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Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

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Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby Ashery » Thu May 05, 2016 7:25 pm

Normally I tend to just lurk to develop some rough idea of a destination and then follow my whim once on trail, but with a couple friends flying in from out of state and an actual schedule to keep, I figured it'd be worth while to seek some more personalized advice.

Anyways:

What level of backpacking experience do you have?

Somewhere around Level 3 or 4. My own raw trip count isn't quite up to Level 4, but I've taken a strong preference for cross country travel and try to fit some in whenever possible. My friends have some more trips under their belt, but less cross country experience.

None of us have any type of snow experience, though that looks to be a non-issue with El Nino petering out as it did.

What terrain are you comfortable/uncomfortable with?

Comfortable? Class 2, but we'd certainly be down for experimenting with greater difficulties. One of the downsides of largely going solo is that I haven't really been able to develop a proper frame of reference for the general differences between the classes. That said, my friends are into rock climbing and I'm sure the stuff I did in the Wonderland of Rocks area in Joshua Tree back in Feb had to have at least been Class 2. Or maybe that experience was something entirely incomparable, hah.

What is your main interest?

A peak or two, solid amount of cross country travel, and generally just showing off the Sierra.

How many miles did you want to do a day, any layovers?

Should be able to keep a solid pace over the trip, though the exact distance depends a lot on how slow the cross country traveling is. If we were doing this on trails without excessive elevation gain, I'd say somewhere in the ballpark of 65-75 miles for the whole trip would be easily doable.

Do you have a route logistics preference: loop, out and back, point to point (which may require 2 vehicles or hitchhiking)?

Loop or loopish. I've no problem with repeating the first five or more miles of the trip, but would rather avoid walking back over the same 35+ miles, :p

As far as timing and exact destination goes, my friends are getting into LAX at 8:30am on Wed June 29th, and my current plan is for us to pick up our reserved permits before the ranger station closes for the day. We're good for anything that fits that distance requirement, with me leaning a bit towards King's Canyon or Mineral King. I did a five day trip in Mineral King late last year and absolutely loved it, and as much as I'd love to go back, there's also a lot of the Sierra backcountry I've yet to see.

There's also a slight preference for the last leg of the trip being on-trail. It's not a huge requirement, but considering my friends have a flight to catch when the trip's over, being on-trail gives us the option of night-hiking to make up miles if necessary.



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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri May 06, 2016 10:18 am

June 29 is still quite early. And El Nino did not entirely "peter out". Southern Sierra did get less snow than northern, so you are wise staying south. You will likely run into some snow- not sure how to avoid this if you want to get into the mountains. Mosquitoes will be at peak. Just be prepared.

From Roads End, SEKI: If you are up to off-trail, you could to up to Sphinx Lakes. Off trail stuff a bit gnarly. Lots of nice day-hikes in that area and fishing too. Should not be that hard to get a permit because most backpackers do not like to go up the Sphinx trail. Not sure how that affects the permit- maybe you would have to get off the Bubbs Creek trail (very popular and permits go fast). If you could score a permit up Bubbs Creek you could also go to East Lake and Lake Reflection. There would be a difficult creek crossing.

From Crescent Meadow to Wolverton (shuttle bus between trailheads). From Crescent Meadow to Hamilton Lake, day-hike to Precipice Lake and Keweah Gap, return via Tablelands- cut off Elizabeth Pass trail at the creek flowing from Lonely Lake. Then over Paradyctle Pass - to Pear Lake (trail back to Wolverton). This may be longer than you want - you need to determine the miles and see if it works. I did this last year from Precipice Lake out to Wolverton via Tablelands in 2 long days- it was a killer. My trip report is in the archives. Tablelands has tricky route finding- not recommended unless you are real good at micro-route finding.

From Cottonwood: Sky Blue Lake, in via Cottonwood Pass and out via New Army. I have done this early, and you will run into snow.

From Onion Meadow- Kearsarge Pass - to Center Basin?? May also run into snow.
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby chulavista » Fri May 06, 2016 11:15 am

Ashery wrote:
What is your main interest?

