My husband and I completed a 6-day trek from South Lake to North Lake starting July 22 and finishing July 27. We have a few years' experience backpacking in various parts of the Sierra -- north, south, east and west -- but this year's high snow and water volumes made it a very different experience for us! In addition to various multi-day trips, we completed the JMT in 2015 and TYT along the PCT in 2016, and needless to say, this year is drastically different.
Following is an overview of what we hope will be helpful to others traveling all or part of this route in the coming days/weeks.
CREEK CROSSINGS: All manageable, but some require extra care. Best bet is to try to time the larger crossings in the morning, when snowmelt is lower, and to remember to have 3 points of contact at all times (one foot and two trekking poles, or two feet and one trekking pole). Evolution Creek is doable either through the regular trail route (where water was at about knee height in the early afternoon -- but quite swift) or via the alternate meadow route (which requires two gentler but deeper crossings -- up to about 3' of depth). If opting for the meadow route and you are using creek-crossing shoes other than your regular hiking shoes, keep them on for a bit -- through the two main crossings and the muddy/boggy portions. By far, the wettest portion of S Lake>N Lake is the segment along Piute Creek from the South Fork of the San Joaquin to Humphreys Basin. This segment had about half a dozen significant crossings, 4-5 of which had us switching into our water-crossing shoes. Like the Evolution Creek meadow crossing, the Hutchinson Meadow area had so many small and medium sized tributaries and muddy/boggy portions that we simply stayed in our water shoes for a good 30 minutes as we negotiated our way through.
SNOW: All passes had snow, but Bishop and Piute had minimal snowfields that required no traction devices. Trekking poles highly recommended. As others have reported, Muir Pass still has a great deal of snow (about 3 miles on either side of the pass, making for 6+ miles of pretty solid coverage). We were very glad to have Microspikes and snow baskets for our trekking poles. The south (east) side had pretty much 100% snow coverage starting at 10,800'. There are boot tracks that are fairly easy to follow but it's a slog to get through. The other side has fairly solid coverage for a good 2 miles before becoming on-and-off by Sapphire Lake, and pretty much snow-free past Evolution Lake.
MOSQUITOES: Ever-present. The only place that was nearly mozzie-free was where the South Fork of the San Joaquin and Piute Creek met (elev. 8,050')
OTHER: 1) Wildflowers are stunning right now, particularly along Piute Creek up to Bishop Pass, and from the pass down to North Lake. 2) Equipment-wise, traction devices are still a good idea, though we certainly saw plenty of hikers going without. Your feet will get wet, both because of extended snow travel and numerous creek crossings. Be prepared, and be patient. Take your time and enjoy the challenging and spectacular conditions.
OUR CAMP LOCATIONS: 1) Dusy Basin; 2) Creek about 1.5 mi east of Helen Lake; 3) Evolution Lake (on rocky shelf, just past inlet); 4) near bridge at South Fork of San Joaquin River and Piute Creek; 5) Humphreys Basin, tree-covered slope near outlet of Humphreys Lakes.
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Questions and reports related to Sierra Nevada current and forecast conditions, as well as general precautions and safety information. Trail conditions, fire/smoke reports, mosquito reports, weather and snow conditions, stream crossing information, and more.
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