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2015 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

MF Bishop Creek backpack 8-1
MF Bishop Creek backpack 8-2
MF Bishop Creek backpack 8-3

Summer 2015 Trip Chronicles:  Page 12

Middle Fork of Bishop Creek backpack

Back home in the work week, once again during evenings looked at various topo maps pondered taking off a whole week then working two or three areas with backpacking and day trips? But those ideas were dismissed primarily because it was difficult to visit these areas during a droughty summer and not feel like at best results would only be second rate. Also my threshold for long drives on road trips was already stressed given all the driving during recent weeks. The wildflower season was over but there were some lake and peak features to knock off. So reduced that to just 2 days thus settling on taking off the following Monday and Tuesday as PTO. I would backpack for 4 days into the Middle Fork of Bishop Creek headwaters areas, part of the John Muir Wilderness within Inyo National Forest. At issue was there were no reservable slots available for Saturday morning so I would need to try and pick up a same day walk up permit that was somewhat a gamble. If that was unsuccessful had backup alternative plans B and C.

Thus Friday on the last day of July left work late afternoon then made yet another long drive through our unpleasant San Francisco Bay Area urban weekend getaway traffic, across the Central Valley, up across the Sierra via Tioga Pass then south down US395. But did not drive all the way to Bishop but rather vectored off at Deadman Summit to sleep quietly on a lonely dirt road next to Obsidian Dome, an altitude of 8200 feet that would give me a head start acclimating to higher elevations.


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Sunrise Saturday August 1 was back on US395 southbound and arrived in Bishop an hour later. That gave me about an hour to leisurely finalize putting my backpacking gear together so I could escape the trailhead with minimal delay. Well at least that was the plan haha. At the White Mountain Visitor Center a couple multi person groups were already ahead of me upon 7:30am arrival then waited a boringly slow 20 minutes while more groups piled up behind me. At 8am was not surprised there were far less in line than historically a couple decades earlier because with the current well smoothed out online reservation process, groups pick up their permits the day before or via a night box. In any case my target could already be fully reserved from those that could have been here Friday at 11am however I thought that was a long shot so hardly worried. And indeed there were no issues. The novice Inyo NF person behind the counter readily brought me up on the computer and noted I'd been a customer for years. His job required asking at least some of the standard questions and I got the "How deep a hole to dig to bury human waste? With a smile I snapped back "Six FEET deep" and he was aware I was joking so dispensed with all but checking off the boxes and a quick sermon. Following link to online topographic map of my destination:

Middle Fork of Bishop Creek headwaters basin east of Mt Darwin


A half hour later it was 9:05am as I reached the Sabrina Trailhead. Tossed my pack into bushes then drove back down the 1/3 mile to legal overnight parking at 9000 feet then walked back up to start my hike. Climbing back up the 100 feet of vertical on the pavement immediate thoughts were how I disliked having to start up trails mid morning versus sunrise. Another 100 feet uphill the trail turns southwest to follow slopes above the south end of the long Lake Sabrina reservoir. I only got about 50 feet when my usual compulsion to be holding a topo in my hand rose into consciousness. Hmmm? An immediate worry surfaced that I was uncertain my two USGS topo map ever made it into my pack? Indeed after 10 minutes of searching a vague realization firmed up that before leaving my home, I'd unwisely pushed them into a map and book plastic container instead of making the effort to move them into my daypack that was already in my car! So found another a spot just off the trail to hide the pack then walked back a 1/2 mile now to the car. Yep maps were there, and walked back. Now it was 10am. So much for plans and execution!

Not so happy now and telling myself to get over it, I moved ahead. I'd hiked the trail in 1981, 1993, and 2004 and as the trail annoyingly yoyoed up and down I began to recall its inefficiency. The steep sagebrush moraine slopes into the reservoir had so many large boulders to get around that I could not blame the trail designer. Trudging along noticed there were nicer wildflowers on these slopes than I'd found the week before at Lee Vining Creek a similar elevation. At 1.3 miles from the trailhead up 450 feet reached George Lake Creek where I proceeded to enjoy a full head and torso dunk in what was really cold water. Quite needed that body cooling refreshment. From there the trail switchbacks steeply in a shady lodgepole pine forest before rounding a nose at 9900 feet 2 miles along where one can finally see around into the upper canyon peaks. That was still almost 500 feet below Blue Lake. A few other groups were on the trail in both directions. Reaching the very popular with day hikers, Blue Lake at 10380 feet and 2.8 miles had me sweating and more weary from the effort than expected. Well if I added the extra mile and 200 feet I squandered, it began to make more sense. Skies at this point were increasingly clouding up and I could see a thunderstorm far to the east over the White Mountains.


