jen yu: dusy basin - june 2004

dusy basin - june 2004

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2 days: 16 miles
john muir wilderness/kings canyon national park, california
june 12-13, 2004

day 1: south lake trailhead to dusy basin via bishop pass
9800 - 11,300 ft. (bishop pass: 11,300 ft.)
8 miles

We camped the night before in Willow campground just a few miles before the Bishop Pass trailhead. We broke camp quickly at 5:30 and left for the trailhead where we could pack our gear without disturbing other campers. We decided to bring a camcorder that my parents gave us a few years ago, so we could video some of the trip for folks to see (none of our family backpacks). I filmed a little bit at the trailhead and then we set off at 6:45 am. From the trail, we could see a couple of fisherman at the shore of South Lake angling for trout. The trail took us away from the lake and into the cover of trees - rolling in some places. We passed the junctions to Treasure Lakes and Marie Louise Lakes. Between the two junctions was a section of the trail we named the "mini golden staircase". If you've hiked the section of the JMT called the Golden Staircase, you'll know what we mean. We then came upon Long Lake - where our pup took a swim back in October 2003.

It was at Long Lake that we discovered our camcorder battery lies about its capacity and was out of juice. We were carrying our worst fear - dead weight. Real snowline was difficult to pinpoint, but large patches of snow covered the trail regularly from Long Lake on, so we wasted some time route finding as we hadn't been here before. We rose over a bench past Spearhead Lake and eventually to Saddlerock Lake. Above treeline, we approached Bishop Lake (seen left) before the final ascent to Bishop Pass. The lake was partly frozen, but the temperature was already quite warm by 9 am.

The trail wandered past Bishop Lake and then switchbacked up through scree slopes toward the saddle between Mount Agassiz and some minor peaks. My mind tends to wander during switchbacks, and all I could think about was how unreal the past 6 weeks had been for me, how I still didn't feel that my sister was gone. I felt completely overwhelmed and wept as I hiked - walking through a strange dream... The snow patches we crossed were soft enough to travel with ease, but when the trail became obliterated, we headed for the low point and kickstepped our way up. We encountered our first backpacker coming down from the pass. He told us he had camped in Dusy the night before and was completely alone. Here's a picture of Jeremy making his way to the pass - the lens flattens the slopes, it got fairly steep considering how mild Bishop Pass is.

Once we arrived at what we thought was the pass, we realized that we were at the low point on the saddle, but that the pass was elsewhere. We began to wander about the saddle looking for the pass/trail. It was like a drunken walk because the snow was suncupped and the terrain was level - but we were too lazy to put away our axes and get the trekking poles out. We took a break for lunch on a rock outcrop and then Jeremy went and found the pass. We reached the official sign close to noon. From the pass, we could see the trail descending gently into Dusy Basin. Below: Jeremy with the Inconsolable Range behind him.

We crossed three more large snow patches and then began to veer east into the basin. The trail wound in and out of more snow and postholing became more frequent as the snow was softening quickly under the intense sun. Jeremy scouted out a good site for camp and we were set up by early afternoon. The basin is dotted with tarns among the lakes and many granite benches. Frogs called to one another incessantly and we spied trout in some of the ponds too. Walking around the basin, there were plenty of snow bridges over the icy cold streams of snowmelt. Below: pano from the lake looking east towards the North Palisades and Jeremy explores near our camp.

Toward evening, I walked out to a tarn and sat on some boulders to talk to my sister. It was something I had been waiting to do since she died; something I needed to do. That night, I woke up at 3 am to go out and pee. It was so clear that you couldn't help but notice the Milky Way stretching across the sky! I took some long exposures (to no avail - no cable release and no tripod). I sat on nearby rocks admiring the heavens, feeling a primitive connection to something - possibly my sister. I saw four shooting stars and made a wish on each one. I crawled back into the tent around 4:00 thinking that Kris was very much like a shooting star.

day 2: dusy basin to south lake trailhead via bishop pass
11,300 - 9800 ft. (bishop pass: 11,972 ft.)
8 miles

I didn't sleep much after getting back into the tent, so we were packed and ready to head out by 6:15 am. While we were getting ourselves together, we were visited by our pal, Mr. Marmot who came by to say farewell. It didn't freeze overnight although the snowfields had a hard enough crust that we didn't posthole. We picked our way back to the pass over the snow and encountered two ultra-runners just below Bishop Pass at around 7:30. Beyond the pass, we dropped into a small bowl and eventually stood at the top of the steep descent to the switchbacks.

Jeremy enjoyed the view of Bishop Lake from the outcrop. The valley was still under shade and we wanted to maximize that shade for as long as we could. By then it was already in the upper 50s at 12,000 feet! Dr. Howard and the Dweebs did not lie about the warming trend that weekend.

Once we arrived at the bare switchbacks, we packed up our axes and crampons and set our sights for the trailhead. At Saddlerock Lake, one of the ultra-runners came up behind us and paused for a chat. He was running just to Dusy Basin, but his son was doing the Evolution Basin loop (100 km = 62 miles = wow!!) and he was going to pick him up at the trailhead that night. As we continued back to the trailhead, we encountered many more hikers and backpackers, all of them asking about conditions on the pass, and all but one pair were without axes. We reached the car before 11 am and high-tailed it home.

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