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Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

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Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby zwoij » Sat Mar 05, 2016 3:20 pm

Hey everyone, I would appreciate your thoughts on the following potential itinerary for 5 nights and 6 days in the first half of July 2016. Info on the route, guesses on snow and mosquitoes, and fishing spots would all be appreciated.

I am comfortable off trail (class 2 and a little class 3), finding routes, and doing lots of miles in a day. Heights make me nervous but not terrified. I'll probably be with a friend who is in cross-fit shape, but hasn't backpacked in a lot of years. We are interested in views, beauty, solitude, fish, forests, canyons, peaks - you know, the Sierras.

Day 1. Wolverton to Pear Lake and off trail into the Table Lands. Looks like fun and pretty easy off trail terrain.(Thanks Wandering Daisy and others for this idea). Not sure how far we would go the first day, given acclimatization and start time. Would like to see Lonely Lake, either camping there the first night or stopping there the next day.

Day 2. Pterodactyl Pass and Horn Col to Deadman Canyon and down to Roaring River area. Last summer I hiked Colby Lake to Avalanche Pass in one day. It was beautiful and the area deserves more time and another visit.

Day 3. I'd like to get into the Sphinx Lakes and Brewer area, either by Avalanche Pass and going up off the trail at Sphinx Creek, or going up Brewer Creek or Cunningham Creek to Big Brewer Lake. Sphinx would be more mileage but it sounds like it's easier. How do the approaches to the Sphinx Lakes and Big Brewer area compare? I wouldn't mind camping at Avalanche Pass again. It is a magnificent camping spot - IF you walk north from the pass out to the end of the plateau. The view of King's Canyon from there is fabulous. The ranger at Roaring River gave us that tip. Just bring in your water if you do it, as there is not a source there. (Maybe I should write up a trip report of that adventure, from Mineral King to Road's End with a couple days off trail).

Day 4. Climb Brewer from south ridge, descend east ridge to East Lake or Lake Reflection. It seems that most people do Brewer as a day trip via the east ridge, which does look fun, but Brewer is on our way. Or would it make more sense to drop our packs at Brewer Pass and summit South Guard from there, then do Brewer as a day hike from East Lake on the other side? Or is South Guard only doable from Longley Pass? We could come from that direction too.

Day 5. Back on trail to Bullfrog Lake or Kearsarge lakes. If we summit Brewer as a day hike that day, we might not want to take on too many more miles afterward. If not, it's not a lot of mileage. Anything we should explore along the way?
This depends on if we can arrange to get picked up at Onion Valley. If not, we would be heading down Bubbs Creek towards Road's End. Anything we should check out that direction?
I we had to shave a day off or got behind schedule, East Lake to Onion Valley seems doable too.

Day 6. Hike out to Onion Valley if we can arrange a ride from there. If not, maybe head out Bubbs Creek to Roads End and get picked up there or hitch back to Wolverton. I haven't seen the Kearsarge area, so would like to check it out if possible.

Or would it make more sense to turn this whole route upside down and start at Onion Valley and exit at Wolverton? That way we could do pretty low miles the first couple days (Onion Valley to Kearsarge Lakes, and from there to East Lake/Lake Reflection) and aim to do more miles on the last couple days of the trip when we are acclimated and carrying lighter packs.

Or would it be worth it to go up Cloud Canyon and take Milestone or Harrison pass and then Milly's or Lucy's up to Lake Reflection? Cloud Canyon is beautiful. What is Milestone and the area to the north like?

Thanks!



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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby maverick » Sat Mar 05, 2016 10:33 pm

(Maybe I should write up a trip report of that adventure, from Mineral King to Road's End with a couple days off trail).


Maybe? For sure. :nod:
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Mar 06, 2016 10:58 am

I would turn the trip around and start from Onion Valley. Putting easy miles first is a good idea.

First half of July could have snow on some of the passes. I did Horn Col early July many years ago and encountered a cornice across the pass. Luckily I found a melt-out slot near a rock to descend. If you were to go east to west, you could see if there is a cornice (which is totally hidden from the Lonely Lake side) and then detour via Elizabeth Pass if needed. You can cut off the Elizabeth Pass trail and traverse back into the Lonely Lake area.

I have gone up Cunningham Creek and it is extremely steep. Energy-wise it is easier to descend, but knees get beat up and there is more danger of actually falling. I would definitely not attempt it without trekking poles. It is a pretty gnarly route. Depends on if you are up to a few hours of hell to get to the upper drainage. But it is very direct. The pass that drops to Brewer basin could have snow on the north side. There also could be a cornice on Longly? Pass (the pass between upper Cunningham Creek and Reflection Lake). I cannot recall off the top of my head the detour, but there are several descriptions (one in Secor's guide) as to which side to go to detour the cornice if needed. Although I have not done it, I have heard that you can get up or down Brewer Creek. Sphinx Creek would be the easier.

