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TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

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TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby norak » Wed Sep 03, 2014 12:11 am

Prologue
We originally had permits out of the Mono Pass TH to go to the Pioneer and Laurel Creek Basins and had gotten some good advice from HST members here for that area, but when we left the Bay Area on August 5, the French Fire was still raging and we saw and smelled quite a bit of smoke going over Sonora pass. With winds coming mostly out of the South, we decided to change our plans and head for some place south of the fire. I have wanted to visit 60 Lake Basin ever since we looked down into it from the pass from Rae Lakes on our JMT section hike a few years ago; we had no problem getting a permit for Kearsarge Pass so that was settled.

We drove up to Onion Valley in the evening after a bite to eat in Bishop and found a good site and set up camp. While doing so I kept seeing these green signs out of the corner of my eye but didn't bother to look closely - maybe it was the altitude, or just being tired after staying up until 2 am the night before preparing for the trip, but it just didn't occur to me to actually read the signs. After putting all our gear in the bear box, my husband H and I got into the tent and into our sleeping bags, hoping for a good night's sleep. Then, as I was nodding off it, suddenly dawned on me that this is a reservable campground and I was overcome by a sinking feeling that those green signs I had seen must somehow be connected to this fact. I communicated this to H, and he gallantly got out of the tent to have a look - sure enough, the little green signs indicated the dates that the sites were reserved, and ours was reserved by the Harrisons for the night. By this time it was 9:00 pm and dark, but an occasional car was still arriving at the campground. We decided it was better to move, if for no other reason than to sleep easy, as opposed to getting nervous every time we heard a car engine. So out of the sleeping bag, throw all the stuff in the bear box and the tent back into the car, and carry the tent, still set up, a few hundred feet to an unreserved campsite. We were back in our sleeping bags by 9:45 and were lulled to a deep sleep by the creek near by. Of course the Harrisons never showed, but I was glad to have had that night of solid sleep.

Day 1 - Onion Valley to Kearsarge Lakes
The next morning we had a cold breakfast, broke camp, packed up and were on the trail by 9:00. The hike up to the pass was a slog - I hadn't been at altitude for almost a year so I definitely felt the effects - headache, slight nausea, and just general sluggishness. I finally started feeling better just below the pass and once over it I felt my usual self. We found a spot on the second Kearsarge Lake and while H set up the tent I started working on dinner. Looking for the stuff sack containing our pot and bowls and cups I peered into H's pack, but all I saw was our large bear canister with his clothes and sleeping pad stuffed in around it. I knew he was carrying the pot, but looking at it there was no space inside the pack that an item of that size might occupy. Puzzled, I asked him where he had packed the pot, and he looked at me with a stunned look on his face - the pot? I don't have the pot. Yes you do - remember, I took the stove and you took the bag with the pot. Now a look of utter bewilderment from H, and on my side, that sinking feeling again. Long story short, in the scramble to move camp in Onion Valley the previous night, the bag with the pot had gotten covered up by some extra clothes in the trunk and had not made it back into H's pack. So now what do we do? It took me a few minutes to assess the situation, and a solution slowly materialized, aided by a bit of luck. We’re old school in that we still carry water bottles, and H happens to carry an extra large, 40 oz stainless steel bottle. This would be our pot. The bit of luck was that though I usually keep our spoons in the same bag as the pot and dishes, this time, for some unknown reason, I had stuck them in the stuff sack that holds our stove. So at least we wouldn’t have to eat oatmeal or stroganoff with our fingers! We would boil water in the water bottle, and clean and save the pouches holding our freeze-dried dinners to use as bowls and cups. It all ended up working beautifully, but poor H was so rattled by that little lapse, he crawled into the tent and slept until dinner was ready.

The Kearsarge Lakes were not as crowded as I had expected, and I took a little stroll after dinner and enjoyed the shadows moving up the flanks of University Peak and the moonrise over the Kearsarge Pinnacles. I was elated to be back in this familiar country, with six days of wandering stretching out ahead of us.

