Trip report: hiking all over Bishop Creek for Fourth of July weekend

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Trip report! Man, I had a great time in the ever-stunning Bishop Creek rec area this past weekend. I did day hiking, rather than backpack, and the goal was to do trails I had not done before.

I woke up shortly after 4am on Friday and was on the road by 5a to get to a car campsite as early as possible for fear of holiday weekend crowds. I easily found one as no one was at the 5-spot, no reservation, non-signed Mountain Glen along South Lake Road. It did fill up that night, but the next night was only 3 spots taken, then just 2 Sunday night. There were people everywhere, but most seemed to have left Sunday and preferred cabins (hotels in Bishop were also booked). Nice! The campsite are spread out and private and the roar of South Fork Bishop creek, just a few steps away, was ever present… didn’t need to set an alarm, though, as a bird was loud every morning from 4:15-5am. Stupid bird!

I paid for the campsite, set up camp under a hot sun, then took off for a day of hiking. I drove up windy, unpaved North Lake Road and started off for Piute Pass (11400′, though unit said 11308′) which is 5 miles from the trailhead, but there is an additional 0.7 miles to the parking lot (9280′), with a 12:15pm start time. An absolutely stunning trail with only a few steep switchbacks but otherwise a moderate, steady climb past lovely lakes that drain into one another down a fairly wide watershed of meadows and fens, the pass approach is gentle and long, an interesting place. The hot day turned to afternoon clouds that started cute and became a bit dark, but they didn’t look too bad yet, and I noted that several trails branched off from the top. I checked my handheld and decided it was less than a mile, mostly flat, to visit Muirel Lake. I had promised myself to turn around by 4pm, and before I had finished the side trail, 0.8 miles at a view point for the lake, it was 4:06pm and the clouds were getting darker, so I turned around and walked back up to the pass through a wet fen and headed down. I had the trail mostly to myself, which was amazing! I cannot describe accurately all the amazing things I saw: flowers, peaks, lakes, endless vistas – truly, a gem of a hike. On my return, some people were still just going up… um, gonna get dark before you make it back, yo? Plus, after about 1.5 miles down, those clouds coalesced into what looked like one big storm and thunder started to roll so I half jogged here and there to get down and out ASAP. A few rain drops, but the storm stayed in the backcountry and the bottom was again sunny and too hot and, sadly, the last bit back to the car was now a nasty swarm of mosquitos and I have a lot of bites. Coming from elevation low on sleep after a drive and starting in the mid-day sun on a hot day is a bit rough, so I thought I was a tad slow for a day hike ending with a bit over 6 hours, including breaks. I had calf cramps that night and a headache – I actually thought I was drinking more than usual and eating well, but I felt real beat up as though I’d done a bigger hike (the last 18.5 miles I did I felt fine, sooo… unsure wassup with dat). GPS accidentally paused for .8 or so miles, so the total was 13 on the day: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7079598148

I was utterley wiped from the first day: 13 miles with 2000′ gain isn’t the most I can do, but maybe the heat and a month out of elevation just did me in. Sometimes you just don’t feel tip-top. I was in my tent a long while in fitful sleep, and a 2am bathroom trip showed a stunning night sky that was utterly clear and the center of the Milky Way was easily visible but I was so wiped I didn’t break out my good camera and tripod despite bringing it just for this purpose. Anyhow, I slept in despite the noisy bird and when I drove to South Lake parking lot it was shockingly packed at 8am so I left and thought about what to do instead. I wasn’t going to attempt the 12-15 mile day out of Sabrina Lake that late, and that tired, either, though I did walk across the dam and back (.5 miles, flat, https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7079598195), so I drove around a bit. It was still very warm, but Saturday the clouds were not cute and covered most of the sky both east and west – definately looked like rain in the Inyo and White Mountains (east) and deeper in the Sierra (west). I got gas in Bishop (so hot even early morning!) after driving down and up the 395 to see the extent of the storm – it was large that also didn’t bode well for a long hike.

