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Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Tue Mar 18, 2014 11:17 am
by papercup
Hello HST,

I am hoping to tap into a bit of this community's knowledge for assistance in planning a six-day trip I plan to take with my wife in mid-to-late-August. I have a few possible itineraries in mind, with one front-runner. I'd love any comments or advice that you might have regarding the feasibility of the plans, sights not to be missed, potential alternative destinations, etc. I have read many fabulous trip reports in the archives here, and they've helped to inform my thoughts about where to go.

About us:

Backpacking experience: Level 3, numerous backpacking trips, some cross country. Most of our cross-country experience involves peakbagging, or exploring off-trail portions of basins or drainages that we've accessed largely via trails.

What terrain are we comfortable with: Class 2 terrain for sure, some easyish class 3 with limited exposure is doable. Both of us generally handle altitude well, although of course there are no guarantees.

What is our main interest: Big mountain scenery and lakes, mostly. We also want to push ourselves a little bit with some cross-country travel; a major goal is to visit and explore an off-trail basin. Bagging a peak and/or a cross-country pass would be icing on the cake. Beautiful campsites are a plus.

Days/nights: 6 days, 5 nights. We will have to pick up our permit the morning of the first day, and will have to drive back home after hiking out on the sixth day.

Miles/day: We are both capable of hiking 15 miles and several thousand feet of ascent, on-trail, in a day, probably more if we push ourselves. We'd probably rather not go quite that hard every day. Full layover days are not necessary, but we do want to explore our surroundings rather than just blaze down trails as fast as possible.

Route logistics: Loops or lollipops are always nice, but we can be flexible.

Area: Probably SEKI or adjacent, as we're coming from the south and like big mountains. No dogs.

The areas I've been thinking of are:

Wright Lakes and Wallace Lake area. Something like: Hike partway up Shepherd Pass trail the first day, then go over Shepherd Pass, over the ridge between Tawny Point and Mount Tyndall, and camp somewhere among the Wright Lakes on day 2. Climb Tyndall via the southwestern slopes on day 3, then descend and move camp in the direction of Wallace Lake. On day 4, head up to Lake Tulainyo and explore the area-- maybe climb Barnard, or Morgensen, or climb the Russell-Carillon pass and climb Mount Carillon, depending on what seems most feasible and interesting. Mount Russell is probably out of our range. Spend days 5 and 6 heading back out via Shepherd Pass. I'd LOVE to cross Russell-Carillon Pass and exit to Whitney Portal, but it's too late to get Whitney Zone permits, so that probably won't work. Lots of off-trail here, but it's so high and barren that it seems like navigation should be fairly straightforward. Something like this is currently the leader in the clubhouse.

Ionan Basin area via Lamarck Col: I've always been fascinated by this area, and it meets the "off-trail basin" and "cross-country pass" requirements. Downsides are that I'm just not sure that we'd have enough time to see everything I'd want to see in this area-- I'd love to climb Mount Goddard and the Black Giant, to at least peer down Goddard Canyon and the Enchanted Gorge, to spend a day wandering the Ionan Basin. Maybe best saved for a longer trip in the future.

Mount Kaweah and the Kaweah Basin: Looks incredible, but accessing the Kaweah Basin looks like it may be dicey given our level of experience. The various passes seem challenging, and I'm not sure that we have the route-finding ability to navigate our way in via the eastern creeks.

Deadman Canyon / Cloud Canyon / Tablelands: Also looks very cool, but a little shorter on lakes and big mountains. Haven't quite pieced together an itinerary that looks like it hits as many highlights as consistently as some of the options further east.

Mount Langley / Miter region: I'd love to do a trip up one of the Army Passes, up Langley, to the Miter Basin, over Crabtree Pass, and out via Whitney Portal. Sadly, again this requires a Whitney permit that I may not be able to get. Maybe it's doable as a loop-- Army to Miter to Crabtree and back over Army, with a side-trip to Langley on the return. Downside is that we've been in this area before, although not up Langley and not deep into Miter.

Sixty Lakes / Gardiner Basins: Look very cool, and probably appropriate for our experience level. I've done the Kearsarge trek a few times already, so a little less excited to do it again.

Palisade Basin / Upper Basin / Split Mountain: Great looking option, except I'm already tentatively planning on trying for Split in July. If those plans change, maybe this comes back on the table.

Edit: Sorry this is so long!

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:11 pm
by maverick
Hi Papercup,

All the places you mention have their unique qualities, and offer exquisite scenery.
Since mountain scenery and lakes are your main interest with peaking bagging as an
additional bonus, your first trip to Wallace Basin has everything you could want.
Accessing Kaweah Basin from the east is not very difficult, the traverse up to Picket
Guard Lake across from Kern Point is pretty straight forward and jumping the ridge
into Kaweah Basin is easy. Follow the creek down to the last lake in Kaweah Basin
and stay on the southern side of the creek, and head down to near Rockslide Lake
but as you mention this trip may be better once you are a little more comfortable
with your route finding skills.
The Ionian Basin trip would be more suitable as you mention as part of a longer trip.