You may be going at peak runoff. Be aware that getting across the creek to get to East Lake and Reflection Lake could be very difficult. Be prepared for a significant ford even if it is not peak runoff. You should have a few pre-determined detours to use if needed.

So, in summary, be prepared for high water, residual snow on the north side of passes, including cornices, and pretty bad mosquitoes. Your route is a good one, but one I would rather do in late August or September. But on the positive side, you should have a great display of wildflowers.
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby maverick » Sun Mar 06, 2016 1:13 pm

Day 1. Wolverton to Pear Lake and off trail into the Table Lands. Looks like fun and pretty easy off trail terrain.(Thanks Wandering Daisy and others for this idea). Not sure how far we would go the first day, given acclimatization and start time. Would like to see Lonely Lake, either camping there the first night or stopping there the next day.


Moose Lake on the way to Pterodactyl Pass is a nice spot, there are some nice smaller lakes around Table Meadows too.


Day 2. Pterodactyl Pass and Horn Col to Deadman Canyon and down to Roaring River area. Last summer I hiked Colby Lake to Avalanche Pass in one day. It was beautiful and the area deserves more time and another visit.


As Daisy pointed out, snow could be an issue, more precisely cornice on Horn, don't waste to much time trying to find a route over Horn, use the Elizabeth Pass trail. Personally for me Lonely Lake looks okay, would not go there again, unless the wildflowers along the creek were outstanding, would prefer using Tableland Pass to Big Bird Lake, the best wildflower displays in Deadman Canyon are sometimes along the creek emanating from Bid Bird Lake.
You mention wanting to spend more time in the area you descended into from Colby Lake, why not go see Lonely Lake, descend the Elizabeth Pass trail to the Tamarack Lake trail, go visit Tamarack Lake, which is quite beautiful, go up to Lion Lake, which is also pretty, and go over Lion Lake Pass, and then descend in to Cloud Canyon, which will give you a unique view of Cloud canton and the Whaleback. There may be snow on Lion Lake Pass, and the area above Tamarack Lake is a maze of cliffs, but well worth the effort.

Day 3. I'd like to get into the Sphinx Lakes and Brewer area, either by Avalanche Pass and going up off the trail at Sphinx Creek, or going up Brewer Creek or Cunningham Creek to Big Brewer Lake. Sphinx would be more mileage but it sounds like it's easier. How do the approaches to the Sphinx Lakes and Big Brewer area compare? I wouldn't mind camping at Avalanche Pass again. It is a magnificent camping spot - IF you walk north from the pass out to the end of the plateau. The view of King's Canyon from there is fabulous. The ranger at Roaring River gave us that tip. Just bring in your water if you do it, as there is not a source there. (Maybe I should write up a trip report of that adventure, from Mineral King to Road's End with a couple days off trail).


Would rather go Sphinx Lakes route, not that Cunningham Creek route is bad, but the Sphinx Lakes area is pretty, and if you have never been there, then you should not miss it. You will love Big Brewer Lake, just make sure you spend the night, so you can witness the alpenglow on Mt.Brewer, magical if the conditions are right.


Day 4. Climb Brewer from south ridge, descend east ridge to East Lake or Lake Reflection. It seems that most people do Brewer as a day trip via the east ridge, which does look fun, but Brewer is on our way. Or would it make more sense to drop our packs at Brewer Pass and summit South Guard from there, then do Brewer as a day hike from East Lake on the other side? Or is South Guard only doable from Longley Pass? We could come from that direction too.


Set up camp at Big Brewer and go do South Guard, then the next morning go do Mt. Brewer and then head down to LR or East Lake. Longley will have a cornice, it can be by-passed to the southern end of it, then go north under it to a sandy slope on the northern side of it. Take your time to find the correct route, their is a little exposure, and the terrain is steep and rocky getting down past the cornice.


Day 5. Back on trail to Bullfrog Lake or Kearsarge lakes. If we summit Brewer as a day hike that day, we might not want to take on too many more miles afterward. If not, it's not a lot of mileage. Anything we should explore along the way?
This depends on if we can arrange to get picked up at Onion Valley. If not, we would be heading down Bubbs Creek towards Road's End. Anything we should check out that direction?
I we had to shave a day off or got behind schedule, East Lake to Onion Valley seems doable too.


