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Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Wed Apr 15, 2015 2:56 pm
by Snowtrout
Hello all. I have some questions about a possible trip my wife and I are thinking about for mid to late June of this year. First, a little background info us about how we came up with this and why we are thinking about doing this. We have been on trips from 1-4 nights, mostly on-trail but have done some off trail hiking, and will be hiking Maggie Lakes (19 miles) as a warm up trip during Memorial day weekend. My wife wants to do the John Muir Trail (next year) and summit Whitney, while I have always wanted to hike to Kern Lakes and catch a Kern River rainbow. I thought, why not hike up the Kern to Whitney (plus see if we are able to do multiple 10+ mile hiking days like the JMT). After pulling out some maps, figuring out some possible routes and reading many trail reports, I came up with what I am calling the Kern-Sierra trail, since it follows the Kern River and parts of the High Sierra Trail. Our focus for this trip is to explore and see the Kern River canyon, go fishing, catch Kern rainbows and little kern/volcano golden trout, see the headwaters of the Kern and/or the west side area of Whitney, summit Whitney, and prove to ourselves we could do a weeklong, +65 mile trip.

Possible trip itinerary:
Day 1-Lewis Camp Trailhead to Willow Meadows. About 9 miles
Day 2-Hike to Kern Ranger Station/lower Funston Meadows. About 9 to 11 miles.
Day 3-Hike to Kern Hot Springs. (wife should like). About 11 miles
Day 4-Hike to Junction Meadow/Wallace Creek area. About 9 miles
Day 5-Hike to Kern headwater lakes or Wrights lakes area, Wallace or Crabtree Lakes.
Day 6-Hike to Wright Creek/Wallace Creek area if coming from the Kern or layover day if at Wrights, Wallace, Crabtree.
Day 7-Hike to Guitar Lake.
Day 8-Summit Whitney, then hike out to Whitney Portal. About 16 miles.
We could extend this to 9 days if needed.

I have read many reports about hiking up the Kern River (rattlesnakes) and read about the High Sierra Trail so I have a good idea what we could expect along those trails. But if you have some suggestions about this route, I would love to hear it.

My main questions are for day 5 and day 6 of our trip. I have had a hard time finding info about the un-named lakes where the Kern trail meets the western part of the Lake South America trail and where the Shepherd trail meets the Kern. Are the lakes at the Kern headwaters worth visiting and how is the fishing? What about heading up the Tyndall Creek trail and going to Wrights lakes area? What about heading up the Wallace Creek trail and heading towards Wallace lake or Crabtree lakes (have read the fishing is good here) instead? So, between the Kern headwaters, Wrights lakes, Wallace lake or Crabtree lakes areas, which would you recommend?

Yes, I understand that some might not want to recommend or make suggestions about which lakes have large golden trout in the Whitney area. If you would rather pm me instead of writing on this thread about an area listed above or have another suggestion, it would be greatly appreciated.

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Wed Apr 15, 2015 3:49 pm
by maverick
PM sent.

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Wed Apr 15, 2015 4:09 pm
by sparky
All I can do, is suggest what I would do if I were planning that trip, and I am not much of a fisherman. I would mazimize time exploring the upper Kern. I would shoot up Shepard Pass, and spend as much time as I could making my way out of Whitney Portal. I would set aside the first 2 days to make this ascent over the crest, but once there, you are in the thick of it. You can then set up a base camp and explore with day packs. I think you will be very pleased with the fishing no matter where you go. Just find out which lakes are fishless (we have a thread here about that) and then go from there.

In my opinion hot springs aren't something to go out of the way for. Its just hot water! While soaking is nice after a long hike, I use that every day so it just isn't a big deal to me. You wife however probably has a different opinion though :wink:

If the hot springs, fishing the river, and some forest time is attractive to you, then by all means ignore my advice. My advice will yield a shorter commute between trailheads, more time in the good scenery, more options, and good fishing taboot.

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Wed Apr 15, 2015 4:40 pm
by Wandering Daisy
If you are going to summit Whitney next year as a part of the JMT, I would skip it this time. And I would also avoid as much of the JM as possible. That is just me - I like to always do new things and if you do the JMT next year, why do it now? But then, I am not sure if your purpose IS to check out the JMT.

I would pick either the Wallace Lake-Wrights Lake area to explore and fish, or, the upper Kern where Lake South America is on the eastern edge. Wrights-Wallace would be less distance. (On your way to the portal, you could also consider Crabtree Lake and spend some time down on Hitchcock Lakes; very scenic but I do not know if they have fish. I think your proposed daily mileages are pretty high if you want to seriously fish. If you go to Wrights Lakes, be sure to go all the way to the uppermost lake -it is drop-dead amazing, particularly for sunrise photography. To avoid repeating miles or spending too much time on the JMT, you could keep going up the Kern and take the trail along Tyndall Creek, head towards Shepherd Pass and cut over to upper Wrights Lakes via Rockwell Pass and then return down the drainage cutting over to Wallace Lake and return to the JMT via the use trail from Wallace Lake. Wales is really pretty, but I do not know if it has fish.