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:47 pm
by papercup
Thanks Maverick. Glad to know that I'm making some amount of sense.

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:53 pm
by oleander
Call the information center in Lone Pine. I'm not 100% sure, but if memory serves from my trip last year, following a conversation with said information center:

The Whitney "exit" permit applies only to those who wish to exit to Whitney Portal via the MAIN TRAIL from the top of Whitney. If you are exiting to Whitney Portal via the Mountaineering Route or Russell-Carrillon Col, you do not reserve an "exit" permit, but instead, a "visiting the Whitney Zone" permit.

And the "visiting" permit is not subject to limitations. You just apply for the usual spots drawn from the Shepard Pass quote. When the system asks what type of permit you are applying for, instead of the usual "trail" or "cross-country" permit, you choose the "visiting Whitney Zone" designation.

We exited via the Mountaineering Route last year, having entered at Cottonwood Pass. The only thing we had to do to comply with Visiting Whitney Zone regs was to carry and use a Wag Bag through there.

All that said, the Russell-Carrillon Col (which I have not been to personally) and the Ebersbacher Ledges near the bottom of the Mountaineering Route (which I did do last year) might be more than you want to take on, given your current stated ability and comfort level with x-country. Personally I found the Ledges to be highly exposed for something rated a Class 3. I really did not like going down them with a full pack in spite of the fact that we carry very lightweight loads (my end-of-trip load is well under 20 pounds). Usually we are pretty comfortable with Class 3 and find it fun, but this time, not really.

- Elizabeth

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2014 9:34 am
by papercup
Thanks Elizabeth, that's very helpful. I'll see what I can find out.

I'm not too worried about the pass, in part because I've seen pictures that make me feel reasonably confident that I can do it, and in part because, if it does turn out to be beyond me, I should have enough time to turn back and exit some other way. The ledges worry me a little more because I'd be crossing them on the last day of the trip, too late to turn around without blowing my schedule. I've seen pictures and trip reports that make them look doable for me, but of course the people who are writing up those reports are much more experienced than I am, so have to keep that in mind as well.

Turns out that I have a little more time to play with than I thought-- 7 days, with an extra day off work at the end, so I have a little more flexibility. Considering a bunch of options-- maybe just spending more time in the Wallace/Wright area, maybe adding a Thor Peak trip, maybe making this a shuttle loop, exiting via one of the Army passes, with a trip up Langley on the way, maybe exploring the area northwest of the basin a bit? Pretty excited no matter how it shakes out.

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2014 9:48 am
by oleander
If you're considering an exit via Army or Cottonwood Pass, you can add another fabulous x-country section to your trip by doing the following:

From the JMT, walk up the Crabtree Lakes basin
Cross Crabtree Pass
Descend Miter Basin, past Sky Blue Lake
Re-join trail at or near Lower Soldier Lake

All doable at your stated skill/comfort level. The crux here is Crabtree Pass. Steep going up, but not scary. Descending the south side, don't try to walk directly down from the lake halfway between the pass and Sky Blue. You'll get cliffed out. Instead, once you are about 200 vertical feet above that lake, traverse way over west almost to a little lakes basin, and then turn and descend their outlet stream southeast down to Sky Blue.

- Elizabeth

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2014 12:53 pm
by papercup
Awesome. I had been thinking about that route-- glad to hear that you think it's reasonable. Thanks!

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2014 3:17 pm
by Ska-T
All your plans are good. No one has said anything about a Gardiner Basin loop so far, so I will.

Gardiner Basin 1.jpg
Gardiner Basin 2.jpg
Gardiner Basin 3.jpg
Start at Onion Valley. Go over Kearsarge Pass, past Charlotte Lake, then cross country over Gardiner Pass. Explore the nooks and crannies of Gardiner Basin and climb a peak or two if you like. Go over Sixty Lake Col to Sixty Lake Basin and explore that area if you have time. Exit Sixty Lake Basin to the JMT by Basin Notch down to Arrowhead Lake or by trail to Rae Lakes. For a little more solitude than the JMT camp at Dragon Lake.

From there you can go out via Glen Pass and Kearsarge Pass or if you have tons of energy (highly unlikely by this time) you could try Gould Pass/Dragon Pass.

-Scott in HB, CA

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2014 4:08 pm
by papercup
Thanks Scott. Those are beautiful pictures; way prettier than I anticipated. Keeping this in mind in case Wright/Wallace doesn't work out for some reason, or just for other trips in the future.

Re: Trip Advice -- 6 day, 2 person trip

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2014 5:55 pm
by Ska-T
papercup wrote:way prettier than I anticipated.
Gardiner Basin surpassed my preconceptions, too. It can be lush lower down . . .
Gardiner Basin 4.JPG
mixed in the middle . . .
Gardiner Basin 5.JPG
and rugged higher up . . .
Gardiner Basin 8.jpg