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Camping In The High Sierras © 1997 -


This year the Mountain Sabbatical went up over Piute Pass and remained in the Humphrys basin. Read on . . . .


Conditions were very dry, with conspicious abscence of low-lying snowpack and totally dry incidental streams. The previous years of drought had resulted in serious conditions of bare rock all up and down the Sierra crest. A major fire was 70% contained within King's Canyon National Park. The wildland fire had been burning for weeks over 85,894 acres (09/03/15) since a lightning strike on July 21 with over 3,000 firecrew fighting to contain it so as to save several border communities. Skies south of the Glacial Divide remained hazy and hikers crossing Kearsarge Pass complained of severely bad air quality. In addition to the Hot Shot teams and CalFire, local packing companies helped with supply runs for the crews.

Residents of Wilsonia were evacuated from their homes. Additional evacuation orders went out to residents north of Highway 180, stretching from Hopewell Road to the west, to the Armenian Church Western Diocese Summer Camp.

Highway 180 closed east of Dunlap Road, as well as the following access roads: Highway 245 in Pinehurst, Millwood Road between Dunlap and Highway 180, and Highway 198 at Red Fir into Kings Canyon National Road.

Grant Grove was not opened by the NPS -- with some limitations -- until September 17. Other parts of the Park remained closed until September 21. Not until October 20 did the NPS lift fire restrictions for both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.


This time the plans remained unambitious due to a number of factors. The 2012 nearly-fatal expedition had scaled back our usual klettering aspirations, the Rough Fire in Kings Canyon precluded crossing the Glacial Divide, and threat of El Nino onset indicated prudence with multiple bail-out plans in the pocket.

So, after a half-night sojourn at Tuolome Meadows on Sunday/Monday (arriving after One AM and departing before Seven) it was a light and fancy ramble to Bishop to get the permit. Parked at North Lake at usual and shouldered a pack made much lighter by attention to detail -- and unfortunate omission of some items, which we will discuss anon.

The route up from North Lake at 9800 feet elevation passes along the road for a quarter mile to the campground and through it until diverges within 100 yards from the trail to Lamarck Lakes among the tall pines and a sandy trail sprinkled with some rock. The view from the parkinglot entices with semi-occluded views of alpine delights to come.

From there the trail begins a gentle incline, passing along the stream that drains from Piute Canyon. After about 15 minutes of moderate hiking we come to the log bridge, beyond which lies the John Muir Wilderness.

Temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. No bugs this time of year. Notice the greenery - Sierra Fall is only a few days away.

Early camp in the canyon at the middle lake. Checking things out and noting what had been forgotten. Still close enough to run down and fetch stuff if necessary.

The views are to die for. But old-timers will note the lake of snowpack on the slopes. Here a hiker passes at the end of the day past the famous Lunch Stop Tree, as seen through my bedroom window. He has only an hour of sunlight in the canyon, but will gain another three when he tops the pass only 3/4 mile away.

Once the sun passes behind the ridge, temperatures drop immediately about 20 degrees.

"Don't the shiny moon look pretty, baby," goes the old blues song. It was waxing throughout the trip and at ten o'clock you did not need a flashlight to roam around.

The next day involves a pleasant ramble between terraces, each about 100 feet in elevation. Old timers will note the height of the trees has increased dramatically at this elevation in recent years due to the warmer temperatures and the extended summers.

One of the advantages of taking things slower, instead of marching through the wilderness at top speed, you get to pause and reflect and notice things. Here is a sheltered spot for a water break before doing the final ascent.

The approach to the pass is not anything more complicated that climbing a series of stone steps. There are a few outlier pools about 400 down from it, but the drought has eliminated the stream from which people used to get their water before going over. There is no water on the other side, save for motionless, algae breeding Summit Lake. All the incidental outflows that used to cross the trail were black and dry. There was not even an hint of snow at the pass. No snowbank, no nothing.

Path down from the Pass looking west at Summit Lake and the Humphrey's Basin.

From left to right, part of Mount Lamarck, Muriel, and the imposing bulk of Mount Goethe. Further back the ridge that holds the Matthes Glaciers.

