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TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

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TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby JWreno » Sun Aug 28, 2016 3:11 pm

I wanted to try out another piece of the Sierra High Route. We left a car at the McGee Creek TH and drove to Bishop and spend an expensive night in a motel. We got an early Mickie D breakfast and drove the 2nd car to North Lake TH. The hike to the top of Piute Pass was pleasant and we left the trail heading towards Mesa Lake where we spent the first night. We had light rain on and off several times through the night. The off trail travel was easy the first afternoon.

The 2nd day we got up late and headed north and upwards working our way eventually to an overlook where we could see Puppet Lake. The travel to this point was taxing do to the steep uphill be not stressful regarding exposure. We didn't see an easy way down the steep talus slope to Puppet Lake. We eventually started down what was a 2 hour challenge hoping downward from large car size rock to the next lower one. I found that my son and wife were getting behind their comfort level. I had to turn around and assist them several times as we went down some rather large drops. Once we got to Puppet Lake we had another night of rain.

The 3rd day we started travels down towards French Canyon via Elba Lake. While we were headed down talus slopes we had to pause for a 45 minute heavy hail storm with much thunder. The accumulating hail made it difficult to proceed until it stopped. The decent to French canyon was easy after the weather eased. We enjoyed the trail on French Canyon from the large cascade down to the start of the use trail heading steeply upwards to Merriam Lake. The weather that night was pleasant and dry.

The 4th day we started up north towards Feather Pass going by a series of tarns and La Salle Lake. The travel was hard due to the off trail uphill be the views were great. Dropping down to Bear Paw Lake was easy and we continued through to Ursa Lake and Black Bear Lake. The weather got ugly with much thunder and hail while we were headed up towards White Bear Lake. I made a navigation error and we followed a safe slope down to Big Bear Lake. I had to setup a tent because my wife's new raincoat was not keeping her dry or warm. We had a very intense hail storm while my wife and son waited it out in one of the tents. Once the storm abated I moved the tent to a more suitable location for camping the night.

The 5th day we headed back up the slope and then followed the correct direction towards White Bear Lake. We faced another large wall of down sloping talus. Once we got to the bottom I could tell my wife and son were tired of the off trail talus. I offered them the option of taking the Italy trail back to the JMT at Bear Creek. We would be trading more miles of trail for less miles of difficult travel. They were excited to get back to managed trails. We headed down to within about 1.5 miles of the JMT on the Italy Lake trail and spent another night in pleasant solitude.

The 6th day we got on the JMT and headed north. We saw more people in the first two miles of the JMT than we saw for 4 days after we left Piute Pass. The travel was easy and well known since I have been on this portion of the trail 4 times before and my wife and son 2 times before. It was dusty and was much warmer at the lower elevation going up over Bear ridge towards Mono Creek. We chilled at Mono Creek bridge for an hour and headed up to the Pocket Meadow near the Mott Creek intersection where we spent the night. Another group of 4 campers overloaded our campsite because they didn't really have any other options.

The 7th day we headed north over Silver Pass and down to Fish Creek and up towards Tully Hole. We left the JMT and headed up on the McGee Pass trail for about 3 more miles and spent one more night in a campsite by ourselves. The trail from Tully Hole to McGee pass is very scenic with some lovely canyons carved by the waters of Fish Creek.

The last day we got stared at 7AM and reached McGee Pass at 10:30AM. It was pleasantly cool until we reached Big McGee Lake. It stared to get much hotter until we reached the car at 3PM. The last few miles were like hiking in high desert. It was much to hot to be hiking at low elevations. If I started a hike at McGee creek it would be at 6 or 7AM to get up in elevation before the heat becomes to much.

What did we learn from several days of off trail? The solitude and views are fantastic and the cooler temps that comes from staying above 11K feet is great. Our socks stayed much cleaner on the days away from the duff of the JMT. With the lack of trail and steep slopes comes very slow travel. We had trouble doing 5-6 miles per day but we were also impacted by stormy weather. Steep talus slopes can be challenging at best and unsafe if wet. My wife and son would be willing to hike a day around vs. heading down the slope towards Puppet Lake again. That was the only time they felt too close to the edge of their comfort levels.

We all considered the trip a great success, lost a bunch of weight and feel like our bodies got a tremendous workout. The next off trail adventure may be something easier such as the Emigrant Wilderness granite ramps. This was our first multi day hike since our last full southbound JMT in 2014.



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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby rlown » Sun Aug 28, 2016 3:49 pm

nice report. wish you read this beforehand: viewtopic.php?f=31&t=7686&p=86586&hilit=carol+col#p55461

You could have avoided those car-sized boulder field by sticking close to the "wall" if you indeed did carol col.. Anyway, you made it.. Kudos.
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby JWreno » Sun Aug 28, 2016 4:17 pm

We ended up starting down the west side trying to avoid the larger talus. Once we got in it seems like it was difficult to stay near the edge. It is also hard to access the slope from the top with limited site lines. We look over 4 different starting points before proceeding down our choice. The center seemed to be the worse choice with the largest rocks. Steep talus slopes of significant height will never be considered anything but a difficult choir.

It is unlikely that I do that particular col again. My wife and son would recommend other trip choices.

I may try another trip as a several day exploration of an area without specific travel goals. We could explore as we wish and backtrack anytime we decide we don't like the terrain.
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby rlown » Sun Aug 28, 2016 4:24 pm

West side bad.. The wall is East side. My friend Paul and I spent a good 20 mins at the top on our first trip trying to pick the route. Then found the "right" path. Only the top 15' looks like air, but it wasn't, and I have a fear of heights. Been over it 3 times, and now it takes 20 mins.

