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Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

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Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby shan1203 » Mon Jul 21, 2014 9:02 am

Hi all,

We are looking to explore 60 Lakes Basin and Gardiner Basin.

Backpacking Experience: Level 3
Terrain: Class 2 / River Crossings (Class 3 passing packs, no snow/glacier experience)
Main Interest: Big Mountain Scenery
Days/Nights: 7/6

Planned itinerary:
Camp 1 - Lower Paradise Valley (short day, afternoon start)
Camp 2 - Rae Lakes jnt
Camp 3 - Gardiner Lakes
Camp 4 - Below Gardiner Pass (north)
Camp 5 - Charlotte Lake
---
Camp 6 - *extra night for a layover/summit opportunity along the way

We are planning to follow much the same route as this trip report outlines: http://www.chayden.net/Sierra96/Sierra96.html We will, however, be hiking in the clockwise direction whereas they went counterclockwise - is this any reason for concern?

We've hiked the entire length of the JMT (in four section hikes) and are very comfortable hiking 10 mile days on the trail. We are unsure how much of an impact the cross country travel will have on our ability to log miles for the day and would appreciate comments on the aggressiveness of our itinerary. We'd like to have time to enjoy the scenery, take photos and get to camp before dark.

For our research, we've been using the following:
The High Sierra: Peaks - Passes - Trails (The Mountaineers Books)
Hiking Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (Falcon Guide)
Hiking the Sierra Nevada (Falcon Guide)
Tom Harrison - Kearsarge Pass and Rae Lake Loops topo map
Several trip reports online

If there are additional books/online resources - we'd be happy to check them out, too!

Thanks for any and all replies!
Shannon



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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby Ska-T » Mon Jul 21, 2014 9:56 pm

Welcome to HST, Shannon. Your plans are ambitious but reasonable. I would feel a little more confident if you said you were comfortable hiking 15 mi a day on trail. You may very well use your extra day for backpacking. Off trail you will hike about half your on trail speed, but major talus, scree, and route finding problems affect that estimate.

Personally, I like that hike in a counterclockwise direction. If you go clockwise then be aware of when to turn south (left) toward Gardiner Pass as you are descending Gardiner Creek. Proficiency with map and compass or a GPS is helpful. Also when descending from Gardiner Pass an altimeter would be useful so you don't overshoot the use trail going east to Charlotte Lake.

Have fun!

-Scott
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby shan1203 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 9:01 am

Scott,

Thanks for the reply and the welcome! HST is a great resource - I'm so glad I found it.

We agree that it is an ambitious itinerary. We have a backup plan if we find the cross country travel too taxing to complete the entire itinerary. In that case, we would plan to make a basecamp once we reach Gardiner Lakes and spend two or three nights there doing day hikes. We would then return to Sixty Lakes Basin and rejoining the JMT at Rae Lakes to complete the loop.

We've also added a 7th night to the itinerary for good measure :)

Shannon
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby cgundersen » Tue Jul 29, 2014 3:33 pm

Hi Shannon,
A buddy and I will be aiming for Gardiner basin late next week and having been over 60 Lakes col from the Gardiner side, it's very easy to spot where to go from the west, but looking up from the 60 Lakes side is less obvious. There are a lot of weird ramps and ledges that will probably take more time than expected. None of it is hard, just time consuming. Thus, your added time is certainly wise. Also, keep in mind that the lake just preceding the col presents some obstacles in just getting around the lake; you'll be doing some up and down climbing that can be a bit vexing. However, once in the basin, I think you should be in good shape and the earlier advice about Gardiner Pass is spot on. Hope you get good weather!
cg
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby shan1203 » Fri Aug 01, 2014 10:37 am

Cg,

Thanks for the info! We'll be sure to study the route over the Col and also the trip reports we've seen to try and have a good idea of where we should be crossing over. We'll also pack reserves of tenacity - just in case :wink:

I hope you have a great trip into Gardiner Basin - I assume it's a pretty great place if you've been there before and you are heading back in again! Are you taking a similar route to ours? We'll be looking for your trip report!

Happy Hiking!
Shannon
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby maverick » Fri Aug 01, 2014 12:34 pm

Hi Shannon,

Welcome to HST!

