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Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

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Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

Postby tadavidson » Wed Jul 29, 2015 8:59 pm

This is an approximately 55-mile (or more depending on your side trips) journey that many have done in 5 days, but I gave myself 8 to maximize my time in and to not feel rushed.

DAY ONE: (Saturday, July 18, 2015)
I intended to start on Sunday the 19th of July, but when you show up for the walk-in wilderness permit at the White Mountain Ranger Station of Inyo National Forest, it has to be issued starting that day. So, Saturday it would be, no time to acclimate. I started up the Piute Pass trail from North Lake on the Eastern side of the Sierras nearest to the Owens Valley town of Bishop, CA. It was only about 5 miles to Piute Lake, my Day 1 destination, but I was getting used to the altitude (10,958 feet at Piute Lake), so I nursed a considerable migraine that first night. The weather was looking dicey...big clouds, but nothing happened Saturday. I just made dinner with my little Jet Boil and crashed.
Piute Trailhead 07 19 2015.jpg
Piute/Lamarck Trailhead July 19, 2015
Piute Trailhead 07 19 2015.jpg (49.55 KiB) Viewed 407 times

Piute Lake 2.jpg
Piute Lake 1

Home at Piute Lake.jpg
Home at Piute Lake

Piute Lake Looking East.jpg
Piute Lake Looking East


DAY TWO: (Sunday, July 19, 2015)
Started early, hiked past Piute Lake and up toward the Pass. Just as I was nearing the Pass, a young (adolescent, I think) girl came running...yes, running, by me with shorts and a Camelback. Apparently, she is training for an ultra marathon and runs 10 miles to altitude a day. Wow! So, at the Pass, I saw the guys who were camped near me the night before, said "hi," exchanged destinations/routes and then headed toward Humphries Basin. I was glad that the Pass conversation with those guys was the only one of the trip where "Wild" was mentioned. :-/ No, I am not solo backpacking because of that, particularly since I said I had been doing it 20-some years. Someday, as a woman doing anything myself, I hope to cease being a spectacle of sorts.

My original plan was to camp in Hutchison Meadow, but I was intrigued by a high lake on the map, Honeymoon Lake. So, when I neared Hutchison Meadow, I saw the turn off sign for the lake and decided to go for it. It was an off-trail (read: not really maintained), and just as I cleared a creek crossing over downed trees, it started to really rain. This, in combination with my Deet spray being fairly inadequate resulted in most mosquitoes in a 10-mile radius surrounding me in my rain poncho, as I miserably labored straight uphill to the Lake. Once there, I was glad I had worked for it! :-) It was a gorgeous lake and I had it all to myself! After drying out, I got water in the lake, made dinner and enjoyed the evening there, albeit with the bugs. I was a little concerned about my ability to navigate the trail back to the main trail the next day, but put it out of my mind and slept in the complete silence of that wonderful lake!
Heading Up Piute Pass.jpg
Heading up to Piute Pass

Humphries Basin.jpg
Humphries Basin

Spring in Humphries Basin.jpg
Spring in Humphries Basin

Honeymoon Lake.jpg
Honeymoon Lake, all to myself!!

Honeymoon Lake 2.jpg
More Honeymoon Lake

Home on Honeymoon Lake.jpg
Home on Honeymoon Lake






DAY THREE: (Monday, July 20, 2015)
The day started out with the weather looking better, and I made breakfast and headed downhill. I did not have any trouble navigating the cairn-marked trail, but when I came to the creek crossing, I hesitated. The creek was quite full, with rapids and the trees over it were set high up. Okay, I did it yesterday, I can do this! I set off on the double log part that started the return crossing, and when I got to the last third, I had to transfer over to a single log. As I stepped down onto it, the rain the night before had left it slick, and out from under me went my feet! I landed half-sitting, half-submerged in the creek, grasping onto my trekking poles so as not to lose them. Every time I tried to move, I slipped farther into the water, so after many tries, I succeeded in getting myself out of the water and had to crawl across the log to the other side. I was wet, but grateful that nothing was lost or hurt! Onto the main trail, I descended into Hutchison Meadow to find lovely campsites along the creek, tree-lined trail, and eventually climbing up high cliffs around the creek to meet up with the JMT/PCT at the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park. I headed up the trail toward Evolution Valley, and ended up making camp in a spot by the trail in Aspen Meadow just before another storm broke, This was to be my second and last night of a solo campsite, but I enjoyed it!
Hutchison Meadow.jpg
Hutchison Meadow

