Ionian Basin

2012 July 4 to 8

Ionian Basin


An epic trip with an all-star cast…

Our fearless leader / trip organizer was none other than Sacramento resident Jack Haskel whose impressive backpacking resume includes the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2006, the Colorado Trail in 2008, and the Continental Divide Trail in 2010. In 2011 he started hiking the Appalachian Trail but quit in order to take a job with the PCT Association. Our southern California contingent consisted of Craig and Adan, who somehow find time to balance family, backpacking, underwater basket weaving (Craig has lots of hobbies) and crazy long-distance trail runs such as an insane rim-to-rim-to-rim single-day adventure at the Grand Canyon earlier this year (click here for Craig's story and here for Adan's story). The Bay Area was represented by James (San Francisco) and myself. A Chicago transplant, James recently ran a half-marathon and did a Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne loop, most people go one-way and use a car shuttle. He's also 10 years younger than me. Our group was to be rounded out by the enigmatic Dave T., a PCT and Sierra High Route thru-hiker who, each year, puts together some of the best 9+ day High Sierra trips around. Unfortunately, due to unexpected family issues, he was a late scratch. Basically, excluding my 37-year-old, non-exercising, one-trip-per-year self, everyone was experienced, fit, and as I would learn during the subsequent days, really nice and fun to be around. In short, I can't image a better 5-day trip nor a better group to share it with.


Most of the route is shown on my Tom Harrison Bishop Pass map. I scanned the applicable areas as two 11x17 pdf's then marked the route along with some notes. Click here for Map 1 (3.3 MB) and here for Map 2 (2.4 MB).

Jack used some sort of software to trace our route and then was able to export it into Google earth and generate an elevation profile. According to the software the route was 51.5 miles and had a bit under 16,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. Pretty cool!

Day 0

On Tuesday, July 3rd, I picked up James at the El Cerrito BART at 2 pm and we headed east. At 3:45 pm we met Jack in Escalon where we left his car on the street in what we hoped was a nice neighbourhood. After going over Tioga Pass we had dinner at the Mobil in Lee Vining then headed south to Bishop on 395. Around 9 pm we pulled into a car camping site at the North Lake Trailhead where Adan and Craig, who had driven up from southern California were waiting. Everyone in the group was new to me, except for Adan. For more information about Jack, including his impressive backpacking resume, visit

Day 1

We left from the North Lake Trailhead around 8 am (?) and reached Lamarck Col right around noon. By 4:30 pm we had travelled through Darwin Canyon / Basin and were relaxing at Evolution Lake. Craig was sick and Adan was having leg problems so we made the easy decision to camp at the lake rather than pushing on.

Jack, Craig, Adan and myself heading up Lamarck Col. We followed the well established trail from the North Lake trailhead to the outlet of Lower Lamarck Lake, at which point we lost the trail. After some scrambling like this, we found the use trail and avoided climbing the first snowfield. Photo by James.

Climbing to the top of the first snowfield, on the trail. Photo by Jack. Due to a giant smudge on the camera lens, which I didn't notice until day 2, I don't have many day 1 photos.

Relaxing near the top of the first snow field on the way to Lamarck Col. Photo by James.

Group shot at the final snowfield below the Col. From left is Casey, Jack, Adan, Craig and James.

Jack making the final push to Lamarck Col. This photo makes it look pretty intense, but the snow was solid and the suncups deep, so it really wasn't much of a challenge. Photo by James.

By noon we reached Lamarck Col. Photo by James.

Casey, Craig and Adan heading down into Darwin Canyon. Photo by Jack.

Another great shot of the crew heading down from Lamarck Col with Mount Mendel (13,710) looming above. Photo by James.

Craig and Adan at the second from the top Darwin Canyon Lake. Since we were taking a short break, I couldn't help but take a quick dip. Photo by James.

Adan is happy to be back at the Darwin Bench. James is wondering how Adan came down the rock. Photo by Jack.

Darwin Bench with the Hermit (12,318) beyond.

We took another short break at the last lake heading down from the Darwin Bench. This time everyone went swimming.

Jack is heading down from the Darwin Bench to the JMT and Evolution Basin.

Adan, Jack and James at our first campsite at Evolution Lake, also my third swimming spot of the day.