I drove back up and stared at maps and decided on Tyee Lakes – unplanned but also never done it before. Trailhead was again hot and sunny… sucks! This path didn’t hold back and climbed fast up the steep eastern slopes of Table Mountain: from about 9000′ to 11,000′ at the drainage between the lovely 2 main upper lakes sitting in a bowl and in just 3 miles: 700′ gain average per mile isn’t the worst, but it’s definately no joke. I decided I felt good and could do more mileage, the sky still seemed clear overhead, the storm still deeper in the mountains, so I took the use trail straight up the side for a short but steep 400′ climb (whew!) eventually finishing the extra mile atop Table Mountain, which I found really weird! It’s very wide and flat-ish – the ground was tiny stones and covered in delicate alpine plants and their tiny flowers. A stream cut it and was lush with flowers and critters in alarm at my presence – on the other side was a forest of pines and it was easily a mile north in this flat place. The views were unmatched: the dramatic peaks were all around and while I couldn’t see into the bowls where all the lakes sit, but I felt rather even with most of the range and could see lower peaks like the brown/red mound of Chocolate Peak deep inside the valley past South Lake, which was shocking. I was really in awe of this place… but, man, those ominous clouds didn’t look good. It was a steep climb down to George Lake on the other side, which didn’t sound fun, and, sadly, could not see it from on top, so I turned around. I few drops here and their, the sun traded places with stormy shade on and off until just before the car when it started to rain: not heavy, just big drops here and there, but by the time I made the short drive to camp I had just enough time to eat, pee, trashcan and get inside the tent for the storm to get very, very real and for 3 hours there was rain, 1 solid hour of which was frequent thunder all around and overhead. The temps dropped about 10 F (the previous night was about 50, this night would drop to 40) and I just sat inside listening to the rain and wind and reading. <3 10:45am start, a bit over 8 miles, 2500′ gain, 5 friggin’ hours: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7079598342

I was up and out a couple hours earlier Sunday, determined to hike out of South Lake – the longer hike out of Sabrina now scraped because I did feel kind of crap after both previous days on the trail despite doable mileage. 6am start with a goal of Treasure Lakes: a 3 mile hike I wanted to just take calmly and enjoy being out there. The morning was cool and shaded along the eastern shores, climbing from 9800′ to 10,200′ then, sadly, dropping after the junction back down to 10,000′ as the path turned west to travel the south side of the lake and around omnipresent Hurd Peak, before making a steady climb up the drainage to the main lakes at 10,680′ where I found a lot of overnight campers (weird, I thought, for a non-through trail with low mileage) just getting up and making warm beverages and wandering about and one of their dogs stood near me while I took a couple pictures and looked at fish – probably the only dog I’ve ever immediately liked, though I still wasn’t into petting, as he just sat there wondering what I was looking at. There were annoying swarms of bugs, but those mosquitos were young so not yet biting, but that bloom is going to utterly suck in another couple days if there isn’t a freeze, and that doesn’t seem likely. I definately had the notion that 3 miles and 800′ wasn’t long enough for me, and I was there so early (it wasn’t yet 8am) and had all day left, so decided to push it and make the use-trail (barely) up to more lakes. After almost 1 hour for a 500 foot climb over 0.7 miles though brush and scree and a giant boulder field up the drainage of falls were the only green was near the water, I made it to the first upper lake with no injuries, whoo-hoo! Someone’s stupid drone buzzed overhead for a bit, but after that it was UTTER SILENCE AND ALONENESS! RESULT! After admiring the area (lovely lake, steep mountains all around, brutal landscape) I managed even more boulder climbing without twisting or breaking any limbs or having anything fall atop me and made it the last 1/3 mile over to a space between two more lakes and rested long and gratefully to be in a such an absolute stunner of a place. Sunny but cool, only a couple spots of ice remained here and there, little six foot bits in the nooks. The drainage between the lakes, where I sat, was lush with flowers and birds singing and flying about seemingly dipping more of join in the occasional gust of wind than actually catching bugs. A few critters ran around the rocky shoreline, which was covered in mostly delecate, tiny, alpine ground plants but there were some pine here and there, mostly on the eastern side. I didn’t want to leave. Maybe I should have stayed longer, basking in the sun and watching it change how the landscape looked over time. A couple other people made it up, but stayed elsewhere, and a couple more as I was leaving, but clearly most people wouldn’t attempt the climb – enough for the path to be there, though. Have I mentioned there were a lot of rocks? I took a different way down from the lower lake over into the drainage and it turned out the incorrect choice because it even more boulder jumping and than before, whoops. Otherwise, a nice hike back with still few people and loaded with views: the perfect day. The GPS: 8 miles, 4.5 hours moving time, 2500 again (so ended up similar to the day before, with a big steep bit right at the top) https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7079598403

I took my time the rest of the day: enjoying a sandwich, packing up, and generally being leisurely. I drove back out and walked around another nearby campsite in the heat (my skin was sad). I slept a bit better, though did read late, and managed to get out the camera and take some night pix pretty early – sadly, clouds were coming in so, after a shot east at the clouds lit from fireworks, I packed in in a just laid in the tent reading unti I slept. I was up early Monday (stupid bird) and left, on the road down a bit after 6am. The drive was decent and took about the same time as it had coming up. I had considered hiking that day, but I thought it best to avoid traffic and heat: it was 94 F in the high desert at 8am and the 395 is a dangerous one lane where people pass at terribly scary places. Coming down the 15 the smog was so thick the visibility was cut: I guess I missed a lot of illegal fireworks. I wasn’t happy to be with people again, and quickly retreated into the safety of our home. (-:

Until next time, Sierra Nevada!! I can’t hardly wait.

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