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TR: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up, July 2014

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TR: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up, July 2014

Postby oleander » Sun Aug 17, 2014 4:05 pm

Wales Lake HST Meet-up, July 2014

The trip to Wales Lake and the HST meet-up was not something I’d penned into my 2014 calendar. What made me change my mind is that I had marched over Forester Pass earlier this summer without managing to see any of the off-trail gems – especially Milestone Basin and the upper Kern – that I had walked there to see in the first place. Weather and (my own) poor trip-mileage planning had interfered.

The HST meet-up served up a ready excuse to return to the area, and to meet some new people as well.

What clinched the deal was Maverick’s (Peter’s) offer to carpool from the Bay Area, hike to the meet-up together, and share some of his vast photography knowledge with me. I had just gotten a new camera and had been working hard to learn landscape photography technique, so this was an offer I could not refuse!

Day 1: Up

So it was that I found myself parking my car at Livermore Airport at 3:30 a.m., jumping into Mav’s Civic, driving across Yosemite (which I barely remember as I was running on 3-4 hours of sleep), permitting up in Bishop, dropping my daypack at Mount Williamson Motel in Independence (in anticipation of my return), and nervously watching as Mav attempted to navigate the Civic up a dirt road littered with massive rocks to the Shepherd Pass hiker trailhead. He wisely gave up at the halfway point, turned around and parked us back at the stock trailhead. Thus we started up the east side’s most notorious pass – where the sun bares down so relentlessly that smart people start before daylight – precisely at midday.

I did not take any photos that day, but here is one taken near the trailhead on my walk-out 9 days later:

Shepherd Trailhead.jpg
Shepherd Pass Trailhead


I love eastside entries. I grew up in the high desert, so the desert feels charming and welcoming to me. Most eastside canyons provide a dramatic sense of vertigo: At the halfway point you can peer 3000 feet straight down to your Owens Valley starting point; and 3000 feet straight up to your pass. The Shepherd trail was splendid in all these usual, eastside ways.

I particularly enjoyed the first two thousand vertical feet of trail, which initially hops back and forth across beautiful Symmes Creek, and then climbs the wall above. The one thing that thoroughly surprised me about the Shepherd trail overall, was how marvelously constructed and well-maintained it is! I was expecting something more the likes of the Baxter Pass trail, with constant washouts and puzzles. Instead I found a smooth dirt path following switchbacks that are neither too maddeningly roundabout, nor too steep, nor even rocky (till you get to the talus at the top). And there is no horse manure - stock were banned here after the last washout. Here’s what the trail tends to look like:

Saddle between Symmes and Shepherd Creek.jpg
Saddle between Symmes and Shepherd Creeks; Mt. Williamson under cloud


At the saddle we had a great first view of Mount Williamson and into Shepherd Creek. By this point, a breeze and a light cloud cover had softened the harsh sun.

We had our eyes on the prize – Anvil Camp – and kept our breaks very short. Mav was a much faster walker than me. Although he was copacetic and never demonstrated any impatience, after stops I often shouldered my pack first to gain a head start.

In spite of the cooler temps, the 9000-foot mark or so was where the trail started to wear on me, the initial joy of Symmes Creek far below us now. At some point you run out of distractions and this notorious trail becomes exactly the Stairmaster it is rumored to be. We figure we climbed about 4800 feet that day. Although I carry a light load by most standards, with nine days of food the pack just felt unnatural.

One nifty thing about Mav, should you ever go hiking with him, is that he can tell you the precise altitude, without consulting any gadgets or maps. At breaks, I would make him guess and he would be correct within 200 feet. How? His body tells him. At 8000 feet his heart does this; at 9000 feet his nose does that; at 10,500 his breathing becomes labored. That is probably more than he wanted written about him here.

A 10,300 feet, after detouring high around the gully that was washed out in 2013, we stumbled into forested Anvil Camp and set up our tents. Mav dubbed the place “Advil Camp.” Too exhausted to recall the correct name, that is exactly what I recorded in my journal that night.

Hey, I observed: We did all that work just to get to the same altitude as the Mono Pass trailhead – which you can drive to! But here’s the thing: You can’t build a road up a canyon this vertical (even if you wanted to so desecrate the wilderness). And its verticality is what makes it so magnificent and spectacular. And that magnificence is what makes it worth hiking.

