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September Trip Idea

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September Trip Idea

Postby scrotata » Mon Mar 16, 2015 10:53 am

Hello HST:

I am coming from N. California (Sonoma County) and planning a trip for September. I originally wanted to try for a trip from Onion Valley to Whitney Portal, but could not convince my wife to say okay on the number of days away (we have twin girls that are 16 months old now). So, now I have 5 nights away. My plan is to leave on a Friday (ridiculously early 2-3 am), pick-up permit and travel to my TH. I would either stay at the TH that first night or hike in a few miles (if the TH allows it). My nights in the backcountry would be 4 (Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues) and then Wednesday would be hike out and travel day home.

Basic information about me:

Backpacking Level 4- Comfortable with trail and/or x-country travel, though a majority of by backpacking has not been in the Sierra. I have done trips to Dusy Basin (See TR - viewtopic.php?f=1&t=10578&hilit=dusy+basin) and trips in Yosemite, and Lake Ediza, etc.)

Terrain Class 2 terrain/pass/x-country. Once we start getting into Class 3 sections and above, I get shaky and use better personal discretion and tend to turn around.

Main interest is big mountain scenery, photography, enjoying the absence of technology, etc. However, I would like to bag a peak, any peak that fits into the above criteria (i.e. Class 2/low 3ish).
This is a 4 night trip.

I am comfortable with 10-15 trail miles or 4-6 x-country miles a day. Am open to a layover day but isn’t necessary.

Loop is preferred or out and back. Because of some of the time constraints a point to point might now work best.

I do not have a preference as to east or west side of the Sierra.

No dog will be with me.

Advice Requested:

With the above criteria I am looking for options and proposals that are unique. A trip that may take me to a place not well traveled and would not appear in a “hiking guide”. I know this is difficult because of the length of the trip (i.e. relatively short) but it is worth a shot. I would like to hike on trails for part of the way and some cross-country travel as well.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks.



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Re: September Trip Idea

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Mar 16, 2015 1:10 pm

I would pick up a permit in Prather, drive to Maxson trailhead, hike a mile up the Dusy Ershim and camp (outside wilderness boundary) then hit the trail toward Rae or Devils Punchbowl. Work from Red Mountain Basin to Bench to Blackcap - some trails, lots of wild and trailless - and back out on trail along the Kings. You will see people on the first and last day.


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Re: September Trip Idea

Postby seanr » Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:52 pm

There are several places on both the westside and eastside of the Sierra that would probably work.  September in this dry year points to looking for lakes and major streams/rivers for water sources. Besides the popular places you listed, where else have you already been that maybe you want to avoid? What areas are calling to you?

Specific to your original idea of starting from Onion Valley, I did two hikes last summer that would fit your criteria.  I may get around to putting up trip reports soon. I wouldn't do these on out of shape legs, nor would I suggest trying them with a 40-50 pound pack. I probably carried 15-20 pounds at most on my dayhikes, am a trailrunner when training at lower elevations, and enjoy class 2-easy class 3 peaks.  

Onion Valley campground is nice and the hosts are great.  You generally don't need to reserve a spot, but can online.  There are three trails that will take you from there to backpacking campsites 1.5-3 miles in.  Then you can head over passes to the backcountry of SEKI.

Most people use the easy center option, the Kearsarge Pass trail, which does have some camping opportunities at lakes prior to the pass.  Bench and Slim lakes are farther off trail, so more likely to garner some solitude. The trail is wide, smooth, not especially steep, and highly used.  Mt. Gould is easy from the top of the pass.  The Kearsarge Lakes await on the other side of the pass, with more solitude likely found farthest from the main trail.  I think goldenbrookie (here on HST) mentioned a class 2 route up University Peak from that area.  Trip reports are easy to find on the Kearsarge Pass and Lakes area.  You wouldn't be alone on the main trail, nor near the lakes along it, but could likely find relative solitude on a second or third night if you head to Vidette Lakes. East and West Vidette would then be class 2 peak options. The crossing of Bubbs Creek is explained here: http://www.summitpost.org/west-vidette/639792
I'll move on now to the lesser used areas I hiked.

