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NEXT:  Page 18   Humphreys Basin Backpack 2of2
2017 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Humphreys Basin Backpack 8/29
Humphreys Basin Backpack 8/30
Humphreys Basin Backpack 8/31
Humphreys Basin Backpack 9/1
Humphreys Basin Backpack 9/2

2017 Trip Chronicles:  Page 17

Humphreys Bain Backpack 8/29 part 1of2

For days after returning from the eclipse, I was in an odd psychological state that left me amotivational. It was not until the following Saturday that I decided to start the planned week long backpack into Humphreys Basin the following Tuesday. Actually that had not been my expected trip but rather for months wanted to finally after several years of hoping to, hike over the 6600 foot uphill effort to surmount Shepherd Pass in order to reach upper Kern River areas. However weeks of lower physical activity since my Laurel Lake backpack had reduced my fitness level to a point that I no longer felt that enormous effort was possible. Also the unusual winter and summer weather left me doubting conditions about the Kern areas were going to be worthwhile this summer, a gamble I did not want to chance. Thus that trip will need to wait for at least another summer. Additionally during the week had entertained other destinations I have detailed plans for, looking for something that would motivate me into action, but in the end I chose Humphreys because it would be the easiest with strong photographic potential. Before summer Humphreys was set as the end of July destination for brother Joe and I but the record winter snows and an injury to Joe's knee had shelved that plan before summer began. The result was a relatively mediocre short 2 day gear preparation and packing effort that came back to bite me once I got on the trail.
Mapper.acme online  topographic map for Humphreys Basin.

Bishop is a long 360 mile drive from San Jose and now in retirement where I can spread scheduling out without penalty, decided to start my drive after lunch before the afternoon commute and only go as far as Mammoth Lakes. Thus on Monday afternoon August 28 began the drive east over Tioga Pass that I changed during the drive due to smoky fires in Yosemite to SR108 over Sonora Pass, about 30 miles longer. By late evening pulled over along the lonely Mammoth Scenic Loop road where there are many spur dirt roads for a quiet night, sleeping in the back of the Forester.

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Up at dawn on Tuesday August 29, I was soon at speed moving south on highway 395 arriving in Bishop about 7am with an hour to make use of before the Inyo National Forest White Mountain Ranger Station opened where I would need to secure a walk-up wilderness permit out of North Lake Trailhead John Muir Wilderness for Piute Pass. Wilderness areas east of the pass are part of Inyo National Forest while areas west, in the San Joaquin River basin, part of Sierra National Forest. I first drove over to Vons supermarket and bought a breakfast of a couple donuts and a pint of cold milk to charge my energy levels before the hike, then returned to the station parking lot to perform final adjustments to my backpack and gear. Although I was the first in line, it was possible all quota spots for the trail had already been allocated the day before. If so I would need to wait till Wednesday morning before actually starting up the trail though expected that was unlikely given it was a Tuesday and recent thunderstorm weather had likely discouraged other walk up groups. Indeed received the permit and within an hour was up at the 9250 foot trailhead.

Since one cannot park at the dirt road end campground but rather a half mile back at North Lake, I stopped near the road end and hid my pack in the bushes then drove back and parked, eliminating carrying the 65 pounds of carrying weight at least that much more. At 9:18am began lugging the beast past the campground and onto the heavily used trail with considerable equestrian traffic that initially routes through a dense lodgepole pine, jeffrey pine, and aspen forest near the North Fork of Bishop Creek. I passed an elder gal day hiking up towards the lakes above who noted there were two stream crossings just up the trail that I seemed to have forgotten about. And there were a couple other groups of middle aged people that passed me by, weekdays when we retired folk start hiking. The trail climbs steeply over the first 2.5 miles below towering rusty hued Piute Crags before reaching Loch Levin lake at 10743 feet a stiff 2200 foot climb. Per my usual style I briefly stopped on most thigh high boulders and logs along the trail.

At about 11am at 10350 feet with the bottom of my feet starting to show usual tenderness, I stopped for a longer break of about a half hour so my push up the steep rocky final section would be less painful. Dark clouds had been increasing during the morning with a flow from the south southeast Mexican monsoon direction. The weather forecast expected thunderstorms by mid day just as had been occurring for several previous days in this wetter than average summer. I thought I would be able to reach Loch Levin before anything started but as I crossed the most lightning exposed trail section through rusty talus and scree at 10530, big drips began to patter on the ground. I increased my pace as much as I was able to and by time I reached a small permanent stream with whitebark pines at 10570, it was coming down rather strongly. I ducked under a tree and rapidly got out and put on my rain tops and backpack rain pack cover. No thunder had sounded yet so a strong storm was unlikely and indeed within about 15 minutes that squall had passed so I resumed slogging up the trail through an unpleasant stretch of many step up blocks and trail zigzags dynamited through bedrock.

