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TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

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TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby kpeter » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:40 pm

“A personal reflection on a loop backpack trip from South Lake”
copyright 2011 by Kenneth B. Peter

South Lake–North Lake–South Lake Loop. 7 days. July 27-August 2, 2011
68 miles. 4 passes: Table Mountain 11,600; Piute Pass 11,423; Muir Pass 11,955; Bishop Pass 11,972. Lowest point: Piute Trail/John Muir Trail intersection 8050.

For specific information about trail conditions see my post in the conditions updates:

Why I did this trip:

On previous pack trips I had been repeatedly into Sabrina Basin, once into Humphries Basin over Piute Pass, and once into Dusy Basin over Bishop Pass. I loved all these areas but had looked longingly at the areas just out of reach of my normal in-and-out pack trips. I’m 52 and realized I might not have many more years when I would be capable of a trip long enough to see the true heart of the Sierras. If I ever wanted to see Evolution Valley, Muir Pass, and the upper reaches of Le Conte canyon I would have to do a loop trip soon.

Why I included the Table Mountain segment:

Many backpackers do a North Lake to South Lake loop or the reverse. The idea of making it a complete circle loop came from a post here by Timberline in which he recounted fondly the trip over Table Mountain on what was, for him, the middle of a loop beginning at Florence Lake.
Thanks Timberline! I also disliked the uncertainty of hoping for a shuttle. The two short sections of road I had to hike were annoying but not disruptive–they each took less than an hour. And as you will see, I thought Tyee Lakes were definitely worth a day.

Day 1

For months I planned this trip–pestering the good people of High Sierra Topix with question after question, and losing twenty pounds though local hikes and urban walking to get into shape. Now finally the day had arrived. I got up early and drove from the Bay Area to Bishop, picked up my permit, and parked in the South Lake Trailhead by noon. I would much rather have had time to acclimate, but I could hardly afford to be away from my family for a full week as it was. I expected to be huffing and puffing for a couple of days and reminded myself to watch for signs of anything more dangerous.

I walked the road from the trailhead past Parcher’s Resort (1 mile) and down to the Tyee Lakes trailhead (2 miles).. It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny but cool, and the road disappeared under my feet in a mere forty minutes. I crossed the footbridge there over Bishop Creek and began the steep climb up to Tyee Lakes.

The trail to Tyee Lakes was pleasant but unremittingly steep. For someone coming from sea level and sporting a full pack, it was a challenge. I simply rested every couple of hundred yards. I was so elated to be out, though, that the repeated rests gave me all the more time to absorb the sights, sounds, and smells. There were many flowers out along the trail.

The main four Tyee Lakes are each at different elevations and each have different vegetation aspects. The first and second Tyee Lakes were pleasant enough. Both were very green lakes that looked like they might be good for fishing.
Second Tyee Lake

When I came to the outlet of the third lake I was impressed. It had a more mountainous backdrop.
Third Tyee Lake

The fourth lake, at 11,015, was much what I think of as a classic high Sierra lake. I camped there and took an after dinner stroll around the lake to the inlet side as the sun was setting. I was completely alone at this lake–an experience that I was not going to have again until the very end of the trip.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby kpeter » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:41 pm

Day Two

As I headed up the switchbacks to take me over Table Mountain, the early morning sun was flattering to the lake I left behind.
Looking back on the Fourth Tyee Lake

Gradually the trail came out on top, straightened out, and disappeared under a huge snowbank. Table Mountain was a mass of flowers.
Table Mountain

Flowers on Table Mountain

It looked like a very fun place come and just wander.

I followed the snowbank for quite some time before deciding that I had better cut over it to get to the route to George Lake. It was my first experience walking over late season sun cups–a tiny little taste of things to come. Once over the snow bank I wandered cross country not finding the trail again for some time. But as I dropped down in elevation a short ways, George Lake came into sight, and walking parallel with the canyon brought me back to the trail. This was the most primitive trail of the whole circuit-getting relatively little traffic and maintenance. It began a long series of short switchbacks across decomposed granite down to George Lake.