A peak or two, solid amount of cross country travel, and generally just showing off the Sierra.



You sound a little like me. With your friends into rock climbing, I bet you would enjoy a "base camp" style trip where you backpack into a base camp (away from mosquitoes) and then do some side trips where you go on cross-country/climbs/scrambles. Your best resource for that is studying maps combined with the summitpost webpages for particular mountains. You probably want to steer towards easier peaks due to issues with snow in June, but summitpost can help you understand what gear/knowledge is required.
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby maverick » Fri May 06, 2016 2:25 pm

None of us have any type of snow experience, though that looks to be a non-issue with El Nino petering out as it did.


This will be an issue this year, possible ice axe and/or crampons needed depending on peaks location, the more north you go, the more snow you will encounter.

Miter Basin is the southern most area, closest to you (LAX), besides MK, that would fulfill your need for great scenery and peak bagging, Mount Langley, Joe Devel, Pickering, The Major General, which all have class 2 routes from the basin, would make for a great base camp, but again, you will need to check the "Condition Reports" for any TR's to the area, with possible photo's. Summit Post, Whitney Zone, and Mountain Project forums should be checked for any conditions updates too.
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri May 06, 2016 2:42 pm

Conditions June 16-21, 2006 a 130% snowpack year. This year should be less snow, but not sure it will be all gone. It depends on the speed of the melt between now and end of June. The area is still getting snow right now.

Image
Pickering
Image
Mt. Newcomb

Image
New Army Pass
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby Ashery » Fri May 06, 2016 4:52 pm

Thanks for the suggestions so far; I'll look into'em more individually once I get back this evening.

Re: El Nino petering out: I suppose I've got a bit of an internal bias here as I live just a bit north of the LA area, and outside of that one major storm around the start of 2016 which I was out of town for, we've largely been let down by the hype that surrounded it during the later part of 2015. There was also a nice graph that you had posted elsewhere on these forums, Daisy, that showed the southern part of the Sierra largely matching the average snowfall up until March or so, and then slumping off and staying a solid 10-20% below normal, if not more. So, while there's always the chance that we'll have to back out of our plans due to unfavorable conditions, I'm decently confident that we'll be able to find something we've got a good shot at doing.

Love the pictures; gives me something to look forward to next year, :D
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby chulavista » Sat May 07, 2016 5:43 am

The search function of instagram is another good source for snow conditions.
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby Ashery » Sat May 07, 2016 11:47 am

Alright, spent much of last night looking through the suggestions.

The route through Tablelands looks excellent and doable in our time frame, but some of the TRs mentioned delays with the tram, and while it'd be annoying to miss out on a hot meal because of that, missing a flight is a lot more significant and not something I'm up for risking. Particularly because while the distance looks doable, it seems like its on the upper limit of doable and so we likely won't have a lot of time to spare. I'll definitely earmark the route for a later trip, though.

And the more I think about it, the more appealing a base camp type setup becomes due to both its flexibility and convenience.

Miter Basin/Sky Blue Lake looks fantastic and has the bonus of the view driving up the east side of the range, but looks to be the most at risk of having snow issues, particularly with the passes between the trailhead and Miter Basin. If the passes happen to be beyond what we can do, there's not a lot of alternative destinations we can reach on foot and hiking back out to the car and driving around to SEKI would end up costing us a full day of a trip that's already on the short end of things.

Sphinx Lakes area would appear to be the safest bet in terms of snow, but lacks some of the peak appeal of an area like Miter Basin. Anyone happen to know about an restrictions for camping along the Bubbs Creek trail within five or so miles from Road's End? I know that area's practically a backpacker highway and I seem to recall there being some type of restriction in place, but I can't recall what exactly.