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As I reached Loch Levin lake, more sprinkles resumed that would continue off an on while I continued up the rocky trail. At 10800 decided to locate a camp spot in what is the densest whitebark pine forest along the trail, the safest zone in the canyon to endure thunderstorms, below a 130 foot knee in the canyon below Piute Lake. Thus after considerable looking around for a half hour, set up a camp below a clump of trees on a duff surface about 30 feet above the creek and 20 feet above the trail. By time everything was set up, a stronger thunderstorm with some thunder began that drove me into the tent preventing me from cooking lunch. That was the first of 3 such modest storms with periods between that allowed me to cook lunch then explore the zone that had wonderful areas of wildflowers. The above lush seep meadow of colorful wildflowers including shooting star, paintbrush, cinquefoil, goldenrod, and elephants head, was just 100 feet from my tent. Below my campsite closer to the creek was a large sun exposed gravel flat meadow with numbers of other species some of which had probably peaked a couple weeks earlier while others were just at peak. And above that where the terrain step began, two sizeable picturesque cascades. Although the majority of backpackers that decide to camp the first night east of the pass choose the lake shores of Piute Lake 150 feet higher just up the trail, I would argue this zone just below is most scenic.

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With skies all cloudy at daybreak Wednesday August 30, I did not have much reason to get up early. Instead during the night noting a lack of stars and a forecast of even stronger thunderstorms Tuesday, resigned myself to possibly staying a second night at the current camp spot instead of trying to get over the exposed pass then into a very exposed upper basin. With all the wildflowers in the area, I would easily find subjects to work. So when I did rise with threatening clouds above, worked intimate subjects like the above pool wildflower reflection and close-ups. Note the reflection of talus slopes and a snow field in the calm water. Broader landscapes in the flat light were doomed to be boring.

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This next image of colorful wildflowers at right was located beside one of the two cascades on a rock wall. There are seven different species including paintbrush, aster, goldenrod, roseroot, columbine, Labrador tea, and spirae. It took two sessions with some showers between before I was able to get enough of a brief calm to capture a set to focus stack. The columbine of course were easily moved by slightest breezes.

The image at page top, a North Fork of Bishop Creek cascade, is just above these wildflowers. It is a fine place to spend playing in the stream on a warm day after hiking up the trail. Note all rock is wet from the rains.

About 10am, the strongest thunderstorm of my trip moved over the canyon. Because of the towering canyon walls with storms moving in from the south southeast, it was difficult to see what was coming beyond a few minutes however nearing thunder gave me an ealier warning. As it began to rain lightly, I scurried back towards my camp. At that time I passed a young woman backpacking with a dog moving up the trail and warned them a strong storm as I pointed up south would quickly be on top of us but she seemed unconcerned, set on reaching the pass, about 1.5 miles distant. Just a small ways behind her, I warned a group of 2 couples likewise and they also seemed unimpressed despite the fact heavy rain made views of the south canyon walls blurry a short distance away. Neither group had pack rain covers on their backpacks and all were wearing shorts and t-shirts

About 30 seconds later, I reached my tent and dove in as heavy rain suddenly arrived. Looking out my tent, I could see both those parties only part way up to the knee above camp getting hammered. All of them were suddenly in a panic moving further above out of my sight as monstrous lightning bolts blasted right above. Both groups were obviously novices without much experience but I had to shake my head the way they ignored advice even though it was all so visually obvious. Here in California, thunderstorms are rare in our urban areas so many city people are unfamiliar with what storms look like and how violent they can be with heavy rain that can soak a person in just a few tens of seconds. Upper North Fork of Bishop Creek Canyon with massive towering rock walls is one of the most ideal locations in the Sierra for experiencing thunder echoing loudly and was it impressive! A half hour later after rain stopped, I climbed up the trail and saw the gal and dog stumbling out of some trees where she had managed to put a pack rain cover on her pack but was now hand carrying another clump of something in a large bag, no doubt the result of an emergency digging into her pack for rain gear. Now noon, I cooked some lunch.