Improvisation... Adan's ITB wasn't happy and Craig was nearly coughing up a lung at points. We planned to split, hopefully to meet on the way out or at the cars. Photo and caption by James.

My bed and view of Mount Spencer (12,431). Despite bringing a Tarptent Rainbow, I cowboy camped each night except the last. Photo by James.

Day 2

Adan's leg problem didn't improve over the night, so after a leisurely morning (lounging until the sun had time to dry out our bags and shelters) the rest of us took off for Muir Pass. Instead of heading down into LeConte Canyon however, we bagged Mt. Solomons (13,034) then went back to Muir Hut. We had planned to bag Black Giant (13,330) next, but our late start ruled that out, so Craig headed back to Adan at Evolution Lake while Jack, James and I headed towards Ionian Basin via Black Giant Pass. That night we camped at Lake 11,592 after climbing a rock field out from Chasm Lake.

Adan making coffee while I remain snug and warm in my frost covered bag.

Sapphire Lake, Mt. Fiske (13,503) at left and Mt. Huxley (13,086). I rarely include photos without humans to provide perspective, but thi s one by James is too good. Note that he took all his pictures with his iPhone and still had about 1/3 of his battery after 5 days.

This photo shows Haeckel Col, which we planned to cross on Sunday morning. None of us had done it and while discussing it and trying to see the lines James asked what we would do, if on Sunday morning, we got to a point and decided it was too risky? Would we take the long detour back by Lamarck Col or take a chance. On day 2 of the trip it's easy to say you would take the detour, but on the last day, when you're ready to get out you make stupid decisions. I want to take Haeckel Col in the future, but I'm glad we were flexible enough to change the plans so we didn't put ourselves in a potentially bad situation.

Self portrait at Wanda Lake with Mount Solomons in the background.

Craig, Casey and Jack walking along Wanda Lake. If you meet Craig, ask him about the aliens in the lake. Photo by James.

PCT thru-hiker "Papa Smurf" stopped his northbound hike for a chat with us. He was so dirty, smelly and happy it was awesome!

Upon reaching the Muir Hut (11,955) we climbed to the top of Mount Solomons ( 13,034) which is shown here behind the hut.

Class 2 climbing from the Muir Hut to Mount Solomons. From the hut it looked pretty intimidating but the actual climb was pretty easy. Photo by James.

Casey on the summit of Solomons with Wanda Lake in the background.

Jack, Craig and James on Mount Solomons.

Casey heading back down (but facing the wrong way for some reason) to the Muir Hut which is barely visible. Great views of Helen Lake on the other side of Muir Pass. Photo by James.

Why a picture of a pile of rocks? You may have noticed that, except for Craig's pack which had only water and cameras, the rest of us didn't have packs. To keep the marmots around the Muir Hut from getting our food Jack suggested that we imprison our food bags beneath rocks. I thought this was a great idea.

Mount Solomons on the left and Muir Hut on the right. Photo taken by James while en route to Black Giant Pass.

Jack and Casey approaching Black Giant Pass. We planned on climbing Black Giant (13,330) today as well, but had a bit of late start and decided to get further into Ionian Basin instead.

James climbing to Black Giant Pass. It's at the same elevation as Muir Pass, and on a map it looks like you might be able to follow a contour line over, but reality was not so kind. It wasn't hard, but the scale of everything is so immense it took much longer than I thought it would.

Casey and Jack looking up at something on the climb up to Black Giant Pass.

Jack's smile is ear-to-ear as we head into Ionian Basin! While discussing different options for meeting up with Adan (who spent the day rehabbing at Evolution Lake) and Craig (who headed back to Adan after the Solomons climb) I said I wasn't to hot on Ionian Basin as it looked so barren. It certainly was, but I'm so glad I went along.

Heading down into Ionian Basin. For the next day and half this terrain was the rule, not the exception.

My only swimming on day 2, at a small unnamed lake above Chasm Lake.

Jack and James at Chasm Lake (11,011) looking at its outlet leading to the Enchanted Gorge. For lack of a better word, or perhaps due to the high walls, boxed in sensation, and shadows I found the lake to be "creepy".

James and Jack with our route up and out of Chasm Lake in the background.

