2011 Bishop North Lake to South Lake

Description: 9 day solo on the classic route from Bishop’s North Lake to South Lake passing through Humphries Basin, Evolution Valley, Evolution Basin, and Dusy Basin.

Day 0:

After picking up my permit at the Mono Lake ranger station and stopping at Whoa Deli Nelli for a steak sandwich dinner, I drove on to Mammoth Lakes for the night to acclimate. This would be the longest trip I had ever attempted and probably the heaviest my backpack had been in a long time. I struggled to breathe going up a single flight of stairs at the motel with the pack.

Day 1:

At Bishop’s South Lake, I managed to hitch a ride from a fellow backpacker to the North Lake trailhead. Since this was a heavy snow year, I was apprehensive about the log crossings over flowing streams. I’ve never had much confidence in my balance, especially with a heavy backpack. At the first creek, I waited for a family, on their way out, to go first. Watching their young boy, about 7 or 8 years old, cross the log with ease gave me encouragement to do the same. With the first creek crossing over with I continued on to Piute Lake to set up camp.

Stunning scenery on the trail from North Lake

Piute Lake

Sunset at Piute Lake

Day 2:

Today’s hiking day was short, giving me a chance to rest and acclimate further. I crossed over Piute Pass, where I encountered the first snow patch of the trip, into Humphries Basin. This looked like a nice place for cross country exploring and I made a mental note to put this on my list for future trips. I arrived at Hutchinson Meadows early, swatted a few pesky mosquitos, fished for brookies from Piute Creek, and just tried to kill time while wishing I had continued hiking for another hour or two.

Piute Pass 11,423 ft

Upper Golden Trout Lakes from Piute Pass

Piute Creek

Dinner Companion

Day 3:

This year’s heavy and late snow season resulted in swollen rivers and creeks even into late August. Today’s trail followed the often raging Piute Creek downstream for a little over 5 miles to the bridge into Kings Canyon. From there, the trail paralleled the powerful south fork of the San Joaquin upstream. My own water ran low about 2 miles from Evolution Valley but I decided against stopping to filter. This was one of those learning experiences as the final ascent to Evolution Meadows became more difficult with an empty water bottle. I explored the area looking for a good campsite and had to backtrack to settle on an overused patch of dirt. The only advantage of this site was that it was large and had good access to the river. I was tired, my appetite was low, and the mosquitoes were swarming so I got in the tent early.

Piute Creek

Piute Creek

Bridge between John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon

South Fork of San Joaquin

The trail crosses this river. Current is deceptively strong.

Days 4,5:

From Evolution Meadows, I passed McClure Meadows and Colby Meadows and met up with another hiker who was doing a yo-yo trip from Florence Lake to Whitney and back. He slowed down to hike with me but continued ahead as I negotiated across a network of streams. I took the detour to Darwin Bench and after an early wrong turn, I found a worn use trail. The Darwin Bench area was as exquisite as I had heard. Further east was Darwin Canyon and Lamarck Col, a shorter route to and from North Lake. From my campsite, I had a picturesque view over Evolution Valley, directly across from the prominent Hermit. I settled in for 2 days to explore the area.

The next day included a hike towards Darwin Canyon. However, I returned early when dark clouds threatened rain and I had forgotten to pack my jacket. Back at camp, I met a JMT thru-hiker whose prior longest backpacking trip was only 4 days. He planned to take his time on this trip which included an excursion to Ionian Basin. I had dinner with two climbers, Gerard and Jeremy, who set up camp nearby. They both looked hungry after their small ravioli meal and happily accepted my offer of the remaining portion of my Mt House beef stroganoff, which was really too much for me. They were forced to pack light (minimal food) because of the weight of their climbing gear. Jeremy was informed by his wife just before this trip that she was expecting and Gerard had planned to pick some flowers for his girlfriend’s birthday. Both had planned to get up early to climb the hill next to our tent and travel the ridge along Mt Mendal to Mt Darwin. I had hoped to wake up to see them off in the morning. As the sun was setting, I scrambled around to take sunset pictures.

McClure Meadow

McClure Meadow

View from Darwin Bench

Darwin Bench campsite facing SW

Facing NW

Facing SE, magnificent all around

Nature's infinity pool

Beautiful golden trout

Sunset over Evolution Valley. Evolution Lake visible on left.

