Following Water for 60 Miles on the North Lake to South Lake Trail

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Every summer, I do a backcountry Sierra trip that’s at least 60 or 100 miles. Last year I did a loop in Mineral King. Most of the time I go solo, but this year I talked my friend Manny into coming along. We decided on the North Lake to South Lake Loop, a trail that begins at a small lake just above Lake Sabrina, links up with the John Muir Trail, and ends at the Bishop Pass Trailhead. The trail is not a perfect loop, so a short car shuttle is required.

Day 1

After dropping Manny’s car at the Bishop Pass Trailhead, we took my car back to the North Lake trailhead about 30 minutes away. After the 6-hour drive, we put packs on in the heat of the day and started up the trail to Piute Pass. By late afternoon we made it 8 miles to Upper Golden Trout Lake where we made camp for the night. We had plenty of daylight left at camp to explore and take pictures of the lakes and surrounding area.

Starting from sea level and sleeping at 11,000 feet is always challenging. Humans were just not designed for this. We both felt the exhausting effects of this shock to the body. We did our best to get a good night’s sleep, but neither one of us did.

Starting from sea level and sleeping at 11,000 feet is always challenging. Humans were just not designed for this.

Piute Pass
Lower Golden Trout Lake
The mighty Mount Humphreys from Upper Golden Trout Lake

Day 2

I quickly forget my crappy night’s sleep when I got up just before first light. I watched the Sierra alpine glow hit the mountains for an hour before the sunrise and it was intoxicating. “I can’t believe I get to be here,” I told myself out loud. I felt the smile of God himself as I watched the changing colors of the sunlight hitting the peaks and the clouds.

I felt the smile of God himself as I watched the changing colors of the sunlight hitting the peaks and the clouds.

Manny got up shortly after I did and we got on the trail by 7:00 am. We followed Piute Creek for 6 miles deep into the canyon where it merged with the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. There were so many lakes, creeks, and waterfalls that Manny and I almost got tired of taking photos. Every time I thought we had seen the most spectacular waterfall of the trip, we’d walk upon something even more impressive. By 3:00 pm we had left the river and followed a couple of miles of steep switchbacks that led into Evolution Basin. By 5:00 pm, we stopped to camp at the Evolution Creek crossing. Surprisingly, there were few mosquitos. Thank God!

Alpine glow above Lower Golden Trout Lake
Pilot Knob on the right, heading down Piute Canyon
Piute Creek
The South Fork of the San Joaquin River
Evolution Creek
Evolution Creek

Day 3

We crossed Evolution Creek early in the morning and started hiking into Evolution Basin. It was as spectacular as I remembered from my 2018 hike of the John Muir Trail. We took a break when we got to McClure Meadow. There is an enchanted quality about this place. There is a calm quiet peacefulness that comes over a person at the meadow. I mentioned it to Manny and he felt the same sensation.

We had planned to camp at the pass in the Muir Hut, but the weather looked like it was turning bad and we had a lot of daylight and energy left so we decided to press on. I had hoped to summit Black Giant, a 13,000+ foot peak near the pass, but it just didn’t work out on this trip. I’ll have to come back for that one.

After 17+ miles we decided to stop at a decent campsite rather than risk trying to find a campsite after dark. It was 8 pm when we set camp and had dinner. I had two dinners that night. I was famished from all that energy expenditure. I had been cowboy camping on this trip and Manny had been using the tent. As I looked at the stars that night, I watched clouds roll in and caught lightning in the distance. By midnight I felt raindrops on my face, so I got up and crashed Manny’s tent. The storm passed in an hour and I was able to sleep under the clear skies once again.

I watched clouds roll in and caught lightning in the distance. By midnight I felt raindrops on my face, so I got up and crashed Manny’s tent.

McClure Meadow
Muir Pass

Day 4

We got started early, hiking down LeConte Canyon, following the roaring creek, and passing Big Pete’s Meadow along the way. We had breakfast near the backcountry ranger station at the bottom of the canyon before heading up the steep switchbacks to Dusy Basin where we planned to camp for the night. Getting to Dusy Basin was no joke—they don’t call it “dusy” for nothing.

We made the basin by lunch and realized that we were only 8 miles from the trailhead. We were tired. Both of us felt like we wanted to push and sleep in our own beds that night. We both took a 5-hour Energy shot and pushed through the last miles. By 4:00 pm we were off the trail and ready to head down the mountain.

We both took a 5-hour Energy shot and pushed through the last miles. By 4:00 pm we were off trail and ready to head down the mountain.

Alpine Glow high in the LeConte Canyon drainage
Le Conte Canyon
Big Pete’s Meadow
Dusy Basin
Looking toward Bishop Pass from Dusy Basin – Mount Agassiz, North Palisade, and Thunderbolt Peak

We stopped at Holy Smoke Texas BBQ in Bishop and had a 4,000 calorie dinner that included a huge brisket sandwich, cornbread, and mac & cheese. It was like being raptured into Heaven. I’m sure hunger and fatigue played a factor, but I can’t remember having a meal that good in a decade. Manny and I reminisced about all that we had experienced in the last four days before we parted ways and headed for home.

I’m sure hunger and fatigue played a factor, but I can’t remember having a meal that good in a decade.

The time seemed to pass in mere minutes. As I write this post a month later, I still feel the euphoria of being in that enchanted place. Like so many of my adventures, I am sure I will recall it often and with fondness. I can’t help but feel grateful to the Almighty for being able to experience these adventures. I’ll never take them for granted.

Elevation Profile

Route Map