Running North Lake to South Lake has been on my “must do” list for some time. I should point out that this adventure is more of a run/hike as there is approximately 6 miles of both un-maintained trail and cross country that the route covers.
Colleen and I start our adventure by waking at 2:00 a.m. for a 3:00 a.m. departure. There is a full blue moon high in the sky on this clear early morning. The first .5 mile is on a dirt road leading to a small camp ground at the actual trail head. From here we take the trail leading to Lamarck Lakes. The trail climbs through the wooded mountainside eventually opening up allowing the full moon to light our way. We are using headlamps primarily to avoid tripping on the rocks as we run slowly up. Soon we are at lower Lamarck lake.
The trail continues to upper Lamarck Lake where it then becomes an un-maintained trail and crosses the creek for a second time. This is where we first get off route unable to find the obvious route. We are too far climber’s left and end up climbing and traversing a large Volkswagen size bolder field eventually regaining the route up to the Col. Here the route becomes obvious and we are again making good progress after losing over an hour by going off route.
At 7:15 we are on the Col taking in the amazing views of Mount Mendel and Darwin Canyon down one side and looking back down to upper Lamarck Lake the other direction. The elevation here is 12,880 + or -. This is our high point of the day.
Descending into Darwin Canyon is relatively easy for the most of the way down however still not a clear enough route to run. We must continue to be very careful with our footing. This is not the place to twist a knee or ankle! While descending, Mount Mendel continues to be the dominate feature. I could only imagine what this place was like 60 years ago before the glacier receded to where it is today.
The Shooting Stars at our feet are amazing as we descend into time and Darwin Canyon. More car size boulders await us near the bottom as we traverse out of the canyon with the lakes on our left.
We reach Darwin Bench and I start to feel somewhat relieved that most of the technical ground is behind us.
We pick up a clear trail but still unmaintained which takes us down to the JMT where the remainder of our journey will be on clear maintained trail. We are finally making good progress descending quickly down to the JMT. I suddenly realize that we are on a very well maintained trail and heading down into Evolution Valley as the merge was not that obvious or I was experiencing too much oxygen on the brain and enjoying the fast moving down hill. After a short distance I stopped and realized my mistake. Oops!
So we proceeded to reverse our direction and headed back up to Evolution Lake where we are now among civilization and all the “WILD” hikers (the movie).
This place is truly amazing and unquestionably the reason why it is one of the most popular hikes in the Sierra. We continue to climb up to the next pass. Muir pass. Along the way we pass by many incredible lakes. This section of trail is run-able as it climbs gradually up to Muir pass.
As we continue to pass what seems to be a never ending train of people I was on the lookout for my cousin Paul who was scheduled to be on this section and “through” hiking the JMT on the same day (I never did find him).
I can’t help but think John Muir is probably rolling over in his grave asking the question why are these people moving so quickly through the wilderness and not stopping and smelling the flowers. Yes Mr. Muir, we will be back to do just that.
After reaching the Muir hut at the pass we have a long decent into Leconte Canyon where we will reach our low point of 8800′. I am nervously looking at the sky as the thunderheads start to form and hoping the weather will hold off and allow us to finish our journey safely.
While descending into Leconte Canyon we pass several lakes and some amazing waterfalls flowing over the smooth granite. We finally reach the junction of the JMT and Bishop Pass/Dusy Basin trail. I check the time, we are at 12.5 hours into our adventure.
By now the skies are dark and with the clap of thunder it starts to rain. Colleen asks me what do I think about our situation and I reply that the storm doesn’t look too organized and that we should proceed up to Bishop Pass. What do I know? As we press on it continues to rain but we are fine with our rain gear on.
At this point of our run we are tired and having been up and over Bishop Pass before we know we are in for a long 12 + miles with another 6000 feet+ of total gain and loss. This will put us to the test as this trail can be a beast even on a short day.
The rain subsides after the first 1K of climbing and the cloud formations over the surrounding peaks is remarkable. With the clouds still bumping high above us we continue to march on up into Dusy Basin. This place is another magical spot where one could spend days or weeks exploring. From here there is one more push to the pass. The clouds are regrouping at this point and I am paying close attention. There is a cloud formation that is hovering over the Palisades with the peaks in the clouds as the thunder continues to rumble through the area. I’m thinking to myself Thunderbolt Peak is living up to its name.
500 feet below the pass I eat my espresso almond butter which I’ve been saving for this moment when my energy levels are diminishing. At last we reach Bishop Pass and with the looming thunder storm we quickly proceed down the other side. By this time Colleen is not too happy about negotiating any more downhill. I tell her it’s only 3000 feet and oh yeah remember all those steps built for hoses not people. This is when we both think about acquiring hiking/running poles. Next time?
Again the views are spectacular but we are not able to appreciate it as we are too busy watching our foot placement. With daylight diminishing and clouds once again regrouping we press on to the finish. All the while I have it in my mind that this is a 35 mile day as was posted on a couple of different websites. So I am thinking to myself that we don’t have but another mile or two to South Lake. I convey my thoughts to Colleen and she proceeds to tell me that this guy she talked to yesterday hiked it last year and clocked the distance at 42 miles. Crap we still have a few miles to go and I am looking at my Garmin thinking we are nearly there. In the mean time the storm is organizing above us and the sky suddenly becomes dark. OK, time for the headlamps.
Around the corner and below I see South Lake, yes we’ve made. A minute later the skies open up on us. We run the last ¼ mile in record time and arrive in the parking lot 17 hours later 40 miles + or – and 9000′ of elevation gain praying that the car was shuttled successfully and that we could find it instantly.
AH, THERE IT WAS so we complete what will remain as one of our more adventurous days in our lives.