Sunday, August 31, 2014

A piece of the Sierra High Route: North Lake Trailhead to Lower Desolation Lake

The day doesn't have the most auspicious start: greg walks out of the motel room (in a different motel than planned, since ours had a fire last week; good thing for us that they transferred our reservation!) in the morning to load the car and notices that he left the running lights on. Ooops. Maybe the car will start anyway... they are just the running lights, they can't draw that much power. Nope... Quick thinking, some cursing, and then into the breakfast room to see if anyone has jumper cables. Luckily there are people up early and someone does have cables and the guy parked in the spot next to ours is there and willing to move his truck. 10 minutes later and the problem is solved. Yay! Would have really sucked to miss our taxi pickup.

We're both fully awake at this point! We leave the car running and have a quick breakfast and then head out to drive to the Pine Creek trailhead. We get there a bit early, admire the scenery, put on our boots and hang out until the taxi shows up, right on time. Our driver Simone has lived in Switzerland (explanation for the punctuality? ;-)) so we have a  fun conversation during the beautiful drive to the North Lake/Piute Pass trailhead (~2800m). Here we say goodbye, put on the packs and head through the full campground towards Piute Pass (start: ~8:30).

The trail takes us gently up through the trees, climbing and switching back and providing loads of great views oft he valley in front as it opens up. The packs are heavy but not oppressively so and we're up above 3000m pretty quickly, so we aren't moving real fast. Slowly and steadily we climb until we get to our first lake: Loch Leven. There are a couple guys fishing here and a woman with her dog, but it's wonderfully quiet anyway. We take a snack break under a big tree at the end of the lake before continuing onwards and upwards.
Loch Leven with Piute Pass in the background
Not much risk of getting lonely on this trail: it's a long weekend and there are plenty of dayhikers and fishermen out as well as groups of backpackers coming down (yay!). Though some of the smaller lakes are sad and empty, there is definitely water in the bigger ones, that's one concern down! Onwards and upwards, past Piute lake, which is another real gem, and on and on towards the pass. After about four hours we hit Piute Pass (~3500m). There are a couple groups in the broad, shallow pass, but there's plenty of space for us to find a quiet, wind-sheltered place and do some lunch and view-soaking-in. Now it's a gentle, slow descent and then the trail takes us around to the right, past some trees, over a stream where we pump some water (first of many, many water pumpings), and then across the plain of the Humphrey Basin. After a bit we realize that the path has taken us too far down and to the South, so we head North cross-country until we spot Lower Desolation Lake (~3400m). The number of very nice campsites we see while approaching makes the "should we stay or should we go?" decision really easy (end: ~14:15). We pick a super spot, pitch the tent, pump some water, wash, rest, do dinner and then enjoy the sunset (the evolution of color and shadows on Mt Humphrey is amazing). And then I reached the end of the notebook page...

Dinner: chix noodle soup with chipotle and cumin. Mashed potatoes with salami and garlic.

campsite at Lower Desolation Lake
pumping water at Lower Desolation Lake

Mt. Humphrey at sunset


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