The final day of our North Lake South Lake loop hike started with the prospect of another 1000 feet of climbing. This would be the last significant uphill as we made our approach to Bishop Pass, before the final 2000 foot descent towards South lake.
No change from the previous days in routine, breakfast, and on the trail by 9 am. We slowly gained some vertical footage and could look back over Dusy Basin.
As we climbed up to the pass, we passed the weather station. I had tried to use data from this to determine if there would be any snow on our travels. At the end of the day, it was pretty hard to determine what the data set meant so I relied on both the Facebook groups and the satellite imagery.
The hike up to Bishop Pass was not too steep and I think we had by this point acclimatized well. After about two miles we reached the pass. This would be the highest point on our journey at 11’972 feet. This is also where we would leave Kings Canyon National Park and return to Inyo National Forest.
After traveling for about 50 miles in the wilderness, we met 2 hikers at the top of Bishop Pass who were from our hometown of Portland, OR. More than that they lived probably no more than 5 miles from where we do. The hiking community is a small world.
The descent from Bishop Pass immediately showed that we were on the eastern Sierra. The rocks became redder. The clean granite color becoming less prominent. We could see Bishop Lake below and again the trail was rocky and tough underfoot.
The first 500 feet of the trail were tight switchbacks built into the side of the mountain. They were short, steep, and on top of each other. The drop looking down was perhaps the scariest we had seen. This was more like steps than a trail and we felt for those coming up. However the trail soon smoothed out and again we could hike more freely, first by Bishop Lake and then Saddlerock Lake until we got to Long Lake, where we stopped for lunch.
On this side of the pass, there were many more hikers as we started to meet both day hikers as well as those leaving from South Lake to head into the High Sierra. From Long Lake, it was just a couple of miles back to South Lake. First, we’d leave the John Muir Wilderness area and then snake down a last, switchbacked drop. Finally, not far before our destination South Lake came into view, along with a couple of powerboats, our first glimpse back into normal civilization, quite a surprise.
At last, we came back to South Lake, completing the 55 miles of our North Lake South Lake loop hike. Certainly a tremendous experience of incredible beauty and fuel for future adventures!