Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

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bgdfcg
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Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by bgdfcg » Thu Feb 21, 2019 11:23 am

I am planning a 6+/- day trip in 2020 with just wife. We live in Virginia but have done 6 or so backpacking trips in the Sierras over the past 20 years (Rae Lakes loop, Shepherd Pass to Milestone, Grouse/Goat's to Windy Ridge, etc.). Initially all on-trail, gradually adding some off trail. Pretty solid hikers in terms of miles and elevation gains, but definitely limited to Class 2 passes in terms of fear factor.

I have done a fair amount of reading and am leaning towards two possible options:

1) Taboose Pass/Cartidge Pass into Lake Basin/possible day hike to Windy Ridge/possible camp on ridge overlooking west end of Bench Lake/out

2) Pine Creek T.H./Lake Italy Pass/Bear Lakes basin/Meriam Lake/Pine Creek Pass/Royce Lakes/out

I'd appreciate any comparison feedback from folks that might have experience in both areas, in terms of relative difficulty of the xc passes, scenery and likely solitude. Also any general suggestions/recommendations in the areas.

Thanks in advance,
bg








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maverick
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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by maverick » Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:06 pm

Hi Bgdfcg,

Welcome to HST! :)

You did not indicate what month you planned these trips. Snow can make passes difficult and creeks can be high, swift, and very dangerous depending on when you plan to go.
1) Taboose Pass/Cartidge Pass into Lake Basin/possible day hike to Windy Ridge/possible camp on ridge overlooking west end of Bench Lake/out
With this one you need to camp at Taboose Campground and get a very early start to beat the desert heat, there are campsite at around 9800 ft on the way up. The scenery is spectacular from the top of Taboose Pass, both east and west, Bench Lake is beautiful with Arrow Peak behind it, Lakes basin is very pretty, especially Marion Lake.
2) Pine Creek T.H./Lake Italy Pass/Bear Lakes basin/Meriam Lake/Pine Creek Pass/Royce Lakes/out
This trip is more difficult, Italy Pass, Dancing Bear Pass, and Feather Pass, and the first day up is quite a haul too. Granite Basin is spectacular, Bear Lakes Basin is pretty, especially views of Gables Peak from the Vee Lake area, and some of the smaller hidden ponds, and Merriam Lake is also pretty, especially at sunrise from near its outlet.

There are plenty of TR's to these areas, and check our "Cross Country Passes" section for detailed descriptions about the passes.
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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by LMBSGV » Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:09 pm

You’ve chosen trips to two of my favorite areas in the Sierra. Either one would be a fabulous trip. Here’s my take on the differences.

I disagree with Maverick on the relative difficulty. I think the Lakes Basin trip involves the most difficult passes. Taboose is a 6,000 foot elevation gain in 6 miles, then the descent to the Kings River crossing and then the cross-country ascent of Cartridge Pass. Following the use trail from the Kings crossing to Cartridge is a hit-and-miss undertaking. The use trail over Cartridge Pass and in upper Lakes Basin is the old JMT and still easy to follow. You probably should have a 4-wheel drive vehicle for the Taboose road since it’s particularly nasty. That being said, Lakes Basin and Marion Lake are absolutely stunning. Once you cross the Kings on the JMT, you will probably be in solitude. If your last day is from Bench Lake to the trailhead, the 6,000 foot descent is an awful knee-knocker.

In my experience, the Bear Lakes trip involves less difficult passes and easier cross-country route finding along with an easier drive to the trailhead. In terms of solitude, once you’re in Granite Park until you are back at Honeymoon Lake, I doubt you would encounter too many people, though my experience was a lot more than Lakes Basin, where I’ve seen a total or three people beyond the Kings Crossing in six days of travel.

I confess, I have a slight preference scenically for Lakes Basin over Bear Lakes, but that is really quibbling. Granite Park, Bear Lakes, and Miriam Lake are also incredibly gorgeous, some of the most beautiful sections of the Sierra. Factoring in the Taboose road and Taboose Pass, I’d choose the Bear Lakes trip.

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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Feb 21, 2019 2:41 pm

Your Lakes Basin trip is more of an in-and-out, with more repeat miles, unless you come out via Frozen Lake Pass (which is a BIG fear-factor pass). Definitely a miserable drive to the trailhead. This route would feel a lot more remote.

You can configure the Bear Lakes trip with less repeat miles. Easy drive to trailhead. I have been in Bear Basin when there were few and times when it was over-run with people. Not sure why, but it does not "feel" as remote as Lakes Basin. It is part of Roper's Sierra High Route which is becoming quite popular.

Rather than just say which is harder or has more of a fear-factor, I will just describe a few things.

Lakes Basin is definitely "feels" more strenuous; Taboose is a big climb. Cartridge pass (although a "trail") is hard to follow and you can easily get into brush on the south, an initial very steep climb up out of Kings River, and the north side has a steep loose section. Once into Lakes Basin, traveling around is easy. Strictly as a destination, I do favor Lakes Basin, particularly if you fish. A side trip up to the lakes below Striped Mountain is very scenic and good fishing too. Personally I would go there rather than a day-hike to Windy Ridge. I feel that it would be harder to "bailout" of Lakes Basin in poor weather.

Bear Basin "seems" less strenuous, probably because the elevation gains are broken into smaller segments. Bear Basin route has more talus, but nothing particularly fear inducing and little if any bushwhacking potential. There is a fair trail up to Italy Pass from Granite Park, but the traverse to Dancing Bear Pass is tricky and you can easily end up in talus. Same with Feather Pass west side- careful route finding needed to avoid big talus blocks and it is a bit cliffy on top. How do you plan to get into Royce Lakes? The pass to Merriam Lake drainage can be difficult (steep snow some years into August). If that is your pass I would say there IS a fear-factor potential. From Merriam Lake, you can also just go down the trail to French Canyon and walk out over Pine Creek Pass, if the weather goes bad.

