Our last backpacking trips were about two years ago when we did the circuit hike of of all the lakes around Rock Creek Canyon area, and another overnight trip to Bishop Pass in knee high snow. I have a hard time remembering 2012! Nursing old injuries, I did a few easy climbs with an old friend and a few day hikes with my wife. These trips weren't rigorous enough to keep me in shape and now I'm older, heavier and completely out of shape. It was time to pay the piper, pay my dues on a trail in altitude with a heavy pack. My wife, a trooper that she is, accepted to keep me company, mostly to go for help when I collapsed in the middle of the trail, I figured.
Now the question was which trail we should take and how many days worth of food and fuel? Why not go on one of our most favorite trails we have always enjoyed in the past, Bishop Pass trail and Dusy Basin. Well, the plan was ambitious considering the kind of shape I was in, but we thought we should load up the bear canister anyway just in case. I hate bear canisters, you fill them up with food and before you know it, it's heavier than you want to think about. At the end, you carry them down still mostly full of food. Who can eat a hearty meal after a hard day of carrying?
Bags packed and in the car from the night before, we left Southern California for the Eastern Sierra early in the morning. The temps in Bishop reach 105 F during warm seasons. I was praying that we would be able to get a permit to enter the wilderness that afternoon. I did not entertain the idea of spending a night cooped up in a motel room for the morning walk-in permit. We arrived in Bishop in the mid-afternoon heat. The ranger at the ranger station was friendly and quickly issued us a permit.
We spent an hour for a quick lunch and after a visit to the local mountain shop we were ready to drive to the trailhead at South Lake.
Is this South Lake or should we call it "Dry Lake?" my wife and I were asking in disbelief. Of all the times through decades that we had come here, we had never seen the water level this low. Not only that you could see the dry bottom of the dam, the water level was hundreds of feet from it. Wow, was this a sign of things to come? But, we were not here to pass judgment on water levels and ponder global climate change. Our backpacks were on our shoulders and up the trail we were moving.
The sky was partly overcast keeping the temps moderate. Twenty minutes up the trail I had to sit down leaning against my heavy backpack. I was already feeling dizzy and fatigued. This always happens to me, especially when I'm out of shape. All I needed was five or ten minutes. The recovery usually comes quickly. Two skinny women with no packs walking fast passed us. One of them commented, "hey, you are resting already? this is the trailhead." I responded "hey, we are on our way down, we climbed Cloud Ripper, Agassiz, Thunderbolt and Sill yesterday." They yelled back "we are impressed" laughing. It was obvious that they had not believed me, or may be they did. It was time to get up and start moving. The two mile hike to Long Lake went smoothly. I had a great spot for our camp in mind. There was no one there, so we had the site. The next order of things were to get water and set up tent. By the time we were cooking dinner the sky turned yellow then pink and red. We were afraid we would not have a starry night because of the clouds. But, within an hour clouds had cleared up and we had a beautiful night to enjoy.
After a night of tossing and turning, we woke up to a nippy morning. Remembering how hot it was in Bishop the day before, we were surprised to see frost on the ground. We were in no hurry to get going. I wasn't looking forward to putting the backpack back on my back again. After the routine breakfast and drying our tent in the sun, it was time to hit the trail. Walking along the shore of Long Lake we came across a fresh "hairball," usually coughed up by a cat. The next question was what kind of cats live in this area? Well, there are bobcats and may be even cougars. To me, the hairball was too large for a bobcat, but I didn't even want to think about the danger of getting attacked by a cougar, hence let's say the hairball belongs to a bobcat.
The morning was beautiful and the reflection of Mount Goode onto Long Lake shimmered like a dancer. With Long Lake behind us, we headed up the switch backs gaining some altitude. Looking straight down at Spearhead Lake we agreed that the lake really looked like a spearhead. I felt a lot stronger the second day, but looking back at my wife I saw a certain amount of strain. Coming from sea level only the day before, the altitude was taking its toll on her. We agreed not to push our luck by going too much higher and only reach the next objective, Saddle Rock Lake. It was turning into an easy day of enjoying the views and photography. Soon after lunch my wife was deep into her book and I was immersed in my music, Rachmaninov's piano concertos #s 2,3&4 on my MP3 player.
The cloudless sky made for a beautiful star gazing night. The Milkyway Galaxy shone gloriously above us and filled our senses with awe and admiration. I was explaining the dynamics of why stars shine and why some of them explode when I noticed my wife was sound asleep. It was time for me to shut my mouth and my eyes.