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TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

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TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby papercup » Wed Sep 06, 2017 11:59 am

This trip was originally conceived of as a lollipop going from Pine Creek Trailhead --> Honeymoon Lake --> Royce Lakes --> BeaRoyce Pass --> Bear Lakes Basin --> Dancing Bear Pass --> Italy Pass / Mount Julius Caesar --> Granite Park --> Pine Creek Trailhead. After receiving some helpful advice here, and checking out the snow conditions at the time of the trip, it wound up being somewhat different: Pine Creek Trailhead --> Honeymoon Lake --> Granite Park --> Italy Pass --> Dancing Bear Pass --> Bear Lakes Basin --> Granite Bear Pass --> Granite Park --> Pine Creek Trailhead. It was awesome and probably my favorite single Sierra trip thus far. Here's what happened.

Thursday, August 31:

Due to the logistics of getting our group of six in the same place, we woke up at 4:30 in Los Angeles, operating on about three hours sleep, and drove up to Bishop to pick up our permits. After a quick breakfast and buying a few last supplies, we headed up to the Pine Creek trailhead and started hiking a bit after noon, with the goal of reaching Honeymoon Lake, plus or minus a few miles.

I had heard generally terrible things about the first several miles out of Pine Creek, both on this board and from the ranger who gave us our permits. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn't too bad! There definitely is a bit of a grind climbing out of the canyon, but it wasn't outrageously hot and after Lower Pine Lake the scenery became much more appealing. It was nice to start on a weekday and away from the more popular trailheads accessing SEKI, as we only saw a few other groups on the trail. By the time we hit Honeymoon Lake, we were all starting to feel the altitude and lack of sleep, so we stopped and camped. It might not be the most thrilling lake in the world but it was still awful pretty, contained some trout, and unsurprisingly had plentiful camping. We had a few showers overnight but the weather was generally good.

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Scenery around the lakes.

Friday, September 1:

Given the significant amounts of snow that were still hanging on east-facing slopes, we decided to bag our plan to do BeaRoyce Pass and to instead ascend through Granite Park and enter Bear Lakes Basin via Dancing Bear Pass. We figured that we'd have to exit the same way and make this an out-and-back trip.

Granite Park was beautiful-- just one beautiful water-strewn meadow after another. The trail is still fairly evident; we lost it a few times but never had trouble finding our way and would always link back up with it soon enough. We met one local couple who was going over Granite Bear Pass. They were obviously much more experienced than us, but this got our interest going-- maybe we could come out that way. The pass itself still held an awful lot of snow, though, so I was skeptical. We headed on toward Italy Pass; as we got close to the top we split up and all picked our own way. All of them worked just fine.

Italy Pass was not one of the most impressive passes I've ever seen. The view down toward Jumble Lake is fine but pretty uninspiring by Sierra standards. Off to our left, though, we could see the traverse leading to the Dancing Bear Pass saddle, with Seven Gables poking up in the background. There was a substantial amount of snow to cross on the traverse, including a few fields on the somewhat steeper slopes right below the saddle. Avoiding some of the snow required us to gain and lose more elevation than I would have preferred on the traverse, so we were fairly tired by the time we hit the last set of snowfields. They turned out to be less steep than feared and we crossed them easily in soft afternoon snow. In contrast to Italy Pass, the view from Dancing Bear was spectacular and we all perked up dramatically.

We dropped down from Dancing Bear, planning to camp at whatever campsite seemed worth our while. That turned out to be near the inlet of Big Bear Lake, which featured nice flat campsites and a lovely view over toward Seven Gables. We saw only one other group in Bear Lakes Basin today, a single tent perched atop the ridge that divides Black Bear Lake from Bearpaw and Ursa.

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Granite Park

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Dancing Bear Pass

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Scouting the snowfields

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Crossing the snow

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Across Big Bear Lake

Saturday, September 2:

Our plan today was to leave camp in place and enjoy a relaxed day wandering through Bear Lakes Basin. We headed past Little Bear Lake and circled around and down toward Vee Lake. This was a beautiful walk-- some of the most spectacular scenery I've ever seen in the mountains. We headed down to Vee Lake and went for a swim. After drying off, we dropped down Vee Lake's outlet into Seven Gables Lakes, which were also beautiful-- small, warm-ish, grotto-like lakes surrounded by huge mountain scenery. After a break there, we headed downstream toward Stub Lake, before heading back up toward Vee Lake through a steep chute. From Vee Lake, we headed over a saddle that divides Vee from Big Bear, then angled around the ridge to visit Bearpaw and Ursa before coming back to camp.

This was one of the most fun days I've had in the Sierra-- easy and low pressure, but lots of fun chutes to climb, rocks to clamber over, lakes to swim in, and snow slopes to slide down. The weather was perfect, the water was high but not too high, the grass was green, and the wildflowers were out. Just exactly what you want a layover day to be.

We bumped into another group up by Ursa Lake. This group had also come in via Granite Bear Pass and described the snow conditions on it as "nasty." But they also suggested that we'd probably have better luck going west-to-east than they'd had coming east-to-west. Based on their description, and our lack of enthusiasm for redoing the Dancing Bear to Italy Pass traverse, we decided to give Granite Bear a shot the next day.

