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A High Sierra Expedition [Pic heavy]
Earlier in August (the 10th thru 14th), some family friends and I backpacked through a portion of the John Muir Wilderness. A total of 3 nights and roughly 32 miles made for a generally comfortable pace. I had not been to Owens Valley or any part of the Eastern Sierra in about 5 years, so this was a great trip to re-familiarize myself with the area. The plan and permit were for a thru-hike of the Pine Creek trailhead over to North Lake (near Lake Sabrina), and the two of us from Oregon stayed at North Lake to hold down the fort for everyone else and to acclimate to the altitude. This gave us an extra day to lounge around the campground after our 11 hour drive, and the opportunity to explore some things I had missed out on previously. Smoke from the numerous fires clouded Owens and Long Valleys, but that didn't hinder our fun too much. 

On our first morning, we stopped by Lake Sabrina on our way to Bishop for shopping. It is about 40 feet low, according to the fishing guru at the little fishing shop there.
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DSC_0670 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Our first order of business was to pick up some sundries in Bishop, and since we were in the area I decided that we should visit the museum in Laws. My previous visit attempts had been stymied by my associates at the time  Smile . It's a great museum, and it seems that they've expanded significantly in the last few years. It took us about three hours to see the whole site! Their collection included relics from all parts of Inyo and Mono Counties, and their information on the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine provided a great prelude to our hike which started near there. The artifact that most excited me was the gasoline-powered railcar which served Ryan from Amaragosa/Death Valley Junction on the former Death Valley Railroad. I cannot recommend the museum highly enough!

Eventually, it was time to begin our hike. I had never been up Pine Creek before this, and if you haven't either then let me assure you it is worth the diversion for the drive alone! The cliffs and canyon walls are stunning in themselves. The Pine Creek Trailhead is notable for its abundance of huge Jefferey Pines which tower above the parking lot and accentuate the steep climb to come. The first day's hike was destined to end at Honeymoon Lake, some 3,200 feet above the parking lot in only 5.5 miles. About 3,000 of that altitude gain takes place in the first three miles.

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DSC_0714 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

You gain altitude quickly, and views of the canyon, mine, and smoke were worth every moment of steep, sun-baked climb. My pack was about 45 pounds on the first day.

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IMG_9463 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0756 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0777 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Eventually the switchback mining road gave way to our favorite thing, irregular granite stairs. This particular set was the nicest we saw on the whole trip!

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DSC_0808 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0814 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

One of my favorite things from this day was the abundance of glacial rock polish. I had not seen any this beautiful outside of my geology textbooks until this day!

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DSC_0833 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

After the initial climb, this unnamed striped mountain loomed over the trail. It is an ancient mass of gabbro, the intrusive version of basalt, criss-crossed by dikes and sills of Sierran granites.

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DSC_0845 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0852 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Sierra, and while we didn't see any rain nor thunder this day it certainly aided the drama of the mountains.

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IMG_9468 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Finally we reached Honeymoon Lake, well tuckered out from a seriously tough day.

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IMG_9477 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

We slept well that night and enjoyed the tail-end of the Perseids meteor shower once the clouds cleared. The High Sierra do not mess around with the morning reflections on their lakes! I have numerous panoramas I've been working on that I will post a bit later. Once morning broke, we began the climb up to Pine Creek Pass at 11,135 feet. 

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DSC_0963 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Views could have been worse:
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DSC_0977 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

This climb was not particularly difficult when compared to the day before, and we made quick work of it. Once we crested the pass, Mt. Humphreys (13,986') came in to view - the 7th tallest peak in California.

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DSC_0009 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

There's a small lake at the summit of the pass which made for nice photographing.
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DSC_0052 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0068 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Of course what goes up must come down, and so we descended into the upper portions of French Canyon en-route to Moon Lake, our camp for the night.

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IMG_9497 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0075 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

We reached Moon Lake by lunchtime, and set up camp before exploring that area. The skyline was dominated by this 12,200' pyramid, which one member of our party peaked in about an hour in a half (the guy is a machine!).

