TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

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Wandering Daisy
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TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 15, 2019 3:54 pm

The initial plan was: (1)Muriel Lake-(2)Merriam Lake-(3)Feather Pass to Seven Gables Lake-(4)Marie Lake-(5) Spearpoint Lake/west Pinnacle Creek-(6) east Pinnacle Creek- (7)Golden Trout Lakes-(8) North Lake TH. Weather reports predicted a bit of rain the first day, then cool and dry. The route had several “bail-out” points if weather turned poor.

I picked up my permit at the Mono Visitor Center and then drove through some downpours to the North Lake campground, setting up my car-camping tent in a walk-in campsite. Just as I set up, the deluge began again. I ate dinner in my car. Sometime early in the night it cleared.

Day 1. North Lake to Upper Golden Trout Lake. 6.7 miles, 5.0 hours, 2270 elevation gain


I awoke in the dark, ate breakfast , threw the soaking tent into the car, drove to the parking lot, and walked back. With dry gear, I was on the trail by 7:30, hoping to beat predicted afternoon storms. The trail was muddy and wet. I passed a group who must have hiked in to Loch Leven Lake the day before; they were drying out all their gear. Clouds began to build and all hell broke loose as I topped out on Piute Pass. At this point, I decided to drop to the Golden Trout Lakes where there were trees instead of going to Muriel Lake. I could hit Muriel Lake on the return.

During the next hour, surges of wind-driven rain would pass. Luckily I found a nice sheltered campsite at Upper Golden Trout Lake that was relatively dry and set up. There was even a bit of sunshine to dry out. The rest of the day was spent doing quick day-hikes and running back and forth from the tent to the lake to fish. I caught one small trout for dinner. Luckily I had a nice “kitchen” under a tree that stayed dry for dinner. I gave up and hopped into the tent to listen to music at 7PM.
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Day 2. Upper Golden Lake to Merriam Lake. 7.9 miles, 5.1 hours, 1530 elevation gain


Morning was clear and not too cold so I was able to get on the trial by 8AM, delayed a bit to dry the tent. The trail that connects with the Piute Pass trail is less maintained and at times I wondered if I was on the correct trail. I passed a tent and fellow who also wondered if he was on the right trail. Once I hit the main trail it was obvious. The numerous crossings of the braided creeks at Hutchison Meadows did not require wading, but I got soaked by tall wet grass. I took a break at the French Canyon trail junction.
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I have never been up this trail and wished I had more time to go down to the beautiful meadows along the creek to fish. One could easily spend an enjoyable day fishing here where there were plenty of wonderful campsites. The trail to Merriam Lake is on the south side of the creek flowing from the lake, NOT on the north side as shown on the USGS map. I had been here before, so knew this, thank goodness!

As I climbed the steep trail, clouds began to build. At the beautiful upper meadow I saw a fellow in the distance and he waved. The trail basically ends in this meadow; one can go on either side of cliffs that block direct travel to Merriam Lake. I went left, as I had in the past. Once at the lake I dropped my pack and spent nearly half an hour looking for a campsite, finding one up on a bench near the inlet waterfalls, with two sheltered spots under trees for cooking, although the tent was out in the open.
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By early afternoon waves of wind-driven light rain passed almost continuously. This went on all afternoon, so that I decided not to fish. Occasional sunshine allowed me to take a bucket bath and wash a shirt. Between squalls I would hike around a bit. Thankfully, cooking dinner was dry but I had to make an intricate wind break for my stove with my backpack, sleeping pad and bear can. It was another early into the tent evening. Now I worried about continuing. The wet weather pattern lingered longer than predicted. I decided to wait until morning to decide what to do.
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 15, 2019 4:01 pm

Day 3. Merriam Lake to L-Lake, and day hikes. 10 miles, 7.2 hours, 1780 elevation gain

I awoke early to very cold but clear conditions. Thankfully the wind died down by about 9PM the previous night. I was now worried about any snow on Feather Pass staying hard and frozen. A few clouds already popping up, added to the uncertainty. I decided to day-hike to the upper valley and then bail.
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The little valley above Merriam Lake is just delightful and the calm weather allowed for lots of reflection photos. Other than not seeing Merriam Lake, the views up there were actually superior. The entire valley was lush, wet and still had some nice wildflowers. The small lakes were full of very small fish.
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Back at camp I packed up; the tent was now dry. I dropped back to French Canyon, this time taking the northern route to detour the cliffs. It was a toss-up as to which is better. The south cliff detour seemed more used.

