Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Humphreys Basin

The trailhead and a glimpse of things to come

The plan for the backpacking trip- which we actually adhered to- called for us to hike from North Lake, over Piute Pass and into Humphreys Basin, where we would spend the bulk of the week. The trail begins in a beautiful alpine pine forest, and leads relentlessly upwards. For about the first hour of hiking, there is not a lot of opportunity for photographing sweeping vistas, as the trail leads through fairly dense woods. As the day wore on, the trees thinned out, and breathtaking mountains came into view. Emphasis on breathtaking- but more about that later.

A rockfall provides a break in the trees and a view of the mountains

We stopped for lunch at Loch Levin, the first of many alpine lakes that we would encounter over the course of the trip. Trail lunches are always a treat on these trips. They typically feature tinned fish (sardines in Dijon mustard are my favorite), crackers, hard cheese, gorp, and jam- in this case Scuff Productions homemade raspberry- in a tube. The diverse foods combined with the expansive scenery always make lunch feel like a sumptuous banquet to me.

Loch Levin, and a break for lunch

As the day wore on, the exertion got more strenuous. Several features conspire to make the first day of these trips particularly taxing. Almost none of the food has yet been consumed, so the backpacks are at their heaviest. The body has settled into neither the physical effort nor the elevation. Even the geography makes things challenging: it’s the nature of the Sierras that the east slope is much steeper and more rugged than the west, and we always choose to ascend from the east. Of course, the steepness makes this approach both more rugged and more beautiful, so it’s ultimately worth the effort.

Late afternoon above treeline

Still, the effort was there, and by the time we actually reached Piute Pass, I was wiped. I was also feeling a touch of altitude sickness. Ron had wanted to climb up another rise just beyond the pass. I couldn’t do it (who knew how out of shape I really was? Ron usually has trouble keeping up with me). We set up camp much closer to the pass and called it a day.

Piute Pass and our first glimpse into Humphreys Basin

Sunset from out first campsite

On Monday, we woke to sunshine, but experienced the worst weather of the trip. In this case, worst weather means that it clouded up for about an hour and a half in late morning, and even sprinkled a few raindrops and ice pellets on us for about 15 minutes. Then the sun came back out. Yes, the weather on the trip as a whole was that good.

Early monring in camp.
Looking upslope towards the pass and the ridge that we would ascend.

Early morning in camp. Looking downslope towards Summit Lake.

We climbed the rise that Ron had wanted to ascend the day before and explored the Humphreys Lakes. I also started encountering lots of grasshoppers. I’m still curating them, but I collected at least four species of grasshoppers on this particular trip. Many had beautifully colored banded wings when they flew.

From the ridgetop looking back towards camp (middle left).
Summit Lake (foreground) and Muriel Lake (background).

Alpine Gentian (Gentiana newberryi)

Grasshopper Collector near Humphreys Lake

The Mighty Mt. Humphreys

Our travels Monday took us to a bit of land between Forsaken and Desolation Lakes. These names make the scenery sound quite grim, but in reality it had an amazing untamed wildness about it. It felt wild and lonely. We ate dinner beneath the alpenglow on Mt. Humphreys, a peak that would loom over us for the rest of the trip.


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At 18:20, Anonymous Lemuel said...

A number of those pictures were spectacular: the trailhead, the loch, the sunset, the flowers, the alpenglow. Beautiful!

At 21:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am digging in the webbiest, cobbiest depths of my brain and I can't for the life of me remember what Gorp is. Now I have to go look it up!

It's funny what seems delicious when you have worked up an appetite. Cheese and crackers are equivalent to steak and potatoes when your that kind of hungry!

At 09:01, Anonymous Intern said...

Beautiful set of photographs. I can image how satisfying the hike must have been.

At 11:26, Blogger Doug Taron said...

lem- thanks. More images forthcoming

Heather- Gorp stands for "goold ol' raisins and peanuts." In our case, it actually consists of good ol' mixed nuts with extra macadamia nuts and M&Ms.

intern (jyoti?)- Thanks. Satisfying is an excellent word for it.

At 13:07, Blogger rodger said...

Beautiful pictures and what a spectacular hike. I love all the alpine lakes and glacial tarns in the Sierras.

When I first met Mark I took him camping at Sardine Lakes (elev. 8500) in mid-August. After hiking the Sierra Buttes we caught a trout dinner and spent the evening enjoying the stars. We awoke to snow falling and were forced to pack up and move to lower ground.

That's just one of many great memories your post has sparked. Thanks for that.

At 15:00, Anonymous Mark H said...

Fantastic! I CAN FEEL the exhaustion at that elevation from your story and pictures, but in your own words, it is "ultimately" worth it....Gorgeous trip. Thanks for letting us in on it. I guess a visit to our house in the hills of Portland sounds lame at 1100 feet, eh? HAH!

At 18:23, Blogger robin andrea said...

Love those pics, doug. The ascent on the eastern slope is so challenging. Your photos definitely capture that craggy, awesome, starkness. Quite a contrast from the western slope. There is something about the way the Sierra rise up out of the valley on the eastern side that always looks like an invitation to wilderness.

At 12:32, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Rodger- What a wonderful memory. Mybe soumetime you guys could join us.

Mark - Not at all. A visit to your house sounds like it would be beautiful at 1100 feet. By the way, your jam was excellent.

Robin - I agree- and it's an invitation that I have trouble resisting.

At 16:02, Blogger JoeL said...

Hi Doug,

Micheal told me you might be able to help me.

I'm studying horticulture, and I have to do a report on a special, rare tree. I'd like to do my report on the "Paperbark maple"

Would you have info, and maybe have access to one. I'd like some bark, leaves and maybe a twig.

Thanks for your time.


At 08:48, Blogger Ur-spo said...

i too found the photos lovely; you must have had a lovely time hiking amoung such splendor. it is nice to know such a place still exists.


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