It was 58 degrees with clear skies when we started our hike at 8 this morning, unusually warm for our 9,800-foot elevation. Temperatures stayed comfortable for us all day as we ventured above 11,000 feet, but down in Bishop they reached over 100 degrees.
As we started our hike along South Lake toward Bishop Pass, the evidence of a rainy June was all around us. The streamsides, meadows, forests, and even the sagebrush were filled with wildflowers. The woods near the trailhead had lavender Sierra shooting star, purple-topped swamp onion, red paintbrushes, yellow groundsel, charming white rangers’ buttons, striking blue monkshood and mountain larkspur, and mountain snowberry with its dangling cream-colored flowers.
But the rain also brought out mosquitoes, which were a constant presence during our hike. In some places, particularly near lakes and meadows, we’d see whole clouds of them hovering over the willows, forcing Elizabeth and me to don our headnets.
We started in a forest of aspen, lodgepole pine, and labrador tea, and then climbed through woodlands of whitebark pine, spending most of the day hiking over little ridges and crossing flower-filled meadows and streams as we traveled from one timberline lake to another.
Our group stopped for a short break at the saddle north of Ruwau Lake, then started climbing cross-country to the top of 11,682-foot Chocolate Peak.
The climb was a brief Class 1 scramble, but I hadn’t been to the Sierra since last September and I was excited by the scenery, the fine weather, and the exertion. There was a wholesomeness to the climbing, and I hurried ahead until I was short of breath, eager to exhaust myself.
The views from the top were excellent, not because Chocolate Peak is taller than the surrounding mountains, but because it is shorter. We had a sense of floating in the middle of an alpine wonderland, with dark blue lakes 1,000 feet below us and jagged peaks rising 2,000 feet above us.
To our east was the Inconsolable Range, one of the best-named mountain ranges in the Sierra Nevada with peaks like Aperture, Picture Puzzle, and Cloudripper. To our west was the light granite summit of Hurd Peak. To our south was Bishop Pass and the Sierra crest. And finally, to our north, a mile and a half below us, was the Owens Valley.
We left the summit, hiked down to Ruwau Lake, and then passed Long Lake. The latter was large enough to have forested islands in it, a spectacular sight. The lake and the islands, as well as the Sierra crest behind them, all glowed in the afternoon sun as we made our way back to camp.