My last day in the Sierra was an early one. Wanting to get a start on the pass as early as possible to get out ahead of whatever weather was coming in, I woke in darkness, packed up my gear, and was on the trail before 6am. A mile down the trail, I came across the le Conte Canyon ranger station and the head of the Bishop Pass Trail. This began at about 9100 feet and climbed up to something over 12,000 in about six miles, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. On the approach, I couldn’t see where a pass might actually go; I finally figured out that the far-off notch between two seemingly inaccessible peaks must be the route. So off I went.
In the end, it took me about six and a half hours to go those six miles. Switchbacking up the side of the canyon, there were lovely views and gurgling water sliding over exposed stone, but all this soon became lost in the endless climb. Slowly the sun came up and made the rock faces shine; the forest fell away below, giving way to pale green shrubs and clinging clumps of grass and wildflowers. About three miles up came the Dusy Basin, usually a relatively lush area dotted with ponds and lakes. All of these were very low this year, and the vegetation was crisp and brown, quite different than I remembered from my trip with the Boy Scouts twenty-something years ago. Another thousand-odd feet of elevation awaited, so I wended between the ponds and into the bare rocks of the higher peaks.
The piles of rock and towering cornices seemed endless, looming above as clouds raced across the sky. A bit after noon, I finally trudged up to the sign marking the top of the pass, pausing to feel the cold whip of the wind and celebrate the last major uphill crawl of the journey.
The downhill, as always, promised easy passage and my expectations were of a short, pleasant stroll. These sections always feel longer than I expect they should, though, and my anticipation of seeing my family was strong, so though the scenery was lovely, with autumn colors blazing under cerulean skies and its reflection in sapphire lakes, I was keen on reaching the picnic area at South Lake.
I didn’t find anyone waiting when I emerged a bit after 4pm, so still without cell service, I cleaned up as best I could and began walking down the road to the east. I was shocked when I finally saw not my wife in our minivan, but my parents in their SUV pull up. Having offered to make the drive, they were there to rescue me from the wilderness (as they had, indeed, for each of the hikes I’d made this year. They are very good parents). They insisted that I scrape off the worst of the grime with a great many wet wipes, but they had brought clean clothes and cold water, so I was happy to do anything they asked.
In the end, no bad weather of any kind actually arrived: the hurricane that had been threatening to drive snow into the Sierra turned east, and I’m grateful that the hikers I met would have continued good conditions. I could have stayed out longer, but my timing to arrive home was good, and I felt I’d done well enough. It was time to turn to other adventures.