My wife and I made it to the lower Sphinx Lake in something like 8 hours six or seven years ago and it was a pretty good grind. We still don't know where the optimal cross country route is up to the Lower Sphinx Lake, given that we initially (for a few hundred yards) followed a use trail on the north side and soon did combat with some moderately bad brush mixed with big boulders. However, it was mild enough that we figured we'd just gut it out on the way down without exploring the other side that sounds (from Doyle's description) to be the better way. I don't know if you fish, but if you do, the Sphinx Lakes (particularly the upper ones) are worth checking out; this is one of the main reasons my wife and I chose to push it into the lakes on day 1 rather than camp on the creek. Big Brewer is similar in fishing quantity and size to the upper Sphinxes. The rainbows in these lakes aren't huge, but they are fairly numerous, and their top end isn't bad (about 15"). On the other side, Reflection has small fish (but the mix includes some goldens and hybrids), East Lake is teeming with medium sized browns averaging 8-11" (arguably the easiest place to catch a brown in a lake in the High Sierra) with an occasional big rainbow thrown in (caught 18" rainbow there in 1994).
I think the E-W route (ie East Creek first) makes more sense in terms of a better day 1, as well as being the better approach to dealing with Bubbs Creek and Longley Pass. If indeed the trip cannot be stretched beyond 4 days (and it would be much less of a death march if it was) here is a 4 day alternative game plan using East Creek first. Day 1: to East Lake. Although longer in mileage than even the upper Sphinx Lakes, this is an easier hike owing to the much more moderate gradient and the fact that it is 100% trail rather than having a cross country segment hitting you at the end just when you get tired. In late season, this hike goes very fast (faster than the mileage would indicate-my dad once backpacked this in a phenomenal 4 hrs that included a 30 min lunch break--my dad was not an ordinary hiker, however), but in early season the hike to Jct. Meadow is slowed a bit by a large number of small creek crossings (these go dry later in the year). Day 2: Go to Lake Reflection then over Longley Pass. Drop pack and bag South Guard from Longley Pass. You have some options as to where to go after this; camping in Brewer Basin would be nice, given that South Guard Lake appeared fishless to us in 1999. While headed to Brewer Basin you will be closer to Brewer and its easiest route (south slope) than you will be at any other point in the trip. If you have lots of juice and time you might bag Brewer then, given that it will be closer at this junction (crossing the divide between Cunningham Creek (S. Guard Lake)) and Brewer Basin. Day 3. Move camp to Sphinx Lakes. Drop pack on way and climb Brewer if you haven't already done so. To do Brewer involves a bit of backtracking (with your daypack, of course), which is why the most efficient course is to have done it on day 2. One way or another, there should still be a fair amount of time to kick back at the Sphinxes at the end of day 3. Day 4. A bit more time to enjoy the Sphinxes before descending to camp. If your route leads you into brush while heading for the trail, at least you're probably going downhill when you hit it. Brush is easier going downhill, although some of the key brush we encountered was going sidehill which is a pain whichever way you're going.
One thing about this trip is that you will find is that one part is very popular with hikers whereas the other part is not. You'll see lots of hikers/campers in the Bubbs Creek corridor and at East Lake. You may not meet anyone in the Brewer Basin-Sphinx Lakes area. Both areas are beautiful, but the Sphinx, Brewer Basin areas certainly have more of a wild feel owing to the solitude which no doubt is because they are off trail.
Last edited by giantbrookie
on Thu Apr 19, 2007 6:43 am, edited 1 time in total.