SHR Day 1: home to the wilds

Oct. 3rd 2022

South Lake to Dusy Basin

10 miles +2,379 ft / – 1,433 ft 

Campsite elevation 10,765 ft

Yesterday: I said farewell to my Dad in Southern California and drove the six hours to Mammoth by early evening. This was after a couple days visit with him following my trip to Europe. Bless his heart he picked me up a few nights ago at LAX at 1:00am after I travelled for 28  hours. Ooof, it was a long trip home to say the least. Over the past three days since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to work through the jet lag as quickly as possible to be ready for what lie ahead.

While I did just return from two wonderful weeks of hiking a section of the Haute Route Pyrenees, I have to say I’ve been looking forward to this week’s hike for a real long time. I even changed my plane ticket to return from Europe earlier than originally planned so that I could come back to the Sierras one more time this season. The back story to this week’s hike on the Sierra High Route is that I hiked 80% of it in 2018 with Hurlgoat, but I had to take a week off for a work conference in Boston at that time. He continued without me along one of the toughest sections between Bishop and Mammoth. You can catch videos of our hike on his you Tube channel here, he does an amazing job of capturing the High Route.

I have been wanting to make up that section for the past four years and many things have thwarted my efforts, including a try for it earlier this year with Rockin’ and Michelle, aka Team Lounge. We had completed a seven day High Sierra Tramp together and planned on the SHR for week two. At the end of week one, the smoke was really rolling in from nearby fires, and Rockin’ was still recovering from Covid, so it was a very clear decision that we were not continuing. Once again, I was facing the fact that the SHR was not happening this year. I resolved that I will hike it when I am ready, or when it is ready for me. Apparently that time has finally come, so here goes!

SHR 2018: looking back at the Minarets from Iceberg Lake

Last night when I arrived in Mammoth, I went straight down to Sherwin Creek to take in all the beauty. I spent some intentional time connecting with this land after having been so far away. The magical feeling that the Sierra Nevada delivers was instantaneous. It always is.

I found myself flooded with joy and deep love for this place from the moment I opened my car door. The scent of vanilla, pine pitch and sage danced their way to my olfactory lobes and with that, waves of memories came into my heartspace. As I meandered down the shore of the creek I brushed against the sage and found myself kissing aspen leaves. I hugged two trees like they were old friends and gazed longingly at the nearby peaks. I am home.

In the evening I headed over to Distant Brewery to meet up with one of my dearest friends who happened to be in town that evening. We enjoyed the warmth of each others familiarity and exuberant vibes while listeing to great live music and sipping on some wine. We even danced a little and this too felt like such a wonderful landing home.

Morning. Oct. 3rd, 2022. 6:06am.

It is still dark in the forest where I’m car camping. I step out into the cool 36F air to pee and then boil water for coffee. Since I am car camping I get to enjoy one last “real” cup of pour over coffee before heading to the back country where instant coffee has to be good enough. As the morning light creeps in the familiar sounds of Sierra Jays and those vocal squirrels dance through the forest. I sit sipping my coffee, taking it all in, enjoying the moment while feeling a sense of giddiness well up inside me.

I am so happy to be here, so thankful that I have a companion (an amzing companion at that) to share this experience with. I really don’t think I am over rating my expectations, I think the week ahead is going to be very powerful, memorable and magical. I feel really strong going into this hike. I have my trail legs, I’ve got my gear dialed, I even bought new LaSportiva approach shoes which are designed for talus and boulder hopping. I feel solid, I feel focused and clear and my soul is so ready to embrace all that the Sierra Nevada is, all that she has to gift me.

SHR 2018: loving life

Since I am in Mammoth, my time here would not be complete without a visit to Schat’s Bakery for breakfast. I sit at a table finishing up one more blog post from my HRP hike, then I am off to meet Rockin’ at 9:30am at Stellar Brew. Outside the coffee shop we embrace with enthusiasm and energetic smiles, our energy is contaigious, we are both really excited for this adventure.

We walk into Stellar and the song “The night we met” by Lord Huron is playing over the speaker, the lyrics of which always make me feel so nostalgic for times spent on long trails. “I am not the only traveler…who has not repaid his debt…I’ve been searching for a trail to follow again…take me back to the night we met.” We grab a coffee to-go and soon we are shuttling our cars up to the Duck Pass Trailhead. We leave Rockin’s car there then drive my car down to Bishop.

Along the drive to South Lake Trailhed we chat about all that we’ve been through since we last saw each other in July. My trip to Europe and hiking the HRP and her guiding with Skurka Adventures in Washington. We have a lot to connect over and ponder about and it is really lovely to share stories with another person who is as passionate about backpacking and being in the wilderness as me.

