Big Pine North Fork and Bishop Pass
This quick weekend trip would be my last tuneup weekend in preparation for hiking the final third of the John Muir Trail in late August. Everything went according to plan – which happened to be hiking North Fork of Big Pine on Saturday and the Chocolate Lakes loop from the Bishop Pass trail on Sunday – except for a little bit of ominous weather to the west.
Date Range – August 4-6
Campground – Bitterbrush
Distance – 286 miles
Closest Town – Bishop, CA
We drove into Owens Valley on Friday night, looking for a campsite for the weekend. We stopped at Taboose Creek first, but left after finding it was a nightmarish breeding ground for mosquitoes. From there we drove west from Bishop to Bitterbrush campground, where we were able to avoid mosquitoes and also get some cool views of the full moon.
Full moon hiding in the cloudy night sky
The next morning we headed south to Big Pine and over to the North Fork trailhead. The overcast skies made for an easy hike, as we were able to avoid the mid-day sun for the longer exposed part of the trail. It was awesome to see so many wildflowers still in bloom this late in the year along the creek.
Wildflowers in bloom along North Fork of Big Pine Creek
We made good time in getting to First Lake, but continued on to Second Lake for better views of Temple Crag. Even though it’s the sixth time I’ve seen this lake, it still remains one of my favorite lakes in all the Sierras.
Second Lake and Temple Crag
A short lunch break at Second Lake gave us the energy to continue down the trail towards Third Lake. This one had significantly more water than it did the last time I saw it, about a year ago.
Third Lake and Temple Crag
Next up was Fourth Lake, a bit further from Third than Third was from Second. Fourth Lake doesn’t have the turquoise hue that the first three lakes do, but is still a spectacular sight. A few campers set their tents up on the edge of the lake, making for a cool photo-op.
From Fourth Lake, I wanted to head further up the trail for a view of Fifth Lake and Mt. Robinson, but the thundering skies were approaching quickly. We decided to head back to the trailhead by taking the loop to Black Lake. This part of the trail was incredible, with twisted trees and creek crossings. Black Lake was calm but the skies were not, so we had to press on. It drizzled for most of the hike back down the trail, but luckily never rained too hard.
On Sunday we started by driving to Lake Sabrina before heading down South Lake Road to the Bishop Pass Trailhead. The water level in South Lake was so high, you could no longer see the receding water line from the drought like in previous years. We packed our bags and headed up the trail, which started with some fairly steep inclines and few switchbacks.
After passing the John Muir Wilderness sign, we took a left toward Bishop Pass at the trail split – going right leads to the Treasure Lakes. About 45 minutes later we were met with spectacular views of Long Lake, with the impressive Mt. Goode in the background.
After a lunch break at Long Lake, we started back down the trail towards Ruwau Lake. We stopped to talk with a family that had been camping near Long Lake the previous 4 days, and they gave us some useful tips on the loop around from Ruwau Lake and Chocolate Lakes.
The trail to Ruwau Lake was steep switchbacks heading up to just over 11,000 feet. We stopped for a few quick pictures, then hurried back on the trail after it started to rain lightly. The trail around to Chocolate Lakes was not marked particularly well,
and included a short trek down a patch of snow. Luckily I had a map to help stay on the trail, because it was mostly marked by sporadicly placed cairns.
We stopped along the trail after the last of the Chocolate Lakes to talk with a father and son backpacking combo on their way back to the trailhead from a few days in the Dusy Basin. They stopped to rest before Bull Lake, which was also very quiet and absent of other hikers. From there, the trial was all downhill back towards the parking lot. We made it in good time, and for a second straight day managed to avoid one of the infamous Sierra Nevada downpours.
This was a great trip, as we finished the weekend with 22 miles hiked that included 15 Lakes and 3 waterfalls. For as many times we’ve stayed around the Bishop Creek area, I was pretty surprised that we’d never been on the Bishop Pass trail before.