Giant Mushroom Hutchison Meadow.jpg
Mushroom on Hutchison Meadow Trail






DAY FOUR: (Tuesday, July 21, 2015)
Destination today is McClure Meadow in Evolution Valley. I followed the JMT by the San Joaquin River, to a lovely bridge that marked the trail in the direction of Evolution Valley. A moderate climb out of the canyon, accented by the Evolution Creek displaying herself spectacularly in the downward waterfall, cascading over long, smooth rock rock for many feet down. It became almost commonplace to see these spectacular falls, that I stopped taking so many pictures! I ran into a couple of teenage boys from my old stomping ground, Carlsbad, CA, and talked with them for a while. All four of us decided how to cross Evolution Creek later on when there were choices (one choice was at least thigh-deep for me, which I decided was too much with the current). McClure Meadow was beautiful! Again, however, there were large thunderstorms looming and thunder heard intermittently. So, I stopped first at the backcountry ranger station to ask the ranger where campsites were instead of wandering around. Found a fantastic campsite right on the meadow near the creek, and was alone until the afternoon wore on, when several other parties came and were in sites around me. Here is where I saw the craftiness of the chipmunks/ground squirrels! I left for a moment, leaving my pack out and tent up, and returned to find a bunch of them circling my tent and pack, trying to figure out how to get at my Trader Joe's Super Omega Trail Mix! They know good stuff!

After the rain and storm, the meadow was beautiful and washed clean! The best part was the sunset! There were still storms off to the East raining on the higher elevations, and when the sun broke through low in the sky, a magnificent rainbow appeared! What a gift!

DAY FIVE: (Wednesday, July 22, 2015)

Got up relatively early, made breakfast and started the climb up to Evolution Basin. Early on, while walking through the end of the Meadow, I met several people I would know on the trail for a few days. One was a man about my age, Andy (I forget his trail name, he was a JMT thru-hiker). Andy had been inspecting the flora around the Valley using a wildflower book his girlfriend had given him for the trip. I was to intersect with him at various times that day and was really pleased to meet a kindred spirit! :-) About the same time, I met a couple of women; a teenager (16), Emily, and an older woman, Lynn, from New Jersey. Lynn had told me she thru-hiked the AT (years ago) and that they were doing a good chunk of the California PCT. They were supposed to get Out at Onion Valley. Unfortunately, poor Emily was saddled with a bitter, complaining woman for her trip and I felt the need to buffer her a little bit. It's hard for me to imagine how anyone can be miserable in the High Sierra, but Lynn managed it well. :-/ It was an almost non-stop fountain of negativity from complaints about the way the trail was built (ACK!!! Have you ever built a trail?? I have, it's the hardest work I have found, I was very grateful for what I had) to "wishing" for her youth every time young folks passed by. I vowed never to become that way as I aged, and it was hard to hold my tongue at times, particularly because we were both East Coasters who are thicker skinned and can handle some correction. Yet, Lynn was my elder so mostly I shut up or gushed about the beauty around us, in a somewhat passive-aggressive way, I'll admit! :-) I lost them at Evolution Lake in the Basin. They were still resting, Andy was there fishing, and as I saw the dark clouds gather again, I thought I better get my act in gear and head for my goal, a high lake (11,400-something) called Wanda Lake.

At my pace (that of an old pack mule!), I still came up into the higher part of the Basin first, and thought I was at Wanda Lake, until Andy passed by to let me know that no, it was yet another bench up. So, with it now raining and my makeshift covers flopping around wildly (two cheap rain ponchos), I headed up. Andy had found a fantastic group site with about 5-6 sites and helped me get my tent up promptly. I left my pack out with a poncho draped over it thinking that the rain would be a passing thing. It was not. At some point, other trail friends of his arrived and the party grew! These were young people (guessing early 20's?) who live in Colorado, are ski instructors and such in season, but also have a sky-diving business out, of all places, Lodi. Huh? Well, I guess it's as good a place to drop in out of the sky as anywhere! There was Amber, Bernardo (a Brazilian living here), and a third guy who I am mortified whose name I forget but who had family in Pennsylvania, something we shared in common. This group was one of outstanding individuals. These are the kind of people I so enjoy meeting that I feel a kinship with in the sense that we all share our love of these places and act within them in a joyous, reverent way. :-)

Wanda Lake was serene, beautiful and...full of tadpoles! :-) At about 11,400', it sets you up to head over Muir Pass (12,000') relatively easily the next day.

