Our last full day on the trail was the one I was most excited about, and which others had been the most worried about. I was excited because we were heading out through the Dusy Basin, a place I heard was incredibly special and beautiful. We were also worried because it was the steepest climb of the trip – 2,400 ft in 2.5 miles – and when we told people we were going that way the reactions ranged from “Good luck,” to “I saw a mule fall off the switchbacks and get eaten by bears.” So, yah, worried. But excited.
Before we got to the climb we still had about 2,000 ft to descend the rest of the way from our high perched campsite on Muir Pass down to Pete’s Meadow and the Le Conte Ranger Station. That morning I remember we saw a lot of deer and had some lovely long chats with the two sisters that we had been bumping into for a few days. They were continuing on the JMT and we were splitting off so we all hung on to the camaraderie as long as possible. It was with their help that we found the infamous Rock Monster off the trail:
After avoiding being eaten by the monster and a nice long walk among the pine trees on the valley floor we saw our side trail up towards Dusy Basin and Bishop Pass beyond. We stopped for lunch next to the last water source, a beautiful little stream, and enjoyed a quick nap in the shade. Then it was up, up up.
Early on we decided that at each switchback we would take turns saying something we were thankful for to help pass the time. It actually really helped because when I wasn’t sharing I was thinking about what to say next. We started with obvious things: a healthy body, feet, shoes, sunscreen. Then we got a little more creative with friends, wild places, people who care about the environment. Then we started dreaming about ice cubes, french fries, and clean socks. It was a wonderful exercise (pun intended).
About halfway up the climb we passed a couple sitting and looking out across the valley, which was a spectacular view. They had been out there a few times before and told us they call this valley the “Yosemite that no one knows about,” because of the incredible scale and majesty of it. It does have the same indescribable feeling of Yosemite National Park, and even has domes and granite faces that look like cousins to the famous Half Dome and El Capitan.
It was hot and tiring, but because we expected it to be so arduous I think we were all surprised at how quickly we reached the top. I had heard that the Dusy Basin was beautiful but I hadn’t done a lot of research into what to expect. Even if I had it still would have taken my breath taken away. When we reached the top we discovered an incredibly lush hanging valley filled with little streams and waterfalls, wildflowers and even deer. It honestly felt like walking into a hidden oasis. Pictures do it no justice.
This place was MAGIC! The only thing that wasn’t amazing was when we sat on the edge of one of the ponds to start filtering water. I looked in the “inlet” side of our water filter and saw little red specs floating around. I thought it was weird so looked closer and discovered the pond water was filled with tiny shrimp! It was a bit of a bummer that we had to go find moving water to drink from, but even the shrimp were magical in a way.
I was really tired but we decided to push on for another 1-2 miles to find a campsite closer to the top of the pass. That meant leaving the lushest part of the Dusy Basin and climbing into another sub-alpine zone. We went slowly and savored the views looking back.
I knew from looking at the map that there was another small lake just shy of the pass so we headed for it and found a flat-ish spot to set up camp around 11,000 ft. The granite spires surrounding this basin were sharp, rugged, and unlike any other landscape I’ve ever seen. The sunset was the last we would see in the high sierra and we savored it among those incredible peaks.
That night was very cold and I actually sprang a leak in my inflatable sleeping pad. Bekka and Daisy, ever the most wonderful camping partners, stayed up late with me in our tent feeling every single inch of it to try to find the leak. We had given up and Bekka gone to the other tent when Daisy just said “oh, here it is!” More magic. We threw the little neoprene patch on it and prayed that it would hold, which it did. But even after all that I still didn’t sleep well because of the elevation – I woke up every hour feeling like I was suffocating. In a way I was: the air is only 13.9% oxygen at 11,000 ft, compared to about 21% at sea level. We had been at altitudes around 8-10,000 ft for the whole week but my body still felt the difference.
When the morning finally came it was cold and beautiful. We were in that funny mental state of wanting to linger because of the beauty and peace of the wilderness, but on the flip side ready to eat food that we didn’t have to spend 10 minutes rehydrating, ready to talk with our loved ones and to get a shower. We had about a mile to hike up to Bishop Pass (11,972 ft) and then another 7 down to the car we had parked at the trailhead. Our steps were bittersweet but we were in amazing spirits at the top, the last pass of our 8 day trip. We had made it!
The rest of the hike down to South Lake was almost all downhill, past a number of beautiful lakes and patches of pine forest. We saw a lot of folks hiking in the other way since it was a holiday weekend, and I felt sorry for how steep and snowy the trail was for them hiking up. We told them it was worth it!
And that was it! We met up with Kristen and Maggie at our favorite burger bar in town and then headed back to Kristen’s house to shower and spend one last night. This was the longest I’ve ever been in the backcountry and it was a perfect length of time. Although next time maybe I’ll go for longer…..