DAY 11 - Lake Italy to Laurel Lake

Distance: 21.6km (13.4mi)
Hiking time: 10:13hr
Elevation gain: 1,736m (5,695ft)
Total people met: 0
‘… gigantic, heart-shaped hole in a steep cliff. So incongruous
is this feature that the mind struggles to explain it’ - Steven Roper

Elevation versus Distance graph for the section from Lake Italy to Laurel Lake for the Sierra High Route

The night were finally getting a bit warmer, maybe it was due to the lack of wind. The morning however was cold and windy again, we quickly made our 800kcal cereal breakfast. After 10 days on the route and in high altitude, getting the breakfast down is getting better. Lake Italy was by far not as ugly as Roper described in his book, it is quite narrow and doesn’t let much sun in, but the water and the surrounding is still beautiful. During the walk around the west side of the lake, we were super motivated. Only 3 more days and we would be at Red’s Meadow our 2/3 route mark, so amazing. We thought, we will make it all the way through, what a great motivation. The walk along the lake requires some talus hoping but for the most part of it you can navigate rather fast through it. By the time we reached the outline, the sun was coming out, so beautiful.

The first pass of the day was visible, Gabbot Pass. From the bottom, the pass looked flat and not too high so we tackled it with the same pace and motivation as before and we both crashed… Our legs were hurting, our breath was short and we both just really had a hard time ascending this pass. A quick break released some of the tension, but it was still an awful pass, although it was flat and short. Our motivation was down, I think for the first time during this trip, our body felt that we had hiked for 10 days straight without any rest days. Zeno made a comment about quitting after Red’s Meadow, that we weren’t prepared for the last 8 days. It is hitting us more and more. On top of the pass, we hugged and with each second our motivation rose. I guess this is the power of hiking with your loved one. Sometimes you need to recharge your fuel and appreciate what you have accomplished already and be motivated for what comes next.

Just below the pass, we found our first real snowfield, wow. We were able to slide down for the first time ever, however, it was only for about 5 meters, but at least we did it once. The descend once again featured a lot of talus, I’m starting to get a hang of it. During one section we had to walk in the valley with two different debris fields on either side. This section felt a bit scary, as the walls were rather steep and a lot of the talus looked very loose. We were very calm during this 10min long section and quickly made our way down to a more open part.

We passed by two lakes and the water level for both of them were obviously very low. On the GPS points we had, the route traversed the lake by far more than we had to. The path was at times not very obvious, but we did not encounter any major problems. For the most of the path, we stayed to the right were we found a slightly visible path to descend. After passing two lakes, we made our way through a dense and swampy forest. There our pace was a bit slower, as the route finding was sometimes not as obvious and we had to hop over the swampy part. The final drop-off into the valley was a bit scary and super steep. At times, we were a bit insecure, as we sometimes were heading down along a path and at times, we couldn’t find it anymore and weren’t sure if we were on track. To the left, a huge water stream was flowing down and more the the right some exposed slopes were present. We had to make sure to walk in between these obstacles and most of the route was covered with plants and roots making the descend very demanding mentally and physically. Halfway down we took a photo of us with the mysterious heart-shaped hole in the wall on the other side of the valley.

At some point we realized how much we have to ascend on the other side again… :( So much walking up and down, well I guess this is why the High Sierra is so demanding and endearing. Once in the valley, we followed a little path through the beautiful and calm forest. It was so reenergizing to walk in the shade on flat ground after the heat of the previous descend. We were mentally getting ready for the final push of the day and were already dreaming about Laurel lake, our final destination for today. The ascend toward Laurel lake is super steep. Switchbacks are there to easy your walk up, however these are so tight that you basically climb up the mountain. I was walking in the front and were super in sync with myself that I had a crazy fast pace up the mountain. Zeno was walking behind me, exhausted and amazed by how much energy I brought up at the end of the day. Luckily, the path got a bit more flat and we traversed along a meadowland for a while. After each corner and ascend, we though there must be Lake Laurel, but it was never there. It was a long day until we finally reached the lake.

Our initial plan was to head halfway up to Bighorn pass and camp along the way. By the time we reached Laurel Lake the sun was almost about to set and we couldn’t yet make out a good way to head up towards the pass. We therefore decide to camp directly by the lake and tackle the complete Bighorn pass the next week. We were very happy about this decision and enjoyed our warm dinner. After dinner, we set outside for a bit longer and Zeno repaired the laces of his other shoe. Happily and exhausted we made our way into our sleeping bag and instantly fell asleep.

Just after reaching the upper End of Lake Italy.
Some grassy sections. 

Our second patch of snow just after Gabbot Pass.

Talus everyday.

One of the Mills Creek lakes.

The heart shaped hole in the background.

Reaching a flat section after heading up thousands of switchbacks.

Almost at Laurel Lake, you can already see Bighorn pass to the left/center.

Finally at Laurel Lake, wonderful spot to camp.