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TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

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TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby snowpatch » Sun Oct 06, 2013 12:07 pm

This 17 day trip owes its birth to Maverick who told me about Kaweah basin more than 5 years ago, and to John and Yosh who suggested a loop out of Mineral Basin. The Red Spur Basin option was mine. Whether that was a good idea or not, only my husband can tell you.
We hiked this beautiful route Aug 6-22, 2013. I would do it again in a heartbeat. We kept most days short in distance so we had time to explore and enjoy the beauty of the sierra.
P1000307.JPG
Around the Kaweahs in 17 days

The orange lines show our route. The tiny pink squares are campsites. We resupplied at Roaring River.
Day 1:
After two nights to acclimatize at a Silver City cabin, we headed up from Mineral King Trailhead in the early morning. We had debated about taking the old trail to Sawtooth Pass, but after speaking to ranger Lewis we opted for the Monarch Lake route.
This turned out to be good advice. We were starting out with our heavy packs and this route allowed the option to refill water bottles at Monarch Lake. As another bonus, the trail had plenty of shade. It was a pleasant and quick hike to Monarch Lake. At the lake we left the trail and headed towards Glacier pass to avoid the more direct sandy ascent of Sawtooth Pass. Near the ridge we traversed towards Sawtooth Pass. It was nowhere near as bad an approach as we had heard.
Discovering that a party was camped at Columbine outflow, we opted for a camp near a beautiful tarn above Columbine. Water and air temperature were warm enough for a swim. Little was I to know that this would be our last truly hot day and my only “real “swim.
049 camp 1.JPG
Rod relaxing at Columbine tarn


Day2:
During the night I had an incredible experience. While responding to nature’s call, under a brilliant sky, I looked out over the tarn. There were pinpoints of light flashing in the dark water. They had to have been reflections from the stars. I have never seen this before. It was quite an experience and a welcome to the sierra.
The morning started with a hike over the edge of Columbine’s outlet to see Cyclamen and Spring Lakes. Then we headed down the lovely Lost Canyon and took the trail to Big Five Lakes. A strong cold wind came up in the afternoon. So instead of heading to the higher basin, we set up camp at the first Big Five Lake behind a large bolder. This cold wind was to continue for several days.

Day 3:
It was finally time to get some real cross country hiking under our belts.
Instead of taking the trail to Little Five Lakes, we ascended XC over the pass between these two basins. This pass is easy to spot on the map. It is the low point just NW of the 4th lake.
The pass was enjoyable. The hiking and route finding were easy, and we were rewarded with a view of Big Five Basin not enjoyed by many people. The descent to Little Five Lakes was short and sweet.
From there we traveled x-country by heading pretty much straight north, instead of descending to the ranger station at Little Five. We hooked up with trail again near the north Little Five Lakes and from there hiked to a beautiful camp spot near granite pools on the Big Arroyo Creek.

Day 4: Ascent of Eagle Scout Peak (12, 040ft).
Thanks to the posting from SSSdave on this forum, we opted for a day trip up Eagle Scout Peak. This was one of the highlights of our journey. Thanks Dave!
Following Dave’s suggestion we climbed easy slabs from Big Arroyo Creek up to Lake 11, 061. Above the lake we hit large stable talus. The crux of this col was route finding near the top of the col. Once over the col, we headed down and left toward easy slabs and sand. From the slabs it was a breeze to hike up to Eagle Scout ridge, where we followed sandy use trails to the summit.
The view from Eagle Scout was incredible. Without knowing why, we experienced such an airy feeling. We later discovered the reason for this sensation. When we looked up at Eagle Scout from Precipice Lake we discovered that we had been sitting on a diving board of rock that extends out over the Precipice Lake valley. What a lot of fun to see where we had been a few days earlier.
To make this summit a loop trip and avoid climbing back over the col, we descended straight east on sand and slabs to Big Arroyo creek. From there we hit trail and headed south back to our camp.
105 eagle scout summit.JPG
View from Eagle Scout Peak


Day 5:
A short hike with our packs led to our next camp in Nine Lake Basin. From here we dayhiked to the upper basin (scoping out alternate routes to Kaweah Basin in case our planned exit route did not pan out).



