Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Photologue of My Experience Backpacking The Sierras In October 2009

It was early October and I was over one month late for my John Muir Trail hike. I missed the big hike with Tom Willard due to job requirements. It was the wrong time of year to go in to the Sierras for backpacking, but I was determined to get my Sierra fix this year. I drove all night to get to Bishop California and headed right for the Ranger Station to pick up my permit. By the time I got to the Bishop Trail Head at the foot of the Sierras it was about 12noon. The weather was perfect at near 70 degrees for a high that day. The nights were slated to be very cold and when I met hikers descending the trail they reported 20 degree temps overnight. I knew it would be cold at night, so I was prepared.

The trail up to Bishop Pass was populated with many day hikers. I was planning on hiking about 5 miles to one of the lakes below the pass and then the next day continue my 6o mile loop hike back to the trail head. As you can see, the scenery along the pass trail is excellent.

I set up my tent in a well protected site near Bishop Lake, about one mile below the pass. The weather forecast called for a 20% chance of light snow.

When I woke up in the morning my tent was covered in snow and there was about 3" of snow at that time. I waited for the weather to break, but by 9AM I lost faith that they snow would let up. I pack up quickly and intended to get back down to the trail head before the trail was covered in snow. In my rush to get packed and down the mountain I dropped my GPS in the snow, but didn't know it until I got to my car. I would have to come back when the snow melted to try and find it.

The trail was still discernable on my way back down, but in some locations it was not so clear where the trail had gone. The portion of trail you see behind me was a good section of trail. By the end of the day they had 4 to 5 inches of snow at the pass. I'm glad I went down. So much for the forecasted 20% chance!

On my way down from the pass I met two hikers that were bailing out of the Sierras at the same time I was. I gave them a ride to town and then on to their car, about 40 miles away at Mammoth Lakes, where they started. The weather was going to be bad for a couple of days, so we all decided to head for Death Valley to dry out before going back to the Sierras. These ladies were doing the entire John Muir Trail and are very experienced through hikers, having hiked over 7000 miles! On the left is Teresa, aka "Wandering Hippie" and to the right is Kellie, aka "Hippie Longstockings".

The scenery in Death Valley was grand indeed! Deep canyons, flat salt lakes, and sand dunes. Everything you would want in a desert experience. Plus, warmth!

At the lowest point in Death Valley and the United States.

After an overnight stay in Death Valley we headed back to the Sierras with a plan to hike from Kersarge to Taboose. A 45 plus mile hike which takes in one of the most spectacular portions of the John Muir Trail. With the "Hippies" and I teaming up we could put a car at the beginning and the end, so we didn't have to worry about hitch hiking back to the car. Getting up to Kersarge Pass was a steep climb, but a well maintained trail.

Coming down from Kersarge Pass we had a fantastic view into the heart of the Sierras. Bull Frog lake sits in the background.

The hike up Glen Pass from Bull Frog Lake was long and brutal. Over the course of several miles it was switch backs and high stair treads made of rock. Manyof the stair treads (rock steps) were 2' high! And, there were hundreds of them. If you are looking to get buns of steel, this is the way to do it!

Coming down from Glenn Pass in to the Rae Lakes area was a spectacular sight. Here, the Painted Lady looms on the horizon. We sat near these lakes during our lunch break and enjoyed the best lunch time scenery a person could hope for.

On the way down from Glenn Pass and the Rae Lakes we had a glorious view of one of the many Sierra divides.

On our way up to Pinchot Pass it was toward the end of the day and getting very cold! We finally stopped when it got dark, put up our tents, and went straigt away to bed - after some hot soup! It was a rugged 20 mile day, having tackled two passes and 5000 ft. of elevation gain. We estimated that the temperature went in to the teens that night.

The next morning we got to the top of Pinchot Pass early in the morning. Marie Lake sits just below the pass.

By mid day we were at Taboose Pass, which was a long slopping moonscape.

Going down from Taboose Pass was beautiful and very scenic, but very rocky and gravely. I would hate to ascend that trail! I felt grateful to only have to go down.

We descended in to the desert of the Owens Valley tired, but mostly satisfied. We were ready for a good meal and a cold beer, so we headed for the nearest restaurant in Independence! The Hippies gave me friendship, lots of new understanding about long distance hiking, and a new name. That's right, a new name! Teresa and Kellie had a trail name, so why couldn't I? Before I left them I asked the Hippies if they could give me a trail name, because as they pointed out, it is not good protocol to give yourself a trail name. By the end of our time together Hippie Longstockings dubbed me, "Llama Walker".

The next day, after coming down Taboose Pass, we went our separate ways, the Hippies went south to get back on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Whitney and I went north, back to Bishop Lake to see if I could find my GPS. This picture shows the GPS right where I dropped it in to the snow. Several days later, undisturbed!

After I found my GPS I continued on to Bishop Pass to complete some of what I had come there to do in the first place. The weather was clear but very cold that day.

Looking back from Bishop Pass to Bishop Lake and the rest of the lakes along the pass trail. It's hard to believe that just a few days previous to this day the landscape here was covered with 5" of snow.

I was at the end of my time among the cathedrals of the Sierras and as I sat looking toward the Black Divide from Bishop Pass I contemplated my return next year. Yes, next year it will be the John Muir Trail in its entirety. At least, that will be the plan!