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Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 03, 2015 10:26 am

A Day Late and a Dollar Short: 7/20-29, 2015: Keweah Basin Meet-Up (not quite).

I posted this separately because I really did not make it to the meet-up.

I wanted to get to the Meet-Up, have a leisurely trip and see new country. After evaluating numerous routes and selecting one I was ready to go Friday. Weather forecasts kept getting worse. I delayed a day, then two days, then three days! Monday was a “must go” date. Since the Meet-Up was scheduled for the 22-24th, I was hoping at least someone would be there on the 24th. Although little worked out as planned, pre-thinking a zillion options made changes easy so I still had a rewarding trip. Instead of a 65 mile trip, I ended up with a 100 mile trip due to all the detours!

Day 1: July 20, 6 miles, +1400 feet gain, 3 hours. I left town early and reached Lodge Pole at 11:30. Black skies socked in everything to the north. I looked south, saw blue skies, and threw out all previous plans and got a permit to go in Crescent Meadow with plans to reach Keweah Basin via Pyra Queen Col and return via Tablelands. I needed minimally a day of dry weather so the saturated slopes would stabilize. The main part of the storm was supposed to be over. I nixed the idea of parking my car at Wolverton and taking the shuttle to Crescent Meadow; I would simply deal with the car situation when I got out. Good decision as I was chased by black clouds as I hurried to Mehrten camp. At 4PM I set up my tent as rain drops began falling when I gathered water. It then rained solid and steady until well after dark. Even while camped on a sandy slope, the ground still became saturated and moisture seeped in through my old tent floor and I discovered a few more drippy leaks. So I spent the evening wiping up water. I ate two trail bars for dinner. The rain never let up! Never before had I ever peed in my tent vestibule, but there is a first time for everything!

Day 2: July 21, 10 miles, +2400 feet gain, 7 hours. Up at 5AM I skipped breakfast. The skies were still filled with clouds and it was too early to tell if they were thick clouds. By the time I packed up I could see that the clouds were puffy little things and quickly dissipating. Soon skies were blue. I stopped for half an hour at a sunny spot in the trail to dry everything. It was a very hard day for me; pack too heavy, no coffee and one meager trail bar for breakfast after almost no sleep the previous night. Thankfully the High Sierra Trail is no-brainer trail- just plod ahead. As I progressed I met many other soggy backpackers drying out their gear. By 10AM clouds came rolling in from the southwest. By the time I reached Hamilton Lake just before 2PM, it was overcast. A huge Boy Scout troupe and many others were camped at the lake so I found a site well back down the outlet, nestled in the forest. I walked up to the lake but lighting was poor for photos. Seemed like everyone up there was also soggy and drying out. Steady rain began at 3PM, lasting until after 5PM and this time with abundant lightning and thunder. Thankfully it cleared in time for cooking dinner. Several very tame deer came around and I had to chase them away from my dinner.

Day 3: July 22, 13 miles, +3400 feet gain, 9 hours. I left camp at 7:30 and headed up to Precipice Lake, arriving at 9:30. I leap frogged all the way with the big Scout troupe. They were doing the HST in memory of one of their members who was killed by lightning 10 years ago in the meadow west of Mt Whitney. Not your typical Scout group- they were well outfitted in light-weight gear and the leaders were very competent. Again, clouds rolled in and by the time I reached Keweah Gap the tops of the mountains were covered in misty clouds. Decision time; what to do? I was counting on a day of dry sunny weather to relax in Nine Lakes Basin and dry enough conditions to let the passes drain. It looked like that was not going to happen. I decided to detour via the HST to Junction Meadow. I had done this route before and knew I could do it in two days, but did not have the maps. Had I realized the amount of miles, I may have not chosen this route! All day as I hiked east, threatening black clouds chased me from the west, sprinkling on me on Chagoopa Plateau. I was exhausted and the pack still was too heavy. The last two miles to Moraine Lake seemed to go on forever! Nobody was there; I had the lake to myself. Moraine Lake was incredibly low- probably more than 5 feet leaving a long sandy beach. The water quality was horrible- too muddy for a bath so I scooped water from my cookpot and dumped it over me. I both filtered and treated all the water. It cleared and was windy and sunny. As I dug into my bear can, I realized that things were wet. Emptying the can, there was a quarter inch of water in the bottom. Several packages had leaked- most were OK. I cooked one of the unintentionally rehydrated meals and re-packed with the least affected packages on the bottom and the partially wet ones on top to eat first.

