Sierra Backpacking Trip,   1996

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 The Beautiful Sierras,   August 1996

August 1996 Ralph, I and our son, Dave, have plans for a nine day backpacking trip in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, the area on the east side of the Kings Canyon National Park. Ralph is 71 and I will be 70 in a couple of weeks. The access to the trail is from Bishop, California. We drive 20 miles or so up in the mountains to Parchards Resort and find that Dave is already at the cabin. The temperature in Bishop was 101 and at our cabin it is 71 degrees. We are enjoying a two day stay here to get acclimated to the altitude and to check things out. The plan is for Dave to park his car at South Lake, the end of the trail, and for us to park our car at North Lake, the beginning of the trail. This is a loop trail of 60 miles with three passes over 11,000 feet. Dave is an experienced backpacker and has made all of the arrangements for this hike. We are pretty excited and hope we are capable.
Trained for weeks and ready to go.
Beautiful mountains and gorgeous flowers.
Tricky stream crossings.
We've parked our cars and are on our way. The trail takes us through aspen trees, then through tall pines until we come to our first of many tricky creek crossings. This one is on a narrow log over a swift flowing stream. As we gain altitude, the view opens to mountains all around us. Gorgeous wildflowers are everywhere.....lupine, humingbird vine, Indian paintbrush, moneywort, shooting stars, pennyroyals, and more. This is a bonus I hadn't expected. Since Dave is a much stronger hiker than we are, he frequently goes on ahead and waits for us at some spectacular resting place.

We climb 1700 feet to our first night's campsite at 11,200 feet overlooking Piute Lake. Since the altitude is high and we're in a rocky area with only small scrubby trees we've decided that probably there are no bears, but just in case, we put our food in a crevice and string a noise maker booby trap. Our campsite includes a beautiful view of the lake and of the mountains with a little snow on them. Mosquitos are a little bad so we wear our mosquito head-nets and laugh at each other. There are lots of big rocks to sit on and cook our dinner. It's as comfortable as any picnic table, only better because of the view and the solitude.
Dave is on the ridge. Can you see him?
Filtering water and wearing a mosquito net.
We made it to Piute Pass, elevation 11,423 feet.
It's the second day out and we we are hiking above the snow to reach Piute Pass, elevation 11,423 feet. We stop at the Pass for a snack and there is an old bearded guy here who appears to have picked up a few things from home to take with him. He has his cooking pots and pans dangling from his shoulders and what looks to be a blanket thrown over a small pack on his back. He's wearing street shoes and smoking a cigarette. We wonder if he knows what he is doing but he says he has hiked in the wilderness many times before, probably back in the days before all of the sophisticated paraphernalia that is out today.

Our next destination is Humphrey Basin through Hutchinson's Meadow. We originally planned on camping in Hutchinson's Meadow but were warned by another hiker that the mosquitos are terribly bad in this area. It's raining and with that warning we just keep going for 12 long miserable wet miles to our next campsite. We are all so tired, it's late and we have to hang our food by flashlight... not one of our better days.

Day 3 is much better. We see a bear close enough that when I cough he looks our way but goes right back to eating. I try coughing again but this time he doesn't pay any attention to us. Exciting! The only climb today is past an extra large, extra high, extra beautiful waterfall that I almost wish there were roads back here so more people could see it. Not really but it is exquisite. Since our campsite is below 9000 feet we are permitted to have a campfire tonight and we love it. It is pleasant to sit around the campfire and talk.
Many beautiful waterfalls.
A small waterfall beside the trail.
A campfire.
It's the fourth day, we are walking through long Evolution Meadow and McClure Meadow and to the hardest climb so far. We are griping about the climb. Then WOW, it turns out to be well worth the struggle as this surely must be the grandest of the many magnificent sights we are seeing. The view is breathtaking and we are ecstatic that we are setting up camp in this beautiful place. Our campsite is on a bluff overlooking Evolution Lake. There are huge craggy granite mountains all around us and large slabs of rock for our tents. Since there is no animal life around, just a little Oregon junco, we are pretty sure that no bear could survive here so we leave our food packs out in the open for the first time. I have read that Evolution Basin was John Muir's favorite place. We ooh and ahh and feel so fortunate to be here.
Our favorite campsite.
Magnificent scenery.
It's now morning, the fifth day, and we hang around some more to enjoy this gorgeous place and to let our tents dry. There isn't a cloud in the sky and the lake is so clear that it's a mirror for the mountains. We hate to leave but have more miles to make and places to go. It's a fairly easy walk on past Saphire Lake and past Unnamed Lake. Our camp tonight is at the outlet of 10,000 feet Wanda Lake with a view of Evolution Basin. Wanda Lake on one side of Muir Pass and Helen Lake on the other side are named for John Muir's daughters. Muir Hut, our destination for tomorrow is just barely visible in the distance.
The look of struggle
15 steps, rest, 15 steps, rest.
Muir Hut on Muir Pass
elevation 11,955 feet.
The sixth day and it's cold this morning, 35 degrees, and we have little flakes of ice to shake off our tents. We start off walking around Wanda Lake and then start climbing. The terrain looks other-worldly, like moonscape or Mars or something. It is boulder strewn with lots of snow. We struggle, 15 steps, rest, another 15 steps, rest, and so on, up to the summit of Muir Pass and the Muir Hut. The hut built in 1929 is a memorial to John Muir. It is a brick one-room beehive type of structure with one window, one door, and a fireplace that's been rendered useless. We sign the register that is on a ledge and read some of the other comments. I write "Can you believe our son brought us up here and we're 70 years old. We're so glad he did". There are eight or ten people here which surprises us because we have seen very few people since we started our hike.

As we leave, downhill is easier than the uphill struggle but is much more treacherous at times so we walk very carefully. The scenery is desolate, rocky and snowy with no vegetation but the magnitude of it is impressive and beautiful in a different way. There are more beautiful waterfalls than I can count coming down the mountain from the Middle Fork of the Kings River. We camp part way down the mountain by a waterfall. Again we are below 9000 feet and enjoying another campfire this evening. This is the life!
Helen Lake.
We love being here.
It's day seven and cold again this morning so we enjoy breakfast around a nice warm campfire. Today our trail takes us down the mountain to beautiful Big Pete Meadow and then to Little Pete Meadow and the junction to Bishop Pass. I don't know who named these meadows but Little Pete is bigger than Big Pete. We enjoy the flowers and the tall pines again after the barren land that we have been in the last couple of days. A sign is posted in Little Pete Meadow stating that there is a bear in the area and that you will be fined if he gets your food, an incentative to hang your food properly. Once a bear learns that he can get your food he becomes a threat to humans and sometimes has to be killed.

A sign posted in Little Pete Meadow.
A beautiful view.
Our next goal is Bishop Pass. We start the climb from LeConte Canyon and head for Dusy Basin, 3 miles up the mountain, for our last campsite. The trees get smaller and smaller and again there are many waterfalls and more spectacular scenery as we get higher on the mountain.

It's day 8, two days ahead of schedule, we start out climbing four more miles up the mountain and conquer Bishop Pass where we stop for lunch. Down the pass, the trail has been chiseled out of the craggy black mountain, switching back and forth until you are at the bottom. It seems like a long walk back to South Lake probably because we are depressed that the hike is almost over. We are definitely dragging our feet. We have walked 10 miles today, our last day, but are wishing there were more miles to go.

Trail cutting through the rock.
South Lake and the end of the trail.