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By 1pm there were blue holes showing through clouds and looking west over the pass, it looked like I might just have a couple hours of time to get over the pass so decided to make the most of it as I quickly packed up and by 1:30pm was on my way up towards Piute Pass at 11423 feet 600 feet and 1.5 miles further. Others were also now on the move moving up and down the trail including a train of packer mules. Although I still stopped briefly frequently, I stepped up my pace. Below the pass was the largest snow field in the canyon, the result of winter storm winds blowing snow eastward over the pass. There had been reasonable whitebark pine clumps all along the trail where groups might find camp spots. Although there was more melting snow and streamlets at the headwall basin, the most wildflowers in the canyon had been at my camp zone.

I caught up with a pair of fine German women at the snow field and we then stopped at the pass so I could give them some advice about a more tree sheltered camp zone on their way to Carol Col. But as soon as we lowered packs a cumulus cell that had been over the Desolation Lake and Mt Humphreys area and then expanded towards the exposed barren pass, suddenly was pattering us with rain drops so I hurriedly put the pack rain cover on my backpack and fleeing the lightning prone pass, took off at a strong pace down off trail towards the south side of Summit Lake. A few minutes later as I looked back at the pass, the women were still there as the bout of rain apparently did not continue and they had mentioned stopping for a snack. Within 15 minutes I was down at the 11050 bench where sparse whitebark pines again were about the landscape then easily boulder hopped across the main branch of Piute Creek that flows down from Muriel Lake. From there it was a short distance to one of my possible timberline camp zones at Grass Bullseye Lake that I had looked at on Google Earth before the trip. Indeed found an excellent spot behind a grove of tall whitebark pines, well away from and up above the lake and stream. North facing slopes between Muriel and Wahoo Lakes were quite lushly green being fed by active snow fields.

I set up my camp gear and then explored downstream a ways to fill my water bottles. Mostly cloudy skies would continue to look threatening the rest of the breezy afternoon, and there were some active cells at times in the distance, particularly at crest areas. I explored the zone noting places to possibly photograph. From up on the slopes would be fine early morning views west northwest through north northwest across the vast boulder strewn expanses of Humphreys Basin. Climbing up slopes a few hundred feet at sunset, rousted a big buck on a knob. Afterwards I captured the image at left above of warm light towards 13118 foot Mt Emerson that I had been directly below the night before. However nearer late crest sunset, sunlight hid behind clouds far to the west.

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During the evening wind had increased and by dawn Thursday August 31 it was obvious I was not going to be able to work any reflection subjects in the numerous ponds or stream pools in the zone. However more important were some subjects I'd surveyed from higher up on slopes out across the basin. I rose at sunrise, packed up while the sun altitude was too low for reasonable photography, carried the pack down to my creek crossing, then climbed slopes behind camp. The above 7 column 20900 pixel wide stitch blended image shot at an early 7:30am towards the north west shows Grass Bullseye Lake at frame right with 12245 foot Pilot Knob poking up a bit left of center 4 miles distant and to its left the jagged ridge of The Pinnacles at 6 miles. At mid frame edge left is Lower Golden Trout Lake that I would be passing by at its outlet later this morning. Notice all the boulders within shallow Grass Bullseye Lake reflecting the same erratic strewn pattern across the basin. On my way west, I would cross 5 stream channels along its west shore in order to reach the north side of Piute Creek that I would then follow down hill.

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This next above image shot at 7:45am just right of the previous image with Grass Bullseye Lake now at frame edge left is also a 7 column stitch blend at 21100 pixels wide. In this more off axis direction, shadowing of the many boulders is more prominent. Peak 12225 is at skyline frame center with Carol Col just to its right below the snow field. Out of view Lower Desolation Lake would be directly below that peak where a tongue of trees end. My base camp 3 nights later would be behind the forested hill directly below Pilot Knob. The Piute Creek stream areas have an abundance of trout. Notice how some sections of the plain show dried yellow grass while other turf areas are green. During winter the strong winds across those plains scour the yellow areas leaving shallow snow depths while the green areas tend to be slight depressions where snow is deeper. During early summer the yellow areas melted out earlier and have already dried with grasses completing their seed cycle. Lower down in the basin, shown in the previous image, landscapes are less exposed to winds so scour zones decrease and trees increase.