Plus, Shepherd Pass was apparently Larry Conn’s favorite eastside entry – and that is worth something.

Day 2: To the Upper Kern

We resumed the uphill stroll. On the upper reaches of Shepherd Creek, “Talus” deserves its own ecosystem designation. Talus is a serious art form here. There are vast fields of talus; mountains of talus tiny and huge; mazes of talus somehow covered in meadow; and every variety of alpine flower, tenaciously poking up through the talus. (Anyone know what this flower is called?)

Flowers Shepherd Pass.jpg
Flowers below Shepherd Pass


There is even a piece of talus reclining in the throne of a foxtail pine stump.

Talus in tree.jpg
Talus in tree


Before we knew it we were tackling the final quarter mile (steep, loose trail) and topping out at the pass.

Pity the poor slob who hauls his goats, step by step, 6,700 feet up the Stairmaster, only to be turned around by this sign right at the pass:

No loose herding.jpg
I know it's called Shepherd Pass, but you can't herd here, dude.


The west side of Shepherd Pass rewarded us with glorious views of Tyndall Peak, the Great Western Divide, and beguiling meadows and brooks. And a nice gentle downhill grade.

Upper Tyndall Creek and Great Western Divide.jpg
Upper Tyndall Creek and the Great Western Divide


Nearing the PCT, Mav and I decided we could avoid the highway crowds by moving cross-country straight across to the “cut-off” trail (to the Upper Kern). It is a marmot city up here. The cut-off trail is situated on a high, beautiful plateau with views for miles. Foxy foxtail pines and pretty meadows frame the ever-approaching peaks of the Great Western Divide:

Foxtails and Great Western Divide.jpg
Foxtails


Meadow and Great Western Divide.jpg
Typical view from the cut-off trail to the upper Kern


Reaching the trail that follows the upper Kern River, we took a right. All of the lakes are beautiful here. Here is just one:

Lake Upper Kern Trail.jpg
Lake draining into upper Kern River


Soon we went off-trail again, following a little stream to our Night 2 destination, a lake south of Mount Genevre:

Lake below Genevre.jpg
Night 2 camp: Lake near Mt. Genevre


We hadn’t seen anyone since we crossed the PCT. A very satisfying day. And the water was warm! I took a leisurely swim. At dusk, a stocky miniature owl flew in to perch for a while in a snag right in camp. After many years of dreaming, I had finally made it to the Upper Kern.

To be continued...
Last edited by oleander on Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:33 pm, edited 3 times in total.



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Re: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up, trip report: Days 1-2

Postby davidsheridan » Sun Aug 17, 2014 4:27 pm

Excellent TR, I can't wait for the next installment.
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Re: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up Trip Report

Postby oleander » Sun Aug 17, 2014 4:56 pm

HST Meet-Up Report, Day 3: Milestone

We awoke at 5 a.m. to walk around to a location that Mav had scoped out for choice shots of the sunrise on the Great Western Divide. This location had nice views up the basin that flows down from Thunder Mountain:

Mav sets up tripod for sunrise shot.jpg
Mav sets up tripod for sunrise shot. Basin east of Thunder Mountain.


I was so disappointed in my photos at this location, I’m not going to post any here. I didn’t have a tripod, so my attempts to capture the depth with a wide aperture were just fuzzy. (I’ve since bought a miniature tripod.) I’m still struggling to figure out what to do with the scenes that have too much contrast between bright whites and shadows. The more you learn, the more you realize how untrained you are.

Mav and I headed back down to the junction with the cut-off trail, where we parted ways: He heading to the meet-up at Wales Lake; I heading to Milestone Basin. I was one-quarter mile from the entry to Milestone; I could not not go there! After carefully consulting several maps and Xeroxes from books, I walked down the Kern trail very slowly, scanning the landscape with eagle-eye intensity to spot the use trail into Milestone. The turnoff in fact was absurdly obvious – someone had even constructed three-way arteries of large rock indicating the junction. I crossed the Kern “River”, which is just a trickle up here:

Kern River.jpg
This is what the Kern River looks like in its upper reaches.