Cgunderson wrote:
There are a lot of weird ramps and ledges that will probably take more time than expected.

Yeap, that is what slows you down in Gardiner, even in the lower basins one needs
good navigational skills.
You indicated you are comfortable up to class 2/3, if you running low on time and want
an alternative, there is a class 2 pass that will get you to Gardiner Pass quicker north-
west of Mt. Gardiner, it is a little steep on the eastern side, but nothing technical, located
here on our HST Map: HST Map
Looking forward to reading you TR when you get back, have a fun and safe trip. :)
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: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby sekihiker » Mon Aug 04, 2014 7:04 am

Here's another trip report that might help: http://sierrahiker.home.comcast.net/~si ... /index.htm
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby cgundersen » Sun Aug 17, 2014 2:30 pm

Hi Shan 1203,
I just got back from the Kearsarge Pass to Glen Pass to 60 Lakes col to Gardiner Basin trip where we completed the loop via Gardiner Pass back to Charlotte Lake and out. A couple of pointers may help in case you've not left on your trip yet:
1) The route around the last lake that one hits before ascending 60 Lakes col has a nice little catwalk about 40 ft above the lake that hugely simplifies getting around the lake's west (most direct) side. When I'd hit this point ~10 years ago, I think that snow obscured the lower and easier route, so it's really not an obstacle.
2) It's pretty obvious from below where to go to hit the ridge for 60 Lakes col. We started alongside the creek bed that flowed into the last lake and largely followed the adjoining wash. In fact, I recall having more problems going down (and hitting 20 ft ledges that we had to loop back to avoid) than we encountered going up. It may have been dumb luck, but it's really pretty easy.
3) Just for a change of pace, we circled left around the uppermost big lake in Gardiner basin, but it's definitely easier going on the right (North) side. There is still plenty of boulder hopping, but less climbing. Also, the col that Maverick mentioned is very obvious from up there, because it has this distinctive rock protruding from the ridge that has a vertical base and then a prominent extension that juts out at a ~60 degree angle. We did not try that route, but we did confirm that the west side is easier!
4) The "use" trail through the basin is even harder to follow than it was 10 years ago. At higher elevations, it does not matter, but as you drop below the ~10K level, it does take more time to get down the canyon. Unfortunately, because of bad weather, we did not visit the "middle" canyon in the basin, and went directly from the area below 60 Lakes col to the lakes in the canyon immediately below Gardiner pass. To get there, we bottomed out at ~9,100 ft along Gardiner Creek, and then climbed to the big lake at ~9,500 ft. That stretch of the use trail was very thoroughly cairned! However, cairns were rare from there to Gardiner Pass, leading me to suspect that someone had "sanitized" the route. You can find lots of discussions of the desirability/undesirability of cairns along such routes, but this is one of the times I'd have been happy to see a few more markers. Just about the entire stretch of this canyon (right up to the lakes immediately below and west of Gardiner Pass) were not very attractive, and it would have been easier to zip through with a few more cairns. C'est la vie. Anyway, the good news is that the lakes in this part of Gardiner Basin that sit high (>11K ft) and to the East of Gardiner Pass are very pretty. I had time to climb the ridge to look at the lakes in the "middle" Gardiner canyon, and they looked spectacular, so I'm sad we missed out on them. Another time.......
5) Gardiner Pass itself is a short, quick slog from the north side, and the trail remains in OK shape given the lack of maintenance. The south side is a different story. It took us ~4h from the pass to reach Charlotte Lake and it was a grueling slog. The "use" trail managed completely to elude us. For all I know, it really no longer exists, or at least, we could not find it. Thus, we were mostly bushwhacking first through the modest burn zone below the pass and then through manzanita brush along the slope heading toward Charlotte. The one thing that expedited our progress is that as we had reached about the halfway point to Charlotte, I realized that there was a great looking trail down in the canyon paralleling Charlotte Creek. I don't know how far that trail runs, but we dropped about 400ft to reach it and then cruised into Charlotte Lake much more quickly than we would have done by trying to stay high. I plan to look back in the posts here to see if anyone has followed the Charlotte creek trail to its end.
Good luck,
cg
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby shan1203 » Mon Aug 18, 2014 3:29 pm

Maverick,
Thanks for the beta on a quick path through to Gardiner Pass - if time requires it, we will be happy to have the info! I can see the col you are describing on the Tom Harrison map we're using and we might be intrigued to try it just for some adventure. We're hoping to make good enough progress to be able to truly explore the basin, but it's good to have an alternate exit plan!

