Home » 2020 Eastern Sierra During Covid

Bishop, CA

Friday, July 10, 2020 - 2:15pm by Lolo
100 miles and 2 hours from our last stop - 7 night stay


Day 1 - Arrival

Our sons climbing at Pine Creek CanyonOur sons climbing at Pine Creek CanyonWe were unbelievably excited to see the kids, and very happy to be back in Bishop, a place that Herb and I had discovered years ago, never thinking we would have a son that would actually move there. Although we did miss them terribly, now being 6.5 hours away, it did make for some high-quality family time when we visited - which was quite often.

Day 2 - Sport climbing in Pine Creek Canyon and Offroad Motorcycling in the Buttermilks

Whenever we come to Bishop, we know that we’re going to spend a good deal of our time rock climbing.

Lolo attempts the GimpenatorLolo attempts the GimpenatorBishop is famous for its climbing, and people from all over the country come here to climb at one of its numerous premier climbing crags: the Buttermilks, Volcanic Tablelands, Pine Creek Canyon, and Owens River Gorge. In fact, the excellent climbing opportunities are the major reason Andrew and Celeste chose to move here.

This morning we chose to go to Pine Creek Canyon, a stunningly beautiful canyon nestled between Mount Tom and the Wheeler Crest, famous for its large collection of sport climbs - the only type of climbing that Herb and I now do in our senior years. Even if you don’t climb, the hike into the canyon itself was worth the trip.

However, climb we did - all of us, even me. They got me to try to do a repeat performance on Gimpenator, a 5.8 that I had successfully “sent” in the past. This time, however, I ignored all their instructions (better known as “beta”) as to staying on route, and continued going where I felt more secure. This resulted in a more dramatic fall when it inevitably happened and I swung and wound up upside down. Nothing hurt, just my pride. Maybe next time, I will take their “beta” more seriously.

Andrew and Celeste along the Buttermilk LoopAndrew and Celeste along the Buttermilk LoopWeekends are precious to the un-retired, so Herb and I have to keep up with them on what are often multi-event days. No time for naps. Tommy and Erin had to get back to San Francisco, so we said our goodbyes to them, and then discussed what we should do with the rest of our day. Andrew and Celeste suggested going off-roading out in the Buttermilks, them on their motorcycles and us in our 4Runner.

Since they moved to Bishop, both Andrew and Celeste have bought off-road motorcycles to enjoy the hundreds of miles of off-road trails in the area. The opportunities are endless. Today we followed them for about 20 miles along the scenic, bumpy Buttermilk Loop. Celeste has only been riding for a very short time, so having a support vehicle following was probably a good idea. Celeste did great - very impressive.

Day 3 - Hike to Duck Pass

Along the Duck Pass TrailAlong the Duck Pass TrailToday Herb and I were on our own, which meant that rather than rock climbing, we could choose a more age-appropriate activity, like hiking.

It gets very hot in Bishop in July, making it too hot to hike. However, the really nice thing about living in this area is that if you want cool temps, you can just drive an hour from Bishop (elevation 4,150) to Mammoth Lakes Basin (elevation 9,000 feet) and feel like you’ve entered a new season.

The Mammoth Lakes Basin is absolutely gorgeous with over a dozen lakes and 50 miles of hiking trails. Today we planned to do the hike over Duck Pass to Duck Lake, a 9.5-mile out and back with over 2,100 feet of elevation gain.

Looking down at Barney Lake on the way to Duck PassLooking down at Barney Lake on the way to Duck PassWe probably should have known better than to do this hike on a weekend, because this area is extremely popular. There was absolutely no parking at the trailhead, which is located in Coldwater Campground near Lake Mary. We almost gave up, but then found a spot about ½ mile away along the side of the road near the lake. I guess we were turning our 9.5-mile hike into a 10.5 one.

The trail climbed pretty steadily from the start and didn’t let up for 5 miles until we reached Duck Pass. The scenery, however, was beautiful enough to be distracting. The first two lakes we passed - Arrowhead and Skelton, each had spur trails down to its shores. We did not take them, but admired them from afar.

Crossing the scree and rocks on the way to Duck PassCrossing the scree and rocks on the way to Duck PassThe main trail did, however, come right alongside the northeastern shore of Barney Lake, but then veered further away from the lake before leading up a steep series of switchbacks to a wonderful view back over Barney Lake.

Another ¾ of a mile or so of more steep climbing brought us to Duck Pass (elevation 10,800 feet), located on a broad saddle along the Pacific Crest.

Atop the Pass we came to a fork. To the left was Pika Lake, about 1-mile further around the northern end of Duck Lake, tucked beneath rugged cliffs. To the right was Duck Lake, also set surrounded by jagged peaks.

Finally, Duck LakeFinally, Duck LakeI think we couldn’t go wrong, whatever we chose. Herb had read somewhere that Pika Lake was really beautiful, so we started off to the left. However, when we hiked about a tenth of a mile down the steep Pika Lake trail, which we would have to hike back up later, we both decided that after 5 miles of steep uphill climbing to get to the Pass, we were pretty done with the uphill stuff.

