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TR: Circle of Solitude 8/20/14-8/28/14

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TR: Circle of Solitude 8/20/14-8/28/14

Postby Thebrenner » Sun Sep 14, 2014 9:57 pm

August 20, 2014
Onion Valley Trailhead to Lower Vidette Meadow

After I futzed around at the trailhead bear proofing my car, I futzed around with my backpack, almost forgetting my warm clothes and was on thx trail by 9:30.

I ate lunch at Kearsarge Pass while enjoying the view and then continued on past Kearsarge and Bull Frog Lakes arriving at Vidette Meadow around 3:30pm. I thought about continuing on to Lake Reflection but since my feet were complaining, and I needed the bear box for some extra food that wouldn't fit in the canister I decide to call it a day and enjoy the creek.
Bullfrog Lake.jpg

August 21, 2014
Lower Vidette Meadow to Lake Reflection.

A crisp clear Sierra morning greeted me when I emerged from my tent after 9, count them 9, magnificent hours of sleep. The first part of today's trail descended along Bubbs Creek passing a cacophony of cascades and inviting pools. I followed a deer who was nibbling trail side delicacies for a few switchbacks Even the deer know that short cuts end up taking longer!
At Junction Meadow I took a side trail leading to East Lake and Lake Reflection, my destination for the day. I found Junction Meadow to be over-camped although no-one was there.

The hike UP to East Lake followed along the creek revealing a whole new canyon to explore. I passed several big patches of red berries, gooseberries, I think and thought this would be a good place for a bear. I rounded another corner and to my delight I saw blueberries.

After my backpacking special lunch, at East Lake of peanutbutter, dried apples, crushed corn chips and coconut wrapped in a corn tortilla I headed for Lake Reflection. East Lake was beautiful. There were two groups of people there that I saw.

The route to Lake Reflection is not maintained so the trail is faint, if at all. Once I found the right trail it was mostly easy to follow with enough cairns to keep me on track or rather on the trail. The hike was fabulous passing through woods,a scree field, and along the creek. I emerged from the woods and there before me, as promised, the wind swept shores of Lake Reflection with Mt Jordan looking down. The fun was not over yet though, oh I had to cross a tangled logjam to get to the campsites. It took me about 20 minutes to negotiate my way across the maze. The water below me was crystal clear and had a greenish hue and because of all the twisted logs under water it would not be a good place to loose my balance and fall in. Once I got across I saw that there was an easier way downstream...
I also saw a little rock structure that someone had strung prayer flags across. I wondered if they used this as a wind shield for their stove.
Morning light on Lake Reflection.jpg


August 22, 2014
Lake Reflection to Sphinx Creek

Six A.M. toasty warm, snuggled inside my Zpak sleeping bag, I watch the first rays of sun caress the jagged peaks high above Lake Reflection.

Before I leave I jump in the water and it is fabulous....fabulously cold and leaves my body zinging all over. I follow the faint and often disappearing trail only needing to retrace my steps a few times. I jump grunt and occasionally balanced my way across the talus scree slide. I find that grunting really helps as I negotiate over and under boulders as big as houses. The 5 miles and 2000 foot elevation loss come off easy, as does crossing the knee high river barefoot. I enjoy a nice lunch under the shade of a quaking aspen grove.

I walk by a meadow that looks like a manicured lawn, lush green and uniformed.
Just like the morning I spend the afternoon walking down hill. In fact, I walk down hill for 7 knee crunching hours dropping 4,020 feet.
One interesting thing about descending 4,000 feet in a day is the variety of terrain and trees and the many visual treats..Today I strolled beside ferns, white fir, jeffrey pines, aspens, incense cedar and black oak.

August 23, 2014
Sphinx creek camp to Cunningham creek

I'm awake at 5:15, the first light has not yet shown itself. I know I have a long hard day ahead and want to get an early start before the sun pounds down on the trail. I get up in the semi dark, make coffee and bring it back into my tent where I drink it from the warmth of my sleeping bag.

I'm on the trail by 6:30. I love being up and out this early when the day is full of promise and the world is slowly waking up. The mornings climb feels good in the cool shade. The trail is cut into massive rocks that are currently reflecting the morning coolness. The trail is a visual smorgasbord; views up and down Bubbs Creek and Paradise Valley, black oak with abundant acorns, and bushes that have begun to turn yellow and golden. The trail reminds me of the golden staircase in the JMT. I wonder how "they" decided to put a trail here...and I'm thankful that it is here and that I am on it. It is quiet in the early morning and the only sounds I hear are the roaring creek below me and the flapping of the birds wings as they glide down the canyon.
The trail UP to Avalanche Pass

After climbing 2,500 feet I take an extended break at upper sphinx creek. I eat a power bar while two deer feed on the lush meadow grasses. The only noises I hear are those of the wilderness: the creaking branches bluejays and clarks nut hatches,the creek, dragonflies, and the squirrels cracking acorns on the trees.

As promised the trail to Avalanche pass was steep and at the top the
sweeping views are obscured by foxtail pine.

Sadly after working so hard to gain all that elevation I spend the afternoon dropping into roaring river canyon losing 2,568 feet. I immediately feel my sore muscles from yesterday when I start my descent. The trail is steep, oh so very steep. I pass through lush meadows, aspens, and some late blooming lupine, paintbrush and gentian. Here the soil is sandy granite pulverized over thousand of years. Lodgepole, junipers and aspen accompany me.

