TR: Kearsarge Pass Sep. 5-7 | High Sierra Topix  

TR: Kearsarge Pass Sep. 5-7

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TR: Kearsarge Pass Sep. 5-7

Postby esco » Mon Sep 14, 2015 4:33 pm

Planned on starting Sunday the 6th and ending Tuesday the 8th but had to adjust in order for my son to join us on his first backpack. He is only 13 but looks older. Planned on starting at Onion Valley, staying at Flower lake the first night (as I have mentioned before due to young children we don't have the time to acclimate before beginning so we are forced to do short first days), heading over Kearsarge Pass the next morning and arriving at Kearsarage Lakes around noon the second day, exploring Kearsarge Lakes and Bullfrog Lake area that afternoon and then heading back out to Onion Valley the third day. Needless to say things didn't go exactly as planned.
Every other time that I have backpacked, I have reserved a permit. On this occasion the planning was a little late so I head to Lone Pine on the 4th (Friday) to attempt to receive a permit. As I had never obtained a walk-in permit I did not know the exact process that I'm sure many of you do. But for those that might need to know... The Inyo NF website describes that permits for the same day can be picked up at 8AM and permits for the following day can be picked up at 11AM. I was aware of that but thought there might be a waiting list written up in the order you arrive for the office to be able to start handing out permits in that order at 11AM. The way it actually works is that a lottery is done by drawing numbers out of a hat for same day permits at 8AM and for next day permits at 11AM. So regardless of what time you arrive at, as long as it is before those particular times (8AM for same day permit or 11AM for next day permit) you will be asked to pull a number out of a box along with everyone else there. Since I had time to spare, having arrived at 8AM, I did some work on my phone and headed to Manzanar to drive through seeing everything I could (little bit of a rough and sandy drive to the "reservoir" there). I ended up pulling number 21 out of 25. However, only about 14 groups in front of me actually picked up a permit. Many groups were only interested in permits exiting Whitney. Additionally, a few people "cheated" by claiming they were not part of the same group (only one member of each group should pull a number) and as they would pull their numbers those that had higher numbers would just drop them on the floor or a desk as they walked out the door and allowed the member of their group with a lower number to stay behind to obtain a permit. I had gone to bed at AAM the night before due to other obligations and woken up at 4:00 AM in order to be at the Visitor's Center by 8AM... Really had me frustrated that I had gone through that extra effort in vain specially when persons where attempting to cheat the system. In general, I consider that persons who like the outdoors and specially those that go through the efforts needed for backpacking, are of the respectful type who follow regulations. If many are not following the rules inside the wilderness offices, it makes me wonder how much of the regulations are followed when they are in the backcountry. Guess you just have to expect to find that everywhere these days.

In any case... I ended up being able to obtain the permit for 5 people the next day even with having been one of the highest numbers out of Onion Valley for Kearsarge Pass. After obtaining the permit I headed to houses in Ridgecrest and Rosamond due to work then headed to my work office to leave things ready for the days I would be away. After some "church" and family obligations I ended up going to bed at about 1:30 AM that Friday night (actually Saturday morning) only to have to get up at 3:00AM to jump in the car and drive back towards the Lone Pine again. I mentioned to my wife how I've come to realize that everytime we are going to do our yearly three day backpack we end up having to wear ourselves out the days before in order to make the arrangements to be able to get away those three days... just something we have to accept with all the obligations we have. We had breakfast in Lone Pine at around 8AM and arrived at the trailhead (Onion Valley) at about 9:30 AM and hit the trail after only a few minutes. Joining us was a friend who has done many more and longer backpacking trips than us (including Whitney), another friend who had been camping once and never been backpacking and our 13 year old son on his first backpacking trip. We arrive at Flower Lake at about noon I believe though none of us checked the time. All of us were more preoccupied with.... THE SMOKE building in the area. We stopped and began to set up camp. At around 1:30 PM the smoke made the top of ridges behind the lake just visible. At around 3PM three of the group started complaining of itchy eyes and headaches (partially due to no time for acclimating also I'm sure but mainly due to the smoke). We decided that we could not risk staying at Kearsarge Lakes the next night; we would head up the pass the next morning if things looked clear in that direction, get a few pictures of the view from the top of the pass and only if things looked very clear on the other side head down for a day hike to Kearsarge Lakes and then come back over the pass again and return to our camp at Flower Lake. We did some fishing that afternoon and my son was able to catch one Brook Trout about 9" long. Another three groups were fishing as well but I did not see anyone catch anything. There were at least 4 other groups camped at the lake that night totaling around 15 people in addition to our group. Some others were coming by the lake in order to camp at Matlock Lakes. The next morning we left the lake at about 9:00AM (knowing we were not going to need a long day) and reached the pass a little after 11:00 AM. On our way up the pass the smoke started coming over the pass on our side (East) so we knew we were not going to be able to head down the other side to visit the Kings Canyon side of the pass.I have to admit I was pretty disappointed because the reason I had chosen a trip to this are was for the view from the top of Kearsarge Pass. When we reached the pass there were about 20 other people hanging around. Only two of those decided they would continue down the West side of the pass as their planned journey required them to get to Glenn Pass that same day.

