Piute Pass, July 2021

Looking for a new-to-us area of the Sierra with nice lakes and some interesting peaks I found Piute Pass.

Day 1:
We drove up to the North Lake trail head hiker’s parking lot. All the while we saw big clouds grow over the mountains. As we started out hiking dark clouds were looming above us. We put the rain covers over our packs since rain seemed guaranteed. It took only 15 minutes before we heard the first thunder. We had just made it to the North Lake campground and decided to wait out the thunderstorm in the wooded area there. The storm was right above us, thunder and lightning occuring almost simultaneously. After the lightning and rain stopped we continued on our hike. Just before the switchbacks below Loch Leven it started to rain again and we sheltered under some trees. A couple out for a 8 day hike was doing the same thing. Just when we were ready to get going again a small mule train (4 mules) came down the trail. The remainder of the hike to the pass became a bit of a slog with rain showers on and off. From the pass we had a great view west and Summit Lake about 200 ft below us. Given the time of day we decided to find a campsite there. After setting up camp und cooking dinner under head lamps we quickly crawled into our tents for the warm sleeping bags.

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Waiting for thunderstorm to pass

Day 2:
Like nothing every happened: blue sky without even a hint of a cloud. After breakfast we headed a couple hundred feet further down and then took a little trail north to Desolation Lake. Srisuda stayed here while Jack and I took off to climb Four Gables Peak. For that we had to round the lake to the east. This took us over short sections of boulders and along a couple of beaches. Then it was an easy walk up some grassy/boggy slopes to the drainage that led us up the the final, sandy slope up to Four Gables peak. One section of the slope reminded us of a Roman road. The rocks had aligned in a way that made the surface appear paved. Walking on this “road” was very comfortable and one could have easily ridden a mountain bike on it. Just below the peak we passed over a big sandy “lake”. The views from the top were great. As always it was fun to identify mountains (with app help, thanks peakfinder), particularly those we had climbed before. On the way down we made a quick detour Four Gables Southwest Peak which gave us a much better view of French Canyon and all the lakes at it’s east (upper) end.

Working our way back around Desolation Lake to the meeting spot with Srisuda we saw two hikers. Only when we got close to them did we notice that it was Srisuda and a lady (Diana) she had met. Turns out Srisuda had quite a busy time while waiting for us. First she spent a couple of hours chatting with Jim Burd (Sierra hiker legend Bob Burd’s brother). He was out fishing several of the lakes in the area. Then she met Diana with whom she hiked to Forsaken Lake right below Mt. Humphreys. After a short snack break by the lake we headed back to our camp and Diana did the same. We were tired after a full day walking around. So again, we just went to bed right after dinner.

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Day 3:
Jack hiked out, I hiked west to climb Pilot Knob, and Srisuda explored some more lakes.
Just across the little ridge south of us was Muriel Lake. Srisuda went to check it out and discovered that it’s a very nice lake popular with backpackers. She then found a nice spot at the outlet of the lake where she enjoyed the sound of a running mountain creek while reading and it gave her a chance to cool off in the refreshing water.

I hiked back down like the previous day, but instead of taking the trail to Desolation Lake I headed straight for Pilot Knob. This took me through a few drainages, resulting in hundreds of feet of bonus elevation gain (repeated on the way back). After about 2h 15m I arrived at the saddle below Pilot Knob and now had my work cut out climbing the final 600 ft over the talus blocks that make up the peak. It took me about 1h 10m to reach the top, coming down took the same time due to the terrain. There was some haze in the air, including from fires burning somewhere ot the west. I could even smell a little of that smoke. Views of French Canyon to the north and Piute Canyon to the south were great nevertheless. Pilot Knob sits right above the confluence of these canyons. I hung out for 20 minutes enjoying the views and some snacks.
On the way back to camp I detoured past Piute benchmark, which Jack and I had noticed on the map, but forgotten to check out the previous day on our return from Four Gables. There was no marker at the benchmark location, but I found a couple of pieces of wire. The same kind of wire we often come across at benchmarks.
After joining Srisuda at camp I decided to take a refreshing dip in Summit Lake. The water was cold and therefore very refreshing. After dinner I tried to sit on a nice rock and read, but the mosquitos found me and I didn’t last too long before retreating into the tent.

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Day 4:
Hike out. On this trip we somehow chatted a lot more with all kinds of hikers than on previous outings. These chats were mostly initiated by the other hikers. In a number of cases it was solo hikers out for 5-15 days. About a mile before the trailhead we met Scott, whom I had talked to the day before. He was finishing a 70 mile / 2 week hike from Mamoth and asked if we could give him a ride back down to Bishop. We agreed and so we hiked out together. At the parking lot I saw a guy sitting on the bear vault with his leg streched out straight. As I retrieved our bag of food items out of the vault (place there so bears didn’t get any idea about breaking into our truck while we were out) we started to talk and that’s when I recognized him. He and his wife had sheltered from the rain with us on day 1. They were supposed to hike out over at South Lake, but unfortunately he slipped and strained his quad muscle. They did the smart thing and took the shortes route back out. His wife had caught a ride to pick up their car from the other trail head.
Back in Bishop we made our customary after hike recovery meal stop at the Burger Barn before dropping Scott at the bus station at the Vons shopping center. We dropped him just in time for the next bus that would take him to Mamoth and his car.

Great outing! We all got to enjoy parts together and part on our own. Like always we already started talking about next time before we were even down. Somehow we always come out of these trips with to-do lists for the next trip.
My hiking summed up to about 36 miles with 7,300 ft elevation gain.

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