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Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

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Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

Postby robertseeburger » Sat Sep 17, 2016 8:57 am

I have always wanted to go to Spire Lake. But when doing trip planning, I have always chosen something else. The reason is...Spire Lake is both hard to get to but more importantly hard to combine with anything else for a trip. The combination of the two make it seldom visited.

I planned the following trip. Mosquito Flat/Peppermint Pass/Spire Lake/back to Peppermint Pass/Cox Col/Lake Italy/Gabbot Pass/ Mono Pass/Mosquito Flat.(7 days)

I did the following . Mosquito Flat/Peppermint Pass/Spire Lake/Morgan Pass/Mosquito Flat ( 3 days).

Here goes. Things started out well. A beautiful day. Never get tired of seeing Bear Creek Spire from Little Lakes Valley. Certainly a "top twenty most photographed Sierra shot".


For some reason I really struggled to get up the pass. I started around noon after driving from the Bay Area and at 4:00 I was at Dade Lake. I was trying to decide whether I had enough energy to get over the pass. I finally decided to give it a shot.

A picture from the pass looking across Dade and Treasure Lakes. Note shadows getting low.

And a shot of Spire Lake from Peppermint Pass

I staggered to the lake, found a flat spot--no particularly good ones but one sufficed, sent a note to my wife from my Delorme device saying all ok, had a belt or two of backpacker margarita (tequila and powdered gatorade), and went to sleep. I am still not sure why I struggled so much with fatigue. Peppermint pass was a normal class 2 Sierra cross country pass. Some talus, sometimes tedious, but nothing unusual. Oh well. I was spent.

The first problem I had was my flashlight batteries were spent. I no longer carry spares as a weight reduction technique. Oh well, no big deal. I can survive
without a flashlight.

The second problem I had was I must have rolled over on my glasses and popped out a lens. I evidently broke the tiny screw that holds the lens to the frame.
I put on the one lens glasses and could see very well with the one lens and my usual 20x400 with the other eye. As I wandered around my campsite, I realized that I had absolutely no depth perception. As I thought about Peppermint Pass/Cox Col/Gabbot Pass, I thought it would be dangerous to do so like this.
So...thank god for fishing line!!. It took me about an hour to finally get the line hold the glasses in, but it worked! I wasn't sure it would hold though.

That problem solved, I spent the day fishing. It was a beautiful day. I was somewhat surprised to see someone come up from Split Lake below. His name was Joe, from Bridgeport, brought his dog, and said this was his tenth trip to the lake. Wow. He snapped a picture of me with Bear Creek Spire in the background.
My how Bear Creek Spire looks different depending on the direction.

Some fishing notes. Good fishery. Some decent fish (14 -15 inchers). I saw nothing really large. I saw nothing that I would categorize as a spawning area, so in a way this is like my post earlier this year from Funston Lake. I understand that there is no planting ( per Joe) so I don't know how this is a sustainable fishery, but it is. Given that it is hard to get to and more importantly hard to combine with other lakes for a longer trip, Spire lake will always be seldom visited.
A couple decent fish.


That night I cooked dinner and then went to send a note to my wife, which is our agreement when I go solo. I found my Delorme dead.
I had no idea what happened. But I could not get it to power up. So, I thought about I had 5 days and three cross country passes to go and my wife would be concerned that I did not send a note and potentially even call the air force to look for me, and I had questionable glasses, and I decided to return early.
The best thing about the Delorme is the ability to communicate with safety personnel and loved ones. The worst thing is that I set expectation on status that I could not fulfill. Oh well. When I got home I successfully charged the Delorme so that wasn't the issue. I contacted Delorme customer service and after a few exchanges the most probable outcome was that I did not power it off properly and put it in my pack and it cycled trying to connect and ran down the battery.
I have successfully done this many times, but I admit is was possible that the night before I did not. Lesson learned.

So this is why I called it my "bad karma trip". Three things gone wrong in 24 hours.. ( headlamp, glasses,Delorme). I have had only one other bad karma trip in my life. That was an attempt to climb Split Mountain via Red Mountain Lake from the east. My car got stuck on the dirt road and that took hours to resolve,
and then I fell in the creek going up to Red Mountain Lake. I had run out of time to do what I wanted to do, and turned around. This was about 30 years ago.

In any event, I decided if I was going to go back, I would return a different way. I went down the creek from Spire Lake, passing Split and Bear Lakes. ( fish in one really nice camp site at Bear Lake). And then go up the old road to Morgan Pass. A view looking back toward Spire Lake and Bear Creek Spire
from the road. I came straight down the creek ( to the right in the picture) which turned out after talking with Joe not to be the easiest way. It easier to go more to the left in the trees. But straight down the creek was doable.


Lastly, I met some folks at Lower Morgan Lake I wanted to mention. 8 guys backpacking together. I talked a little to them talking about aches and pains and backpacking. It turns out that this group of 8 guys had been doing this for 50 years. One had died so now they were 7. And one of them had Alzheimers and the others were taking care of them. And the YOUNGEST one I was talking to was 79. They were happily fly fishing for 6-8 inch rainbows.
It made my troubles seem very small! This is what I want to be when I grow up!