I'll keep thinking about things more over the weekend.
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby maiathebee » Sat May 07, 2016 12:42 pm

From the SeKi website:

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Frontcountry camping is limited to designated campgrounds only. On-trail camping in wilderness is subject to various area-specific restrictions. Lakes Trail: no camping at Aster or Heather Lakes; designated sites only and 3-night limit at Pear and Emerald Lakes (combined). High Sierra Trail: designated sites only at Bearpaw Meadow. Eagle/Mosquito Trails: no camping between the trail and Eagle Lake; no camping within .25 mile of first Mosquito Lake. Atwell/Hockett Trail: no camping between the trail and Whitman Creek. Mount Whitney/Crabtree: no camping at Timberline Lake. Off-trail camping in wilderness is limited to 14 nights in any one location, with exceptions. 3-night limit at Lower and Upper Soldier lakes (combined). 2-night limit at Charlotte Lake, Kearsarge Lakes Basin, Paradise Valley, Redwood Canyon, Colony Mill Trail, Crabtree / Whitney Creek, Don Cecil Trail, Dusy Basin, Guitar Lake, North Dome, and Woods Creek Cross- ing to Vidette Meadow (any one location). 1-night limit at Rae Lakes basin (per lake) and Hamilton Lake.
----

It doesn't mention Bubbs, but if you use SeKi's map tool (weird and new to me!) you can see the restricted no camping area goes along Bubbs til the junction with the Sphinx trail.
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat May 07, 2016 7:28 pm

I think that website is just pointing out the areas where there ARE camping restrictions. There are minimum mile distances from the trailheads, but once past these, on both Bubbs Creek and the High Sierra Trail, you can camp anywhere if 100 feet from water or the trial. There are several established campsites with bear boxes along the High Sierra Trail and Bubbs Creek. You have to get at least to the Sphinx Creek trail junction on Bubbs Creek. There really is no place to camp with reliable water on the High Sierra Trail until you reach Mehrten Creek.

Sphinx Lakes are very spectacular, in my opinion, rival Sky Blue Lake. But getting there is a PITA. Sphinx Creek off-trail is not easy early season. Water is high, lots of swamps. I did it mid-August in 2011, a 200% snowpack year. Not really sure how that would compare to late June of this year.

You can always get over Cottonwood Pass to go to Sky Blue Lake. If there is considerable snow on Cottonwood, then it is wise to just go back the same way. By mid to late June PCT hikers have made a big "trail" in the snow so it is not that bad. When I did it, we drove to the trailhead and camped there to acclimate. We then took two days to get to Sky Blue Lake. You could also simply stay in the Cottonwood Lakes. This would be a shorter trip and is still quite spectacular.

The logical "base camps" on Bubbs Creek are Junction Meadow or Vidette Meadow. Vidette is not scenic but centrally located. Junction Meadow is prettier. Neither location is as scenic as Sky Blue or Cottonwood Lakes. Reflection Lake is spectacular, a day-hike from Junction Meadow. I personally do not think anywhere on Bubbs Creek is a great "base camp".

Another possibility is Big Pine Lakes. Third Lake or Fifth Lake make good "base camps". The trail usually is snow-free early because it is on the sunny side of the slope. There would likely be some snow patches once you reach First or Second Lake. There should be plenty of dry ground for a campsite. The sites at Third Lake are on rocky benches that get a lot of sun. The Fifth Lake sites are near the outlet and more in the trees - could be wet. Great sites at the outlet of Sixth Lake but it is hard to get there in a day. A day-hike to Sam Mack Meadow would involve some snow. There are several trip reports archived here of this trip.
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat May 07, 2016 7:38 pm

Image

Image
Sphinx Lakes - just above the lower lake
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Re: Trip Advice, Southern Sierra, 4.5 days, Late June

Postby LMBSGV » Sat May 07, 2016 8:05 pm

Another possibility is Big Pine Lakes. Third Lake or Fifth Lake make good "base camps". The trail usually is snow-free early because it is on the sunny side of the slope. There would likely be some snow patches once you reach First or Second Lake. There should be plenty of dry ground for a campsite.


Ashery, from your posts, to me this sounds like the best suggestion for late June. When staying at Glacier Lodge for our wedding anniversary, my wife and I day-hiked up to Fifth Lake on June 24 in a year of close to the same amount of snowfall. The snow conditions were almost exactly as WD describes. The scenery is spectacular and it's an ideal area for base-camping.
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