Zoom of Mount Goethe and an Erratic block in the foreground.

The Humphry's Basin is a gently rolling high Alpine plateau between the Glacial Divide to the south, Mount Humphry bordering the east side, and Mounts Julius Ceasar and Hilgard and Seven Gables to the north. During the Ice Age it was an immense sheet of ice, which formed an inland sea upon melting.

This is all that remains of Desolation Lake during the drought. All incidental streams that used to make descending from the Pass a wet slog were bone dry.

It was quite a scramble to get down to the lake shore.

Camp between the upper and Lower Desolation lakes looking south at the Glacial Divide. Muriel is the seemingly small rounded hump of decaying rock to the left which is dwarfed by the bulk of Mount Goethe and the Matthes glaciers.

High camp at 11,400 feet elevation.

Nice view from camp of the Matthes glacier ridge and Pavilion Dome. The glaciers were named for François E. Matthes, who was a geologist and an expert in topographic mapping, glaciers, and climate change. He mapped remote areas of the American West for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). His maps coincided with the development of those areas into national parks. John Muir used his work to bolster support for his theory about glacial formation of such places as Yosemite.

Mount Humphrys foregrounded by Humphreys Basin, liberally sprinkled with erratics left behind by the melting ice sheet that once covered the area. There is another Humphreys Peak in Arizona, which is lower and with a more accessible summit by trail. During the brief Sierra Spring, this entire area is carpeted with vibrant wildflowers.


16.35 - 66°
Between the 2 Desolation Lakes. c. 11,400 feet elevation. Concerned about cold tonight with the wonky sleeping bag.

Could not find any of my old camps. The lakes have retreated so much there is no frame of reference to the shore any more. All the incidental streams were dry, so no point pursuing to Marmot lakes as originally planned. Lakes themselves might be dry.

Hare time finding a camp, so just plotzed behind a boulder. Turned out to have no room for tent floor so i pitched in open a few feet away.

17:50 - Dinner: black beans, taco seasoning, Knorr Spanish rice.
This time it did not work. Way too salty. Couldn't finish it and drank flavored tea to get rid of the taste. Taco seasoning overdone for sure. No fish activity in Lower Desolation Lake. It looks no bigger than a pond.

18:49 - 53° - sun just went behind the ridge. Orange alpenglow on Mt. Humphries. Four Gables to the north. the imposing mass of Julious Ceasar to the N.W. To the south the Matthes glaciers hidden somewhere.

19.10 Watching the swelling moon over the Glacial Divide. Hare with big white ears and feet just passed by about 10 feet from the tent.

The long bulk of Lamarck extends behind Muriel and Goethe. Not much snow. but now I can see remnants of the Matthes glaciers.

Golden Trout Lake seen from a quarter mile away after a fine and fancy ramble across the Basin. Missed the trail entirely so bushwacked down.

Lower Golden Trout Lake looks way down from previous years. And yes, the lake does have trout.

Exploring for a camp that would be somewhat away from the many use trails.

Settled on this one scant yards from the main use trail and went looking for something better. Use trails are unmaintained trails that form from the trod of many feed over the sensitive terrain.

View from this temporary camp of the Lake and Goethe.

Found prepared sites on the east side between the two lakes. This one much more better.


9/23 - Weds- 6:43 - 37° in tent.

Outside of tent stiff with ice. Saw my mocs glittering with frost when I went to pee in the early hours. Opalescent dawn. Mountain peaks topped with orange flame. H2O bottle filled with ice chunks. Empty and packed with solitude up here in the Basin away from the PCT.

7:30 Sun over the ridge warming things up. Ice slivers falling from the sides of the tent inside. Things that faced the tent walls had frost on them and everything is wet from melting. Will wait a while before going out there.

8:50 - 93°!!
Found gloves and camp towl in socks/underweart bag. Go figure. Oatmeal for breakfast in memory of Paul. Still yuck.

Bear can has broken lid due to sitting on it. Need to make list of broken stuff.

11:15 Golden Trout Lake (GTL). Found idyllic spot, but too close to the trail. I hear people.

13:30 Moved uphill after scouting other sides on the west side. Everything is way too exposed.

