Thursday, July 19, 2007

Backpacking Mt Humphreys in the Eastern Sierra

It just took hearing the forecast of 113 degree heat in the southern sierras, and we promptly planned a 4-day backpack trip in the high Eastern Sierra. We settled on a trip into the Mt Humphreys lake basin, with no real detailed plan. Mt Humphreys is just shy of 14,000 feet and can be accessed by Piute Pass out of the North Lake/Sabrina Lake area west of Bishop. Most of our hiking and camping was above 11,000 feet, yet it was still hot!

From North Lake trailhead, we hiked a scenic 6 miles and 2200 feet in elevation to the pass. After paralleling a lush and shady creek, the trail passed by a series of trout-filled lakes encompassed by the huge jagged peaks typical of the Eastern Sierra.

At Piute Pass, the views opened up dramatically as a giant plain of barren rocks, lakes and distant peaks came into view.

At this point i understood why one of the biggest lakes in the region was called Desolation Lake. This lake was our destination for the night.

After another couple miles of fairly easy hiking we charged cross-country to arrive at this huge lake. There was one serious bummer that we weren't completely prepared for: mosquitoes ! Even though the surroundings had so much barren rock, there was plenty of grassy marshy areas and small ponds for those nasty pests to breed. Our group, consisting of 4 tired hikers and 2 dogs, set up our tents at the back end of the lake with Mt Humphreys towering above.

After a morning swim the next day, we decided to hike up and over past Forsaken Lake to the lager of the Humphreys Lakes. There were almost no mosquitoes, and we found a great tent site nestled in the rocks just above the lake. We called it good and set up camp. We spent the rest of the day, July 4th, fishing, swimming, and hiking.

For our most dramatic viewpoint on the trip, we hiked straight up the steep shale to a ridge on Mt Humphreys. We had planned to hike the peak, but its Mordor-looking towers required some gnarly mountaineering skills. Our destination turned out to be a knife-edge ridge with some of the most dramatic scenery i have yet seen in the Sierras!

These mountains are basically gigantic spires and cliffs that drop straight down to the Owen's Valley floor. Its so steep that my fear of heights quickly kicked in, and i was basically crawling around on hands and feet to maximize all the views. Awesome! After the steep hike up, we jumped and skated down in about 2 minutes!

That evening Charly, our adventure buddy dog, got into a fight with the local scavenging marmot. He actually got his head wedged into some rocks while the marmot gnashed out at his face. He got cut up pretty bad.

The fishing was excellent early the next morning. One of the smaller lower lakes was filled with small but gorgeous Volcano Creek Goldens, while we caught larger Brookies in the Humphreys lakes. We then set out south to Muriel Lake. After finding some awesome camp sites at the outlet, we decided to day hike up to the Goethe Lakes. The storm clouds were building, but unfortunately never materialized above us. We were hoping to get some much-needed rain in the sierra.

Up a Goethe Lake it was fairly windy and stormy, but still the water looked like the purest blue...almost like Crater Lake in Oregon. Was formed from the Goethe Glacier, which still exists up on the flanks of Muriel Peak.

The hiking around the lake is basically giant boulder hopping. There's no trail and no place to camp, which made it seem even more pure and gorgeous!

At first we assumed there's no fish in the lake due to the lack of vegetation. But just when we were about to give up fishing there, a good sized rainbow grabbed the lure. It turned out to be a great day!

And topping it off, was watching a superb sierra sunset from our camp that evening.

The next morning we packed up and hiked the long way back down to the trailhead. During the hike, the thunderclouds were growing fast. About the time we reached our truck, that storm had started the Inyo Complex Fires that raged across the Eastern Sierra for a couple days.
(See my last post on that little adventure.)

Here's a GPX file of our route and a Google Earth shot of the trip:

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