The rugged trail that branches right/northwest a short distance from the TH takes you to the Golden Trout Lakes.  Solitude, or at least lack of crowds, will likely be easy to find.  You can camp at the lake at the base of Mt. Gould and summit the next morning.  Next, head north along the ridge to the radio transmitter station.  Just below that along the ridge, before reaching Dragon Peak, is Gould Pass.  Head down the loose class 2 slope to camp at the alpine lakes below, or descend a bit farther to beautiful Dragon Lake.  From there you head on trail down to the JMT and the well known Rae Lakes, where people will likely be encountered (I saw nobody until reaching the JMT on my hikes).  There are many tips available explaining nearby options like Sixty Lakes Basin to escape crowds if time permits.  Then take the JMT freeway over Glen Pass and camp at the Kearsarge Lakes, time permitting, before heading over Kearsarge Pass back to Onion Valley.  Again, Gould and University are peak options in the area. 

The trail that heads southwest from the campground brings you quickly to low use camping opportunities at Robinson Lake.  From there head over rugged University Pass to spectacular Center Basin. University Peak is class 2 from the pass.  Center Peak can be done as class 2 on its East Face, but the twelve foot summit block is class 4.  Explore nearby areas if time permits, or head north along Bubbs Creek to Vidette Meadow on a scenic stretch of the JMT. Vidette Lakes and/or the East/West Vidette Peaks would be a scenic escape from the JMT crowds. Then head up past Bullfrog Lake to Kearsarge Lakes and over Kearsarge Pass to O.V. Again, Mt. Gould is easily available from Kearsarge Pass if time permits.   

Other class 2 peaks that could easily be included with any option include Mt. Bago near Charlotte Lake and Mt. Rixford. There may be others depending on route decisions. Since you are interested in point to point hikes, I'll mention the option of entering or exiting via Baxter Pass or Shepherd Pass, but be wary of hot weather and lack of quick camping opportunities if considering starting from such low elevations. Here is a good eastside summary: http://www.summitpost.org/eastern-sierra/154084 If you click on a peak page and click on the interactive map, you can see nearby peaks with existing route descriptions.
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Re: September Trip Idea

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:26 pm

Are the level of difficulty and miles per day also acceptable to your wife? You said "I", not "we"!

Although you would be starting and ending on a popular trail, Barrett Basin is a nice 4-5 day loop. There are several campgrounds on the road to South Lake. Otherwise nice camping only a few miles up the road. Next day over Bishop Pass, and camp off-trail at any of the upper lakes in Dusy Basin. Day 3, over Knapsack Pass to Barrett Basin. Day 4, day hikes around the basin. Day 5 out via Thunderbolt Pass. Good deal of off-trail travel. Trick route finding, some talus on Thunderbolt Pass.

Upper Gardiner Basin via Kearsarge Pass, and 60 Lakes on return. Off-trail travel to Gardiner Basin. Lots of rock hopping. Not suggested if you do not like a lot of talus.

Big Brewer and Sphinx Lakes basins. Roads End (Cedar Grove), Avalanche Trail to Sphinx Creek, up Sphinx Creek to Sphinx Lakes. Over Sphinx Pass to Big Brewer Lake. Climb Mt Brewer. Return. This route is described in Phil Arnot's book, Sierra Range of Light. Tons of campgrounds in Kings Canyon. Legal to camp once at the Avalanche Pass trail junction (established campsite with bear boxes). Amazing sunsets from Big Brewer Lake.

A harder loop from Cedar Grove - up Bubbs Creek, cross, pass East Lake and to Reflection Lake. Off-trail over Longly (??) pass to Brewer Basin and out via Sphinx Creek and Avalanche Pass trail. Less repeat miles than simply going up Sphinx Creek. I believe there is a rule that you cannot get a permit past 3PM, so if you do not arrive earlier, you then must camp in the campgrounds. Kings Canyon is quite beautiful itself.

