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Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

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Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby tweederjohnson » Wed Aug 13, 2014 11:04 pm

Last week, my fiancé and I hiked the Deadman Canyon loop and combined it with the Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass loop. We started hiking from Lodgepole on Sunday, August 4th and finished up at Crescent Meadow on Friday, August 9th.

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Deadman Canyon

Sunday, August 4th: Lodgepole to Twin Lakes
We awoke at the Lodgepole Campground to a slight drizzle, packed up our camp and hit the trail around 7:30 am. We have a knack for starting our trips off with a good storm, and it looked like this one wasn't going to be any different. The rain came and went during our ascent out of Lodgepole, and so on and off went our ponchos until we reached Cahoon Gap. Heading down from the gap, the rain intensified and we passed a ranger on her way from Twin Lakes that was nice enough to not make us dig out our permit from under our wet gear. She recommended that we not press on from Twin Lakes because of the lightning and thunder we could see off in the distance. The rain really started pounding us as we started the final climb towards Twin Lakes. I was huffing and puffing up the last stretch, still trying to get use to the elevation. We arrived at Twin Lakes around 12:30pm with it still pouring. We opted to set up the tent to get into some dry clothes and warm up a bit. We ended up falling asleep and waking up around 4pm to no rain. Not feeling like packing up our damp stuff, we decided to stay and explore Twin Lakes. We shared the lakes with one other group and a curious young mule deer buck that decided to hang around our camp for a while.
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Big Twin Lake

Monday, August 5th: Twin Lakes to Roaring River
We awoke to another slight drizzle, but with the short first day, we were anxious to get a move on. So up the 700-800 foot climb to Silliman Pass we went, arriving at the top around 9:30 am to no rain. As this pass is not above treeline, and the skies were still pretty cloudy, our views weren’t as majestic as most Sierra passes. We continued down to Ranger Lake and glimpsed where our first day was supposed to end at, then continued towards Commanche Meadow. We stopped at the Seville Lake junction for a snack and my fiancé was accosted by a frisky squirrel. It was being chased by another squirrel when it decided that running up my fiancé’s back and down her arm would be a good evasion tactic. My fiancé’s reaction was priceless (lots of jumping and screaming), and the squirrel shot off into the forest and bothered us no more. It was quite a site☺. From the junction, we walked through mostly forgettable forest which looked like it had seem some fire in the recent past. The scenery started to pick up when we reached Commanche Meadow and we found the owner of a camera that was left at Twin Lakes. From there, we crossed a couple small streams and began our descent towards Sugarloaf (peak?) and the Sugarloaf Creek crossing that we were able to hop across via rocks, but decided to dunk our bodies in for a bit to cool off. From there we crossed a few creeks/drainages before starting our descent towards the Roaring River Ranger Station. We had walked under a very dark and stormy looking cloud for a while, and even donned our ponchos once, but it never let loose on us. We strolled into Roaring River where the sky cleared and we had the ranger station campground to ourselves.

