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2021 North Lake – Humphreys Basin Loop

August 16, 2021

2021: North Lake — Humphreys Basin Loop

(apx. 32 miles)

August 4–11

Nick, Matt, John, Teri

Day 0: Day hike from NL Trailhead to Lamark Lakes
Day 1: North Lake TH to Lower Desolation Lake (7 miles)
Day 2: Layover at Lower Desolation
Day 3: Lower Desolation to Star Lake (5 miles)
Day 4: Layover at Star Lake
Day 5: Star Lake to Humphreys Meadow (7 miles)
Day 6: Humphreys Meadow to Piute Lake (8 miles)
Day 7: Piute Lake to North Lake TH (4 miles)

Matt and I headed up Tuesday to have an extra day to get acclimatized. John and Teri had each done similarly, but separately. Matt and I dispersed camped in Mammoth on Tuesday night after having dinner at a local taquería. The next morning, we drove to North Lake trail head campground to snag a couple of spots for the four of us, arriving around 9:00am. That campground only has about a dozen spots and there is no reserving ahead. We found two spots next to each other. Score! The spots cost $27 each per night.

We had clear skies the whole trip, and very few mosquitoes. Starting a couple days in, we did see haze, smoke from the fires up north it turned out, all around the horizon, but none that affected us.

Temperatures were mild, a breeze keeping it form getting hot most day time hours, and getting down to near 30°F most nights.

Day 0: Day hike from NL Trailhead to Lamark Lakes

Once settling in at North Lake, Matt and I headed off on a day hike up to the Lamark Lakes. It is a steep climb from the trail head from 9,400’ to about 11,000’ in just a little over 2 miles up to the lakes.

Nick skinny dipping at Lower Lamark Lake

Once we saw the lower lake we took the turn that looked like it went to it—it did, but it turns out it would have been easier to wait for an easier access just a little further on. There was one other family there, doing some fishing. We went a little further out of their sight and had lunch. After lunch we had a quick skinny dip and sunned.

Nick above Grass Lake

Then we went on to Upper Lamark. We did not stay there, just got to the outlet for a nice view and then headed back to camp.

By evening John and Teri showed up.

John, Teri, Matt, getting ready at North Lake TH campground

Day 1: North Lake TH to Lower Desolation Lake (7 miles)

We left the trail head at about 8:20am.

Nick, Matt, Teri, John at North Lake Trail Head

We took our time getting up to the pass, reaching the pass at about 1:00pm. The first part is through woods, and several creek crossing, two of which had log crossing.

Matt stream crossing
Teri and Matt hiking up past Piute Lake

Then little by little one gets above tree line. Getting near the pass is Loch Leven and then Piute Lake. We had a somewhat quick lunch there as it was a bit windy at the pass.

There was a split in the trail that we thought might be the turn off to Desolation Lakje, but it did not seem right, and it turned out it was just a split—the left taking one to Trout Lakes, but the intersection is not marked. The use trail to Desolation is about two miles past the pass. This is very open terrain. Once at the pass, the descent is very gradual, then up once again once on the use trail to the Desolation Lakes.

We stopped at Lower Desolation, arriving around 3:30pm. One cannot camp right at the lake, as it is marshy with boulders around the side. We found some nice spots up to the right, close to the far end (east) of the lake not far from the feeder creek where we could get water and I also found a little place just deep enough for a sort of bath.

Nick at Lower Desolation – inlet creek pool

We saw one other pair of backpackers go by – a father-daughter, who went out the next morning.

It was a bit windy that afternoon and evening, but got still at night. We sat up watching the stars come out, and looking for shooting stars as it was a new moon and the beginning of the Perseids meteor shower.

Day 2: Layover at Lower Desolation

Like most days this trip, I got up at about 6am. At around 9am we took off to bop around the lakes cross-country. We first headed up to Upper Desolation Lake, which is significantly bigger than Lower Desolation Lake and has an actual shore on the East side.

Upper Desolation Lake

From there we headed up and east to Forsaken Lake, and then over into the Humphrey Lakes. We moseyed along, stopping for snacks and a lunch. John and I stayed out a little longer than Matt and Teri. We saw one other person in the distance going doing some cross-country route. 

Matt, John, Teri
Hiking up the boulders
Above one of the Humphrey’s Basin Lakes

We got back to camp around 4:00, and I did get in a dip in my little pool.