Day 6:
A return to trail hiking. But what a trail it was! We hiked along the High Sierra trail to our camp on Lone Pine Creek.
174  high sierra trail.JPG
Lone Pine Creek Trail


Day 7:
This georgeous day was enjoyed by trail hiking over Elizabeth Pass to Upper Ranger Meadow. We camped on granite slabs in Upper Ranger Meadow near a group of 10 scouts. It was great to see young people enjoying the mountains.
We found a man’s Patagonia shirt in a ziplock bag on the south side of Elizabeth pass. If the person who lost this shirt reads this posting, please email me the description and I will send it to you.

Day 8:
A quick hike down to Roaring River Ranger station. We had a resupply from the folks at Horse Coral Pack Station, where we dropped off our food on route to our trailhead.
The horse packer Brandy arrived right at the arranged time. We had all afternoon to reorganize our food and arrange garbage to be carried out.

Day 9: Initially we had planned this as a layover day to rest at Roaring River, but decided to head a ways up Cloud canyon to later have some relaxation time at Picket Creek Lake. We tented at a horse camp in Cloud Canyon.

Day 10: This day’s hike took us past Colby Lake and over scenic Colby Pass to the meadows south of the pass; another beautiful camp spot.

Day 11: It was fairly straightforward to locate the route to Picket Creek Lake following directions given by others on this forum.
We found a great camp spot above Picket Creek Lake (on the south side) as there was another party camped near the lake. We spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the surroundings.

Day 12:
We doffed our heavy packs to enjoy a day hike of wandering in Kaweah Basin. Wow, what a big and beautiful basin. The basin was fairly dry this year. It was not the beautiful lake filled basin I had imagined, but what made it special was the absence of signs of human travel. A remote region indeed.
284 kaweah basin dayhike.JPG
Dayhiking in Kaweah Basin


Day 13:
My gamble that we could exit via Red Spur Basin was about to be tested.
The day started out with beautiful weather. Having already explored Kaweah Basin, we crossed the Picket Kaweah col and the Kaweah ravine in about 30 minutes. From there we headed east, traversing at about 10,800ft until we reached a gully heading straight up. We climbed up the gully which led to a line of trees extending into Red Spur Basin.
Red Spur Basin is a world unto itself. A strange garden of rocks, lakes and more rocks. Did I mention rocks? Luckily there was the odd patch of vegetation that made a nice contrast to the easy rock hopping. We stayed to the left (East) as much as possible, where there seemed to be more patches of soil.
A thunderstorm hit at 14:00 just as we reached an amazing perch of a campsite on a flat piece of soil just large enough for a 2 man tent. We were near a creek and couldn’t have asked for better luck in finding this spot. I will post the coordinates since there did not seem to be many other good tent spots in the south part of this basin. UTM S 0372904, 4045189.
This route could be done without GPS, but it was nice to have on this day of convoluted terrain.
The rain stopped for a short while around 4:00. We had a quick hot chocolate along with a balcony seat view of a thunderstorm over Mt Whitney. What a show! Only missing was the the popcorn. The rain soon resumed and we ended up eating a cold supper in the tent. We figured a bear would have to be insane to be in this area.
322 love these red spur rocks.JPG
Red Spur Basin


Day 14:
We woke to red sky and snow on Mt Whitney in the distance. After our usual breakfast of granola, we headed up what seemed the obvious route towards Red Spur Ridge.
Large stable talus transitioned to smaller rocks, still fairly stable. We reached the ridgeline at 12,711ft after about 4 hours of steady but slow ascent. We had initially planned on descending the south ridge to Chagoopa plateau, but the lure of a sandy descent (instead of more rocks) drew us directly down towards Red Spur Creek. We knew there was a cliffy section at the bottom, but hoped we could find a line of weakness in the cliff band.
We had almost given up in locating a route through the cliff band when a severe thunderstorm hit. Now we had no choice but to find a way down. Spurred on by crashing thunder, Rod headed uphill then further north and found our salvation. The weakness in the cliff band is near to the rock color change. The key to reaching this spot is to not descend directly east to the cliff band but angle north toward the changing rock color.
We were still not home free. The thunderstorm raged for another 40 minutes while we huddled in a low point of the rocks. Rain, hail and ground shaking lightening/thunder continued on. As soon as the storm lessened, we headed down in the rain to set up a camp near Red Spur Creek.
Before settling for the night we noticed smoke south of us. It looked to be in about the area of Rattlesnake creek. We guessed it was likely a fire started by the lightning storm.
349 heading up red spur.JPG
Heading up Red Spur. The route we took is basically up the center.

