TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2 | High Sierra Topix  

TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

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TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby Moonwalker » Tue Sep 09, 2014 7:36 pm

Introduction.
I went in (solo) at Taboose Pass, and spent 6 nights, at Bench Lake, Arrow Creek Basin, Mt Clarence King Basin, Gardiner Basin, Sixty Lakes Basin, and the west side of Taboose Pass before exiting Taboose Pass. My experience level is 4, though I am not nearly as experienced as many of the people on this board. I have done several solo x-country treks, but I try to avoid Class 3 exposure. The trip I describe below should only be attempted by someone who is proficient with a map and compass, and is ``comfortable’’ on steep/treacherous Class 2 cols.

I’d like to acknowledge that I benefitted enormously from reading past trip reports and comments on this site, and I’d like to thank the moderators copeg, markskor, giantbrookie, and especially maverick for making this forum such a useful resource. I did not consider going into Arrow Lakes Basin until I read TenderPaw’s thread (I wasn’t going at the same time), and the photo by Wandering Daisy convinced me to visit Gardiner Basin. The comments by maverick, cgundersen, and CrossCountry helped me know what to expect, and I was glad for that.

My pack weighed 32 lbs without food, with my new lightweight WM sleeping bag and super-easy JetBoil stove. I once carried a heavy pack, but now I try to keep it light, because the punishment was wearing down my joints. I brought about 1500 calories of food per day, weighing a total of about 6 pounds.

How can you not like the JetBoil stove. It boils the water in approximately the time it takes to put the tea bag in the cup. Instead of half an hour of the loud gassing sound characteristic of the Whisperlite (which I used with gratitude for over 20 years), we have a single minute. And so much easier to use! One thing they should work on: Making the built in spark-starter work at high altitude. Mine works fine at sea level, but I had to use my own lighter over 10,000 feet. Pity the camper who doesn't bring an alternative source of flame. They will keep clicking and clicking the starter button, hoping every time that it will catch. Eventually the futility of it will close in on them, and in a fit of passion they will break the stove into pieces and stomp on it. One other thing: After the parts swell up from the heat, it can be hard to separate the pot from the stove. I haven't had any accidents yet, but it's easy to imagine pulling until they suddenly rip apart, and the boiling water jumps out of the pot into someone's lap.

The Trip.
Day 1: Taboose Pass Trailhead to Bench Lake.
Comments: This hike lasted 11 hours. The next time I do Taboose in one day, I’m going to put in my mouth guard. I had the pleasure of meeting another solo hiker, Cirle, near the southwest side of the pass, who served as a kind of threshold guardian for my entry into the Sierra. Cheers to you Cirle. The place where I first put my pack down at Bench Lake turned out to be overrun with large, curious, black ants. I moved to avoid disturbing their home. As it got dark after this grueling day, I found myself pacing around the campsite, like a house dog expecting a scrap from the dinner table, though he doesn’t know from whom. He paces around until finally he realizes he isn’t going to get anything, and he solemnly sinks down onto his blanket in the corner, and falls asleep.

Day 2: Bench Lake to Arrow Pass and down into Arrow Creek Basin.
Comments: I went west around the lake at the bottom of Arrow Pass, and a cliff led me to head up on the northwest side of the steep gulley leading up to the notch.
IMG_0312.jpeg
From the top I could see a more commonly taken route southeast of the one I took. My choice was steeper, and I spent a lot of time picking routes, and trying to pinpoint my location on my wide-view Harrison Kings Canyon High Country topo map. From the top I had a nice shot of the peak just south of Mount Ickes.
IMG_0322.jpeg
The descent into Arrow Creek Basin west below the notch was easy. Beautiful basin.

I camped near the outlet of the last lake, in preparation for the next day’s descent to Woods Creek. I saw two very large trout in this lake. They boldly swam right up to me as I was going for a dip, apparently completely unafraid. In fact they seemed curious about what my feet might be liberating from the bottom. Maybe the natural barriers that surround this basin serve as a kind of moat, and it's been so long since a fisherman got through that they don't take the old stories seriously anymore, like the southerners in Game of Thrones who don't believe the legends of White Walkers from beyond the wall. They laugh when some wild-eyed adventurer bursts into their camp ranting fantastic stories of the ruthless undead waking up from their icy hibernation in the north, and staggering their way southwards relentlessly, hell-bent to eat us all.  And the direness of the stranger's cracking voice, and the earnestness of his warnings, only makes them laugh harder.
IMG_0332.jpeg
 When I dove in the water the trout scattered, but then they came right back again. 

I had MJ's Mac and Cheese this night, but misread the directions and added a cup too much boiling water. This prevented the cheese from properly adhering to the noodles, and made for a subpar dining experience.