Due to the smoke, from the top of Kearsarge Pass you could just see Bullfrog Lake and Kearsarge Lakes did not look nearly as pretty as they should. We stayed at the tope of the pass for about 20 minutes mostly due to waiting for the other groups to move on in order to be able to take some pictures that did not have a crowd in them. In those 20 minutes Bullfrog Lake disappeared from view and the Kearsarge Lakes started to lose their visibility from the top of the pass. On our way back to Flower Lake we encountered at least six groups of which we had to mention to regarding the smoke. Two of those groups were backpackers while the others were just day hiking. In general those who we met within half a mile from the pass decided to continue while those further from the pass decided they would just turn back. While at the lake many other groups were making their way up to the pass who we did not get an opportunity to talk to. We tried a little more fishing that afternoon with no success. The next morning we walked over to Matlock Lakes. If anyone reading this ever has to choose between staying at Matlock Lakes or Flower Lake... Matlock Lakes are much nicer. The walk from Flower Lake over to Matlock Lake is very enjoyable with some nice views of Gilbert Lake, the trail is an easy .5 mile addition with little elevation gain (took us about 20 minutes to do with constant stopping to attempt to find the best viewpoints for pictures), Malocks Lakes were much less visited, there are many many many different areas to set up camp both near and away from the water (there is an area between the two larger lakes that I'm sure is teeming with mosquitoes at certain times of the year) and Matlock Lake itself is very beautiful. My son and one of our friends had a blast finding different items around the lakes amongst which were a tin can of Log Cabin Syrup that we later researched was from 1950, a very old looking butter knife/can-opener, half of a pair of 70s looking sunglasses and a mini mason jar (also had to be at least 30 years old) inside a tree stump. Additionally, they found some pretty obvious sets of bear prints around the drainage to the South of the lakes.
All in all... the trip did not end up being what I expected and was hoping for but it is always good to get away from what man has created and enjoy what God created perfect. Unfortunately the effect of mankind is felt even out there (the crowds, the smoke which is the result of drought which is the result of the horrible weather conditions that exist from how damaged our atmosphere is, the need of having to gill-net Matlock Lakes, lots of garbage found at Matlock Lakes and Flower Lake etc). I am sure the area would be much more enjoyable without the smoke around so I am hoping to return one of these years. Maybe somehow I am able to figure out a way to be able to get away long enough to do a cross sierra trip from here to end up at Road's End. I am also glad that our first time backpacker friend and my son still enjoyed the trip and look forward to being able to their next one. My son even used this as a "Personnel Development" topic for a school assignment. Additionally, the hike was not as tough for me as the trips we had done the previous three years... I have shared before that I am not in good shape (5'10" but weighing over 250lbs and rarely get the chance for aerobic exercise)... If there is anyone out there who has as little time available as I do you might try what I did... climbed up and down the stairs of a road overpass near my home for about 30 minutes about three times a week for a couple of months prior to the trip... I do believe that made a big difference in helping condition at least a little. For the time being, it might be better to avoid this area until the "Rough Fire" can be controlled.
Now let me see if I can figure out how to upload pictures along with this TR this time. Going over Kearsarge Pass is a great option for accessing other areas of the Sierra but also great for anyone only having three to four days available as the Kearsarge Lakes, Bubbs Creek and Rae Lakes areas can also be visited from here in short time. The climb to the pass can be done by most people in one day I'm sure. It is nothing but ascent but the design of the trail makes things pretty gradual. The first half to Flower Lake is tougher than after Flower Lake up to the pass as the portion after Flower Lake is mostly gradually ascending, with many switchbacks and little to no "steps"'/rocky areas. Additionally, being able to catch a new lake for every mile you travel helps mentally split the walk into sections and gives something else to look forward to after "just a little more". I understand that to some this might be a very easy task but hope that some of the information is useful to those who have little time or not much physical condition or those just beginning to backpack. Everyone should give this type of activity a shot.



