. We traversed the southeast shore of Lake 11540 running into several steep snowbanks that required climbing high above. Then I stayed at the lower lakes and fished. We agreed to meet again at 2PM. After little luck, and being quite lazy, at 1PM I started up to Lake 11910 where I met Ska-T as he was descending, having gone up to the Keyhole. I continued up to get some photos of this upper lake which was still frozen! Back at the lower lakes, we traversed the easier northwest shores to the outlet of Lake 11540. Here we hopped a few boulders and then climbed a short class 3 chimney to reach the other side where we hiked back up to our campsite.

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Between Lakes 11540 and 11546

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Lake 11546

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Frozen Lake 11910

We packed up camp and moved less than a mile to a camp near the south outlet of Lake 11592. Here there were many fish, but it was too early, too windy, and the fish were very skittish. After trying downstream as well, I finally gave up and instead took photos. After dinner near dusk the fish really went crazy. I was tempted to catch one, but decided to just watch. For a “rest day” we both had been quite busy! The weather again had been perfect.

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Camp at Lake 11592

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Whispy cloulds

Day 7, June 24: Return to North Lake via Lamarck Col. 6.3 miles, about 6 hours, 1500 feet gain and 3780 feet descent.

The use-trail around the north shore of Lake 11592 also has many variations evident by the many footprint paths. There was another group camped at the inlet. Continuing to the upper lakes, the route mainly stays right on the shoreline, and climbs through a few large talus blocks. Darwin Canyon is quite scenic. We ascended following a cairned route that probably was not “the route” as it was not really very logical and difficult to follow. Near the top we traversed to the northwest intersecting the real “trail” where we ran into a day-hiker. The north side still had some snow on the lower slopes but the top was bare dirt and rock. We stopped at the small tarn to get water which was quite sandy; it clogged my filter. After a long sandy descent we left the trail to stop for lunch at the top of the cliffs south of Upper Lamarck Lake. Back on the trail we continued downward. My plan was to stay at Lower Lamarck Lake and fish since I had an extra day’s food. Heat, tiredness, or whatever, I royally messed up and missed the trail to the lakes. We never did see the lakes! Instead we ended up on an old trail that descended directly to Grass Lake. Although this trail “works” you then have to climb up out of Grassy Lake and it adds elevation gain and miles. We arrived at our cars about 2:30 PM. It was hot as hell! We parted ways each driving home.

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Darwin Canyon Lakes

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Headwaters of Darwin Canyon and Mt Darwin

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View higher up towards Lamarck Col

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Upper Lamarck Lake

Oh well, I thought, since I missed Lamarck Lakes, I would then camp along the Carson River and fish. That plan also was put to rest when I came to the road junction to Monitor Pass, which was closed due to the “Washington” fires. Smoke just got thicker as I drove north so I simply drove home, arriving at 9:30PM. It had been 105F in Sacramento. No wonder it had been so hot at 11,000 feet! All in all it was a great trip. Sadly, conditions are much like one would expect in August and it is only June.
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:23 am

A few more photos

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Upper Lamarck Lake

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McGee Lakes

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Darwin Bench from camp above Lake 11540

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sunset in Darwin Canyon
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby MountainMinstrel » Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:47 am

Looks like it was a nice trip. I loved the pics, particularly the sunset on Day 5. It's also nice to know that even those with much off trail experience don't always end up on the route they intended. I guess the important thing is that we get where we need to be!
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby maverick » Mon Jun 29, 2015 2:50 pm

Fun trip WD, especially with a fellow HST member! McGee Lakes is a great place that I like to visit when in the area, if time allows, very pretty and offers solitude from the busy times on the JMT. Darwin Bench has great views, and offers fantastic opportunities for wonderful photography, when conditions are right as does Darwin Canyon.
Thanks for the wonderful pictures too, especially the sunset, frozen lake, and the ones took in McGee and Darwin Canyon. :)

WD wrote:
My new shoes, new Superfeet and new thick socks added up to a tight fit;


Ouch, not a combo to try out on a backpacking trip, and in hot weather when your feet swell.
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby Hobbes » Mon Jun 29, 2015 3:27 pm

Beautiful photos WD. We were up in Tuolumne during the same period. It was boiling hot in Lyell canyon. On our way home, it was over 100 in Bishop @ 7pm, so it seems like the entire state was roasting.

Mav, do you know of any way over to the McGee lakes from Goddard canyon? That would make an interesting twist to the route if you could head up Goddard from the Evolution/PCT junction, pop over Hell for Sure to fish a little bit, then cross over to the McGee lakes to complete the loop WD & Ska-T did.
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby maverick » Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:04 pm

Hobbes wrote:
Mav, do you know of any way over to the McGee lakes from Goddard canyon? That would make an interesting twist to the route if you could head up Goddard from the Evolution/PCT junction, pop over Hell for Sure to fish a little bit, then cross over to the McGee lakes to complete the loop WD & Ska-T did.


Yes, sent you a PM, do not want to take this thread off track.
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby SSSdave » Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:32 pm

Another one of your long mileage route beaters I would have made 3 base camping trips out of.

The fame of Evolution Valley scenery was from an era when visitors camped down in heavy forest where they could make cooking and evening BS fires and not higher up at timberline like we do today. So yeah nice scenery to be sure but well down on my list in that region. Views from Darwin Bench nearby are far more impressive. Those were goldens at the McGees. We camped down below lake 10918 hoping that fine looking lake would have some larger trout. Nice to know those 3 big lakes southeast of Goethe are still fish-less as each time I am at Darwin Bench we consider going up there to take a look. That pond perspective while somewhat limited as a wide angle lens Mendel reflection, provides a fine perspective for a telephoto. The wise person will avoid following cairns on the west side of Lamarck Col because the clueless have placed them everywhere and instead enjoy feeling them with the toe of one's boot. Did your wrong route to Grassy Lake begin after you reached Upper Lamarck Lake but before one has to follow the narrow section along the creek that ends up at the lower lake?
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby sparky » Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:39 pm

Ha, I did sort of the same route but in reverse about the same time. I was camped at 10,000ft in paiute canyon the night of the 18th. Thanks for the share!
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Re: Loop from North Lake 6/18-24 2015

Postby Jimr » Mon Jun 29, 2015 5:14 pm

Wonderful TR and pics.
Seems you're both a bit camera shy? :nod:
What?!
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