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Shooting Stars, Big Bear Lake, Seven Gables

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Bear Lakes Basin

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Scrambling

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More Basin

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Seven Gables

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Indian Paintbrush

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Vee Lake

Sunday, September 3:

Today was a short but potentially challenging day: Over Granite Bear Pass to Granite Park, and that's it. We headed back up toward Black Bear Lake. Granite Bear Pass was visually obvious and routefinding was simple. We made it to the top quickly and went to scout out the snow situation. Near the top, the snow filled the chute. Further down, the snow had melted away from the wall, but further down still the snow expanded to again fill the chute in its entirety. The snow near the top was the diciest-- steep, deep, and difficult to bypass. It might have been possible to get around it by climbing rocks on the edge of the chute, or by slipping through the deep and very narrow tunnel formed as the snow peeled away from the wall, but we decided to just traverse across the snow and go diagonally down it to the rocky area below. From there, we followed the rocky area down until the snow filled the chute again. Here, the angle was a bit less dramatic and the snow eventually leveled out, so we slid on our butts all the way down. After that, the descent was easy-- just take your pick between a variety of snow slopes and boulder fields until you hit the trail below Italy Pass.

We took a quick break and then descended through Granite Park, eventually camping at one of the lower meadows about a mile above Honeymoon Lake. We arrived there early, probably 2 PM or so, and spent a quiet afternoon fishing, watching the light change, and wandering aimlessly. We got a few rainshowers, thus justifying my decision to lug a tarp big enough for all six of us to shelter under through the mountains for the whole trip.

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Up to Black Bear Lake

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Toward Granite Bear Pass

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Looking down the east side of Granite Bear

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Working through the first snowy section

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Working through the second snowy section

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Descending

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The full chute

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Granite Bear Pass

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Evening clouds above Mount Humphreys

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Bright moonlight.

Monday, September 4: We hustled out and made it to cars by eleven, and then enjoyed cheeseburgers. The end.

So that was the trip. It was a phenomenal time. Bear Lakes Basin takes the lead in my "favorite Sierra basins" rankings. I just loved the combination of green grassy meadows, blue lakes, slabby granite, and the absence of big, jumbled talus fields. If anybody has suggestions for similar places to go, please tell me!



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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby cgundersen » Wed Sep 06, 2017 2:10 pm

Hi papercup,
Nice work on Granite Bear! And, the snow there and on Dancing Bear saved you some of that jumbled-talus feeling which obviously contributed to the overall great experience. I think the closest you'll get to something like that Bear Lake experience is to visit Pioneer Basin (easier access, but great lakes/meadows and stunning distant views of the peaks at the end of Rock Creek), or to do the Knapsack pass hop from Dusy Basin to visit the Barrett Lakes which will leave you in the impressive shadow of the Palisade crest. Miter Basin also is a possibility and it can be turned into a very cool loop (or in and out) by using Crabtree Pass. I'm sure you'll get loads of others offering suggestions. Cameron
PS. Really liked the final moon shot, too!
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby tie » Wed Sep 06, 2017 5:47 pm

Great trip report! The hike to Italy Pass is nice, but it's true that the view there is a bit disappointing. Where's Lake Italy?! :) Here's a shot from Julius Caesar, last week (left to right: Dancing Bear Pass, Jumble Lake, Lake Italy).

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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby Lumbergh21 » Wed Sep 06, 2017 9:22 pm

Nice trip report, I was at Lake Italy about 10 days before you. Did you have any traction devices for your shoes crossing those snow/ice fields? I was going solo and decide not to chance crossing the snow field on the south side of Italy Lake without any microspikes just to get in a position to see what Italy Pass looked like.
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby Harlen » Wed Sep 06, 2017 9:57 pm

Hey, Nice Trip Report with some phenomenal images, I especially love "Across Big Bear Lake," and the last one with the "Bright Moonlight." Well done!
I like all of Cameron's ideas for comparable basins, I'll throw in a more traveled area, but stunning one once you get up high: that is, the High Route country above the JMT between Lake Ediza and 1000 Island Lake. There are upper basins with a series of high rolling passes connecting them, and all of the time you have the Ritter Range hovering over you! You can carry on up to the Island Pass and Agnew Pass/Upper Clark Lakes area to get long views back over where you've been. But it's very well-traveled, so we recommend this for early or late season hiking. Harlen.
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby JMT_1991 » Thu Sep 28, 2017 6:50 am

Thank you for this trip report. I have my sights set on a 1st-time solo trip to Granite Bear Pass / Ursa basin for this coming weekend, welcoming october. Of course I am curious about the snow condition at the pass, how much melt happened since these GREAT pix were taken, how much new snow accumulated from last week's drop, etc. Any insights would be appreciated.
Using webcams only, it seems Mammoth got all the snow, and the Whitney area was spared. Heading south would be my plan B.
Thanx, Brian
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby mokelumnekid » Fri Oct 06, 2017 6:27 pm

Congrats on Granite Bear, it is always a calculation...unforgiving runout at the top. I've day hiked it but not with a load. Living in the Cascades I've had enough terrifying steep snow for a lifetime, and generally come to the Sierra so that I don't have to deal with it on otherwise non-technical routes. Nice shots!
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby Harlen » Sat Nov 11, 2017 5:35 pm

If anybody has suggestions for similar places to go, please tell me!


Thought of another couple of comparable areas:

First, the many high basins of the Kern, for example, Milestone Creek's basin, and Wallace Creek basin, and many more in that huge Kern Watershed.

Secondly, the high basin country of Evolution Valley, for example around Wanda Lake; and for a stunning, and more remote spot in that same area, the Davis Lakes basin is fantastic.

Best wishes on your future journeys.
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby Flamingo » Thu Nov 16, 2017 2:15 pm

Hey @papercup, Thanks for posting this TR, with great photos. I'm planning my own trip to Bear Lakes Basin next year, and I appreciate your TR.
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes via Italy/Dancing/Granite, 8/31-9/4

Postby papercup » Sun Nov 19, 2017 2:48 pm

Thanks for the tips and photo compliments! @Lumbergh21: No traction, just trekking poles. Wouldn't have minded having spikes but obviously didn't turn out to be necessary.
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