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High Sierra -> Elizabeth Pass -> Colby Pass loop

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High Sierra -> Elizabeth Pass -> Colby Pass loop

Postby agsf » Mon Sep 12, 2016 8:47 pm

I'm in the midst of planning a trip to Sequoia NP from Sept 17-25. Still trying to sort out my exact route, so I thought I'd ask you folks for input. I'm currently considering taking the High Sierra Trail from Lodgepole, cutting off to the Elizabeth Pass Trail, taking Colby Pass back down to the HST, and back along the HST to Lodgepole. According to the map this looks to be around 90 miles in total, which is roughly the mileage I was planning to do.

Any alternate suggestions folks have? I'm open to routes from 70-90ish miles, and obviously things that don't need much in the way of permits as it's pretty last minute at this point (SNP ranger told me that they have 27 permits available for the HST for that Saturday, so all good on that front). I've done a bit of cross country hiking, but as I'll be doing this by myself and want to cover some ground, I am looking to stay on trail the whole time.

If not alternate suggestions, notes on the condition of the trail? Thoughts on availability of water, difficulty of passes, need for trail finding?

Edit: Looking at the map further, I'm considering HST all the way to Kern Canyon, then head south and back along Big Arroyo Trail to Big/Little Five Lakes. This would give me the flexibility of taking Blackrock Pass if I wanted to extend the trip, or just cutting back up to the HST to make it a bit shorter. And give me the possibility of some little side trip adventures instead of always needing to move forward. Is the Elizabeth/Colby loop significantly more/less spectacular, and potentially worth the (minor) cons described above?

Thanks!



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Re: High Sierra -> Elizabeth Pass -> Colby Pass loop

Postby oleander » Mon Sep 12, 2016 10:43 pm

Hi,

Great ideas. For the most "spectacular," stick with your original plan, with perhaps the following caveats:

Start not at Lodgepole, but at Crescent Meadow, the formal start of the HST. If Crescent Meadow permits are gone, try for the Alta Trail from Wolverton, which will join the HST at about Mile 5.

Do your loop counter-clockwise. This allows you to do the easier/flatter miles (between Kaweah Gap and Junction Meadow) early in the trip, as a warm-up, saving the high passes (Colby & Elizabeth) for later. It also allows you to do the Roaring River to Bearpaw Meadow section southbound, which I think is the best direction to enjoy some of the jaw-dropping scenery in that section.

Thus your trip looks like: Crescent Meadow - Hamilton Lake - Kaweah Gap - Moraine Lake - Kern River northbound - Colby Pass Trail over that pass to Roaring River - Deadman Canyon - Elizabeth Pass - rejoin the HST at Bearpaw Meadow - back to Crescent Meadow.

Once you get to Roaring River, you'll know if you have any time/energy left for side trips in your last 2-3 days. Big Bird Lake is one idea, if you are comfortable with a bit of cross-country. Another (all on trail) is Tamarack Lake.

Last time I was in the region, a backpacker gushed to me, "Elizabeth Pass was prettier than any pass I went over on the whole JMT." I might agree with him, and not just because the pass has a nice name, and a lot of solitude :)

- Elizabeth
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Re: High Sierra -> Elizabeth Pass -> Colby Pass loop

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Sep 13, 2016 8:03 am

Just be aware that daylight is getting limited and with the sun lower, choosing a campsite for maximum sunlight is important. You will be in shadows while in the deeper canyons both in late afternoon and early morning. I find that having a snuggly down jacket helps me get up on the trail earlier on those cold mornings. It is a great route, similar to what I did last year to get to the 2015 meet-up. I did not have any problem with a permit from Crescent Meadow, even at peak summer season. If you are going solo, there is a high chance of one available permit. Logistically, for me, I prefer to do the 5-hour drive, get my permit near noon and then walk in and camp at Mehrten Creek. That makes the next day to Hamilton Lake very reasonable and eliminates the car camping at Lodgepole. Great route. Check weather reports for storms. It is shoulder season so be prepared to hunker down a day if needed.
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Re: High Sierra -> Elizabeth Pass -> Colby Pass loop

Postby agsf » Tue Sep 13, 2016 9:26 am

Wow, thanks for the excellent tips. I will aim to do the route you suggested, oleander. And good suggestion on the morning light Wandering Daisy. Hopefully my layers will be warm enough to encourage me out of my (very warm) sleeping bag in the mornings.