I spent little time and developed little impression of George Lake. The meadows and pond below it were lovely, and it was a nice woodsy trail for a mile or so along its outlet stream.
Pond and meadows below George lake

Then the trail began dropping steeply to Sabrina and I saw the Sabrina basin from a different angle than I had on my many trips up to Blue lake, with the cascades across the basin visible for much of the way down. Rejoining the Sabrina basin trail halfway along the lake, I walked back to the Sabrina trailhead. There are some sections of trail along Sabrina lake where you can always count on wet environment flowers, and this time was no exception. After emerging at the trailhead, I stopped in the Sabrina campground for water and had lunch.

Now came one of the low points of the trip–the walk up the North Lake Road. This day was hot, and tromping up the steep, shadeless road had me questioning my sanity in not hiring a shuttle. This was not nearly as easy as the other two road miles yesterday. Almost no traffic passed me, and I did make it to the welcome shade of the North Lake campground (and trailhead) in about an hour. There I cooled my feet and took on more water before heading up the Piute Pass trail.

I had been over Piute Pass and explored Humphries Basin before, and so my goal for today was simply to get over the pass and camp somewhere in the upper reaches of the basin. That was not to be. I had already had a substantial hike, a demoralizing road leg, and I was still not acclimated. The hike up Piute Canyon, though, was more spectacular than I had remembered it. More water and more snow made the place much greener and more picturesque.
Cascades on North Fork Bishop Creek, coming from Piute Lake

The spectacular inlet cascades into Loch Leven thrilled me again, but I just ran out of steam at Piute Lake. There I found an excellent campsite, put on my bugnet, and watched the sunset.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby kpeter » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:42 pm

Day Three
Sunrise at Piute Lake

I was up early and hiked the short distance to Piute Pass by eight in the morning. There was a little snow but it had been groomed by the horse packers.
In Piute pass, Piute lakes behind

I knew it would be a long day, so I wasted little time in getting down the other side into Humphries Basin. A flood of memories from an earlier trip spent there came to me, and I looked longingly over at my old haunts as I bypassed them. The basin looked far less desolate than the last time I was there, perhaps because of the water, snow, and greenery that came from general sogginess.

Other than a couple of stream crossings, Humphries Basin zipped by quickly on the relatively level trail and I soon started dropping into forest and the upper reaches of Piute Canyon–new territory for me.
Humphries Basin with the namesake mountain

At first I thought the trail rather ordinary–a long walk without much of a view through the trees and away from the comforting music of a stream. But soon enough the trail returned to Piute Creek and I began to enjoy the walk more.
Flowers near Hutchinson Meadow

The weather, however, began to cloud over and I found myself wading through Hutchinson Meadows with puffballs bouncing off my hat. It was there that a hiker crossing in the opposite direction greeted me, noticed that he wore the same model of Tilly hat as I did, and told me he was on his fifth. “Everytime I wear one out I just send it back and they replace it for free” he said, but he cautioned me that they would no longer made the white version. What an odd accumulation of conversational snippets we pick up on the trail!

For the rest of the day the weather was ominous and I was concerned to get down the trail and find a place to camp. I crossed the infamous West Pinnacles Creek with a lot less anxiety than I had expected. I suppose I had imagined that with that hurdle out of the way I would simply stroll into camp. But it was still a few miles before Goddard Canyon. What looked on the map to be a long downhill run actually did a surprising amount of “up,” going very high above Piute Creek to avoid cliffs.
Trail above Piute Creek in lower Piute Canyon

Eventually it came back down to the stream and the trees got large–first Ponderosas and then even some thick trunked Douglass fir, I believe. The rain was turning everything slick and I slowed to a crawl to be very sure of footing. Even so, I slipped on a root and landed in a mud puddle–my only real fall of the entire trip. I think it shows that at all the dangerous points I focused my attention and stayed safe. The slip came in a very ordinary place and when I least expected it.

