We backpacked uphill on the Piute Canyon Trail from Hutchinson Meadow to Lower Golden Trout Lake, hiking through some of the worst mosquitos I’ve ever seen.
In order to avoid the worst of the bugs, Vicki and I woke up at 2am and packed up in the dark. We figured that either the mosquitos needed light to find us or else it would be too cold for them at that hour. As long as it worked. And it did! That’s the good part. The bad part is that we should have left much, much earlier than 4am.
We managed to cross the multi-creek crossings in the dark, where the creek from French Canyon joined up with Piute Creek. It was a very swampy area, and trail-finding was difficult as everyone made paths to cross the water in different spots. We had to turn our NiteCore headlamps on at maximum power to find the best route, and we were worried that the light make wake up the mosquitos. But that never happened. Somehow or other, we managed to cross all the creeks with dry feet.
We only hiked for an hour or so before it began to get light. This was the signal for every mosquito in the High Sierra to wake up and search for blood. Our blood. We stopped a second time to apply even more DEET, and continued on. As we hiked, each of us attracted individual mosquitos from the surrounding forest, one by one, until we amassed a horde of followers. They couldn’t quite keep in front of us, provided that we kept on hiking. Instead, they slipstreamed in behind us, craftily lurking in the slower air behind our big backpacks. This was fine, as long as we didn’t stop. Ever. When we paused for a breather, the speed of our passage through the calm air was reduced, and they all surged around to the front if us in a buzzing cloud of frustrated hunger. It’s true that the DEET kept them from actually touching our bare skin with their feet (they have taste sensors in their feet), but it didn’t throttle their desire in any way. They were everywhere at once, and thick enough that I accidently breathed one in, which promptly got stuck in the back of my throat. Yuck! I coughed and hurked and hocked and spat. I even tried gargling. Finally, I got it to go away, or maybe I swallowed it. I really don’t know. All I know is that we didn’t dare to stop hiking for long.
After three continuous hours of hiking without a break, Vicki was at her wit’s end. She desperately needed a rest, but couldn’t handle the bugs being in her face like that. She was on the verge of a full blown panic attack. She really hates mosquitos! Eventually, I saw a large open area with lots of granite, and less grass and trees. This type of location worked for us yesterday, but this morning it didn’t do all that much, probably because we brought so many bugs into the area with us. There was only one thing to do. I pulled out the tent and set up the bug-screened section right there on the granite. Then, an exhausted Vicki crawled inside, and proceeded to kill the few that snuck in while the door was open. This satisfying task accomplished, she lay down and took her usual nap. In a blessedly bug-free environment. She was so happy! She declared that I was her hero.
As for me, well, bugs don’t go after me all that much, so I got out my book and sat around reading for a while. I looked at Vicki in the tent. Then I began daydreaming about how I might be able to rent out this Bug Free Zone to other hikers! I could rent it by the minute; it was that nice. Like most daydreams, it had a fatal flaw: Money was useless out in the wilderness. Perhaps I would trade for food, I thought. I could probably live out here for most of the Summer that way!
When she woke up life was better. Most of the bugs had left the area while I maintained immobility. We put the tent away and continued on. The trees grew thinner and we discovered many viewpoints, mostly looking south toward the peaks on the Glacier Divide. There were still a few marshy areas, but the bugs definitely got better as we attained an elevation above 10,000 feet.
Everything changed when we neared 10,500 feet. We finally climbed into the upper canyon, more properly called Humphreys Basin. This basin was truly huge! We were able to see Mount Humphreys and Piute Pass in the distance to the east. The bugs were essentially gone, and Vicki barely believed me when I said that the worst part of the hike was over. We only had a couple hundred feet left to climb.
We followed the main trail for the most part, but eventually headed cross-country over the tundra as we approached Lower Golden Trout Lake, which the map said was at 10,786 feet elevation. That’s pretty darned high! Luckily, Vicki was long since in a fully acclimated state, and she wasn’t having any breathing problems. We hiked over to the lake and searched around for a good camping spot.
We found a nice spot and set up the tent. We rejoiced to discover that there were absolutely NO BUGS! Maybe it was due to the gentle breeze blowing past, but not only were there no mosquitos, there weren’t any pesky flies either! We left the tent doors wide open, and Vicki took another nap. But first, we got out our food and ate some lunch, looking out over the lake. It was a lovely sight.
I got out my fly rod and fishing gear. With a bit of luck, I might catch some dinner. But there was no luck to be found. The sun was far too bright, and the breeze was way too strong. It reminded me of the conditions we had a few days ago on Marie Lake. In fact, I never saw a fish this time either. It was a bit sad. I had such high hopes for a lake with a name like Lower Golden Trout Lake. But it wasn’t meant to be.
I went back and joined Vicki. We read our books in the tent and generally relaxed, until it got boring. What did we want to do for the latter part of the afternoon? We decided that a visit to Upper Golden Trout Lake was in order. It wasn’t very far away, and was only fifty feet or so higher. We crossed the small creek on the north side of the lake and continued hiking east, up toward a granite outcrop next to Piute Creek, which flowed between the two lakes.
The views up top were great, and well worth the extra bit of climbing. We hung out up there, and I took far too many photos and videos. The cumulus clouds had been growing all afternoon, and yet they didn’t look like they would rain on us that day. Or at least not yet. But they created shade and looked pretty.
Like I said: I took far too many photos! It was such an expansive view that the GoPro really did it justice.
After that, we headed back to the tent. It wasn’t much of a day hike, distance-wise, but it was quite excellent for getting the lay of the land, and for enjoying the unique beauty of Humphreys Basin. We got back to the tent and cooked up some dinner, then sat and looked at Mount Humphreys as we ate it, watching the light and shadows as the clouds drifted by, high above the basin. It was very mellow. I love having a great view from camp.
I got out the map and we made plans for the remainder of the trip. Today was Day 9. We had enough food to stay out until Day 11. Did we want to camp again tomorrow? Where would we stay? Or would we rather blast all the way back to the car in one shot. All we had to do was climb over Piute Pass (which we could see from there) and the rest was all downhill. It was about eight miles to the car, and four miles to Piute Lake, which was a very pretty place to camp. I left the decision to Vicki. On the one hand, I was ready to enjoy the benefits of civilization, but on the other, I was quite happy staying up here in the High Sierra. Vicki felt the same way, and we ended up deciding not to decide. But we would get up early to climb over the pass just like we always did. This sounded good to me.
The air grew cool as the sun got lower, and we put on our warmer clothing. I got out of the tent a few times, hoping to take a pretty sunset photo, but the colors didn’t really materialize. Oh well. Soon enough, it was time to close the tent and hit the sack. Today had been a day of contrasts. Mostly because of the bugs, but also in the terrain. We had passed through the evil epicenter of Sierra Mosquitodom, and survived. We vowed to never go back in there. Never, ever again. But coming back to Humphreys Basin? Oh, yes. This place was beautiful. And maybe I would catch some trout next time!
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page