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South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:48 pm
by kpeter
I bet this has been answered before, but my searches are not being successful. Pointing me in the right direction would be much appreciated.

1) Has anyone hiked from the North Lake to the South Lake trailhead by road to set up a loop? What was that like? Or is there some sort of shuttle service in Bishop that could shuttle you from trailhead to trailhead?

2) Are there some trip reports from people who have done the South Lake to North Lake loop?

Many thanks!

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 6:43 pm
by Timberline
Howdy, kpeter,

Not sure which way you're headed since your intro reads South to North, but your question reads North to South; also not sure but you might already be familiar with this area. Either way, I offer the trail alternative to hiking or riding the roads that connect North and South Lakes. The trail from South Lake road that starts just below Parcher's (our direction) and leads to Lake Sabrina was the best choice we made on our completion of the Muir Pass loop some years ago. Tyee Lakes, Table Mtn, and George Lake along the way are totally worth the extra time if you have it. We camped at 2nd Tyee one night, and made it to Piute Lake the next night, hiking all the way. I'm so glad we did that rather than hitch a ride that was offered, and much shorter timewise.

Hope you don't mind if I add some to this, but If it offers anything to your own plans/thinking, here's a "sort of" trip report - - actually a story I wrote about that hike (a little dated, but you'll understand if you read it):

Bogarting at Bishop Pass
©2008 by Bruce Peet

How could fate smile so warmly on us? Here we are, Lance and I, into our fifth day on the trail, having experienced so many sublime moments already - - John Muir surely would have called them sublime – since leaving our car at Florence Lake where we began the Muir Pass Loop. Here we are, reclining against our packs at Bishop Pass, sunburned, dusty, marinated in sweat, munching our trailmix, and completely swept up by the glorious view above Bishop Lakes over to the Inconsolables, with Agassiz and the Palisades so close we could almost lean back and rest our shoulders against them. Here we are, saying a friendly good morning to two lovely young backpacking ladies from Arizona just arriving at the Pass from Dusy Basin, as we had, although we'd not seen them before. We offer some of our trailmix. “Homemade,” we say. “Looks good,” they say, and unshoulder their packs to join us sitting in a circle, and we trade introductions, first names only, and after a brief, relaxed conversation about nothing in particular one of the girls produces a well rolled joint and offers to share it with us, and we accept. Was this having everything turn out perfect, or what?
I met Lance while living in a Sonoma County hippie commune. He was ruggedly handsome, physically fit, with a blond ponytail and a gentle, frequent laugh that lit up his features. I sensed he was practicing paying attention to some inner guru of his, and since I was doing some personal searching of my own around then I quickly gained a respect for his quiet, meditative, but purposeful manner. Somehow, one afternoon we got to talking about backpacking. Lance was from the East Coast, Massachusetts I recall, and although a hiker, had never spent time in the Sierra. I had been away from these mountains for the last six years, so I was feeling a powerful need to get myself back into the Sierra, and I needed a trail partner. I suggested the Muir Pass Loop would be just right for us.
Lance was a vegetarian, which introduced a new backpacking variable for me. On my hikes, I was used to consuming lots of animal protein and carbohydrates, usually of the dehydrated variety, and burning up calories like a locomotive uses coal. This venture required an alternative approach to calories and cuisine. We negotiated a menu for ourselves with lots of trailmix and daily rations of dried fruit, granola, dried soups, hardtack, cheese (for me), and chocolate. To me it seemed almost like a “no-cook” diet; we would use stove fuel very sparingly if at all, and thus reduce pack weights a little.
Driving down from the coast north of San Francisco, we spent our first night atop Kaiser Pass, arriving after dark and sleeping next to the car. It gave us extra time to acclimatize to the altitude, and it seemed a great place give Lance a first impression of this country. I was also curious to find a witness tree marker I placed there while on a Forest Service summer job some years back; I went looking for it the next morning. Sure enough, there was the placard still nailed to its tree, referencing one of the forest growth sample plots I established and measured during my first summer in this region. I was elated to find it. Next stop, trailhead.
Being "poor, 'back to the land' hippies, neither Lance nor I had the fare for the Florence Lake water taxi; we only had enough cash for food and gas on the trip home. So we got to enjoy views of the Lake slowly passing by on our left as we hiked along the shore and got adjusted to our packs in the first few miles. With the added time and miles, we decided to press on after reaching Muir Trail Ranch, so we could spend our first night on the trail at the confluence of Evolution Creek and the South Fork of the San Joaquin. It was more than satisfactory. The next day brought us to McClure Meadow and Evolution Valley. I had spent a summer at the doorstep of this fabled Sierra locale, but this was my first visit into the Valley. It was enthralling; I think Lance was as uplifted as I was to be here. Later that day at Evolution Lake we met a young couple with their two sons. Their youngest boy had just lost his first tooth. I admired that couple enormously for the love and confidence they were giving their children by introducing them so positively to a backpacking experience, and I hoped someday to offer something like that to my own children. Our second night's camp was on the shore of Sapphire Lake.
We went no farther than Muir Pass on the third day. The weather had been ideal, and we wanted to savor the afternoon and evening at this milestone along the John Muir Trail. We had time to leisurely read the Hut register, and both Lance and I smiled at the entry by someone who had reached Muir Pass in late May that year, only to become snowed in and forced to remain in the Hut for four days before being able to continue his journey. We had chosen nonchalantly to lay by, and only for part of a day; we wondered how it must have felt to be “trapped” at the Hut by bad weather for an uncertain period. Not as pleasant, we concluded.