Tuesday, August 6th: Roaring River to HST Junction
We woke up early to a cloudless sky and hit the trail at 6:30 in hopes of crossing Elizabeth Pass at a decent hour. The trail climbed gradually away from Roaring River through damp and lush forest. Our first creek crossing was wide and deep enough for my fiancé to put on her water shoes, but I was able to sneak across on a criss-cross of logs downstream. After bending around the mouth of the canyon, we reached a beautiful series of granite slabs that the creek spread out over and slid down. They looked like they would make great water slides if it weren’t for the not-so-cushy landing at the bottom. We stopped for a snack and soaked our feet and thoroughly enjoyed the views back towards the canyon opening. We pressed on towards Ranger Meadow and were blown away at its vastness. I wasn’t expecting a meadow of that size at that locale, but it is indeed very large and very beautiful, especially with the sheer, polished granite shooting up on either side. I was shocked that we didn’t see much for wildlife in this area. The trail skirted the meadow on its west side on level terrain until we began a more moderate climb toward Upper Ranger Meadow. We passed a great campsite after a creek crossing that would have made an excellent approach to Elizabeth Pass had we decided to stay, but it was still early and we pressed on. We hit the waterfall at the head of the canyon where we started a steep, stairstepping climb through an overgrown trail. Upon reaching the top, the trail crossed the creek and began the actual climb towards the pass. The trail was easy to follow, but we were already feeling the 6-7 miles from the morning approach, and the last 2 miles to the top pretty much wore us out. We reached the pass at about 2:30pm. We didn’t linger long because some clouds had moved in and it had gotten quite chilly during the final switchbacks. We started down the southside on a very unwelcoming trail that was a killer on our knees. Large, frequent steps on a steep trail made for a very painful and slow decent. We hurried down the best we could thinking we might get caught up in some nasty clouds that seemed to be making there way over from the Tablelands, but they held off. The trail led us down past the Lonely Lake outlet and then down a series of (I won’t say neverending…but at the time, it felt pretty interminable) switchbacks to the Tamarack Lake junction with beautiful views up the canyon toward Lion Rock. We continued south and crossed Lone Pine Creek and continued our decent toward the High Sierra Trail Bridge. What turned out to be just minutes shy of the High Sierra Trail Junction, we found a marginal campsite just flat enough to call home for the night.
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Deadman Canyon, north of Ranger Meadow

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Ranger Meadow, looking south

Wednesday, August 7th: HST Junction to Little Five Lakes Basin
This would be my favorite day of the trip. I had never seen the stretch of the High Sierra Trail that goes from the Pine Creek Bridge to Kaweah Gap, but it’s hard to imagine more stunning mountain scenery. We awoke to another cloudless day, although a very noticeable haze did linger well into the late morning. We hit the HST junction shortly after we started walking and began our climb towards Hamilton Lakes. Quite simply, if you haven’t seen this trail, you owe it to yourself to do so. We got to the larger Hamilton Lake and took our first real swim of the trip. From there we pressed on towards Precipice Lake. I loved the trail from Hamilton to Precipice. Excellent grade and fantastic scenery. Made the 2200 feet or so go by like we were in an elevator. Precipice Lake is prettier than I could’ve imagined. Reaching Precipice Lake also has the added bonus of it being just a short stroll to Kaweah Gap where the Nine Lake Basin, the Kaweahs, and Big Arroyo are all visible from, each beautiful in its own distinct way. We hurried down Big Arroyo on great trail and made our last climb of the day toward Little Five Lakes Basin. The 1000 foot climb was tiresome after another long day, but seeing the basin made it all worth it. I don’t know my trees, but I loved the type of forest you encounter when you dip down into the basin past the first couple lakes, still with views of the Kaweahs through the trees. We finished up at the lake with the ranger station which turned out to be our most crowded night of camping on the entire trip. We did manage to find a nice spot up the Black Rock Pass trail that got us up and away from the nearest boy scout group. We finished the day with one last swim and a beautiful bright moon.
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HST to Hamilton Lakes

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HST to Precipice Lake

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Precipice Lake

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From Kaweah Gap


Thursday, August 8th: Little Five Lakes Basin to Middle Fork Kaweah Crossing
We were able to get another early start on another cloudless morning, and we made it to the top of Black Rock Pass by 8:30 am. The haze wasn’t as bad this morning so we were able to see all the way to Mt. Whitney in the east. We started down the west side of the pass, which to me, was much better than the south side of Elizabeth Pass. It took a long time to reach the treeline, from where we would move in and out of unpleasant stretches of talus on the trail through Pinto Lake and all the way to the Timber Gap Trail junction. We bumped into a ranger just east of Pinto Lake and he informed us that he was heading to his station at Little Five Lakes. It was getting hot and I didn’t envy his climb over Black Rock Pass. The decent from the pass to the Timber Gap Trail junction took us longer than we expected and we were in need of a break when we reached it, so we dunked our bodies in Cliff Creek and took an extended break until pressing on towards Redwood Meadow. The trail took on a more reasonable grade and we were able to pick up some time. We reached Redwood Meadow around 4pm, where we were already aware that there wouldn’t be water from the report back at Lodgepole. We continued on past Granite and Eagle Scout Creeks and decided to call it quits for the day around 5:30pm after some clouds rolled in and opened up on us. We found a nice flat, soft spot on pine needle covered ground a little ways before the Middle Fork crossing and pitched our tent. We would see lightning and hear thunder for the next two hours and would later be informed that the storm hit hardest to the west and actually dropped some pretty good sized hail that apparently missed us.
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Little Five Lakes Basin

