Since there have been questions asked about a North Lake- South Lake route through Ionian Basin, I thought this old trip report of my may be helpful. I am not sure I submitted it before. (Moderators- delete this post if it is a duplicate). Unknown to me, the light meter on my camera was not working so I do not have any photos. I believe the trip was in 1997. It was a high snowpack year.
Trail notes: 1997 –North Lake to South Lake: Evolution, Davis Lake, Ionian Basin, Enchanted Gorge, and Palisade Basin.
These are trail notes, minimally edited, from my first major backpack in the High Sierra after moving to California. I left the time and mileage details in this trip report for others who may want to go to this area. My gear at the time was very old and heavy in addition to 15 days of food. The pace was slow. I had heavy mountaineering boots, wooden handled ice axe, 6 pound North Face 2-man tent, a 4 pound zero degree synthetic sleeping bag, wool pants, heavy coated nylon rain jacket, a heavy 35mm Nikon camera, and the blue box 8R stove. It was not until I worked a few years and got kids out of college that I was able to start buying better gear. I looked like something that stepped out of the 1960’s!
Day 1-Sun. 8/25: 7.5 hours, 4.2 miles, 3300 feet gain. Up at 6:15 and packed, deleted 2 pounds of food, and drove to North Lake TH to drop off pack. Drove back to the parking lot and walked up the road. I was on the trail by 7:15. First rest was at 8AM at the junction to Grass Lake. There are some camp spots at this junction. By 9:30 I reached Lower Lemark Lake. The heavy pack is uncomfortable and I can feel the altitude. The views are superb. I passed many good camping spots just after I crossed the creek, which was easy, but could be harder in early season. The area has good smooth granite benches. At mile 2.7, I turned a corner and started up switchbacks then stopped at noon for half-hour rest and lunch. (Here I met a poor college student, who was living in his truck going to Sac State. I was looking to rent a room in my house, so I gave him my address and he did rent the room for a year. Up the trail a bit I ran into two old guys who invited me for whiskey. They had carried lawn chairs and a gallon jug of whiskey. The purpose of their trip was to show each other where each wanted their ashes to be buried! Feeling a bit out of sorts, I declined the cocktail hour.) I arrived at small tarn below Lamark Col at 2:45 after 4.2 miles. I had thought about stopping earlier on the grassy slopes but it was still early. The final push to camp was brutal – altitude and not being able to eat took its toll. The heavy pack did not help as I was in actual pain the last two hours. The tent was set up by 3:30 and tied down well. I started to feel ill, took aspirin and lay down, feeling terrible with nausea and a pounding headache. It started to rain and hail. At 5PM I cooked chicken noodle soup and coffee in hopes the caffeine would help. I guess going to 12,600 feet on the first day one can expect queasiness. By sunset I was feeling human again. Wearing two jackets feels really nice. Glad I brought both. Another set of black clouds started to build overhead. So far no lightning. Clouds coming from the southwest. Not much wind so far. A very bold marmot came into camp. If I had not gotten altitude sick I could have made it over the Col. The whole day’s hike was basically a well-worn, easy to follow path with a few low angle snow fields.
Day 2-Mon. 8/26: Left at 8:30 and reached the top of the Col at 9:00. Easy walk up huge sun-cups. Very windy. Downhill section was very steep. Took a rest at the 5th lake at noon. Beginning to get very windy. Darwin Bench is very beautiful with waterfalls, high meadows but a little late for flowers. As I continued past beautiful clean granite slabs, the bench became more protected with less wind. Micro-environments were exceptionally beautiful. The lower bench is not as spectacular as upper lakes, but more pastoral and mellow. Reached the last lake on Darwin Bench at 1:45 where I found a trail with horse hoof prints. The trail went up over a small ridge, and then lost it. I kept left and ended up on a game trail with obvious cairns. I could see the PCT below the steep slope with lots of cliffs. I reached Sapphire Lake at 4PM and spent half an hour looking for a perfect spot. By 5PM I was set up.
Day 3- Tue. 8/27: Climbed Mt Fisk. Left at 9AM, was on top by 12:30, and left the summit at 1:30. I tried to stay exactly on the ridge on large boulders of clean granite with some 3rd class climbing. Came back down the ridge until forced onto the west side. It looked easy but was rotten rock. Staying on the ridge would have been safer. I was back at lake below Mt Huxley at 3PM. In camp 4:30. I washed my hair and bathed- it felt great to be clean. Mt Huxley looks like a good climb- it presents an impressive view from camp. The class 3 routes on Mt. Darwin and Mt. Mendel look loose. Routes on Darwin Canyon side looked cleaner. The climb was about 5 mile round-trip, 2450 elevation gain. Very rocky with boulder hopping all day.
