Tyee Lakes Trailhead to Sabrina Campground
(11 miles, +2,700/-2,700 feet).
Today was a great… learning experience!
Half Cookie and I set out on our semi-annual hiking trip with an eye towards completing the classic North Lake-South Lake loop (with the cross country variation over Lamarck Col and down into Darwin Canyon) in the John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon.
But we never made it to Lamarck Col.
We didn’t even make it to North Lake!
Instead, we started with a connector trail that would link up the two trailheads of this classic hike. Rather than doing some complicated road hitch to complete the loop, we decided to hike from Tyee Lakes Trailhead near South Lake to Lower Lamarck Lake above North Lake this evening. In fact, one version of this plan involved slack packing, where we would drop our bags at North Lake and then day hike to them for dinner, with a final ascent to Lower Lamarck Lake just before dark. But a big landslide on the road to North Lake made that plan sort of iffy, so we decided to keep our bags with us and head straight for Tyee Lakes.
We left San Diego around 4:30am this morning and six hours later got our permit from the world’s quirkiest ranger in Bishop. He made fun beeping sounds as he clicked buttons on his computer, and he lunged around behind the counter in a manner straight from the Ministry of Silly Walks. He was the exact opposite of the ranger we had last year in Bishop who was a dead ringer for an apathetic Aubrey Plaza.
By 11:30am we were at the trailhead and ready to go.
The day started uneventfully as we climbed from 9,000 to 10,000 feet.
We stopped briefly to chat with a gentleman who told us about an old fisherman’s trail we could use to skip the road walk up to North Lake from Sabrina marina (no, they don’t rhyme – Sabrina rhymes with vagina!). We thanked him and carried on until lunch, which I was grateful to eat because it was a water-heavy caprese salad that we had originally intended to leave for dinner at the end of our slack pack.
Around 1pm the sky opened up and we found ourselves entering an intense Sierra monsoon.
Lightning and thunder filled the sky, and then — hail!
At Tyee Lake #4 (11015) we had a choice. We could climb switchbacks up 500 feet that would eventually lead us to a half mile walk across a treeless plateau on top of Table Mountain, or we could climb cross country in the woods up 300 feet over the saddle between the Tyee Lakes and George Lake. Given the increasingly frequent lightning, I was worried about exposure, so we headed off trail.
The route down from the saddle was easy cross country for about half a mile.
But soon we reached a part of the canyon where our choice was to slog through the swamp and willows at the bottom or scramble over giant boulders just above.
Of course, it was exactly this point where the sky really opened up, and for an hour (it felt like two!) we got absolutely drenched while trying to boulder. Fun!
Lightning strikes were numerous, with one that hit the ridge right in front of us (one-one thousand, two-one thousand, boom!). From Half Cookie’s point of view it was right behind me!
And through the whole experience, she only had one meltdown.
That was sort of a miracle.
The rain finally let up a bit, just enough to let us make the final push to George Lake where we found use trails and then the real trail down to Sabrina.
The rain lessened, but Half Cookie was particularly soaked and we started to worry about our plan. We were not sure how we were going to dry off enough to ward off hypothermia. We started fantasizing about renting a cabin at the marina, and we vainly looked down the lake for signs of civilization.
When we got to the marina, we discovered that there was just a closed-for-the-night boathouse with some employees who were lounging about. We were exhausted, and it looked like camping was not allowed (or even possible) anywhere near the lake. We asked about campsites and a worker pointed us to Sabrina Campground down the road.
So we packed up our trekking poles and headed down, but when we got there a sign said “Campground Full!”
What to do.
We stopped to talk to a nice family with a truck and a car, and they told us they were also trying to decide what to do. The rain had caused a huge landslide that blocked the road to the campground, but now the sheriffs were saying it was clear. They also said today’s rainfall could very well cause another landslide. Stay at your own risk. Or leave at your own risk.
At this point, Half Cookie asked the family “would you please drive us to Bishop?”
And they said “Sure, we are passing through there anyway.”
And we both felt relieved.
When we got in their car, Half Cookie apologized for being soaked, but they said “don’t worry — it’s a rental!”
On the drive to Bishop we learned that this was their third attempt at camping. Fires in Yosemite and Mammoth had already taken out plans A and B, and now this crazy weather and its landslides had taken out plan C. But they didn’t seem frustrated–just happy to be in the car and warm and headed towards civilization.
And we were too.