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TR: August 2013 Solo Hike to the Whaleback (and Back)

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TR: August 2013 Solo Hike to the Whaleback (and Back)

Postby Mike M. » Wed Mar 12, 2014 10:32 pm

Better late then never! Here's a trail report for a leisurely 14 day solo hike I did in August 2013. The primary objective of this hike was to take digital photos of The Whaleback from Glacier Lake, at the head of Cloud Canyon, which offers an unusual and very beautiful perspective looking down at the undulating spine of the Sierra's own Moby Dick. I'd been there several times before, but never with a digital camera.

The trip started at the Kearsarge Pass trailhead in Onion Valley on August 13th. I spent the night before at the Onion Valley campground, where the friendly campground host showed me the last available walk-in camp, hidden from view up above the other camps. A very nice spot.

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That evening, after the last of the day hikers cleared out, I was able to claim a primo parking spot very close to the trailhead, which made it easy to get started on the trail early the next morning.

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If you catch the first switchbacks early in the morning, it's an easy hike up to Kearsarge Pass even for this old fart. This is a heavily used trail, with many dayhikers, but the pass offers easy access to the high country and is a favorite for many hikers hooking up with the JMT, either heading north to Rae Lakes or south over Forester Pass. The pass sports one of the longest switchbacks in the Sierra.

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But the reward for that unsightly ultra long zig is country that looks like this:

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I found a very private campsite in the trees to the the very left of this photo, up the hill a bit from the outlet of the middle lake, with a nice view of the lake.

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I've been hiking in the Sierra for over 40 years and this was about as dry as I've ever seen it. The water at the first lake was a little sketchy (I'm always a little leery about water sources in heavily used areas like this and don't carry a water filter), so I ended up getting water from the middle lake. It had been a warm, bright and sunny day. I was treated to a nice sunset.

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I cowboy camped that night, which is my preference, and woke up to another perfect day.

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This day and the next were easy days, giving me time to acclimate for the big climb over Forester Pass. I walked down to Bullfrog Lake . . .

. . . and continued down to the John Muir Trail junction, then down the Vidette switchbacks and up Bubbs Creek to upper Vidette Meadow, where I was treated to an exquisite sunset. Once again, not a cloud in the sky this day.

. . . to be continued
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Last edited by Mike M. on Sat Mar 15, 2014 5:31 pm, edited 3 times in total.



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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Wed Mar 12, 2014 11:02 pm

Day 2 continued . . .

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Day 3 was like a layover day. I hiked just a few miles up Bubbs Creek to the Center Basin junction. Just a little ways beyond this junction is a bearbox and a collection of campsites on a bluff overlooking a bend in the creek, with a nice view down the canyon. I found a secluded campsite away from the bluff and spent the day reading and taking photos both up and down the creek.

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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Mar 13, 2014 10:18 am

I hope there is more! Great photos. I wonder if we crossed paths when I was there same time of year.
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Tom_H » Thu Mar 13, 2014 10:36 am

Thanks for the TR. Really enjoyed the photos.
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:00 pm

Thank you -- more to come . . .

Mike
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:11 pm

WD wrote:
I wonder if we crossed paths when I was there same time of year.

Possibly. While in Cloud Canyon, I did run into a couple who were hiking down from Glacier Lake, where they had spent the night after climbing Triple Divide Peak. I was headed up there the next day and we briefly talked about the lone usable camping site at Glacier Lake. Was that you?

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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:46 pm

TR continued . . .

Day 4 brought clouds and changing weather. I woke up to this view:

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Perfect hiking weather for the long, beautiful hike up to Forester Pass.

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A trail crew was working on the trail on the south side of the pass, preparing to insert a steel girder under the trail to fortify an unstable area near the east side of the summit chute. The girder had been helicoptered in the day before. I talked briefly with Ranger Dena, the Tyndall Creek backcountry ranger, who had dayhiked up to check things out.

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This is wide open, gorgeous country -- Forester has always been one of my favorite passes, and it's a good thing, since I would have to hike over it again later in the hike.

A view back to the pass as I headed down toward Tyndall Creek, a storm brewing:

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To be continued . . .
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Jason » Thu Mar 13, 2014 3:39 pm

Sweet report! Looking forward to more.
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Thu Mar 13, 2014 4:35 pm

Thank you Jason -- it's fun to do these, but a lot of work!

Mike
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby iHartMK » Thu Mar 13, 2014 4:43 pm

Awesome!..
Living On Kaweah Time
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:28 pm

Day 4 continued . . .

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I headed down to Tyndall Creek as the clouds began to spit. It didn't rain much, but looked threatening. Here's a view towards Mt. Tyndall from the JMT, taken about 2 miles north of the Tyndall Creek crossing.

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I camped just south of the creek crossing, just a few yards from the junction with the trail that leads to the Tyndall Creek ranger station. As I watched the clouds dissipate and made my dinner, trail workers filtered past, making their way back to their camp in the Tyndall Creek watershed. I caught a great sunset that evening:

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The next morning (Day 5) was bright and sunny. I loaded up the pack and left the JMT, heading down the Tyndall Creek trail, in forest cover with occasional open meadows.

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Soon I came to the Tyndall Creek patrol cabin, where I said hi to Ranger Dena who was enjoying a Saturday off.

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Further down the trail, I came across a few other old log cabins.

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I passed the trail worker camp, saw their grazing stock, and soon the the trail leaves the drainage, ascending a low ridge, positioning itself for a steep plunge down to the Kern River drainage. This part of the trail is very steep and poorly maintained; there are lots of washouts.

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Once past the steep section, the trail swings north into Manzanita country and meets up with the Kern River trail via well preserved switchbacks that remind me of those you see as you begin your climb up to Dusy Basin from LeConte Canyon.

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Once down to the Kern River trail, it is an easy hike, mostly shaded, down to the junction with the Wallace Creek trail. I saw a few more cabin ruins on the way down. From here, it is a hot, sun-exposed walk down to Junction Meadow, with good views across to the Kern-Kaweah watershed and tomorrow's route.

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Junction Meadow is outsized -- big trees (beware of falling pine cones!) and huge campsites -- and a little claustrophobic, coming from the wide-open expanses of the alpine country surrounding Forester Pass. The river was very low.

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To be continued . . .
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Thu Mar 13, 2014 8:59 pm

Trail report continued . . .

Huge pine tree near my camp . . .

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And a little further down the trail, a rare decidious tree at 8,000 feet. Anyone know what kind of tree this is?

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Day 6 -- Another beautiful morning. I was on the trail early, crossing the Kern to link up with the Colby Pass trail. (I was able to easily rock hop across without getting my boots wet.) This is a dramatic trail, which ascends the sandy shoulder to the right of the granite knob just north of the Kern-Kaweah. The lower section offers beautiful views of the Kern-Kaweah just before it spills into the Kern. As you move higher up and away from the river, views of the Kaweah watershed open up. The trail passes the granite knob on the right and climbs climbs a little further to a small plateau, where you spectacular views looking east as well as west.

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That's the Wallace Creek trail in the distance.

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The trail then descends sharply to the banks of the Kern-Kaweah, near Rockslide Lake, which is really just a wide, slow leg of the river. It follows the river upstream towards Gallats lake, offering views of the creeks that spill down from the upper Kaweah Basin and Pickett Creek drainages.

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You pass a boggy area rich with wildflowers . . .

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Not far from where you would turn left to head up to Pickett Guard Lake is a series of pools and falls.

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