Sekihiker,
Thanks for the trip report - there are some great photos in there. My appetite is thoroughly whetted!

CG,
Can't thank you enough for all of the great tips - especially since you were just there! I'm going to address them point by point:

1. Fantastic, thanks!
2. Hoping for some of the leftover dumb luck :)
3. Good to have two opinions on that route - did it look fun, or just 'doable'?
4. I followed your route on the map and marked it - good to have info on a route that 'goes'. Thanks again. I'm with you, I don't mind a reassuring cairn or two along the way, but I do understand the frustration some experience when there are "Cairns, cairns everywhere!"
5. Oh no! Bushwhacking through manzanita...that is not much fun :( I've seen a couple trip reports that suggest even cairned paths through this section can mislead you and take you through terrible routes. We'll take your advice to drop down and find the Charlotte creek trail soon. We are eager to explore that one, and are hoping we might be able to take it all the way back to Bubbs creek. I've read that there are nice campsites on the benches below Charlotte Dome (confirmed by sekihiker's trip report). We are looking to scout out those sites because we'd like to come back and climb the South Face of Charlotte Dome in a subsequent trip.

Thanks again to all of you for great info! We are heading out this weekend for the adventure - I promise to come back and write up a trip report. Can't wait for a week in this beautiful backcountry!!! :thumbsup:

Shannon
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby oleander » Mon Aug 18, 2014 6:02 pm

Hi,

I too was in Gardiner Basin, about 2 weeks ago. We set out to do the Rae Lakes - Sixty Lakes Col - Gardiner Basin (down to that lake at ~9100) - Gardiner Pass - Charlotte Lake loop. As it happens, we were rained out for a day in Gardiner, got a day behind because of that, and woke up the second morning to the most dense pea-soup fog we have ever encountered in the Sierra. Unwilling to forge ahead and try to navigate that kind of fog blind, we turned around and went the way we came, figuring the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. So we went back over Sixty Lakes Col.

GET THE MOUNT CLARENCE KING 7.5-MINUTE MAP. This was one occasion where the 7.5-minute REALLY helps! The old "use" trail is indicated on the map. That will show you the path of least resistance even if your feet don't find the actual use trail. (After descending to the bottom of the west side of Sixty Lakes Col, I don't think we ever saw a sign of the old trail, but the map kept us on course.)

Our 2-night campsite was in the basin at the lake around 3380m (11,089 feet). It has a fantastic view across the basin to Gardiner Peak. Recommended.

So I haven't seen the full extent of the Gardiner route you are planning, but can share with you what I know. (I've actually done Sixty Lakes Col twice.) Responding here to cgunderson's commentary:

1) The route around the last lake that one hits before ascending 60 Lakes col has a nice little catwalk about 40 ft above the lake

The catwalk is the only the route I ever knew about. The catwalk has brief Class 3 exposure. It's fine though. If you can handle the catwalk, you can handle the whole Col. By the way, this last lake - the long one - has very pretty camping on its north end. The lake has massive headwalls at its far end; rangers call it the "fjord lake" and you will see why.

2) It's pretty obvious from below where to go to hit the ridge for 60 Lakes col. We started alongside the creek bed that flowed into the last lake and largely followed the adjoining wash.

Once you cross that inlet spilling into the "last" (fjord) lake - the crossing is about 5 minutes after the catwalk - you will have lots of different ways to get up to the pass. On my two times climbing this pass, I went two different ways. The first time, years ago, I sort of went straight for the pass, keeping not very far from the inlet stream. But I found that to be difficult and cliffy in places. Two weeks ago, after crossing the inlet we instead contoured left/south for a while before turning toward the pass. I found the left/south way easier. Either way, about 3/4 of the way up the pass, you might still find yourself having to zigzag back and forth on various ramps, backtracking at times when you dead-end. We actually found this climb a lot of fun, and it's not at all dangerous or slippery or exposed, but leave plenty of time for it.

