My 70th birthday trip over Mono Pass and down Mono Creek: Pioneer Basin

Wednesday is the day we are going to hike into Pioneer Basin. I have heard of Pioneer Basin for as long as I can remember – that may be only ten years, but I think it is closer to forty or fifty years ago, when I first started reading about the Sierras – in my psyche, it is one of those Sierra legends like Thousand Island Lake or Evolution Valley or Dusy Basin.

As an aside, this will be my fifty fifth year of hiking in the high Sierras. OK, I said that wrong – I first hiked in the high Sierras fifty five years ago – I haven't hiked there every year in between. It is where I first found God and it is where I still feel closest to The Mystery. End aside.

This will be a big day, and our plan is to get up early and get going, except…this is not a get early crowd and nearly everybody stayed snuggled in their little beddy-byes until the sun got high enough to warm the tents.




We were camped on the side of the main canyon, near the top. Pioneer Basin is a side canyon that starts below our camp but the top of Pioneer is much higher than our camp. To save effort and because going cross country in the high Sierras is pretty easy – not many trees to block the view of our rout – and fun, we decided to follow the canyon around – cross country – into Pioneer.

The downside is the possibility of hitting an impassable area and having to backtrack or abort, but the upside is not having to go down to walk back up again. And cross country is fun in a magical child, exploring sort of way.


As we rounded the corner from the main canyon to Pioneer Basin – what we kept thinking of and calling the nose – the views changed from the Fourth Recess, to the main canyon, to Pioneer.

As we got deeper into Pioneer, we started crossing side drainages with lush meadows and small streams that required careful crossing.


We knew there was a trail somewhere around the middle of Pioneer Basin running the length  from the main canyon to near the top of Pioneer, so, as we picked our way higher, we kept edging towards where we expected to find the trail. At the same time, the weather was turning more problematic. The pessimists in the group – lead by Michele – thought we were in for a dosing; the optimists – lead by Steve – thought it would blow over. We all spent alot of time looking at the sky.


As we worked our way deeper into Pioneer, we were also working our way towards above timber line. To many people, certainly to me, this is the best part of the Sierra Nevadas. These high meadows, which always seem to be bathed in bright sun reflecting off the bright rock, are harsh environments but they almost always seem gentle and soft. Walking – semi-aimlessly – through a high altitude meadow is as close to being with the Divine as I have ever gotten.    


When I first started hiking in the Sierras, we just drank the water directly out of of the streams. Now we filter everything. I wonder if it is really necessary and I am pretty sure that it isn't. But I also don't want to get Giardia and, even more, I don't want to be responsible for somebody else getting it – or getting lost. So much of the day is spent pumping water through the filters and confirming where we are on our maps.



I think that we all felt that we could stay here for another couple of hours, but the time was getting late and we had miles to go before dark. Fortunately, most of it downhill so we would have time to celebrate when we got back to camp. .



2 thoughts on “My 70th birthday trip over Mono Pass and down Mono Creek: Pioneer Basin

  1. Steve: I love this series of posts, and I’m so jealous of you. It’s been way to long since I’ve been hiking in the Sierra, and these post bring back how much I love that landscape. Thanks, P.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *