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Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

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Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby bmrlight » Wed Apr 23, 2014 1:04 pm

I've been enjoying various HST trip reports for the Lake Italy / Bear Lakes Basin region. I am considering doing a trip to that region this summer (early-July) with my wife and teenage kids (girl 14, boy 16), starting out from Bear Diversion Dam Road, coming in up the Bear Creek trail to Vee Lake, then through the Bear Lakes Basin and over Dancing Bear Pass down to Lake Italy, then out the Hilgard Branch trail and back to the starting point (40 miles, taking 7 days total, so a fairly slow pace). The kids have a couple of good trips under their belt but no real cross-country yet. I've done plenty of cross country Class 2 passes in the Sierras over the years and am comfortable with route finding.

I'm most concerned about going up Dancing Bear Pass from White Bear Lake - the trip reports I've read say a range of things about it, from "steep scree" to "easy cross country". Is either the route-finding or the footing very difficult? I think my kids would enjoy this trip if the pass is not too hairy but I don't want to stress or scare them either.

Thanks for any info you can share!
David



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Re: Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby maverick » Wed Apr 23, 2014 2:12 pm

Hi David,

Welcome to HST! I am assuming from what you wrote that neither of your kids have
done any type of class 2 passes. DBP is not to difficult for an experienced backpacker,
but it is steep, and if snow is present it can make things a bit more complicated
and dangerous. If snow is present, then timing is the most important factor so you
avoid ice conditions. Personally I would introduce them to some some easier class 2 pass,
and something closer to help. Are you carrying a SPOT or or emergency locator/signal
device?
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Re: Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby calipidder » Wed Apr 23, 2014 5:12 pm

I'll repost my DM to you for the benefit of anyone else who stumbles across the question....

Hm, it was a few years ago and I don't remember a whole lot from the descent. Nothing in particular makes it stand out in my memory as difficult, but when I think back it might have been because we were heading down and route finding was very simple. It might be different finding your way up the pass (maybe if you get off-route it could get sketchy?)

I wonder where the reports you've read were coming from. I uploaded my GPS track to the link below. You can see that we came down into Black Bear Lake. I wonder if coming up from White Bear might be harder? Maybe you could scout it out ahead of time and pick a route. FWIW I remember the descent from Black Bear to Ursa to be stunningly gorgeous, one of my favorite spots in Bear Lakes basin.

http://caltopo.com/map?id=271P

(ahem, the track gives away my favorite spot to stay there too...I might have to delete it soon hehe)

The Lake Italy side of the pass is easy and straightforward.

But don't let my lack of memory scare you away. The impression I still have is that it's probably the easiest cross country pass I've done in the sierra, after Rockwell.
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Re: Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby LMBSGV » Wed Apr 23, 2014 5:19 pm

As Maverick said, snow is the biggest issue. In July, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter it. I did it in late July of a low to normal snow year and found three snowfields. I went up and around one of them dealing with some talus, down and around the second, and slid in my rear across the third since it was short and had a pile of rocks I could run into with my feet. I didn’t run into any scree, but then I was heading to Italy Pass and not down to Lake Italy. There may be scree if you go too low above Jumble Lake. If you decide to do it, I would try to remain at about the same elevation until you hit the Italy Pass trail and then head down to Lake Italy.

How old are kids? I would say if they are not teenagers, then Dancing Bear may be a bit too much.
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Re: Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby maverick » Wed Apr 23, 2014 5:42 pm

LMBSGV wrote:
How old are the kids? I would say if they are not teenagers, the Dancing Bear may
be a bit to much.


Larry,

The OP wrote:
I am considering doing a trip to that region this summer (early-July)
with my wife and teenage kids (girl 14, boy 16). The kids have a couple of good trips
under their belt but no real cross-country yet.