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University Peak


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Moon over Kearsarge Pinnacles


Day 2 - Kearsarge Lakes to Rae Lakes
This was all familiar territory from our JMT section hike a couple years back, but in the reverse direction. On the hike down towards Bullfrog Lake I took note of the fact that several small seasonal creeks that cross the trail were full of water, something I wouldn’t have expected this dry year. In fact it has been a wetter than normal summer in the mountains so we found that most of the creeks had water and many creeks were positively gushing, a pleasant surprise. I felt better today and the climb up Glen Pass was not bad at all, though it was a slog for H who was suffering a bit from altitude. He eventually made it and we enjoyed the views from the top of the King-Kern Divide to the south and Mts. Cotter and Clarence King to the northwest, and in the far distance, what I assumed was the Palisade Crest. Trail junctions and the tops of passes are a little bit like airports for me in that I imagine all the destinations that one can reach from there and I feel the pull of distant and unknown places. We camped at the uppermost Rae Lake, just off the junction with the 60 Lake Basin trail, in the same exact spot we camped in three years ago. I washed up, did some sketching, and took in the rich, somber colors and the wild jumble of layered and thrusting metamorphic (I think) rock that rings the upper lake. Painted Lady, Dragon Peak, Black Mountain - what a grand, imposing assemblage of magnificent peaks! Later in the evening the waxing moon rose over the lake and the whole basin sank into a deep blue dusk.

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Mt. Cotter and Mt. Clarence King


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Painted Lady


Day 3 - Rae Lakes to 60 Lake Basin
Today would be a very short hiking day so we took our time packing up and I took off north on the JMT to revisit some of the lower lakes in the basin as the last time we hiked this portion of the trail it had been raining and we just rushed through. I hiked to just below Fin Dome and marveled at that pile of fractured granite and also scoped out some nice campsites for future reference. On the way back I stopped at the ranger’s hut to ask about hiking over to Gardiner Basin and also the short cut via 60 Lake Col to Glen Pass. Based on what the ranger said, I now think it best to do Gardiner Basin as a day hike rather than going over with our packs. In our early 50’s and 60’s, respectively, we’ve decided that hiking over talus and boulder fields with a heavy pack are not much fun and we’d rather explore that kind of terrain without all that weight. I do feel wistful about the really remote places I will likely never see - my imagination and desire definitely outstrip my physical capabilities at this point - but on the other hand we will certainly never run out of places, sublimely beautiful and unpopulated places, that are still well within our abilities to reach. Still, it is sometimes hard not to be greedy about these things.

I hiked back to our campsite feeling hot and sweaty and jumped into the lake to cool off. It was COLD, and in my haste to get out I struck an underwater rock and bruised and scraped my shin. Luckily it was not a deep wound, and I just let it dry out naturally. After lunch we headed up and over the pass into 60 Lake Basin. The clouds were gathering as we hiked down the other side, and by the tine we reached our destination, the little lake below the outlet of the lake called the Fjord, it was raining in earnest. We found a nice campsite but the rain was coming down hard now, so for the next hour we just huddled under some trees, waiting it out, occasionally getting up to do some jumping jacks to warm ourselves up. There was a brief break, and realizing it might be our one chance we set up the tent as quickly as possible and managed to get our gear inside before it started up again. Aside from that little break, it rained solidly from about 4 to 7 pm with thunder and lightening to boot. We just lay in the tent and counted the seconds between lightening flash and thunderclap. At one point there was only a 2 or 3 second delay and I put my rain gear back on and got away from the tent. The thunder moved away again and I got back in the tent, then it got closer again, but I couldn’t muster the will to leave the tent yet again so I just stayed put, hoping for the best. The storm finally moved off and we ate dinner in the gathering dusk. The moon rose again, this time over the back of Fin Dome, and as evening descended we were truly alone for the first time this trip.

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Moon over Fin Dome


Day 4 - Day hike to the base of Mt. Cotter. On the second day at the top of Glen Pass we had met a group of climbers that were going to attempt to summit Mt. Clarence King. We were curious to see the mountain up close so we decided to hike over to the base of it. We hiked down 60 Lake Basin along the trail and then headed west XC towards Mt. Cotter where the terrain opens up a bit and hiked to the lake just below that mountain. There was a whole other ridge between that lake and the base of Mt. Clarence King that we didn't feel like climbing so we just stayed and basked in the sun and ate lunch before heading back to our campsite. 60 Lakes is a lovely jewel of a basin, with innumerable lakes tucked away amongst meadows and granite outcroppings, with the creek meandering through lush grassy wetlands and connecting lake to lake. It reminded me a little of parts of the Emigrant Wilderness, except here there are high, dramatic, peaks towering above it all. We did not encounter a soul the entire three days and nights that we spent there. The weather turned just as we returned to our campsite and like the previous day, it rained from about 4 until 7. We waited it out again in the tent but enjoyed a dramatic clearing sky while we ate dinner.