An early fall aspen snap

We are pleased to see how intensely bright the Aspen trees are with a glowing amber yellow already popping. Rockin’ says it’s because they received and early “cold snap” this year, then the temps warmed up again. The hillsides are covered in waves of yellow and the quivering of the leaves in the gentle wind is almost transcendent. I am not used to seeing this color here until mid-October so this is a treat indeed. I feel super excited now to know we will see even more of this stunning beauty along our route this week.

We are ready! Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake. Note the matching of pants to shirt…
I have never seen South Lake so low…
Starting out on the South Lake Trail heading up to Bishop Pass

The conversation continues as we start up the long haul to 11,978 ft at Bishop Pass. We each have seven days worth of food and we are skimping on carrying water since our packs are so heavy. We stop part way up to eat lunch and enjoy identifying different peaks along the way to the pass. Chocolate Peak, Aggasiz, Hurt Peak, Puzzle Piece, Columbine, and we look for Cloud Ripper but never do see it.

Rockin walks with beams of light around her
See, I told you

Hitting some tight switchbacks, we see the deer bones that remain from a massive rockslide that wiped out a hundred deer back in 2018. Rockin’ tells me the same thing happened on Shepherd’s Pass that same year, which I hadn’t known. It’s been interesting to ponder this whole thing, why there were so many deer all together there in the first place and how the timing worked out that they all got killed? From year to year, I’ve watched how the carcasses have decayed, been picked off and now they have nearly disappeared, leaving very little evidence but a few scattered vertebrae four years later.

2018: the rock slide and carnage, sorry for the grotesque photo, but I found it super interesting

Rockin’ is eager to hear about my time in the Pyrenees and shares that she bragged about me being there to fellow hiking companions on her guiding trips. We get a real good laugh about this one, as it does sound so cool and exotic to start a sentence with “my friend, she’s hiking in the Pyrenees right now…” making her feel real important. I could have easily said the same about her “my friend, she’s a back country guide for Skurka Adventures…” although I don’t think too many people in the Pyrenees would know what I was referencing and there’s no way I could have said all that in French!

One of my biggest takeaways from hiking the Pyrenean High Route, or the Pyrenees in general, was that it did not feel exotic to me, not in the way I had hoped it would. If you’ve read my blog posts about that journey you will understand why. To sum it up, I was able to figure out what was missing only toward the end of my two week trek there. It was the feeling of Wilderness that was missing. Wilderness, the way we define it here, the way it exists here in the States, does not seem exist there. At least I did not experience it that way.

It is beautiful country out there to be sure, but it never felt wild to me with all the domesticated animals, a refuge or two each day and frequent brushes with civilization, people and paved roads. Don’t get me wrong, the Pyrenees are amazing in their own right, a mountain chain that spans 500 miles is no small thing, it’s just that in my mind, I expected something a little more like the Sierras. So, good thing I am here now.

I return here with such an appreciation of what our Wilderness is. We humans are truly the visitors here and when we enter a Wilderness it is a sacred space. It is a living, thriving entity in and of itself and does not need us to improve upon it. So much so, that we really must enter the wilds with utmost respect and reverence, and we must defend it’s continued existence with fervor.

I am reminded of a quote by Aldo Leopold in 1925 “The Wilderness is the one thing on Earth which was furnished complete and perfect”.

Oh we are stoked…

We reach Bishop Pass at around 4:00pm, neither of us has been above 9,000ft since July and I have to say with my jet lag I feel slightly lightheaded. We take off our packs and enjoy the views for a spell. Our conversation flows from one topic to another and I say to her how I feel like we’ve spent a lot more time in the back country together than we actually have.

Several years ago Rockin’ hiked the Theodore Solomons Trail and I remember enjoying reading her blog on her site, Lady on a Rock, ever since 2014. Since then we only knew of each other from online presence, and in the Spring of this year, we finally met in person. With a little over 8 days total in the back country together, it now feels like we are old friends.

Rockin’ describes what a project the Solomon’s trail was and how wild it felt since so many of the trails that the route follows are old, overgrown and un-maintained. Several of the bridges had been washed out too so they had a few very intense river fords. Indeed, a great example of the wild I speak of where signs of man get washed out, taken out and overgrown by the powerful forces of nature.

Bishop Pass, 11,972 ft

We drop a few miles and a thousand feet from the pass admiring the beauty of the lakes framed by the craggy granite peaks surrounding Dusy Basin. It is a magical place here indeed. The moon is just a little past half full and sits poised right above a pointed rock face we don’t have a name for.