James and the Giant Peach (or boulders as the case may be if you are climbing out of Chasm Lake).

Camp 2 at Lake 11,592 above Chasm Lake. I slept out again while James pitched his Mountain Laurel Designs Mid (with a nice view of Charybdis catching the last bit of sun) while Jack slept in his Golite Shangri-La 1.

Jack and Casey cooking dinner after a long but hugely satisfying day. Photo by James.

Casey, and all of his cooking gear, making "tuna casserole". I don't eat out of stinking bags! Photo by Jack.

Day 3

While Adan and Craig loafed their way north on the JMT, we headed towards Scylla (12,956) and the Ragged Spur (12,975). Upon reaching the base, I decided to poop, swim and loaf (in that order) while Jack and James attacked the peaks. Upon their successful return we headed towards Mt. Goddard (13,568) which we did not climb for various reasons including a sketchy class 3 scree chute. We did meet a bad-ass hiker who had climbed it as a day hike from his base camp at Davis Lake; he was the only person we saw in Ionian Basin. After many ups and downs through scree fields and snow, including a bad fall by Jack (click here for Jack's story of the fall) we descended towards Martha Lake (11,004) and finally exited the non-stop rock. For several miles, or maybe several hours, we glided down gently sloped grass filled with flowers until we entered Goddard Canyon. The goal was to reach the JMT junction where Adan and Craig would have left a note indicating their progress. At some point, as usually happens towards the end of long days, it turned into a bit of death march, so when a great campsite presented itself short of the junction, Jack suggested that we stop. James was indifferent, but I really wanted to get to the note, and Jack was gracious enough to trudge on. Amazingly enough, not 5 minutes later a note appeared and we were reunited. Despite their illness and injury, Adan and Craig had reached the junction and then hiked a mile or so out of their way up Goddard Canyon. Even though we only spent one night apart it felt like a lifetime; Ionian Basin will do that to you.

After a late start on day 2, we left early on day 3 for more rock. Photo by Jack.

And more snow. Photo by Jack.

This was the second time I fell into the snow. The first time, while coming down from Black Giant Pass on day 2 my shoe was so wedged in that I pulled my leg out without it and then had to dig it out. Photo by Jack.

Lake 11,837 on the way to Scylla (not pictured). Photo and caption by James.

While Jack and James climbed Scylla (shown) and the Ragged Spur (to the right, not shown), I pooped, swam and chilled out. They told me it was comparable to Mt. Solomons, maybe a bit easier, but the remoteness kind of freaked me out. In other words, if something happened on Solomons you have the JMT freeway right below you. Out here, not so much.

If you look really close you can see Jack (or James) on the top of Scylla.

Summit of Scylla at elevation 11,956. Photo by James.

The Ragged Spur, as viewed from Scylla.

James on Scylla.

Jack on the Ragged Spur.

Jack eats well on the trail. Here's part of his lunch after bagging Scylla and the Ragged Spur.

James heading towards Mount Goddard (13,568). I was amazed (shocked and dismayed) that lakes this beautiful and large are unnamed.

James crossing the amazing unnamed lakes shown in the previous photo. Only a short time ago Jack and James were on top of Scylla, the peak in the background.

Jack and James heading for another unnamed pass on the south side of Mount Goddard (not shown).

Relaxing at the unnamed pass, looking back at Scylla, which looks pretty damn imposing from this perspective.

Looking the other way, at the same spot as the previous photo, we can see that we are not quite at the pass yet, on the other side of which is Martha Lake, after a 1,000-ft descent.

Heading down scree to Martha Lake, which at this point we can't see. Photo by James.

When we reached this lake, on the way down to Martha Lake, we had to decide which way to go around. Jack really wanted to cross on the snow on the other side. James and I thought he was nuts. Photo by James.

Since Jack was so keen to do a sketchy snow crossing, we gave him the honors of this sketchy little section. To get a sense of scale, go to the bottom of Map 2 where I've marked this area and check out how small this lake and snowfield are compared to everything else.

James on the sketchy snow crossing. Note the stark difference when juxtaposing this picture (taken by my Pentax Optio WP) with the previous one (taken by James' IPhone). In my memory the colors were as vibrant as shown in James' pictures.

After the short, sketchy snow crossing we had a few wonderful minutes of gradual, downhill travel in this snow chute.

