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TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 6:38 pm
by Bluewater
Blackcap Basin - Lake Confusion Pass - Goddard Canyon - Ionian Basin - Finger Col
shoulder season in ionian basin overview map.JPG
(Click for full size map)

This trip was partly inspired by Wandering Daisy's TR from a few years ago about some of the same areas. I've read and re-read many of the TR's that have been posted here on HST over the years.

This area of the Sierra is special to me so I included some of the history behind the trip. Much of the details have been conveniently left out to preserve the 'secret spots' (that I'm sure we all have). . .

Day 1:

Over the past twenty years my brother Jeff has organized annual backpacking trips in the Sierras for our varied group of lifetime friends. Even as the group has scattered around California and beyond he has found beautiful places for us to meet. A few years ago he scouted out a cross-country route to a secret spot he discovered in the Sierras. . . but the rugged terrain and desire for some dude time meant it was a guys-only trip.

I will never forget struggling down loose granite slopes in my old boots to this new Sierra destination. As I ran out of water, carried way too much gear and even forgot to bring enough food I realized it was time to rethink my backpacking strategy. Although it was a challenging trip (I ended up loosing several toe nails) that time in the back-country reignited my enthusiasm for exploring the High Sierra. The guys spent most days lounging by the granite pools and waterfalls but I went wandering up the river, always wondering what was beyond the next ridge.

Fast forward a few years and I was ready to take my own cross country trip far up that same river. . . and beyond.

This trip was originally planned to be a ten day journey on the Sierra High Route but a last minute family emergency meant I had to reschedule for late September and into October. At that time of year the forecast called for snowstorms in the middle of the trip. I brought an extra warm 20 degree quilt, rain and snow gear and a winter shelter.

I entered the Sierra from the west via the Maxson Meadows trailhead near Courtwright Reservoir. It was late afternoon by the time I arrived and with only a few hours of daylight left I decided to set out cross country towards the North Fork Kings River. By 7:00 pm it was already too dark to continue so I found the nearest level spot and slept under the stars.
The next morning was warm and clear and I got an early start up the granite slabs along the North Fork Kings River toward the Blackcap Basin Trail. Instead of taking the mostly forested Blackcap Basin Trail ten miles to where it meets the North Fork Kings River I decided to take a six mile cross country route along the river. From the USGS topo maps and photos on Google Earth it looked like there was a clear route all the way along the river to the where it meets the Blackcap Basin Trail. . . except for one place where the canyon narrows with steep granite walls on either side.

Secor's guidebook warns that this cross country route, "is for experienced cross-country hikers only" and I figured after completing much of the Sierra High Route I would be fine. The first part of the morning hike was fun, just basic boulder scrambling and hiking along the smooth granite sidewalks.
After a short time the canyon started to narrow. Since the water level was low this time of year it was possible to just hop from boulder to boulder in the middle of the river bed. . . but eventually the canyon became very narrow and it cliffed out on either side. I could either swim across or try to climb along the sides. The left side was vertical and there was no way around without technical climbing gear.

Fortunately the right side looked better. After studying the various cracks on the wall it looked like there might be a route up and over the right side. I was excited to keep going and relieved that I wouldn't have to go back down the canyon to search for another route.
I spent a long time studying the cracks on the canyon wall, trying to find a safe route to the top. Even though it looked easy the wall quickly got very steep the higher I got. After trying several different cracks I finally found what looked like a route up the middle of the right wall. A small tree branch was growing out of a crack along the way and since it looked like it had been used as a foothold before I figured I was on the right track.

I couldn't tell from below but once I got about two thirds of the way up I found a section where the footholds disappeared. I was able to reach the next hand hold with my right hand but I would need to let go of my left hand and foot to reach the next foothold. . . and I wasn't sure if that next foothold was solid. I looked down to check the exposure before taking such a risky move and I was surprised how far I had come and how steep the wall had become. After a few steep ledges the wall finally reached the river about twenty five feet below.

I weighed my options. If I could just make it past this section I would be home free. There was a clear route along the wall just past the next crack. Climbing back down didn't look safe so after getting a good grip on the right handhold I reached for the foothold with my right foot.