That wall of peaks lining Dusy Basin

There are birds chirping, squirrels scurrying, water flowing and we we see a long pack train of mules led by two women who have pulled out all the trail maintenance equipment for the season. A reminder it is Fall, the hiking season is certainly winding down. How lucky are we to be here now.

These are the only domesticated animals we will see all week
I took Rockin’s advice, I am hiking in pants!!

We are expecting cold temps this week, although right now we are sweaty from climbing. Our weather forecast is fantastic, with zero precipitation forecasted, but it’s gonna get cold at night. We’ve both packed our down booties and extra layers for that. The sunny days will more than make up for the cold nights though and I think we are going to have a slice of prime Sierra weather this week!

We make it to the outlet of the furthest lake in Dusy Basin, right before that water drops into Le Conte Canyon. We select a sweet little campsite that is actually close to a few other folks to our surprise, but they are not close enough to talk with. It is really still and quiet tonight, the trickle of water flowing from the lake outlet is just audible enough. There isn’t any wind except for a subtle occasional breeze stirring up the air, then settling back into stillness. The moonlight illuminates the craggy granite peaks, the stars have brilliantly popped out for the night and it’s dropped to 40F already.

Last of the flowing water before it drops into Le Conte Canyon
Sweet little spot with granite slabs to sit on
moonlight on the crags

We heat up water to make dinner and get cozy on some lovely slas of granite wearing our beanies. By 7:30pm we are climbing into our tents and tucking in. Our campsite sits at 10,765 ft and it’s going to feel so wonderful sleeping here tonight in this magical, high basin. We plan to get an early start tomorrow as it will be light enough to walk by 6:30am.

We have a hefty day planned, dropping a couple thousand feet to the PCT in LeConte Canyon, then climing up a few thousand feet to Helen Lake. After that we will dive off the beathen path for some cross country travel up to Black Giant Pass, the gateway to Ionian Basin, which is not on the Sierra High Route. We did this exact same thing in July, but we turned around at the pass due to the smoke coming in and exited the Sierras at LaMarck Col. Tomorrow, we will pick up where we left off, heading into Ionian, one of the most austere regions in the Range of Light. After that, we will resume the SHR proper for the rest of the week. I’m super excited to finally get out there!

good night

8 thoughts on “SHR Day 1: home to the wilds

  1. A stunning story descriptive told and as always great pictures, so thank you for bringing the excitement to us staying at home.
    For me the 3rd of October is always a legal holiday, so I remember some great fall hiking tours too.
    I was surprised by your pictures of the Sion railway-station, because the Wallis is a place not so far, where I also startet some adventures. Didn’t expect you reporting from there or the Pyrenees.

    1. Hi Peter!! Thanks for following along, my best friend lives near Sion, so I went out to visit her and then headed over to France to check out the Prenees…I’ve heard a little about the Wallis but never been…should I add that to my list?

  2. M-
    Your poetry makes me tingle. Yes, I call it poetry for it dances across my consciousness leaving so much of your adventuring woven into my thoughts. But most of all the mashup of chemistry, pheromones, hormones, biology and the interconnection these all share. The indivisibility of life-forms in all their manner of being feels sacred to your writing. The joy bubbling out as you once again skip through the talus in your “very own” backyard instinctively sharing your love with the local aspens, puts a big smile on my face as I try and remember the last time I wore that big S**T-eating grin that I couldn’t lose for trying. It might have been when we decided to bail on Snow Tongue Pass and went up the Piute Creek Drainage instead. LOL Just remember if you camp anywhere around the Desolation Lakes or somewhere short of Puppet Pass you’ll be under intense Marmot scrutiny. Safeguard any slippers or trekking poles…they WILL disappear overnight otherwise. 😃 I won’t tarnish your trip by telling you all the things I thought I found out when I did part of this section – rather I’ll leave the discovery to you, in true Roper fashion. Have a super trip and don’t ever lose any of the thrill and wonder.

    Tom

    1. “The indivisiility of life-forms in all their manner of being feels sacred to your writing”….thank you Tom, your comment is powerfel and deep and I really appreeciate you sharing. You know that kind of smile it seems, there is nothing like it. I have yet to delve into Snow Tongue, I think this could be a good year to do it and actually walk on snow!

  3. Can’t wait to read this series. I followed the hike on YouTube with yourself and Hurlgoat in 2018 like you mentioned. I tell people at work “I work here so that I can get money together to go out in the woods” 😁

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