Sound of wind but no water sounds. eerie.

14:10 - 83° in sun. In shade it's 64°. Went down to lake to wash feet , thinking of swimming but feet in water started to go numb from cold.

14:30 Altitude is 10,800. feel lassitude. Every action takes effort. Not fully accimated yet. S.B warmer than last night.

15:30 Took a short walk to the east side and found such far superior sites that I moved 50 yards. This location vastly superior in every way with scrunty pines for privacy. No exposure and away from the unofficial trail. closer to H2O.

16:40 magpies making a racket. and I can hear a burbling brook somewhere.

18:10 Dinner was quite the collection of snafus. Nature burger and potato flackes with gravy. Was missing a spatula as well as a good fry pan. The titanium pan i have been using as a lid decided to drop half of the cooking burger into the dirt. Managed to muddle through ok and ate everything. What got saved was tasty enough with the gravy.

19:00 - 68° on wrist. Light out still. 3/4 moon over Lamarck. Noting tears in equip. due to age. Tear in H2O sack. Nylon shell jacket has failed zipper.

20:20 - 55° Baro 20.40. Face feels hot - probably sunburn. Hands are warm. Saw trout feeding at far side of lake but no luck fishing.

This is the sources of the brook sound. It is the outflow from Upper Golden Trout Lake


Views while fishing.


Looking back at camp.

Golden Trout lake narrows to its outflow.

All of this is underwater during wet years.

Mount Humphrys and Golden Trout Lake.

Returning to camp after a long dayhike.

Rather obvious duks on the use path.

A more subtle duk indicating campsite is nearby.

Here is my attempt at an art shot.

Sunset in the mountains.


17:30 - 72°
DINNER: Veggie sloppy joe. 1/2 pkg of that and 1/2 pkg of Knorr Spanish Rice plus cheese. Perfect portions. Delicious. Added 4 tomato catsup packets to sloppy joes instead of tomato paste. Tea good with dinner instead of later. Everything now fits in bear can.

18:00 sun above the ridge in haze. H2O bottles filled for night and dishes cleaned.
Food stowed and all tidy. Everything fits in the bear can.

Sun behind the ridge. 57°

19:55 - 57°f in tent.
Sky still a skein of wisps. Moon bright and big. Hot choco and teeth brushed and now I am in save for a last gander at the stars.


Packed and ready to go. The alpenstock is a janitor's broom handle that used to be 6 feet long. It is a bit shorter now. I tip the ends with furniture casters. The red tape buffers the wood against all the rock abuse.

Start of the day's ramble toward Packsaddle Lake. A use trail takes you right up to the drainage for Golden Trout Lakes. It is faint and vanishes at times, but it is hard to lose your way.

This is where the trail ends. In wet years, we bet this crossing cannot be done dryshod.

From this place I elected to skirt a fenny sort of place and hump over a ridge, steadily climbing to get clear line of site with the lake. A 12 minute topo map does help. Here is the view from near the top of the ridge looking back.

When the lake came into view, I realized that I was over 800 feet in elevation above it. Not the usual approach I guess. There were no duks or trails. (Duk is not the usual spelling for what they call "cairns" in the East. I just didn't want to say, "See that duck" and have someone say, "I don't see no damn waterfowl . . . ".

Descending, descending. Getting closer . . .

Looking back at the ridge I crossed, passing at the point right where the dome meets treeline. The Dome is 12,000 in elevation.

Beneath the Matthes glaciers -- or what is left of them.

Exploring the lake boundaries before locating a camp. There is a lake off to the left involving a scramble up some talus to 11,400 feet or so.

An outlier pond with Pilot Knob in the distant background.

The view from the camp you choose is very important . . .

There IS some organization to this welter, believe it or not. . .

The trip diary says about this: 14:52- 68°F -
Went to the little freshet that drains the lake and soaked my feet - exquisite heaven! Resting now after fetching H2O. This place is wild. Few useage trails. Some duks that just look meaningless and go nowhere.

Looking across from my perch to the outflow that forms a pond.

