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

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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Thu Mar 13, 2014 8:46 pm

Day 6 continued . . .

I stopped at Gallats Lake (it's actually a big meadow with a meandering creek) and found a flat spot to camp, up a ways from the meadow. Just as I finished lunch, it starting raining hard. I threw a trash bag over my pack, put on my poncho and headed over to a thick cove of trees a few hundred yards away. I hung out under the cover of the trees all afternoon, reading my book. The rain finally began to lighten up by 5:30, allowing me to cook up dinner, but it never cleared competely, so I broke down and set up my new ultralight Easton tent for the first time.

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The sky never cleared that night; it rained quite a bit, but I was snug as a bug in my tent. This is what it looked like the next morning:

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

Postby Mike M. » Fri Mar 14, 2014 2:05 pm

Red sky in the morning . . . never a good sign.

The sky did clear to some degree and I loafed around a few hours while the tent dried out, then packed up and headed up the trail. It's an easy, pretty hike along the meadow, then the trail splits off to the right and ascends very steeply through thick forest into the Milestone Bowl/Colby Pass watersheds. The grade relents at about the 10,800' level, as you near the crest of the first ridge, where the country opens up. Great views back at the Kaweahs and forward toward the pass:

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The trail meets the creek, staying to the right of the creek. In places, it becomes faint (scoured, I suppose, by heavy snow drifts over the years) and is easy to lose; just continue up and slightly to the left and traces of the trail can be found. As you move higher up, the trail is visible, obvious, an in decent shape.

Near the summit of the pass, the view back to the Kaweahs looked foreboding:

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Nice views of Colby Lake from the pass, but it was cold and obviously getting ready to pour. Note the smoke from a forest fire in the distance.

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As I headed down the pass it began to rain hard. Huge claps of thunder echoed off the granite walls. I stopped, put my poncho on and then resumed the load and continued down the trail. Halfway down the summit switchbacks I encountered a bare-chested Italian hiker with a climber's pack, drenched to the bone but chugging up the trail with a smile on his face. More lightning and thunder followed as I continued down the trail; the rain intensified. I rolled into camp at about 3:00 PM; there was another tent set up where I wanted to camp, but no sign of people. I chose another site nearby and hung out all afternoon under the relative cover of trees, reading. I ate on my feet, a soggy lunch of cheese, crackers, and nuts. The rain did not let up until after 5:00, a brief weather window that allowed me set up my tent and cook dinner. I visited the neighbors up the hill (a nice couple who had hiked in from the west side and had a very elaborate, tunnel-like tent that I assume must have weighed a ton). Then the rain came again and I retired for the night, snug and dry again in the tent.

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Day 8 started out clear and breezy. Colby Lake was churning, so no glassy photos of the lake this trip.

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to be continued . . .
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Last edited by Mike M. on Fri Mar 14, 2014 7:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Fri Mar 14, 2014 4:25 pm

I waited a while to let things dry out, then harnessed up and headed down the trail. It felt nice to feel the warm sun on my face and the day was fresh and bright. The trail down to Cloud Canyon is well built and scenic, offering nice views up the gully on the rarely visited east side of the Whaleback, as well as colorful views looking down Cloud Canyon to Big Wet Meadow.

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Where the trail intersects with Cloud Canyon, I had a short snack, then headed south up the canyon in meadowy terrain. I crossed the creek and stayed on the east side of the creek for several miles, easily avoiding any obstacles. At timberline, I crossed the creek again and started looking for campsites. As expected, there was significant cloud build up and I knew we were in for another drenching. I wanted to set up camp in time for a dry lunch. I spent about an hour scouting for a suitable camp site, then stumbled on the perfect site on a slabby bench above the creek, with good protection from wind if I needed it. It was only after lunch that I discovered how great this site was -- at least for this particular day. It started to rain shortly after lunch and I went looking for a rock to shelter under. I found a nice spot and spent some time there reading as it rained lightly. During a brief spell in the rain, I did some more exploring and found a perfect shelter from the storm not more than a hundred yards from my sleep site -- a slab cave that allowed me to stand up completely protected from the elements. Better yet, there was a dry place to sit down and a lunch counter to boot!

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It stormed all afternoon and substantial cloud cover remained at dusk. Once again, I set up my tent. There were a few sprinkles that night but I don't think it rained much.

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

Postby Mike M. » Sat Mar 15, 2014 2:55 pm

TR continued . . .

My itinerary called for me to camp at Glacier Lake on Day 9 (August 21st), but the area is exposed, with only one decent site big enough for a tent. I knew more rain was coming and I had such a primo campsite -- and a perfect natural rain shelter -- that I decided to layover and hope for better weather on the 22nd. So this was a lazy, kick-back day. Sometime in the morning a pair of hikers came through camp, an older man and woman, having spent the night at Glacier Lake after climbing Triple Divide Peak. They confirmed the one nice camp site at the lake.