If you want something really unique, go up George Creek and climb Mt. Williamson, then go to the drainage south (Mt. Carl Heller is at the head of this branch). The scenery is fabulous; the trip up George Creek is masochistic. Not sure your wife would appreciate this route. This is sort of my stock answer to anyone who wants something remote and unique and seldom done yet doable in a 3-5 day trip. You may want to check this one out yourself before inflicting it on anyone else! This one is on my "to do" list for this summer. I have done it before and loved it, but then I am a bit of a masochist.

I live near Sacramento, and figure it is about the same drive time for me to Roads End (5 hours) as South Pass on the east side. After much trial and error, the quickest route is Hwy 50, Mormon Emigrant Trail, Carson Pass, Monitor Pass and down 395. Tioga Pass used to be OK, but now the speed limit is 45 mph, so much slower.
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Re: September Trip Idea

Postby scrotata » Mon Mar 30, 2015 9:20 am

Thanks WD and Seanr for the suggestions above. I want a trip that involves some cross-country but some trail miles as well, especially on the return. So here is a sample itinerary. My biggest concern is Day 2 and if I am biting off too much. I have never done Shepards Pass, and while I know it is a "ball buster", my understanding is that is mostly because of the length and elevation from TH to pass. Also looking for recommendations of lakes to camp at below Junction Peak on west side of Shepards and lakes to camp at on the south side of Forester.

From what I have read and TR I have found there appears to be a fairly straight forward Class 2 approach to Caltech or am I deceiving myself?

1. Day 1 (Friday): Travel to TH (and pick-up permit, etc.) --> TH --> Robinson Lake
2. Day 2 (Saturday): Robinson Lake --> Center Basin (via University Pass) --> Junction Pass --> Shepard Pass --> small lakes below Junction Peak
3. Day 3 (Sunday): small lakes below Junction Peak--> a lake below Forester Pass--> summit Caltech Peak
4. Day 4 (Monday): Day hike to Lake South America and the basin etc.
5. Day 5 (Tuesday): a lake below Forester Pass --> Forester Pass --> Bubbs Creek--> Kearsage Lakes
6. Day 6 (Wednesday): Kearsage Lakes --> TH --> travel home.

Also, approximately how long does it take for hike from the Kearsage Lakes to the TH? Also any good lakes to camp at on the east side of Kearsage Pass? I am trying to limit my hiking time on Day 6 so I can get home.

I promised my wife I would be home to help put the kids to bed.
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Re: September Trip Idea

Postby seanr » Mon Mar 30, 2015 11:11 am

Scrotata, I think your plan is very ambitious. Like you mention, Day 2 is too much. Also, the trip back on Day 5 is high mileage and gain, albeit on highly maintained trail. Your description in your original post of your experience, abilities, and desires was pretty good, but even finer details may come into play. I like your idea of fun if you understand what you are getting into, but I'd go into a trip like you described with a flexible mindset and an easy way to shortcut back to the trailhead if necessary. I can tell you see how easy it can be to create a unique trip when willing to tackle strenuous terrain. How quickly and easily do you acclimatize above 11,000, 12,000, and 13,000 feet? Personally, I find that much different than going to the 10k range. Do you mind significant sections of talus, boulders, and scree? University Pass has those and will be very strenuous. Besides the relative solitude, I wouldn't bother with U. Pass if not planning to enjoy the finer views by summitting University Peak, nor spending a night in Center Basin. I have pics of it and may put up a TR. I also might try Sheperd Pass in about a week if it is not too windy and cold/stormy.

Anyway, my experience in that area is eagerly growing, but limited to what I already posted. Don't underestimate the strenuous nature of High Sierra cross country travel. I understand the excitement to push hard and long to see a lot quickly, but beware of planning death marches without time to enjoy yourself. Part of my motivation to go fast is that distance backpacking is tough for me to arrange for now with young kids. I'd take it a little easier if backpacking.