The trail continuing up French Canyon passed through a nasty section that looked like avalanche debris, before it came to the nice meadows prior to the Elba Lake trail junction. Again there were clouds building up, but not as threatening as the previous days. It was sunny but quite cold. I spent almost an hour walking about at Elba Lake, contemplating campsites. There was nobody up there! I finally decided to continue to Moon Lake, where I then decided to continue to L-Lake. I thought I could get to Steelhead Lake, but it was getting late and cloudy so I found a marginal site at L-Lake. The first tent site did not work because the tent stakes pulled out in the soft sand. Then I found a better site with solid ground.
0918_L Lake morning_edited-1.jpg
Late afternoon was spent fishing, casting between wind gusts that made the lake full of whitecaps. Not the best conditions for fly fishing but I caught three small fish for dinner. The sky was threatening, but it never rained, just was very cold and windy. Once the sun went down it was impossible to remain outside so I again retreated to the tent and cinched up the hood on my sleeping bag.
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 15, 2019 4:07 pm

Day 4. L-Lake to Alsace Lake, and day hikes. 4.6 miles, 5.7 hours (including fishing), 630 elevation gain


I slept in, getting up after the sun hit the tent. The water bottles were frozen in spite of being under the tent fly. Fortunately the sun is still strong this time of year, so after breakfast I quickly took off layers. Mornings are nice because it is calm a few hours. I took a side-trip to Star Lake before I dropped down to Puppet Lake. Star Lake is actually not very scenic.
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I did not fish along the route, because both Puppet Lake and Paris Lake were easily accessible from Alsace Lake, where I chose to camp because I had never been there before. After much looking around, walking back and forth, I settled on a wonderful campsite, although everything was windy. Again, I had some trees to huddle under to cook. I bathed, washed clothes and then walked around the lake and fished. I hiked up the inlet to Paris Lake and fished, where I got a few bites but couldn’t land anything. I arrived at camp with no fish. At 4PM I walked to the nearby cliffs on the northwest shore of Alsace, where I suspected fish may hang out, and caught two nice fish.
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0938_Merriam Peak from Alsace_edited-1.jpg
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 15, 2019 4:19 pm

Day 5. Alsace Lake to Humphreys Lakes, and day hikes. 8.5 miles, 7.1 hours (including fishing), 1815 elevation gain

It was another cold night. I do not have a thermometer, but I suspect it got down to the mid -20’s. This time I did not store water but just got water out of the lake in the morning. It was a beautiful crystal clear blue-sky day!
940-41_Puppet Pass view_edited-1.jpg
Navigation this day was by memory, since the maps I had did not cover most of the day’s travel. My route was not the most efficient. I easily found Puppet Pass, taking the higher northern exit at the top. It was harder than I remembered the southern exit, but worked. Then I headed down, missing the standard route that drops to Mesa Lake, instead I dropped to Square Lake, which I thought was Tomahawk Lake. I sort of fumbled around, ending up at Desolation Lake outlet, realizing that what I thought was Lower Desolation Lake was actually Tomahawk Lake. Thankfully, now I was back on my maps!
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Getting to the Humphreys Lakes is more complicated than it appears on the map as one travels perpendicular to the joint system, causing many small ups and downs. The wind was again fierce. I spent considerable time hunting three of the four Humphreys Lakes for a sheltered campsite. Mid-day I set up near a small pond just north of Marmot Lake.
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I went back to western and largest lake and caught five good sized trout in half an hour, hauled them back to camp, and then gutted and cleaned them at Marmot Lake. The wind made cooking the catch delayed so that by the time I was eating, sunset on Mt. Humphreys was in full glory. I ran down to Marmot Lake outlet, and then back and forth to the far side of my little pond taking photos. The sun dipped below the horizon and it instantly became icy cold. I jammed everything in the bear can and quickly dove into the tent.
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Day 6. Marmot Lake to Muriel Lake and day hikes. 4.8 miles, 4.7 hours (including fishing), 800 elevation gain