375 descent route just left of 3rd tall tree.JPG
Cliffs at base of Red Spur (taken the next morning). The descent route heads from tip of tall tree angling left to tip of third tallest tree


Day 15:
The day began with clear skies and the smoke to the south was not visible. We hoped the long rainfall had put out the fire. There was fun and easy hiking on Chagoopa plateau where we passed though some deep pockets of hail deposits. We felt like the first people on earth to enjoy this route.
Before the clouds returned, we dried out our gear and had a relaxing lunch near Chagoopa creek. Soon we arrived back to civilization in the form of the High Sierra Trail which we followed to camp at Big Arroyo junction.
388 chagoopa lunch.JPG
Lunch on the Chagoopa Plateau. Time to dry out tent and gear.


Day 16: This day we retraced our route past Little Five Lakes, then moved on to new terrain over Black Rock Pass, reaching Spring Lake by lunchtime. We were hoping for a lazy afternoon lounging around the lake, but the unsettled cold and rainy weather persisted.
While I was stalking deer around the campsite, I came upon what I thought was the first garbage I had seen the entire trip. Imagine my surprise to discover an unopened can of beer. Microbrewery craft beer none-the-less. Thanks to whomever left it there!
450 spring lake.JPG
Spring Lake


Day 17:
We woke to a beautiful morning for our last day in the sierra. We hiked the fairly easy-to-follow use trail over Glacier Pass. From the pass we reversed our first day hike past Monarch Lake down to the trailhead.
We stopped at the ranger station to report a possible fire to the south of Chagoopa plateau, but were meant with disinterest. Later I read toejam’s trip report about a fire in this area on Aug 26. This could be what we had noticed starting several days earlier.
From there we headed to Silver City for a well deserved lunch and to celebrate a successful circumnavigation of the Kaweah Mountains.



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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby texan » Sun Oct 06, 2013 2:44 pm

Thanks for sharing TR with the pics. The Mineral King area is a great place to visit.

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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby justm » Sun Oct 06, 2013 6:11 pm

Really nice pics, I've never backpacked in that area. Thanks for the map pick to !
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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby LMBSGV » Sun Oct 06, 2013 8:06 pm

Wonderful read and photos of one of my favorite places on the planet. I'm quite interested in your route from Red Spur to Chagoopa Plateau since I am seriously planning a future trip out of Mineral King to Picket Creek Lake, Kaweah Basin and Red Spur. Thanks for posting.
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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby Bluewater » Mon Oct 07, 2013 12:26 pm

Thanks for posting your tr and photos. It sounds like you had a great trip with a good mix of trail and cross country. I wasn't aware of the route over Red Spur and I would be interested if you have any more details. The descent on the west side of Red Spur looks challenging, especially in a thunderstorm! :thumbsup:
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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby giantbrookie » Mon Oct 07, 2013 1:39 pm

Nice report of a trip on a truly grand scale with some wonderful vistas, along with those seldom visited places (Kaweah Basin and especially Red Spur). Indeed 'wrapping around the corner' out of Red Spur makes sense, given that Kaweah Pass is really bad news---my unfavorite class 2 pass of all time (hazardous, loose, steep, large talus---slope starts creaking and shifting far above you when you ascend it--spooky).
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR:Circumnavigation of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Traverse

Postby snowpatch » Wed Oct 09, 2013 8:44 pm

I am happy to see some interest in the Red Spur basin traverse. The traverse is a fun and scenic route, and offers an alternate access to the Kaweah basin. I hope my report inspires others to explore this unique area. You certainly will find solitude there.