Finally I came around a bend and saw a large steel truss bridge over the creek. I nearly cheered. I crossed it and officially entered Kings Canyon National Park.
The welcome bridge at the John Muir Trail/Piute Trail intersection

This was the intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail and the Piute Pass trail (that I had just come down.) It was also the confluence of Piute Creek and the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. It was also the lowest elevation point of the trip, at 8050 feet. I had worried when planning the trip that it would be a hot, low hole and I had not looked forward to it. It turned out to be a wonderful camping area. Big Ponderosas, no mosquitoes, and no more rain.
Delightful campsite

And no more solitude. People camped every twenty feet or so. I had always known intellectually that backpacking on a popular trail like the JMT was not at all the experience of solitude I had come to expect when my father took me into the Idaho wilderness. But now I was beginning to experience something quite different. The people here were a kind of ad hoc community with intersecting interests and intersecting paths. These folks got to know each other, exchanged trail information, and socialized as they leapfrogged each other up and down the trail.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby kpeter » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:45 pm

Day Four

The early hike along the San Joaquin River was exhilarating, passing by as the river rushed through the steep gorge.
The South Fork of the San Joaquin in Goddard Canyon

The trail crossed back to the west side on another truss bridge and moved into a forested area well back from the river, and adjacent to a smaller creek. It was here that I began to see some drowned rats crawling out of their camps. Apparently yesterday’s storm had been a deluge here, making one of the side streams impassable, and causing some of them to set up camp hastily in their meager tarp-tents. I waded the stream, took on water, and met my first PCT through hiker. His trail name is Hiker Guy and he has a barebones website:
where family and fans can watch his progress north from Mexico. He was generous with his time and chatted with me about Muir pass and the campsites ahead. I was learning that many more people were moving in my direction–from north to south–than in the direction of the PCT through hikers–south to north. So people coming from ahead on the trail–like Hiker Guy–were a valuable resource of information.

[Note to those not familiar with the reasons for this odd arrangement. There are a great many people who hike the length of the John Muir Trail each year. The trail ends on top of Mt. Whitney. Permits to climb Whitney are carefully rationed from the close southern approach, but not from the north. So almost all JMT hikers come from the North so they can climb Whitney at the end of their hike without a special permit. Pacific Crest Trail through hikers (going from Mexico to Canada) always go from south to north–because there is much less snow in southern California and they can thus get an earlier start than Washington state.]

The trail came to a key intersection–where you could continue up Goddard canyon or begin to climb out of it up Evolution Creek. The JMT/PCT both follow Evolution Creek and I did too. The switchbacks were impressive and the views got better and better–looking directly across the canyon at a stream making a series of falls and cascades down several thousand feet. Meanwhile, on my side of the canyon, Evolution Creek was sliding down and over the smooth polished granite to the north of the trail. Each streamside switchback gave a fresh view of the spray and splash.
Evolution Creek as it begins to descend from Evolution Valley

While resting at one such switchback and admiring the view and the spray, I had an odd encounter. Up the trail trudged a young man with earphones in his ears. I greeted him and said “hello” but he never even looked up. He was appreciating his music, but was oblivious to the music of the waterfall beside him.

Finally the switchbacks were over and the trail followed the streamside. Only now could I feel the force of this water. We had a very heavy snow year and a very late melt, and Evolution Creek was carrying an enormous amount of water–though it was actually well off its peak. The trail came to the ford of Evolution Creek. There the water spread out knee deep over about 50 feet. While now safe for hikers, an even safer crossing lay further upstream in the meadow, and I took the conservative option and crossed there.

Both at the crossing and all the way along in Evolution Valley I realized that I was in a magical place.
Evolution Valley just before the storm

The meadow was broad and green with a crystal clear serpentine stream running through it, and reminded me in that way some of Lyell Canyon in Yosemite. But this meadow is framed by enormous snow capped peaks that give it an extremely impressive backdrop. In the heart of the valley is a ranger station, where hikers sign in at a trail log and pick up weather reports and official trail information. The weather reports called for afternoon rain showers for a few days.