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My third and final image of the morning above was lower down on the slope in order to emphasize Grass Bullseye Lake. The breezy conditions of that morning are obvious from the waves on the lake. Back at the stream, I hoisted the pack and then began the dance across the 5 outlet stream channels until reaching areas north of Piute Creek. From there the cross country ramble down the gradual timberline slope was easy and before long I joined the primary stock trail to Upper Golden Trout Lake that is not on the topo map.

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After reaching Upper Golden Trout Lake, I stopped for a couple modest pictures. An expensive fishing knife in a nifty green leather case was laying on a boulder so yelled to a woman down the shore in case it was from her party. She came over with a young lad and related they came from a horse packer camp lower. Although it was not a knife they recognized, the boy obviously liked it and I was not about to carry it in my already heavy pack. Back on the trail I continued a short ways before stopping again since breezes were near calm to work the above shallow pond with Pilot Knob in the background. A short distance further met a group of people I'd spoken too east of Piute Pass who were now camping. Gave a business card to Darcy and Mike recognized me from the HST forum. After crossing the stream from the Desolation lakes, I climbed up to the top of a plateau then circled down to the outlet of Lower Golden Trout Lake.

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Below the lake outlet, the stream pools spread widely for a quarter mile without a way to rock hop across. Above a packer site in image above were clumps of bigelows sneezeweed, helenium bigelovii, with tents and Pilot Knob and increasing clouds in the distance. At the packer site was an elderly couple I passed a business card to that loved the area they had been placed at. Below that site, the creek dropped off steeply with cascades. I decided to cross on a series of boulders at 10740 over an involved route that was twice the stream width and required taking off my pack and then lifting it down a 5 foot drop. From there climbed a slight rib to a saddle then traversed across cliffs at 10850 until reaching the Packsaddle basin whence I traversed south down to the end of a chain of small ponds and lakes where I dropped my pack to explore for an hour.

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There were two nearby small lakelets below steep talus below a cliff with seeps entering the top lake per image above via a shooting star meadow. Neither lake with clear waters held fish though had adequate depth. Generally I refer to small lakes with some depth as lakelets and shallow bodies of water that are more likely to dry up during summer as ponds. This pretty lakelet had green algae growing on the lake bottom that gave the waters a beautiful emerald green look. Behind the lake was a slight ridge of talus that separated it from large Packsaddle Lake.

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I continued on west towards the zone I had expected to camp at from pre-trip Google Earth analysis. Reaching the area close to the lake's north shore was however a puzzle due to glacially carved channels in the terrain. Eventually solved that and then spent another hour wandering about west of all the ponds looking for a camp spot I would base camp at a couple days.

I sited my tent about 20 feet above the shallow west most pond with a nice view of Mount Humphreys east northeast and a streamlet for water about 70 yards away flowing down from the west ridge of the glacial basin. Packsaddle Lake at 10663 was about 250 yards south and not as aesthetic as expected that in any case this day was breezy. After cooking lunch and taking a refreshing dip in a nearby pond, I hiked to the south end of the big lake that had beautiful turf moss meadow streams with glacial silt lined with shooting star. Above the lake edge, bedrock and talus slopes rose steeply to the top of Glacier Divide 2200 feet above with Mathes Glaciers below the headwall providing a vigorous permanent stream. The lake with a good inlet stream for spawning has an abundance of pan sized golden trout with largest fish I saw about 11 inches.

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Later in the afternoon clouds covered the sky creating dim flat landscapes. I went out to a bluff above the outlet for some fun. Before long light rain began so I rambled back to camp just before heavier downpours had me jumping through the tent door. About an hour later the rain stopped and blue sky reappeared. I wandered out briefly for the image at right of sunset on clouds above reflecting in shallow pond waters. Everything was now soaking wet so I was soon back in my tent.

With everything wet outside and sun blocked behind east walls of the Packsaddle basin, I declined to leave my tent till sunlight reached my camp. Friday September 1 day 4 of my trip was yet another breezy day. I grabbed the photo gear then explored parts of the north and east shores of Packsaddle taking a few mediocre shots in case weather the following day was no better. I then began a longer day hike 350 feet of vertical and a mile down along the east side of the outlet creek. Along the way found some nice bedrock areas beside the lakelet at 10580.

By noon I had returned from my hike below then moved wet gear out in the sun and cooked lunch. Since skies were nicely sunny for once with temperatures climbing, and the breezes lowering, afterwards went back downstream to below the lower lakelet per image at left where I set up beside a most pleasant section of the stream where it went over slabs. It was a fine place to take a dip in the stream and lay out in the sun. Although there were minor numbers of mosquitoes in the basin mainly about wet marshy areas, bright granite bedrock areas like this were sure to have none.

