Long Lake Trail
The Trail and the Plants
Driving out of Bishop in the early morning, heading west on Hwy. 168, is a moving experience. Bishop is at around 4100’ and the view you have is the Sierra Crest reaching 11, 12 even 13,000’, it’s pretty impressive. Just outside of town the terrain is high desert dominated by Rabbitbrush and Saltbush. But there is high expectation in the grand Sierra view just ahead.
The road makes a sweeping switchback to enter the drainage of Bishop Creek. Down in the creek Pines and Aspens begin to appear. On the right yellow clouds of Nevada City Buckwheat sparkle, you see this Buckwheat all along Hwy 395 from Bishop to Mono Lake. Mixed in with the yellow buckwheat are the white flowers of Granite Gilia, a shrubby member of the Phlox family.
Late in the season the Aspens make a dazzling show as you ascend higher. And higher is where you are headed; the trailhead at South Lake is at 9800’. You are in a Lodgepole Pine forest and the trail starts at the far end of the parking area, just left of the bathrooms. This is the start of many wonderful treks into the Eastern Sierra’s. First you climb a wide trail along the east side of South Lake, which has been very low in these drought years. But do not despair; the higher alpine lakes are all full of water. And the views of the Sierra Crest here are great.
When you can take your eyes off the great views look for Mountain Mahogany, the yellow flowered Antelope Bush, and several forms of Mountain Currants or Gooseberries, with the yellow and red speckled blooms of Alpine Prickly Currant being particularly fine. The trail breaks to the left into a small valley. You climb a series of long steps, passing a meadow on the left filled with Shooting Stars. A sharp turn to the right leads you to the John Muir Wilderness and a trail junction with the left side leading to Long Lake and then Bishop Pass while the right side leads to Treasure Lake with a forest of Lodgepole pine surrounding all.
The trail will cross 2 bridges, the first over a small creek coursing through the Pines; the second has a lovely meadow on the left. Passing this second bridge the trail climbs several switchbacks set with rock walls. At the top of this grade a trail junction leading to Chocolate Lakes splits off to the left. Another short climb brings you to a meadow with a small lake and just beyond is our destination Long Lake. In the fall myriads of Ducks can be found on its waters.
Long Lake is well named being nearly ¾ of a mile long. There is a really beautiful section of trail that clings to the east side of the lake, which is at the foot of Chocolate Peak. The backdrop of Mount Hurd spectacularly enhances the west side of the lake. About ¾ of the way along the lake is the junction with the Ruwau Lake trail, which is about 200’ higher in a saddle south of Chocolate Peak.
When I reached the southern end of the lake I just could not stop so I pressed on to higher parts of the Bishop Pass Trail. There is a bridge to cross and then a quick switchback, both of which bring stunning views of the lake.
Ahead is a climb across a Talus slope, a giant pile of rock created by water seeping into cracks, freezing and breaking up the surface. On the right Spearhead Lake comes into view. Crossing this slope before a trail was cut into it must have been especially challenging. Near the top a wind weathered Lodgepole Pine clings stubbornly to the land. At the top are the Timberline Tarns, 2 smaller ponds scoured out by glaciers and filled by rainwater.
A short ½ mile past the Timberline Tarns is Saddleback Lake and another short ½ mile brings Bishop Lake. But I turned abound and headed back. Just as I reached the Talus I found the perfect lunch spot with the perfect view. The Eastern Sierras with the granite, the lakes the Pines and the clear mountain air were set before me.