Four Gables via Desolation Lake

Four Gables via Desolation Lake

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 11, 2016
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer

Getting Started

After a few nights at Four Jeffrey Campground and a warm-up hike circumnavigating and summiting Chocolate Peak off of the Bishop Pass trail, our group—Ruvicha, Brian, Steve2 and I—prepared to head for Desolation Lake via the Piute Pass, with the goal of climbing Four Gables Peak. Three of us previously had camped at Horton Lake; Four Gables, along with Mt Tom and Basin Mountain, forms something of a triangle around the lake. From our lakeside campsite, we enjoyed the early morning alpenglow on Four Gables and wanted the view from its summit. Visiting Desolation Lake on the way seemed an added bonus.
 
Four Gables
Four Gables between Mt Tom (right) and Basin Mountain (left)
 
Four Gables Alpenglow
Four Gables Alpenglow

Hiking Up Piute Pass

We left the car at the North Lake parking lot and hit the trail to the Piute Pass. We found a nice, well-established, sandy trail with two early log crossings over the North Fork of the Bishop Creek. The trail began climbing a series of switchbacks almost immediately. After about 1.7 miles and 1500’ altitude gain, we gained sight of Loch Leven, a pretty little lake lying under Mt Emerson to its north.
 
Four Gables
Piute Pass Trail
 
Four Gables
Piute Pass Trail

 
Loch Leven
View of Loch Leven
 
Loch Leven
Looking back at Loch Leven


The trail passed along the north side of Loch Leven, with Emerson looming overhead on the right as we continued to climb, albeit at a lower incline than the first part of the trail. Three miles up the trail and at almost 11,000’ elevation, Piute Lake came into view.
 
Piute Lake
Piute Lake
 
Piute Lake
Looking back at Piute Lake


After a short break to refill water bottles, we finished the last stretch to Piute Pass, about 4.2 miles from and 2200’ above the trailhead per our GPS (the Tom Harrison Map says that the distance from the trailhead to the pass is 5 miles; I wonder if they measured from the North Lake parking lot as opposed to the actual trailhead.) At the pass, a hiker told us to watch carefully for two cairns marking the turnoff to Desolation Lake. From the pass, we had a nice view of the Humphreys Basin to the west.
 
Piute Pass
Looking up at Piute Pass
 
Piute Pass
Looking west from Piute Pass




On to Desolation Lake

After crossing the pass, the trail, still sandy and very established, descended a few hundred feet. We encountered quite a bit of traffic, mostly backpackers heading down the Piute Trail to the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail. Just short of two miles from the pass, we found the trail to Desolation Lake, marked by a large, unusually shaped boulder and the two large rock cairns and heading almost due north. The trail offered good views of the south face of Mt Humphreys, though it is one of the least attractive mountains in the Sierra. We had naively assumed that, since Piute Pass is at about 11,400’, the same elevation as Desolation Lake, we would have a fairly level hike—we should have checked out all of those contour lines on the map a bit more closely!
 
Piute Pass Trail
Hiking Piute Trail into Humphreys Basin
 
Mt Humphrey
South face of Mt Humphreys

 
Cut-off for Desolation Lake
Cairns mark cut-off to Desolation Lake


The trail gained back some of the altitude that we had lost coming down from Piute Pass as it passed Lower Desolation Lake. It then cleared another rise, bringing us into view of Desolation Lake. We proceeded up the eastern side of the lake, almost to the point where the trail peters out, and found a level spot to pitch our camp for the night, by our GPS 7.7 miles from the trailhead. It’s a beautiful area but a different type of beauty: rocks, a lake and mountains … but no trees.
 