The use trail into Milestone was easy to follow, and the grade surprisingly gentle. The views opened up. Soon enough I was off that trail too, heading north and alternately up some rough-and-tumble ramps and piles of talus to inspect the little-visited lakes on the north side of the huge basin. I was thrilled to be truly off-trail. The lakes, nestled up against the long ridge emanating east from Table Mountain, I found to be very austere. Here is one of the lakes, looking east (that’s Whitney and Russell in the background):

Lake in northern Milestone Basin.jpg
Lake in northern Milestone Basin, near the end of the long ridge emanating from Table Mountain


I enjoyed seeing the south side of the same fluted ridge that Mav and I had photographed (from the northeast) in the early dawn. However, the landscape here is harsh – there are endless piles of nondescript rocks, in mazes of little canyons with no views. Seeking something more aesthetic, I decided to head southwest to explore the broader southern drainage of Milestone Basin, the one that forms a string of lakes. On the way there, I encountered one after another pocket meadow or field of flowers. (In this dry year, by mid-July you had to go over 11,500 feet to see the best remaining seasonal wildflowers.) I took some shots on behalf of Mav, who had been seeking exactly these types of flower scenes:

Lupine field.jpg
Lupine field


Sunflowers.jpg
Sunflowers


The southern string of lakes was as pretty as I’d hoped:

Milestone Lake 1.jpg
Lake in the main Milestone basin


Milestone Lake 2.jpg
...And another one


Milestone Lake 3.jpg
...and yet another


Milestone Creek.jpg
Milestone Creek


Reluctantly heading back down to the Kern, I realized why people come to Milestone: It’s to get up close and personal with this mountain range! There are many Sierra lake basins superior in their raw beauty to Milestone; but few Sierra subranges are as aesthetic as the Great Western Divide. It is a magnificent, undulating ridge of peaks with all different shapes, breathtaking from so many vantage points in the SEKI, including Whitney, Mitchell, and even distant, popular Moro Rock. And yet, you can never seem to get there: No well-used trails approach this part of the range; and some (such as the trails through Roaring River) are so maddeningly low-altitude that you can’t see the peaks at all. Getting here requires some effort.

Today I saw deer, grouse, and a jackrabbit – and no people.

Having scratched my Milestone itch, I returned to the cut-off trail with the intention of making some evening miles towards Wales Lake. Here’s the little tarn where I camped:

Alpenglow on Caltech Peak.jpg
Alpenglow on Caltech Peak


to be continued...
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Day 4

Postby oleander » Sun Aug 17, 2014 6:28 pm

Day 4: To Wales Lake

I got an early start, hoping both to avoid crowds on the PCT and to reach Wales with plenty of afternoon remaining. The sun rising behind Tyndall Peak backlit some of the sparkly tarns and streams in the upper Tyndall Creek basin.

Once past Bighorn Plateau – where I paused to study the Wrights Lakes basin (my Day 6 destination) from a perch on a weathered foxtail stump – my first order of business was to find a shortcut to the use trail going up to Wallace Lake. I am superstitious about the Wallace Creek junction with the PCT. On my first visit to this junction - camped on a High Sierra Trail trek with my aunt, 1992 – our stove had broken. Already on a starvation diet even before the stove broke, we had no choice but to eat strange concoctions like the meal we had that night: Mashed potatoes reconstituted in cold water, with some prunes for topping. Twenty-two years later, I still remember how that tastes. On my second visit to that junction, a 1999 JMT thru-hike, my friend and I huddled under a tree to escape a nasty thunderstorm. On my third visit, just two weeks ago, once again I got rained on.

Determined to avoid this bad-luck junction at all costs, I left the PCT shortly after the Wrights Creek crossing and side-hilled it southeast, turning into the Wallace Creek drainage. The side-hilling was steep and awkward, so I angled downward, where the going looked more level. Suddenly: Voices! Fifteen minutes after leaving the PCT, I found myself right on top of it, not even 150 feet away. Where I had zigged, the PCT had zagged.

The times you get the most smug about your cross-country navigation skills are the very occasions when Nature will slap down a hard lesson about how much you still have to learn. You just have to laugh.

I joined the use trail towards Wallace Lake. Eventually it opened up to lovely views of the meadows and tarns draining that lake.