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Moraine Lake

Day 4: July 23, 15 miles, +1600 feet gain, 9 hours. Sunrise was spectacular with lingering little puffy clouds turning pink –orange- yellow then white. I left at 7:30. The trail switchbacks to the Kern River are really annoying. You seem to go back and forth forever never descending! It took 2.5 hours to get to the Kern. The trail then, is very rocky and slow going. By the time I hit the bridge I was already tired. The river was way down, in spite of the recent rains. As I passed Kern Hot Springs, I was tempted to stop but someone was in and I did not have time to wait and still reach Junction Meadows. If delayed I would not be able to get to Keweah Basin in time for the Meet-Up (well, I missed it anyway!). I kept running into two pleasant young fellows who were doing the HST. Side creeks were running high and I had to wade three. Wallace Creek had a log, but by that time I was too tired and my shoes were already wet, so I simply waded. When I reached Junction Meadow I saw two fellows camped. I went up and asked if they were going to Keweah Basin. It was Jimr and his friend! We had a mini-meet-up right there.

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Kern River by the bridge

Day 5: July 24, 6 miles, +3200 feet gain, 9 hours (including 2+ hours fishing along the route). I was hoping to run into Hobbs since Jimr said he was returning to Junction Meadow. Instead two young fellows caught up with me. They were also going to Keweah Basin but were not High Sierra Topix members. They were a bit confused as to routes, so they followed me to the start of the ledge route. They got ahead of me and when I caught up with them at the lowest Picket Lake, they had run into someone who said everyone had left Island Lake. It was noon, and I spotted a nice fish in the lake, so decided to stay here and fish for a while since I had obviously missed the Meet-Up. I caught two fish and put them in a zip lock bag with water. I walked up Picket drainage fishing rod in hand. The next lake up also had fish, but they were small. I caught one but put it back. The middle larger lake also had small fish. After trying to catch one of a minimal size, I gave up. I then tied my pole onto my pack and headed up the saddle and down to Island Lake. I set up on the ridge between Island Lake and the next small lake upstream. Then I walked around Island Lake and looked down the waterfall. Nobody was camped at Island Lake. I cleaned and cooked my fish and enjoyed the evening. I had planned on fishing Island Lake just in case there may be fish, but there were no sign of fish at all so I just enjoyed the views.

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Lowest Picket Lake



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Re: Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 03, 2015 10:33 am

Day 6: July 25, 7.5 miles, +1201 feet gain, 6 hours, mostly day-hiking. Arnot’s book suggests sleeping on a rock to view the sunrise. At 4AM I dragged my sleeping bag from the tent out onto a rock with a view, and did just that! After breakfast I took off for a day-hike to the upper basin. I went up the southeast side, traversed to the two upper lakes and came down the northwest side. I tried to hit most of the ponds along the route. I had never been to the two upper lakes and really enjoyed the views. There are small grass patches for camping at the eastern lake and a huge grass meadow at the inlet to the west lake. I regretted not camping up here. On the return, I found the narrow slot lake I had camped at many years ago. Back at Island Lake, I packed up and then walked the west shores of Island Lake again for more photos. I reluctantly left returning to the lowest Picket Lake where I set up and fished for two hours, catching six fish, two which were quite meaty 9-inchers. After dinner I walked a short distance down Picket Creek and found some spotted porphory rocks. A few annoying mosquitoes came out at dusk. Weather was perfect all day and it was a nice relaxing rest day after previous long days.

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Re: Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 03, 2015 10:46 am

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Move to lowest Picket Lake on Day 6

Day 7: July 26, 7 miles, +2500 feet gain, 6.5 hours. I found the better route down, whereas I had cut up too early on the ascent and got into some sketchy slabs. I stayed on the small ridge intersecting the trail at the upstream end of the small meadow below Gallats Lake. This time I found rocks to hop so did not have to wade. Back on the trail travel was easy and quick. I met a family heading down. I had forgotten how steep the trail gets on the hillside up to the bench below Colby Pass. I was looking forward to Colby Lake as I remembered it as very beautiful. The trail down was in fair shape but it still is a knee-basher. I was glad to stop and set up camp even though it was early afternoon. The fishing at Colby Lake is ridiculous! The small brookies literally jump at anything thrown in the water. The “game” is to walk the shore and spot a bigger fish, and cast out a fly. If a little fish goes for it, pull it away before it bites. In spite of my best efforts, half the fish I caught were 7 inchers and half were 8-9 inches. Other than the pain of cleaning more fish, small fish cook easily and still are quite tasty. I had the entire lake to myself! Both sunset and sunrise were beautiful.