Day 6:

Predawn, I briefly woke to what sounded like shuffling noises but fell back asleep. By the time I woke and was able to think clearly, I looked up the mountain but saw no signs of Gerard and Jeremy, though it was still fairly dark. I packed up and followed the “trail” back to the JMT which passed the beautiful Evolution Lake. Rather than stop at Sapphire Lake as I had originally planned, I continued on, pass froggy Wanda Lake to consider camping at Lake McDermand, just below the ascent to Muir Hut. But Lake McDermand was a desolate place and with Muir Hut visible up the hill, I was not able to stay. So I continued on. At Muir Hut, a pair I met at Evolution Lake and I congratulated and took photos of each other. Shortly after, a JMT thru-hiker from Scotland, who I met on the trail earlier in the day, arrived. He didn’t show much excitement at Muir pass and continued on without much interest in the hut. There was much more snow on the other side of the pass so I made my way down slowly. I found the perfect campsite by a tarn next to Helen Lake. Here I also saw the most wildlife: a pika, killdeer and surprisingly a hummingbird, that was attracted to the red patch on my sleeping bag.

Evolution Lake

Pools before Sapphire Lake

Pools between Sapphire and Wanda Lakes

Muir Hut / Muir Pass "just" up the hill

Slowly getting closer to Muir Hut

Looking back down north from Muir Pass at Wanda Lake and Lake McDermand

Muir Hut on top of Muir Pass at 11,955 ft

Muir Hut

More snow on south side of Muir Pass, Helen Lake below

Descending through the snowfield

My most memorable campsite

Nice reflection

Excellent view from my tent

I followed this Killdeer for a while, trying to get a good photo

This pika was posing for me

Day 7:

Continuing down the JMT, the landscape changed dramatically as I descended 3000 ft into LeConte Canyon. I started looking for campsites at Big and then Little Pete Meadows but wasn’t interested in a forested, mosquitoed site. Passing the LeConte Canyon ranger station and the trail towards Dusy Basin, I found a nice campsite uphill just before the bridge at the Palisade Creek Junction. Water was accessible at the creek under the bridge. Several small trout could also be seen here but I left them alone.


Ice crystals on surface of lake

Morning calm

Suncup trail

Start of descent east of Helen Lake

Hike or glissade?

Pool fed by waterfalls below the Black Giant

Entering LeConte Valley

Little Pete Meadow

Campsite near the Palisade Creek Junction

Day 8:

I started early the next morning to complete most of the exposed climb out of the valley before the sun was in full force. The lower elevation of Dusy was very lush with inviting streams. I stopped for lunch at appealing Lake 10742 but camped at another lake off the trail. The immediate area was windy and rocky with very little vegetation. I climbed the ridge to view lake 11388.

Looking back down at LeConte Canyon from the trail to Dusy Basin

Dusy Basin

More Dusy Basin

Lake 10742

Even more Dusy Basin with Columbine Peak to the left and Giraud Peak on right


Dusy Basin campsite

Isosceles Peak, aptly named

Day 9:The next day, I ascended the trail to Bishop Pass to eventually exit at South Lake. The trail coming down from the pass was very rocky and steep. The hikers I saw coming up were struggling but I knew they would be rewarded once they reached Dusy. As I got closer to the trailhead, there were many more backpackers and day hikers coming in. I even saw 3 kayakers portaging their vessels at least 3-4 miles up the trail. I stopped for lunch at Long Lake, savoring my last trail meal and recollecting my thoughts before exiting. Finally at the South Lake trailhead, a little rain started to fall. On the way back to town, I picked up a JMT thru-hiker, Tim from Minneapolis, who had started from the Whitney end but ran out of steam. He was headed to Bishop where his brother was going to drive him to Yosemite. I had not decided yet at the time whether to stay overnight in Bishop. After an espresso at the local café, I ended up driving all the way home with the music blasting. The car speakers are now blown out and buzz at certain frequencies. But I don’t care. Because they just remind me of 9 glorious days in the wilderness.

Leaving Dusy Basin. Columbine Peak left of center.

Top of Bishop Pass 11,972 ft

Bishop and Saddlerock Lakes below

Heed the rockslide warnings

Sad to leave this gorgeous environment

Trail is just a bit underwater


Kayaker about 3 miles up from the trailhead

South Lake from the trailhead