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9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Canyon

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 11:32 pm
by Anish
Hello everyone! My first post here. I've browsed around and am amazed by the amount of knowledge and experience here. I think I've come to the right place! I've been backpacking in the Sierra since 2000, and would consider myself level 3 per the criteria on this site, with some Class 2 x-country experience, and a bit of Class 3 (never intentional, mainly due to drifting off from Class 2 routes!).

My last backpack was to Dusy basin a couple years ago. As striking as the basin is, I was appalled at how abused it has become. The meadows were absolutely beat down, use trails going in every direction, garbage layout about, and the water - what happened to the water!? It didn't even smell clean. Granted, this was the first lake when entering the basin, so it was probably more heavily used than the others, but still - it was disturbing and actually heartbreaking enough that I didn't want to go back there.

I was determined to seek out some untrammeled locations for my next trip, thus the lesser traveled southern Yosemite came to mind. Plus, I have never been to this region. Now I am not a very strong hiker. 2000' of gain is a day's work for me. 6-12 miles per day is about my range, depending on how much climbing. I am thinking:

Day 1: Isberg Pass Trail to perhaps Knoblock Meadow
Day 2: Over Isberg Pass, camp at the lakes below the pass
Day 3: To Red Devil Lake
Day 4: Layover
Day 5: To the meadows around Harriet lake
Day 6: Over Blue Lake Pass to Bench Canyon
Day 7: Layover
Day 8: Back over Blue Lake Pass and to the lakes near Isberg Pass
Day 9: Over Isberg Pass and long hike to the TH

My priorities are: beautiful open mountain scenery, lots of photography, moderate hiking days.
Does anyone see any concerns with the proposed route?
Any worthwhile alternate routes?
Any particular challenges with Blue Lake Pass? (I am not good with exposure, or very large talus requiring rock climbing moves)
The Lyell Fork of the Merced is not far. Should I skip Bench Canyon in favor of the Lyell Fork? (I don't think I would be able to manage both)

I appreciate any input!


Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2015 11:35 pm
by ndwoods
I have not been over Blue Lake Pass, but as for the rest, it's a lovely area and as you found out...lesser known. It does not have the bigger grandeur of Kings Canyon...but I think in it's own way is just as lovely....:)

Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 9:37 am
by oldranger
My favorite area:

First, do you fish? If it were me and I was a bit younger I would try to get as far as Sadler Lake the first day. (Actually my last trip up that route I did get that far but I was packed in). Second day over Isberg. Third day my preference would be to stop at Merced peak Fork and camp a couple of hundred yards below the Red Peak Pass Trail. This is my favorite spot in the Sierra to camp, partly because of access to Edna Lake fishing. (I usually do 2 layover days here.)I would do a layover here and visit either Edna or Red Devil which has no fish but fantastic swimming!
Red Devil Lake.jpg
Then hike back to Triple Peak fork and either follow the trail or cut diagonally off the trail and work your way up to Harriet lakes. Several lakes here have fishing. I usually do a layover here because of the fishing. Then work your way over Blue Lakes Pass and camp at the largest Blue Lake for one of the most incredible view (Ritter Range and Minarets) campsites in the Sierra).
Blue Lakes Campsite View.jpg
After this rather than retracing your steps I would pop over the Ridge to Long Creek (Golden Trout in Rockbound Lake). From the head of the canyon below Rockbound you can hike all the way to the Isberg TH in a day as it is mostly down hill. The key is to work your way down to the semi maintained trail that drops into the canyon a couple of miles down. This trail heads up then down to the maintained trail near the old Chitwood Cabin site. This route then minimizes your backtracking to the section of the Red Peak Pass Trail and the first 2 miles of the Isberg trail.

If you decide to do this route I can give you specifics on how to find the start of the trail out of Long Creek or you can figure it out for yourself as I did.


Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 11:30 am
The trip you have planned looks great. I also have a couple of suggestions for variations to consider. I agree with Old Ranger on Sadler Lake and if you have the time and energy even Lower Isberg Lake (a personal favorite) the first day. The Harriet Lake bench is wonderful. However, I prefer Lake 9911 (ominous name) which has a fantastic view of the Clark Range and the Merced canyon. Tomba’s description of Blue Lake Pass in the Cross Country Passes section is excellent. I was going the other direction and went straight down the west side, a mistake. Part-way down I realized I should have gone more to the right (left), as recommended by Tomba. Bench Canyon is fabulous and well worth the layover to spend a day exploring the creek and small lakes to above the large waterfall.

