SHR Day 2: walkin’ on sunshine

Oct. 4th 2022

Dusy Basin to Ionian Basin

18 miles +4,260 ft / -3,361 ft

5:40am. Oof that was a rough one. While I felt super sleepy after dinner last night something went awry during the falling asleep process. My stomach was grumbling and gassy, I kept getting a stuffed up nose and I was just not falling asleep. I am chocking it up to the altitude and jet lag.

In the middle of the night I went out to pee, the half moon glowing so brightly just before setting on the ridgeline. Once I peed and the moon set, I was able to sleep for a few hours. My alarm set for 5:15am, I get up just before. As I make coffee, I check the thermometer. It’s 25F. Exactly what I’d expected. I don’t feel cold though so that’s encouraging, I did not need to sleep in my down pants or booties, though I may need them sometime this week. The lowest temp I have camped in the Sierras was actually here in Dusy Basin in late October 2017, it was 8F. That one felt a little tougher getting out to hike.

The stars in the sky this morning are simply stunning. I have not seen stars that glow with this sharpness and clarity for a while and it really makes me remember where I am. I am in the Sierras! Whoo hoo!! The faint sound of the lake outlet stream is more pronounced in the stillness of morning. Rockin’s tent is glowing with her headlamp beams and I can hear her stirring about. I sip my coffee and let the caffeine do it’s work. Here goes!

And we’re off!
Looking over the edge…
Sunrise Alpinglow on the Black Divide

The morning walking is cool, yet by the time we are moving it already says 35F. Things are warming up fast but we hike with down puffy’s on anyway. We follow the Bishop Pass Trail down, down, down to the junction with the PCT/JMT at Le Conte Canyon and take a short breakfast break there. I am feeling really sleepy so I add a small spoonful of coffee to my granola. I can’t say it did much but was worth a try! It’s wild to be back here after only two months time. We appreciate the fact that there is no smoke like last time, that Rockin’s health is recovered and we get to do part of this climb in the shade. In fact, while we sit at breakfast we are wearing our down puffy jackets still but we know it won’t last long. Soon we will be slogging up the long, exposed climb to the Pete Meadows area.

Half way down with Langille Peak (12,018ft) looming ahead…I have crossed this creek when it was up to my knees!
Looking down toward the Middle Fork of the Kings River to Grouse Meadow, the Citadel (11,38ft) in the backdrop
An old friend along the Bishop Pass Trail

Several Sobo PCT hikers cross our paths this morning on the long climb to the Pete Meadows. The first few are what we later call debbie downers, as when we ask them how their thru-hike is going they would give unenthused responses, things like “well just getting it done.” After the third person to reply like this we both feel sucked dry of our energy. Where is the stoke?

We surmise that many Sobo thru-hikers tend to push too many days of big miles before they even get to the Sierras because they are trying to get here before Winter arrives. Once they do get to these mountains, they are a bit burnt out from the daily grind of ticking off the miles for the past three months. It is a shame, since they seem to struggle to appreciate or even truly “see” the Sierras, one of the best and most scenic parts of the PCT. Indeed the Sierras are a place not to be rushed.

Middle fork of the Kings with Langille Peak
Looking South on the PCT
Cascade near Big Pete Meadow

Yep, it doesn’t take long before we are in the sun and layering down. The climb goes on for quite a long time and once we get to the upper regions of treeline and above 10,000ft we are seriously roasting in the intense sun. We have to stop to cool off, and I am wondering now why I decided to wear pants and not even bring shorts? I am going to blame it on Rockin’ cuz she says it’s better to do “routes” in pants to protect the legs. 

We stop at a creek above a waterfall, the same one we stopped at last time, and while I take off my shoes and sink my feet into the icy water, Rockin’ does what she does to get her core temperature down and submerges most of her body in the water with her pants on. The water is freakin’ cold too, I can’t keep my feet in for even 30 seconds and she is full on sitting in it. While I can’t take the cold for that long, it is so refreshing and so appreciated. Even though we are roasting hot we know how lucky we are with this amazing sunny weather. It is truly more like September rather than October. My thermometer now reads 67F but it’s that direct sun combined with the uphill work that’s getting to us.

Later, on the last long haul up past treeline, we meet several Sobos who are still riding high on the stoke levels. Interacting with them more than makes up for the depressive energy we received from the previous hikers. It’s really fun to see thru-hikers and chat with them when they are stoked and still enjoying the trail, that energy is contaigous in a good way.

