ROUTE 7 - Carol Col-Steelhead Pass

Cross country circuit from Humphreys Basin over Carol Col and returning by Steelhead Pass.

Bench south descent gully to Desolation Lake.
Steelhead Pass from the unnamed lake south.
South to Desolation Lake from Steelhead Pass.
NNW from Steelhead Pass to Steelhead and French Lakes, with Pine Creek Pass left.
Right diagonaling boulder ramp to left leading slabs above on Steelhead Pass.
Star Lake cirque from below the Rust Lake saddle.
Carol Col is not obvious from the northwest side.
Descend right from the col over blocks.
View northwest from Carol Col to the the lakes with French names.
Northwest across the plateau to Carol Col.
Ridge north of two small lakes above Mesa Lake.
Sunrise on the Glacier Divide from Mesa Lake.
WNW to Summit Lake from Piute Pass, with the Glacier Divide left and the Pinnacles center.
ESE to Piute Lake and Loch Leven from Piute Pass.

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Route Description

Route 7 Data TableThis route follows the Piute Pass trail to Humphreys Basin, with an out and back separated by a cross country circuit to the north over Carol Col and Steelhead Pass. It's 21.5 miles, not including side trips (for which there are many possibilities), and could be done in two days, but three is more fun.

The route is different from most of the others in that it includes a lot of on-trail travel, and the shorter off-trail circuit is over moderate terrain with easy navigation. Good bivouac sites are plentiful west of Piute Pass.

Access is easy. From Bishop, take SR168 west (West Line Street) past Aspendell (population 75) to the turn off for North Lake at 17.4 miles. The Piute Pass trailhead is located in a campground, with backcountry parking near the pack station about half a mile to the northeast. (The more casual might drive their packs to the trailhead.) Backcountry permits are available at the joint Public Lands Information Center on North Main Street in Bishop.

Start by following the main trail to Piute Pass. It's a typical east side approach that gets more interesting the higher you go. Piute Pass (11,423 ft) gives a nice view back east to Piute Lake and Loch Leven marker 1, and west over Summit Lake, with the imposing Glacier Divide on the left and The Pinnacles ahead marker 2.

Follow the main trail west, which forks in about 1.2 miles. There are (at least) two trails in use here. The turn off for the unmaintained trail to the Desolation Lakes is obvious (at a large boulder) on the upper trail, but is something of a faint trace from the lower trail. Take the unmaintained trail or skirt the ridge on the right cross country to Lower Desolation Lake; it's easy enough either way.

Continue on to Desolation Lake, heading off trail to pass its southeast outlet, and crossing a small rise west toward Mesa Lake. marker 3 is the sun rising on the Glacier Divide from Mesa Lake.

Follow the creek feeding Mesa Lake at its northwest corner up to a pair of small unnamed lakes; there is a faint use trail on the left side of the drainage. From the lakes marker 4, zigzag north and up the slope - easy Class 2 - to a broad plateau above. Head northwest a quarter mile across the plateau over Class 1 to Carol Col marker 5.

Carol Col (11,785 ft) gives an expansive view to the northwest over half a dozen lakes marker 6; Merriam Lake and Pass are visible in the distance across French Canyon, as are the falls that drain the Royce Lakes. Descend right over blocks marker 7, Class 2. There is a bit of a use trail hugging the rock band on the right, which makes for easier going lower down. Looking back, the location of the col is not especially obvious from the northwest side marker 8.

Traverse north toward a saddle northeast of Puppet Lake. From here turn east, crossing easy terrain above (south of) Moon and "L" Lakes to Star Lake. From Star Lake, an easy and obvious path to the northeast leads over a saddle to Rust Lake. marker 9 shows the Star Lake cirque from below that saddle.

The terrain from Rust Lake is a little more challenging marker 10. From the saddle, traverse left over blocks to gain a right upward diagonaling, block-filled ramp. Ascend the ramp until easier slabs lead back left; do not head back left too early. This part is Class 2, and steeper sections require use of the hands. Turn east at the top to find the low point on the ridge.

Steelhead Pass (12,098 ft) gives a nice view NNW to Steelhead and French Lakes, as well as to Pine Creek Pass marker 11, which is crossed by the trail up French Canyon. Merriam and Royce Peaks are also unmistakable across the canyon.

Descend south over Class 2 terrain toward a small unnamed lake above Desolation Lake marker 12. It may be easier, or at least less steep, to head a bit east first. marker 13 is the view back to Steelhead Pass (center) from the small lake.

Cross the basin above Desolation Lake southeast to a bench above the lake's northeast end. A gully on the far side of the bench offers a Class 2 descent south to Desolation Lake marker 14, where the unmaintained trail on its eastern shore is quickly reached.

Head south along the unmaintained trail and then backtrack east over Piute Pass to the trailhead.