Backpacking to Dusy Basin in Kings Canyon National Park

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After our trip to Sahale Glacier, Alex and I decided to head south for a quick mini-moon backpacking trip in the Sierra. We were hoping that we would have more luck than we did in Washington and that we would get to experience more fall weather. Well, it turns out our trip to Kings Canyon National Park was a repeat of our trip to the North Cascades, but that doesn’t mean it was a bust. Far from it! Once again we were able to experience the height of fall colors and then wake up to a fresh dusting of snow on the peaks.

We knew we wanted to visit the Sierra for this particular backpacking trip but the question was which part?! One could spend a lifetime backpacking through the Sierra and still not see all that the range has to offer. After vacillating between a few different hikes we finally settled on Dusy Basin in the northeast corner of Kings Canyon National Park.

We arrived to the trailhead at around 10am on a Friday morning and stepped out of the car and into the most perfect fall conditions. The air was brisk, but the sun was shining and there were few clouds in the sky. The leaves of the aspens lining the road were at the very height of their fall colors and were an almost fluorescent shade of yellow. Everywhere we turned we were surrounded by the beauty of fall in the Sierra.

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The trail to Dusy Basin begins at the parking lot near South Lake and gains about 2,400’ in 6 miles before cresting Bishop Pass at 11,972’ and then descending into the basin. While the elevation gain was fairly significant it was pretty steady. We hit the trail and quickly fell into our hiking rhythm, steadfastly putting one foot in front of the other and slowly watching South Lake shrink and then disappear into the trees behind us. The trail was indescribably beautiful. The Sierra are rapidly growing into one of my favorite mountain ranges. The jagged granite peaks with countless twinkling lakes gathered at their bases are like a scene Bob Ross painted. And it isn’t just confined to one small locale, the entire region is full of these views. Every time I visit I just find new places I want to visit!

Heading toward Bishop Pass, which is the lowest point of the V, formed by the two ridges, in the upper center of the photo

Heading toward Bishop Pass, which is the lowest point of the V, formed by the two ridges, in the upper center of the photo

The view from near the top of Bishop Pass

The view from near the top of Bishop Pass

By the time we reached Bishop Pass we were hiking in nearly complete solitude. Day hikers had been meandering around the first couple of miles near South Lake, but by the time we were beginning our final approach to the pass we could count the number of hikers we had seen on one hand. The grade of the trail got noticeably steeper as we neared the pass but the sprawling views of the a the lakes below kept us distracted and before we knew it we were cresting the pass and beginning the final descent into Dusy Basin. 

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Once we made it to Dusy Basin we found an established site and set up camp. We were the only ones for as far as we could see, and to our pleasant surprise we would remain alone until we were well on our way back to the trailhead the following morning. 

For the remainder of the afternoon we lazed around camp, but once the sun began to sink we sprung into action to take golden hour photos. The peaks surrounding the basin began to glow in the late afternoon sun and we had high hopes for a fiery sunset. Unfortunately, just before alpenglow would have spread onto the peaks and the clouds would have lit up, a giant fog bank swept in from seemingly nowhere and completely engulfed us leaving us with no sunset at all. It was a bit disappointing but we were still grateful for the favorable weather we had experienced the entire day prior to the hungry cloud. 

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Eerie views in the fog

Eerie views in the fog

The next morning we awoke to another cloudy landscape and about an inch of snow. We couldn’t believe it—two weeks in a row waking up to a snowy tent! This meant no fiery sunrise for us either. So we packed up in the cold and began to make the mile hike back up to Bishop Pass. We began the hike completely bundled, trying to stave off the cold with layers of fleece and down but it didn’t take much hiking before we were striping down to just our base layers. 

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The views from the pass were markedly different than the previous day. What was bathed in sun and snow-free one day was dusted with snow and obscured by low-hanging fog just 14 hours later! We carefully navigated our way down the steep and icy sections of the pass. It wasn’t long until we were cruising under the cover of a forest on a snow-free trail. As we neared the trailhead we ran into more and more groups of people. A few of them were out to just day hike around the area but a few were heading to Dusy Basin so Alex and I were pretty happy with our decision to backpack on a Friday night instead of a Saturday night!

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