Meadow on Wallace Creek.jpg
Meadow on Wallace Creek


Tarn on Wallace Creek.jpg
Tarn on Wallace Creek


Rather than taking the long, traditional way to Wales Lake via Wallace Lake, I decided to climb a ramp up the small ridge separating the Wallace drainage from the Wales drainage. Once in the Wales drainage, you are greeted with a delectable little valley well below the lake’s outlet. For a minute I wondered if this little valley was the actual location of the meet-up. It turns out that cgunderson and his wife did end up staying down here (unfortunately, I never got to meet them).

The route from here to Wales Lake required a fun zigzag up long granite ramps along the right side of the outlet. As I crested the climb, I was chanting: Tents. Please let there be tents up here! I was anxious to meet the group. And there they were – the tents, I mean. There were two one-person tents and I recognized Mav’s as one of them. There was also a gigantic orange tent that clearly, I thought, belonged to a family or a couple that likes plenty of sleeping space.

No people were around, so I set out to explore Wales’ gorgeous outlet, do my (no-soap) laundry and take some photos. I had been here before – in 1992, the day following the infamous cold-potatoes-and-prunes dinner – but I didn’t remember this outlet at all. My aunt and I must have spent our time on the east end of Wales Lake, the side accessed from Wallace Lake. The Wales Lake outlet has spacious, flat camping on sand, and a view of one of the most awesome rounded buttresses anywhere.

Wales Lake and outlet.jpg
Wales Lake, with outlet on the right


Bathing waters at Wales Lake.jpg
Bathing waters at Wales Lake


About two hours after my arrival, I saw a figure approaching from the Wallace-Wales saddle; then three more. Mav was the first to show, followed by Jim (Jimr), Brian (Schmalz), and Karl (Hobbes). Jimr and Schmalz, like Mav and I, had met for the first time on the drive to the mountains, and had hiked in together. They had come in over Old Army Pass, Miter Basin, and Crabtree Pass – a route I remember vividly as I did it myself just last year. Hobbes had hiked in over Shepherd. The four had spent most of their day at Wallace Lake, fishing or exploring. They seemed to be getting along marvelously.

They were about the friendliest people in the whole world. There is something very bonding about meeting up in a location that takes three days to get to. Well, Hobbes did not take three days but I think you know what I mean.

After washing up a ways up the lake, I returned to this scene:

Guys cooking.jpg
Left to right: Jimr, Hobbes (Karl), (Brian) Schmalz, and Maverick (Peter)


…and was told that the two remaining pieces of fish were for me!

Fish.jpg
My meal


I felt a little guilty as I had contributed nothing to the catching, cleaning or cooking of this beautiful meal.

Notice the old-school stove and cookset here? Jim. Everything is old-school for Jim, including the external-frame pack and every gizmo that he retrieved from it. And that orange mansion of a tent that I had assumed a whole family would be occupying? Jim’s.

On the opposite end of the packweight spectrum was Hobbes, who carried only a tiny homemade pack and 900-fill down quilt, no stove, and for shelter, a convertible poncho-tarp.

Some more shots of the group:

Guys at lake.jpg
Lakeshore chatting


Camping area and outlet.jpg
Our camp


Brian’s tent looked a mess from wind the night prior, so I went to work on making my own tent more taut. Snap! One of my trekking poles – they hold up my tent – broke right in two. The tent fell down. I brought the broken pole to the group, who immediately went to work on it, MacGyvering, from their various toolkits, a solution that could at least hold the tent up for the rest of the trip. And it did – although the tent did look sad and crooked. Mav took me aside and informed me that I had taken over from Brian the prize for worst-pitched tent.

We spent the evening sharing stories, and then headed out to shoot sunset photos. Lots of serious photographers at this meet-up!

Tripods.jpg
The guys aim their tripods at the sunset over the Kaweahs...


Alpenglow on Whitney.jpg
...But I really liked the alpenglow on Mounts Whitney and Morgensen.


to be continued…
Last edited by oleander on Mon Aug 18, 2014 6:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Day 5

Postby oleander » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:57 pm

Day 5: Tulainyo Lake

I woke early and jogged up to the sunrise vista, only to find Mav and Brian already closing up shop there:

Sunrise on Kaweahs.jpg
Sunrise


The best of the colors, they told me – the ruby reds – had already come and gone. However, I like this photo because it is the only one I have showing the charming granite valley below the Wales Lake outlet. (In this photo, that valley is behind/below/to the left of Brian’s tripod. The sunrise is coloring the Kaweahs at left; part of Midway Mountain on the far right.)