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A tent with backpacking gear was illegally set up on a flat just a few feet from the outlet where the trail meets the lake. Tore off a piece of paper with Inyo NF logo on it I'd grabbed back at the visitor center then left a note to please move back at least 100 feet from the lake shore edge signing it "Inyo Backcountry" that actually meant nothing but might be enough to motivate whomever to do so. Continuing across the log jumble at the outlet and up the trail, I saw a couple off to the side fishing and sensed they might be the ones with the tent. Smiling asked if that was their tent and indeed that was the case. The twentysomething said he had a permit but was not aware of the policy. I calmly advised he move gear and bother to read the backside of the permit. He was embarrassed and eager to move gear away.


Plodding ahead reached Emerald Lakes where now mid day stopped a half hour pushing down some granola as a quick lunch. Crossing the ridge between Emerald and Dingleberry, I opted to cross country up a joint crack on the ridge instead of taking the trail that dips down 200 feet inefficiently to that lake. Well that backfired as I ended up going up and down too much to get around small ponds and cliffs filling the crack. It occasionally happens going cross country across unfamiliar terrain and I just accept results as going to occur at times. Near the end had to move more quickly because darkening cumulus buildups were increasingly threatening. Reached my intended camp zone at 3:05pm and did not waste time setting up tent and gear.

With last items tossed into the tent at 3:20pm, thunder shook the basin over nearby Mt Powell and rain began to fall. Within just minutes, lightning and thunder became very active and after 15 minutes I was enduring yet a third severe thunderstorm this summer. Beebee and pea sized hail pounded my tent and lightning was flashing every few seconds. Intense rain continued for much of an hour and lightning would wane only to become intense again as though a chain of thunderstorm clouds were passing above. I squirmed into a tight ball to keep my body atop my short Thermarest NeoAir. At one point a horrific loud lightning flash occurred right atop me that I thought might have hit the large whitebark pine next to my tent. Actually later surmised a bolt of negative electrons within the ionized air leaders blasted a large round granite dome about 50 feet away and followed flowing rivulets directly into a pond nearby where the zone's positive ground charge would complete the path for the electrons to flow down into. The rain was so hard that water dripping down the side of the tent tub began getting between my UL1 tent floor tub bottom and the blue plastic ground sheet despite the fact I'd tucked the ground sheet well under the edge. During prolonged heavy rains, 3-season tents are apt to show their weaknesses. Already knew it had leaked a few weeks earlier on our Fish Creek backpack but never bothered to fix any pin holes. Now was paying the price as indeed water began wicking in at the end of the tent. Took out a spare cotton t-shirt and went to work soaking up what I could. Having a strong understanding of electrical phenomenon physics, had tented atop deep duff matter below a pine on a slight slope so water could not pool up much beneath me.

After 2.5 hours at 6pm the rain finally stopped, skies lightened up, and blue sky began to appear. I strung up rope for wet gear and went to work drying up any water in and below my tent. First soaked up water with the t-shirt inside the tent then up went the stakes on one side, as I tilted the whole UL1 on its side in order to soak up water on the outside tent floor and whatever had pooled up atop the ground sheet. By 7pm conditions and my gear were looking much better. The following day met 3 young guys who had arrived at Hungry Packer Lake about the same time I arrived and set up. They ended up unpleasantly enduring the long storm beneath trees. We were both lucky as I remember times storms late afternoon never stopped raining until well into evening. The wiser strategy is always to set one's tent up before a storm hits atop still dry duff matter at a lightning safe spot about a concave aspect of landscapes, away from water, not directly atop bedrock that might become wet, even if that means tenting miles from intended destinations. Before sunset managed to at least get in a torso dunk at a nearby pond so didn't have to endure a grubby night in my nicely clean Marmot Pinnacle sleeping bag.


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Sunday August 2 did not climb out of my tent till about 6:30am as high ridges to the east blocked any morning sun. But did have some travelling to do for the first stop on my morning route so did not waste time filling my day pack with gear then moving out across the landscape. Skies in the morning were nicely sunny but downdraft winds made any notion of working the many reflection lakes and ponds a waste of time so I looked elsewhere for amusements. From the Topsy Turvy Lake area climbed the ridge southwest up 400 feet to where I had a nice bird's-eye view of Midnight Lake at 7:50am per image above. Very few serious photographers ever analyze topos in order to climb up to viewpoints that look down on basins so there are myriad High Sierra landscapes like this that have yet seen tripods. Instead landscapes like this tend to be incidental results of cross country travel and peak bagging. Considerable glacial bedrock flat areas are below the lake for nice camping with good year round flows in the stream from permanent snow fields in large talus areas above. For those looking for an interesting challenge in what appears to be a walled in closed basin, 850 feet higher is linear shaped half mile long Blue Heaven Lake as well as 11 smaller lakes and ponds. Frame mid right skyline is 13,831 foot Mt. Darwin at the border of Kings Canyon National Park. See topo link above.


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I wandered a short distance south over the rib then worked the above image looking down 200 feet below to Sailor Lake at 10990 feet frame lower left. In shadows at left mid frame edge, is part of larger Moonlight Lake. The impressive peak just right of mid frame is 13160+ foot Picture Peak. Below its shadowed lower area behind in sunshine pines is part of the outlet section of Hungry Packer Lake though difficult to see in the severely downsized image.