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IMG_9522 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Here, the Bear Creek Spire looms over the northern skyline.

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DSC_0182 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

I hiked up to the base of the unnamed pyramid, where there's a large lake (Star Lake). The summit of the pyramid is over 800 feet above me at this location, but less than 1600' away in a straight line!

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DSC_0199 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

(I haven't edited this one yet)
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DSC_0220 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

The incoming afternoon thunderstorms heralded the end of the excursion. We were far enough east to avoid significant rain, but had quite a show of lightning flashes on distant peaks.

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DSC_0228 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0230 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

The clouds broke, and we explored a huge boulder field just above to the north of Moon Lake.
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DSC_0264 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0268 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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IMG_9550 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

I became transfixed by this huge block teetering on the edge of Merriam Peak's scalloped east face:
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DSC_0328 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

I was glad I brought my telephoto lens along for the trip.

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DSC_0336 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

The alpenglow that evening was stunning.
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DSC_0329 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Check me out on YouTube @ BetterGeology!

And my out-of-date website
When day broke, we had a big day ahead. We needed to hike about 10 miles to Golden Trout Lake, near Paiute Pass. To do so, we had to lose substantial elevation to 9,400' (from our camp at 11,000') then climb back up to 11,000 feet to our campsite. The hike down French Canyon was amazing. The steep canyon walls and looming peaks like Merriam Peak and Pilot Knob kept the eye busy.

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DSC_0424 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0438 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0442 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0460 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

It began to rain after our lunch at Hutchinson Meadow, which made for a largely miserable ascent up Paiute Canyon. By mid-afternoon, the rain cleared and we were treated with views of Glacier Divide and the Matthes Glaciers.
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IMG_9633 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0478 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

We were tired and miserable by the time we reached the upland below Desolation Basin and Paiute Pass, so we set up camp near the trail in another boulder field. This one had staggering views of Mt. Humphreys, Goethe Peak (13,264) and Muriel Peak (12,937).

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IMG_9661 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

The afternoon clouds partly cleared to selectively light peaks and valleys.
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DSC_0493 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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IMG_9659 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0523 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0541 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0588 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0589 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0646 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

The night sky on our final night was the best yet.
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DSC_0669 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

As dawn broke, we had one final climb - a mere 400 feet to Paiute Pass, and then a steep descent to our vehicles.
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IMG_9694 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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DSC_0680 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Summit Lake is used as a control site by the California Cooperative Snow Survey. I know this because I found a sign on a pole some 25 feet above the ground!
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DSC_0688 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

The Gang at the pass (11,423')
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IMG_3539 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

To save room on this post, here's a picture showing the lakes we passed on the way down. It was only about 4 miles from here, and 2.5 of those were nearly level. From front to back, Paiute Lake, unnamed, and Loch Leven.

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DSC_0696 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

The Piute Crags towered above the canyon:
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DSC_0715 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

And finally, we were faced with a steeply switchbacking trail down what was basically a cliff to the car, located at 9,200 feet.

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DSC_0719 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

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IMG_9734 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

One final shot looking back up the trail we just completed:
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IMG_9745 by Andrew Dunning, on Flickr

Thanks for joining us. I have about 1,000 other pictures from this trip and about a dozen panoramas. I'll get to those eventually.
Check me out on YouTube @ BetterGeology!

And my out-of-date website
Nice trip, thanks! I was in the eastern Sierra, day hiking out of June Lake, for a couple of weeks at the beginning of August. Those mountains... really wonderful. And so much space to spread out!

Looks like a good trip you had there.
Lovely report Andrew. Here's my favorite out of all your posted:
Life begins in Death Valley
Your pictures are amazing; thank you very much for posting this. Thank you too for explaining the gabbro mountain. I enjoy learning about the origin of these marvelous features, and often book pictures don't do as well as the ones taken by folks like you.
Thanks for sharing. You've captured some gorgeous photos.
Great stuff, appreciate you taking the time to share with all of us. Love those alpine lakes & glacial polished rocks.
Thanks all!
Check me out on YouTube @ BetterGeology!

And my out-of-date website

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