Pre-trip I received so munch helpful advice from people on this forum. The report was my way of saying thank you.

I will be happy to answer any specific question on the route. I think an experience hiker would have no trouble making their way through this area.

For the section from Picket Creek lake through Chagoopa plateau we carried a 1:24,000 scale topo map. I purchased a custom topo map from MyTopo. It was helpful to have better detail for this portion of our route. The Tom Harrison map was adequate for the other sections of cross country travel.

We carried and used a GPS. It was helpful, but probably not essential. It was fun to know exactly where we were, and great for recording our trip. If you are good with map and compass, that should suffice. The route sort of speaks for itself once you are in the terrain.

If you aren’t carrying a GPS, it may help to know that our Red Spur Basin camp was located at the 10,746 foot elevation. We found a flat spot to camp just north of the creek running below the most southern tarn in Red Spur Basin. This camp is an ideal location to set up for a Red Spur crossing the next morning.

336 RSB camp.JPG
Red Spur Basin Camp


The descent from Red Spur Ridge to Red Spur Creek is way easier than it looks in the photo. Most of it is class 1. Think sandy plunge step descent. There is about a 40 foot section of class 2 at the weakness in the cliff. The key is to know that there is a way down, and you will find it.

370 reached the bottom.JPG
Rod descends break in the cliff.



If you hike with poles, I recommend bringing along some rubber tip covers to use for the Red Spur section of the hike.

The direction in which we traveled through Red Spur Basin is likely the easier way to hike this route. (Kaweah Basin to Red Spur Basin, then head south.) Our hike over Red Spur shoulder started with medium stable talus. Then it transitioned to smaller fairly stable talus. By that I mean, there was the occasional loose rock. It may be tedious to descend that section with the occasional unstable rock. In my opinion, far easier to ascend that slope.

When the hiking becomes too rocky, head downslope. When traversing Red Spur Basin, this means heading eastward. For Chagoopa plateau, head south down Red Spur Creek until you reach less rocky terrain, then head ESE. We aimed to hit the High Sierra trail near the fork in the trail. Using a compass we intersected the trail only about 20 feet east of our goal.
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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby snowpatch » Wed Oct 09, 2013 8:50 pm

I meant to write "head WSW on the Chagoopa plateau".

Here is another photo showing the descent to Chagoopa plateau. This one is above the cliff.
369 descending to red spur creek.JPG
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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby LMBSGV » Thu Oct 10, 2013 9:17 pm

Thank you for posting the additional description and photos of the Red Spur traverse. With your route map, it gives a good idea of where you went and what’s involved. The last photo makes me want to do it.
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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby Mike M. » Thu Oct 10, 2013 11:54 pm

Me too! Especially after reading Rogue's description of his accident while descending Kaweah Pass -- very, very loose rock.

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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby toejam » Wed Oct 16, 2013 5:18 am

I really enjoyed this report and the follow-ups. Thanks for sharing!
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Re: TR: Circumnavigaion of the Kaweahs with Red Spur Basin Trave

Postby cgundersen » Sun Mar 30, 2014 3:16 pm

Hi snowpatch,
Thanks for the terrific report! It had to take a lot of planning to get everything organized from BC and then make the trip happen. For me, it's challenging enough just getting up to the Sierra from LA. But, I have been looking at getting back to Kaweah basin for several years, and your report probably convinced me to try to include the Red Spur area. Based on the dearth of reports in HST, it does have to be among the least visited regions in the Sierra. However, if the dry weather eliminated the myriad ponds that littered Kaweah basin when I was there in 2009, you may want to aim for a return trip someday; although, you did get that spectacular head on view of the "backside" of the Kaweahs, the cascade of mini-ponds is another memorable feature. I was also impressed by the fact that the Red Spur terrain looked very similar to most of Picket Guard (PG) basin. When I went through PG basin, it was the same sort of rock jumble with hardly a spot big enough to accommodate a tent. I'm also impressed that you guys handled the weather so well, but I guess that you have a bit more experience than LA wimps.
Cheers,
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