As far as the end of your trip, getting from Kearsarge Lakes back to O.V. is quick at the end of a trip if your body is feeling good for heading up and down K. Pass, and I mentioned the lakes farther from the main trail on the east side. How many miles can you cover on trail per hour? I wouldn't want to try for camping in the terrain at Big Pothole Lake, but anything else should have options with easy water. The ones along the trail will be crowded. I'd be more concerned about skipping some stuff in the first half of the trip and breaking up Day 5 plans than breaking up the Day 6 itenerary. One rugged pass not mentioned by name yet that could add interest in place of U. Pass would be University Shoulder, but I haven't done it and it doesn't really help avoid needing to break up or skip some Day 2 plans.
Last edited by seanr on Mon Mar 30, 2015 12:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: September Trip Idea

Postby scrotata » Mon Mar 30, 2015 12:01 pm

Seanr -

The planning process is difficult, but I am also a realist. I know my abilities limit certain things and the fact that I go on a limited number of trips a year make me want to pile in a lot. I agree about always having a "shortcut" or escape route in mind and I know when to turn around, and take this into consideration when planning a trip. That being said, pouring over maps and trip reports is exhilarating and only complicated the process because I find areas or am reminded of areas that I want to travel. True ideals of my trip are this: 1) I do not want an out and back; 2) I want some cross country travel; 3) I want to summit a peak (class 2 range); and 4) find a way to go over Forester Pass (hopefully only once). I am willing to let go of number 3 and 4 if numbers 1 and 2 are fully satisfied. Where ever I go there will be mountains and since this in September and a drought, yes I will be near lakes, so the photography component to the trip will be satisfied. Fishing is not important and probably no gear will be brought with me.

To answer some of your questions regarding acclimatizing, I have never been above 13k feet, but my body has done well at 10k, 11k, 12k, but this an unknown. Your points about University Pass are well taken. I am considering that route so I don't have to go over Kearsage Pass twice (trying to avoid the out and back trip concept), but if am not summiting University Peak what is the point? I do not mind slogging over/through talus and am aware of the time consuming and energy sucking task that it involves. That is why day 2 seemed ambitious and perhaps overly and unnecessarily ambitious.

Bottom line, I don't want a death march. I do want to hike everyday (8 am -4 pm are my favorite trail hours), but I also want to enjoy myself. I am fairly set on going in at O.V. and coming out at O.V. I have considered 60 Lakes Basin, I liked the idea of the Vidette Lakes, but going to those places most likely means I forgo Forester. I just wish I had more time, but I want to make sure my time is not miserable.

Thanks. Michael
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Re: September Trip Idea

Postby seanr » Mon Mar 30, 2015 12:38 pm

I can fully relate and really pushed what I thought I could do last summer as dayhikes with family back at a campground during longer hikes. I tend to get sluggish or develop some AMS above 12,000-13,000 if I haven't already been up high for more than just one day and night. As I'm sure you know, hydration and tortoise rather than hare strategy both become even more essential during hikes that high as well. I'm sure you can make it work somehow by leaving something out, but wouldn't be able to compare the areas for you. I'm sure they are all worth seeing at least once. Maybe you'll have to bring the family back to the general area someday for more. Doing some areas in different light on out and back sections wouldn't be horrible either, but I understand.
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Re: September Trip Idea

Postby Ballpeen » Mon Mar 30, 2015 1:03 pm

I also have a young family so tend to do trips of the length you describe when on my own. Last year I did a nice loop to the Bear Lakes basin that seems to fit your interests. You can go up the Pine Creek trail into Granite Park. Then take a use trail to Italy Pass. From there cross-country over Dancing Bear Pass and into Bear Lakes. From Bear Lakes, cross country over Feather Pass to Merriam Lake area. From Merriam Lake you can descend back to the trail that heads to Pine Creek Pass and loop back to the Pine Creek trailhead. Or you can do more cross country on the return by cutting through Royce Lakes from Pine Creek pass on your way out. Royce and Merriam would be nice peaks to climb in the area - bad weather kept us from trying. Lots of trip reports here about this area.
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