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Looking East from Black Rock Pass


Friday, August 9th: Middle Fork Kaweah to Crescent Meadow via HST
For our last day, we woke up and were on the trail by 6:30am. Shortly after crossing the Middle Fork, we bumped into a guy that kindly warned us of the hornet next him and his hiking buddy had stirred up the previous day just down the trail. The incident had cost him 8 or 9 stings (and a significantly swollen hand). We thanked him for the warning and cautiously kept our eyes peeled for the next quarter mile where we saw the nest and its inhabitants slightly off to the right of the trail. Fortunately it was still cold and damp that morning, and the hornets seemed to still be waking up. We continued our climb towards Bearpaw Meadow where we predictably encountered many groups of people. From there, we continued west down the High Sierra Trail on another hot and clear day. The hike back was mostly uneventful but with great views back towards the areas we had just spent the last few days in. We did receive one warning from a group near the Wolverton Cutoff that informed us of their rattlesnake encounter. Apparently the guy unknowingly got to within about two feet of the approximately four foot snake before it gave its warning rattle. We kept a close lookout for the rest of the hike but didn’t come across any rattlers. We eventually limped our way into Crescent Meadow and caught a shuttle back to Lodgepole where we rendezvous’ed with our car and promptly drove to In n’ Out in Fresno and quickly replaced all the calories we had burned over the past week ☺.

Thoughts:

-This turned out to be a very tough and ambitious hike for us. Our Tom Harrison Mt. Whitney High Country map put it at about 80 miles with several 16 mile days. It would’ve been to our benefit to either shorten the distance, or add a day or two to the trip and not make each day so grueling. I just wanted to see everything! It didn’t help us that our first day put us a bit behind to start with. I’m surprised I’m still engaged.

- Water was never an issue. There was plenty in most places and we were warned of the lack of water in Redwood Meadow (and there are creeks before and after Redwood Meadow that water can be gotten from). As for crossings, I never had to take my boots off and was able to hop across every creek/river/stream.

- Skeeters were not a problem at all. Seemed like the most were at Little Five Lakes (which surprised me given it was the highest elevation of the places we camped), but still not enough to really be bothersome.

- Deadman Canyon is gorgeous and worth the effort to get to. I’d love to go back and check out Big Bird Lake, maybe Triple Divide Pass or Lion Rock Pass, and also Cloud Canyon. If I did, I’d camp in Upper Ranger Meadow and make for an easier ascent rather than starting all the way back at Roaring River. Isn’t there supposed to be an old mine somewhere up there?

- I really wanted to check out Tamarack and Lion Lakes. Still hope to someday.

- Again, absolutely loved the stretch from Hamilton to Precipice. If you love the Sierras, you just have to see this area.

- I also really wanted to explore Nine Lakes Basin. It’s right there when you reach Kaweah Gap!! How could we not have?!

- I was surprised at how many people stayed at Little Five Lakes given how long the Black Rock Pass approach from the west is. It was the busiest place we encountered save for Bearpaw Meadow.

- I will definitely be bringing a fishing pole next time.

- I was shocked at how little wildlife we saw. Save for frisky squirrels and a few marmots, we really only saw a handful of deer.

- I learned that I’m very ignorant of rattlesnakes until I hear that someone has seen one. Then I’m overly hypersensitive to any sound I hear on the trail. Hopefully I can get to somewhere in between those two polarities.

- As of now, I'm unable to load photos...but I'm sure there's instructions on this website somewhere that will tell me what I'm doing wrong. I'll try to get them up ASAP.