Unfortunately the right foothold gave way and I instantly found myself hanging from my right hand. I couldn't believe my stupidity. I looked down again. I actually said, "now I'm hanging from this wall, come on?!?!". I was still wearing my pack with six days of food, about 22 lbs.

I reached for the crack with my left hand but it was at an angle which made it difficult to grip. I tried to pull myself up several times but each time I lost the grip with my left hand. My right hand was getting loose. Eventually I lost the right hand hold and started to fall down the wall.

There was enough time to turn onto my side before sliding over the first ledge. After that I started to really pick up speed. During this longer section before the next ledge I remember thinking that I would probably end up with a broken leg. I slid onto my back before going over the next ledge. This time I managed to land on my left foot. I tried to run straight down the wall but when I started to tumble head first I pulled back and landed on my back before going over the last ledge.

I finally came to a stop on the boulders next to the river. I took a quick breath and checked myself for injuries. With the exception of various cuts, abrasions, bruises and a twisted ankle I was fine. My pack must have provided some padding along the way. I cleaned up, using everything in my first aid kit, and slowly started back down the canyon.

Later I discovered a large cut and abrasion on my left hip, probably the result of going over the first ledge on my side. I used my remaining baby wipes to clean it but I didn't have a bandage large enough to cover it. For the rest of the trip my long johns would stick to the abrasion during the night. My daily routine included separating the the fabric from the abrasion each morning.
I followed the river downstream and after finding a better route I was leisurely walking along the ridge far above the river. The rest of the way to the junction with the Blackcap Basin Trail was a mix of easy granite benches and some bushwhacking through dense forest. I hiked through sunset and setup camp in the trees. I usually like to camp above treeline to enjoy the views, but at the lower elevation the trees provided some protection from the storms in the forecast.
(to be continued)

Re: TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 7:07 pm
by rlown
physics. why were so high on the slab?

Re: TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 7:41 pm
by Bluewater
I was being an idiot. I wanted to just keep going, and the final step was so close, but not close enough.

Re: TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 9:14 pm
by maverick
Not an idiot, just a miscalculation, and a learning experience. I was trying to get
over a section of steep granite several years ago that unfortunately would have
stopped me from being able to continue on my path, but no matter how much
rock climbing skill one may possess hiking boot/shoes are just not close to as
sticky or grip the rock the same way, so when getting about half way I started
to slide and had to use my bare fingers/hands to arrest my slide which gave my
some nice friction burns on some of my fingers and plams. :\

Re: TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 7:01 am
by Rockchucker
Waiting for part two.......

Thanks great report so far!

Re: TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 8:15 am
by AaronRDavis
Awesome report.. I want to do almost this exact trip this summer. Probably start from Wishon though.

Re: TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 10:08 am
by Electra
You are a lucky dude. Glad you avoided more serious injury. Steep slabs are notorious in making idiots out of even conservative folks. Looking forward to the next installment...

TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 8:14 pm
by Bluewater
Thanks for your responses everyone. This trip started out a little rough but it was all worth it, as always! Day 2 on the way.

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:59 pm
by Bluewater
Day 2:

The next morning I headed up the Blackcap Basin Trail. At 9,600 feet I set out cross country up the granite slopes toward Rainbow Lake. The views of the White Divide and Finger Peak gradually opened up to the east.
I reached the sandy shoreline of Rainbow Lake and by sunset I was ready for a cold night at 11,000 feet. I could see the storm clouds filling Blackcap Basin below. Eventually the clouds rolled right over my camp and it got COLD. . . 23 degrees that night.
In the morning my shelter was covered in frost, which made it look like an igloo. After waiting for my gear to dry I headed toward Lake Confusion Pass, just above my camp. The view from Lake Confusion was stunning. There is a large 900 foot drop-off on the opposite side of the lake down to Goddard Canyon. Emerald Peak, Peter Peak, Mt. McGee and Mt. Goddard were all visible across the other side of the lake.
(to be continued)

Re: TR: Shoulder Season in Ionian Basin ~ October 2013

Posted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 5:10 pm
by Rockchucker
I really enjoying you pictures, thanks.

Is that a duomid?