DAY SIX: (Thursday, July 23, 2015)

I left before everyone, knowing that they would soon pass me, and they did. I met up with them all at the top of the Pass by one of John Muir's huts. after we took a group picture, they headed down ahead of me toward LaConte Canyon and I wound my way down an extremely steep descent. I lost the trail at one point, and thanks to the gang, now down below me, yelling up in my direction which way to go, I found it again quickly. :-) At LaConte Canyon Ranger Station, I bid the thru-hikers farewell, and felt serious envy. I want to do that very badly! I camped at LaConte with another bunch of thru-hikers, very young people mostly from North Carolina. Emily and Lynn were next door to me, but didn't join us all around the fire that night. I did, and I enjoyed even listening to them talk as I fell asleep early in the evening. I had done 11 miles that day, and I was very proud of myself! My body was performing beautifully, and with at least as much titanium in it as my gear! :-)

DAY SEVEN: (Friday, July 24, 2015)

This day, I thought I would try to help Emily not be a sherpa for the older woman. She had taken Lynn's pack over Muir Pass for her the day before, because Lynn complained of altitude issues. So, today, I turned Lynn on to rhodiola extract. Rhodiola is a root extract that helps your body uptake oxygen more efficiently. I learned about it years ago from a client of mine who ran marathons and it changed my experience at altitude. I went between Emily and Lynn, encouraging Lynn the way up, and she almost made it over Bishop Pass. I was supposed to stop at a high lake in Dusy Basin, but I actually missed it, hiking past it, and just thought I would go over the pass anyway. Descending Bishop Pass was also extremely steep and slow for me, my knees were really feeling it now. So, after Bishop Lake was a gorgeous, turquoise lake called Saddlerock Lake, and there, on a hill overlooking the lake, I set up camp. Soon, there were quite a few others, several other backpackers from the Pass, and a few trailhead weekend warriors, the latter of which I have less tolerance for. One family set up camp inches from the lake, literally.

DAY EIGHT: (Saturday, July 25, 2015)

My choice was to hike a few miles to Long Lake, or one of several other lakes near the trailhead to await my ride the next day, or hike out and, I thought, camp at the backpacker's camp at the trailhead. I chose the latter, because although my body was doing magnificently in terms of endurance/strength, my feet were hamburger. The boots were wrong for my feet and I had just put the pain out of my mind up to this point. However, now I realized I could not put them on another day, and hiking in Chaco's was not a good option with so much granite. So, I hiked out, only to discover, surprise! There is no backpacker camp at Bishop Pass trailhead. This I find curious, because Bishop Pass is a major artery to connect to the JMT/PCT, in fact, I ran into resuppliers on my way down. In any case, despite a sympathetic forest ranger telling me I could throw up the tent on a flat spot, I hiked a few miles down the paved road to Willows developed (but primitive) campground and on a Saturday night was extremely lucky to find a spot. I hiked 60 already, what's a few more, right? So, although I had to deal with the carousing of my neighbors with cars/beer/great food, etc. I slept well.

DAY NINE: (Sunday, July 26, 2015)
Got to the pickup point at the trailhead early, waited about 5 hours in quiet contemplation, hanging with a chipmunk, or talking with those heading out/coming out, until Amy came to pick me up. 20-some miles down the hill, as cell service returned and I was on the grid again, my phone exploded, and the stress level went up considerably. :-( Re-entry is a ****!

OBSERVATIONS/LESSONS THIS TRIP:

(1) Bring Imitrex for migraines
(2) Get new, wider boots
(3) Learn how to configure your Spot Messenger so your friends, not just your own gmail account gets your location messages. I thought I had, but...well.
(4) Bring money/credit card with you in case. I panicked thinking about a backup plan should something have happened to my friend and she failed to pick me up.
(5) Bring better goodies...the dehydrated dinners and breakfasts were fine, but the desserts were awful. Actual chocolate bars, etc. needed. I was given a reprieve by my trail friends with M&M's! You guys rock!!!!
(6) I need to figure out a way to thru-hike the JMT myself. Working on an idea!