Jack fell into a hole and instead of helping him out I took a picture.

23 - And then Jack fell, bad, for real. Click here for pdf of his account of the ordeal.

Martha Lake (11,004), finally. Around this time I slipped in scree and bent my homemade trekking pole. It broke when I tried to un-bend it.

James pointing to the descent we made down to Martha Lake. We took the correct way, the scree field to the left, but almost went down the gold band to the right, a potentially fatal error.

After all of the rock in Ionian Basin walking among the grass and flowers downstream of Martha Lake was heavenly.

Jack studies the map during a short break between Martha Lake and Goddard Canyon.

An old Roman road?

Jack and James heading down towards Goddard Canyon.

I got James but not the waterfall. This is an area of Goddard Canyon called the Pig Chute.

The note! Photo by Jack.

Reunited! From the left are Adan, Casey, Craig, Jack and James.

Day 4

Breaking camp, Craig discovered that James had slept right next to a partially eaten enormous sausage (2-inch diameter by 6 inches long) that a careless hiker had abandoned along with a full gas canister. Craig found it so the honor of carrying it out was bestowed upon him. Reunited, we hit the trail, glad to be on trail. Upon leaving Goddard Canyon we headed north on the JMT to our lowest elevation of the entire trip, the Piute Pass junction (8,050) where we began to climb. We lunched at a great, but dangerous (to idiots who walk around without shoes and lean against barbed wire) swimming spot in the river that I remembered from a previous trip. Refreshed, we continued towards Piute Pass but about a mile short, headed north to Desolation Lake (11,375) for our final night of the trip.

Heading down Goddard Canyon to the JMT junction.

Studying the map. Photo by James.

Craig heading through the switchbacks amongst the chest-deep Manzanita as we leave the JMT and climb towards Piute Pass. Photo by Jack.

Craig, Casey and Adan enjoying a swimming / lunch break during the climb up to Piute Pass.

James and Adan in another view of this most excellent swimming hole which I first saw in August of 2009 during a solo, 48-hour North Lake to South Lake trip. During that trip I passed the hole around 5:45 pm, so didn't stop, but vowed to one day return.

While foolishly walking barefoot around the swimming hole I scraped my foot and tore a piece of skin on the sole of my foot below my smallest toe. Luckily Jack patched me up such that I had zero ill effects. Thanks. By the way, Leukotape is fantastic, but don't wrap it around your trekking pole (this works well with duct tape) as I did since it will stick to itself and be rendered useless. Photo by James.

My wound after cleaning but prior to bandaging. Before this wound, I punctured my hand on some steel wire left over from a stock fence. What a dangerous lunch spot. Photo by Jack.

A horse skull. Jack, James and I took photos that are almost identical.

Another nice swimming spot on the way up to Piute Pass. However we simply rinsed our faces and shirts since Jack and James were ahead of us.

Enjoying most excellent views of the range called Glacier Divide that demarcates Sierra National Forest (our side) and Kings Canyon National Park, as we enter Humphries Basin and approach the pass.

Before reaching Piute Pass we took this side trail towards Desolation Lake (11,375), our final campsite. Mount Humphries towers over us to a commanding 13,986 ft.

Checking the map while looking at Lower Desolation Lake.

Adan and Casey en route to Desolation Lake with Glacier Divide behind us. Photo by Jack.

Adan, Jack's shelter and Desolation Lake. The lake is so large it wouldn't fit in a single shot.

Funny-faced Adan, Craig and Casey at a surprisingly buggy dinner. Photo by Jack.

Shelters in the alpenglow of Mount Humphries. Photo by James.

Day 5

After a short jaunt to Piute Pass (11,423), we descended 5.0 miles to our starting point, the North Lake Trailhead (9,350). After rinsing off and changing into blessedly cotton clothes we had fun weighing our packs then headed down to Bishop for a late breakfast where the combination of heat, slow service and the enormous portion size of Jack's and Adan's chicken fried steak kept us giddy. I was home around 7 pm on Sunday, in time to put my kids to bed.

Adan and Craig approaching Piute Pass. This photo is taken from the pass looking west.

Heading down to the North Lake trailhead, passing by Piute Lake.

"Hey guys, where are you going?" asked 6-year old Isaac.