In 2013 I did a loop to the upper Kern from Onion Valley and looped through all the lakes in the upper cirque west of Lake South America, up Milestone to upper lakes, and over to Wrights Lake via Rockwell Pass. It was a great trip, but really too many miles to do much fishing. I felt pretty rushed and had to really cut short the fishing. I particularly wanted to stay another day at the uppermost Wright Lake. Well, actually, I really wanted to spend another day at each location! If I were to go there again I would limit the extent. There is just so much to explore, photograph and fish at each location (except Milestone, which has better scenery than fishing).

Write up a trip report! I have a trip up the Kern all planned out, but have never done it. I have never been on the Kern below the High Sierra Trail. I always thought it would be a perfect early season trip.

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Wed Apr 15, 2015 8:07 pm
by overheadx2
While I am not nearly as experienced as most on this forum, several years ago I did a loop into the area you are planning to go. We went over Shepherds pass to Lake South America, down the Kern to the Kern Lakes and up through Big Whitney Meadow and out through New Army Pass to lone pine (we hired a guy from Lone Pine to Shuttle us to the Sheherds Pass trailhead.). I have also done Jerky meadow to Grasshopper Flats. This loop gave us a few days of alpine, a few days of epic stream fishing and a lot of in between with the Kern Hot springs along the way. I would skip the Lewis Camp to Kern Lakes part if it were me. I was disappointed with the Kern Lakes area simply because they were very heavily used by Packers and fly fishing outfitters (we ended up fishing a bit with a few other guided trips and heading up towards Big Whitney).The Kern canyon at Funston Meadow was amazing. It had very large Rainbows and was absolutely beautiful and no one there. You could easily hit Langley coming over New Army Pass instead of Whitney.

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 10:04 am
I agree with WD that you should skip Whitney this year. So then, as she said, it becomes a choice between “either the Wallace Lake-Wrights Lake area to explore and fish, or, the upper Kern where Lake South America is on the eastern edge.” Since you are planning on the JMT next year, then I agree with Sparky on spending as much time as possible in the Upper Kern. Side trips to Wallace-Wrights are easier from the JMT so you could do that next year. For me, the Upper Kern is one of my favorite places in the Sierra. Cross-country travel is relatively easy. If you follow the Lake South America Trail north from Junction Meadow you can choose to head west into Milestone Basin (there’s a clear use trail) or continue heading north and go to any of the lakes west of the trail. Nearly every one of the off-trail lakes is unique and beautiful. As far as I’m concerned, Lake South America is almost the worst lake to camp at in the basin.

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 4:46 pm
by Snowtrout
Thank you all for your ideas, suggestions and experience. You all brought up information I had not really thought of. From what everyone is saying it really gets down to either exploring the kern area or Whitney area and that choice would probably dictate our exit trail. Seems shepherd pass would be the closest if in the kern area but I do not know how my wife or I could handle the 6000' drop from the pass. The only trail that we have hiked that close to that steepness was yosemite falls back in February but that was a day trip. My wife has made it clear that she wants to take her time, so we will probably make this a 9 day trip (if we can get all our food in our bear canisters).

How does the shepherd pass trail compare to the Whitney trail?

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 5:23 pm
by Wandering Daisy
There are several places to camp on the Shepherd Pass trail. Pothole, Anvil Camp and Mahogany Flat. The Shepherd Pass trail is not in nearly the condition that the Whitney Trail is. A section washed out in 2013 so you have to cross the landslide.

Alternatively, you could also camp at Casper Lake, day hike the valley to the west and day hike up to the lake in the Mt Jordan cirque. Then take the cross trail to the PCT and go out Whitney. You do not have to climb Whitney. If you hate crowds, then go via Shepherd Pass; if you prefer a better maintained trail and do not mind crowds, go out Whitney. The route out via Whitney is more scenic but longer and has more elevation gain to reach the pass. Shepherd Pass is a direct route in and out of the upper Kern, but not as scenic and not as well maintained. The "tread" on the Whitney trail (JMT) is mainly smooth whereas more rocky on the Shepherd Pass trail.

But then, by the end of the trip, maybe a quicker route out trumps the scenery.

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 5:25 pm
by sparky
You have a trade off of higher milage or more elevation gain to get to the goods. Shepard Pass is a tough entrance and exit. The alternatives would be Onion Valley, Whitney Portal, and Horseshoe Meadow...OR your original planned route.

Study the topos carefully. Use Acme mapper and or the high sierra topix map feature on this site. Sometimes it looks good at a glance but when you really follow every line of the topo you will see sudden 500 ft gains and losses you didn't notice before. Research the suggestions see what will work best for you.

Dont be intimidated by the big gain of shepard pass except your wife wont speak to you on the first day :) it will put you right where you need to be

Re: Kern-Sierra Trail help/suggestions needed

Posted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 5:43 pm
by maverick
Yosemite Falls does not compare to Shepherd Pass, you must get an early start to beat the desert heat!

Also you have the land slide to deal with, not a deal breaker, but just be aware that it takes time to find
the right route that you will feel comfortable with.

Anvil Camp is pretty nice with plenty of campsites, and water, Mahogany Flats can be full of rats.

Near the top the pass the trail goes over moraines and a ice field that is quite steep, if it will be
present at all by the time of your trip, wait until the snow softens before trying to crossing it. Look at
previous trip reports about it, and the landslide here on HST.

Hopefully there will be someone who will post a TR about the conditions before the start of your trip.