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Picket Guard Peak from Gallats Lake

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Gallats Lake

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Colby Lake

Day 8: July 27, 7.5 miles, +2200 feet gain, 7 hours. I woke up to frost inside my tent! . One route was to go over Colby Pass, up Cloud Canyon, over Copper Mine Pass, down Deadman to Big Bird and then up over the Tablelands out to Wolverton. The more logical route was to simply go down the trail to Roaring Fork and up Deadman Canyon to Big Bird. I had decided on the latter, but soon after leaving, I was drawn into the first canyon, which I will admit, I thought was Cloud Canyon because I failed to look at my map! An hour up this canyon on the east side of Whaleback, I ran into a lake that should not be there if I were in Cloud Canyon. Then I got out the map and realized I was in the wrong canyon. I had always wanted to explore this canyon, but it would have been preferable to do it with a day pack instead of my big load! So I headed back to the trail and continued down to Cloud Canyon. I met two large youth groups going up- both planning on camping at Colby Lake. I was so glad that I reached Colby Lake before the onslaught! By the time I reached Cloud Canyon I had decided on the more illogical route via Copper Mine Pass. I just could not tolerate more long boring trail walking. There is a fair use-trail staring up Cloud Canyon on the east side. It comes and goes upward but thankfully gets one through the more dense brush lower down. Near the head of the canyon at a small lake I met a father and son who had come over Copper Mine pass. A creek from Glacier Ridge was still running water so I climbed up about 500feet and found a nice established campsite on a small bench just above the rock cairn that marks the start of the old Copper Mine trail. This site was out of the swamp below and mosquitoes and would give me a head start on the next day.

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Colby Lake at sunrise

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Valley behind Whaleback

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Cloud Canyon
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Re: Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 03, 2015 10:55 am

Day 9: July 28, 6 miles, +1600 feet gain, 7.5 hours. I followed the old trail but lost it before I got to the east shoulder of the peak that is Copper Mine Pass. I went up an ugly gully only to be confronted with the steep ridge which looked 3rd class. Maybe I missed the route. So I backed down and traversed to Lion Lake Pass and dropped to Lion Lake. I could have gone down to Tamarack Lake but decided instead to spend an afternoon in Nine Lakes Basin to fish, since I had never fished here before. The little snow bowl that used to be on Lion Rock Pass is mostly melted leaving a difficult moraine of large dirty rock. I was glad to be done with that when I reached the top. At the upper lake in Nine Lakes Basin I took a good rest. My feet were sore- not long distance but nothing but rocks all day. Then I dropped to the “heart-shaped” lake camping on the west shore in an established campsite. Fishing here was much like Colby Lake- the trick is to not let the small fish bite. I caught four fish of various sizes and had a nice dinner. A couple came up the outlet but did not camp so I pretty much had the lake to myself. It was a disappointing day and now I would not get to see Big Bird Lake. But there will be another day for that. I hit the sack early knowing I had a long walk out.

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Lion Lake and Lion Rock Pass from Lion Lake Pass

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Upper Nine Lakes Basin unnamed lake

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Fish caught in the "heart shaped" lake in Nine Lakes Basin