Just before lunch Rockin’ had stopped to talk with some such hiker trash and they had trail names like Death Wish and Mama something. Trail names are so fun. If I scan my memory banks for just a few minutes I can recall a handful of hikers I have met along my journeys, to name a few: Twinkle Toes, Fun Size, Snack Man, Cheese, Dirt Squirrel, Hilarious Turtle, Goldie Locks, Tik Tok, Siesta, Spice Rack, Jester, Pacer, Muffin, DJ Night Cakes, Prancer and possibly two of the best/worst names I’ve encountered are Shit Lips and Happy Snatch. Yep, those are real trail names. All of these names belong to real humans I have met on trails, but people whom I have not seen again or didn’t get to know too well. When the thru-hikers ask us what we are up to we say we are leaving the trail at Helen lake and going out Yonder. We are Yondering.

We stop for lunch at Helen Lake like last time too, but today we sit at a spot on some rocks right next to the water’s edge. There is a slight breeze and when it comes off the water it feels like air conditioning and is so wonderful. I prop myself against a large rock and lean back on it enjoying the feeling of cold on my back. The color of the water is mesmerizing. It is so crystal clear, it’s like Hawaii water in the Sierra, only much colder. Oh my goodness, if this water were as warm as Hawaii water, you know what we would be doing.

Our lunch stop at Helen Lake 11,617ft
Are we in Hawaii?
So beautiful it hurts…
I can definitely do this for a bit

When we leave our lunch spot it is 2:15pm and now we have our work cut out for us even though we just climbed like 3,000 ft. Last time we made it to Black Giant Pass in an hour from here, and today we take a slightly different route to get up there and it’s a little faster.

This is what Yondering looks like…that’s Helen  Lake in the background

We stop at the Lake below the pass to drink more water, we are still on the “carry-less-water-train” because both of us feel our packs are really heavily ladden with food. The color of the water in this lake is stunning as well, yet because some of the rocks under the surface have a reddish hue there are tones of copper and deeper greens rather than the Caribbean turquoise of Helen Lake. It is just so pleasing to the eye, and when the sun glitters across the surface it makes my heart smile.

Lake with no name below Black Giant Pass
Walkin’ on Sunshine

We make it to Black Giant Pass at 3:07pm and I have an injured ankle now from a rock hitting it like 20 minutes ago. It’s bruised and swollen so I have to stop to doctor it up. Rockin’ gives me some Helichrysm Essential Oil which I massage onto the bruised bone, then I cover it with a padded band-aid and then KT tape. It is extremely tender and every time I laterally angle my foot or supinate my foot, the rim of my shoe rubs on it and it’s quite painful. The doctoring will help I’m sure. Now we look over our maps, read our notes and utilize all our resources to discern the best way to get down and into Ionian Basin. I am really excited to finally be here again an this time we are dropping in!

Making my way up to the pass, I don’t know why I am facing downhill tho…
Black Giant Pass 12,200 ft

The rocky terrain looks quite intimidating, not gonna lie. We are both seeing gullies and large sink holes and we ascertain there must be cliff bands to negotiate up ahead but we can’t see them quite yet. We start making our way down the best way we see fit and as it turns out we keep finding little ways to get down or through the areas that looked impassable from above. And that there, is the beauty of cross country travel in the high mountains.

We pick our way through piles of chunky rock and actually it is pretty fun. I also notice my ankle does feel a little better so it’s not as distracting and I can balance better. As we negotiate the talus, falling into that familiar rock hoppin’ rhythm that 80’s hit song “walkin’ on sunshine” is running throuh my my head. I start singing it out loud feeling super happy. The chorus lyrics seem so appropriate for what we are doing and despite the nature of the choppy terrain and my heavily weighted pack I feel light and floaty, a sure sign the stoke is up!

We drop right down to the lake and head for it’s outlet, yet staying a little high to climb through the pass that will drop us into Ionian Basin proper. In other times of year, there would be a ton of water here and one would have to be very scrupulous about where to go. Today, we are very fortunate, as we do have to go down some steep stuff, but we are actually able to utilize some of the water drainage paths like a loose “trail”. Skurkas notes mention gravel and talus and he uses the word “slide” which makes us both nervous at first but then we realize it’s just the loose gravel which is like sideways sliding on steep slopes and not all that bad. I say to Rockin’ “it wouldn’t be a Skurka Route if it didn’t involve some moving rock.”