By the time of our descent from Helen Lake to Big Pete Meadow in Le Conte Canyon I imagined Lance's conversion to being a lifetime Sierra aficionado was complete. If anything, this dramatic trail section only embellished the grandeur he had seen on our arrival at McClure Meadow. The descent seemed like strolling down all the flights in a grand museum, only better: a continuous visual treat of surpassing beauty and magnificence. For me, reaching the Meadow for the first time was a dream come true, the actualization of so much fantasizing from years of pouring over Sierra maps and trail guides; I had an enormous desire to just keep on hiking south. We had agreed, though, to find a campsite that night in Dusy Basin, so a major ascent awaited us in the hottest part of the day. We lunched in some welcome shade next to the trail and then began our climb.
Overheated and panting at a rest stop on the umpteenth switchback, Lance was still marching, slowly but steadily, some yards ahead of me. I was determined to keep up, so I shifted back into my lowest gear, my steps marking the beat to a rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in my head. This pattern of listening to repetitious, mental music always seems to kick in about the time I think I can't take another step. It keeps me going, but the endless repetition, pleasant at other times, can drive me nuts. After reaching camp later I joked with Lance about seeing myself as if at a graduation ceremony, trudging uphill to receive my diploma at the end of the day's walk. He chuckled, and said that he visualized a huge magnet, too strong to resist, relentlessly pulling him up the trail. That inner guru again. As it was, that day we had descended about 3,500 feet elevation and regained about 2,700 feet to reach our campsite at the first lake in lower Dusy Basin. Trout were rising everywhere, dimpling the otherwise calm waters. I found some wild onions and diced a few to garnish our dinner soup. We had front row seats to a free show of alpenglow on Columbine and Isosceles until the daylight was finally spent.
Next morning, there we were at Bishop Pass, where the heavens really smiled on us. I no longer remember the two girls' names, or where they were from in Arizona. But the feelings of flying down the switchbacked cliff below the Pass, and soaring effortlessly all the way to the South Lake parking lot was such a rush it remains with me still. The girls gave us a ride in their station wagon the short distance down to the Tyee Lakes trailhead, where we bid them good luck and safe driving; they were headed home. So were we, via Table Mountain to Lake Sabrina, North Lake, Piute Pass, and Piute Canyon, to ultimately close our trail loop and return to Florence Lake four days later.
To this day, the Muir Pass Loop remains one of my favorite Sierra jaunts and the only one where the high was anything more than natural. Those last four days had their own special moments to be sure. Most unexpected and inspiring perhaps was a chance meeting with an older couple, well into their '60's we guessed, on the trail downstream from Muir Trail Ranch; she in a floral print dress, wide-brimmed straw hat and tennis shoes, looking like she was going out to the backyard garden, and he, carrying a full pack and walking with crutches! We must have looked pretty trail worn and grizzled by this time, while they were in high spirits, eager to begin their week's stay at the Ranch. I'm not sure which pair of us was the most impressed with the other, but Lance and I greatly admired their audacity and confidence. We wished them well.
In the end, I think I owe all of the superlatives of that trip to Lance himself. I'd never spent mountain time with anyone as calmly balanced and centered as he was, and I still believe that all of the good vibes of those ten days emanated from his poised serenity even during the most strenuous moments. Ever since, I have considered myself fortunate in two respects: for having been the person who introduced Lance to the Sierra, and for having learned so much from a real guru. I suppose it’s just the way these mountains bring out what is best in each of us.

Happy Trails, amigo! :nod:

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 6:53 pm
by maverick
You can easily hitch a ride, I have done it a few times from South Lake to North Lake
and the other way around.
You'll find several TR's online.
I have done the North Lake - South Lake Loop, but prefer doing the Lamarck Col variation
since Darwin Canyon is really cool, and Darwin Bench offers some epic views.
Do you have any specific questions regarding the loop?
You will need a good 7 nights, more is even better, to get at least a flavor of this
beautiful area.
Humphrey's Basin, Evolution Valley & Basin, LeConte Canyon, and Dusy Basin all
offer several days worth of side trips, so try to take your time, and explore, don't
just zoom through the area.
If you are short on time your better making some separate trips to each region to
really do them justice.
Here's a great TR: ... p?t=576979" onclick=";return false;

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:06 pm
by BSquared
It's a fantastic loop trip. I've done it south-to-north twice, both many, many years ago, once exiting via Lamarck Col and once via Piute Pass. It's hard to imagine a better place for a week-or-so trip in the Sierra. I've always thought of Evolution Valley as sort of the heart of the Sierra, and it's never disappointed me. I do remember breathlessly picking my way among the talus blocks, looking for Lamarck Col for what seemed like hours (but was probably only about 15 minutes) and mostly cliffing out on the east side before finally seeing that blessed tarn at the base of the col's headwall; what a relief! I also remember my first view of Mt. Humphreys after Piute pass: what a revelation!