Mount Whitney, too, lit up a fiery red for about ten minutes. Whitney, ever the alpenglow hog (it reminds me of Mt. Humphreys that way), gets it both morning and evening.

Hobbes, intent on making it out to the Shepherd Pass trailhead by tonight – in one day! – took off early. We were sad to see him go. He did give us some substantial recon on the Wrights Lakes Basin, which we would all be using in place of the PCT to get to Shepherd Pass, though on different days.

I was experiencing mixed feelings about my decision to visit Milestone and miss the first day of the meet-up, because it turned out that everyone but me was leaving this morning. (I had hoped to be joined by VHSVHS today, on his way to Russell-Carillon Col, but his trip was delayed and we never got to meet him.) Here are the guys delaying the inevitable goodbye:

Ready to leave.jpg
Packed up and ready to go


This photo faces east. The route to Tulainyo Lake, my destination for the day, follows a ramp that diagonally climbs the wall behind Wales Lake. That diagonal cut is barely visible – it is located directly above the upright boulder that is in the foreground in front of the lake.

I would really miss these people. After all the social days, I would now have five more days – five! – all solo.

I bucked up and headed to the far side of Wales to find a route to Tulainyo Lake, another longtime Sierra bucket list destination. As I closed in on the far wall, a diagonal ramp presented itself, easy Class 2 leading to a mile of gentle meadows that one can just stroll up. I had been in love with Mount Russell’s south side on previous trips; I found it no less gorgeous on the north, with its granite ramparts and curves:

Meadow below Russell.jpg
Mount Russell presiding over the approach to Tulainyo


Tulainyo Lake itself, which is distinguished as the highest large lake on the continent at nearly thirteen thousand feet, was certainly stunning but it was also a harsher environment than I expected. Truly a giant pothole of talus. From the west, it appears to just want to spill over the Sierra crest. It’s very cool looking, but it was a challenge trying to capture a good photo from the lake’s edge.

Mount Russell being beyond my skill level, I decided to climb the massive, admittedly ugly talus heap on the northern side of Tulainyo Lake. This heap is called Tunnabora Peak. So insignificant is this mountain that you never, ever hear anyone say “Hey, I bagged Tunnabora Peak!” But it was early in the day, and I wanted a good photo of the lake, as well as a view down into the Owens Valley a dramatic nine thousand feet below. Here’s a nice photo of Tulainyo from Tunnabora’s flank:

Tulainyo flowers.jpg
Tulainyo Lake from flank of Tunnabora Peak


In spite of the very slow, careful boulder-hopping, I enjoyed this climb for all the little finds in hidden corners. I saw bighorn sheep tracks, as well as the only Sky Pilot flower of the trip:

Sky Pilot.jpg
Sky Pilot, a rare high-altitude flower


At the top, I enjoyed a dizzyingly vertical view north into George Creek – another, very remote bucket list destination. I took the following shot facing south. On the left is the Owens Valley; Mount Russell is on the right, with a bit of Mount Whitney peeking up behind it.

Tulainyo Panorama from Tunnabora.jpg
Owens Valley, Tulainyo Lake, and Mount Russell from atop Tunnabora Peak


You can tell that Russell has been deeply sculpted by glaciers on its north side. At its northeastern foot, under the glacier carving, is the cutest little lakelet.

After a nice rest, cold strong gusts of wind persuaded me down from my perch. The wind, along with clouds here and there in a formerly cloudless sky, was an early signal of a weather change that would affect me for the next four days.

The descent back to Wales was a pleasurable stride back down the meadow. There were lots of critters, including dippers, the requisite one pika I see per high-altitude trip, and this marmot that looked like a beaver:

Marmot as beaver.jpg
Marmot that resembles a beaver


It is always delightful to encounter the big crystal rocks so typical of the Whitney area:

Crystal.jpg
Crystal


I took the ramp back down to Wales Lake:

Ramp above Wales.jpg
Cairn marks ramp leading down to Wales Lake


It was a windy day so I was happy to see my tent still standing, bad pole and all. I took a much-needed nap, made some equipment repairs, and settled into the vast quiet that is alone time in the wilderness.