While I read the weather reports, it began to rain. This partly spoiled the photography but the light drizzle was not enough to stop the hiking. As a result, I hiked through a very picturesque valley without properly seeing it. When the drizzle threatened to become a major storm, I set up camp. It was only early afternoon and I had hoped to reach Evolution Lake today, but instead I stopped just before the trail began to climb out of the valley at the 10,000 foot line. I put up my tent and crawled in as the deluge began, and emerged a few hours later to get dinner only to discover several other hikers had joined me.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby kpeter » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:46 pm

Day Five

This was going to be the day I hiked over Muir Pass, perhaps the most famous hiking spot in the Sierras–the 12,000 foot pass with the stone hut dedicated to John Muir and built by the Sierra Club in 1930. But I had been warned that it would be a strenuous trudge over several miles of badly sun-cupped snow, and there were many reasons for getting to the pass early. First, I did not want to be in the pass when the predicted afternoon storm began, and second, the snow was much harder in the morning and therefore provided safer and less taxing footing.

So up at 4:00am, I broke camp by flashlight and was hiking up the trail at first light at 5:30. The day began gloriously. Up a set of switchbacks to Evolution Lake at 10852. A cheerful morning rainbow greeted me–but proved to be a harbinger of things to come.
Rainbow from Evolution Lake outlet

Evolution Lake was lovely and I enviously looked at the nice campsites at the outlet end I could have stayed in had I not been forced off the trail early by the storm yesterday. The trail skirted the length of the lake and crossed a few snowbanks before coming to the inlet to the lake, which one had to ford.
Evolution Lake very early in the morning

By now I had forded a dozen streams and would ford a dozen more. Each operation was time consuming but the routine got more and more mechanical and efficient as the trip wore on. Off with the boots and socks. On with the Crocs. Tie the boots together and clip them to the pack. Extend the hiking poles. Wrap the camera in a plastic bag and zip it inside its case. Load up. Wade the icy water, probing ahead with the sticks. When across, find a place to sit. Use my packtowel to dry the feet. On with the boots and socks. Downsize the poles. Clip the Crocs to the pack. And go. I resented the twenty minutes or so each crossing took at first, but later in the trip I often used the occasions to replenish water, have a snack, and take a rest.

Evolution Creek at the inlet was forded uneventfully.

From this point forward there was more and more snow. Mostly I stayed off of it until halfway around the next lake–Sapphire–which I found very beautiful.
Evolution Creek just below Sapphire Lake

Sapphire Lake

After Sapphire, however, it became almost solid snow all the way to the next lake in the chain–Wanda.
Snow from Sapphire to Wanda

The snow was deeply cupped from the peculiar pattern by which it melts. If you could follow the path that someone else had taken previously they might have broken down the walls of the cups and made for a relatively level path. But if you set out on your own it was infinitely harder–like having to step over or on top of a two foot wall with every step.

The real trail–the one hidden under the snow–crosses the creek again at the outlet end of Wanda Lake. I did too, with one last more wade through recent snowmelt. As I came up alongside Wanda Lake I was stunned by the view. The lake was still almost entirely frozen. It was also well above tree line, but also above bush line and nearly above small-tufts-of-grass line. With the sky rapidly greying over it felt like I was in Antarctica--an intense feeling of desolation and loneliness–a kind of stark beauty in black and white nearly the opposite of the cheerful greens and blues of Evolution Valley the previous morning.

The pass was visible to the southeast, but was already filled with angry clouds. It was only 11:00 but the thunder started. As I walked along the lake I worried that it was unsafe to cross the pass in these conditions but I was reluctant to hike back down the snow to find a campsite. And then, right in front of me, was a bare island of rock in the sea of snow and ice. And in the middle of this island of rock was a perfect, level, well-drained gravel tent pad. I stopped and stared at it. And in fifteen minutes I had my tent pitched perfectly and all my gear tucked away against the storm. And in sixteen minutes the hail began.

I spent the next three hours inside that little tent, cozy and warm, while being entertained by the racket that the hail and driving rain were making. The glacial till that I was on drained spectacularly well–the water just disappeared into the ground never to be seen again. It was an oddly satisfying feeling. Pitching a tiny tent at 11,400 feet on a small patch of bare ground--and being entertained rather than threatened by the elements.
My island of refuge at Wanda Lake

The sun came out about 4:00, too late for me to try to make the pass, but early enough to dry out and enjoy the evening.
Blue sky makes an appearance at Wanda