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On the return east of my camp area shot the above sizable picturesque stream that had areas bordered by turf that held good numbers of wildflowers like Lobb's lupine, paintbrush, and aster.

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Late afternoon breezes continued to calm enough so at 7:30pm shot the above image of Mt Humphreys reflecting in the shallow pond next to my camp. I had seen frog tadpoles in the shallow warm grassy pond waters. Over the recent 4 year drought, ponds like this were probably dry most of those summers. During my 3 day 2 night stay, I saw no other visitors in the basin despite there being many groups about Humphreys Basin. And that was not at all unexpected because despite easy cross country to reach, the basin does not have a map trail leading in, is out of the way of use routes, and is not known to have large trout. Over decades I have found there are a great many such wonderful yet neglected places in the range a few of which are in Humphreys Basin. Although my images and this feature may interest a few other groups to venture into the area, it is likely to remain a quiet reserve for true wilderness seekers.

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Waking during wee hours of the night I was finally optimistic after 3 days of storms and wind about the coming morning as breezes had calmed. At sunrise Saturday September 2 day 5 with sunlight shining on the high ridges above, quickly packed up gear and carried my pack over to the pond chain on the east side of the basin. In the moto g cellphone image at right just right of the top of the tripod is my shallow pond.

My pack up process usually takes about a half hour. While still inside my tent, will move most gear that had been inside outside the entrance, then after putting clothes and boots on, move my Thermarest NeoAir Venture outside by my backpack atop which I then put all the small loose gear and clothing. During the night, clothing had been inside the sleeping bag stuff bag as a pillow. Next will knee roll up the sleeping bag tightly and force it into that small stuff sack. Then take down the tent, removing poles and stakes putting that into 3 respective stuff bags. With considerable pushing force my sleeping bag and main tent bags go into the Osprey Aether lower compartment along with my pack rain cover in its stuff bag and my rain pants. I then work on my cooking gear that has lots of small stuff getting that into 3 small stuff bags. My food canister or Ursacks go into the pack top loading main compartment, then the tent poles/stakes, and cooking gear stuff sacks beside that. After that are several Ziplock bags containing small items, extra maps, and anything small I could need on the trail, that go into the pack lid compartment. Next all the rest, mainly clothing is just pushed down into the remaining spaces of the main compartment with the blue plastic ground sheet on top before it is cinched up and quick release buckles all snapped in. Mosquito head net goes into an elastic pocket on back of the pack. My big tripod went into a large side pocket plus being strapped and water bottle on a big carabiner. Finally the top loop of my Osprey Talon 22 photo daypack is biner attached to a top loop on the backpack with 2 hefty bunji cords strapping it tightly to the back. Then am ready to go though lifting the heavy beast up takes squirming effort if laying flat on the ground.

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Without backpack, I then headed south with camera gear to a pond with still waters I'd surveyed Friday, capturing at 7:40am the above reflection of the west ridge above the Packsaddle Lake basin. Note Pilot Knob poking up near center frame.

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With sunlight now at 8:30am illuminating more of Glacier Divide to the south behind Packsaddle Lake, worked this image from the north shore south southwest. A straight reflection without the foreground turf and rock would not have been as aesthetic because most of the lake surface was still just reflecting the shaded areas at left behind the lake. The row of pines at mid right are on a peninsula thus the foreground is a small bay. Note good numbers of small wildflowers in the foreground turf evidence it was about peak in this basin. Snow fields near the top of Glacier Divide are part of the Mathes Glaciers. Note the steep face of a rock glacier.

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After a couple subjects along Packsaddle Lake north shores, moved to the rocky east shore looking north for this image above with a marginally acceptable wavy reflection northward with Pilot Knob at center. By then an intermittent breeze began showing.

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I then hiked around to the south end of the lake that is somewhat awkward due to talus, shot a couple subjects, then went over the talus rib to the green lake I visited on arrival 3 days before and shooting the above image emphasizing its clear water and striking emerald bottom. By now it was 8:30am and I had a few decent images of this little visited basin. However none of the images thus far during the trip had been outstanding. Back at my backpack my next route would be down across Piute Creek then up to Tomahawk Lake, another lonely lake without any trails.

NEXT:  Page 18   Humphreys Lake Backpack 2of2
2017 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac
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