That is it.

Now , tomorrow off for my last trip of the year. I am off to an 8 day trip in the Wind River Range. My first trip to the winds, going to Titcomb Basin and others.
I bought Wandering Daisy's book and hope I am prepared. It is a little late but off I go.
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Re: Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

Postby SSSdave » Sat Sep 17, 2016 12:07 pm

Your strength issue on the 2600 foot vertical effort to go over Peppermint Pass might be not yet lungs adapted to thinner high elevation oxygen. That happens to me frequently on first day's backpacking, expecially at such high elevations. It usually takes me at least 2 days for my lungs to acclimate and likewise just a few days after returning to lower elevations to lose it.

Over decades I've broken wire rim eyeglasses several times in the field. Carry a short length of wire wrapped around a spare cord lock and industrial strength duct tape or Gorilla tape to fix such. As an older person, I also need to bring reading glasses. Another issue with eyeglasses is losing them since they are handled so much coming on and off or in loose pockets. But because they weigh so little, I've been bringing spare pairs for years. As a general strategy with important gear that might become lost that weighs little and takes up little space like a Bic lighter, taking a spare item has little penalty.

I backpacked into Spire Lake once in early September 1984 and it has been on a list of places I want to return to for photographic reasons both for dawn and sunrise. One of the best really high elevation lakes with an unblocked view eastward at a limited window during late summer. At 12k dawn light can be spectacular but the atmosphere needs to be really clear and a few clouds east would be ideal for dawn.

On my trip I came in via the middle Morgan Lake and out thru Peppermint Pass. Route finding on the way in is not for amateurs lest one get into class 3 as there was a single class 2 section to monkey down thru one short steep section. Carefully analyzing the topo is important. Although going over Peppermint is straightforward late season after the snow fields have melted or softened up by afternoon sun, the route I came in on requires less total up vertical. Dropping all the way to Bear Lake is a similar vertical to Peppermint. It is good to read golden trout still populate the waters. Both the inlet and outlet have limited spawning earlier in summer.

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Re: Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

Postby old and slow » Sat Sep 17, 2016 2:40 pm

Great trip report! Drama and excitement mixed in with great scenery and fishing and topping it off with an inspiring ending meeting the 8 (now 7) old-timers still at it.
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Re: Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Sep 18, 2016 9:09 am

Bad karma or not, that sounds like a good trip and at least the bad karma didn't involve an injury or something to cause great physical discomfort. The only negative is that the various equipment issues (including glasses) short-circuited what was planned as a pretty grand trip. I'm glad to see the top end for goldens at Spire was better for you than for me last summer when I topped out at 12" and the biggest fish I saw in the water might have barely made 14". Spire is in fact self sustaining and has not been air dropped in a long time.

I have an odd history with Peppermint Pass myself. Last year the tedious talus near the summit seemed to take more out of me than I thought it should. My previous trip was in 1996 some 20 years ago to the day of your trip and I pulled a groin muscle while ascending Peppermint (pushing off to ascend a high step). That particular injury did not fully heal for 2 years. On that trip the goldens were pretty active in Spire, but wouldn't hit anything I threw at them. The '96 trip was an overnighter and we camped at Split because camping spots were much nicer there. The next day we cut over to Morgan Pass by traversing above Finch L and heading through an easy gap (all fairly routine class 1 and 2) directly to the Morgan Pass trail; thus we cutoff way above Bear L. which I'd like to visit sometime. On my 2015 trip, the Peppermint Pass situation was made more tedious by the fact that the old boots I hiked with had soles that were nearly bald and my traction was exceptionally poor. This resulted in several frustrating slips resulting in little bruises and abrasions and then a lot more wasted energy than usual trying to avoid more of such falls.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: ... ayshi.html
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Re: Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

Postby alc101ma » Mon Nov 21, 2016 10:40 pm

I like getting my butt kicked every once in a while. It keeps me from getting TOO comfortable and helps me maintain perspective that I am doing something awesome that I shouldn't take for granted.
Hiking and camping in the Bay Area and up the Pacific coast. Backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Catching backcountry trout. I write articles, stories, guides, and how to's for exploring the outdoors.
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Re: Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

Postby rlown » Mon Nov 21, 2016 10:54 pm

alc101ma wrote: I saw nothing that I would categorize as a spawning area, so in a way this is like my post earlier this year from Funston Lake.

I know they don't plant Tomahawk lake either. It holds Brookies about the same size. Brookies make "nests". you'll see round, clean holes around the lake about 6'-15' off the shore. That's where they lay the eggs and fertilize and protect their young. That is their spawning area..
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Re: Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

Postby balzaccom » Tue Nov 22, 2016 6:35 pm

Great report. I can imagine you fixing your glasses...without being able to use your glasses to see what you are doing. Been there, done that, and we should have had a camera for America's Funniest Home Videos...only we would have had to bleep a lot of the sound track out!

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Re: Trip Report Spire Lake 9/7 to 9/9/16 "Bad Karma Trip"

Postby Jason » Wed Nov 23, 2016 9:08 am

Sweet report...... beautiful country and some nice looking fish. Thanks for taking the time to post it.
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