Back to the Sierra, Day 11: Half Broke Horses

September 7, 2017
Hutchinson Meadow to Upper Desolation Lake
Piute Pass Trail + Off Trail to Upper Desolation


Sunrise feels old-fashioned, the hardy sort of thing I imagine from Little House on the Prairie. Everyone’s already up, in their long johns, fed on corn cakes, heading out on half-broke horses to till the fields.

I think it’s the way the light’s streaming sideways through the trees onto the untrampled meadow. It all feels untouched, like we’re the first ones here, the edge of a wind that’ll blow the wild away. But of course that’s not right. The wind’s come. The miracle of this place is that it’s stood still, still wild, through the storm of civilization.


We eat our little breakfast out of plastic bags, then stand by the river for a long time watching nothing in particular. Shadows on the Glacier Divide granite above. I keep thinking of something from Alain de Botton:

We owe it to the fields that our houses will not be the inferiors of the land they have replaced. We owe it to the worms and the trees…

This place, and the wilderness it represents, is a monument to the realization that sometimes land is best without us, that sometimes abdication is the most, and best, we can do.


The trail today’s a climb out of Piute Canyon and into Humphreys Basin. We cross a convoluted series of streams, then stumble up a buggy hill into the dusty sun. To the south, the Glacier Divide rises sharply. In its shadows, we can just make out what’s left of the Matthes Glaciers.



We eat lunch on the bank of a mostly imaginary stream, then continue into the basin as the trees are replaced by glacial boulders and real streams start to dot the landscape.






We leave the main way just a couple miles short of Piute Pass, and cut north toward the Desolation Lakes. Like the creek at lunch, the trail feels mostly imaginary. And it’s lovely. It rains on and off, but never really gets going, even though we can see torrents of water pounding the nearby hills.



The Desolations are an improbable set of ocean-like lakes, sunken into a flat plateau in the upper corner of Humphreys Basin. We follow our fading trail to the end of the upper lake and set up camp in a luxurious old spot with a windbreak big enough to shelter a bus.




We’ve still got an hour of light, so I scramble up one of the talus peaks that form the barrier between our basin and the next one over.

From the top, I can see storms all around. It’s snowing on the Glacier Divide, and on Mt. Humphreys, not a mile away. The horizon is all white and red and purple. And the wind’s so strong that more than once I have to grab my glasses for fear that they’ll fly away. It’s wonderful.




I hurry down as the sun starts to set, and see several small, off white rabbits wend their way down in front of me.



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