Not much to see once you start descent down Bubb's Creek. As WD mentioned, crossing the creek can be very difficult, if not impossible during run-off, there are places further down from where the trail crosses Bubb's Creek coming down from East Lake, take you time to find a safe crossing.

Or would it make more sense to turn this whole route upside down and start at Onion Valley and exit at Wolverton?


Would also recommend starting this trip starting from Onion Valley.

Or would it be worth it to go up Cloud Canyon and take Milestone or Harrison pass and then Milly's or Lucy's up to Lake Reflection? Cloud Canyon is beautiful. What is Milestone and the area to the north like?


Milestone Pass is at the southwestern end of the Kern Divide, it would put you into Milestone Bowl, south of Coldy Pass, it is a gorgeous area, but I do not think it is the pass you meant. Doing Harrison Pass would also put you onto the Kern Divide, it may have a rock and snow mix that would be beyond you comfort level, and then descend from the Kern Divide back down to Refection via Milly's of Lucy's Foot, would again beyond you comfort level because of exposure.

Mosquitoes will be at their worst in July, be prepared or push you trip back into August, not only would there be less skeeters, but the snow will have melted and the cornices and passes will be less of an issue.

Do you have ice axe/crampon experience, some of these area may require it, if not, it would be another reason to go later in the season

I am comfortable off trail (class 2 and a little class 3), finding routes, and doing lots of miles in a day. Heights make me nervous but not terrified. I'll probably be with a friend who is in cross-fit shape, but hasn't backpacked in a lot of years.


Lastly and most importantly, keep in mind that you are the trip leader, your trip should be based on the weakest persons experience levels, otherwise you are asking for trouble. These areas/routes you are inquiring about, require solid crossountry expereince, knowledge with at least an ice axe, but maybe crampons too, very dangerous water crossing, and possible altitude issues.

Read some of the pass description here, they will give great intell and photo's, which will help you in making an informed decision on which routes to take: viewforum.php?f=31
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby oldranger » Sun Mar 06, 2016 6:40 pm

zwoij,

Well it is clear that several of us who have been there have different opinions. I personally like Lonely Lake even though I once helped recover a body out of it. From the e. end it is easy to pop over Deadman or vice versa. The best flower garden in the area is above the upper end of Upper Ranger meadow as the trail skirts the e. side of the waterfall/cascade. My preference after or before that would be Coppermine pass between Cloud and Deadman. I rather enjoyed the trip up or down Cunningham Creek. If you keep to the n. side of the creek you should be able to find the old stock trail. A few hundred feet above the bottom of Cloud Canyon the trail is obliterated by avalanche debris for about 200 yards. From just a bit downstream from Cunningham creek there is another old stock trail that heads up to Brewer Creek. I sure it is pretty brushy down low. It comes onto Brewer Creek about where the lake is that is just n. of Brewer Creek. Either of these routes are much preferable to going up or down the lower part of Brewer Creek.

Trouble is you can't follow all of our suggestions in 6 days so you just have to make your choice! Truth of the matter it is all good so whatever you can't do on this trip include in another.

Mike
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby balance » Sun Mar 06, 2016 8:15 pm

Greetimgs zwoij

If the snow comes as we hope, it would be good if you and your hiking partner have ice axes and know how to use them: cutting steps, self arrest, etc. Around July, slushy snow can make for a quick ride to oblivion if you're not prepared. Take mosquito repellent, and have clothes to keep them at bay in the evening.

For planning a route off the beaten path, "The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails" goes into considerable detail regarding alternative routes, passes, and any mountains that might invite you to visit the top.

It sounds like you'll be adventuring off trail. Good for you. Have a great time.

Peace.
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Mar 06, 2016 9:36 pm

OR- I went up the south side of Cunningham Creek. There was a faint use-trail/game trail but it was really steep. Glad to know the better trail is on the north side! Since I was coming from the south and did not think there was a trail, I just cut up and stayed on the south side, and crossed at 9,600 feet. I recall it only took a couple of hours but was intense.

I too liked Lonely Lake. When I was there July 15, 2006, there was no place to camp without snow, so I filled up with water and camped up on the ridge north, with a great view of Big Bird Lake. The upper 1000-12000 feet of the bowl at the head of Deadman was total snow. Other than the cornice it was not steep. I only had trekking poles.The cornice on the pass east of Lonely Lake is built in high snow years with the right wind conditions. It may be fairly rare. The pass is supposed to be class 1 otherwise. The cornice itself was short - maybe 20 feet tall but absolutely vertical. 2006 was pretty snowy. Not sure, but maybe 150%+ normal.

