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need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

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need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby milkfish » Tue Apr 19, 2016 5:38 pm

Hi all,

I'm planning a solo week on the HST this summer and am looking for some advice from you experienced folks on some possible HST detours.

My planned start date is 7/20 but this is somewhat flexible as I'll be shooting for a walk-up permit the day before at Lodgepole. I've got 8 nights to spend in the backcountry, including my last night at Whitney Portal, so 7 nights on trail/off trail.

First, I'm pretty comfortable with off-trail navigation. I don't mind some snow crossing but I am not planning on bringing microspikes, so if passes are snowed over it might be iffy. River crossings are okay to a point, but anything flowing enough to sweep me away is something I'd prefer to avoid.

I'm good with 10-15+ mile days but since I have so much time I don't plan on doing super high-mileage days. I will probably have time for a layover day or two, options for which I'll bring up later...


So the first question is an easy one: Which campsites are most scenic coming out of Crescent Meadow for my first night? I was planning on avoiding the crowds of Bearpaw so was looking at 9 Mile, Buck or Lone Pine creek. From Google Earth, it looks like the views are actually best at Bearpaw, but I believe I read that the backpacker tent sites are back in the woods without much/any view. 9 Mile Creek looks like it could be good but if those sites are in the forest too, maybe I'm better off just heading to Bearpaw.

Night 2 I plan on spending at Precipice Lake. After that will depend on the weather and snowpack: If the weather is stormy/sketchy I will just continue on the trail. If weather permits I am looking to head up into 9 Lake Basin and over Pyra-Queen Col into Kaweah Basin. I might take a layover day to hang out and hike around the basin and soak it all in.

Leaving Kaweah Basin I am looking at two options:
1. Over Kaweah Pass, down Chagoopa Creek and picking up the HST again to go up Kern Canyon.

2. Follow the stream south of Picket Creek down to Colby Pass Trail to pick up HST at Junction Meadow. (I've read in The High Sierra: Peaks - Passes - Trails that Picket Creek waterfalls/cliffs out on the way down to the Kern-Kaweah River. Anyone care to comment?)

Does anyone have experience with either of these routes? Is coming down either going to find me bushwhacking for miles in thick willows, getting cliffed out, post tricky route-finding challenges? If I come back to HST on the Kern-Kaweah am I going to find an impassible swollen/whitewater river in late July? Will the passes be blanketed in posthole snow and sketchy snow-bridges? I would definitely miss not being able to taking a dip in the Kern hot springs but am I missing out if I skip Kern Canyon? By accounts I read it's not a spectacular section of trail. It's definitely appealing to me to stay high up in the sub-alpine basins.

My other option for layover day is at Wallace Creek. If I take a layover here and explore Wallace Lake or Wright Lakes, which option is more scenic? Or Willow choked? Or am I missing some other good option for a layover day with nice mountain views, lakes and streams?

Thanks for any advice and I hope to see you all on the trail!



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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby maverick » Tue Apr 19, 2016 7:09 pm

Hi Milkfish,

Welcome to HST!

So the first question is an easy one: Which campsites are most scenic coming out of Crescent Meadow for my first night? I was planning on avoiding the crowds of Bearpaw so was looking at 9 Mile, Buck or Lone Pine creek. From Google Earth, it looks like the views are actually best at Bearpaw, but I believe I read that the backpacker tent sites are back in the woods without much/any view. 9 Mile Creek looks like it could be good but if those sites are in the forest too, maybe I'm better off just heading to Bearpaw.


Buck Creek is better, or if you have the energy, then continue on past Bearpaw to the footbridge over Lone Pine Creek, there are some site there.


Does anyone have experience with either of these routes? Is coming down either going to find me bushwhacking for miles in thick willows, getting cliffed out, post tricky route-finding challenges? If I come back to HST on the Kern-Kaweah am I going to find an impassible swollen/whitewater river in late July? Will the passes be blanketed in posthole snow and sketchy snow-bridges? I would definitely miss not being able to taking a dip in the Kern hot springs but am I missing out if I skip Kern Canyon? By accounts I read it's not a spectacular section of trail. It's definitely appealing to me to stay high up in the sub-alpine basins.


PQC is your easiest into Kaweah Basin, do not go out Kaweah Pass, very unstable, loose, and dangerous. Go down and visit the last lake on Picket Creek (one of the best watering holes in the Sierra), then either head over to the creek emanating out of Kaweah Basin, follow it down on its southern side, but not to close, otherwise it turns into some short class 3 sections, follow it down to near Rockslide Lake, some bush right before you get to the trail, but no big deal, or you can traverse down from the north side of Picket Lake to the trail at the Kern-Kaweah River, about to where the creek emanating from near Kern Point meets the trail.

No you won't miss out on the seeing KHS, Kaweah Basin is 1000 times more worth seeing IMO.

1st route is in red, 2nd in green: HST Map

My guess is, that even with the extra snow fall, by the end of July, you should be okay, though the chute that you have to climb to get to the top of PQC could hold snow, because of it running north to south and any direct sun will be blocked, just time your climb for mid-morning, and if it is out of your comfort level, turn around.

Check the "Conditions Reports" here on HST as they come in, so you can gauge your expectation for those elevations accordingly.



My other option for layover day is at Wallace Creek. If I take a layover here and explore Wallace Lake or Wright Lakes, which option is more scenic? Or Willow choked? Or am I missing some other good option for a layover day with nice mountain views, lakes and streams?