I noticed that I was no longer alone. Two other groups had struggled in during the storm and found other places to camp. One group was down at the outlet–where there was maybe a ½ acre of open water showing. They seemed to be catching fish. Another larger group was further along the lake than I was and had set up a small tent city in what looked like uncomfortably rocky terrain. In time I would meet both these groups. The sunset was spectacular, with views all around the basin.
Sunset at Wanda looking toward Muir Pass

I slept soundly and resolved to head for the pass at first light.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby kpeter » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:46 pm

Day Six

I was hiking by 5:30 am today, determined to get across the pass before any storm could interfere. I donned my “microspikes,” probably the best invention in snow travel since hiking poles. Much less awkward and heavy than crampons, these give the bottoms of your boots six small stainless steel spikes and are held in place not by complicated straps but by a single, massive, super strong rubber band. They are at their most effective when walking on hard, icy surfaces, since the smallish spikes bite into the ice. With microspikes on icy snow you can walk almost normally. When the snow gets mushy enough then the spikes don’t hold much better than anything else, and you can slip and slide. Later yet in the day your legs break through the snow with each step and the exertion and risk of a sprained knee go way up. This is called “postholing”.

As I hiked around Wanda Lake to get ready for the final trek up to the pass I passed through the “tent city” I had seen the previous night. It turned out to be a group of about ten South Korean teenagers–young men and young women--all well equipped and sporting matching hats and snow uniforms. I saw they were packing up and said a few pleasantries. I mentioned that I was old and slow, and they should feel free to pass me and I would see them at the top.

I followed–for the most part–previous sets of tracks toward the pass and made good progress. One thing I learned is that snow travel is direct–there were no switchbacks.
The pass across Lake McDermand

The trudge up the snow trail toward the pass

As the incline in the pass got steep I slowed down, but I still felt very good. I was fully acclimated, my pack was lighter, and I had just had a weather-imposed short day to help me rest. As I paused to survey the route behind me I saw the Korean kids marching up the incline, single file, at a furiously fast clip.

Not thinking much of it I continued and made good progress for another fifteen minutes or so. Again turning around I saw that the Korean kids had gained enormous ground on me and I began to think I might have to step aside off the trodden path to let them pass me before I reached the top. While I probably had a 45 minute head start on them, I reached the pass about five minutes before they did, and I will always wonder if my pleasantries at the bottom came across as a challenge to race to the top.

I was the first person to reach Muir pass on that day. But when I got there I found several tents of people who had come up the previous day and used the Muir hut to get out of the storm–exactly what it was intended for. Soon the Korean kids were up too and there were close to 20 people gathered at the Muir hut.
International gathering at Muir hut

I was the only American–there were the Koreans, but also Germans, a Spaniard, and two others speaking a language I did not recognize. I mentioned to a young couple what a beautiful sunrise they must have seen from the pass and they replied that they missed it. Then they laughed a little. I did not inquire what they might have been doing to miss a sunrise at 12,000 feet, but they seemed quite happy.

The Korean kids arrived and practiced their English on me and when they found out I was from California they began asking questions. I gave an impromptu five minute lecture to a few of them on John Muir and the Sierra Club and they had me pose for pictures with them.

The hut itself was quite interesting and has a kind of beehive design. It was hard to believe that it was 81 years old and had survived in that incredibly harsh environment all that time, and still saw daily (though obviously seasonal) use.
With reluctance I headed down the far side of the pass towards Helen Lake at 8:00. This side was much steeper and I was glad that I had ascended on the more gradual side. Without snow–when you use trail switchbacks–it would not have mattered. It was not particularly dangerous, though, and soon I was down to Helen Lake.

Here a major decision had to be made. The trail crosses the outlet to Helen Lake and follows the outlet stream down to the next lake on the north side of the stream. The little canyon carved by the stream fills with snow and erases the trail, and so early in the season many hikers choose to hike on a steep snowslope high above the stream on the south bank instead. I was not keen to do this, since the risk of a fall without an ice axe was serious–the bottom of the snow slope ended in a snow cornice and a plunge into the rocky stream. As I contemplated the comparative safety of the two routes, the Korean kids zipped past me and took the high snowy route.
The South Korean contingent

Later-when I eventually got to the bottom- I saw they had traversed the high route and set up a long glissade to reach the bottom as if they were enjoying a playground slide.