Lower Desolation Lake
Lower Desolation Lake
 
Trail to Desolation Lake
Trail to Desolation Lake

 
Desolation Lake and Four Gables
Desolation Lake with Four Gables center background

To the Top of Four Gables

We woke the next day and made a mid-morning start for Four Gables. That meant working our way around to the north side of Desolation Lake, entailing a bit of boulder-scrambling. An inviting sandy beach lies on the lake’s north side, about a mile from our campsite on the lake’s eastern shore. From the beach, we headed directly north, ascending through some ground heath toward a green area on a ridge, where a small creek flows down toward the lake.  
Four Gables
Hiking along eastern side of Desolation Lake
 
North Beach of Desolation Lake
Descending to north beach of Desolation Lake

 
Heading to Four Gables
Heading toward Four Gables from Desolation Lake's north beach
 
Desolation Lake
Looking back at Desolation Lake


Once we gained the ridge, we had a slight incline to hike up toward Four Gables’ south face, largely on rock or stable sand. The base was about 2.4 miles from our lakeside campsite and at an altitude 12,200’, leaving us about 500’ below the Four Gables summit. We could see that, on the right side of the south face, the sand ran almost halfway up. It made for stable footing, before we transitioned to easy rock- and boulder-scrambling for the last stretch to the summit, which we measured at 3.5 miles from our camp, 11.2 miles from the trailhead.
 
Four Gables South Face
South face of Four Gables
 
Four Gables
South face of Four Gables from near the base


The summit offered great views of Mt Tom, Horton Lake, Upper Horton Lake and Basin Mountain to the northeast, and views to the northwest and back down over Desolation Lake toward Mt Goethe and a series of small glaciers lining the ridge running from the Pavilion Dome to Muriel Peak.
 
Mt Tom
Mt Tom and Horton Lake from Four Gables summit
 
Basin Mountain
Basin Mountain and Upper Horton Lake from Four Gables summit

 
Mt Humphreys
Steve2 and Brian on Four Gables with Mt Humphreys in background


Back to Desolation Lake

After 30 minutes on the summit, it was time to head back. We took various routes down the south face. I headed for the sand, which made for a comfortable, fast walk down to the base. From there, we largely retraced our steps back to the beach on Desolation Lake’s north shore. The cold water felt good on our feet and legs. Steve2 decided to take the full plunge. He pronounced it great, but we noticed he didn’t linger in the water.
 
Desolation Lake
Desolation Lake from the base of Four Gables
 
Desolation Lake
Back to north beach of Desolation Lake


On the way back to our camp, we ran into a couple of the participants in this year’s Sierra Challenge. They impressed us, doing in one day what we would do in three.
 
Desolation Lake
Back at Desolation Lake campsite


Heading Back Out

After a cold night (temperature got into the 30s), we broke camp the next morning and made tracks back for Piute Pass and the trailhead. More great views, and going down definitely was easier than coming up.
 
Lower Desolation Lake
Lower Desolation Lake
 
Lower Desolation Lake
Lower Desolation Lake

 
Piute Pass Trail
Looking down Piute Pass trail toward trailhead


This was our first time to the Desolation Lake area in the Humphrey Basin. It’s a gem that we would recommend to anyone who wants to make a trip into the Sierra backcountry.


Comments

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colinr

colinr - Sep 8, 2016 11:31 pm - Voted 10/10

We met out there!

On the morning of 8/10, I spoke with a guy who was honoring his 50th birthday by finishing a month long backpacking trip, exiting via Piute Pass. He wrote a trip report on the HighSierraTopix website. The only other people I saw all day besides Sierra Challenge participants were you and your group as you prepared to pick your campsite at Desolation Lake. Some days I ran into nobody besides SC participants. Funny to see your report here! Well done! Here's a link to mine from that day: https://goo.gl/photos/mykueKNm5qWDnCpw6

Ambret

Ambret - Sep 9, 2016 8:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: We met out there!

We sure did. I think you told us that there wasn't any decent site further up the lake shore for camping. You made great time to do that all in one day; we took a leisurely three. Great pictures on your post by the way -- including diving into Desolation Lake. That's a great beach on the lake's north side but a bit chilly. Only one in our party of four chose to take a full swim.

cab

cab - Sep 12, 2016 6:09 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice Report

I was out there two days after you for a hike to Pilot Knob and Four Gables. That beach at Desolation Lake is awesome! I tried to go for a swim too, but I made it to about mid-thigh before chickening out and getting dressed again. Freezing! Nice report on a great area.

Viewing: 1-3 of 3

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