In fact, I recall having more problems going down (and hitting 20 ft ledges that we had to loop back to avoid) than we encountered going up. It may have been dumb luck, but it's really pretty easy.

Yes, down the west side of the Col is harder than up. We did not take a great route down. Spent way too much time dead-ending on ledges, handing our packs down, doing a few short Class 3 moves. However, on the way back up two days later, we found a much better route that was practically a walk-up. Here's how you'd find that route from the top: On the north-ish side of the Col are some cairns (if they're still there) marking the top of the route. Head north/gently downhill a short ways till you see the crux of the route (also cairned): A slanted granite ramp that takes you about 20 feet down to a wide, flat sandy ramp. You will have to scoot on your butt down the granite, or maybe you'll have enough friction to stay upright (we walked UP it without a problem). Once down the ramp, there is a use trail all the way down to the lakes. You just have to assiduously look for it. That use trail does not drop you "straight down", but rather kind of contours northwest, making your drop more gradual. If you find yourself doing a Class 3 or a hard Class 2 move, you have lost the use trail.

3) Just for a change of pace, we circled left around the uppermost big lake in Gardiner basin, but it's definitely easier going on the right (North) side.

That sounds interesting. We went the traditional way, around the right (north) side of the uppermost big lake, taking the gentle saddle from its north side into the lakes basin just north of it. We thought those lakes were pretty, and worth seeing. The uppermost of those little lakes has an island that looks like a swimming dragon. That was cool to see after seeing Dragon Peak from the Sixty Lakes Trail.

Swimming Dragon.jpg
Baby Dragon Island


4) The "use" trail through the basin is even harder to follow than it was 10 years ago.

We met a ranger who had just done the full loop, and that is exactly what he told us: Don't count on seeing the use trail. But he said he personally had the greatest difficulty finding/following it in the LOWER part of the basin.

we bottomed out at ~9,100 ft along Gardiner Creek, and then climbed to the big lake at ~9,500 ft.

The same ranger told us there was some very nice camping at that lake at 9,500.

I had time to climb the ridge to look at the lakes in the "middle" Gardiner canyon, and they looked spectacular, so I'm sad we missed out on them. Another time.......

Thanks cgunderson for pointing that out. I wondered about that "middle" basin and also about the lakes just east of Gardiner Pass. Sounds like they are both a must-see! Shannon, I hope you have time to explore these particular spots, but your timetable might be very tight, given its overall mileage, the slow going over and just past Sixty Lakes Col, and this season's persistent monsoon weather.

- Elizabeth
Last edited by oleander on Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby Ska-T » Mon Aug 18, 2014 6:27 pm

cgundersen wrote:The south side [of Gardiner Pass] is a different story. ...[snip]...The "use" trail managed completely to elude us. For all I know, it really no longer exists, or at least, we could not find it. ...[snip]... as we had reached about the halfway point to Charlotte, I realized that there was a great looking trail down in the canyon paralleling Charlotte Creek.

The use trail my group took west from Charlotte Lake in 2003 paralleled Charlotte Creek about 200 ft above it, IIRC. We left it to head upward when we were SSE of Gardiner Pass, and I don't know how far it continues west. Probably to the base of Charlotte Dome. Is it possible that you did not initially descend far enough, about 1400 ft, from Gardiner Pass to locate it? You may have confirmed my bias that the route finding is easier in the clockwise direction: Charlotte Lake - Gardiner Pass - Sixty Lake Col - JMT.
-Scott
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Re: Trip Advice: 60 Lakes Basin/Gardiner Basin

Postby Shhsgirl » Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:15 pm

If you don't mind an eastern entry, coming over Kearsarge to Charlotte Lake, then over Gardiner Pass, over Sixy Lakes Col, and out to Kearsarge again via Glen Pass is very doable in 5 days. At the bottom of the drainage on the north side of Gardiner Pass are some old camp sites, with two large mule graves, which provide a poignant, or spooky, ambience. I never could find the ruins of that old guy's cabin, although friends found it right away. On the Rae Lakes side of Sixty Lakes Col, keep an eye out for bighorn sheep. If you are quiet, you can get fairly close. And the little ramp above the lake in Sixty Lakes Basin will be very obvious, since there is absolutely no other way to go.
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