I hiked from my campsite at Piute Lake to the North Lake trailhead of the Piute Pass Trail, then rode my previously-stashed eBike back to my car at South Lake, thus completing the South Lake to North Lake Loop hike in six fun-filled days.
As planned, I woke up super-early, in the chill darkness before 4am. I thought about cooking some oatmeal, but when I looked inside my bear cannister, I realized that I had more than enough snack to make it down to the trailhead and the car.
Eating a cold meal saved me close to a half hour, and I was ready to hike by first light, at 5:30am. Nice! Everything was still wet from yesterday’s thunderstorm, but I didn’t care. I rolled up the soggy tent and stuffed it into my backpack, and kept it away from the dry gear with a big plastic bag. I’d deal with drying out the tent tomorrow, at home. I put on my backpack and started hiking right away, after taking some photos of the alpenglow and the still waters of Piute Lake.
I’d hiked this trail back in 2017, so there was nothing new about it for me. But the valley was still beautiful, especially the lakes. I saw Loch Leven down below me, and hurried to get some photos of the morning light while the surface was still calm. I was only partly successful, but that was OK. It was still pretty. It wasn’t too bad, reflection-wise, from the west end, but the breeze had already picked up by the time I reached the eastern shore, and the surface showed it. No reflections of Piute Pass from here today, I’m afraid.. I was glad I’d gotten one over Piute Lake, earlier.
I noticed several tents at the upper end of the lake. These must be owned by the soggy folks I’d seen after yesterday’s rain. But I couldn’t be sure as they were still inside the tents, fast asleep. I felt like shouting “Burning Daylight!” at them, to get them moving on this wonderfully sunny Sierra Day, but I forbore. Instead, I tiptoed past, not making a sound.
After the lake, the trail went down below the canyon’s headwall. I had a hazy view down into the North Fork Bishop Creek drainage, but that was to be expected when looking into the sun. Only three more miles to hike! And it was all downhill. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Along the way, I passed the reddish stone of the Piute Crags, which was so much different from the gray granite I’d been seeing for the past six days. After that, the trail dived down into a dense forest, and my views were gone. But it was peaceful enough in there. Thus far, I’d only met one hiker, heading uphill. We both hailed each other as Early Risers, and I warned her to get into camp early, to avoid the thunderheads. She had every intention of doing that. We laughed, and I gave her the news of the trail ahead of her, of the bear down below on the JMT, and of the availability of water along the trail. This is what backpackers do: Help each other out. It’s a lot like the Law of the Sea, to always help a sailor in distress.
I arrived at the trailhead in amazing time. It was only 7:30am! I took a photo of the sign for documentation purposes (and a timestamp), then continued onward. I had an additional half mile or so to hike in order to reach the backpacker parking lot. The hike was flat, along some meadows on North Lake Road. Very peaceful.
I arrived at the parking lot. This was the moment of truth (actually two moments of truth): Would my expensive eBike still be locked in the forest, and would my eBike’s expensive battery still be inside the bear locker? I’d left a note in the bag offering a reward for anyone who didn’t steal it; all they had to do was email me about it. I figured that this ploy would be amusing to the honest (essentially everyone), while appealing to the greed of any criminal types. And it worked! It was there! I’d have to wait until later to see if I got any emails.
I headed across the parking lot and into a thick aspen grove to the north. The eBike was still there! Double Hooray! My plan to complete the South Lake to North Lake Loop was coming together just fine. I grabbed some water, my keys, and my driver’s license, and left my backpack in the exact same spot. The mosquitos were pretty thick in the grove, so I hurried as fast as I could.
I half-walked, half-ran the bike out of the trees and attached the battery in the sunny, mosquito-free parking lot. I attached the liter of water to the bike with some Velcro, then readied my camera and GoPro. I double-checked that I had my keys, as I knew that the battery would just barely make it all the way up the 2000 foot climb to South Lake. Then I started riding down North Lake Road.
I passed by the lake, cruising right along. It was an older generation eBike, but it still had a 450 Watt motor, plus gearing. It could power up almost any hill, and do it fast. But first I had to worry about going downhill! The bike had disc brakes, but I wasn’t so sure about the road ahead. It went down an awfully long way. Would the brake shoes do the job? There was only one way to find out.
GoPro video as I rode my ebike down the extra-steep hill on North Lake Road
I wasn’t too worried about the first steep section on North Lake Road, as it was fairly short. It was the long highway part that concerned me. I had a feeling that the bike might get going way too fast without using plenty of braking action. And braking a lot will heat up the brakes, which can cause them to fail. Then I’d really be going fast! I realized that I hadn’t thought enough about this downhill part when I made the plan. I had only worried about climbing the hill. Oops!
But it all worked out in the end. The brakes got warm, and smelled a bit like the “burnt brakes” smell you get on the highway behind a heavy truck, but they made it just fine. Five miles out of twelve were completed. Now for the real test: To see if the battery could lift both me and the bike 2000 feet higher in seven miles of road. The worst that could happen was that I would pedal the last section solely on my own power, or else I would stash it in the woods and hike it.
Needless to say, the battery performed flawlessly! I helped it along, by pedaling the entire way, just to make sure. And the eBike took me up the road at a steady eighteen miles per hour! Fast! The last part was the steepest, so I geared it down a bit, but that was perfectly fine. Woo hoo! I had completed the loop! This was also my first hybrid backpacking/eBiking adventure. Excellent. I was already making plans for similar hikes in the future.
I secured the bike to the bike rack, and headed back down the road. I turned up the highway and climbed the steep hill to North Lake. Then I braved the mosquito-infested aspens and grabbed my backpack, which I put in the car. And it was only 10am! I had plenty of time to get back home to San Diego that day. Nice.
In fact, I had almost too much time. If I left right away, I’d end up in rush hour traffic crossing Los Angeles. And I hate rush hour traffic, especially in LA. So I headed south from 100-degree Bishop with a new plan: I would eat lunch up at Whitney Portal, where the air was cool and the Portal Burgers were always excellent. And that’s what I did. And, once again, the cumulus clouds built up over the Sierra Crest. I had to extend the big table umbrella to stay dry while eating on the porch at the Portal Store. The rain didn’t last very long. I watched lots of tired backpackers arrive down the trail, and they all wanted burgers and beer. It was a fun time. But eventually I had to go. Home was calling.
On the drive back home, I thought about the trip. Everything went according to plan, even when I changed plans, and none of my gear failed or caused trouble. I was warm every night, and stayed dry when it rained. In order to acclimate to elevation, remaining at 10,000 feet elevation for several days prior to hiking had worked flawlessly. The water levels in the creeks were low, but there was enough that it wasn’t a big problem, simply something to work around. And, most important of all, this section of the High Sierra was as beautiful and majestic as I had expected it to be. All in all, the South Lake to North Lake Loop (via eBike) is highly recommended!
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page
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