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TR: Circle of Solitude via Kearsarge Pass 9/29-10/3/11

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TR: Circle of Solitude via Kearsarge Pass 9/29-10/3/11

Postby Captain Slappy » Sat Jun 07, 2014 8:43 am

Circle of Solitude Hike
Onion Valley --> Kearsarge --> Avalanche Pass --> Colby Pass --> Forrester Pass --> Kearsarge --> Onion Valley

**Full set of more, bigger, better pics here:**
==> CLICK HERE <==


Thanks to everyone here at High Sierra, especially maverick and oldranger, and Tom Kirchner at Backpackinglight who helped me plan this hike a couple of years ago. I was originally thinking about possible cross country routes, including taking Deadman Canyon crosscountry to Copper Mine Pass and possibly Triple Divide Pass. Unfortunately, mostly due to the threat of snow, I wound up staying on trail the whole time and just taking Cloud Canyon to Colby Pass and using Forrester Pass instead of Harrison Pass. Maybe next time. The great thing about this loop is that there are great number of trail permutations, depending on the number of days available to do the hike. Please excuse any mislabeling of places contained in the descriptions below. Here is a crude map I made before I set out:

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This hike first got my attention when I saw it in the Kings Canyon National Park hike book by Mike White. Some of the Circle of Solitude entry can be read here on pg. 108:

http://books.google.com/books?id=NNlgga ... de&f=false

His description starts at Roads End. I chose to start at Onion Valley because I was coming in from Vegas, and the question of spending more time on the road vs. spending more time on the trail is a no brainer, despite the extra hiking distance.


DAY 1
Onion Valley to Bubbs Creek

I stepped off on this hike knowing there was a threat of snow storms in the forecast, so I wanted to to do my best to finish the loop within five days. October was coming and snow was supposed to arrive on Day 6. The drive started the night before from Las Vegas. The next day, I drove through Death Valley and Owens Valley to the Onion Valley trailhead.

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This was my first time to Kearsarge, and I was not disappointed. It's amazing how fast Owens Valley dissolves away and one step over the pass it's like being teleported to another planet.

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The descent towards Bullfrog Lake on the other side was also fantastic. I would be repeating this hike on the way out but didn't mind seeing this area twice in the least.

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I had had this view of East Vidette before when I did the Rae Lakes loop a year or two earlier and it's probably one my favorite...

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I hiked further down the trail, descending towards Bubbs Creek and the denser trees, and ended up camping a mile or two from the turnoff for the Avalanche Pass trail. I didn't get as far as I had hoped the first day, but I've always found it takes at least a day to get your hiking legs back.


DAY 2
Bubbs Creek to Roaring River/Cloud Canyon

This ended up being a great day for backpacking. There was a hint of puffy clouds building that were difficult to see from underneath the tree cover. But the weather was cool and I could hear the deer meddling outside of my tent when I awoke. The biggest surprise of the day, or possibly of the trip, would come as I bounced down the trail early that morning. Coming up on my right was a large boulder and some downed trees, essentially creating a blind corner. As I rounded the boulder, a loud sudden snap and rumbling erupted a few feet from me. I looked up and there was a black bear who had scurried up the hill a dozen or so feet away staring quietly back at me. He didn't seem happy to see me but, after getting over the shock, there was something incredible about staring back into his eyes for a brief moment. He snorted, and when reality set in, I started backing away from him slowly down the trail.

Shortly thereafter, I arrived at the Bubbs Creek crossing to the Sphinx Creek and Avalanche Pass trail:
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The climb away from Bubbs Creek towards Avalanche pass is long. However, the initial climb away from Bubbs Creek is very beautiful looking down to the valley below. There's a great view of Bubbs Creek towards the South Fork.

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I've since read about off trail view points near the top of the pass where you have a better vantage point, but the view at the pass is somewhat disappointing.

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There was plenty of aspen and yellow leaves on the way down from Avalanche Pass on the other side. In fact, that whole stretch from Avalanche to the Colby Pass trail had brilliant oranges and yellows everywhere. Aside from the short daylight hours, late September was a great time to hike this area.

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While descending towards Roaring River, I had briefly considered using a cross country shortcut to climb down Moraine Ridge towards Cloud Canyon, rather than following the trail, which added some miles. However, the dense forest and lack of forward visibility made me question this and I decided to stay on the trail instead. The descent is a steep one, and the trail doesn't waste anytime heading to the valley floor.


DAY 3
Roaring River/Cloud Canyon to Gallats Lake area

As I think I may have read elsewhere, Cloud Canyon is the kind of place that after you hike you'd like to go back to the beginning of and hike again. But the clouds were definitely building once again that day. This time much they were much thicker than the day before. I was concerned about making the top of the pass and encountering bad weather. I didn't want to spend a day hunkered down with the threat of snow in the future. I hustled down the trail as much as I could. The climb towards Colby Pass was long, though. There's a brilliant pay off at Colby Lake, which was calm and as smooth as glass...

