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TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2015 6:37 am
by DavePloessel
Hi all! Gonna try and get the first day or two of 7 up before heading to work.

To date, My wife's longest backpacking trip has only been 3 days, and she really wanted to head out on a longer one, so when she started a new job and found out the company shuts down for the week before 4th of july, it was a no brainer to head up into the Sierra. We did Mon 6/29 - Sun 7/5. There weren't many permits available to reserve last second, and we wanted to bring our dogs with us, which limited our options even further, so I ended up reserving Italy pass out of Pine Creek via I was excited to try this trailhead as I love the area but had always accessed it from N. Lake/Piute pass, but had some concerns as to how well the dogs would handle some of the passes along our route, and some concerns as to how I would handle all that elevation gain as I had had hernia repair surgery about 4 weeks prior, but I booked it and figured I could see if there were any walk up permits still available for other trailheads when I got to lone pine. As it turned out there were, which was quite fortunate, as when I got to the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center they couldn't seem to find my reservation, and my T mobile phone wouldn't pull up my confirmation email (no data along the 395 apparently). Long story short, we got to go out of N. Lake.

Day 1: San Diego to North Lake, Over Piute Pass: We had planned a weekend trip to Paso Robles months prior, so Sunday night/Monday morning was pretty hectic and consisted of unloading from one trip, packing back into the forester for another, and doing lots and lots of driving. After a few minor delays, we still managed to make it to the N. Lake parking lot by about 3 in the afternoon to find occasional light rain. This was (in my mind) a blessing as I had been worried about cooking while heading up the hill in the afternoon heat.

There are many reports here on the walk up to Piute Pass , and I have lots of pics of the area, but we still paused for a quick couple selfie
and I snapped a couple of Britt and Tinker on the "bridge"
The mosquitos were pretty darn nasty along Loch Leven and Piute lake so we pushed up and over the pass. There was a lot of wind at the pass itself, which provided a wonderful relief from the 'skeeters, so we decided to call it an early day there even though we'd only been hiking for less than 2 hours. We set up with a great view of Summit lake, broke out the boxed wine (90 points in a box?!?!?)
, and settled in for the first of many beautiful sunsets.
Gotta get to work, will put up days 2-7 this afternoon/evening

Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2015 2:11 pm
by rlown
Nice report so far. I skip the log on low flow years. I tend to like my ankles later in life. :)

I look forward to your next installments.


Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2015 3:51 pm
by DavePloessel
Day 2: Since the original plan had been to be exploring Bear Lakes Basin and French Canyon from a different trailhead we were sort of playing the whole trip by ear, which was really quite refreshing. We woke up, and, not having to be 30 miles down the trail or meet any particular goals for the day, just sort of pottered around drinking coffee and soaking in the views before finally packing up and sloping off down the valley after deciding to head in the direction of desolation lake.

I know there is a use trail to desolation, but we cut off the Piute canyon trail well before it to avoid a large (10+?) group of people camped right at the intersection. Desolation lake itself was beautiful. SO beautiful, in fact, that Britt couldn't resist and busted out one of the floaties she'd brought along "just in case", despite the fact the water was absolutely frigid
Once she was done, we did a little fishing to no avail and then wandered off in the direction of Mesa lake.

About the time we were working our way around mesa Lake (roughly 3 PM or so), another thunderstorm rolled in, so we kind of looked at each other and decided that where we were standing was as good a place as any to camp and set up the tent and played cards and backgammon until the storm passed. This was to become sort of a daily pattern: Hike until the mid afternoon rain, then camp wherever the clouds happened to catch us, wait out the rain, then cook dinner, watch the sunset, and then hide in the tent all night while mother nature went absolutely berserk around us with wind and rain all night. (aside, but I was really, really, REALLY impressed with my old stoic 3 person tent. I'd bought it on S&C for a song years ago and we brought it to have extra space for the pups that out Copper Spur UL didn't provide and the tent held up like a champ to some serious rain, wind and general nastiness)

Mesa Lake has a very nice, albeit small, beach.
Our campsite had a not too shabby view
and after the thunderstorm we were treated to a nice rainbow or two
After the storm, we wandered up the hill a bit and enjoyed some views of Tomahawk and Square lakes... Quite a nice day overall.