I read, explored, took photos, ate, watched the day's storm build, and took shelter in my slab cave. It really poured in the afternoon, with a good show of thunder and lightning. I took a video from my living room in the cave and was able to get a strong thunderclap on the video clip (too big to post here).

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Day 10 dawned bright and sunny and I was itching to get up to Glacier Lake. It was easy walking as the canyon broadened near the headwall. I walked with my headphones on, listening to NPR interviews. One of the interviews was especially memorable and I still associate this section of the hike with Terri Gross interviewing Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell together and separately. I took the path of least resistance when I reached the headwall, veering to the left of then above the green patch shown on the map, then swinging to the right (south) on an easy grade through talus and rubble to Glacier Lake. The route is breathtakingly scenic.
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Sat Mar 15, 2014 3:32 pm

It was a bright, sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, but very windy, whipping up whitecaps on the surface of Glacier Lake. Here's a shot of Triple Divide Pass, the next day's route, with Glacier Lake in the foreground:

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There is a sheltered flat area, big enough for a tent, near the lake that someone took the time to clear of rocks years ago and I set up camp there. My first few times here, in the late 1970's, this site did not exist -- I slept those times on a narrow strip of broken-up shale. So this spot felt like I was living in high style. A few feet away from my protected area and blasted by wind, was an expansive view of Cloud Canyon, including the coveted shot of the Whaleback. I got some nice shots and although it would have been better if we had had the typical late afternoon cloud build up, I wasn't complaining.
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Sat Mar 15, 2014 4:03 pm

TR continued . . .

Day 11 (August 23rd) was another wonderful day in the Sierra. It was bright and clear, not as windy as the day before. I ate my breakfast perched on a ridge looking out toward Glacier Ridge and Elizabeth Pass.

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Two views of Glacier lake as I headed up to Triple Divide Pass:

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Like many cross country passes in the Sierra, this one looks steeper than it is. It was a short, easy hike to the top -- was especially easy because I was carrying so little weight, with only three more days to go. I ate the last half of my last Milky Way Dark chocolate bar and enjoyed the awesome views.

West:

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North:

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East:

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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby oldranger » Sat Mar 15, 2014 4:11 pm

Mike

Thanks for taking me back to my Roaring River Ranger days. Need to scan my old pics from the 80s.

I too have dodged thunderstorms in Cloud Canyon and remember fondly camping at Colby Lake with my family, including my two year old son (now 27).

Please do a little research on lightning safety. Camping under cantilevered rocks or in the mouth of caves is not particularly safe as you would be the path the lightning would choose to follow if it were to strike the rock directly above you. I learned this lesson second hand when I was the roaring river ranger. Right along the trail beside lower Bubbs Creek (just below the sphinx creek bridge as I recall) a man took shelter under cantilevered rocks much as you did. Unfortunately the top rock was struck by lightning and the man was killed. Apparently you are safer in a tent with metal poles that will channel the electricity around you. Of course there is still no guarantee. Anyhow do your own research.

Mike
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike

Postby Mike M. » Sat Mar 15, 2014 4:27 pm

Mike, there's never a guarantee, that's for sure. I don't like being cooped up in a tent, so avoid it when I can. Fortunately, the lightning wasn't that close and I wasn't in a very exposed spot -- no more exposed than my tent would have been, out in the open, carbon fiber poles and all. I did stay dry in comfort and I got a great video. It was really coming down!

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

Postby Rockyroad » Sat Mar 15, 2014 6:48 pm

I really enjoyed reading your TR. Thanks for posting.
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Re: TR: August 2013 Solo Hike to the Whaleback (and Back)

Postby Mike M. » Sat Mar 15, 2014 8:06 pm

TR -- Day 11 continued . . .

The route I took down from Triple Divide Pass was a steep boulder hop near the top, demanding careful attention, then a more gentle descent as you ease into the high lake basin directly below the pass. The views back to the pass were impressive. Here's the boulder field near the top of the pass:

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And a more open view further down the basin:

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Note that this is not one of the standard routes described by Secor.

At about 11,120' is a pretty lake, where I stopped for water.

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The outlet stream to this lake tumbles down to the Kern-Kaweah via a steep slot in the canyon wall. Years ago, in another drought year, my youngest brother and I had taken this route and I decided the conditions were similar, so why not? This is class 2-3 travel, not quite as hard as I remember. I had to pass my pack down by nylon cord a few times but only encountered one true class 3 move, made necessary by a bad route finding choice. (I had hurriedly let my pack down by nylon rope at one point without properly scouting the way and found myself trapped, having slithered down what I thought was a possible route, only to find a dead end; I couldn't get back up to my starting point and didn't trust some mossy wet footholds going down. Fortunately, I figured out a third way involving two tricky moves -- a mini traverse around a huge polished boulder with limited exposure. Still, not a wise decision to plunge first rather than properly scout.)

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Soon I was out of the chute. I traversed right to solid ground, then plunged down the hill, crossed the Kern-Kaweah and stopped for lunch.

To be continued . . .
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