Image
https://www.flickr.com/photos/28181344@ ... 7859213269


I hadn't seen anyone the entire day as I climbed the last half mile towards Colby Pass. When I noticed a small black dot quickly moving towards me I was kind of excited to see someone else. He did eventually catch up to me and we talked very briefly before he moved on. I had hoped to ask him to take a picture of me when I got to the top of the pass. But when I arrived at the top of the pass, where he had briefly stopped, and I shouted out to him, he took off. I like to believe now that he had his ear buds in and just didn't hear me, but at the time I was a little bit annoyed.

Just the trail marker...
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On the other side of the pass, the weather immediately turned colder and windier. Grauple began to fall. It seemed relatively treeless and barren compared to the trail up to the pass. But it was still an enjoyable climb down, and I was glad to have dodged the weather. As I got closer to the Kern Kaweah, the landscape became even even more beautiful. The Kern Kaweah is indeed a special place. The trail seemed only lightly imprinted in places, and I knew that there probably weren't more than a handful of people around in the surrounding area. There is an overwhelming feeling of solitude and tranquility. As the sun set behind the mountains, it flashed some brilliant oranges and yellows on the underside of the clouds for the briefest of moments.

Image
https://www.flickr.com/photos/28181344@ ... 7859213269


I hiked past dark and actually tried to follow the trail with my headlamp. But it proved to be difficult after too long. I found a very tiny spot and set up for the night in a gathering of rocks. It was pretty close to the trail unfortunately, but it didn't seem like a locale where I'd have a lot of visitors.


DAY 4
Gallats Lake area to Forrester Pass

Dropping down into Junction Meadow was not the most thrilling part of the trip. The trail was dusty in the early autumn air. I also knew that I would be climbing back out to the high country a short time later. It would have been nice to bypass this by going towards Milestone but then I would have missed the Gallats Lake area which was very beautiful.

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Climbing back out, there was a great view of the Kern, though...
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I headed directly for the JMT, which I hadn't planned on initially. I was hoping to see Lake South America and go down Harrison Pass instead. There is always next time. The scenery was definitely not lacking, though, and much like Cloud Canyon, I would have been happy to go back and hike this area again.

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The right call would have been to camp a mile or two earlier, but as I approached Forrester it was getting dark. I found a small space to clear out. I didn't bother with dinner. There would be no time to make it over the pass that day. And after I made over the pass the next morning, I was glad I had set up camp where I did given the lack of camping spots on the north side.

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It was again difficult pitching my old model Lunar Solo, which I had now decided to sell when I got home. The light weight was not worth the effort and discomfort. There was definitely a lot of ice on the inside of it that night...

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DAY 5
Forrester Pass to Onion Valley

Today was the day to beat the snow and make it out to Onion Valley. Since I hadn't really slept, I wouldn't say that I woke up that morning as much as I had decided to sit up and leave the sleeping bag. The morning stars were incredible at the high altitude even if made for lousy sleep. Up to Forrester Pass it was as the sun slowly lit up the granite that morning...

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The other side looked a little bit like a moonscape. It was a stark contrast from the green vegetation I had seen the day before.

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And it was another terrific descent toward the trees on the JMT.

Image
https://www.flickr.com/photos/28181344@ ... 7859213269


I passed a few JMT hikers as I got close to the trees. They had heard about the coming snow too and you could see the hurried looks on their faces. They were racing to get to Mt. Whitney before the season ended. "Would they skip Whitney after coming all this way?" I wondered.

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Waiting at the trailhead was a lonely rental car. I also saw a horse trailer and packer staff being very kind their animals. This was right after I had read about some alleged pack animal abuse (on another forum) on this trail so this was reassuring to see.

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After that, it was down to Independence for some delicious Subway. It did indeed snow in the mountains the next day...



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Re: TR: Circle of Solitude via Kearsarge Pass 9/29-10/3/11

Postby maverick » Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:53 am

Thanks Captain for posting this wonderful TR and pictures. Enyoyed the shot from
Forrester, of Gallats, and the bear video. :)
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

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: TR: Circle of Solitude via Kearsarge Pass 9/29-10/3/11

Postby dandaman49 » Sat Jun 07, 2014 2:22 pm

I did that same trip solo last year except i started in roads end>avalanche>colby>forester

One of the best trips ive ever been on, your pics brought back the memories, thanks for sharing.
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TR: Circle of Solitude via Kearsarge Pass 9/29-10/3/11

Postby Bluewater » Sat Jun 07, 2014 7:41 pm

Thanks for your tr and photos! Takes me right back to late season 2011, I hiked over Forester Pass the week before while finishing the JMT.


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Re: TR: Circle of Solitude via Kearsarge Pass 9/29-10/3/11

Postby sekihiker » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:48 am

Great photos.
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