Day 4- Wed. 8/28: Up at 6:30 and on the trail by 8:15. Very light frost in morning and no wind. Sun hit campsite at 7:45 and aroused a few mosquitoes. Went back downstream to cross at the same spot I used coming in. This was about half mile backtrack, but well worth getting back on the trail. First rest was at 9AM on shady rock bench. A trail crew was working on the trail above the lake. Slow going once off trail and headed towards Davis Lake. Lots of boulders. Not hard, but had to watch every step. Now and then I ran across cairns. There does not appear to be any particular “best” route. All routes are easy but quite tedious. There was a cairned route along the south side of Davis Lake. Went up to lake above Davis lake for lunch at 12:30. This lake has a few very limited uncomfortable campsites. I contemplated going directly to the unnamed lake at 12,000 feet elevation and just north of Goddard Peak but had tons of loose rock and junk so I nixed that idea. I decided instead to drop down to Davis Lake 11052. A waterfall cascaded from the upper lake. At 3:00 I found a great campsite right on the shore. There were no sites farther away. It is a green oasis among the boulders that are a mix of sharp dark metamorphic boulders and clean smoother granite boulders. The travel today was hard on my feet. All the concentration on foot placement made me mentally exhausted and I was glad the day was done. I saw and absolutely huge fish in the lake and tried to catch it; no luck.
Day 5- Thursday 8/29: Left camp at 9:45. Information I read before the trip said that you cannot go around the south side of Davis Lake. I thought I would give it a try. The next mile was the crux. I had to climb up over two sets of cliffs, and go quite high. Much of the time I was just under a cliff. I was then forced to go over a rib onto a grassy ledge that took me to the other side. Then I found a steep grassy slot going down. I took off and lowered my pack and then climbed down stabbing my ice axe into the grass! Then there was a steep snowfield to cross. A fall would put me in the drink! It was 10AM so the snow was soft and perfect to kick steps, but it was still really freaky. The gully on the other side up to the top looked worse than it was. There are several small lakes not shown on the map so map reading was a bit confusing. The traverse around Pt. 12,434 is deceptive. You need to go high and stay left, although the natural trend in the rock is to make you want to go right. I basically stayed under a big cliff. I ended up above the beautiful string of lower lakes and wished I had dropped to these. Not wanting to loose elevation, I stayed high, perhaps a mistake. I went to the large round lake north of Goddard to camp but found not one speck of grass or flat sand- all rock. I called this lake “Lake Disappointment”. The surrounding mountains were nothing but rubble. I dropped back down toward one of the southern small lakes of the string of lower lakes and found a campsite about 150 feet above the lake. A waterfall split into a whole hillside of falls with flowers, moss and beautiful slate rock. You could not professionally landscape anything more breathtaking. I reached my campsite at 3:45 after coming less than 4 miles, but it was all rock and lots of ups and downs. I ended up lost at one point and probably wasted an hour not being has high as I thought I was.
Day 6- Friday 8/30: Climbed Mt Goddard. I left at 7:30 AM and was on top by 9:30. I stayed on top for an hour sunbathing and was back by noon. My route was up one ridge north of the true west ridge and just south of a snow-filled gully. I had eyed the gully for the climb, but it was too icy in the early morning to climb. I washed and read all afternoon. The weather seems to be changing. There was a cool breeze and clouds to the north.
Day 7- Sat. 8/31: Off at 8:15. I passed a small lake at 9:45 and then passed more flat areas on a bench above Lake 11,591. This area has adequate campsites and even has a small stream running through it. The route through Ionian Basin was fairly easy with a definite path but was icy in spots. Lake 11,837 was hard to get around. (Not in my notes- an epic getting down a cornice, posthole and wedged my knee, had to let my pack slide down the slope towards the lake and finally extracted myself! I spent an hour at Lake 11,592 where I found arrowheads south of the lake. I followed the creek to Chasm Lake. There was a snow bridge over the creek almost all the way from Lake 11,592 to Chasm Lake. I reached Chasm Lake at 4PM. Chasm Lake is heaven on earth! I camped near a flat rock where someone had left a huge package of maps.
