Hidden away in the corridors of our mind can be an adventure that surprisingly one day resurfaces to be identified. That is what happened one evening when Fred Cochran, Clem Bingham and I sat across the table from each other to discuss our next hiking adventure. It seemed as if the three of us shared the same desire to hike across the Sierra Nevada Mountains from east to west. After spending time researching, a possible route was agreed upon. We’ll depart from South Lake in Bishop California, cross the mountains and complete this adventure at Roads End in Kings Canyon. In 10 days we should cover 57 miles, ascend 11 remote passes and with the highest elevation point of 12,300 feet.
We departed from Oakhurst around 2:00 AM for our 5 hour drive to Bishop on the east side. At 8:15 a.m., we departed from the South Lake Trailhead at 9,800 feet. After eight hours and skirting around three separate small lakes we arrived at Bishop Pass at an elevation of 11,972 feet. Finally we dropped from the pass to Dusy Basin to set up our first campsite. That evening those dark clouds that lingered overhead throughout the afternoon gave up their moisture and we were confined to our tents earlier than expected.
At 2 a.m. I heard footsteps moving around outside my tent. Now a cat and mouse game started between me and what ever made those strange noises. When I opened my tent flap and with my flash light searched around my tent; nothing was there! This one sided game persisted three separate times, but on my last search the intruder left his tracks. They were 5 inch diameter cougar tracks. Needless to say I stayed inside my tent until morning.
Our following morning was brisk and clear with only a few scattered clouds from yesterday’s storm. One major change, all trails ended at this camp and from this point on we’ll rely upon our map and compass. No GPS on this hike!
Knapsack Pass at 11,673 feet will be our next destination. This class 2 and 3 rated climb took us to our next campsite at Barrett Lake. At this elevation there are no trees, just a few isolated bushes and lots of rocks. The lake is nestled against a towering mountain range reaching up more than 12,500 feet. Looking west from this large shelf (campsite) it drops off a few hundred feet to smaller lakes snuggled into the valley below.
The following morning we hiked along a south facing slope ascending 800 feet to Potluck Pass. Our next destination will be to descend to a no-name lake at 11,676 feet. This lake is the head waters of Glacier Creek and will be our highest elevation campsite during this adventure. After a relentless time searching for a flat area to set up our tents, we managed to locate a small shelf only 7 feet wide to accommodate 2 tents. The third tent was 20 feet below the shelf snuggled within a cluster of boulders. At this elevation nighttime temperatures can hover around freezing, but late morning and with the warmth of the suns temperature, a comfortable rise into the fifties.
Today came a bolder-hopping and climbing adventure to Cirque Pass at 12,100 feet. I would defiantly rate this climb as class 3, reason being climbing over large boulders, narrow steep slots and slippery surfaces with the addition of a 50 pound pack increases its difficulty. Once we accomplished this elevation gain, we could now look down into the next valley 1,487 feet below. At that point we’ll intersect the John Muir Trail which will lead us to the upper Palisades Lake for our next campsite.
One of the inlet streams to this upper lake graced us with a 12 foot waterfall and that is the location of our campsite. Lucky we set up camp early that afternoon because with all the hikers on this trail by six o’clock all available areas for camping were taken. So far during this adventure we had no encounter with another person until intersecting the JMT.
The following day was much easier by just following the switch backs of the JMT to the 12,100 feet of Mather Pass. Fantastic views looking back at Palisades Lakes and forward toward the huge valley which forms the glacial lakes that create the headwaters of the south Fork of the Kings River. This is a beautiful basin surrounded by towering mountains of more than 13,000 feet, each still wearing there winter dress of snow. Now we’ll open up our map and visually look to the west of this huge valley and plan our climb over Frozen Lake Pass to continue our adventure.
Next week will be the conclusion of this historic 10 day adventure from Bishop California to Kings Canyon National Park across our Sierra Nevada Mountains.