Backpacking the John Muir Wilderness : Humphreys Basin

May 3, 2018

The last big vacation of the year before my busy season! I wish the conditions lined up better for my wife and I but it was still an unforgettable vacation! Originally we wanted to do the Sawtooths or High Uintas but snow and bad weather pushed us all the way to the Southern Sierras. The weather even looked terrible in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. So our sights were on the John Muir Wilderness! The permit we got was for a 4 Day and 3 Night trip. We ended up only doing 3 Days and 2 Nights because of the wind and cold. It didn't help we just were getting over a cold/cough either.

For example our 2nd night was only supposed to be 17 degrees as a low with a dew/humidity at 33%. It ended up being 2 degrees with a dew/humidity at 80% with 40mph gusts. In fear of another night like that we bailed to do more tourist-y stuff (Yosemite, Tahoe, Lassen & Crater Lake) hitting all the spots on our way back to Washington.

The elevation didn't affect our hiking but it did cause one issue on an important part of camping, the sleeping part. I sleep (even in these low temps) in a 35 degree sleeping bag. For the most part I was pretty warm but my face was freezing. So to combat such stuff I usually "cocoon" myself in the bag and (usually) am fine even at these freezing temps. Now here is when the elevation played its role. I couldn't cocoon in Humphreys Basin, 11400feet was the threshold, I was basically suffocating myself when cocooning. There wasn't enough oxygen in the air to replenish my air sucking inside my sleeping bag (however it worked fine at Loch Leven ~10,000feet the night before) leaving me to believe somewhere between Loch Leven and Humphreys Basin I, personally, pass the no more cocoon zone lol. Also, the high humidity led to a "wet cold" and my wife and I's huge condensation build up in the tent (similar to our tiffany mountain trip from this may) led to the condensation freezing and flying off every-time the wind blew, covering our bags in snowy ice only to melt from our body heat creating wet sleeping bags. It wasn't a fun night. However one gear item we bought before the trip did help (and would have been nice this may). We bought thermal sleeping bag liners. They worked great and added about 10 degrees to the bag.
The next morning there was no solace, the sun no longer felt warm to the skin like day 1. The wind was a constant 20-40mph. Gear that was put out to dry either wouldn't dry or tried to blow away. Not wanting a suck fest we decided to cut the trip a day short and to return in the summer. Thankfully Cali has tons of cool stuff so the vacation wasn't for nothing. We hit up the tourists sights after.

Wednesday 7:30pm after work we started driving to Bishop California to pick up our permits. We drove through the night alternating/sleeping/driving. We arrived in Bishop California at 12pm Thursday. Got out permits and at the trail head 1-2ishpm. We were kind of exhausted from lack of sleep and food but we were in the freakin' sierras for the first time! Exciting stuff!

Driving the section from Reno to Bishop was rad. The sierras towering 6000+ feet of local relief over the desert was mesmerizing and titanic.

Original Trip
Day 1 : TH to Loch Leven (2.2~4ish Miles depending on where you camp) 1600ft net gain
Day 2 : Loch Leven to Desolation Lake (4.5-6 Miles depending on where you camped at Loch Leven) 1500ft net gain
Day 3 : Desolation Lake to Puppet Lake (5 Miles) 1500ft Loss
Day 4 : Puppet Lake back to TH (12ish Miles) 1900ft net Gain

Actual Trip

Day 1 : TH to Loch Leven (3.7 Miles) 1600ft net gain
Day 2 : Loch Leven to Desolation Lake, too windy, then to Lower Desolation Lake + Exploring (10.76 Miles) 2500ft net Gain [5 Miles & 1500ft with pack, 5.76 & 1000ft without pack]
Day 3 : Lower Desolation Lake to TH (8.2 Miles) 500ft net gain 2400ft loss


Mount Emmerson was a force in the skyline on our approach.

So was Mount Thoreau. Loch Leven was on the other side of this head wall. It began to flurry a bit - it didn't' stick or last very long though.

Cool trail.

This is a photo of Loch Leven on Day 2. Day 1 we were so exhausted and hungry from the drive and the wind started to get gnarly + the fear of rain we just set up camp, ate and crashed hard. The wind was a little annoying but it stopped around 10pm and I went out like a rock. Next time I opened my eyes it was 8am lol
It was a light wind that morning, the sun felt good on the skin and there was no dew or condensation in the tent. This is going to be a relaxing trip I thought.

Sandy Part of Loch Leven on the opposite end of the lake. Tons of great camp spots (if it were less windy)

Piute Lake headwall.


Piute Lake

Piute Pass & the wind is at full force! The clouds were moving FAST.

Dropping down

First sight at Mount Humphreys

Summit Lake. Up at the pass it almost was forming white caps lol

Desolation Lake was a windy nightmare and lacked cover. So we set up at Lower Desolation lake amongst the rocks. At the time it got us out of the wind. Later that night the wind would somehow angle down on us lol

Good view from camp. Time to explore.

Desolation Lake. It's massive.

Taking cover from the wind.


Walking up a ridge above Desolation Lake for a better view.

Lunar Looking

Headed back to Lower Desolation Lake. Our tent is to the top left of the lake in the rocks/trees.

I didn't do a night sky timelapse as it was a very bright full moon and would have just looked like daytime lol

Alpenglow on Mount Humphreys from our camp.

Moody morning.

Hiking out

Probably could have found solace from the wind down in those trees but all our crap was wet and we were spent from the wind.

Back down to Loch Leven.

Amazing landscape that we will definitely return to again! Hopefully the wind in the summer isn't as cold lol


Nov 2, 2019
Cool looking landscape! Nice trip.
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