Day 8 -Sun. 9/1: I started down Enchanted Gorge at 8:45 with a day pack intending only do the upper part and return. There are icy snowfields just down from Chasm Lake. Stopped at small lake at 10:30 to soak feet, fix a blister and drink water. Hit the crux at 11:45. Stopped at top to rest. (Had to do a controlled self-arrest to get down a steep icy snowfield). I decided to just do the loop instead because I did not think I could get back up. Soon I had to cross a snow bridge – seemed solid although it was only a few feet thick (belly rolled over it). I soon had to cross back. I did a lot of side-hilling on steep somewhat exposed slopes above the creek. I had descended to 7600 feet by 2:30. It was very hot, yet at 3:15 I changed from shorts into wool pants for bushwhacking. I left the stream and traversed towards Goddard Creek. At 5:00 I took my first major rest stop to fix my feet and drink a protein powder shake. It took 2.5 hours to go a mile of bushwhacking while traversing. I stayed 200-300 feet above the confluence of Enchanted Gorge and Goddard Creek, finally intersecting Goddard Creek at 7700 at a small wide spot in the creek. It was 6:00 but there were only rocky campsites on my side of the creek. I feared I could fall in the creek if I crossed to better campsites. (I did not make notes, but here a fellow was crossing the creek nearly thigh deep and waving his hands. He and his partner were the owners of the maps I found at Enchanted Gorge. He wanted to look at my map. The other fellow had sprained an ankle and they were on their third day from Enchanted Gorge. ) I continued upstream. The last mile was very rough with lots of brush, very hot, side-hill walking on boulders and one rattlesnake. Goddard Creek is more spectacular than Enchanted Gorge. I had to stay very high on steep talus 200-300 feet above the creek due to cliffs near the creek. I remained on the east side of the creek. As light faded, I reached first trees just above the waterfall (and just down from the outlet of a large lake) at 8PM and soon it was dark. In the dark I gathered grass and wild onions to insulate my “bed” on a rock and built a fire. I slept next to the fire while a large log I had stumbled upon smoldered all night. I did not sleep much but was warm. At one point I got too close to the fire and singed my ice axe handle.
Day 9- Mon. 9/2: The onion-smoke combination made me smell like some kind of a meal by morning! I was up at 6:00 but it took a while to revive the fire and boil water for tea. I was out of any kind of food. I then put the fire out and cleaned up the site to its natural condition and left at 7:30. I reached Lake 10,232 by 9:30. This section was easy walking. The climb up out of Goddard Creek was not hard, but long. I was very thankful I did not have a heavy pack. I stopped for a long rest at 12:30 at the lake below Scylla, one of the most impressive lakes so far. I was back at Chasm Lake by 2:30. I washed up and rested the remainder of the day. My little “adventure” had been 17.5 miles, 18 hours total (8:45AM -8:00PM/-3810, +2440 on first day, and 7:30AM -2:30PM/+2560, -1190 on the second day). In summary- Goddard Creek is much more spectacular and I regret not getting good photos because of poor lighting and darkness. Lots of waterfalls . The west side looked like it would be easier walking – more grassy slopes.
Day 10 -Tue. 9/3: Today is not my day! Up at 8:30, I finished drying clothes and washed my hair. I tried pancakes and it absolutely failed. I accidently set my pot on a plastic bag and did not realize I had melted plastic on the bottom before I set it back on the stove. Well, it took one hour to clean the stove after the hot plastic clogged the burner holes. I left camp at 11:45 and headed to the JMT via Black Giant Pass., reaching the trail at 3:30. My ankle was sore so I was glad to be on the trail. There was solid snow on the north side of Black Giant Pass. The snow made travel easier than it would be if I had to jump all the boulders. At 6PM I found a nice spot to camp perched on a rock above a swampy meadow with a lake, with great view down LeConte Canyon. I am just beat today. I ended up down the trail farther than I had planned.