Instead, we retraced our steps back to the Pass and turned onto the Duck Lake trail, which led us along a ridge overlooking the lake, with no elevation change. Eventually this trail would lead down to and along the western shore of Duck Lake, but we stayed up on the ridge and had lunch overlooking lovely Duck Lake, cradled in a huge cirque of jagged 11,000-foot peaks.

From there we retraced our way 5+ miles back to the trailhead. I never mind out-and-back trails because the views coming back are always different.

Day 4 - Overnighter to Ancient Bristlecones

See next stop

Day 5 - More Offroad Motorcycling

Offroading through the Sierra FoothillsOffroading through the Sierra FoothillsAfter our return from the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, we spent a few more days hanging out with Andrew and Celeste and enjoying more of the great outdoor activities Bishop has to offer, which are pretty endless.

Andrew and Celeste had to work the first day we got back, so Herb and I just hung around the house doing laundry and sorting through all the photos we had taken.

When they finished work, we took another trip out the Buttermilks with their offroad motorcycles to follow them in our 4Runner along the incredible dirt trails of the Sierra Foothills. Celeste was getting better and better each time she went out. It was fun following them and I think they felt more comfortable having a support crew along, especially since Celeste was pretty new to this.

Day 6 - Hike to Lake Sabrina, Night climbing at the Buttermilks

Hiking the rock steps on the way to Lake SabrinaHiking the rock steps on the way to Lake SabrinaThe following day Andrew and Celeste had to work again, so Herb and I went off on our own to hike to Lake Sabrina, pronounced "Sah-bry-nuh" by the locals, which my now “Bishop local” son kept trying to reinforce in me every time I said "Sah-bree-nuh".

The trailhead was only 20 miles from Andrew’s house, just up Highways 168, through the town of Aspendell. There was no parking left along the road, so we parked at the end of the road in the parking lot for the boat ramp, and walked back down the road a short distance to the dam to the trailhead.

Lake SabrinaLake SabrinaFrom here we hiked south along the east side of the lake which remained pretty flat for about a mile, after which it began to climb steadily and veer away from the shore. As the trail steepened, we crossed over several open rocky areas, and at around 2 miles we came to an awesome view of Lake Sabrina and the ridge of the Piute Crags to the northwest.

Blue LakeBlue LakeWe continued to climb, leaving the forest behind and proceeding through rocky areas, over granite slabs and up a series of rock steps.

After more switchbacks, at about 3 miles we reached the outlet stream for Blue Lake, where there were a series of logs we could use to maneuver across. I’m not great at balancing on logs, but fortunately I made it across without drama.

From there we walked about a quarter mile along the western side of lovely Blue Lake and found a sunny rock slab to have lunch. We were at an elevation of 10,400 feet, but we had been acclimating over the past week, so we felt fine.

Evening at the ButtermilksEvening at the ButtermilksAfter lunch, we retraced our steps back over the outlet stream crossing, and hiked down the steep trail we had ascended. Lake Sabrina was in even better light on the way down, so we stopped again to gaze and take a photo.

The entire hike had been 7.6 miles with an elevation gain of 1,534 feet, and at elevation, so we felt it was a good workout.

When we got back to Bishop, Andrew and Celeste were just finishing up work, and wanted to have some fun too, so after dinner we headed out to the Buttermilks for some night-time bouldering.

Night time bouldering in the ButtermilksNight time bouldering in the ButtermilksSounded good to us. The Buttermilks are absolutely stunning in the early evening. The sunsets over Mt. Tom are quite dramatic, especially if there are a few clouds to light up the sky.

We had watched them boulder many, many times before, but never in the dark. It was kind of cool to watch them finding their way up the rock with the light from their headlamps. It actually seemed very effective.

When they were finished, and we were walking back to the car, we saw a bright light (with a tail) in the sky just below the Big Dipper. That’s right! Comet Neowise was in town. As if this scene wasn’t already breathtaking enough, now we were throwing an every 6,800 year astronomical event into it.

Sunset over Mt. TomSunset over Mt. TomUnlike a meteor, which just zips through the sky so fast that if you blink your eyes you miss it, a comet takes its time as it crosses the night sky. That is because it is millions and millions of miles away from us.

A major difference is that comets are predictable, in that we know when they are passing through again, and repetitive, in that they will re-appear, in Neowise's cast, just below the Big Dipper, after sunset for nine consecutive nights. In this case, from July 15th through July 23. This was July 16th, so we would have more opportunities to see it all next week.

An added bonus is that since Neowise is an especially bright comet, it is visible in the night sky with the naked eye.

Neowise Comet over the ButtermilksNeowise Comet over the Buttermilks

Day 7 - Camping out at the Buttermilks to photograph the Neowise Comet

We decided to stay another night in Bishop, so that we could camp out in the Buttermilks and watch Neowise cross the night sky. There was a hill just beyond the climbing area that we thought would be the perfect spot.

The hill is short but steep and is best done in a 4WD. When we got to the top there was another couple already up there already with a tripod set up, but we knew they weren't camping overnight because they had left their car at the bottom of the hill.

It was a lovely night and Neowise was punctual as always.

The next morning, we stopped in at Andrew and Celeste's to stay goodbye before heading towards home, with one more night camping at Mono Lake, which we thought would be a great location, with its very dark skies, to see Neowise once more.

Bishop location map in "high definition"

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