And tonight Wales Lake finally got the kind of cloud formations and sunset color the guys had been wanting to see.

Sunset at Wales.jpg
More cloud = more color at sunset


To be continued…
Last edited by oleander on Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:30 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up Trip Report

Postby Shhsgirl » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:02 pm

Gorgeous! I'm going there, someday....
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Re: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up Trip Report

Postby oleander » Sun Aug 17, 2014 10:15 pm

Day 6: Wallace Lake and Wrights Lakes Basin

What I awoke to my last morning at Wales Lake was a photographer’s dream: Still waters! Reflections!

Reflection 1.jpg
Still waters


Reflection 2.jpg
The shadows make cool shapes


I was headed for Wrights Lakes Basin today. But first, I really wanted to see Wallace Lake:

Wallace Lake.jpg
Wallace Lake


On the way, I spotted two big jackrabbits. Below the Wallace Lake outlet were some lingering shooting stars:

Shooting stars below Wallace.jpg
Shooting stars below the Wallace Lake outlet


I followed the use trail down Wallace Creek. As before, it was pretty. Today, my job was to find the optimal place to leave the trail and ascend into Wrights Basin. Hobbes had shown us that location on the map. “It’s obvious,” he had assured us. “Leave the trail right after crossing the last rivulet.” Now, there were plenty of streams and rivulets, but how do you know which one is the last rivulet?

Alternatively, I could have planned to simply turn at the correct altitude. But the battery had died on my altimeter. And I did not have Mav around to divine our elevation via bodily prognosis. And though I am pretty good at reading topo maps, here was an instance where I wished my ability to match the map to subtle changes in the landscape was more precise. I have some work to do this winter – back to the Bay Area orienteering events I go.

Thus I missed the turn, and wound up unwittingly at – you guessed it – the junction of Wallace Creek and the PCT. Determined to at least avoid contact with humans, I slunk back into the woods just above the trail junction and threw my pack down by the creek. I don’t know who was more startled – the rattler, or me. So close was the 4-foot-long guy that he had to slither away under my fallen trekking poles.

Yes, it’s possible he was a gopher snake – that’s what I thought for about two weeks afterwards – but upon further research, and recalling his coloring, and his tail, I do think that what I saw was a rattlesnake. Rattlers were not formerly seen up here at 10,400 feet. But now with climate change they are being spotted up to 11,000 feet in the southern Sierra, and apparently are very common in Wallace Creek.

So I got the hell out of Bad Luck Junction, grumpily greeting the humans, and scurrying north along the PCT to the Wrights Creek crossing. Really pleased to get off-trail again, I followed along the south side of the creek through some woods for about 20 minutes, before the Wrights Lakes Basin opened up into one gigantic meadow. This meadow is easily a half-mile to a mile wide, with wide open views in all directions. Here is a typical scene in the lower part of the basin:

Wrights typical view.jpg
Lower part of Wrights Lakes Basin


…and further up in the middle of the basin:

Upper Wrights typical scene.jpg
Middle part of Wrights Lakes Basin


In Wrights Lakes Basin I found very little sign of recent human activity, but plenty of evidence of very old campsites. Clearly this area was used as a north-south passage prior to the building of the PCT.

The clouds had been building all day. It was only 1:30 p.m. I had desperately hoped that I would have the opportunity to explore the upper third of Wrights Lakes Basin – a granite-filled arm rising to the east, nestled under Tyndall Peak and Mt. Versteeg. I wanted to see for myself the famous big upper lake. But that lake is at twelve thousand feet, well above treeline. And when I reached my decision point – the north headwall at treeline at the top of the lower basin – here’s what the sky looked like:

Storm clouds Wrights.jpg
Storm clouds


Not one to risk exposure to thunderstorms, I conceded. I would camp right here, in the last tree cover available to me. I set up my tent, sat to watch the changing colors and cloud formations, and did some more equipment repairs.