You are right, if snow is not an issue, and they are comfy with the x-country travel
they should be fine.
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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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Re: Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby SSSdave » Wed Apr 23, 2014 8:08 pm

The main issue would be of not being on the least difficult route. Calpider's gps track uses the obviously route one would use from Italy Pass down into the East Fork of Bear Creek basin if one is looking at their topographic map religiously enroute. The problem is there are lots of somewhat experienced crosscountry backpackers in the Sierra that almost never use their maps but rather sight. Same thing with peak baggers. They are all about looking up and winging it, never considering looking at a map has advantages. I see their poorly chosen routes everywhere. The typical situation is one reaches the top of some offtrail pass and on the other side a worn line of foot tracks making a direct descent even though the map shows it cliffs out below. What makes glaciated granite terrain in the Sierra dangerous is that cliff bands are common that one cannot see easily until it is too late. That may be descending a convex slope that suddenly drops off or a deep joint crack gully with vertical sides that blocks a route, or areas of large talus, etc.

A good example of this is very close to Dancing Bear Pass at the col just west of White Bear Lake called Brown Bear Pass. A direct descent on the northwest side is nasty steep, yet a surprising number do just that and have read their wondering as to why it is rated class 2?

HST Map

(Note use the USA topo tab and satellite tab not the World topo or map tabs.)

There is a class 2 route but only a topo person is going to be aware of how to descend it. To the north of the pass is a seasonal streamlet. One needs to traverse at pass level towards that on the 11880 elevation line until reaching about 60% of the distance to the streamlet. Then one drops due west down the now obvious less steep gradients (but still rather steep) to about 11520 where an short steep section must be climbed through by eyesight. At 11440 the rest of the way gets easier. A route I've done with my usual monster 70+ pound pack. But not one I would recommend to anyone that navigates by vision alone.

So yes as an experienced cross country route person, if you are familiar using a topographic map to size up routes, then this ought to be a piece of cake as long as your trip is mid summer after most of the usual shady northern exposures have melted out. Otherwise you are probably still going to be ok though there is opportunity to get into trouble at a few places.
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Re: Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby LMBSGV » Wed Apr 23, 2014 9:30 pm

bmrlight and Maverick, sorry I missed the ages of the kids. Sometimes my attention gets too focused and I miss pertinent details.

I remembered the one other area where other accounts may have mentioned scree. There's a scree slope above White Bear Lake. I'm wondering if some people went up that. There's no need to do that, but as Dave's post makes clear, some people don't always choose the easiest route. To the right of the scree slope, there's class 1-2 criss-crossing use trails ascending to the top of the slope. The view from the top is magnificent of Bear Lakes Basin. There's a very clear use trail from Big Bear Lake to White Bear.

Dave's route for descending to Italy Lake sounds like the one I took in 1998 descending Italy Pass to Lake Italy when the trail itself was covered in snow. His description is spot on.

Have a great trip.
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Re: Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby bmrlight » Thu Apr 24, 2014 12:11 pm

Thanks everyone for so generously offering your tips and observations!

To respond to the questions and issues raised:
My kids are teenagers (14 and 16). They are fit, and have trail backpacking experience but no cross-country yet.
I myself have crossed quite a few Class 2 passes in the Sierra, and I am skilled in route-finding with topo maps and compass.
My concerns were mostly about the screen slope above White Bear Lake, leading up to Dancing Bear Pass - those concerns have been addressed, thanks! (Sounds like for us it would mostly be a matter of snow levels and local weather at the time.)

David
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Re: Bear Lakes Basin / Dancing Bear Pass for teenagers?

Postby RoguePhotonic » Thu Apr 24, 2014 1:35 pm

Climbing up loose anything is always an easier task than going down. Although it's tiring to climb up it when you place a foot up it's easier to establish if that footing is good rather than committing to a step down and then having it give way. if you do loose footing you can always stumble onto your hands rather than any number of things that can happen going down. I once lost my footing on loose scree and my body did a complete spin around before I hit the ground. :lol:
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