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.