See you all out there!!!
Last edited by maverick on Thu Jul 30, 2015 4:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: Added dates in subject box



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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop

Postby rlown » Wed Jul 29, 2015 9:12 pm

A very nice report. Sea level to altitude can hurt anyone. Glad you didn't turn back or we wouldn't have the report. I always try and stay at the north lake campground the night before. Last trip, there were no sites, so we also had to head immediately up for a mile or so. It also hurt after a 6hr drive from the bay.

Anyway.. loved the TR.
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop

Postby maverick » Wed Jul 29, 2015 10:56 pm

Hi Tania,

Thank you for posting your first, wonderful TR, and nice pictures! :thumbsup:
Please include the dates of your trip.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

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: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop

Postby oleander » Thu Jul 30, 2015 9:46 am

Terrific trail report and your enthusiasm is contagious!

That is one of the best loops in the Sierra.

I know exactly what you mean about being tempted to go up to Honeymoon Lake at that trail junction. The canyon/bowl containing the lake is visible from the trail and it looks enticing. I'll make it up there some day.

Rhodiola, sounds interesting. Ginkgo biloba has shown some promise as well for altitude, and I load up on that starting 2 weeks before every trip.

As a sometimes-solo female I too get a little irritated by the "Hey, so it probably never occurred to you to go hiking before Cheryl Strayed came along" question. (Even though I do very much like Cheryl and her book.) Fortunately I don't get that very frequently.

Squirrels, marmots and deer have indeed become more aggressive at heavily-visited backcountry campsites, and that is a shame.

Enjoy your next visit to the Sierra - We bash the JMT here a bit too often because it's gotten more crowded, but the truth is that it's a terrific experience, especially if you enjoy the social bonding with other JMTers.

- Elizabeth
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop

Postby tadavidson » Thu Jul 30, 2015 4:17 pm

Thank you! Forgot that somehow! :-)

maverick wrote:Hi Tania,

Thank you for posting your first, wonderful TR, and nice pictures! :thumbsup:
Please include the dates of your trip.
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

Postby copeg » Fri Jul 31, 2015 8:41 am

Thanks so much for the great trip report! Glad to hear the fall into the creek wasn't too nasty
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

Postby tanngrisnir3 » Fri Jul 31, 2015 1:13 pm

Nice report and great effort.

Going from east of and well below Bishop pass with bad feet and then all the way to Willow CG deserves some sort of medal.
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

Postby cslaght » Fri Jul 31, 2015 1:29 pm

Awesome report! It's a loop I'd love to do. Keep strong about all the Wild popularity, most know this backpacking solo was a thing before it came out; though my dad and wife loved it, I have yet to read it. My hunch will be the the popularity/fad of "nontraditional" hikers will die off next year. I've always admired solo hikers, as I have only done a day hike solo and think it would be a great experience. And just one more thing, don't downers just make the miles seem twice as long? Your attitude was great, I'm not sure if I could have been so, uhm, pleasant? haha. Great trip!
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

Postby tadavidson » Fri Jul 31, 2015 1:52 pm

Thank you! :-) It's a mind game to put pain out of your awareness, but now I have been wearing, well, not really shoes all week! :-) So, at least it's very fixable, different boots are not difficult to get!
/Tania

tanngrisnir3 wrote:Nice report and great effort.

Going from east of and well below Bishop pass with bad feet and then all the way to Willow CG deserves some sort of medal.
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

Postby windknot » Fri Jul 31, 2015 2:18 pm

Thanks for the entertaining report! I've hiked parts but not all of your route and it is indeed beautiful. Sounds like it was a great trip.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

Postby Beantown » Fri Jul 31, 2015 6:00 pm

enjoyed reading your trip report! nothing like solo backpacking.

i too suffer from big wide foot! i got the vasque st elias in wide this year and its the most comfy boot I've owned yet. here it is in women. http://www.rei.com/product/855886/vasqu ... ots-womens.

if ya got questions for the jmt, you know me on fb this is brad m. O:)
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Re: Trip Report: North Lake to South Lake Loop 7/18-7/26

Postby cslaght » Sat Aug 01, 2015 11:57 am

by Beantown » Fri Jul 31, 2015 5:00 pm
enjoyed reading your trip report! nothing like solo backpacking.

i too suffer from big wide foot! i got the vasque st elias in wide this year and its the most comfy boot I've owned yet.


Beantown, I've been looking at this pair to upgrade my current set as well. It's refreshing to hear some good reviews from it. I saw that Outdoorgearlab had them rated pretty high as well. Is there more detail you could go into about this pair? I'd love to hear about it! Thanks!
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