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There is a leaping waterfall along the stream below Moonlight Lake that invariably attracts any photographers visiting the basin. However it is only worthwhile capturing images mid to late afternoon and I chose to go work other subjects on the one afternoon I had. I did make a visit during this morning and a couple were indeed camped right at that spot. I climbed up the terrain step to Moonlight Lake for the above image a 15000 by 6000 pixel 5x1 vertical panel stitch. A friend and I had camped along the shore in 1993. At frame upper left is one of the Sierra Nevada's largest rock glaciers with its source Mt Powell somewhat hidden beyond its northern containing rib. Powdered granite seeping out of its considerable rock and ice core feeds the lake giving it a classic glacial aquamarine water color. The color tends to be more saturated late summer September after other snowmelt sources in the basin have diminished. Moonlight is also one of the better lakes in the basin for fishing.


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Close-up image above is alpine goldenrod, salidago multiradiata, and alumroot, heuchera rubescens, in a shadowed somewhat wind protected granite wall crack. It is a focus stack blend of 11 images. This kind of image with huge depth of field and detail would be impossible just a few years ago. At page top is a view down at Topsy Turvy Lake, arguably the Sierra's finest example of large talus that has rolled from cliffs into a lake. In the distance is a section of rusty Piute Crags. This view is more interesting late season when it gains aquamarine color due to inflow from Moonlight Lake above. At this mid time of summer considerable clear flows are still combining from flows out of Hungry Packer. Climbing around to the right side of the lake in this view is difficult because the talus becomes enormous.


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Eastern brook trout dominate streams and lakes in this basin and I've never seen any more than a foot long. Most fish are just 8 to 10 inch pan sized with typical oversized heads, are numerous, and catching a pan filling meal is quick and easy. Note there is one lake that also still has rainbow trout and did see some this trip. The basin would be an optimal choice to rotenone kill all trout then replant with golden trout because the streams are vigorous year round given permanent snow fields about north facing talus with excellent spawning areas for rainbow or golden species. However horse packers traditionally have preferred lakes with easy to catch brook for their dude customers.


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Sunday at dusk was some fine warm light in the sky. The above image captured with my Sony SEL55210 telephoto zoom was a down canyon thunderhead over the White Mountains with Piute crags in silhouette. The second image above is likewise a telephoto of dusk over 13,418 foot Mt. Haekel. And the second image below page top was dusk over peak 13258.


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Monday morning August 3 left my tent at a late 7am because my primary subjects were in shadows early. Although skies were sunny and breezes calm, there was an obvious smell of mild smoke in the air. Surveying skies from a nearby open dome, I could see light smoke was not only throughout the local basin but also down canyon in the Owens Valley and White Mountains were not visible at all just a white haze. I decided to only work a limited number of subjects then in late morning if skies were still smoky, pack up and hike out a day early. The first subject was the above shallow pond covered by emerging grasses. At mid ground beyond is the main branch of Bishop Creek just below the Topsy Turvy Lake outlet where it drops over bedrock. And in the background is Picture Peak at left and Mt Haekel mid right.


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The image above shows a turf pond with talus on the far side and in the background Picture Peak at left, Mt Haekel at center, and Mt Darwin at right. The affect of smoke in the image is not as apparent as it was visually. One result is a bluish cast on Picture Peak where smoke was somewhat denser. By late morning the smoke in the atmosphere remained so I packed up and left. As I approached Blue Lake, I met an Inyo SAR Search And Rescue person in a bright orange t-shirt. He related a 76 year old woman Yuri was missing from a group that had been camping at Emerald Lake. I had actually met and chatted with their lead person that surprised me by passing the remote location where I set up camp. They were a small group of older former university faculty people from Berkeley and he had been a mountain enthusiast most of his life. On the way back to the trailhead, I met others in their group while more of the SAR team passed going up. On following days the SAR website reported they had found Yuri below Dingleberry Lake.

By time I reached the trailhead, smoke had mostly cleared from the skies due to a strong upper air flow from the west mixing areas below though the Owens Valley air quality was still poor. Before my trip the Willow Fire near Bass Lake in Madera County had brought smoky skies for several days to areas of the Eastern Sierra north from Mammoth Lakes while areas south remained clear. And that was a key factor in my choice of backpacking down at Bishop. Later that week found the source of smoke was the Cabin Fire far south in the Kern drainage. Before the big storm late Saturday afternoon, a monsoon flow dominated bringing air north up the Owens Valley from the southeast and south. After that passed a trough coming down the coast from the northwest changed winds to the southwest and west that blew Cabin Fire smoke over the range into the Owens Valley and then local lower atmosphere winds blew that north across the whole Southern Sierra Nevada. Had I stayed the following day skies would have remained clear, however breezes became strong as the trough pushed into the region.

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2015 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac
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