Fortunately for me the regular trail route was beginning to open up. Crossing the stream at the outlet did not even require wading–just minor rock hopping, and the trail was visible in many patches on the way down. I worked my way down, over snow and trail alternatively, and waded a few streams (which others crossed on snow bridges.) It took me a little time but I had made it over one of the bigger physical challenges in my life and I had arrived safely in the upper reaches of Le Conte Canyon. And the day was not yet even half over.

While I had holed up in my tent during the previous day’s storm I had read some of Le Conte’s journal. Le Conte was one of the faculty (chemistry, geology, and medicine) brought west in 1869 to help organize the University of California, and he toured the Sierras in 1870 with John Muir and others. I was intrigued to see the canyon named after him. Wow. The upper reaches of Le Conte canyon–at least this year–are filled with an extensive web of falls, cascades, and waterworks.
Streamside trail in the upper reaches of Le Conte canyon

Sadly I was passing through at the wrong time of day for good photography, but it seemed at every corner there was an amazing rush of water through a confined place. As the canyon opened up and the Middle Fork of the Kings River gathered force there were awesome displays of spray as the river slid over and crashed into the steeply inclined granite slabs.
Middle Fork of the Kings River picks up power

Eventually I worked my way down into the more placid parts of the canyon, where there were numerous old campsites and meadows.
Le Conte Canyon begins to open

One of the many meadows in Le Conte Canyon

Flowers in Le Conte Canyon

Coming up behind me was one of my campsite companions from Evolution Meadow, a young, tall fellow from Southern California. We chatted, I wished him well, and he went on ahead. As I came up to the next stream crossing I was just in time to watch him slip on a log and tumble into the water. I got into my wading gear as quickly as I could and tried to reach him, but by that time he had already sloshed his way to the other side and it was clear he was not hurt. He did lose a hiking pole. I took extra care and waded that crossing, as I always did when I had a choice between logs and safe wading.

From time to time, as I walked south now in Le Conte Canyon, I could see massive glaciated granite walls highly reminiscent of Yosemite. Still, the canyon was heavily forested and I could not quite tell what was there. That would soon change.

Finally I reached the intersection of the JMT and the Bishop Pass trail. Here I would leave all the through hikers behind and begin to crawl up out of this deep canyon and over Bishop Pass to complete the loop and head home. My goal was to get partway up the canyon today so that hiking out to the car tomorrow would be a reasonable proposition. As I chugged up the switchbacks I began to see the canyon walls and surrounding mountains I had been missing from the bottom of the forested canyon. What a view! And how sad that the through hikers would never see it this way. Domes, polished granite, waterfalls–I had only ever seen such a vista in Yosemite before. This vista included snow capped peaks for good measure.

Meanwhile, on my side of the canyon, Dusy Creek came sliding down long polished granite sheets like a waterslide. A deadly waterslide if one should ever leave the trail to reach it–but a beautiful sight.
Dusy Creek rushes by as the Bishop Pass trail climbs out of Le Conte Canyon

Eventually I reached the infamous Dusy stream crossing and decided it was challenging enough to stop for the night rather than to cross it when I was tired. I found a delightful camp with a penthouse view of the western wall of Le Conte canyon and enjoyed my last night in the wilderness.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby kpeter » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:47 pm

Day Seven
Switchback on the Bishop Pass trail as it climbs out of Le Conte Canyon

Looking at the West wall of LeConte Canyon

The last day. My thoughts began to turn more and more to my family, although surprisingly not so much to the creature comforts of home. Crossing Dusy Creek proved to be a straightforward wade once I found precisely the best spot, and a major load of anxiety was lifted. Climbing another set of switchbacks led to a bridge crossing back across Dusy Creek immediately below a massive cascade, and then another set of switchbacks led out over the lip of the canyon and into lower Dusy Basin.

Lower Dusy was awash with lush green grasses and babbling streams set against the now familiar backdrop of jagged skylines swathed in snow.
Lower Dusy Basin

As I came along the trail I startled a group camped by the side who were having their breakfast and they invited me over for coffee. It seems in the backcountry that nearly everyone is friendlier than in “civilized” settings. I thanked them for the offer but moved along. Home was beckoning. Maybe as I approached exit my own friendliness was waning.

