South Lake - North Lake Loop

Day 1 – Saturday, August 31, 2002


Our first day of the trip actually began in Sacramento the previous evening with a late-night drive to Bishop, CA.  We arrived in Bishop in the middle of the night as Brian felt it was important to be the first in line for the permit to enter the Sierra via the South Lake trailhead on Saturday.  When we got to the ranger station, Brian crashed out in his sleeping bag in front of the door to the ranger station and I slept in the truck.  By the time the sun came up, there were other people in line standing behind Brian still asleep in his sleeping bag.  I got out of the truck and walked over to where everyone had assembled, kicked Brian and asked the others if this was a homeless person.  Everyone laughed and Brian finally got up.

The ranger station opened at 8am and we were first to request a permit for our trip.  Unfortunately, we found out that the policy was to issue permits one day in advance of a trip instead of saving a few for the departure day as Brian had thought.  So we took a permit to enter via the North Lake trailhead instead of South Lake.  The ranger also told us that any permits reserved by phone or mail that were not picked up by 10am would be available.  So there was still hope that we could wait until 10 and see if there were any cancellations.  Unfortunately, her position was that we had to get back in line for the 10am deadline.  Brian protested that since he had slept on their doorstep in order to be first in line that morning, he should be given first consideration.  However, she insisted that we had to wait in line again.  Fortunately for us, a more reasonable ranger intervened and agreed with Brian that we should have first rights to a cancellation.   So off we went to pick up some last minute supplies and eat breakfast at Denny’s.

We came back to the ranger station before the 10:00 deadline, Brian went into the ranger station to ask about the permit and soon found out that we would have to wait until 10:30 or 11:00 to be sure that the reservations were not picked up.  The co-operative ranger used this time to be very helpful to us by calling other ranger stations and checking her computer.

Bran and I drove up to the South Lake trailhead.  The parking lot is pretty small, so this late in the day on a holiday weekend, there were no parking spots available.  We dropped the packs at the trailhead and I stayed with them while Brian drove back down the road a mile or so to find a parking spot.

We did not hit the trail until 1:30 with all the screwing around with the permits, etc.  We had hoped to camp in Dusy Basin that night but that would mean a 7 to 8 mile hike and an elevation gain of 2000 ft.  Since it was late in the season, there just was not enough daylight for us to make it.  Of course, we took an hour break at beautiful Long Lake which did not help matters any.  But we were here to have a good time and enjoy the scenery so it was no big deal to me.  We did take our time on this entire trip and I told Brian that if we ever did the John Muir Trail, I would want to hike an average of 10 miles per day and schedule a couple of extra days to lay-over at any place that was exceptionally pretty.  I would want to enjoy myself not set a land speed record!!!

The South Lake trailhead is at an elevation of 9820 feet and the trail climbs steadily but not steeply to Long Lake where we took a break to eat a late lunch.  The trail to this point was mostly in pine forest with glimpses of South Lake and the surrounding peaks.

We left Long Lake late in the afternoon.  The day was beautiful and we stopped numerous times to take photos and enjoy the glorious scenery.   We kept going higher and higher and the Owens Valley just kept getting smaller and smaller.  We passed by Spearhead Lake and Saddlerock Lake and the day was getting late.   Brian and I discussed stopping to find a camp at Saddlerock Lake but decided to press on to Bishop Lake, which is the last lake of any size before the last push up to Bishop Pass.

We met a backcountry ranger between Saddlerock and Bishop Lakes and he checked our permit.  He said that we would be surprised how many people bypass the permit requirement.   We told him our planned route and asked what was his favorite area.  He told us that Le Conte Canyon was especially pretty.  We would hike Le Conte Canyon on our third day and would find out that it is indeed extremely scenic.

We arrived at Bishop Lake with about an hour of daylight left and easily found a campsite.  It was windy and I needed a little help setting up my tent.  Brian decided to forgo his bivy sack and just sleep under the stars in his sleeping bag.  I had flown from my home in West Virginia on Friday, which is at 900 ft. elevation, had very little sleep Friday night, and was now setting up camp at 11,000 ft.  I started to get a slight but nagging headache, which did not leave until the following morning.  This was the only altitude problem that I would have the whole trip.  We climbed up and over three 11,000+ ft passes on this trip and in general it was easier than I had expected.

We fixed dinner in the waning sunlight at Bishop Lake and Brian spent what was left of the evening taking photos.  Bishop Lake was a nice spot to camp even though it had very little vegetation due to the high altitude.  There was only one other party camped at the lake that night.  The night was extremely clear and the stars were blazing with no moon to wash them out.  The clear night also brought pretty cold temperatures on this last day of August.  It was an exceptional day of hiking and I was really looking forward to the rest of our High Sierra trip.



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South Lake

Wilderness Sign

Long Lake

Long Lake

Long Lake

Long Lake


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Long Lake

Spearhead and Long

Bishop Lake

Bishop Lake

Bishop Lake Camp