Day 11 -Wed 9/4: Clouds started rolling in about 5:30 AM. I got up at 6:00 and cooked breakfast and contemplated whether to stay or go. There was a cold wind and the top of the peaks were socked in. I decided it was a good day for trail walking. I left at 9AM and reached Big Pete Meadow at 10:00 and the trail junction at noon. By 3:30 I reached the edge of Dusy Basin. The wind was howling and it was like a wind tunnel. I spent 2 hours hunting for campsites. Not finding a better sight up the drainage I returned to my first choice to find another group was there! So I again turned around and went upstream a bit. I was frustrated at the wind, had difficulty setting up my tent in a gale, and annoyed at having my campsite taken. One fellow from the group came over to “help” but I was just annoyed. Turned out we all were tired and grouchy! He left and I grumbled. Finally I went over to their campsite to apologize. They were climbers and good people (an SPS group who had one member hurt and helicoptered out- the people I met were carrying out their own gear and all the hurt person’s gear too). It was nice to socialize but put me out of sorts. It is hard to mentally adjust to the JMT and all the people after being alone in Ionian Basin. I had sore feet, pinched nerve in my neck, and still not recovered from my Enchanted Gorge adventure so did not sleep well.
Day 12 -Thurs 9/5. I got up and tried fishing half an hour but no luck. The other group left and gave me extra fuel they did not want to carry out. I warmed water and washed my hair in hot water! What a luxury. I was off at 11:15 following a cairned route up Knapsack Col. The marked route was not easy as it goes in and out of huge boulders on the adjacent hillside. I must have gotten off route somehow. Looking down, it appeared that going straight up the drainage would have been better. I finally reached Barrett Lake at 3PM and spent nearly an hour exploring and scoping out a campsite. I set up at 4:30 in a beautiful spot in a grassy meadow protected from the wind. So far there are no bugs. The ferocious winds of yesterday made wind protection top priority today. I cooked up on some rocks well out of the wind. A little creek is my water source. The site is directly under North Palisade. Most of the good camping at Barrett Lake 11523 is back up a little drainage where I am at the lowest meadow. There are several other meadows with ponds full of frogs. I finished reading my book and relaxed. Nobody is here except me. I can hear climbers on North Palisades but have not yet spotted them. My feet are still sore and I am tired but have regained my composure. Clouds start building at 6:30. A gentle breeze blows, and it is windier down at the lake. I think I will climb Mt. Sill tomorrow. It is now getting quite cold at night with hard frosts.
Day 13- Fri 9/6: After a good night’s sleep I got up at 6:30 and had a cold breakfast and left at 7AM. I reached the top of Peak 13,962 at 11:00. This was unintentional! The SPS climbers pointed to Mt. Sill and I mistook their pointing and never bothered to look at my map when I started up Peak 13,962, thinking it was Mt Sill! Although the wrong peak it was a really great Class-3 climb. A mason jar on the top held the summit register. Boy I was surprised to read I was on the wrong peak. I traversed over sun-cups to Mt Sill. Because of my sore feet I decided to do this climb in my tennis shoes. The sun-cups saved the day! I met two climbers on the top of Mt Sill and we took photos of each other. I left the top of Mt Sill at 1:00 PM and returned down the main drainage and up over Potluck Pass. There was lots of boulder hopping huge rocks and I cliffed-out a few times. I was back at camp at 4PM after the hardest day so far on my trip. I bathed, cooked and boiled all my dishes with my newly procured fuel. By 7PM I was very tired. The sun goes down about 6:30 and the light stays on the Palisades for another hour.
Day 14 - Sat. 9/7: I slept in and then took a day-hike up to Thunderbolt Pass to check it out. I fished Barrett Lake and met an old cowboy fishing in his cowboy boots! I was amazed that he backpacked over Knapsack Col in his cowboy boots. I fly fished and caught only small fish at the outlet; he had lures and went deep in the lake and got huge fish. He gave me a large fish.
Day 15 -Sun. 9/8: I was up at 8AM and left at 9:00. I went out over Thunderbolt Pass and reached Long Lake at 3:30 PM. I washed clothes, bathed and set up camp. I cooked supper at 5:00 and watched fish jump but am content to just watch the mountains as the sun sets. I was supposed to walk out and drive home today, but decided not to push it. I will just have to be a day late.
Day 16 -Mon. 9/9: Walk out, hitch a ride, and drive home. I quickly walk out to south lake and then head down the road with my thumb stuck out. Being Monday, there were few people on the road so I had to walk nearly a mile. I finally got a ride to the junction. Then I walk up the road and soon got another ride in the back of a truck to the North Lake parking lot.
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Here it is, but this one has a day less (15), not 16.
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Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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I think I have edited the report. Probably an error on the first one. I also think the previous report said 1996. After some thought, I am pretty sure it was 1997 because 96-96 was not as high a snowpack year. I recall it was one of those nearly 200% snowpacks.
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