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Miter Basin & Crabtree Lakes 7/2/17-7/7/17

Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 2:01 pm
by kmyamahara
Day 1: Cottonwood Pass to 2 miles past Chicken Spring Lake
We changed our permit this morning at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center to enter via Cottonwood Pass Trailhead. We managed to get our gear packed and were on the trail by 12:30. We found plenty of room to store our extra bags with food, etc., in the bear boxes at the trailhead. Something to keep in mind is that you need to write your name and exit date on the bags, as the rangers regularly clean out these bearboxes. So, be sure to have something handy to write on and something to affix the tag to your bags.

The hike to Cottonwood Pass was warm and we were laboring up the switchbacks as we acclimated with heavy packs (60 lbs). We arrived at the pass around 3:00 pm and sat overlooking Horseshoe Meadows to eat a late lunch. We decided to press on past Chicken Spring Lake, as we had heard there were numerous people camped there for night and we wanted to get as much mileage in as possible. We pressed on to the next water about 2 miles away. We found the creek and set up camp in a perfect little spot below Cirque Peak for the night.

A few mosquitos in Horseshoe Meadows, but not terrible by any means.
Day 2: 2 miles past Chicken Spring Lake to SkyBlue Lake
We were hesitant to head up the Miter basin without any beta on the snow conditions up there. So, we decided to head to Rock Creek Meadow and assess the situation ourselves. We chatted with a fellow hiker on his way out to Cottonwood Pass that had just summited Mt. McAdie and gave us some beta on the Miter Basin conditions. This info gave us the reassurance to go for it and we trekked on to Soldier Lake. Instead of hiking past Soldier Lake and around to Rock Creek Meadows, we hiked cross-country over the ridge separating Soldier Lake from Rock Creek. As to not lose the elevation we gained, we traversed the ridge and eventually arrived in the middle of the Miter Basin. The higher we hiked, the more snow we encountered and we were continuously loosing the trail. We decided to just pick our own route to the SW side of the waterfall outlet at SkyBlue Lake. The waterfall was raging and we proceeded to hike up the left (SW) side the creek. We reached the lake and ate lunch. We used binoculars to assess our route up to Crabtree Pass. Snowfields were prevalent at SkyBlue Lake and the lake itself was 80% frozen, with only the outlet and SE shore free of ice. We decided to stop here for the night and move on to Crabtree Lakes tomorrow with fresh legs. We hiked to the SE side of the lake to find a spot to camp for the night. However, the large snow cover made it impossible to find any camping spots that were not either covered in snow or wet with runoff. We decided to camp on a flat rock ridge.

No mosquito's at all above Soldier lake. A few mosquitos around Soldier Lake and Rock Creek.
Day 3: SkyBlue Lake to Crabtree Creek between Upper and Middle Crabtree Lakes
We woke up this morning to a re-frozen SkyBlue lake. Overnight, the thawed sections of the SkyBlue Lake refroze. Thinking we had an easy day ahead of us, we had a leisure morning in camp, made breakfast, checked our snow gear and headed out. We worked our way up to the lake WL 3697. This proved challenging with lots of snow travel and our attempt to pick long stretches of rock and snow to minimize stopping to remove crampons. We essentially followed the cross country trail but never saw it once. All of the lakes above SkyBlue were frozen. We arrived at the WL 3697 and planned our route to Crabtree pass while stopping for a quite bite of gorp. Our route to the top of the pass followed the western side of the canyon, contouring up from 12300’ to 12600’. We utilized our crampons and ice axes on this stretch. While the snow was soft and a bit sloppy, the exposure and slide distance was enormous. We crested the pass and sat for quick break where we melted some snow for water and had a quick snack. We also checked out the route to Discovery Pinnacle and the Dreaded Sand Hill. Both of which looked fairly snow free. Moving down the pass on the northern side, we opted to stay to the east of the normal route. There was significant snow on the westside of the pass. We picked our way down to a snow patch directly east of the upper lake and glissaded down to lake level. We skirted around the northern side of the lake through a snowfield and met up with the Crabtree Creek. Here we decided to move further down the canyon to setup camp and prep for tomorrow's summit day. We found an amazing campsite on a sandy ledge a quarter of the way down from the upper lake. One of the most amazing alpenglow evenings we had during our trip.

No mosquito's!
Day 4: Summit Attempt Via Discovery Pinnacle
We woke up late this morning and had a quick breakfast. We filled bottles and were off, traveling light and fast (running shoes and running packs). We decided to use our crampons early (which actually worked well on our HOKA challengers) and ascended a snowfield directly above our camp to reach the plateau on the north side of the canyon between middle and upper Crabtree lakes. After the snowfield, we continued up the ridge which we thought might be better than hiking through the loose sand. However, this made it challenging to navigate while scrambling around boulders. We made a mistake by staying too high and ended up on the knife-edge ridge and had to descend down to the slope/notch just below Discovery Pinnacle. There was still snow on the top of the ridge and made travel slow. During our hike up to Discovery Pinnacle, we noticed clouds forming in the crabtree canyon. A single harmless cloud at the start of the day had morphed into a large ominous dark grey cloud with visible rain. We peered over the edge at the notch between the ridge and Discovery Pinnacle and took some pictures. We decided better safe than sorry, as if were to get stormy we would need to break down camp and move to lower elevation with some cover. So we ultimately bailed just below Discovery Pinnacle and skirted down the sand hill back to camp. While disappointed that we didn’t summit our decision was justified as the storm clouds began to get bigger and the wind picked up. We made it back to camp and decided to pack up and head down the canyon to Lower Crabtree Lake to camp. We picked our way down the canyon through short sections of snow and long sections of granite slabs. We arrived at Lower Crab Lakes and set up camp in a grove of trees at the eastern edge of the lake. Just in the nick of time too, as it began to rain. After we got camp set up, the storm really came through. We sat in our tent for 2 hrs of rain, hail, lightning and thunder. Counting the seconds between lightning and thunder, we got down to a minimum of 2 sec, which basically meant that it was on top of us. In hindsight, we probably should have gotten out our tent, but we sat in lightning position the whole time and waited out the storm. Just before dinner time, the storm broke and we treated to an amazing alpenglow and sunshine on the granite walls surrounding Crabtree Lakes.