Up until this point, mosquitoes were not a problem. When I dropped into Ranger Meadow I was swarmed by mosquitoes- the worst I had ever been in! You absolutely need a head net and gloves.
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby zwoij » Sun Mar 06, 2016 11:28 pm

Thank you all for the excellent and helpful advice. I was originally planning the trip for August, but had to move it to July. I'm going to see if I can maneuver the schedule back to an August trip. Your reports have confirmed my fears of lingering snow, which I don't want to deal with on xc passes. And I'm willing to put up with mosquitoes, but would rather not if I don't have to.

What Secor calls Piss Your Pants Pass was my first xc pass, which he says has a vertical cliff on the east side, but that isn't the case. We hiked/skied down the steep talus with no problems. That xc experience did make me nervous, but it also got me hooked. We were supposed to take Pants Pass, but my friend made a mistake and then we were headed off our destination of Picket creek by a thunderstorm. We did Pants Pass last year, and then took a nameless, info-less, boulder-choked pass into the Picket Creek drainage and made our way down to the last lake on Picket Creek. It was magical, and worth the grueling slog over endless miles of talus, boulders, and broken up slabs of vertically placed rock. I am determined to take my kids there when they are a bit older (as an off trail excursion from the High Sierra Trail). I have showed them the pictures and they agree that we must go someday. But I'm pretty sure we'll take Kaweah Pass. My friend was the experienced one, but really I don't know why we took the route we did either year. So I have seen Lion Lake and its pass, which looks imposing from afar, but I have found that to be true of the other passes I have taken.

I had considered going to Tamarack Lake from Crescent Meadows via the High Sierra Trail, but hadn't thought of going down to it from Elizabeth Pass. And I didn't realize how close it is to Lion Lake. Big Bird sounds like it would be interesting too and I would probably lean towards that, as I like the idea of covering some of the same area, but expanding the area of exploration. Cunningham sounds doable, but if we choose that route we probably wouldn't go over to Sphinx Lakes just to come back down and go over Longley, so would miss that area. What it comes down to is that there are just too many places to see. Will we feel like doing more miles, but easier, or more direct, but more difficult?

What side trips are there in the Kearsarge area? That area will be completely new to me. I liked the incredible variety we got going west to east on the high sierra trail, and I'll get the same with Wolverton to Onion Valley, or vice versa, which does sound better. So reverse all the locations I've been mentioning.
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby maverick » Mon Mar 07, 2016 10:16 am

But I'm pretty sure we'll take Kaweah Pass.


Kaweah Pass is the most dangerous of the 3 passes that one can use to gain access into the basin, it is better to climb then to descend it, since you have not used Pyra Queen Col, the easiest of the three, would recommend using it over Kaweah Pass. Picket Creek Lake is one of the most magical places in all of the Sierra, as is its neighboring, and the rarely visited Red Spur Lakes Basin.
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby zwoij » Fri Mar 11, 2016 10:26 am

Late on Permit.

So I'm late on getting a permit from Onion Valley/Kearsarge Pass trailhead. Planning on the first part of August now. Is it worth taking a chance on getting walk-up permits? 24 of 60 are for walk-ups, and we will need 2 or 3, depending on who confirms they are going with me. Or should I find another trailhead (Shepherd to Lake South America and over Harrison pass to Lake Reflection area?)

On the west side, I see there are no reserved permits for the (Pear) Lakes Trailhead. So if you are not going to camp at one of the lakes but in the Tablelands does the quota apply the same way?
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby AlmostThere » Fri Mar 11, 2016 10:49 am

zwoij wrote:
On the west side, I see there are no reserved permits for the (Pear) Lakes Trailhead. So if you are not going to camp at one of the lakes but in the Tablelands does the quota apply the same way?


SEKI has a set quota of 25 per day for the Lakes trail and all first day destinations are included in that quota, yes. Table Meadows is a fairly easy option to get to if you don't want to use a site at Pear Lake the first night.

Groups can suck up the quota in a hurry, but unlike Yosemite it's relatively easy to be first in line by showing up just before the office at Lodgepole opens. Especially on a weekday.
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Re: Trip Advice: Wolverton to Onion Valley in 6 days

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Mar 11, 2016 11:25 am

FYI, there's an easy route between the Roaring River area and Big Brewer Lake--leave the Avalanche Pass trail a little south of Moraine Meadow and follow the top of the moraine all the way up to the ridge where it ends, then cut over to Brewer Creek (Lake 9735 is lovely, btw) and follow the creek up. I did this in reverse a few years ago.
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