I admit it. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Sierras.
I fell in love with the Sierras on my first backpack trip there back in 1978. The first time I thru-hiked the John Muir Trail in 1980, it was official. I was hooked.
Earlier this spring I attended the first ever JMT JAM event in the Santa Barbara backcountry. There were a number of people who were JMT alumni as well as folks getting ready for their first trip this summer, and dreamers looking forward to hiking it in the next few years. And while I knew I couldn’t do a third thru-hike this year, I did start thinking about a way to stay connected — by bringing some trail magic to JMT thru-hikers.
Our plan was to hike in over Bishop Pass, down into LeConte Canyon in Kings Canyon National Park. If all went well, we’d hike up to Muir Pass and cook up some tacos at the Muir Hut, then hike back down to camp and back out over Bishop Pass the next day. It was a tall order.
Day One – South Lake to Bishop Lake
The first day, I drove up the 395 to Bishop and picked up the permit. My co-horts in this adventure, Derek and PD, arrived the night before and struck out earlier in the day, so I would be hiking solo until I caught up with them.
I was starting out with a much heavier-than-normal pack weight. With water and food, it weighed about 50 pounds. Ugh.
I started out at the South Lake trailhead west of Bishop. South Lake itself is a water source for Bishop, and due to drought conditions was shockingly low. Fortunately the other lakes upstream are not drained for water and still looked healthy.
I was climbing in the heat of the day, but there were some spots of shade along the way. When I reached Long Lake, I dropped my pack for a short break and a snack.
Recharged, I hit the trail. There are a lot of beautiful lakes along this trail and some interesting spur trails to places like Treasure Lakes and Chocolate Lake. I made a note that this would be a great place to explore in more depth sometime in the future.
After 5.5 miles, I reached Bishop Lake. Now to see if I could find Derek and PD. I dropped my pack and clambered up the highest nearby hill to get a better view, and saw the campsite they had found on the south side of the lake.
The view from my tent was not too shabby.
The sun soon dropped below the mountains, casting long shadows and a golden glow across the way.
Day Two – Bishop Lake to Little Pete Meadow
In the morning, I setup my GoPro to record a little time-lapse video of the sunrise as we cooked breakfast and fueled up for the day.
From Bishop Lake, we had a fairly short (but steep) climb to Bishop Pass.
Bishop Pass is just under 12,000 feet, but we weren’t feeling any ill effects of the altitude. In some years, there can be snow up year through the summer, but this was a dry year with low snowfall. It looked more like a moonscape.
From the pass, it was all downhill to LeConte Canyon. We cruised through Dusy Basin.
Like an amphitheater for giants, Dusy Basin is dotted with lakes and a few clumps of trees, but ringed with rugged, craggy peaks.
Finally we dropped down below 10,000 feet and under the tree line, and began the final series of switchbacks into LeConte Canyon.
At the bottom, we finally reached the junction with the John Muir Trail. We had descended nearly 3,600′ — and Derek’s feet were feeling it.
Down in LeConte Canyon, we followed a relatively gentle trail up the Kings River to Little Pete Meadow — just a mile, mile and a half further. Our campsite? Pretty perfect. We were able to take a cold plunge in the snow-fed river to wash away the grime and sweat from a long, hot day on the trail, as deer meandered through our campsite, paying no attention to us whatsoever.
The best part? Being below 10,000 feet, we were able to have a campfire to keep us warm through dinner and well into the night.
Day Three: Tacos y Cerveza
Our plan for day three was to hike 7 miles and over 3,000 vertical feet up to Muir Pass, where we would cook up some carne asada tacos, share some beer and then hike 7 miles back down to camp. We wouldn’t have to carry all our gear, but it would still be fairly heavy (in case you’re wondering, a single six-pack weighs in just over 5 pounds).
Derek’s foot was still a little touch-and-go, so we played it by ear. We headed out, knowing that we would have to stop and turn back by 11am.
As it turned out, we made it within about a mile of Muir Pass. Derek’s foot was hurting. He offered to hang out while PD and I continued on, but we did the smart thing and stayed together. What was originally a #MuirTacoHut adventure was now simply the #MuirTaco adventure.
We headed back down toward Little Pete Meadow, keeping a eye out for the “Whale” we had heard and seen photos of.
We had been looking for it on our way up, but somehow hiked right by it. It’s clearly visible from the trail, and in fact there’s a nice campsite at the spot. Fortunately, we spied in on our return and decided that this would be our kitchen for our pop-up taco stand.
I brought out 3 lbs of marinated carne asada, corn tortillas, fresh cilantro, fresh grated cheddar cheese, two ripe avocados and hot sauce. After cooking up the meat, I used a little olive oil in a fry pan to soften the tortillas. Derek and PD took our cans of beer and found a clever way to cool them in the ice-cold stream.
Soon, we were handing out hot tacos and cold beer to ecstatic JMT thru-hikers.
Thankfully, we had enough for ourselves, too.
After cleaning up, we headed back down to our camp. We had decided that rather than hike a long 14 miles out on the fourth day, we’d make our way up towards Dusy Basin as far as we could.
We ended up camping just below 10,000 feet — allowing us to enjoy a campfire again but cutting Day Four’s climb to just 2,000 vertical feet.
Day Four: Back Over Bishop Pass and Home Again
Our final day was a long, slow climb up Bishop Pass. We had to climb over Bishop Pass, hike down to our cars, and make the drive back to SoCal — all in one day.
Most of the trail through Dusy Basin was exposed, and the sun was shining brightly.
We stopped for a snack at Bishop Pass, where another hiker suggested we try the Burger Barn in Bishop.
Our appetites properly whet, we hoofed it back to our cars at the trailhead.
The first #MuirTaco Adventure was an experience I’ll never forget. Was it a little crazy to carry all the tacos and beer so many miles? Maybe. But it was worth it. In fact, I’m already at work planning the 2015 #MuirTaco Adventure.
Bishop Pass to Little Pete Meadow Trail Map
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More Bishop Pass to LeConte Canyon Resources
- I hiked this trail with Derek from 100Peaks.com and his friend PD. Be sure to check out Derek’s trip report for a different perspective on the trip.
- A lot of people like to stop at Schatt’s Bakery in Bishop, but I have to say, Burger Barn really hit the spot — and we didn’t feel out of place even with a couple days of trail grime.