Day 3: Dawn broke very grey, with clouds looming, rain threatening, and Mt Humphreys looking impressive as all get out... We packed up fast and began picking our way up the hill towards Carol col/Puppet Pass. Britt is a stud, and despite the fact I had her carrying all the heavy stuff, in no time we were gazing down on Puppet/French Canyon/etc.

Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2015 4:31 pm
by DavePloessel
Day 3 Cont:

On our way down Puppet pass, the dogs did great, but we discovered something new about them.... despite being some of the most socialized dogs in the world, dogs who never bark at people on the street, or when being walked, or at the beach, mall, school, store, etc, the bark at people when we meet them on the trail. I don't know if it's because they aren't expecting to see other people in the back country or some other reason, but whatever it is, they would go nuts whenever they saw anyone, as they did when we passed a group of three nice guys working their way up the pass. This would be bad enough were they normal dogs, but one is a coonhound, and she has a set of lungs that let everyone within miles know where we were. It was completely embarrassing.

Anyways, a couple minutes of dogs howling aside, we made it down to puppet lake, fished a bit, looked across the valley at Royce falls, and then made our way to Chevaux lake, where the rain again caught us and we camped for the night.

Chevaux lake
More cards, and drinking a rehydrated dehydrated beer. Chevaux lake is located right at the base of pilot knob on the same bench as puppet lake, so the views are just stellar
While we were playing cards, we noticed that Tinker, our pointer, was pointing at a nearby rock. Turns out we had camped nearly on top of this Marmot's den, and she got right to work trying to eat Britt's fishing gear until we chased her off. Three times.
We had Fajitas for dinner
and then promptly fell asleep only to be awoken a few hours later by one of the most intense lightning storms I have ever seen. It was like daylight inside the tent for a good hour or two as multiple bolts fired off at a time while the wind shook the tent and the rain pounded. I was glad I had taken the extra time to not only stake the tent down well, but to tie out the fly to a bunch of boulders.

Day four dawned beautiful, so we quickly packed up, walked past puppet and scrambled down towards Elba
Elba was beautiful and we paused for a cliff bar and to catch a few small but beautiful goldens before picking up our first trail in a couple days down towards French canyon and then back up towards Pine Creek Pass.
We left the trail long before the pass and began working our way up towards the Royce lakes Basin
Before long, we had cleared the pass
There was someone camped at the first lake, so, clouds on our heels, we scurried past the next lake and finally settled in by what I think of as lake #3 just as the sky opened up and had a little R&R while the storm spent itself.
After the storm, we did a little fishing
ended up keeping one for dinner that I cooked up with some wild onions that I picked earlier in the day down in French canyon (and some precooked bacon we had carried in)
The only bummer was that at some point during the rain, another group of 4 had arrived and camped within about 50 feet of us which kingd of spoiled the whole solitude thing, but it was raining so I understand....

Pretty mellow night that night..

To be continued...

Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2015 9:06 pm
by DavePloessel
Day 5: Royce Lakes to Honeymoon Lake (piute canyon one, not the pine creek one)

We woke early and after a pancake breakfast
bolted past our close and unwelcome neighbors to head down into French Canyon. This was a Day of Days. Mosquito wise at least, Not a skeeter in sight. We took full advantage of it and the sunshine by taking a long leisurely swim in the creek
followed by some fishing

lunch (salmon cous cous salad), and a nap in the sun...

Once we woke back up, we headed downhill to the unimpressive (to me, at least) Hutchinson meadow and hooked a left back up along piute creek and ran smack into a miserable wall of mosquitos. It's amazing how two canyons only a few thousand yards apart, facing nearly the same direction, can have totally different populations of the vampire bugs. after a little bit of hiking we came to the turnoff for Honeymoon lake, and, being newly married, couldn't resist. This was both a blessing and a mistake as the "trail" was a complete bucket of suck. pretty much straight uphill and one of the worst "official" trails I have been on. It goes straight up, with terribly made switchbacks and nearly no markings save for a few ducks.. we eventually lost the trail and just followed the creek up (the trail was easier to follow on the way back down but going up might as well have been XC). The horrible mosquitos pushed it right into the realm of miserable.