Day 3: Arrow Creek Basin to the Window Creek drainage, descending to Woods Creek, and ascending to the basin northwest of Mt Clarence King.
Comments: It took 1.5 hours to contour at approx 10400 around the southwest tail of Pyramid Peak, until reaching the remarkably flat and pine-needle-carpeted saddle, where the easy descent to Window Creek became apparent. The Window Creek Basin was quite nice, and felt very undisturbed. Then began the 3 hour descent to Woods Creek, 2000 feet of tightly spaced contour lines below. There was deliberation. There was thick shrubbery. There were steep granite slabs. I chose a line just east of Window Creek and headed down, though I was unsure of whether it would stay Class 2. It did, thank you Jesus. I encountered a small lake’s worth of manzanita along the way, and getting across was like wrestling a tiger kitten. The kitten looks harmless, but you end up losing more blood than you expect. The descent ended in slabs, near the outlet of Window Creek. I forded Woods Creek across from Marble Domes, very pleasant.
IMG_0349.jpeg
After clawing my way out of some thick jungle-style underbrush, hiked up to the basin northwest of Mt Clarence King, often on slabs. This was steep, HOT, and relentless, but uncomplicated, and it took about 5 hours. The basin northwest of Mt Clarence King is awesome.
IMG_0360.jpeg


Day 4: Over King Col, into Gardiner Basin.
Comments: I started at the outlet of the ``backward-E’’ shaped lake in the basin northwest of Mt Clarence King, and hiked along its west side south to get to a point east of the chute leading up to King Col. When I first saw the chute from a distance it seemed steep but doable.
IMG_0378.jpeg
There is a field of giant boulders at the bottom that has to be avoided. In the chute I spent a lot of time deciding if this or that move was likely to hold. A real strategy game. Near the top it was very steep; any steeper and I think no one could do it. Fortunately there was enough of a more deeply-embedded dark green rock to give me the traction I needed to get to the top. You would not want to slip on this chute. It is a challenging Class 2. Do not try it in either direction unless you know what you are doing.
IMG_0386.jpeg


How to approach these steep/treacherous Class 2 cols? I had the feeling at times that the route I had taken was too steep and infirm, and might end badly. It was a little unnerving at times. Since I’m solo, a serious injury here could turn into a fatality, due to the remoteness of the location. Obviously once you are 3/4 of the way up it is impossible not to have your judgement affected at least to some degree by the high cost of turning back. I thought a lot about these issues. I in fact purchased a PLB, but returned it as I became acquainted with their business model. Though I did not slip, this was a challenging climb for me. The most treacherous col I’ve been over (twice) is Wallace Col.I'd like to hear people's techniques for doing these types of cols, which seem fairly common in the region.

Anyway. After strolling east on gently descending slopes I took a left turn around 10120 to go down a steep well-traveled chute into Gardiner Basin, arriving at 12:45. I camped at Lake 10544, what a beautiful spot.
IMG_0401.jpeg


Day 5: Through upper Gardiner Basin, over 60 Lakes Pass, to a knoll overlooking Arrowhead Lake.
Comments: Had a beautiful walk up from camp, staying north of the main inlet to 10544. Everything was golden. Eventually coming out above the lake due east of 10544.
IMG_0428.jpeg
Followed its northern inlet to the small lakes west of Mt Cotter. Hiked to the overlook north of big Lake 11407, and contoured near the eastern shore until finding a trail, which led me to the top of 60 Lakes Pass. The trail up to the pass is well-worn. When I looked over to the east side from the top, I thought, easy. It was all sloping slab benches, nothing too dramatic. But getting down was like trying to pick a lock. I was going this way and that, trying every lead, like a cat in a feedlot. Finally I went south where some easy boulder chutes led me down to a viable bench. Maybe there's a way down on the north side, I couldn’t rule it out. Turns out I had noted "beware of the slabs on west side" in my notebook, after reading warnings people had posted on this site. Totally forgot. Finally down at 2:30, where I met an interesting water temple. I walked slowly through 60 Lakes Basin, and found a camping spot at 6:00 on a knoll overlooking Arrowhead Lake. The view in every direction was nice, especially toward Mt Rixford.

Day 6: John Muir Trail from Arrowhead Lake up to Pinchot Pass, down to just southwest of Taboose Pass.
Comments: Not much to say about this, it was all on trail. My camp was besieged by a murder of these ubiquitous squawking crow-like black-and-white birds at 6am. They seemed to be discussing my choice of camp. Later when I emerged from my tent I saw a troop of 6 deer feeding below the knoll. It is amazing how easily they climb. I went down to Arrowhead Lake, where everyone was still asleep (pic). On trail it was a long, hot, grueling, slog up to Pinchot Pass. I had to reactivate my social customs (such as they are) along the way, as there was a steady stream of hikers headed for Whitney, and I hadn’t spoken with anyone since Day 1. I reached the pass at 3:00. I met a chipmunk there at the top that was at least twice as large as any I had seen in Arrow Creek or Gardiner Basin, and whereas his country cousins might sound the alarm and scamper off, dodging this way and that, this one came right up and nuzzled my boot! I hadn’t even had time to remove my pack before this little critter was giving me a hug. I do believe he thought he was human.
IMG_0500.jpeg
(pic) I could have had chipmunk for supper. He got no scraps from my table, little beggar. I camped at a stream southwest of Taboose Pass.