Back at the lake, scoping the fishing opportunities. From the TRIP DIARY:

16:40 Tried fishing, but no more hare's ear lures and no more big bobbers. Managed to lose all big bobbers @ GT Lake. Tried using 2 small and busted the line right away. Saw no feeding in the big lake but later the smaller drop-off pond was teeming. Oh well. Sometimes it aint meant to happen.

17:35 - Sun behind the ridge already.

DINNER: Potato flakes and curry lentils. Coot and eat and clean very fast. Meal was left over from last year. Bad instructions but tasty. another one that could have used pepper. Brown gravy helped add missing fluid. Too bad curry lentils no longer available in bulk; tyranny of the Buyer.

One feature of Packsaddle Lake is this islet near the two prongs that give the lake its distinctive shape.

An outlier pond.

Almost full . . .

Return trip with one last look back at the Matthes glaciers.

I elected to bushwack through the pines down lower instead of going high, if only to see something different on the return. Again, no trail, but I figured I could always go high or down to the stream if I got momentarily bewildered.

This duk simple says "I been here". It is not really necessary save to bolster confidence this is the right way. Don't see it?

Here it is. I know some hikers who angrily knock these things down as impositions upon the Wilderness.

After coming to a stream and crossing that I climbed up to see this time I had descended too low. This is the main outflow from the Golden Trout Lakes. Nothing for it but to cinch up the hip belt and climb.

If you take this route it is not especially difficult to scramble up the left side past several minor waterfalls.

Running water is a good place to restock your bottle. No matter how clear it looks, always filter or treat the water. You can see the rough nature of the terrain has broken the cap of this one.

An outlier pond near Golden Trout Lake.

After a boost up to about 11,200 feet -- this time on trail -- we look back at Golden Trout Lake and the Matthes glaciers.

A look towards Piute Pass and the first of three terraces to negociate. That long ridge back there is part of Mount Lamarck which in wet years features a number of snowbanks.

At the summit of the Pass, 11,400 elevation. Picture was taken by a person whom I met on the trail. Said person turned out to be my college room-mate from over 35 years ago. We did not even recognize one another until we started trading contact information.

Last camp in the wilderness. This is at Upper Piute Lake.


15:40 Piute Lake

17:55 - 57° - Mild breeze

18:15 - DINNER - Knorr Stroganoff + TVP. Pretty good. Ate entire package. NB: milk does not dissolve in hot water. Amazed I ate the whole thing. Heard coughing so someone has camped nearby.

19:15 Into tent. Dark but light sky. finches chirping. no mockingbirds here.

20:25 - 57° - Baro 20:15 rising.
All the rituals dones for the night. Warm in the tent. On the homeward trek. Today was eventful. Many things to think about.


Breakfast for the last day.


09/27 - Sonntag - 6:31 - 46° Baro 20.15 steady

First a twittering. Then a gradual grey light. Then raucous cawing of mockingbirds and other birds. sound of water and occasional gusts of wind.
Morning in the mountains. Last day at elevation. The mockingbirds wack at the pine cones and there is an intermittent rain of thudding as the cones fall with fluttering wings.

7:40 - 46°F - Sun over the ridge. Cleaned the H2O filter again. Time to get ready to go. O Lente, lente, currite solus equi . . .

9:50 - 64°F in shade. All packed and ready to roll.

The neighbor last night camped there because of a troup of boyscouts down below. Name was Rich and he works in Reno managing a casino 6 months of the year. the rest he hikes and backpacks. He looked old and wirey. Hiked from Kearsarge pas yesterday - about 12 miles.

This place is so peaceful right now. O, but now I hear the packtrain and mule skinners shouting, echoes in the canyon.

Down, down, down we go.

A rare flat portion of the trail.


Just above Loch Leven where a group of Boy Scouts were trying their luck at fishing. Just past the outflow ran into two tzadiks who were discussing errors and omissions in Holy Writings. The talk turned to climate changes, John Muir's input into the then controversial theory regarding glacial formation of Yosemite, and then the topic turned to politics. One was a Liberal and the other a Libertarian. Those two had been arguing for at least 100 miles or more.


Something happened in the week since I had been up there. This is the road from North Lake. Something called Fall.

Not much hubris here.