What was the date of your trip?
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby JWreno » Sun Aug 28, 2016 4:30 pm

August 20-27th. Well 20 minutes sounds better than 120 minutes.

There were many other places where you could see some signs of use trail or browned vegetation showing that you were following in the successful footsteps of others.
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby JWreno » Sun Aug 28, 2016 6:36 pm

Here is a photo showing the wall we come down after White Bear lake. The more gradual and grassy ramps made it easier. I used a Garmin Montana GPS with a pair of rechargeable GPS batteries. I charged the spare battery using a Suntastic solar charger velcroed to my pack lid on sunny days. I normally don't a GPS when staying on trail. The GPS, compass plus some large scale 13x19 inch topology maps that I printed gave me the confidence to wander away from the trails. I also had the Mono Divide regional map with me to give me a larger scale view of the area. I didn't bring my camera this time and left all the photos to my wife. The number of pictures while traveling where few due to my wife's efforts focused on hiking up or down the wild terrain.

My and my son's weight are both up significantly from our previous JMT trips. It made me more sensitive about pack weight so I left my 3 pounds of better camera at home. The weight was noticed when going uphill but we still could do what we needed to do. I could use about 6 weeks of backpacking to get back to the weight I want to be at. I still want to be 30 pounds lighter.

I read all the related sections of Steve Rouper's Sierra High Route before the trip and had a scanned copy of the related sections available on my iPhone. Here is his guidance regarding the col leading down to Puppet Lake.

"Descend a short, steep talus slope to the tarns and meadowlands above Puppet Lake then pass around the lake on its western shore."

Sometimes a bit of more specific guidance could be useful.

I looked at the satellite imagery before the trip and didn't see an obvious easy route. If I knew the col had a name I might have googled it for more information.

whitebearlakewall.jpg
whitebearlakewall.jpg (78.49 KiB) Viewed 184 times
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby JWreno » Sun Aug 28, 2016 6:40 pm

Wow, I just googled Carol Col and found lots of helpful advice. I will try to find all the official names of challenging terrain when planning future off trail routes. There even a YouTube video showing the recommend route.
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby JWreno » Sun Aug 28, 2016 6:47 pm

I forgot to mention I saw a group of 4 white-tailed ptarmigan while going down to get water at Big Bear Lake. I didn't notice them until I was within about 30 feet. A couple of them made soft vocalizations and they slowly wandered away from me. They looked quite plump with a thick plumage. I have never seen more than one at a time previously.
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby frozenintime » Mon Aug 29, 2016 6:02 am

hey jeff
sounds like a great time.
did you encounter any smoke along the way?
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby JWreno » Mon Aug 29, 2016 8:24 am

I didn't notice smoke from Saturday 8/20 until late Wednesday 8/24. We finally saw a bit a smoke as we got lower on the Italy trail heading down towards the JMT. Friday 8/26 on top of Silver pass the smoke was obvious looking north and south but I could still see all the mountains in the distance through the haze. We didn't notice it as we go higher going over McGee pass.
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby SSSdave » Mon Aug 29, 2016 9:20 am

No wonder you had trouble beyond White Bear Lake. Your image shows the view from Brown Bear Lake up towards what is called Whitebear or sometime Brown Bear Pass, one of the trickiest class 2 passes in the range.

http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=37.34042,-118.80044&z=15&t=T

Most groups going from EF Bear Creek Basin to Lake Italy use Dancing Bear Pass that drops down to Jumble Lake.

This picture shows the view south towards Dancing Bear Pass:

http://www.thewyants.com/hikes/sierra03/dscn0158b.jpg

I've camped at Brown Bear Lake on a couple backpacking trips and into the EF Bear Creek basin a few times. Whitebear Pass is not even listed on our HST passes sub forum and probably should remain so because most would get into class 3 terrain. Everything right below the pass is class 3 including the least steep choice a bit north because of a steep band between 11500 and 11700 that is not visible from the top. Of course a whole lot of people only really ever use visual sight to figure out their routes that in my opinion is a huge mistake and this pass is a prime example where a concave slope that looks ok from the top conceals the steepest sections below. One will also not find anything really usable about the route elsewhere on the web because DBP is also less total vertical uphill if one is continuing either over Italy or Gabbot passes. One does need to climb up from Whitebear Lake to reach DBP but that is less than one climbs from the Brown Bear Lake outlet to Lake Italy.

The first time I went over the pass, I had the advantage of looking up from Brown Bear Lake and could see the route I had drawn from topo studies before my trip. The trick if going north is to at pass level first traverse north all the way to what shows on the topo as an intermittent stream. The traverse is actually on an easy ramp. One crosses that stream and then descends directly all the way down. Looking at the topo lines one can see though steep, it is significantly less so than anywhere else.

Likewise a careful topo map study of Carol Col even without any other advice clearly shows the route below that rlown discusses is less steep.

Also note HST has a page for Carol Col:
viewtopic.php?f=31&t=7686
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Re: TR-North Lake to McGee Creek

Postby JWreno » Mon Aug 29, 2016 11:15 am

We actually felt comfortable sticking to the grassy area going down White Bear pass. It was the wrong route on Carol Col that was difficult. I won't pretend to be an expert in traversing wild passes so I will defer to others and not try to give advice for future travelers in the area.

I figured class 3 comes with the turf of following the SHR. I just prefer to reduce the exposure if I slip or lose my grip.

I will sum up my trip experience the more you know about your route the better your choices.
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