We again stayed up, laying out on rocks to watch the stars and see the constellations and meteors.

Mt. Humphreys

Day 3: Lower Desolation to Star Lake (5 miles)

We did not have far to go mileage-wise, but it was all cross-country and over a pass. We got going around 8:45am. First, we headed up to upper Desolation Lake, and took a break at the far shore—there was a little boulder hopping to get to the little beach at the end of the lake, and we had a snack there.

Upper Desolation Lake

At first, we were headed to the wrong pass, but then righted ourselves. We should have headed up to the unnamed Lake above Desolation, but we did not see it at first. The heading west from the bowl above Desolation, we headed up to the pass. It was all boulder hopping, but nothing too difficult, just a slog of about 45 minutes.

John and Teri heading up the pass
Teri, John, Matt at Pass

We had lunch up at the pass, looking over both lake basins. Heading down was considerably steeper and soon we hit a spot where we were having trouble finding a route that did not get us cliffed-out. After some going back and forth, I found a place that by lowering down looked like it got us to where we could keep going. After I went down it, the rest dropped their packs to me.

Down the pass!!

John ended up carrying Teri’s pack most of the way down. We stayed somewhat to the left side of the bowl going down. It was quite steep all the way down, with having to use hands and feet and sometimes crab walking down, and took us a couple of hours to get down the steep boulders. It was quite a relief to get down. It left us wondering if there was an easier way down that pass. Then we headed left over to Star Lake. We found some nice spots mid-way on the lake, arriving around 4:00pm.

Matt taking a dip in Star Lake

Again, stayed out to watch the stars, John and I staying out until about 10:30, and we caught one really good shooting star.

Day 4: Layover at Star Lake

We took another layover day to bop around the lakes. But to start our day at about 4:30 or 5:00am, we heard coyotes howling. We were in no hurry so had a late start, leaving camp at about 10:00am, and headed to Puppet and Alsace Lakes, talking our time meandering, and enjoying the views and wildflowers. Then back to camp to hang out, and in the evening watch the stars rise once again.

Day 5: Star Lake to Humphreys Meadow (7 miles)

As we did not have a long hiking day, and we figured we did not want to get into the valley too early, we took our time. We got down to L Lake, and dropped our packs to walk around the lake. In a copse of trees we saw a big pile of what we assume were cattle bones.

Then we went just a short hop down to Elba Lake and picked up the trail. We stopped at Elba for lunch. There was one person fishing at L lake, and we ran into a couple camping at Elba, and then a couple more pairs of hikers coming up.

Once leaving Elba we started to head pack down to tree line and slowly into more woodsy area, following the creek pretty much the whole way. We got to Hutchinson meadow junction at around 3:45pm, and found a nice campsite by the river. It was really too shallow to dip in though, alas, for me who always looks for a place to get in the water!  And even though we were in the valley with trees, there was enough of an opening to still got a good sky view for star gazing.

Day 6: Humphreys Meadow to Piute Lake (8 miles)

John had decided to hike all the way out, while the rest of us would go to Piute Lake, just over the pass, for a quick hike out the next day. John was already gone when we got up at 6:00am. We headed out at about 8:00, and made the slow ascent. Most of it was gradual with a few short steep sections.

Matt & Teri

We again slowly rose out of the trees to more barren landscape. We reached the pass, just beyond summit lake around 2pm. I suggested a detour to Muriel Lake, where we had considered camping, but Teri and Matt decided just to get own to camp to find a good spot early. I decided to go alone to Miriam lake, about a mile and a half each way. I got as far as a couple of small unnamed lakes just before Muriel, which took about fifteen minutes and decided that was enough, and turned around.

Nick not to Muriel Lake

Piute Lake is fairly good sized, with camping only on the trail side. But the trial mostly runs above the Lake, not actually reaching the lake until the far end. It took me a bit to find where Matt and Teri had camped pretty much all the way back at the inlet side. But I did find them to my relief. Separating, I decided, had not been a good idea.

Day 7: Piute Lake to North Lake TH (4 miles)

We got on the trial even before 8:00 that morning ready to get back out after a good week in the back country. We each went our own pace, with Matt leading the way. I was only a few minutes behind him getting out at 9:40am, and Teri just a few minutes behind me.

Loch Loem

Alas, when we drove down to Bishop it was near 100° F and the skies were grey with smoke from the fires up north.

Nick at the finish line

For the full photo album of this trip click here

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