To be continued…
Last edited by oleander on Mon Aug 18, 2014 6:40 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: TR: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up, July 2014

Postby oleander » Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:41 am

Day 7: Back to Anvil Camp

I awoke at 5:45 to completely overcast skies. That sight shocked me right out of my tent and I got to work. I needed to get over two high passes – Rockwell and Shepherd – before the heavens opened up. The next treeline protection would be many hours away, at Anvil Camp.

The original plan had been for a slower exit out Shepherd, as follows: An exploration of the upper Wrights Basin; over steep Tyndall Col into Williamson Bowl; a tour of the Bowl; and maybe a climb up Tyndall’s north rib. I even considered backtracking to the upper Kern, to pay a visit to the big lake situated under Mt. Jordan. After two weeklong trips, I was thoroughly acclimatized to the altitude, and ready for long, physical days. Here I was positioned right at the foot of several legendary high basins. My pack was light. A perfect time to do something unusual and fun, like climbing Tyndall! I’m not normally a peak-bagger at all, but that white mountain is so alluring, I could not stop thinking about the prospect. I was meeting up with a friend in Independence in three days; there was no benefit at all to hurrying out a day or two early.

But under threat of thunderstorm, I was unwilling to visit any of those high places. It was totally maddening.

So I shouldered my pack and aimed north for Rockwell Pass, which would drop me back into the upper Tyndall Creek basin and position me for the quickest exit over Shepherd Pass. The going was quite pretty in the early morning. I paused to snap a photo of a lake Hobbes said he had camped at on the way to Wales:

Pothole lake.jpg
Lake in Wrights Basin under Rockwell pass


This is the same lake, looking southeast toward Mount Barnard:

Pothole lake looking back.jpg
The same lake, looking southeast


The overcast cloud cover had mysteriously lifted, but I didn’t trust it. Still too many clouds for this early in the morning.

Rockwell Pass was an easy climb. It delivered fabulous views of (left to right): The Great Western Divide, the Kings-Kern Divide, Diamond Mesa, upper Tyndall basin, and Shepherd Pass.

Rockwell Pass Panorama compressed.jpg
Rockwell Pass panorama


Diamond Mesa with cloud.jpg
Diamond Mesa from Rockwell Pass


Junction Peak and Shepherd Pass.jpg
Junction Peak and Shepherd Pass, viewed from Rockwell Pass


I headed down the north side of the pass on the left (west), then contoured over, discovering a well-trodden use trail down the easier right (east) side. If you find the use trail, Rockwell is a Class 1 pass.

I joined the Shepherd Pass Trail, where I hiked for a while with a biologist from Bishop. She was a bighorn sheep specialist, so I learned some things about the various herds in the Sierra, and about the tracks I thought I’d seen on Tunnabora Peak. She too was hustling over Shepherd Pass one day early; I wasn’t the only one, and in fact I met at least two other parties that day who were terrified of the weather and were doing the exact same thing. She said she wanted to climb Tyndall, too. I would have had a climbing partner! But, nearing Shepherd Pass, we took a closer look at Tyndall and decided we had no choice but to leave it for another day:

Tyndall Peak.jpg
Morning clouds over Tyndall


I did want to at least peek into Williamson Bowl. So I dropped my pack just short of Shepherd Pass, parted ways with my companion, and practically ran up to the gentle saddle that I hoped would provide an overlook. Here is the saddle between Williamson and Tyndall:

Williamson Bowl view.jpg
Saddle into Williamson Bowl


But the saddle was a false summit. I still couldn't see down into the Bowl. And it was starting to rain. I was in an extremely exposed position. I chickened out. Racing back down to Shepherd Pass, I managed some flower shots for some particular friends who love those flowers:

Pussy paws.jpg
Flowers


Sunflowers belong Tyndall.jpg
More flowers


…and scurried over Shepherd Pass with hardly a look back. Soon enough I was safely approaching treeline, and felt confident enough to slow down and take more flower photos.

Yellow columbine.jpg
Yellow columbine?


At least two parties of fresh-faced young hikers were on their way up the pass with climbing gear, intent on bagging Williamson or Tyndall. One group I tried to persuade to turn around, but after six thousand feet of uphill this is not what they wanted to hear. They continued up.