Thanks for reading!
tweeder
Last edited by tweederjohnson on Sat Aug 16, 2014 3:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby sekihiker » Thu Aug 14, 2014 7:32 am

Wow! What a wonderful trip. More miles, more smiles.
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Re: Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby maverick » Thu Aug 14, 2014 10:00 am

Hi Tweeder,

Welcome to HST! Great first TR and nice pictures.

Tweeder wrote:
- I was shocked at how little wildlife we saw. Save for frisky squirrels and a few marmots,
we really only saw a handful of deer.


You shouldn't be, Sierra is not know for its wildlife.


You did not mention anything about wildflowers in the area above Ranger Meadow
or along the creek leading up to Lonely Lake, either it was to late or a weak showing.

- I really wanted to check out Tamarack and Lion Lakes. Still hope to someday
.

Tamarack Lake is very pretty, as is Lion Lake, the route between the two is not very
not easy, a lot of benches to climb, many ending up being dead ends or cliffs, also
the area above Tamarack Lake can turn into a large swamp depending on the time
of the year it is.

Isn’t there supposed to be an old mine somewhere up there?


Yes, your referring to the mines up near the Coppermine Pass area.
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: Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby tweederjohnson » Thu Aug 14, 2014 1:28 pm

You shouldn't be, Sierra is not know for its wildlife.


Don't get me wrong...I wasn't expecting some kind of rain forest menagerie or anything. We just saw lots of scat and it would've been nice to put a face with the deposits :D .

You did not mention anything about wildflowers in the area above Ranger Meadow
or along the creek leading up to Lonely Lake, either it was to late or a weak showing.


To tell you the truth, unless it's the right season and they're really popping, I probably won't be the first one to notice the wildflowers. My concentrations have always been more upwards towards the mountains/waterfalls/trees. With that being said, we certainly saw some nice pockets of flowers in the Ranger Meadow area. But it still seemed like we had missed the good show by a few weeks.

I guess my favorite foliage of the trip was the gnarled trees we saw when we dropped into Little Five Lakes Basin. It looked like there was some strange strategery to the way they were spaced, and I found them to be very beautiful in an eerily mysterious kind of way. Almost like they each had their own personalities and could speak to each other when no one was around (I know, I've been watching too much Game of Thrones).
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Re: Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby maverick » Thu Aug 14, 2014 1:44 pm

I guess my favorite foliage of the trip was the gnarled trees we saw when we dropped
into Little Five Lakes Basin.


Foxtail Pines, yes they seem to tell an individual story.
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: Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby cgundersen » Sat Aug 16, 2014 1:07 pm

Hi tweeder,
Wow, that was definitely an ambitious trip with tons of lower elevation walking. Your fiancée was a very good sport! But, as you noted, that journey should have given you some great ideas for alternative loops in the future. My first ever trip into the Sierra was over Kaweah Gap, and I never get tired of the HST, Hamilton Lake, 9 lakes basin and the Big Arroyo. It takes a bit more work to get down to Kern Hot Spring or off trail to Kaweah Basin, but both are well worth it. My only surprise is that rattlers have made it up to the early part of the HST. The only time I ever saw a rattler in the Sierra was on the HST just above the Kern river. But, my wife does prefer higher elevations......maybe for that reason. Anyway, hope you guys get in lots of more great hikes!
cameron
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Re: Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby AlmostThere » Sat Aug 16, 2014 6:35 pm

I love that area. Don't think I would do that kind of miles - it's far too tempting to hang out for a while.

Rattlers at high elevations are less common, but they have been spotted at 11,000 feet - we see them sometimes well above 9,000.
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Re: Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby hurricaniac » Wed Aug 20, 2014 9:16 pm

Rattlesnakes at high elevation are almost exclusively found on south facing slopes (think warm) and near water (think small mammalian prey).
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Re: Deadman Canyon and Kaweah Gap/Black Rock Pass Loops

Postby sparky » Wed Aug 20, 2014 10:10 pm

Almost like they each had their own personalities and could speak to each other when no one was around


I found this alien tendril covered in faces to be full of interesting stories
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