We continued with the ‘easy’ portion of our trip on the morning of Day 5 by turning off the John Muir Trail and heading up Piute Canyon to Humpreys Basin. About 10 miles long and with about 3000 feet of gain, it’s not terribly difficult by Sierra standards, but it was enough to keep us busy most of the day.
I had forgotten how much I enjoy the climb through Piute Canyon. It starts off steep and rocky, but the climb is bearable due to the wonderful Piute Creek running through the steep canyon. After a short distance of climbing the canyon opens and you climb up above the Creek with a view down into its gorge-like path. There is a wonderful spot to stop and rest where the creek passes by in small waterfalls, cascades, and pools. A short while after that the rocky trail begins to morph into a forest dirt path and the climb becomes more gradual – in fact, barely noticeable.
After passing through the unremarkable Hutchinson Meadow, there are only a short few miles remaining until Humpreys Basin. The trail steepens a bit as you climb close to the treeline. The first time I came through here I was a bit confused due to the disagreement between my map and my GPS. The map showed trails where none existed, as far as I could tell, and my GPS showed me off from where I expected the trail to be. Fortunately, Humpreys Basin is pretty wide open so it’s easy to get your bearing.
After sighting Lower Golden Trout Lake we cross-countried to the Upper Lake. There is no camping within 500 ft of Lower Golden Trout, but there are nice legal campsites at Upper GT if you know where to look. Note that the campsites on the small piece of land between the two lakes is not legal camping, even though there are lots of campsites there. We found a really nice site that overlooked the lake, gave us easy water access, but also was high enough to give us great sunset views as well.
After setting up camp around 3 pm, David and I took off with our fishing poles to circle the lake. The fishing was pretty good. I pulled out a couple of golden trout and tons of brookies. The teeny tiny fish really wanted to bite at this lake – I kept pulling out fish not much bigger than the lure. But we did both get some nice ones in between the eager little guys.
More than anything, I was looking forward to sunset from our camp. On a solo trip I camped at Upper Golden Trout in 2007 and at the time, smoke from the Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara had blown towards the Basin. It made for one of, if not the most, memorable sunset in my backpacking career.
While we (luckily) did not have smoke in the Basin to influence the sunset colors, it did not disappoint. We watched the light on Mount Humphreys change from white to orange to pink, and then we watched the horizon go through the most amazing transformation of colors. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was really excited to see that my pictures pretty much came out, capturing how the sky was changing minute by minute.
After sunset we hit our tents with the plan to get up early the next morning. The hike from Upper Golden Trout to Piute Pass is pretty easy, with only a few hundred feet of gradual gain. From the Pass it’s a mere 5 miles back to the North Lake trailhead where we started from.
The morning was lovely – warmer than expected, and we got to watch sunrise on the distant peaks we could see from our campsite. We took off an were on our way out in no time, fresh food and showers on our mind. It was a nice and uneventful hike back to the trailhead, and upon arriving back at the car, we put the finishing touches on yet another successful Sierra outing.