I cross a small creek, that in early season and in "normal" water years is roaring. An inviting grassy spot lures me over and I take a much needed break. The down hill pounding is about to get the best of me. I swell down my feet, drink a fizzy water and have two spoonfuls of almond butter infused with espresso. I immediately feel better and downward I proceed.

Once I get to roaring river I decide to hike up cloud canyon for another hour before camping. My thinking is I want to have plenty of time tomorrow to explore, marvel and delight in this jewel of a canyon. Two hours later I'm still hiking... The combination of no suitable camp spots along with my sudden second wind has me climbing again.
I find a campsite on the edge of a meadow just before Cunningham creek. I gather some wood and eat dinner by the fire.
Cunningham creek to Colby lake
Today was magnificent. Short on miles but gigantic on beauty.

The trail burst through the the aspen revealing big wet meadow and the monolithic formation known as the whaleback. I dropped my pack and sat on a rock and stared. It was stunning. But stunning, beautiful and magnificent don't even begin to describe the sight.
Big Wet Meadow and Whaleback.jpg

I spent a few hours in Big Wet Meadow and then took my time going up to Colby Lake. I noticed a sign saying the trail was not maintained and then I found lots of red trail maintenance signs and plenty of evidence of fresh trail crew work!
Colby Lake.jpg

August 25, 2014
Colby Lake to shorty,s cabin on high Sierra trail

The trail beat me up today. It was a long tough day filled with sweeping vistas, meadows, flowers and waterfalls.

The day started off with a climb of 1,684 feet to the top of Colby Pass 12,000!
The trail was STEEP and rocky.. I came across a vertebrae white washed from the intense sun. On top the wind howled and the 360 degree view of the Great Western Divide and the Kings-kaweah Divide was eye popping. And I found another bone..... Not sure what it is...anyone know?
Someone left their bone behind…but WHO???

Top of Colby Pass.jpg

The trail wasted no time in dropping me back down to the willows, the manzanita and finally the safe brush. I dropped 4,000 feet.

The closer I got to the kern river the more ferns, willows and berry bushes obscured the trail. I was in the lookout for bears...saw lots if fresh bear poop but no bears.

August 26, 2014 shorty's cabin to JMT junction via Lake South America

It was another exquisite day of hiking as I continued my way UP the Kern river drainage. The trail worked it's way up over and around granite slabs taking me to the top of the Kern plateau, surrounded by an amphitheater of peaks.
I continued my way up to Lake South America on a trail that often disappeared and then reappeared. Several times I had to back track, reorient myself and continue. I followed the rock cairns like a treasure hunt. I passed deep turquoise tarns surrounded by wind blown white bark pines. So much beauty around me it's hard to discern where to look. Lake South America sits in a cirque and is stunning in a desolate way.
I am camped in an amazing spot with a 360 degree view. I can see the great western divide in on direction, forester pass and Tyndall creek drainage in another. I watch the sun set, the Alpen glow and eventually the stars. The night sky is amazing and bright.

August 27, 2014 JMT junction to last camp before Bullfrog Lake
I am two passes, one over 13,000 feet and one over 11,000 feet from my car. Just a few switchbacks away and I'll be there. In the first three hours of my day I see more people than I've seen in the past 8 days. Everyone is going south.
I find this plaque on my way up Forester Pass along with some tools.

As I'm eating dinner I notice something red under a nearby tree...of course I go investigate....and I find someone's tent, clothes and sleeping pad. The question is did they leave them here on purpose while they hiked out for more provisions OR are they 10 miles up the trail setting up camp and frantically tearing apart their backpack?? It shall remain a mystery.

August 28, 2014 Back to Onion Valley I go!

For more details and photos on this trip please visit my blog:

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Re: TR: Circle of Solitude 8/20/14-8/28/14

Postby oldranger » Mon Sep 15, 2014 7:43 am


Nice TR. Over the years at least 2 horses or mules have been killed going up the Colby Pass switchbacks. That accounts for the large bones. When I took pack stock over the pass I always loose herded them to avoid problems if an animal slipped. Never had a problem. But heard that a horse or mule was killed after my years at Roaring River.


Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!
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Re: TR: Circle of Solitude 8/20/14-8/28/14

Postby sekihiker » Tue Sep 16, 2014 7:42 pm

Great photos and great report of a trip in a great area. Thanks.
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Re: TR: Circle of Solitude 8/20/14-8/28/14

Postby cgundersen » Wed Sep 17, 2014 9:19 am

Hi Thebrenner,
Must say, I thought that you were going to go up over Longley Pass when you veered out to Lake Reflection, so doubling back to the Bubbs Creek-Avalanche Pass trail definitely added the miles. I still have not done the whole circle in a continuous loop and am looking forward to the variation you described. Thanks for the report1
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Re: TR: Circle of Solitude 8/20/14-8/28/14

Postby Thebrenner » Wed Sep 17, 2014 9:10 pm

Yes I wanted to go over Longley pass but being solo I didn't think it was the wisest or safest thing to do. The loop was magnificent and I highly recommend it. Lots if up down up down . Next time I'll drag my pals with me so we can hoof it over some of the xc passes :
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