The other suggestion I have is returning by the North Fork of the San Joaquin. To do this, follow Roper’s High Route as far as Lower Twin Island Lake. From there descend to the North Fork. Then will come the trickiest part - fording the North Fork. I can’t recommend an exact spot since the conditions vary every year. It’s a matter of finding a spot where the current and depth are in your comfort zone. Once across, the river there is a use trail that follows the river. It’s a little difficult to follow through Stevenson Meadow, but otherwise easy to Hemlock Crossing. The three times I’ve been through, Stevenson Meadow had one of the most beautiful wildflower display I’ve ever seen (also lots of skeeters). I saw a total of four people in the eight days I’ve spent in the North Fork. (In 1995 my wife, son, and I spent five days here, saw two people the second day and no one else the rest of the trip).

The one drawback to this suggestion is time. It’s about fifteen miles from Lower Twin Island Lake back to the trailhead, nine miles from Hemlock Crossing. That would make for a very long last day and also not give you the time to enjoy the upper North Fork. But it you have an extra day, then it’s worth considering.

Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 1:25 pm
by Anish
Thanks for the feedback!

I don't fish, so scenery is the most important consideration. The Merced Peak Fork does look appealing with all those lakes. I will consider that as a camping option in lieu of Red Devil Lake (I would likely visit both anyways).
I am very much interested in the alternate return route. I considered it, but per the Tom Harrison map, the trail you mention seems to fade out somewhere on the east slopes of Sadler Peak. Finding a trail on a wooded slope seems challenging, but if there is a discernable use trial dropping down to Long Creek, I would be very interested to hear any more input on where is bisects Long Crk, and if there are any landmarks to help identify it. I definitely prefer to loop rather than retrace steps, so this would be a great option provided it's not too difficult to find the trail.

Thanks for the tip on Lake 9911. I'm not sure if I will take the trail or just cut straight across the higher lakes towards Harriet. But if I decide to stay low, 9911 looks like a great option.
I've read about the NFSJ. The upper section looks spectacular, but Roper describes the routefinding from Bench Cyn to Twin Island Lakes as challenging. My original trip idea was exactly what you describe, but after doing a bit of research, I'm a bit intimidated by that section. That said, if I can manage to add an extra day, I would still consider this option since I'll be able to break it up over a couple days. If the river is flowing strong, though, I'd probably avoid as I don't have any real river fords under my belt.

Thanks again guys, really appreciate the ideas.

Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 4:26 pm
by JWreno
I did a loop out of Yosemite 120 up Lyle Canyon over to Thousand Isles lakes, over to Lake Catherine, down to Twin Island Lakes and over Blue Lake pass north to Fletcher Creek back to 120. The Blue Lake pass was pretty easy. My most difficult part was route finding from Lake Catherine to Twin Island Lakes. We had several back tracks when we would get hit cliffs or other dead ends. The falls just west of Lake Catherine are lovely and Bench Canyon was also a nice place to relax on the granite near the water. It took us one day to go from the north shore of Thousand Isles lakes to just south of Twin Island Lakes. Another day to go to upper Blue Lake. We got over Blue Lake pass by before noon. The Sierra High Route book has useful route finding information but there are also GPS tracks available now that weren't when I went through the area about 11 years ago.

We only saw one other group from Thousand Isles lakes until we got back to near the Yosemite crowds starting near Lewis Creek. It was lovely having so much area to ourselves for 3 and half days.

Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 4:32 pm
by JWreno
It was a wet year when we previously did the trip. The crossing between upper and lower Twin Island Lakes was about waist deep. It was the 2nd week of August and the mosquitos were prolific all week. We used head nets a lot which interferes with eating and route finding. As little snowfall so far this year I don't expect any bug problem August 2015.

Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2015 8:02 pm
by schmalz

Looks like a great trip.

Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2015 9:09 am
by Anish
Jeff, that sounds like an incredible trip. The more I learn, it certainly seems the journey from NFSJ to upper Bench Canyon may be beyond my comfort level from a navigation standpoint, not to mention a possibly dangerous crossing. And as much as we need the precipitation, I definitely hope I miss the worst of the mosquitoes. Appreciate the input!

Re: 9 days in early Aug, eyeing southern Yosemite/Bench Cany

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2015 9:27 am
by Anish
Hi Schmalz,

That would be another Anish. I definitely don't own any FKT's. I might be in the running for some SKT's, though;)