This is the first drop from Black Giant Pass to another unnamed lake

Speaking of Skurka, so yes we are in fact hiking a section of the Sierra High Route designed by Steve Roper, but just for today, we are shooting off into Ionian Basin since we didn’t get to do this two months ago. The Route description we are following now is from Andrew Skurka’s KCHBR (King’s Canyon High Basin Route) which travels into Ionian Basin. That route continues into the Enchanted Gorge along Disappearing Creek and then through the lower Goddard Canyon drainage. Places I have yet to explore. Today, we are making a side trip into Ionian and will camp here tonight, climbing over Wanda Col tomorrow, then re-connecting with the SHR/PCT just North of Muir Pass. From there it will be the SHR all the way!

View from the second little pass, looking down to Chasm Lake, we will drop close to it’s shores and then turn North

Navigating through this area is a lot. There are several different routes that one could take here, so we take heed to stay on ours and reamin efficient in our lines. The KCHBR leads us through a small unnamed pass which is where we expected to find some cliff bands to the North, but it is much more doable than expected and we don’t get cliffed out at all, yet we do wind up dropping lower than we thought we would have to. It is steep coming down the pass and we still need to pick our way along moving talus, but it is not too sketchy and is the nature of the beast afterall.

We eventually drop quite close to Chasm Lake and see the “V” in the rock at it’s outlet where that drainage forms into Enchanted Gorge. I’ve long been curious about this whole area and wanted to see what these places look like. I’ve heard there is a lot of suck in both of the Enchanted Gorge and especially Goddard. Rockin’s has done it and is not chomping at the bit to go back, so I am glad for now that we are staying in Ionian Basin. I am truly enjoying this stark, imposing, achingly beautiful scenery we are surrounded by right now.

Looking back at the second little pass that dropped us into Ionian proper

Close to Chasm Lake we take a turn North  and start a 400 ft climb up a long, narrow drainage that has a ton of talus and large refrigerator size boulders. It is close to 6pm now and we have our work cut out for us again, but at the top of this climb we should be close to camp. Once again we are amazed at how fortunate we are with being able to climb and scramble up the center of this drainage, often times very close to the waterfalls, if not right in them, but we are easily able to keep our feet dry.

Oftentimes too, the water is trickling underneath the rock, so while you can’t see it, you hear it the whole time. It becomes very meditative for me as I get into a climbing and breathing rhythm with the backdrop of the rushing water under the rocks and the waterfalls coursing down. The granite is fantastic here, it is grippy and very chunky and stable, all that you want granite to be. I am very pleased, too, with my new shoes which are La Sportiva Approach shoes. I am in no way regretting that money spent now!

Just a little more to go…
This was a really fun, challenging and awestriking climb, one I will always remember

This climb seems to go on and on and yet every time I stop to turn and look behind me, I am taken aback by the views. They are truly stunning, like nothing I have ever seen and I stand in awe. When we are close to the top of the drainage, we can see all the way down Enchanged Gorge to mountains that are maybe 10-15 miles distant as the crow flies. The High Sierra has a way of gifting these views like no place else.

Rockin’ coming up the drainage with Charybdis watching over us
Awestruck…can you see Rockin’? She is the little dark blob in the lower center

We drop our butts on a large slab and Rockin’ gets out her Peak Identifier app and we are able to name several peaks in the distance that we are fairly familiar with, or at least with their surroundings. It is really cool. Not only that, the sunset is lighting up Charbydis and now with the moon positioned above her, the evening aura is glowing a cotton candy pink and there is that feeling of the day coming to a long stretched out close.

We fall slient as we take it all in, having a quiet moment of reverence siting here on this rock, a moment I already know I will never forget. I am blissed out. This is what we come here for, this is why we work so hard, to get these views, to feel these moments, to palpate this stillness, to create these memories. There is no other feeling like it in the world.

The drainage we just climbed, Chasm Lake below, Charybdis (13,091ft) glowing to the left. We did not plan the matching dirty girl gaiters but don’t they just “pop”

It is nearing 7:00pm now as we crest the top of the drainage and reach a flat area where there is a beautiful lake and several streams and creeklets feeding the basin. We continue walking toward tomorrow’s objective, Wanda Col, and near it’s base we scout for a tentsite. Our parameters: not too close to the water, flat, and not on top of vegetation or rocks. Not easy to find here, but we actually score a perfect site and get to work setting up camp and cooking much needed hot meals.

