North Lake to North Lake with Llamas: July-August 2015
A Report of a Hike with Six People and Six Llamas
Setting Off from North Lake
Yes, I know that the proper route is North Lake to South Lake, but I always feel 30 years younger when I plan trips in December, and this year I soon decided that the full standard route was a bit beyond me once we got started.
After last year’s happy experience with llamas, we turned once again to Potato Ranch Llama Packers of Sonora for six excellent llamas.
Sunday, July 26: Onward to Upper Golden Trout
After some confusion as to the proper trail head to load llamas (we went to the trail head in the campground when we should have gone to the trail head parking lot), we got to work with our llamas. We had four familiar llamas from last year’s hike (Joe, Sonny D, S’more, and Ebony) and two new ones (Theo and Sarek). My favorite admirable llama of last year, Tux, had some medical problems and now watches over goats.
Last year we had the previous afternoon to load and balance the panniers. This year, we loaded at the trail head. Under those less than idial conditions, we ended up with more than we needed, and forgot some things. The extra weight wasn’t a problem, since with a llama per person we easily could carry all we needed — but loading the panniers at the trail heads wasn’t the best idea.
We thus got off a little later than planned, I always lead from the rear, and my instructions this time were insufficiently clear. As a result, the llamas, lead by “llama whisperer” Dan and apprentice Katie missed the proper turn-off to Upper Golden Trout Lake and chugged further down the trail than advisable. Since llama prints were visible on the trail I knew what had happened. Fortunately, they realized their error and turned back to meet us at a spot that allowed for easy cross-country to a less than ideal campsite. All six of us, fresh from Michigan, were exhausted and I began to wonder about the wisdom of the full trip, particularly since I learned that grazing was banned in Dusy Basin.
Still, the Humphreys Basin is a gorgeous place and despite general weariness we enjoyed the view.
Monday, July 27: Do we really want to follow the original plan?
Rather than taking the main trail down to Hutchinson Meadow, we followed the use trail along the stream, which is well-used enough to be easy to follow. In one or two places it was a tad awkward for the llamas, but intrepid beasts that they are, they chugged through.
We arrived in good time at a fine campsite along the river at Hutchinson Meadow with excellent grazing for our llamas. Around a campfire, we agreed that my original plan was too ambitious, particularly since no grazing is allowed in Dusy Basin (where I had planned to spend a rest day).
We had a relaxing afternoon, with one member of the party cooling his feet in the stream while contentedly reading.
The rest of the group acceded to my suggestion that heading over Muir Pass to South Lake probably wasn’t the best plan and we resolved to take things more sedately.
Tuesday, July 28: Down to the Bridge
Handling morning llama chores came back quickly to those of us on last year’s trip and David and Katie quickly learned what had to be done, so we were off at a reasonable hour. The trail down to the junction with the John Muir Trail was somewhat rougher than I was expecting. The bridge at the junction was a welcome site, and the llamas happily crossed the bridge.
After some exploration we set up camp on the other side of the bridge. People still weren’t filled with energy, and since we were not going over Muir Pass we decided to spend a rest day before heading back toward North Lake.
Wednesday, July 29: Rest Day
Tqp of us relaxed in camp, two people headed up to look over Muir Trail Ranch, and two others headed up the canyon for a while. Muir Trail Ranch is a fine place to stay, but it isn’t a particularly interesting place to visit..
Thursday, July 30: Back to Hutchinson Meadow
By now we had morning llama chores down to an art, so we were off efficiently back up the canyon to Hutchinson Meadow. Our previous campsite was open, so we moved in for three nights.
Friday, July 31: Day Hikes
Part of the group hiked up to Honeymoon Lakes.
Lower Honeymoon Lake
The upper lake is more barren and requires some scrambling.
Upper Honeymoon Lake
Saturday, August 1: Hike to Merriam Lake
Some of us stayed in camp for the day, while four others hiked up to Merriam Lake. I was there years back on a trip that took us over Feather Pass to the Bear Lakes Basin, but this year was entirely happy to stay in camp this year and relax.
I used to claim that “it rarely rains in the Sierra.” That was true for my early hiking years, but the last several years have had more varied weather. This year we got a steady rain in the afternoon that lasted several hours. I discovered that my 25-year-old Stephensen tent wasn’t quite as waterproof as it once was. Things did clear up in the evening, making the fact that we were at an elevation permitting campfires particularly welcome.
A Welcome Campfire after a Wet Afternoon
One of the benefits of the extra weight allowed by llamas was an evening glass of wine. Even boxed wine tastes pretty good at 9,000 feet.
Sunday, August 2: Back to Upper Golden Trout
The hike up toward Piute Pass went reasonably smoothly, despite the fact that the llama train took a wrong turn. I could hear the sound of llama bells in the distance and figured they’d soon get back on the right path, which they did. Fortunately our favorite camp site above Upper Golden Trout Lake was open. It’s up a ways from the lake and often used by the packers. Besides being near to water, it has a great view of Mt. Humphreys and the surroundings.
Dan “the llama whisperer” was maintaining good contact with our herd.
The "Llama Whisperer" in Conversation
Like last year, Dan did a find job of leading the llamas. Other members of the party took an occasional turn, but it’s hard to outdo the master.
The Humphreys Basin at Dusk
Monday, August 3: The Hike Out
We wanted to get an early start, so we were out of the tents a little earlier than usual. The llamas were saddled and we were off.
Getting Ready to Hike Out
The hike out went smoothly. We were at the trail head by 1:00 p.m. and drove to Parchers Resort near South Lake for showers. It’s 15 minutes out-of-the-way, but getting a shower in Bishop can be iffy. In 2013 we persuaded a motel to let us shower in an as yet uncleaned room, but it took a while to find one.
We drove to our hotel near the Las Vegas airport and enjoyed a good night’s sleep on good mattresses and were ready to fly back home on Tuesday morning.
Last year, “Llama Whisperer” Dan received a curious note from the llamas thanking him for their efforts on their behalf. This year, the llamas upgraded their communication, somehow sending me a message and package by e-mail. The message is appended:
Dan was kind enough to model the llamas’ gift.
Possible Method of Human-Llama Communication?
Notes of possible use to those planning a hike in the area (with comments on llamas).
1. Some comments on hiking with llamas.
2. There is a good campsite (4-5 tents) along the use trail above Upper Golden Trout Lake. The packers use it regularly, so don’t count on it being available.
3. There is one excellent campsite a few hundred yards past the last stream crossing at Hutchinson Meadow, and several other decent sites as well.
4. There are many campsites available past the bridge at the John Muir Trail junction. Aspen Meadow shortly after is also good.
5. I switched from SPOT to DeLorme this year. I strongly recommend their InReach Explorer. It allows not only emergency messages, but also standard text messages. This feature proved valuable when we needed to change our plans, and also got us updated weather forecasts. I know there are those who scoff at such devices — but as I’ve aged I increasingly appreciate the ability to communicate with the outside world in the unusual cases when it becomes valuable.
Photographs by Nick Hendriksma
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Contact: Randy Bytwerk ([email protected]))