My first visit to Humphrey’s Basin was in 2007. It was an easy 30-minute ride from Florence Lake on Eagle One, the Fresno County Search And Rescue Helicopter. I was dropped off at about 11,000’ and met up with a search party looking for a lost hiker.
Helicopter Photos By Deputy David Rippe
The helicopter located the hiker late in the day and we stayed overnight. We were extracted the following day. I was a Yosemite fanboy until that momentous day when I realized that there was much more out there to see in the Sierra National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park.
Humphrey’s Basin is just north of the more famous Evolution Basin and is separated by the Glacial Divide. The John Muir Trail (JMT) threads its way through Evolution Basin in Kings Canyon. There is a popular multi day 48 mile loop hike from North Lake to South Lake or the reverse out of Bishop that takes in both these basins. Having done both hikes, if I had my choice of this loop or the similar distance Rae Lakes Loop hike, I would do the North Lake/South Lake Loop. There is more climbing but much more scenery.
Humphreys Basin From Florence Lake.
I finally returned to Humphrey’s Basin in 2013. I got my wilderness permit in Prather at the Sierra National Forest ranger station the day before I began my hike. This allowed me to make the first ferry the next day at 8:30am. It is a three-hour drive from Fresno to Florence Lake. The last seven miles is painful. I did it as an overnight out of Florence Lake. The 18-mile outbound route is pretty straightforward once the ferry drops you off at the south end of the lake. The 5-mile ride is worth the $20.00. There is about 4,000’ of elevation gain outbound. The trail intersects occasionally with a primitive road used by a Unimog that carries supplies to Muir Camp, a private primitive resort. There are several creeks that cross the trail for water resupply until you reach the San Joaquin River. That is a good place for a break before the dry climb. There is a pretty good climb from the San Joaquin River up to the halfway point at the bridge that spans Piute Creek. Crossing the bridge leads to the entry point of Kings Canyon. However the Piute Creek trail to Humphrey’s Basin heads north just before the bridge. Lots of folks rest at and below the bridge and resupply water. The climb from the bridge parallels Piute Creek and is exposed, hot, dry and steep. It is dry because much of the trail is considerably higher than the creek down below. There is a wide spot in the trail with a wooded campsite for those who have had their fill of hiking for the day. The campsite is at least 60 feet above the creek and a long steep descent for water. I continued and the trail eventually begins to flatten out and travel near the creek. I hiked on through Hutchinson Meadow passing several campsites in the meadow along the trail. In late afternoon I arrived near the same location I was dropped off by the helicopter and decided to call it a day with a view of Mt. Humphreys. I could see Piute Pass to the East. Piute Pass is the boundary between Fresno and Inyo Counties. In the morning, I broke camp but waited until there was enough light for a few more photographs of magnificent and distinctive Mt. Humphreys (13,993’). I tried to keep a good pace for the return leg since the last ferry leaves for the far end of the lake at 5pm. It is still a long 3-hour drive back to Fresno.
Click On Photographs To Enlarge
Water Taxis At Florence Lake
Pasture Near Muri Camp
San Joaquin River
Under Piute Creek Bridge
Small Camp Along Trail
Trail Through Hutchinson Meadow
Back To Piute Creek
Humphrey’s Basin From North Lake
The wilderness permits are obtained in Inyo County at the White Mountain Ranger District in Bishop. The trailhead is near North Lake. From Bishop, one takes highway 168 east. You head toward North Lake at the junction with North Lake Road. There is a parking area before the North Lake campground. Parking at the campground is only for campers. The trail follows the north fork of Bishop Creek. Piute Pass is about five miles from the trailhead with about 2,000’ of elevation gain with plenty of water for resupply. One might ask, “Wouldn't it just be easier for Fresno folks to drive through Yosemite on 120 and down 395 to Bishop.” Yes it would. The trail is well marked and there is only one junction where a trail to Lamarck Lake heads south. The trail is in a canyon with huge crags on either side. It is a scenic hike to Piute Pass including Loch Leven and Piute Lake.
The view from the Pass (about 11,500’) is especially good to the east. We had lunch there and headed down toward Summit Lake where we pitched our tent. The sky was overcast with a chance of a thundershower. We pitched our tent and stowed our gear for a day hike to Desolation Lake. There is a use trail that heads north which is sketchy at times but the terrain is easy to navigate. We first arrived at Lower Desolation Lake and continued on to Desolation Lake. The sky really got dark and we decided to head back to our tent. We were caught in a tremendous downpour but had our hooded rain jackets with us. We were glad to warm up in our tent that was covered in hail. The next morning we hiked southwest on a trail to Muriel Lake. From there we retraced our steps and headed over Piute Pass back to the trailhead. From there we headed back through Yosemite to Fresno. It is also possible to head to Bakersfield from Fresno and go over the pass at Tehachapi, then take highway 14 north to 395 and north on 395. It is a longer but arguably faster route especially if one is only going north as far as Lone Pine.
Hiking From Parking Area To Trailhead
Lower Desolation Lake