Soon I began to get into territory I had explored years before on a trip with friends into Dusy Basin.
Upper Dusy Basin

As I climbed higher I found the campsite we had used seven years before, looking precisely to me as it did then. There is something comforting and stable about the wilderness. If I returned to a house I vacated seven years earlier the chances are high that the new owners would have transformed it in some objectionable way.

Reaching Bishop Pass uneventfully, I turned my back on heart of the Sierra and began the climb down into the lovely chain of lakes that would accompany me almost all the way to my car. Bishop Lake, Saddlerock Lake, Long Lake, and finally South Lake.
Looking from near Bishop Pass at the chain of lakes below

A wonderful basin to explore, especially with children, with many easy hikes to lakes hidden short distances off the main trail. Now I began to meet many day hikers who politely looked at my grizzled face and asked if I had been out long? Now I began to notice the perfumes and scented shampoos and soaps that the dayhikers exuded. And of course I began to realize that they were smelling something very different when I passed them by: the accretion of seven days of sunscreen, mosquito repellant, sweat and grime. For the first time I felt dirty.

But there was one more odd sight to be had. A group of horsepackers were excavating the trail through a couple of ten foot snowbanks. I surmised that their business had been ruined by the heavy snow and that they were trying to open the trail to their stock at least a little ways. But after hiking over five miles of snow it seemed pathetic to see grown men hacking at a minor snowbank with garden shovels.

South Lake

Then, after a very long, steady, straight downhill walk to reach the shore of South Lake, a sudden flight of granite steps at the very end–just as if the wilderness were saying it would not release me without one more sacrifice. And at the top of the steps–the parking lot, with my car waiting to speed me home.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Thu Aug 04, 2011 8:54 am

Thanks for the report and photos. We were supposed to do this trip in reverse this year, with some crosscountry off the JMT, but we'll do it next year. And I look forward to it all the more now that I've seen your photos.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby Turtleggjp » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:42 am

I enjoyed it very much too. My mom and I did that in reverse last year, with a layover day (if you can call it that) to dayhike up to Martha Lake up at the top of Goddard Canyon (Beautiful, highly recommended!).

Do you happen to have any photos looking from Muir Pass over to Black Giant (South side of the pass)? My mom and I were planning to leave from Florence lake next Tuesday (August 9), camp at Wanda Lake, and climb Black Giant and possibly Mt Solomons too. Your earlier post in the backcountry conditions thread changed our minds, and we will be doing something less ambitions now. I was just curious to see what it looked like to verify we made the right choice. Thanks.

Here's mine from last year:

Black Giant from Muir Pass, August 2 2010 (Last Year)

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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby Rockyroad » Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:04 pm

Thanks for the detailed report and wonderful photos. I will be doing the N-S loop in 1 1/2 weeks and your TR is very helpful. I'm glad you were able to safely cross the rivers. I'm hoping they will look less menacing during my trip. Do you think there will be any benefit from microspikes in a week and a half? Thanks again.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby kpeter » Thu Aug 04, 2011 2:58 pm

Turtleggjp, I did not take a picture of Black Giant per se, but I do have one shot looking back in that general direction from close to Helen Lake. Not sure if it will help you but here it is:
Looking in the general direction of Muir Pass from Helen Lake

Rockyroad, most people right now did not use microspikes and did just fine--I was the oddball. They are easy to put on and take off (unlike crampons) but even so it gets to be a pain when you are alternating a lot between snow and rock. I probably would not bother in 10 days.

A lot would depend on when you are hiking. If you are hiking when the snow is very soft--from late morning on--then they would not do you much good anyway. If you are hiking when the snow is very hard--early morning--then I wouldn't walk without them. But in 10 days the amount of snow involved will be dramatically diminshed.
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Re: TR: South Lake to North Lake to South Lake complete loop

Postby maverick » Thu Aug 04, 2011 3:18 pm

Thank you Kpeter for taking the time for writing up this in depth TR, and posting
marvelous photo's.
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