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Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

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Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby AaronRDavis » Fri Feb 19, 2016 1:11 pm

I'm planning on doing some variation of the "Circle of Solitude" (likely to include some off trail travel, including a layover near Lake Reflection). Hoping to have 8 or 9 days, allowing for a nice enjoyable pace and some side trips. I've not yet decided on direction yet.

Living in Fresno, I have never bothered to enter the Sierra via the East side trailheads. I'm about 2 hours from Roads End, and 4.5hrs from Onion Valley. However, on a 9 day trip, the extra time getting to the trailhead is negligible to me. Plus it would be a fun new experience.

So then, if all else is equal, which trailhead would you prefer? I'll be with my wife on this trip, so having a relatively more pleasant (as in--better scenery, rewarding destination, or less difficult overall) first day would be a good thing.



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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby LMBSGV » Fri Feb 19, 2016 2:01 pm

What is "better scenery" is rather subjective. For example, I prefer timberline country while my wife loves forests. That said, when I did a trip to Lake Reflection and the Upper Kern via Harrison Pass, I went from Onion Valley because I wanted to start at a high altitude and get up into the high country on my first day. If you've been out of Road's End on other trips then Onion Valley will be something new and different. There are lots of trip reports and photos to show you what it's like.

Either way you go, you'll run into a lot of people the first couple of days. Going from Onion Valley, you'll see a lot of people until you get past East Lake. When I went, I didn't see a single person for the next five days once I was above East Lake. Read the many trip reports to decide what way you prefer to go after Lake Reflection since there are a lot of choices so it depends on your personal comfort level in terms of terrain. Kearsarge Pass is quite popular so you want reserve your permit early unless with two people you feel like taking a chance on a walk-in.

It is a great trip no matter what route you choose.
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Feb 19, 2016 2:19 pm

I have heard a lot of references to Circle of Solitude, but exactly what is that route?

If altitude is or may be a first-day problem, Roads End is better; if heat may be a problem, Onion Valley is better. I have always hated the Roads End entry in the heat of summer. I just wilt! I have not had trouble getting a walk-in permit but the campground at the Onion Valley trailhead is usually full. At Road's End there are plenty of available campsites because of all the large campgrounds. But as close as you are, that probably is not an issue for the west side. If you do not mind a small off-trail detour, Matlock Lake is a great and amazingly scenic first night campsite if going in Onion Valley. And if camping at Kearasrge Lakes, pass the established campsites and go on down to the next lake where there are nice campsites that are less crowded. One thing I like about Onion Valley is that there is no 4-mile restriction on where you can first camp. That leaves a lot of flexibility if you get a late start or have altitude issues. In general Forest Service trailheads are less regulated than National Park trailheads.
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby AaronRDavis » Fri Feb 19, 2016 2:35 pm

Thanks for the replies. "Better scenery" to us both is timberline country as well. It looks like Onion Valley is going to be a good choice, and I'll try to get a permit ahead of time and make arrangements to camp at the trailhead area.

Circle of Solitude is an 80-ish mile loop around the Great Western and Kings-Kern Divides. Goes through Avalanche Pass--Cloud Canyon--Colby Pass--High Sierra Trail--JMT from Wallace Creek through Forester Pass--Bubbs Creek (i think this accurately describes it).

Thanks for the tip about Matlock Lake. I will definitely check that out.
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby maverick » Fri Feb 19, 2016 4:49 pm

Go with Onion Valley, RE is dusty and hot during the summer, and the scenery doesn't really open up until one almost gets close to the JMT.

According to Mike Whites book "Kings Canyon National Park" the route is described as the following: RR>Sphinx Creek>Avalanche Pass>Roaring River>Cement Meadow>Colby Lake>Colby Pass>Junction Meadow>Forester Pass>Junction Meadow>RR at 68 miles.
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby Cross Country » Fri Feb 19, 2016 6:00 pm

If you decide to go over Lucy's foot or Milly's foot of Harrison instead of Forrester then start at Kings Canyon because you want to go up the Nort side of those passes instead of down. Otherwise I think Onion Vally is the best bet. I did it in the other (wrong) direction AND went down Lucy's foot, I did everything wrong. Instead of going over Avalanche Pass (boring) you might want to consider going through the Lake and to Sphinx Lakes (really cool) and then down to Bubbs Creek.
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby Cross Country » Fri Feb 19, 2016 6:03 pm

Big Brewer to Sphnix
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby maverick » Fri Feb 19, 2016 7:23 pm

Aaron,

Are you planning on sticking to the trail or were the two of you considering doing some crosscountry sections too? Do not want to add routes/ideas if you were planning to stick to the trail.
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Feb 19, 2016 7:26 pm

If "less difficulty overall" is one of your criteria, I would not do the alternate off-trail route via Big Brewer Lake and Sphinix Lake. Yes, it is spectacular, but maybe not what your wife had in mind. Getting to Big Brewer Lake is not easy. But if you both want a more challenging route, this route has knock-your-socks-off scenery. If you have extra time, side trips up Cloud Canyon or Deadman Canyon are nice. There is a use-trail up the lower part of Cloud Canyon. Deadman is quite impressive and there is a good trail up it. Another side trip is Center Basin. There is a trail up that off the JMT. Wallace Lake is another nice side trip.
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby AaronRDavis » Fri Feb 19, 2016 8:47 pm

Cross Country wrote:If you decide to go over Lucy's foot or Milly's foot of Harrison instead of Forrester then start at Kings Canyon because you want to go up the Nort side of those passes instead of down. Otherwise I think Onion Vally is the best bet. I did it in the other (wrong) direction AND went down Lucy's foot, I did everything wrong. Instead of going over Avalanche Pass (boring) you might want to consider going through the Lake and to Sphinx Lakes (really cool) and then down to Bubbs Creek.


Good tips. Thank you all.

There's no way we will do Lucys or Millys, but I would like to use Harrison(approaching from south headed north) to link Lake S. America (is this lake a must-visit?) with Reflection. From there, we could head over Longley pass and down through Sphinx back to Bubbs Creek.

Would we be foolish to head down Cunningham Creek to Cement meadow?

My wife and I are up for a challenge, didn't mean to imply that we weren't. Just said that to possibly avoid a "demoralizing" first day with heavy packs.

I'm trying to create a big loop that includes some of these options without getting over-ambitious because I want to take things at a little more leisurely pace than past trips.
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby AaronRDavis » Mon Aug 22, 2016 8:41 am

Giving this thread a bump, as I am headed out in a week.

If anyone has any recommendations or notes about this route, I welcome them.

Got a permit headed out of Onion Valley, and we've decided to the loop counter-clockwise over 8 days. Going that direction, it may not be the most logical choice to start at Onion Valley, but i've always wanted to start from the East, and we got a campsite to acclimate there as well.


As for the stretch of trail heading N from the intersection of Kern-Kaweah and Kern Canyon, is the Kern Canyon up toward Kern Basin and L. S. America going to be more enjoyable/scenic? Or should we consider just join up the on-coming JMT and go through Bighorn Plateau? Assuming we don't plan to go off trail in these areas, what would you prefer?
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Re: Roads End vs Onion Valley TH for Circle of Solitude

Postby BigMan » Mon Aug 22, 2016 12:28 pm

Milestone, Upper Kern, and Wallace/Wales Lakes Basins are all absolutely special and worth the add'l hiking.

If you can't do all of them, I recommend visiting Milestone Basin and Upper Kern Basin - best scenery-to-slog ratio.

"Casper Lake" is just below treeline and has wonderful shaded campsites on its northern end. It's off-trail but easy hiking up from Lake 10660.
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