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Surprisingly, the sun hit my campsite sooner than I expected, and again the sky was deep blue and little wind. I dropped down to the set of lakes south of Cony Lake where I found a use-trail all the way to Piute Pass. Then it was a quick walk on a good trail to Muriel Lake where I met the first people I had seen in several days.
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I went up to Lost Lakes to fish, first the second highest lake where I caught a fish and then to the larger lowest lake, where I had no luck. I was not that impressed with Lost Lakes. Back at camp I bathed and washed and hung out behind large rocks out of the wind. Later in the day, more people arrived.
989-990_Murial Lake_edited-2.jpg
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 15, 2019 4:25 pm

Day 7. Day hikes and fishing. 3.7 miles, 5.1hours (including fishing), 465 elevation gain


Fortunately the sun hit my tent early so I had a pleasant warm breakfast. The wind had died down and did not pick up until later in the afternoon. Before the day hike I enjoyed photographing the sunrise lake reflections.
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First I hiked down to Wahoo Lakes seeing many small fish, but decided not to fish. Then I walked up to Goethe Lakes, first fishing the lower lake, then up to the upper lake where there was another fisherman. Not wanting to crowd him, I went back and fished the lower lake. There were plenty of fish but they turned their heads at my fly.
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Then I went down to Muriel Lake, changed the fly, and caught two fish along the southwest shore. Those two fish did not justify the hours I fished! But it was a warm pleasant lazy day with nice views. In the evening I to photograph the sunset on Mt. Humphreys, with flawed results. I am not good at getting sunset shots. Once the sun went down it got very cold so into the tent I went.
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Day 8. Muriel Lake to North Lake parking lot. 5.6 miles, 3.0 hours, mostly downhill


The walk out was uneventful. A horse packer was going up to Muriel Lake to pick up his clients; some climbers were descending; and several groups were going in. Driving by Bridgeport I noticed that the peaks around Matterhorn had a dusting of snow. Dropping down to 90 degree heat at the end of the day was a shock. My dear husband had dinner and cold beers ready for me. I must say this was not one of my best trips, but I limped along with changed plans.
1035-36_below Piute Lake_edited-2.jpg
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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by calarn » Sun Sep 15, 2019 5:22 pm

Great reflection shots! Thanks for sharing. Humphreys Basin is definitely on my list.

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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by mckee80 » Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:11 pm

Awesome report! I was just north of you the same week. Might have run into you had you come over Feather Pass. The wind kept the bugs at bay, but made it really cold. Should have a trip report up tomorrow.

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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by SSSdave » Sun Sep 15, 2019 8:48 pm

At same time bro J and I were base camped at Duck Lake 9/4>8. Well actually 9/4 we only reached Barney Lake mid day when storms chased us into tenting rapidly. The next morning day 2 we were on the trail at sunrise and reached Duck Lake by about 7:30am only to be again forced into setting tents up as cold blustery rain started that then lasted much of the day. Did not rain on us the last 3 days, however on day 3 it was chilly and breezy and we could see the storm clouds where you were well to the south. And though it didn't rain, only day 5 on 9/8 did not have lots of clouds. I did not use my camera much in the cool windy cloudy weather but we had a reasonably good time. I fished a modest amount and only caught one brook trout while J fishing more caught several, all 11 inches or less.

Your Humphreys Lakes fish are eastern brook trout.

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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by ironmike » Sun Sep 15, 2019 11:48 pm

Nice report and liked your improvisation. I was exiting via Piute Pass to North Lake TH as you were driving in. We probably dodged some of the same downpours that day, including one as I ate my exit lunch of burger & beer at Cardinal Lodge. The storms had started with a whimper on the 2nd and 3rd, before really ramping up on the 4th and 5th. I think that little storm system ushered in cooler temps for your trip. I never saw a night below 40F, even well above 11000’.

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Re: TR: North Lake Loop 9/5-12

Post by neil d » Mon Sep 16, 2019 12:41 pm

Great report and pics, as usual! Two quick and unrelated Qs:

- How are you liking that tent, especially with blustery weather?

- What do you do with your fish guts? Bury or disperse?

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