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Bishop Pass/Dusy Basin/ Muir Pass/Evolution Basin Late June

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Bishop Pass/Dusy Basin/ Muir Pass/Evolution Basin Late June

Postby cgundersen » Tue Jul 12, 2011 11:06 am

Maybe some photos by next week, for now, here's the scoop in print:
June 23rd to July 3rd: With jobs at UCLA and the school year ending in mid-June, my wife and I often can barely make it past graduation before heading for the Sierra. June trips can have ups and downs. The ups are few other folks in the back country and generally the bugs are just waking up. The downs can include capricious weather, high water and variable snow conditions. Typically, we fare pretty well in snow and for many routes we’ve found that snow can be preferable to scree/talus. And, it’s invariably better to fall in snow than rock. With the snow level this year, our trip boiled down to the daily search for enough dirt to pitch a tent. Our original goal was to go in via Bishop Pass and Le Conte Canyon to explore some of the lakes on either side of the Black Giant (Maverick had posted some enticing photos of Ladder and Hester a couple years ago). But, the snow level forced us to improvise. We hit solid snow about a mile up the Bishop Pass trail and only found decent patches of open ground at the lower end of Dusy Basin. With the huge snow, Dusy was as pretty as I’ve ever seen it, so we killed a day wandering around Dusy before heading down to the JMT and up Le Conte canyon. At most, a couple sets of footprints preceded us over Bishop Pass and continued down the Dusy trail. So, even though the Ranger issuing us the Wilderness Permit thought we would be the first to leave tracks up there, this was not the case. And, I like to think that those early birds were also the ones who nicely set up cairns marking “plausible” (but, still a bit harrowing) spots to make the lower creek crossing below the Dusy bridge. The normal trail crossing was still a mess of downed trees and very high flow and getting across was tricky on both occasions. With a JMT trail crew camped in lower Dusy (on our return trip), I’m hoping they may have cleared some of the debris. Regardless, we hit open trail from the Dusy hillside up to about 9,700 ft in Le Conte Canyon, and then it was a full winter’s blanket up to Muir Pass and beyond. Our 3rd night was a hardscrabble spot on a ridge ~500 ft below Lake Helen. By the time we returned, most of the snow in this area had melted! But, for the entire 4th day we were in a “snow desert” up over Muir Pass, but we did find another campsite on an exposed ridge above Sapphire Lake. Whereas JMT/PCT through hikers had stayed largely on a single track up to Muir Pass, on the North side, they spread out on the vast snowfields leading down to Wanda. I’d estimate roughly that about 2 dozen folks had rambled through there. I can only imagine the snow pack they’d encountered on Forester, Glen, Mather, etc! Anyway, we’d decided to try to head into Mc Gee Basin, but as we reached the ridge between Evolution Basin and McGee our one weird weather event kicked in. For 24h we got increasing clouds, high winds (gusts easily exceeding 60 mph) and just what we needed: a little more snow(~2 inches). As fast as the system blew in, it blew out, but we stayed put on the ridge above Mc Gee before descending into the basin for nights 7 & 8. I think we found the only dry dirt at the lower end of McGee, but it was gorgeous and the canyon was pristine! Not wanting to risk crossing Evolution Creek, we back-tracked to Evolution Basin and tried to find a campsite in the canyon below Darwin but there was nothing open. So, we traversed into the basin below Haeckel and found a great spot above the lowest (still frozen) lake. This site had great views of Mt. Huxley and the surrounding terrain. In addition to a fabulous alpenglow display, we were treated to a series of smooth granite basins that had captured snowmelt and were warmed by the day’s piercing sun. The warmest “pond” (maybe 20 inches deep) had hit ~70o F and felt like heaven to a couple of grimy hikers. I’ve had few Sierra bathing experiences that surpassed this one. Getting squeaky clean whilst surrounded by white-out conditions is hard to describe. The next day we gave my wife’s re-built knee (2 surgeries to repair 3 ligaments and the meniscus after a bicycle accident) the acid test. We clambered up the seemingly endless snow to Fiske col and hit a little bit of exposed boulder at the top. I’ve studied Fiske col from the South and it looked OK, but with snow constraining our descent, it took me a couple hours to sort out a way to manage the first 150 ft down. Once that was done, it would have been easier if the snow had not turned to mush, but we still managed to glissade down and find the obligatory patch of gravel to pitch the tent above Lake Helen. More importantly, my wife’s knee had performed flawlessly. WOW! Kudos to the surgeon and relentless rehab! Even a week after we’d passed through this area, there was no sign of any clearing beyond Black Giant Pass, and I’m guessing it will be late July before the lakes open up in that area. And, although there had been significant clearing on the lower JMT, there was still solid snow from a little over 10,000ft to Muir Pass. Where the snow had melted, summer conditions had kicked in almost immediately. Shooting stars and even some paintbrush were flowering. Columbine was getting there. And, our last night in Dusy presaged the obvious: a few mosquitoes were prowling and by now, I’d guess they’re thick! But, we also saw a trio of young elk in lower Dusy and I’ve only encountered elk up high a couple other times. They make the usual mule deer look tiny by comparison! The lowest lake in Dusy was open and the trail was open for several hundred yards in lower Dusy, but still lotsa snow up to the Pass on July 3rd.
A few comments: aside from the one odd day, we had spectacular weather throughout the trip and some of the best alpenglow I’ve seen in years. The snow obviously kept the temps cooler, but where the snow has melted, the plants and animals are VERY happy. I’m guessing it’ll be a great year for flowers and bugs. Perhaps owing to the rangers’ admonitions, there were few folks in Dusy or even on the South Lake side of Bishop Pass when we came out. Seriously, it’s gorgeous up there, and if you time the snow right, you can get a lot of hiking done before it’s too mushy.

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Re: Bishop Pass/Dusy Basin/ Muir Pass/Evolution Basin Late June

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 12, 2011 11:39 am

Thanks CG for the detailed TR, and will be waiting for those photo's with great
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Re: Bishop Pass/Dusy Basin/ Muir Pass/Evolution Basin Late June

Postby windknot » Tue Jul 12, 2011 1:22 pm

Thanks for the report, and I too am looking forward to your pictures. I was in Dusy Basin last year at the beginning of July as well, and the high snow levels in the basin at that time (though probably not nearly as high as they are right now) made for some gorgeous views.
A few backcountry fishing pictures:
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