Day 7: Down Taboose Pass trail to the parking lot.
Comments: What a lovely walk. Beautiful chaparral at the bottom, sage, flowering bushes, and all that (pic), and there were deep green mossy wooded pockets in the lower regions, with a few stream crossings. I traveled at a fairly brisk pace, and it took 4 hours to get down from the top.
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Last edited by Moonwalker on Fri Sep 19, 2014 8:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby richlong8 » Tue Sep 09, 2014 8:23 pm

Incredible trip report! I like your writing style. I remember going from Bench Lake to the Taboose trailhead in one day, and it was grueling, and that was downhill! That pass from Bench into the Window Creek Basin is an area I would like to see. Thanks for taking the time to put together a trip report.
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Re: TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby tomba » Tue Sep 09, 2014 9:59 pm

Thank you for the nice trip report. I may be in some of these areas, near Arrow Pass, next week.
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Re: TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby shan1203 » Wed Sep 10, 2014 12:31 pm

Awesome trip report! It looks like Gardiner Basin was a popular place in August - from what I've read, that's not so common. When planning our Gardiner Basin loop, we'd considered the King Col entrance - it's neat to see the hike written up, maybe next time :)

Sounds like you had a great time and you certainly visited some neat places, thanks for sharing!

Happy Hiking,
Shannon
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Re: TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Sep 10, 2014 1:44 pm

That is a very creative loop and certainly a combo I haven't heard folks doing. Very nice.
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Re: TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby Moonwalker » Fri Sep 19, 2014 10:04 am

Thanks for the comments!

richlong8: The steep access from Woods Creek makes the Window Creek Basin and the Arrow Creek Basin both feel extremely remote, and I got the feeling that almost no one passes through there. Both beautiful, peaceful spots.

tomba: I'd like to hear your report on that trip.

Shannon:
shan1203 wrote:It looks like Gardiner Basin was a popular place in August - from what I've read, that's not so common.

I expected (from all the talk on the board) that Gardiner Basin would have people in it, but I saw no one during the couple of days I was there. It was beautiful, but also sad looking up at Mt Gardiner, given the tragedy there a couple of weeks before.

-Eric
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Re: TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby maverick » Fri Sep 19, 2014 11:11 am

Hi Eric,

Fabulous TR and pictures. That basin northwest of King Col is very pretty, and
seldom visited, well worth the visit, but as you mentioned, going further requires
experience in class 3 and route finding. Same goes for the Window Peak and Window
Lake area.
King Col is not, and should not be considered a class 2, as many other class 2 passes
should not be in the Sierra! I am working on a new rating system that will be
for backpackers, by a backpacker, and that will replace the antiquated Secor
ratings, giving backpackers, not climbers, a more realistic rating system to use in
the future here on HST!
Whichever electronic device you decide on after returning you PLB, use our
HST Reconn Form as back-up (or even as the primary) in the future. http://reconn.org
I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

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: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby oldranger » Sat Sep 20, 2014 7:33 am

Eric,

Nice TR. This might be kind of anal but the squirrel you took a pic of is not a chipmunk but a golden mantled ground squirrel. A chipmunk is much smaller and the side of the head is black with a white stripe.

Mike
Mike

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Re: TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby sekihiker » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:46 am

Interesting itinerary. Great report and photos. Thanks
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Re: TR: Taboose Pass/Arrow Creek/Gardiner Basin Loop, 8/29-9/5/2

Postby Moonwalker » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:00 pm

oldranger wrote:...the squirrel you took a pic of is not a chipmunk but a golden mantled ground squirrel. A chipmunk is much smaller and the side of the head is black with a white stripe.

Thanks for pointing that out Mike! He was a fat little beast, and I am glad to know that a chipmunk didn't let himself go like that. I am including a pic of an actual chipmunk, who fled before I could get close.
IMG_0534.jpeg


maverick: Thanks for the Reconn Form information. I've often thought it would be very useful to have a more backpacker-appropriate rating system, maybe an expansion of the Yosemite decimal into an extra dimension at the Class 2 level, for people who don't take the time to study the trip reports. Sounds like a lot of work though! On the other hand Secor states that steep or large talus can be Class 3, and it seems to me that Wallace Col and King Col should already qualify in his book.

Here is another picture of the basin northwest of Mt Clarence King:
IMG_0377.jpeg


And another, overlooking Arrowhead Lake:
IMG_0476.jpeg
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