Isaac and his rock-star Mom.

James and Craig, almost back into the trees.

Self portrait back at the trailhead at 10:00 am.


Back at the car, after rinsing off and changing into cotton clothes, we dumped out our water, and weighed our packs and leftover food. It's pretty amazing how close our pack weights were.

Our main gear.

The specific gear I brought is exactly the same as my Evolution Basin trip last year except for the following:

  • I replaced my down jacket and fleece hat with an 8-ounce Stoic hooded down pullover that I got on special for $50. It worked fine, but I may go back to the hoodless jacket and fleece hat.
  • I replaced my foam pad / Montbell self-inflating pad with an Exped UL7 Synmat over 1/8"-thick foam. I was terrified to bring such a fragile pad but it worked fine and I was very comfortable. That said, the only superb sleep I got on the entire trip was on the third night which was our lowest campsite of the trip. Perhaps I just don't sleep well at elevation.
  • Since I was only cooking for myself I brought my Snowpeak canister stove and 0.9-liter Evernew Titanium pot. It really annoys me that it doesn't have windscreen, so I'm probably going to purchase a Firemaple 117T remote canister stove in the future since the weight penalty over the Snowpeak is only about an ounce.

Gear Lessons Learned:

  • I need a hat with a larger visor or I need to put more sunscreen on my nose.
  • You can't unwrap Leukotape after you've wrapped it around your trekking pole. I need to pre-make some Leukotape bandaids.


I created my food list on this spreadsheet, then went out and bought it, repackaged it, and weighed it. I was very tempted to add more lunch/snacks, but didn't. Amazingly, I was never hungry or lacking in energy and finished the trip with zero food. Click here for a copy of the spreadsheet.

Here's the actual food, less the 3-ounce bag of jerky which I didn't repackage individually for each day. To fully understand my sickness, realize that I actually counted out 4 chocolate/peanute butter cups per day and 10 chocolate covered almonds per day, in order to match the spreadsheet.

Here's the daily food weight, 1 pound 9 ounces, which is just a bit more than the spreadsheet estimated.

6 ounces of trash at the end of the trip. Part of this weight includes some reading glasses I found near the Piute Pass / JMT junction.

Let's revisit this picture again, since it shows how much food we all carried out. Specifically, James and Craig (includes giant-half-eaten sausage) carried out 4 pounds of food while I did the whole trip with only 6 pounds!

Here are some notes about my food / food preparation.

  • Breakfast cereal used half of a Milkman packet. For a while you couldn't buy these anymore, but now they sell them individually at REI for an outrageous $3 per packet. The packet says you get 4/3 cup per packet, but my packets barely had 1 cup. Non-fat powdered milk would be cheaper, but I want the taste and calories from the fat.
  • Trader Joe's instant coffee is great but pretty weak, so I used two packets with 1 cup of water. It has sugar and cream premixed in though, which is pretty nice.
  • I like to leave camp and walk a few hours before breakfast / coffee. If I do that, I eat a Cliff bar with caffeine in the morning.
  • On day 1 all of my chocolate melted and I had to resort to licking the bag. On subsequent days I kept the chocolate inside my pack and it was fine, although more of a pain to access.
  • Pocari Sweat is Japanese Gatorade. I typically mix it up in the afternoon when my body needs fluids replaced and easily accessible energy.
  • On all trips going forward, I plan to bring Trader Joe's Miso soup, which I add to 2 cups of boiling water and drink while my dinner cooks in the cozy. It provides salt, water and warmth, all of which is really nice at the end of the day.
  • Tuna casserole was a great success, and will be a fixture on trips to come. Here's how to make it. Take one box of Trader Joe's organic Mac N' Cheese and throw out half the pasta and put the other half in a ziplock bag. In another small ziplock bag add the cheese mix from the box, 1/4 cup of non-fat powered milk, and 1 tablespoon of butter. Make sure the butter is well covered with the cheese and milk. Even in the hottest Sierra weather it will get soft but not melt. Bring 3/4 cup water to boil, add pasta, bring to boil again, add cheese/milk/butter, bring to boil again then put in cozy for about 10 minutes. Add tuna at end (get fish packed in olive oil, not water). Bring Tabasco for more kick.