In previous years were there any long stretches without water? I'm planning to have about 2.5l carrying capacity, but I can add an extra liter or two if there are big chunks of that trail where it might be hard to get water. Also: I'm currently planning on carrying a bear canister. However, I'd love to avoid that if there are enough trees along the route to properly hang food. Thoughts?

This site is fantastic. So full of friendly and knowledgeable people!
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Re: High Sierra -> Elizabeth Pass -> Colby Pass loop

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Sep 13, 2016 9:47 am

Everyone has his now water needs. I am sort of a "camel" and only carry 1 quart of water on all my trips. When I did the route, it was just after some significant rains. In fact, while I was camped at Mehrten Creek it poured! Returning, Mehrten was the last water source, but going in, many of the small creeks were running. Expect Chapooga?sp Plateau to be dry. Moraine Lake was low and the water a bit murky so a filter is nice to have. Low water is actually good for wading across the Kern at Junction Meadow. You also may have to wade across Pine Creek below Elizabeth Pass. Be aware that the bridge over Pine Creek on the way to Hamilton Lake is very high above the water and you cannot reach the water at the bridge, but would have to go upstream. The water spout at Bearpaw HS Camp may be turned off this late in the year. Buck Creek may be your nearest water source.
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Re: High Sierra -> Elizabeth Pass -> Colby Pass loop

Postby maverick » Tue Sep 13, 2016 12:16 pm

In previous years were there any long stretches without water? I'm planning to have about 2.5l carrying capacity, but I can add an extra liter or two if there are big chunks of that trail where it might be hard to get water. Also: I'm currently planning on carrying a bear canister. However, I'd love to avoid that if there are enough trees along the route to properly hang food. Thoughts?



Thus your trip looks like: Crescent Meadow - Hamilton Lake - Kaweah Gap - Moraine Lake - Kern River northbound - Colby Pass Trail over that pass to Roaring River - Deadman Canyon - Elizabeth Pass - rejoin the HST at Bearpaw Meadow - back to Crescent Meadow.


Hi Agsf,

Welcome to HST!
You should be fine with water, Panther, Mehrten, and Buck Creeks should still be running, but they will be low, the area around Bear Paw will be dry, Lone Pine Creek will be you best bet in that area if the water is turned off. There was a very low running creek that was near the HSC, it was not easy at the time (late September trip) to get water from it. Chagoopa Plateau will be your driest section, especially from the Big Arroyo to Moraine Lake section, make sure you get enough water at the Big Arroyo, Chagoopa Creek should be running right before you start you descent down into the Kern Canyon.

You will be able to find trees to hang from in most sections just time your evening spots with this in mind, section between Hamilton Lake and 9 Lakes Basin will not work, neither will the upper part of Deadman Canyon once past the outlet creek of Big Bird Lake or the northern and southern side of Elizabeth Pass.
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: High Sierra -> Elizabeth Pass -> Colby Pass loop

Postby overheadx2 » Tue Sep 13, 2016 2:01 pm

I just returned from a week end hike to Tamarack from Alta . Seemed to be plenty of water along the way. Plenty at Merhten and Buck creeks as well as numerous small creeks along the way. I'm with WD, stop at Merhten meadow (4 miles in from Alta trail head), Buck creek (10 miles in from both) or continue on to Hamilton lake the first day unless you like camping next to 20 other campers in the back country. The Bear paw meadow campground was a parking lot every time I have been through there. No river or creek, just a spicate.
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