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TR: North Lake/South Lake loop via Lamarck Col, Aug 14-19, 2019

Posted: Mon Nov 25, 2019 8:49 am
by Bishop_Bob
I’ve been wanting to do a trip with friends who, long ago, introduced me to the Sierra with an overnight journey to Mount Whitney. Our schedules made it possible in mid-August, and they entrusted me with planning the route. One of the places I’ve yearned to see since I began reading HST is the Darwin Bench, so I proposed the North Lake/South Lake loop via Lamarck Col. With some trepidation, they agreed, their concern being that they’d never traveled cross-country. I assured them (with only some first-hand knowledge) that this particular off-trail route was well-worn.

I figured we were going late enough in the summer that the heavy snow pack of 2019 would pose no problem. To be sure, however, I made a reconnaissance day-hike to Lamarck Col from North Lake 10 days before our trip was scheduled. Indeed, the snow had receded and was passable. As I neared the climax of the Col, however, I heard a swarm of bees - or so I thought. When I looked up, it was a drone I saw hovering above. At the Col, I met the droner, who expressed surprise when I told him drones are illegal in the wilderness…though he kept on droning. He was a nice fellow, though, and took a pic of me, then emailed it to me after we both returned home.
The journey with my two friends began with a night at Four Jeffrey campground. I’d previously stayed at other campgrounds along Bishop Creek, but this was my first time at 4-Jeff. It’s larger than many of the others, and it has a few more amenities (like flush toilets).

At sunrise, we drove from the campground to North Lake and began the trek to the Lamarck Lakes and further to Lamarck Col. All went quite smoothly until we reached tree line. At this point, my friends slowed considerably, but they’re lowlanders from the LA area, and it’s a steep trail, so there was no alarm. We plugged away to arrive at the Col around 2PM, where we broke for lunch.

Our descent from the Col to the Darwin lakes was less worn than the way up from North Lake. A trail appears here and there, but we mostly picked our way down steepish but easy terrain. Once at the lakes, the main route through the canyon is along the north side and features a lot of scrambling over rocks, some of which are quite large. These obstacles were easy enough for someone like me with long legs, but both of my friends were on the smaller end of the scale, so this section proved to be quite challenging for them.
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Eventually, we reached the mouth of the canyon, which opened up to easy terrain that gently descended to the Darwin Bench. Ahhh - what nirvana! The wonder and awe of this region voiced by so many on HST was not an exaggeration. We found a place to camp near the lake just below the words, “Darwin Bench,” on the USGS 7.5-min quad. Mosquitoes were out in force, so we donned head nets and protective clothing.
The next morning, we descended an obvious trail from our camp at the south end of Darwin Bench down to the JMT. From there, we traveled toward Evolution Lake, and within 10 minutes, we passed about 15 other hikers coming the other way. We figured most of them had camped at Evolution the night before because, after this initial wave, we saw relatively few people en route to Wanda Lake, where we lazed for more than half an hour having lunch.
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From Wanda, we could spy the Muir hut at the top of the pass, which appeared to be so close, yet so far. We were surprised to find ourselves at the top of the pass within an hour of leaving our lunch site. At the pass, we met the usual motley crew of hikers that gather at this hallowed spot. One of them had really bad BO and was taking a siesta in the hut, which encouraged us not to linger inside.
We rested at the pass for about 20 minutes before making our way down the other side. Unlike everywhere else we traveled during our trip, this area had lingering snow fields that covered the trail, but there were so many footsteps from those who had come before us, that it was pretty easy to make our way. After a long stretch of hiking, we joined a half-million mosquitoes at an established campsite alongside the MFKR.
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The next morning, we continued down LeConte Canyon to the junction with Bishop Pass trail. There, we had a key decision to make. Shall we proceed to Palisade Lakes and loop back to South Lake via the cross-country route through Palisade Basin? Or shall we stay on trail and go by way of Dusy Basin? My friends decided they had their fill of cross-country travel for this trip, so we stayed on trail and, by nightfall, reached Long Lake on the other side of Bishop Pass. Fortunately, the mosquito welcome wagon was waiting for us.
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On our approach to Long Lake, I pondered the Inconsolable Range, wondering how anyone could cross it. Little did I know I would be visiting the other side of this range before the end of the year.
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Along the way down from Bishop Pass, we passed the bighorn pileup from 2017 - still stinks a bit. While at camp, one of my friends pondered if we were drinking water that had touched carcass.
We made sure to get on trail early the next morning so we could meet the ESTA bus on its way from South Lake to Lake Sabrina. The driver dropped us off at the start of the road going up to North Lake, and one of my friends stayed at that spot, while the other friend walked with me up to our car at North Lake.

Our decision to shortcut the originally planned route by staying on trail through Dusy Basin meant that we ended our backcountry trip a day earlier than expected. Rather than head back to the grind, we grabbed a hotel room in Bishop, then drove up to Lee Vining for dinner and beer at the Mobil Mart. It happened to be a Sunday, which meant live music and good vibes at the Mobil - great scene!
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Our final day, we spent the morning at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White mountains, a visit that was one of the highlights of the trip! It was well worth the time going to see the oldest living trees, and there were no mosquitoes. Also, the view of the Sierra from the Whites was fantastic.
Before our final departure from the area, we had lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe, which is a must-stop for me whenever I’m in Lone Pine.

Re: TR: North Lake/South Lake loop via Lamarck Col, Aug 14-19, 2019

Posted: Mon Nov 25, 2019 2:30 pm
by Harlen
Very nice trip! Thanks for a great trip report.

Re: TR: North Lake/South Lake loop via Lamarck Col, Aug 14-19, 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 6:32 am
by The Other Tom
Nice report and pics. Thanks for posting

Re: TR: North Lake/South Lake loop via Lamarck Col, Aug 14-19, 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 9:08 am
by balzaccom
Yep, I agree. Thanks for posting this. Brings back lots of good memories, and shows me somethings I've missed!

Re: TR: North Lake/South Lake loop via Lamarck Col, Aug 14-19, 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 12:19 pm
by gary c.
Thanks for sharing

Re: TR: North Lake/South Lake loop via Lamarck Col, Aug 14-19, 2019

Posted: Sun Dec 01, 2019 9:59 pm
by RedRider
Wow Darwin Bench...what a place! Thanks for sharing.