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Heart Shaped Lake

Day 10: July 29, 20 miles, +2600 feet gain 11.5 hours. I slowly dropped to Hamilton Lake taking lots of photos. Not that I do not already have a ton of photos, but it is all so spectacular and beautiful. I find photographing Valhalla difficult and have yet to get it right. This time the air was clear but lighting still a bit off, requiring more than my meager point-and-shoot skills and a tripod to get a really good shot. From Hamilton Lake I ran into tons of backpackers. A dip in the wonderful rock “bathtubs” at Buck Creek refreshed me. The trail crew was blasting near Nine Mile so we all had to wait a half hour. A group there was also aiming to camp at Mehrten Creek. A fellow showed me where there is Forest Service dispersed camping between the two parks, making the idea of walking out more feasible. When I arrived at Mehrten Creek, it was already full of people. It was 4:30 and there was enough daylight to go all the way out. Many of the running side creeks that I crossed going in had dried up. Nasty “in-your-face” flies/gnats were thick. As long as I kept walking I could keep them away from me; so on I walked! I reached my car at 6:30, washed off and headed up the road. I set up on the Forest Service road and had a beer and dinner of an odd assortment of left-overs in my bear can. It was a long day and I would have preferred to stay at Mehrten but I do not think I would have found a campsite. I only passed unappealing marginal sites the remaining way out. I now have a greater appreciation for the PCT hikers who do 20 mile days every day for months!

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Just west of Keweah Gap

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dropping to Hamilton Lake

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Hamilton Lake

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Angel Wings (Vallhalla)

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Hamilton Dome

Next morning I was up early and munched left over trail food as I drove home. I had hoped to stop at the nice fruit stand on the way but it was not yet open. I stopped at a rest stop and boiled water for more coffee. Hwy 99 was its usual heavy truck traffic and a real pain to drive. At least sky divers falling from the sky were a nice diversion as I drove by Stockton.
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Re: Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Jimr » Mon Aug 03, 2015 12:57 pm

Nice TR WD and nice shots.
What?!
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Re: Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Hobbes » Mon Aug 03, 2015 1:36 pm

I ran into those two 'young fellas' on my way down from Picket lake. They said you were right down below making your way up; I kept an eye out for you, but never got sight. I continued on the north-west descent following the line of trees that abut the north-east (cliff) face of Picket Guard peak (essentially forming the "tree escalator") down to the Colby pass trail and an easy hop, skip & jump across the Kern-Kaweah river.

Oleander & RR can fill in the details, but they too made a last minute executive decision and high-tailed it down the HST and up to Junction meadow. Unfortunately, they were only 1 day ahead of you. Sorry we missed you, but in my book, you definitely made it to the meet-up.

PS I asked this question on another thread, but knowing what you know now, what would be the highest value route in/out of Kaweah basin from the west? Pants in, Pyra out?
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Re: Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Teresa Gergen » Mon Aug 03, 2015 4:44 pm

I once did a TR on another forum with the title, "The skin on the soles of my feet is a renewable resource," and they've looked about like that this whole summer, but I think based on your picture, you win :-)

Would have been nice to make it to your Kaweah gathering, but I was busy having my tent get blown off a glacier camp in the Winds. Thanks for the TR.
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Re: Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Rockyroad » Mon Aug 03, 2015 6:28 pm

Great photos and TR. Sorry to have missed you at the meet-up. Oleander and I made the same decision at Nine Lakes to get back on the HST to Junction Meadow. I would have liked to stay at Island Lake another day but needed the travel time to get back out on Sunday. We were wondering whether we would see you coming through the upper Kaweah basin to PQC on the way out.
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Re: Keweah-Colby-Cloud Canyon-Nine Lakes

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 03, 2015 6:39 pm

Hobbs- I posted some information on routes on the other post (tough backpacks). I am not sure what you mean by a "high value" route. All the approaches and passes have good scenic value. Pyra Queen is harder than Pants, but may be safer than Pants if wet because Pants Pass has a lot f sand/scree that is subject to slope failure if saturated. Pyra Queen is a lot slower because you have a lot of difficult talus. Pants is shorter- one side scree and the other talus. I do the variation on Pants - if going from Nine Lakes to the Kern-Keweah, I would go up the left side, cross over (up and over a couple hundred yards) to descend the slope that is right of the actual pass, thus avoiding the steep part. I have actually only gone down either Pyra Queen or Pants. I think going up either would be much worse. In my opinion, Pyra Queen is more scenic and it drops you directly into Keweah Basin, a nice advantage. Once over Pants, you still have to either go over Picket Guard Pass, the pass south of Picket Guard or drop to the Kern Keweah and go up the ledge route to Picket Lake. Each route is different and it is nice to have lots of options when you get to Nine Lakes Basin, including the HST detour that I did.
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