"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious" ~ Albert Einstein

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Columbine Peak (12,662')

Well, I didn't want to wait until the summer to blog about the Sierra, so I figured why not blog on one of our older, favorite hikes.  Columbine Peak!  (Well, that, and I'm kind of bored tonight ... ) This also completes all the topics/categories I plan to have on this blog.  Rebecca and I both really enjoyed this outing back in August, 2008.  It was also the hike where I first introduced Rebecca to the pre-dawn starts I'd recently started growing fond of.  The day prior we had climbed Mt Emerson and camped that night in Four Jeffrey's Campground.  We always like that campground and have stayed there several times now.  There are a few sites that are down in the aspens by Bishop Creek - choice spots!

We got up and started hiking by 3AM, most likely disturbing our fellow campers as we packed up and made our way to the trail head.  I love early morning starts.  I think it really helps for long hikes because later you're not sure if you dreamt the first part of the hike, or really did it.  Nice little psychological boost for later in the day, as it almost feels like you didn't hike as much as you really did.  Watching the day come alive is another bonus.  It feels like it pulls you out of a dark, dreamy world into a brand new day full of energy.  Our day just started to come alive 5 miles into the hike at Bishop Pass, as we peered over into Dusy Basin

Dusy Basin and The Black Divide From Bishop Pass, Daybreak
Our objective for the day - Columbine Peak - came into view for the first time near Bishop Pass, but the trip had a treat in store for us before that.  Our first visit to Dusy Basin - a high alpine basin on the far side of the pass.  Columbine Peak lay a couple miles on the far side and required a short trek across this pretty basin amidst alpine flowers and lakes, with distant views of the Black Divide on the western skyline above the deep chasm of Le Conte canyon, which dropped out of site over the western edge of the basin.  The Palisades towered over the eastern side of Dusy Basin looking dark and brooding in the early morning light.  There were some other souls in Dusy basin enjoying the majesty of the mountains that morning, however, I'm not sure they appreciated us stumbling upon them and disrupting their morning routine.

Deer in Dusy Basin
We dropped down into Dusy basin and slowly made our way across.  I was actually getting a little uncomfortable and nervous at this point, because my upper back was bothering me.  It was one of those feelings where it feels like it just might go out and put you on the ground.  Not the most exciting prospect in a remote basin many miles from the car, but it seemed to be holding together so we carefully pressed on.  The beautiful views of the alpine lakes in the basin beckoned us onward.

Giraud Peak Over Dusy Basin
Eventually, we got to the base of Isosceles Pass, from which our route up the NE Ridge of Columbine Peak rose above.  Getting to the pass was reported to be difficult, but it turned out to be not all that bad.  The big boulders were there, as reported, but everything was solid.  No loose stuff, just a nice boulder hop all the way to the pass.  From the pass we had nice views down the other side into Barret Lakes basin and the NE Ridge of Columbine rose above us.  It was time for a break and a small refueling before heading up the ridgeline.  The climbing was really enjoyable from here on.  Maybe an easy Class 3, with little exposure for the most part.  Just enjoyable scrambling for the next 600-800 feet.

Looking Up Towards The Summit of Columbine
The summit had incredible views.  The Black Divide stretched across the sky to the West, while the Palisades loomed high in the East.  The fluted, chiseled steep cliffs on the west side of the Palisades are truly impressive.  Then again, their eastern aspects are equally impressive.  Devils Crags rose up on the southern end of the Black Divide.  These are remote, ominous peaks known for their loose rock and wild surroundings.  We could see back to Bishop Pass from whence we came.  It looked rather far away now on the other side of Dusy Basin.  The uphill on the way back to Bishop Pass looked flat from this vantage point, but we had some heavy breathing in store for us later in the day when we had to huff it back over.  On the south side of the summit was the impressive summit diving board.  Not the kind of diving board one wants to jump off, though.

Columbine Peak Summit Diving Board
After an enjoyable stay on the summit, we made our way back down to Isosceles Pass and then down to Dusy Basin again.  We took our time going back across, visiting some other small alpine lakes.  The Black Divide looked gorgeous over the eastern end of Dusy basin.  It's obvious from the basin that a canyon lies between the two, but one would never guess it's a 3000+ foot drop down from Bishop Pass and a 4000+ foot rise up to the high points of the Black Divide on the far side.

Black Divide Above Dusy Basin

Rebecca also came across some rare Columbine flowers, which was rather fitting for the occasion!  These were a hybrid mix between the red and white columbines.  There were lots of other flowers around including plentiful amounts of rock fringe.

Rock Fringe
Rebecca and I decided we were due for a well-deserved rest break by this point and we made our way over to Lake 11,388 and soaked in the views of the Palisades from the lake's grassy shores, while we enjoyed some lunch.  My back was feeling better by now and it felt nice to lay down and relax.  The warm sun almost put me to sleep, but I always find it hard to actually fall asleep and take a nap like that, despite how relaxed one can feel in the warm sun after a long, hard hike.  Besides, if I actually fell asleep I'm not sure I would have had the motivation to do the uphill grind back to Bishop Pass in my groggy state.  We knew it was inevitable so we got up and crossed the outlet stream near the lake and made our way to the slopes below Bishop Pass.

Crossing Lake 11,338's Outlet Stream

It turned out to not be all that bad going back up to Bishop Pass.  It's only about 600 hundred feet of gain after all, but the pass was at 12,000 feet and we were tired by this point.  When we got there we enjoyed one last view of Dusy Basin and headed down the homeward side.  A pack train was also making its way down and it was tempting to jump on the back mule for a free ride down.  I'm not so sure the mule, or the pack-train driver, would have appreciated that, so we decided to just hike it.  This part of the hike was in the dark on the way up, so we made sure to enjoy the views by Long Lake on the way back, while we reveled in the day!

Long Lake, Homeward Bound

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