At noon, I made it to the comforting tree cover of Anvil Camp just in time to set up my tent and dive in before the rain came down for real. Thus commenced a second afternoon trying to find ways to whittle away the time till the weather cleared.

It was Day 7, and I had settled into my wilderness persona like Jungle Girl. I had no yearning for civilization whatsoever.

to be continued...
Last edited by oleander on Mon Aug 18, 2014 6:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: TR: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up, July 2014

Postby maverick » Mon Aug 18, 2014 1:50 pm

Beautiful TR and pictures Oleander. Lucky you, you got that mirror reflection on
Wales which avoided us for days with that strong wind.
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: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up, July 2014

Postby SSSdave » Mon Aug 18, 2014 1:58 pm

Well written report, Oleander, thanks for taking the time. Some well framed images too. Since you have an interest in capturing better images in this era of the Internet when we are awash with vast numbers of digital camera pictures, was good to read you saw the wisdom of buying a tripod as that is the first step necessary for better compositions. Even a miniature one like the tiny Gorillapods can have considerable use for anyone. One can acquire most photography skills without going to some class or field seminar by simply buying a book on basic photography. Actually in this era a vast amount of information can increasingly be found on tutorial web sites. Just search "online basic photography tutorial" and you will get a long list of hits. This site is excellent for the advanced person. Absorb much of this and you'll know more than instructors.

http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials.htm

After a bit of knowledge, take your camera out of AUTO everything mode and put it on Aperture Priority which is what landscape photographers use. That will force you to set your exposure compensation manually that one will learn through experience. Use your camera's histogram function. On sunny days tend to underexposure the highlights more than a camera's histogram shows maybe one-third stop as the result can always be easily bumped up in post processing but anything over exposed is a loss. Review what you just shot and see how it looks. Download the exifinfo tool onto your computer, read the documentation, and learn to use it to know what your camera settings were in order to evaluate what worked and what did not with all those shots you took days before.

O >>> And though I am pretty good at reading topo maps, here was an instance where I wished my ability to match the map to subtle changes in the landscape was more precise. I have some work to do this winter – back to the Bay Area orienteering events I go.

DS <<< Basic Orienteering is only going to give a person modest skills. The obvious method for gaining skills of being able to understand where one is on a topo map is by actually holding and looking at a map while moving through terrain. The level of skill that separates an expert at reading topo maps and the average person is huge. Many backpackers I've met in our wilderness areas have mediocre map skills. When others along a trail ask me questions about how far, which way, etc I often force them to take their map out so I can show them. Surprisingly is the number that start looking at maps upsidedown or have difficultly even locating the general area on a map they might be. Like it is all Greek. Of course many keep their maps in some case or sleeve deep in their pack and almost never take it out.

Much of what one will notice on a map as terrain changes are subtleties that are not easily translated into words because they are geometric 2-dimensional line forms. And it does not matter whether one is on a trail or not. Gaining such skill is a long term process that slowly accumulates. Try carrying your map in your hand continually looking at is as you walk down a trail. Generally that is what I always do in difficult areas off trail. Our mountains have many different environments and geologies to learn.

Landscapes looked unusually dry versus what I've seen in those areas for other years. Like it when in August it all looks green and flowery without all the brown areas. Won't bother going up that monstrous trail until we have a good precip year and likely do the pass more leisurely in 2.5 days meaning I'll night hike the first 2k. Unlike the orientation of most on this board or peakbaggers, also prefer to be at or below the timberline with the greenery and trees instead of up in the barren alpine lake basins.
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Re: TR: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up, July 2014

Postby JohnS » Mon Aug 18, 2014 2:39 pm

Oleander,
Thanks for the wonderful report. Your photos make Shepherd Pass look inviting. The flower you asked about at the start of day two is most likely Primrose Monkeyflower. It the leaves don’t match try looking at Tilings Monkeyflower.
John
Last edited by JohnS on Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TR: HST Wales Lake Meet-Up, July 2014

Postby copeg » Mon Aug 18, 2014 2:47 pm

What a great report! Looks as though it was a trip of a lifetime. Quite surprised you saw a ratler that high up - never seen one above 8k. And your photos are fantastic. Absolutely love the Tulainyo shot with the flowers in the foreground.
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