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60 Lake Basin


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Sunset


Day 5 - Day hike to the pass to Gardiner Basin.
The morning dawned a clear blue, and after breakfast we set off towards the pass to Gardiner Basin. We followed the use trail along the west shore of the Fjord, though we ended up on a higher route that went up quite a ways and we had to scramble back down to the inlet creek. I wanted to head up diagonally towards the pass on the granite ledges, but H wanted to follow the creek to the uppermost lake below the pass and then head straight up. We’ve had this argument before - just different styles of route finding, I guess. In the spirit of compromise and marital harmony we went up his way and came down mine. The views down into Gardiner Basin were striking and in utter contrast to 60 Lakes - a stark, treeless basin of rockbound, cobalt blue lakes at the base of a great heap of rubble that is the back side of Mts. Cotter and Clarence King. It reminded me a lot of the Davis Lakes basin and of Evolution Basin. It is interesting how certain geographic features repeat themselves in the Sierra based on their orientation and elevation. Gardiner, Davis Lakes, and Evolution are all wide, open, treeless basins on the western side of passes. Likewise Piute Creek and Woods Creek, both west trending drainages, have a very similar feel when descending them on a sundrenched afternoon. A big part of the satisfaction I derive from our wanderings over the Sierra comes from getting a feel for the shape and characteristics of the range as a whole, how the divides and drainages, the canyons and basins all fit together - getting to know the land, really. It is so gratifying to look back from the top of a pass to where you just came from, to recognize the peaks and contours of the landscape and to know that you covered all that distance with just your own two feet - a sense of achievement at the most basic level. We ate lunch at the top of the pass, were glad that we were not going down into that boulder field with our heavy packs, and returned to our campsite via the abovementioned ledges - SO much easier. Today there was no rain so I was able to spend the afternoon sketching and idling by the lovely creek running by our campsite. We discussed our route for the following day - whether we would return to Glen Pass via the Rae Lakes or take the short cut over 60 Lakes col. We decided to see how the weather was and how we felt in the morning.

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Upper Gardiner Basin


Day 6
60 Lakes to Charlotte Lake.
The rain returned in the night and we awoke to it. Luckily around 7am it paused just long enough for us to eat breakfast and pack up. By the time we were on the trail it was misting again and dark clouds loomed to the east. Given the weather, we decided not to attempt the XC route and to hike back down to Rae Lakes and then up to Glen Pass from there. It was a good decision, as by the time we approached the pass we were hiking in a downpour of hail and rain, with thunder and lightning not too far to the east. We pretty much ran up to the pass and didn’t even pause at the top, being anxious to get down and away from the lightening as quickly as possible. Our original plan had been to spend our last night at the Kearsarge Lakes but the storm looked even more severe in their direction, so we decided to camp at Charlotte Lake instead. It rained all the way there, and we found that the campsites at the near end of the lake were all occupied. We finally found a tiny site up on the hillside that barely fit our tent - in fact, there was a small boulder sticking up under one corner like a little nightstand. Again we spent a good hour huddled under some trees just waiting for the rain to let up long enough to set up the tent and get our gear inside. The break finally came but didn’t last long; we did manage to get the tent up and everything inside, but it was all rather sodden (our “waterproof” pack covers were not waterproof at all, and my extra clothes and a corner of H’s sleeping bag got completely wet). Next time I will just bring a couple of large garbage bags that cost 50 cents each instead of this useless pack cover that cost me $35! Luckily my extra clothes are wool and once I squeezed most of the moisture out with my washcloth and put them on they eventually dried from my body heat. We zipped our sleeping bags together just on one side to make a giant quilt and so were able to avoid the wet parts and slept quite comfortably. We were lucky that it was still early August and relatively warm. If it had been very cold as it often has been on past trips things would have been far less pleasant. We did not bother cooking and just ate all the leftover snacks for dinner.