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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by oleander » Thu Feb 21, 2019 3:29 pm

Haven't yet been to Bear Lakes Basin. But, personally I thought Granite Park and Royce Lakes were spectacular, whereas Lakes Basin was overrated. Lakes Basin, besides Marion Lake, was to me just your average basin, from a scenery point of view. Royce Lakes on the other hand is rather unusual and dramatic.

Both Bear Lakes Basin and the Lakes Basin are on the Sierra High Route, so you are likely to run into some parties in both locations. However, if solitude is important to you, you'd be more likely to find it in Lakes Basin, which has a very long and involved approach from either side of the Sierra. (Whereas more casual parties can and do make Bear Lakes Basin in 2 days from the west side without going over any passes.)

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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by lambertiana » Thu Feb 21, 2019 7:20 pm

How many miles/day do you prefer? Are you married to the idea of an east side approach?

Lake Basin is also approachable from the west side. Start at Roads End, go up Copper Creek trail to Granite Basin on day 1 (5000' vertical, but OK if you start early). Day 2 to Horseshoe Lakes, day three cross country to Marion Lake or upper Lake Basin, crossing Gray/White/Red passes. From there you can go over Cartridge Pass and either up the South Fork Kings to meet the JMT and then loop out through Woods Creek/Upper Paradise, or, if you want real solitude and have a sense of adventure, as well as a high tolerance of brush, head down the South Fork Kings to meet the trail at upper Paradise.

One thing to consider is that if the snowpack is above average, going down the South Fork Kings would be challenging because you will end up crossing multiple times. And even if you stay on trail, the bridge over the South Fork Kings at Upper Paradise is supposed to be installed some time in 2020, and without it the crossing could be challenging in anything but a dry year. Late summer would be best for such a trip.

I found the section between Horseshoe Lakes and upper Lake Basin to be especially scenic.

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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by bgdfcg » Thu Feb 21, 2019 7:53 pm

EVERYONE:
Thanks for the great feedback so far. Yes I am a HST newbie. Thanks for the welcome. Collectine responses back:
a) Trip timing would be late August (or possibly into first week of Sept) as all our Sierra trips have been.
b) We ain't getting any younger but we got over Shepherd Pass on Day One (less than 36 hours after leaving sea level here in VA) so the Wife and I both probably have a realistic expectation of what Taboose might be. Somewhat brutal but way less wailing from this team than trying Class 3 or an icy pass without traction, etc.
c) Was not thinking of going straight from Merrian to Royce but rather down to French Canyon trail and then off that via xc from near the Pine Creek Pass to the south end of the Royce's. Exit Royce Basin from the xc route at the north end towards Honeymoon.
d) Years ago, we went Copper Creek to Granite on Day One. Made it to Windy Ridge on Day Two. Came out via Glacier/Goats Crest/Grouse. Fantastic trip! Have read enough trip reports of bushwacking down S.F. Kings to know that route could lead us straight to divorce court. The route down through Paradise repeats a leg of our first Sierra trip (Rae Lakes loop). With so few opportunities to visit the Sierra, trying to minimize repeat miles, regardless of how spectacular they always are.
e) We tend to get moving early. Typically by 8:00am unless perhaps bad weather. Minimal breaks - maybe 30 min for lunch. But aim for choosing a campsite by 4-5pm if possible. So miles obviously vary by trail vs. xc but whatever a reasonably full day allows. Sometimes we have taken a layover day but lately are leaning more towards shortening each day by an hour+/- and skipping the layover if the route permits that option.
bg

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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:45 pm

Given what you have already done, sounds like you would see more "new" stuff if you do Bear Lakes/Royce.

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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by steiny98 » Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:37 pm

I've done both trips, and both were awesome.

Some random thoughts for you:
I'd say granite basin takes the cake for best scenery and views.
Marion lake was great. Recommend camping here if you can.
Regret not spending more time at Vee Lake in bear basin.
I did taboose to bench in one day. It was very hard. Think twice about this.
Regret not staying at Striped Lakes near taboose.
I think you could make a loop out of lake basin by going to dumbbell and amphitheater lake.
We did bear lakes in a high snow year and experienced some sketchy snow traverses. Consider bringing microspikes depending on April 1st snow reports.

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Re: Lake Basin vs. Bear Lakes/Royce

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:20 pm

This may not be the year to do Cataract pass from Dumbbell to Amphitheater because the cornice may not melt out this year. If you want to avoid exposed scary passes, do not do Cataract, even without snow! Dumbbell Pass is no picnic either. Dumbbell Lakes are remotex10! Hard to get out of there if weather goes bad.

Upper Granite Basin and Bear Basin and Royce Lakes in late season generally is more barren looking compared to the more vegetated Lakes Basin. But this year likely will have a late flower bloom and stay green into late August. Actually a great year to do this trip. I would vote for August vs later in September. There are a lot of little nooks and crannies to explore in Bear Basin. If you do Bear Basin, look at reversing the loop too. Sometimes the logistics and where you want to camp just work out better. The hike up the trail to Pine Lake is really not bad at all. I have started at 11 AM and made it all the way to French Lake. With an earlier start you can make it to Royce Lakes the first day. I agree- do not miss camping at Merriam Lake!

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