Honeymoon Lake itself, however, is just plain beautiful. It's also plugged with small but hungry golden trout. Britt was bit happy when we got there

As with previous days, it started dumping rain as soon as we arrived, so we spent the afternoon enjoying cards, backgammon, and some beers (which the dogs tried to steal) inside the tent before having Phad Thai for dinner and retiring
to be continued...

Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Thu Jul 09, 2015 10:16 am
by Wandering Daisy
OK - I want your honest opinion on the deyhydrated beer (or were you kidding? Or did I read your post wrong? ). Was it worth it? Was it fizzy? Five stars? One star?

Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Thu Jul 09, 2015 5:58 pm
by bbayley80
great report so far!
thanks for sharing great pics.

along with Wandering Daisy-i want the beta on the dehydrated beer! worth it?
sounds delicious even sitting here at my desk at work..can imagine how good it'd be in the backcountry!

Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Thu Jul 09, 2015 7:38 pm
by DavePloessel
Wandering Daisy wrote:OK - I want your honest opinion on the deyhydrated beer (or were you kidding? Or did I read your post wrong? ). Was it worth it? Was it fizzy? Five stars? One star?

Five stars!

Well, the "Pale Rail" is, especially if you get your water fresh from an ice cold stream.

The Black IPA is so so, but I guess tastes vary. I had initially ordered an equal amount of the Black Ipa and the Pale Ale, but will probably only order 1 black IPA for every 4 Pale ales in the future..

The carbonator doohickey water bottle works great. once in a while you get an off tasting beer, but on balance, it's pretty frigging rad: Cold, carbonated suds in the middle of nowhere at a fraction of the weight and with near zero trash to carry out. between the two of us, we enjoyed 5 beers over the course of our weeklong trip, and the total weight penalty for those 5 beers was only about 8 OZ. The carbonator bottle does double duty as an extra water bottle.

I guess they make sodas you can do in the back country too, but I haven't tried them.

One of the best investments I have ever made in gear. Totally a "want" and not a "need" item, but dayamn if it doesn't add some luxury to a trip.

Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Thu Jul 09, 2015 8:46 pm
by giantbrookie
Great post. What a fun trip! That's really living richly in the high country.

Re: TR: Humphreys Basin/French Canyon

Posted: Thu Jul 09, 2015 8:55 pm
by DavePloessel
Day 6:

We woke up early, and it looked like rain, so instead of packing up, we decided to hike up to Upper Honeymoon Lake and leave the tent up just in case.

upper Honeymoon is that beautiful blue you get from glacial runoff
We brought fishing gear with us on the hike but didn't make any attempt as the rain looked to be coming back.

The rain did not materialize however, so we packed up and headed back down the awful trail to the main Piute canyon trail, which we followed for a couple miles (with attendant clouds of mosquitos) until we cut cross country to Lower golden, upper golden, and then Muriel lake, A few years ago, I hiked up to Muriel during a snowstorm in October and captured one of the best sunset pics I have ever taken, so I was excited to see the sunset with the mix of rain/thunderheads/light from the same vantage point.

We set up camp near the shore of Muriel, and the dogs took a nap while we waited for the sunset
the sunset did not disappoint
That was probably the coldest night of the trip, but it didn't matter as the dogs joined us in the double sleeping bag :)

Day 7 was fairly anticlimactic, I made cinnamon rolls
and we packed up and booted over the pass and down to N. lake in about an hour and a half, then on to Bishop for PIZZA!!! Originally, we had planned on loafing around Muriel for a bit longer, but it turned out to be the most crowded spot of the entire trip. The last time I had been there, I didn't see a soul, but this trip there were at least 3 other groups camped near us.

The week seemed to be gone in the blink of an eye, but I guess that's how it always goes.

Just for fun, and because I have space, here are a couple bonus pics
Coco surveying Royce lakes
Tinker saying thank you for a good day
Mt Humphreys doing it's thing
and a final sunset selfie to say goodbye for now.
Hope you enjoyed