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Glen Pass shrouded in rain


Day 7
Charlotte Lake to Onion Valley
The sky was still full of threatening clouds when we poked our heads out of the tent in the morning. Knowing the rain could start at any moment we ate a cold breakfast and packed up in a hurry. We had a few sprinkles but eventually the clouds receded and we had a dry hike the rest of the way back to the trailhead. As soon as we hit the JMT at Rae Lakes we encountered the first people we had seen in three days, and after that it felt like we were part of a constant stream of hikers on the trail. We took the upper trail from the Charlotte Lake junction to Kearsarge Pass, and had beautiful views of East Vidette with sunlight breaking through the clouds to light up it’s elegant flanks. We stopped to talk to a hiker who had just come in over the pass and H asked him whether anything noteworthy had happened over the past week that we had been away from “civilization”. I thought NOOOOO I’m not ready for that yet, but it was too late, and we got it all - Robin Williams, the Ukraine, another three ceasefires agreed to and broken in Gaza… sigh. Thankfully the final climb to the top of the pass put all that out of my mind again and before we began the descent down to Onion Valley I looked back one last time and took in the sweep of mountains and sky, silently murmured thanks and headed down.

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East Vidette
Last edited by norak on Fri Sep 05, 2014 12:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby maverick » Wed Sep 03, 2014 1:25 pm

Thank you for the wonderful TR and pictures. Love the clouds in the sunset picture.
Good improvising with the water bottle.
Rae/60 Lakes/Gardiner seems like they were a popular destinations this year.
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 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby shan1203 » Wed Sep 03, 2014 1:41 pm

norak,

I just returned from the 60 Lakes/Gardiner Basin area, too! Your pictures are lovely and it sounds as though you had a great time. I agree with you that the difference between looking west from 60 Lakes Col and looking east from the same spot is quite striking.

Gardiner Basin was a bit more rugged, but not nearly as difficult as I expected it to be. I hope you do return to see it as your desire to do so rang clearly through your words :)

Happy Hiking,
Shannon
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Re: TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby norak » Thu Sep 04, 2014 9:06 am

Thank you for your kind words Maverick and for your encouragement Shannon - it sounds like you had an amazing trip! I definitely hope to return to that area again and venture out further.

Nora
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Re: TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby Rockyroad » Fri Sep 05, 2014 12:17 am

"...there was a small boulder sticking up under one corner like a little nightstand"

Your TR exudes such positive energy! You don't seem to be fazed by anything including the reserved campsite incident, the missing pot, the weather, and even the rock in the tent and in fact, seem to find fortune in these events. I really enjoyed reading your narrative.
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Re: TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby richlong8 » Fri Sep 05, 2014 9:27 am

Great trip report in a truly beautiful area. 60 Lakes has never been a hotspot to my knowledge. With most if not all the trout removed, it is probably even less visited. It is good that you did not allow rain to put a damper on your trip. ;)
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Re: TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby norak » Fri Sep 05, 2014 3:00 pm

Rockyroad wrote:"...there was a small boulder sticking up under one corner like a little nightstand"

Your TR exudes such positive energy! You don't seem to be fazed by anything including the reserved campsite incident, the missing pot, the weather, and even the rock in the tent and in fact, seem to find fortune in these events. I really enjoyed reading your narrative.


Thank you Rockyroad - actually, my initial response to the rock was not so sanguine, until I realized it made a perfect perch for my glasses! As for all the rest, I felt quite lucky in that everything worked out so well. The rain always stopped at the right times and just long enough for us to do what we needed to and also made the scenery much more dramatic and varied; we stayed warm and dry for the most part and were well fed - simple things that one takes for granted most of the time, but when you're out there and you manage keep everything together and it all works out, it's a great feeling. :)

richlong8 - yes we saw nets in many of the lakes and notices on the shores that they are removing the introduced fish. Still, it was hard to believe we were only 2 miles off the JMT and had it all to our selves!

Thanks again for reading.
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Re: TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby tomba » Sat Sep 06, 2014 5:29 pm

We were there 8/8-8/11. In 60 Lake Basin on your days 4 and 5. Beautiful area. In via Basin Notch and out via Rae Col. On your day 4 we set up the tent at 3 pm before the rain started, left our packs there, and we enjoyed exploring the lower basin and the lowest lakes under King Spur in our rain gear in intermittent rain. On your day 6 (rain at night) we were at Charlotte.
and ours was reserved (…) By this time it was 9:00 pm and dark (…) the Harrisons never showed
It is not unusual for us to arrive at a camp after 11pm, and leave before 7am. I wonder how often people think that we never showed up. Thank you for leaving the reserved campsite.
-- Found trash? Please pack it out. Thank you.
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Re: TR 60 Lake Basin, 8/6 - 8/12 2014

Postby sekihiker » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:14 pm

Some of my favorite trips have involved a lot of rain. It looks like you got a little more than your share on this trip. Thanks for the report.
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