I envy you, kpeter, it's a beautiful trip! As far as practical advice goes, I do think I remember someone posting information here about hiking between N and S Lakes, but I'm not quite sure where I saw it. Good luck!

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 8:49 pm
by Wandering Daisy
I have hitch-hiked from South Lake to North Lake. I found it easier to get a ride if I hid my pack in the bushes at South Lake. People in small cars are sometimes reluctant or do not have room to take your pack. I also jumped in the creek and washed my clothes the night before. It helps to hitch if you do not smell too bad. It also helps to plan the day out on a weekend. I hitched on a Monday but it took an hour to get a ride. Not much traffic mid-day, mid-week.

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 8:58 pm
by rlown
What i saw most do is drop their stuff/people off at the outbound trail-head and then go back and park their car at the exit trail-head. Then hitch while still clean w/o backpack to the outbound TH. One hitch and it gets it out of the way.

EDIT: there are generally a lot of local fishermen at the North Lake day use area, and you could try and get a ride from one of them, or if you stay at one of the campsites the night before, you could ask around casually and see if someone would give you a ride. Carry some money in case.

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:03 pm
by kpeter
What wonderful advice. There is something special about the people who come to this forum. Thank you for the practical advice, the link, and the poetic report.

The Tyee/George Lake extension is a brilliant idea I would not otherwise have considered, but it makes it nearly a complete circle trip. And I have always wondered what that country looked like as I headed up the Blue lake trail, passing by the turnoff at Sabrina. I think I shall take that advice!

I have been on separate trips to Dusy Basin and to Humphreys Basin over the years, but I have never been to Evolution Valley or Muir Pass, and I have had a longing to get there for many years. The Lamarck Col entrance sounds intriguing, but I may be solo on this trip and I generally forgo cross country when I don't have a partner with me, so I think it will be Piute Pass. If I take the full loop I could spend a day in Evolution Valley and hike up Darwin Canyon, if it is worth the side trip.

My initial instinct was to start at South lake and come out over Piute, simply because the South Lake trailhead was a little higher. But if I hike the complete circle then that is obviously a moot point. Are there any advantages to going one direction vs. another that you folks are aware of?

I guess my only other question is timing. I take it that the snowiest stretch will be the Wanda Lake/Muir pass vicinity? Or Bishop Pass? I would love to do the trip before August, but don't absolutely have to.

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Sun Feb 06, 2011 12:16 am
by stevet
I like this route best N to S, primarily because the route up Evolution Valley is so spectacular.

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Sun Feb 06, 2011 7:17 am
by BSquared
...but it's also true that the hike up from LeConte Canyon under the shadow of the Black Giant is spectacular. Basically, you can't lose on this one :)

Maybe N -> S is better because then you'll be hiking the same direction as the majority of JMT through-hikers and so will encounter fewer people? I doubt it really makes much difference.

Re: South Lake to North Lake

Posted: Sun Feb 06, 2011 10:10 am
by Wandering Daisy
My preference is north-to-south. I have done the loop both ways. North-to-South Advantages: 1) the steep east side of Lamark Col is easier to ascend than descend and Lamark Col is actually much easier to find from the east side, 2) the view of Darwin Canyon is better going down, 3) I think the view up Evolution Valley is better, 4) I also think the view down Laconte Canyon is better, 5) you will be facing the best scenery in Dusy Basin. North-to-South Disadvantages: 1) up the switchbacks from LeConte Canyon to Dusy Basin, 2) hard part of trip (Lamark Col) at first of trip when pack is heavy. Some people say there is a sun-in-face issue with north to south. The sun is high in the sky in mid summer so I do not think this is a big issue. The sun-in eye issue is more of a morning issue as the sun is rising. In the summer the sun actually rises in the northeast.

I would not worry about snow on the JMT-PCT - the PCT through hikers will have passed by early July and made a track in the snow. By mid-July enough people should have gone up Lamark Col to have steps in the snow. I would worry more about ice on Lemark Col. I actually prefer snow on the Col vs. ice. Last time I came down it in late season it was a mess of melted out dirt (ball-bearing sand) on talus and hard ice. Years ago I went up it when it was totally snow covered and could kick good steps. Definitely take trekking poles.