Day 1, 9/22:
Just a few things to say since this was all on trail:
- The road to the 'hiker trailhead' on Shepherd Pass is passable to passenger cars, but only just barely. My Prius made it out there with only a few scrapes, but it took a lot of creative and slow driving. If you don't have experience pushing your passenger car to places it shouldn't go, I wouldn't try it.
- I ran into a small trail crew led by a USFS ranger. He told me that they were rehabilitating the creek crossings along Symmes Creek to make them passable to stock. This would allow them to get heavy trail work equipment up to upper Shepherd Creek so they could work on the infamous washout. There was "plenty of money" next year for this work.
Day 2, 9/23
Up the second half of Shepherd Pass. This included the infamous washout, which really isn't bad. As you leave Mahogany Flat, you'll swtichback a few times up a brushy slope until you come up to the washout. Be aware that the first time you come to the washout is NOT where the trail crosses it: the trail switches back right next to the washout and takes you up higher before crossing.
This is the way into the washout from the trail crossing. It's right where the trail ends. Just walk down a steep slope which is soft and sandy enough to just stomp down real easily.
This is the way I took to get out of the washout. It's about 10 feet down the bottom of the gully from the above descent route. It's very steep, but all the rocks are solid and good hand and footholds abound.
There are many other routes across the washout, which have various degrees of use trails and cairns. Take your pick. I would rate my crossing as class 1 going in and easy class 2 coming out.
A few other comments:
Mahogany Flat is easy to miss; look for a large fire ring with one decent-sized campsite on the north side of the trail, right below a big Lodgepole next to a Jeffrey. The route down to Shepherd Creek for water is right behind this site. There are a few other small, crappy campsites scattered around.
Water was available all along Symmes Creek, at an unnamed creek draining from the top of Mount Keith, at Mahogany Flat, at Anvil Camp, and at The Pothole. Make sure you water up when you leave Symmes Creek going up, or at the creek draining Mount Keith going down.
There are campsites at Mahogany Flat, Anvil Camp, The Pothole, and a few scattered around near timberline just below The Pothole.
After crossing Shepherd Pass, I headed for Rockwell Pass. I tried to contour along the slope from the top of the large meadow below the pass, but this got me into a bunch of slow talus hopping. The best route is probably to drop down the Shepherd Pass trail until Rockwell Pass is due north of you, then head straight up. Either way, the terrain is easy and the route simple. I picked up a very good use trail coming up the pass just a bit west of the saddle which made the going even easier. At the summit, look for a wide, sandy track going UP and to the southeast. This is counterintuitive, since you expect to start going down from the saddle, but just follow it: it takes you over a little sand mound and starts down the south side of the pass, saving you some talus hopping. Secor describes this pass as Class 2, but I would call it class 1. I followed it down into the Wright Creek basin and then tried to pass the two small lakes at 3500m; the heads of these lakes cliff out a bit so it's necessary to cross them at their outlets. From here, I followed a faint use trail up the main course of Wright Creek to Versteeg Lake.
Versteeg Lake is a great spot with TONS of fish! Were I a fisherman I could have eaten all winter.
Day 3 9/24
I followed the use trail back down Wright Creek, then crossed over to Wallace Creek around the 3300m level. You could cross over higher up, but the north slope of Wallace Creek drainage is pretty steep there, so I just yielded to the terrain. Once in Wallace Creek I found a very good use trail which led me up to Wallace Lake. Wallace and Wales are both well-worth visiting, especially Wales Lake, which is tucked into a stark and dramatic bowl bordered by Mounts Russel and Hale.
Day 4 9/25
Took the use trail back down Wallace to the JMT. The use trail gets a bit faint down low, but stay in the timber on the north side of the creek and you'll find it. From there I hiked up to Tyndall Creek.
Day 5 9/26
I left camp at Tyndall and went out for a day hike up into the Kern Headwaters area, making a loop via Lake South America. This area has got to be one of the most beautiful parts of the Sierra. The trail from Lake South America down the Kern is a little faint in places. Watch for it to turn around and go back up/down the slope to get around an obstacle.
Day 6 9/27
Hiked out over Shepherd Pass. I had planned on making this a two-day affair, camping at Mahogany Flat again, but Shepherd is REALLY easy to descend. The trail has a gentle grade and you can run most of it. I made it from Tyndall to the hiker's trailhead in less than 8 hours.
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"It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth, and in contemplation of her beauties to know wonder and humility"
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- Rachel Carson
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I did the trip with "saint" Diane and Iowa Joe in 1975 and with Diane in 1976 and alone in 1986. It's one of my favorite parts of the Sierra and I sometimes regret that I never went back. I planned to go back 2 times but each time went somewhere else instead
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The Kern headwaters area ... has got to be one of the most beautiful parts of the Sierra.
3-Bay lake (36.661645,-118.434568) would make a great HST meet-up location. Beautiful, suitably remote (2 days), and accessible from both the west & east sides.
Getting across the washout has definitely become easier. It was semi-gnarly soon afterward, because you couldn't simply go down/up from the point where the tail washed away - it was way, way too unstable. You had to practically bushwhack all the way up to the point above where it started in order to find stable ground.
Maybe I was jaded, but I thought some of the other lakes in WLB had better fishing than Versteeg, not to mention the other lake you went to, which is in a class by itself.
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