We hiked nearly 20 miles, our longest day in quite a while. Only the first ~8 miles were on the Pacific Crest Trail, however; we spent the rest of the day on the Bishop Pass Trail, heading back into town.
Start location: Mile 823.2, 37.05463, -118.51474
End location: Bishop, CA via the Bishop Pass Trail at PCT mile 831
Miles hiked: 7.8 on the Pacific Crest Trail, 11.8 on the Bishop Pass Trail (19.6 miles, total)
Miles hitchhiked: ~20 miles
We woke up around 7 am and found that our neighbors from the previous night were also just getting up. Within an hour though, they had packed up and hiked on, while we took an additional hour to get ready. We started walking after 9 am.
For the first two hours, we headed steadily downhill, following the creek that we had camped near the night before. We passed quite a few south-bound hikers on our way, but–as has become the norm lately–no other Pacific Crest Trail hikers. At this point, we are roughly 400 miles behind the rest of the pack, which is fine with us. Our intentions for this hike are different than other PCT hikers’, so it’s nice not to have to explain ourselves on a daily basis.
Other than a spectacular waterfall beneath the remnants of an old stone bridge, the hike down the valley was fairly unremarkable, and after a while, we found ourselves climbing back out of the valley along a different creek. The views uphill were of soaring peaks, inviting meadows, and dense trees. We saw a number of deer and a few other hikers, but it mostly felt like we had the trail to ourselves.
At around 12:15 pm, we reached a bridge over a creek near several campsites, just before the intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail with the Bishop Pass Trail. We knew that the Bishop Pass Trail was going to be a long, steep climb, so we decided to take an extended lunch break by the bridge. We feasted on hummus and tortillas, tuna, Doritos, and various other snacks as our sweat-soaked socks dried in the sun. Finally, at 1:30 pm, we packed up and headed toward the Bishop Pass Trail.
The Bishop Pass Trail, at 11.8 miles long, is less frequently used by PCT hikers than the 7.5 mile-long Kearsage Pass Trail ~50 miles south of it. However, the trail does see a lot of foot traffic from section hikers and Rangers; we passed quite a few people on our way up to the pass.
Unlike all of the other passes we’ve tackled in the Sierras, the hardest part of the Bishop Pass Trail is right at the start. The first ~2 miles consist of steep switchbacks that parallel a waterfall, and the next stretch is a similarly steep grade. Roughly 2/3 of the way up to the pass, the trail levels out into a meadow-like environment that straddles the treeline. This area has a lot of tent sites and we saw several groups of section hikers camped out less than 2 miles before the pass. We stopped and talked to one such group while filtering water from a stream. The all-lady group was completing a 5-day, 60-mile hike from North Lake to South Lake and they were very interested in talking to a couple of PCT hikers. They even offered to give us a ride into town from the trailhead if we hadn’t found one before they got there. Section hikers can be pretty cool sometimes!
The last 2 miles up to Bishop Pass were less steep and had fewer switchbacks than the other passes we’ve tackled out here. At the top, the view was mostly obscured by the surrounding mountains, but we could see the alpine lakes down the trail to the east–very pretty. By then it was 5:30 pm and we had 5 more miles to hike down to the trailhead, which meant that if we hustled, we could make it back to Bishop that very night! (Earlier in the day, we had talked about camping on the Bishop Pass Trail and getting into town first thing the following morning.)
Propelled by a strong desire to eat pepperoni pizza, take long showers, and sleep in a real bed, we all but ran down the trail, which, like the Kearsage Pass Trail, was very scenic. About midway down the hill, however, a storm cloud blew over us and, despite the sun shining brightly in the west, started dropping hail and rain on our path. This was the third time in five days that we’d been caught in a sudden burst of bad weather, but we didn’t care; town was so close we could almost taste the pizza!
By 7:30 pm, we arrived at the Bishop Pass trailhead, just in time to accept a ride into town from a day hiker who was on his way into Bishop. The day hiker was an older guy driving a pickup whose truck bed he had converted into an actual bed (he had slept at the trailhead the night before). Rick sat up front with the driver while Erica flopped down with the packs in the back; it was more comfortable than it sounds.
We got into town at dusk and decided to go to the EconoLodge for the night because it was still the cheapest option in town (with breakfast). We indulged in the pepperoni pizza we had been dreaming of and, in our usual fashion, stayed up late watching TV and eating before finally falling asleep. A long day with a relaxing ending!