A few mosquito's at Lower Crabtree.

Day 5: Lower Crabtree Lakes to Rock Creek
We took a leisure morning and made a nice breakfast of pancakes and AlpineAire Cinnamon Alpine Crisp. Followed by a brisk rinse in the creek and breakdown of our camp. I really came here to catch some golden trout, so we took a short hike and found some golden's that were willing to eat about anything. We caught and released a bunch of golden's until noon and then decided it was time to head to Rock Creek to start our return trip to Cottonwood Pass along the PCT. We hiked down to Crabtree Meadows following the trail at first, but in the end we decided to take a more direct approach to lower Crabtree Meadows. When we arrived in Crabtree Meadows, we ran into the first people we had seen in 3 days, since leaving Soldier Lake. The mosquitos were swarming at this elevation, and we were constantly swatting them away, even while hiking. We rarely saw any mosquitos in the Miter Basin or Crabtree Lakes. We made our way to Rock Creek Ranger Station, passing a lot of PCT through hikers, and crossing Rock Creek over a log about 100 yds upstream of the normal crossing (which was raging). We made camp on a ridge just above the ranger station.

A few mosquito's at Lower Crabtree.
Ton's of mosquito's at below Lower Crabtree Meadows along Crabtree Creek and in Crabtree Meadows
Moderate mosquito's at Rock Creek, especially near the creek. We found a nice ridge with a breeze to keep them at bay.

Day 6: Rock Creek to Cottonwood Pass Trailhead

We woke up on the early side, as we had a somewhat long day ahead of us (~13 miles, mostly flat and uphill). We departed Rock Creek on the PCT and enjoyed our last day hiking through forested area with the occasional meadow. We caught a good view of the Miter Basin from the PCT and were grateful for the solitude we found there, as we passed additional PCTer’s headed north. We had a nice chat with a backcountry ranger at the PCT, Soldier Lake, Cottonwood Pass junction and continued on to Cottonwood Pass. As we hiking toward Chickenspring Lake, the afternoon clouds began building and we knew we had to pick up the pace to crest the pass before the afternoon thunderstorm began. We refilled water at Chickenspring Lake and headed over Cottonwood Pass. On the first switchback down from the pass, we heard the first crackle of thunder. We immediately picked up the pace to try and outrun the storm. The thunder and lightning intensified and it began hailing gumball sized hail. We ditched our packs and sought refuge under some trees. We waited out the storm for 30 mins and when we thought we were clear, we made tracks for the car. As soon as we hit the last exposed section in Horseshoe Meadows, the thunder, lightning and hail started again. We quickly made it to the safety of our car.

As super fun and eventful trip!

Re: Miter Basin & Crabtree Lakes 7/2/17-7/7/17

Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 2:34 pm
by giantbrookie
Nice report. It's also nice to see those higher lakes thawing out for those of us who'd like to drop lines in them.

Re: Miter Basin & Crabtree Lakes 7/2/17-7/7/17

Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 2:38 pm
by Carne_DelMuerto
Quality first post.

Re: Miter Basin & Crabtree Lakes 7/2/17-7/7/17

Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:04 pm
by maverick
Hi Kmyamahara,

Welcome to HST! Wonderful intro TR and pictures. :thumbsup:
Nice size hail. I see some smoke in your photos, was there more during the sunset hours?

Re: Miter Basin & Crabtree Lakes 7/2/17-7/7/17

Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:24 pm
by kmyamahara
Hi Maverick -
Yeah, there were a couple of late afternoons and evenings that it was hazy (near rock creek ranger station and cottonwood pass). For the most part, the smoke stayed to the south and west most days.

PS. a batch picture upload would be great addition. I wanted to load more, but it takes to long. :)

Re: Miter Basin & Crabtree Lakes 7/2/17-7/7/17

Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:28 pm
by kmyamahara
giantbrookie wrote:Nice report. It's also nice to see those higher lakes thawing out for those of us who'd like to drop lines in them.
Yeah, I think its a bit too cold for them. All the fish in the high lakes seemed super lethargic and were still hibernating. The creeks (crabtee and rock creek) we the ticket this trip. Good golden fishing to 12".

Re: Miter Basin & Crabtree Lakes 7/2/17-7/7/17

Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 6:02 pm
kmyamahara wrote:PS. a batch picture upload would be great addition.
Working on it!

Re: Miter Basin & Crabtree Lakes 7/2/17-7/7/17

Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 8:36 pm
by notis
My friend my friend! Thank you so much for taking the time to post this detailed TR. We're heading up there in a week and doing nearly the same route as you, except going in reverse and exiting via New Army Pass. I followed your TR simultaneously in CalTopo, taking notes on snow conditions, camping, water, etc. Thanks again!!