Lake Italy(81.8)-Below Bighorn Pass(94.3)
Campsite Elevation: 10,800ft
We awoke to an amazing reflection on the calm waters of Lake Italy.
Temps have been pretty ideal out here. It may have gotten into the 30s last night, but it was low 40s this morning and quickly warmed as we hiked up to Gabbot Pass. It’s been in the 70s/80s during the day, but sometimes the sun can feel quite intense and make it seem much much hotter. The mosquitos have also been shockingly almost nonexistent.
We set off at 6am to head over Gabbot Pass, at the end of Lake Italy. At 12,250ft, it’s our last pass over 12,000ft. Again, this shouldn’t be a difficult pass, but we’ve been bracing ourselves for the worst at every pass with how the snow changes the route. We were quite relieved that the snow gave us little difficulties and we were almost able to take the recommended route, with just a bit of snow in the final section to the top.The snow was quite firm early in the morning and we were able to use our microspikes to easily walk up. On the other passes, the snow has been really random as far as if it helps or hurts our pacing and safety. It seems that we’ve had about equal of both situations where the snow either helped or hurt us. It’s seriously a crap shoot with it depending on where its lingering, the time of day we get to it (how soft it is), and how thin it is (postholing). Today, we lucked out with the snow. We looked over the north side of Gabbot Pass to see nothing but white. The sun hadn’t hit the north side yet, so we took a break for a bit to let the sun hit that snow and soften it just enough for the micros to dig in.
It was a great descent with mostly snow and a bit of boulders toward the end. There were many lakes today and all were pretty great. We are quite spoiled by great lakes out here. I was excited because this was the day we saw the most green and wildflowers. Once down the pass, we continued to dive down to the bottom of the canyon. I feel like this has to be one of the longest descents on the whole route. We went 3,500ft down from the 12,250ft Gabbot Pass to Mono Creek (8,800ft) at the bottom of the canyon. There was a faint use trail most of the way down that I had a lot of fun trying to keep track of. It reminded me of the Great Divide Trail that I did last summer, my favorite trail. It was quite the steep downhill for a looong time. It had a bit of everything to go through; willows, rock slabs, fallen trees, loose rock/dirt, marshy meadows, etc. If anyone out there has hiked up this faint use trail to Lower Mills Creek Lake, let me know. It seems really brutal to go up that! We were expecting mosquitoes as we went down and were pleasantly surprised to take a lunch break halfway down at a quaint creek. It was runoff from the snow, so I wasn’t getting in, but Rockin’ got all the way in. She loves doing that. Brrr! I know one of the things we are missing in this early season hike is the swimming, but I rarely can muster the motivation to get in cold water.
We met one other hiker today on the way down as he was headed up for the weekend to summit two of the peaks next to Gabbot Pass. What I really liked about today was that we got to walk through the woods for a good chunk of time. I like the epic Sierra views, but I also love walking in the woods from time to time and have missed it.
When we got to the bottom, it was the raging Mono Creek. Rockin’ knew this was coming and kindly chose not to warn us, which would have just stressed me anyway. Both myself and Why Not do not like log crossings. They terrify me and I scoot almost every time. Rockin’ walked right over like it was nothing. Man, I wish I could do that! She got this shot of us scooting the massive fallen tree. Not the best shot of the whole thing, but you get the idea. It was my least favorite part of today’s day. What made it worse was that both ends had really thick willows so just getting up on the log freaked me out. Yes, Rockin’ got video of this…as I type this Rockin’ is in her tent replaying the video and laughing uncontrollably.
After that, it was about 2pm and we had about 2,000ft of steep uphill in the heat to end the day. We knocked out the climb really well. Since there was a clear trail for the first part of the climb, I got to listen to my MP3 player on the climb up some and loved it. The song of the day that got replayed a few times on the climb is one my friend Brian gave me called America’s Sweetheart by Elle King. Put that song on some headphones and turn it up and try to tell me you don’t want to conquer a mountain. A shout out to Brian for sending me that one. Yes, I just listened to it again as I am writing this. The climb was a motivating one as it was great to look back and see the canyon we had just been at the top of this morning. Can I take this moment to mention how much Rockin’ and Why Not are kicking ass on this route. Rockin’ could do this route tons faster than we are doing it and we constantly say she’s our personal guide. Rockin’ did all of this in sections 20yrs ago and has summited practically everything out here it seems, so not only does she know the area, but she can tell us history and stories on tons out here as we go through the route. Why Not loves endurance stuff like this. The climb today would be one that would knock anyone down a notch and Why Not just seemed to be more pumped up by it. I love it. She was an Ironman athlete for years and even qualified for Kona four times and did it twice (had injuries two other times). That endurance mentality is just what is needed out here and it’s great.
Back to the hike, we got to a picturesque meadow that wound up beautifully for an extended time to Laurel Lake. Again, I was so happy to see colors other than just the snow and granite.
When we got to the lake, we had a decision to make. Camp at a nice lake (that had some mosquitoes), or roll the dice and head up to Bighorn Pass. Yep, we rolled the dice.
It wasn’t long before we were up above the lake. We could see the next level we needed to go up to and realized that where we were was pretty awesome! It was only 5pm, but we all agreed it was too wonderful of a spot to pass up. We could see the canyon we came from this morning and look down on the one we just hiked up.
By ending early tonight, we may be putting ourselves in a bad spot early tomorrow when we go over Bighorn Pass. We expect it to be quite snow covered and if it is too steep and icy early, we might have to sit and wait for the sun to hit it and soften it up a bit. We all agreed that, in the big picture, it was worth it to camp here. Even if tomorrow has to be a longer day to make up for it. We are out here for stuff like this.
Two other exciting things about today. We had built in an extra day not knowing how tough and slow going it would be out here with all the variables and we realized today that we won’t need that extra day. We have started eating the extra food and even used the InReach to text Rockin’s husband who got us reservations for a place in Mammoth for 4th & 5th of July. Wahoo, a zero and we got a good place for the 4th! The second fun thing is that we finished early enough that I get to watch a show in my tent for the first time on the SHR. I love ending the night with 20-30mins of something and I’m going to watch the first episode of the newest season of Orange Is The New Black, which has become a ritual for me to watch on trail the last couple of years. Yep, things really can’t get much better. Having a great time!