DAY SIX on the North Lake/South Lake Loop
We would celebrate completing the North Lake South Lake Loop today with another short day – up and over Bishop Pass and then down to the trailhead. We woke up to another COLD morning with ice on the rain fly – and we would take our time getting warmed up as we only had a short hike to finish.
Before we left Upper Dusy Basin, we took some sunrise photos. The ascent up to Bishop Pass would be about 650 vertical feet and pretty easy. There were a couple of small snow fields to cross on the way up – and then we were there! Bishop Pass – 11,972 feet – the entrance/exit to Kings Canyon National Park.
We took a few photos with the sign, and chatted with some rock climbers who were getting ready to climb Mt. Agassiz. They asked us if we saw any snow in the western facing chutes, and I showed them my photos from the night before. They were happy to see that it was clear, and we wished them luck on their climb.
The hike down the east side of Bishop Pass started with a few snow fields – similar to those on the east side of Muir Pass but not as steep. We hiked down carefully and saw some HUGE bear paw prints in the snow! We had heard of bear sightings in Dusy Basin, but had gone six days without even seeing a print. Now, on our last day, in a snow field at 11,800 feet – there they were! Crazy!
After the snow fields, the Bishop Pass trail goes straight down a granite face via a series of steep switchbacks that are VERY similar to the structure of the 99 switchbacks on the Whitney trail…except here there aren’t 99 of them.
Once down the steep switchies, the trail flattens into the beautiful basin that houses Bishop Lake. Unlike the Piute Pass trail, this upper section of the Bishop Pass trail has a lot of brown/red clay soil – making the contrast with the gray granite, white snow, blue water, green grass and trees even more stunning.
The Bishop Pass trail winds downward past a series of huge gorgeous lakes – one after the other. First Bishop Lake, then Saddlerock Lake, then Spearhead Lake, then Long Lake. And yes, Long Lake is really LONG!
At this point, I wasn’t that excited about trying my hand at fishing again – but I should have been, because this is where all the fish were! We passed one guy at Long Lake that had already caught three and thrown a few back. We passed others that were on their way up to various lakes for fishing – and all of them said that the fishing was excellent. Oh well – next year.
As it was Friday, there were a lot of backpackers starting their journey on the Bishop Pass Trail. Many of them were looking for beta on Muir Pass conditions – and we were glad to give them the good news that everything is doable and they would be good to go. It’s fun to create smiles and relief for hikers on their first day out.
Finally, we arrived at South Lake – the same place we had parked our car seven days earlier. South Lake is as full as it’s been EVER – they were even letting water out of the spillway. It was just another function of this incredible winter that made the trail so green, so wet, so snowy and so wonderful for the past week.
As we took our finishing photos at the trailhead and looked back at the Eastern Sierra and Bishop Pass, we celebrated another epic adventure in these majestic mountains that we are so lucky to live near.
If you want to see some of the John Muir Trail’s most prized gems – like Evolution Valley and Muir Pass – but don’t have 2-3 weeks to complete the entire JMT, the North Lake–South Lake Loop provides an amazing one week option and 55 miles of absolutely spectacular Sierra scenery.
Get out there!
Upper Dusy Basin to South Lake Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Originally hiked on Friday, August 25, 2017.
Javier Latorre says
How are you? Hope all is well, just wanted to reach out and say thanks for the beta on the North – South lake trek. My son and I are planning on following your exact route in the coming weeks, we plan on starting on June 1st 2018, and hopefully complete it in 6 days. Would you happen to know what the snow and stream conditions may be this time of the year? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Will report back our findings on the route once we get back.
Jeff Hester says
Javier, be prepared for snow at the higher elevations and a deep creek crossing at Evolution Creek. There will likely be snow at Piute Pass, Muir Pass and Bishop Pass.
Here’s a photo from the Piute Pass Trail on Saturday, May 5th:
Greg Glass says
Javier – you’ll have snow on piute pass, a lot of water to cross prior to and after Hutchinson Meadow, a deep crossing at evolution creek, lots of snow on your way up and over Muir pass, more water as you pass Helen lake, and more snow over bishop pass. Take gear for snow and ice and water shoes/sandals for the wet crossings. Be safe and have a great time.
Larry Gregson says
We are planning to hike the North lake to South lake loop. What was the bear situation on your trip? Did you take bear canister’s or are there bear coffins along the way to store food at night.
Jeff Hester says
Bear canisters are required, and bear boxes are not available. Personally, I’ve been through here a number of times but have not had any issues with bears. Of course, we were using canisters.
We have a small group heading up to Dusy Basin from South Lake next Monday, July 2nd. Does anyone know the current conditions? Will we have snow/ice on the trail heading up Bishop Pass? Are microspikes or crampons needed? We don’t have much experience with snow, so it would be good to hear from someone that has done this hike recently. Also, any idea what the temps are day/night in the Dusy Basin area? Thank you!
You said you started at the North lake, then how was your car parked at the south lake?
Me – thanks for the question. We did a shuttle with another couple. We had cars at both lakes.
Thank you for this
Any other suggestions on how to handle the car situation if you only had one?
I’m planning this trip for July and plan on using the Bishop Creek Shuttle:
You’ll have several options to use just one vehicle.
Michael Smyth says
My buddy and I are thinking of doing this trail late summer or early fall. Any thoughts or advice on when conditions are not ideal? Any date after which you don’t advise starting the hike? Or any dates too early given this years weather?
Kerri Eastham says
Greg, your guide to the trail is detailed and helpful. Happy to have access to it. My group will be hitting this trail on Monday, August 5 (2019), and I’m looking for any information you may have on the water crossings that may prove challenging or steep ascents/descents that will still be snow covered. I know this year is comparable to the year you hiked this trail.
Greg Glass says
Hi Kerri – read thru the blog again and you’ll see all the spots to focus on.
– Piute Pass will most likely have snow – be prepared.
– several water crossings in the way to Hutchinson Meadow – water shoes helpful
– evolution creek – be prepared for a deeper crossing, either at the main crossing or at the alternate meadow crossing
– from Wanda lake to Muir Pass – expect snow all the way
– from Muir Pass down to Helen lake. Expect snow most of the way.
– Helen lake to Monster Rock – expect several water crossings that may be wet ones
– Bishop Pass – expect snow at the Pass and down the east side for a bit
Have a GREAT Loop! Have fun!
Susie Flores says
Great information. Do you think this can be done without GPS? Using paper maps only?
I’ve been up to Piute Pass a few weeks ago. I have been up to Long Lake only. Not sure when we are going? September maybe.
Greg Glass says
Susie – thanks for your question. You can ABSOLUTELY do this hike with just a paper map and compass. The Tom Harrison map mentioned in the overview has the entire trail from beginning to end on it. You can buy it here at https://www.amazon.com/Bishop-Pass-Trail-Harrison-Maps/dp/0991578422/.