After climing up that cool section we pop out near another lake at 11,592 ft. The drainage we just climbed feeds into Chasm Lake below

We are now cozy in our tens, belly’s are full, tea is being sipped. We hiked over 18 miles today and that last climb was quite the push at the end of an already long day. It was a super fun day though, and I feel incredibly happy. Afterall, I’ve been wakin’ on sunshine!

19 thoughts on “SHR Day 2: walkin’ on sunshine

  1. You are so right, the sierra is not to be rushed. MP I am so pleased that you went youndering into the Ionian Basin, ( the secret place). It really is achingly beautiful, like nothing I have ever seen either. I knew you would love it. Enchanted Gorge is tempting. However I have heard more than once that it is brutal. If you go there again spend the energy exploring the basin. I highly recommend Scylla Lake, camp there, it is otherworldly. I left a piece of my heart there.

    1. Hi Ed, thanks for that suggestion to check out Skylla Lake, it’s not labeled on my big map though I see a lake just to the North of Skylla itself, would that be the one? I love your description…very touching…

  2. I can see now why you were stoked to get back to this section of the Sierras. They seem much taller in relation tothe trail as compared to the area in the Pyrenees you hiked. Plus no sheep and other animals that Spain/France had 😉
    As for the gear, wearing pants to do routes. Yes I remeber seeing you use leggings type pants before? Anyway, don’t know how many people may still use these but I have a pair of convertible pants that I can zip off on hot days but then consequently make it easier for ticks (I’m on East Coast). Also, I really like your La Sportivas. They seem beefy and look like they have protection & traction on the side for bouldering if needed. Ican only wear a couple brands of trail shoes as my feet are wide.
    Anyway, on a side note, I just got back from Jalisco Mexico and was able to work a day hike into my trip and uploaded it to my WordPress page.
    Thanks M.P.

    1. Hey Diego! Thanks for sharing your recent post, I just glanced over it and will look forward to reading it 🙂 On your comments above, yes I have enjoyed hikeing in tights under my shorts, more for a light weight warmth layer rather than any sort of protection as they are literally drug store tights! The La Sportiva Approach shoes are amazing, I have wide feet as well so you may do okay in them, check them out!

  3. If the title “The High Sierra: A Love Story” (Kim Stanley Robinson) was not already taken, it would be a perfect title for your collected Sierra essays, or (we hope!) first book. Reading your long posts here puts me in synesthesia territory, engaging so many multi-sensory memories of alpine times.

      1. I do think you would like it, it is a braid of several different approaches to the tale of the Sierras but the off-trail rambling sections alone should be a great match for your exploring spirit. I have a list of new places to visit, all off-trail, since reading it (or better, just the strong desire/need to go find my own paths in the high country – like you!).

  4. Greetings, I have this feeling that the sierraS ,( when google corrects me I give up), are happy again because Mary Poppins is walking their trails! Scylla lake is at the northern base of Scylla and near the Three Sirens. Google scylla lake sierras, great pictures. I am on the edge of my seat for your next post ha! Ed

    1. Hey Ed! Well thanks so much, I sure hope the Sierras feel my love! I am also eager to get back to writing these next posts from the SHR though I am already getting distracted by Spring hiking here in AZ…but I promise to get to them next month!

  5. Hi M:

    I love reading your prose. I knew I loved this entire entry after only reading the third paragraph. You make your reader so vividly a part of the scene. I can imagine the crunch of the puddles on trail because they are still iced over in the early morning. I know the emotional warmth of seeing my friends tent glowing with life in the predawn darkness. I can almost squint at the clarity and sharpness of the stars in the cold, alpine air. We’ve all felt these things, yet your knack for describing them endows the telling with the full experience of the marvels you are sharing. Your words are like a friend pulling me out to the backcountry again, to reunite with the dearest of friends. (Unfortunately I’ll have to wait a while since the Sierra is currently under 50 feet of snow!)

    Of course, the rest of the tale is also engaging, informative and exciting while your images never fail to impress. Thanks for another lovely read.

    1. Tom, oh my goodness, you describe the readers experience so delightfully, this is truly such great feedback and I really appreciate you taking time to share your thoughts and feelings of reading the post. Honestly, if “words are like a friend pulling you (me) out to the backcountry again” then that is a success!

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