Wallace Lake is more scenic, Wright has fish. There is a faint use trail following the creek up towards Wallace, no bushwacking issues.
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby longri » Wed Apr 20, 2016 11:15 am

I just want to say that Maverick nailed the answer.

One other thing: I know you're going in July and the campsite at Bearpaw is in the forest and kind of depressing in a way. But by late September after they've torn down the high sierra camp for the season you can set up your tent on the floor of one of the cabin frames (the walls are gone). There's one right there on the precipice and it has a grand view.
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Apr 20, 2016 12:57 pm

If you are a strong hiker, keep pack weight low, and get an early start, you can make it to Hamilton Lake the first day (8-10 hours). I have done this many times. I live at sea level and never had had problems regarding altitude. Although the trail has lots of ups and downs, you stay around 7,000 feet elevation. The trail is good and allows a fast pace. Hamilton Lake is by far the most scenic option. I would then use the saved day in Keweah Basin. Ending Day 1 at Hamilton Lake also makes ending Day 2 below Pyra Queen Pass, either in Nine Lakes Basin or the lake west of the pass, more feasible. A morning ascent of Prya Queen Pass usually avoids lightning.

Another strategy, that I used last year, is to drive to Lodgepole, get permit, and go into Merhten Creek for the first night. I left Crescent Meadow near 4PM and still made it before dark. Then you can get to Hamilton Lake the second night. This works well if you live more than 6 hours from the trailhead and avoids the car-camping fees, gear and worry about getting a campsite.

I get a first-come permit, because this allows me to be flexible, either starting in the afternoon or next day. I have never had trouble getting a permit without reserving.

The regular trail via Moraine Lake and Kern Hot Springs can be your bad weather "Plan B". Pyra Queen Pass is not safe in lightning or heavy rain.
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby maiathebee » Thu Apr 21, 2016 12:35 am

You probably saw this if you searched the boards for trip reports, but I posted about campsites at Lone Pine Creek since before I went I couldn't find great info on whether or not there were any. You can check out details here: https://plutoniclove.com/2016/01/11/the ... rra-trail/ or here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=13874 If you get to Bearpaw, making it to Lone Pine Creek is easy. It's only a couple miles farther and it's flat the whole way. I also agree with Daisy that if you are strong, you can make it all the way to Hamilton. My group was pooping out around Bearpaw so it was all I could do to drag them to Lone Pine Creek :rolleyes:
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby RoguePhotonic » Thu Apr 21, 2016 5:59 am

There is a campsite for one at Lone Pine Creek if you go like hundred yards into the junction headed for Elizabeth Pass. It's on the left. It gives you water access to where the old bridge crossing was. If someone is already using it there are other options.

Going to Picket Lake and then down is the best route option. Although Maverick's map is a bit off. this one is much closer to the route you want. When you leave the lake it's a class 1 hill side for a decent distance down. Then you'll start to move a bit to the left along some small shelves of rock. You might find one or two easy class 3 moves in here. The only brush you will find is maybe an easy patch of willows or two when your almost at the bottom.
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:34 am

I agree that Rogue's route line is a bit more accurate. It does not show on the map, but you do have to go up over a ridge that is north of the lower Picket Lake before heading down. This 100-150 foot climb is NOT up the big main gully northwest of the inlet. Once on top of the ridge there is a very distinct gully that you descend. If careful, there is no class 3. It is slab/cliffy so it is definitely possible to get into class 3. Once down past the upper slab system, I found that angling upstream was a bit easier, but many ways work out fine.
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby milkfish » Fri Apr 22, 2016 1:00 pm

Thanks everyone!

This is the exact info I was looking for. You've all been a huge help! :) HUGE thanks Maverick, for the big explanation and map. I definitely feel like I've got a good relaxing yet exhilarating week planned now..

maiathebee, it was actually your blog/trip report that made me want to skip Bearpaw and definitely try to camp at Precipice!

Since it's so close to Lone Pine I probably won't push to get out to LP on day 1. That makes day 2 a relatively relaxing hike from Buck to Precipice to hang out and watch the sun crawl across the mountains. Tentative for now is Buck Creek, Precipice, Kaweah Basin x2 nights, Wallace Creek x2 nights, Guitar Lake, Whitney Portal. If weather is sketchy I'll just keep to the trail.
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby maverick » Fri Apr 22, 2016 1:10 pm

Tentative for now is Buck Creek, Precipice, Kaweah Basin x2 nights, Wallace Creek x2 nights, Guitar Lake, Whitney Portal.


If the crowds are to big at Guitar, consider staying at Arctic Lake, it will give you more solitude.
Precipice has limited camping, try to get there early, there are some smaller sites you can either tent or cowboy camp at a little closer to the Kaweah Gap, above the trail on the southern side.

PS Please write us up a TR with pictures when you get back.
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby RoguePhotonic » Sat Apr 23, 2016 11:58 am

There is limited camping at Precipice but it has an amazing view. I've actually never seen anyone camped there.
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby milkfish » Sat Apr 23, 2016 1:00 pm

maverick wrote:PS Please write us up a TR with pictures when you get back.


Yes, of course! I owe you guys a detailed report :)
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Re: need advice on HST solo with some off-route options

Postby LMBSGV » Sat Apr 23, 2016 3:21 pm

I've twice camped at Precipice Lake. There's a great site to the right of the trail. Just hop the outlet creek. Both times I've been the only person camped there.
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