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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass Sep. 5-7

Postby esco » Mon Sep 14, 2015 5:06 pm

I am attaching a few pictures that include the date and whether they were taken in the morning of afternoon. In this way anyone who might be visiting can get an idea of the conditions in regards to smoke in the area.
Attachments
Smok From Visitor Center.jpg
Smoke from Visitor Center Lone Pine 9-7 PM
Flower Lake 9-7 AM.jpg
Flower Lake 9-7 AM
Matlock Lake.jpg
Matlock Lake 9-7 AM
Kings from Pass 9-6 Noon.jpg
Kings Canyon from Pass 9-6 Noon
South of Pass 9-5 PM.jpg
South of Pass 9-5 PM from Flower Lake
Heart Lake 9-6 AM.jpg
Heart Lake 9-6 AM
Flower Lake 9-6 AM.jpg
Flower Lake 9-6 AM
Flower Lake 9-5 PM.jpg
Flower Lake 9-5 PM
Gilbert Lake 9-5.jpg
Gilbert Lake on way up 9-5 AM
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass Sep. 5-7

Postby windknot » Tue Sep 22, 2015 10:10 am

Thanks for the report and pictures! Wow, that looks smoky. Glad you had a good trip regardless.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass Sep. 5-7

Postby Twelve31 » Wed Sep 30, 2015 3:14 pm

We were there the week before and the smoke was really bad as well. Everyday it seemed to roll into the Kearsarge Lakes area a little earlier than the previous day.


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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass Sep. 5-7

Postby balance » Sat Oct 03, 2015 11:50 am

Thanks for the trip report esco.

I'm glad you were able to persevere through all the setbacks, especially as you were able to introduce two people to the beauty and adventure of the Sierra Nevada. Good for you.

If it's any consolation, while the particulars vary, even the most experienced hikers run into unfortunate and unexpected situations. Sometimes the difficulties you run into on the way to the trailhead are worse than problems you might encounter in the high country. Obviously, you found the right balance between perseverance and determination, and sensible discretion. However, this year's problem with the fires and smoke has been like a huge "wet blanket", more like a smoky blanket, that has caused problems for many people. Spoiling hiking trips is bad enough. The loss of people's business, home, even life has been terrible.

I would like to make a couple suggestions. As someone who has battled health and weight issues, my experience is that you have more control of your weight, and overall health, than you may realize. If you think and pray and get serious about what's important in life: There is always time for health and fitness.

Two books that have helped me find trailheads that are off the beaten track but lead to great destinations are "Sierra North" and "Sierra South". These books give you good advice about what to expect, which can be especially useful when traveling with novice hikers. The information in these books let's you get away from the crowds and safely find great places that aren't over-travelled like the Kearsarge Pass area.

I admire your determination and commitment to explore the Sierra Nevada, and to give others their first chance that could lead them to also enjoy the outdoors. Hey, maybe your son will carry the "big pack" when you hike together many years from now when you're old and gray! :)

Peace.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass Sep. 5-7

Postby OzSwaggie » Sun Oct 11, 2015 9:19 pm

Thank you I enjoyed the report and photos. Smoke, water, blue sky - everything! Thanks for the info about the walk up permit process, too.
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