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TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

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TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:41 am

Originally planned for mid-summer and delayed due to mosquitos; the route was a bit ill-conceived to pull off in the shoulder season. Deep canyon country and shadows made the theme of the trip “COLD”! Adding shoulder season gear, the secondary theme was “HEAVY”: two down jackets, balaclava plus fleece hat, hefty long johns, rain pants, mittens, extra fuel, and extra sleeping pad and 10-degree bag. At several points in the trip, I wore everything!
The goal was to hit three locations I had missed on previous trips; Big Bird Lake, Lake Josephine and upper Talus and Table Creeks. I looped from Roads End, where the first glitch was not being able to get a same-day permit, which messed up my logistics from the get-go. I sat in the campground twiddling my thumbs the remaining afternoon frustrated after an early morning drive down from Sacramento.

DAY 1 9/14. Roads End to 1 mile south of Avalanche Pass (9.3 miles, + 5550/-1260 elevation, 8.6 hours)

Up before dawn, I left the campground and drove to Roads End. On the trail at 7AM my first surprise was the washed out bridge, requiring wading. Thankfully the steep trail up Sphinx Creek was in the shade. The better logistics would be to “make hay while the sun shines” by first going off-trail Sphinx Lakes/Pass, Brewer Lake and then drop to Cloud Canyon. With my heavy pack all I could do to chug up the trail, so reversed the route heading to Avalanche Pass simply hoping the weather would hold. I met a group of guys on the windy, chilly top and then a mile south of the pass found a flat spot with good water. It did not take much thought to stop here even though it was only 3:30. Shadows engulfed the site at 5PM. After an early dinner I walked around getting warm and retreated to the tent by 6:30.

DAY 2 9/15. South of Avalanche Pass to Deadman Canyon at 9220 (10.4 miles, +1900/-1950 elevation, 7.0 hours)

Chilled by shadows, but thankfully calm, I quickly cooked breakfast and packed up. The walk down the trail to the Roaring River RS was uneventful and the walk up Deadman Canyon failed to be scenic until the gravesite. Here the canyon opened up with huge granite walls on either side. I waded across Deadman Creek. My pack was killing my back, and after few hours of painful trudging I realized I would not reach my goal of Big Bird Lake. At 4PM I stopped and immediately took a bucket bath, washed my shirt and set up the tent at large and quite scenic established campsite at the lower end of the last meadow before the trail ascends to Elizabeth Pass, which coincides exactly where you leave the trail to go up to Big Bird Lake. When the shadows hit my campsite, I just kept moving uphill in the sunshine, along with my drying clothing! Soon dark (but thin) clouds dropped into the canyon covering Elizabeth Pass. As the wind picked up I retreated into the tent to listen to music.
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:43 am

DAY 3 9/16. Big Bird Lake day-hike and drop back to the gravesite. (7.0 miles,+1375/-2155 elevation, 7.5 hours, including an hour fishing)
(see previous post for photos)

The off-trail trek up to Big Bird Lake was steep but very obvious. A group of five camped at the outlet were breaking camp heading to Tablelands to finish a 10-day trip. They were at the end of a 10-day loop from Wolverton and had all the comforts of home- including folding chairs! I circled the shady east shores of Big Bird Lake to the inlet and then ascended to the two lakes to the west. This cirque above Big Bird is very pretty and the weather could not have been better. Descending a different route I ended up on steep slabs and hit the west shores about mid-lake. Not bad route for a day hike but not recommended if you have a pack! All in all, I preferred the east shore although it required a bit more ups and downs. The wind picked up as I fished the near the outlet catching two 9-inch fish, cleaned them, and carried them back to my camp in a baggy full of water. I regret not camping at Big Bird Lake- it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

The original plan was to backpack Glacier Divide to Josephine Lake. No way was this going to happen due to my heavy, painful pack; perhaps I could day-hike to Josephine Lake near the end of the trip. After fish for lunch, I packed up and headed back down Deadman Canyon to take the long trail route to upper Cloud Canyon. Stinky horse droppings at the gravesite camps forced me to drop another quarter mile where I found a nice little spot off the trail near the river. Again it was cold! My little tight campsite was fortunately protected from the wind. The skies became totally overcast by 6PM although it did not rain.
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:49 am

DAY 4 9/17. Deadman Gravesite to Colby Lake (11.4 miles,+3335/-1170 elevation, 8.0 hours)

The objective of the day was to make miles and reach Colby Lake. I discovered that the hip-belt had ripped out from the pack so did a quick sewing job. Amazing how much more comfortable the pack was after that! The trudge back to Roaring River RS and up Cloud Canyon to Big Wet Meadow unfortunately offers few and restricted views of the canyon walls until you reach Big Wet Meadow, where the continuing trail is amazingly scenic. With a history of falling in creeks trying to jump rocks or walk logs, I waded three creeks, having the routine down to 10 minutes per crossing. At Colby Lake there was enough sunlight to bathe, wash shirt and socks before setting up the tent and cooking dinner. Unfortunately, all that left no time to fish. Colby Lake is another location where shadows descend early. And, yes, it was very cold and windy!

From Colby Lake you get a peek of the top part of the southwest ridge of Milestone Mountain. One goal of this trip was to get a closer view from Lake 3512 and the two little lakes below. I spent the evening in the tent agonizing on how I was going to do everything; visit this cirque at sunset lighting, go to upper Table Creek via Talus Creek and drop down Table Creek to Cloud Canyon. Something had to be deleted. Too sleepy to think right, I put off a decision.
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:56 am

DAY 5 9/18. Day-hike with a full pack! Colby Lake to unnamed lake below Lake 3512 (5.3 miles, +2065/-1590 elevation, 6.3 hours)

I decided to pack up and go to the pass between Talus and Table Creek, and peek over the edge, and if Table Creek looked enticing, go on down and simply delete Lake 3512. The idea of a side-trip to Lake 3512 stuck in my head, so I ascended 600 feet to a point west of Lake 3512 and then forgot I was going to save this for the afternoon! Instead I had to drop 400 feet to get around to Talus Creek whereas I could have instead just traversed to Talus Creek from Colby Lake! Stupid! Talus Creek was much more scenic than I thought it would be, enjoying the trek up the northwest side of the drainage and down the southeast side. At the pass, I scouted a route that would work. The more I looked at upper Table Creek the less I liked it; obviously it was a huge swamp below. So I decided to head back towards Colby Lake. Because I had lugged my full pack up, I could now camp at Lake 3512! Once I reached the lake, it was not as scenic as I had hoped and was a wind tunnel so I dropped to the small lakes below (actually not in the same drainage). As I tripped and fell flat on my face twice in the next half hour I realized it was time to stop for the day! I found a lovely campsite at the outlet of the upper small lake and was blessed with long afternoon light and a fantastic sunset. The more scenic cirque was above these two small lakes, not at the large Lake 3512, which in retrospect, I would not even bother to go to. I arrived early enough to have a relaxed evening. I did not even try to fish, but I do not think there were any fish in these lakes. So my messed up travel ended up as a big highlight of the trip, much more scenic than Table Creek probably would have been.

DAY 6 9/19. Unnamed Lakes to Cement Table Meadow (7.0 miles, +280/-2775 elevation, 5.8 hours)

Even with the late start the campsite was in deep shadows and cold. I dropped back to Colby Lake and hunted for (and found) a tent stake that I had lost. Then it was back down the trail, this time easy going with more time and energy to really enjoy the views. I spotted a yellow-tan, long-haired furry creature in the trail at the lower end of Big Wet Meadow. Cement Table Meadow is not the most scenic campsite and is totally over-used by horsemen, however, is the ideal location to either start up to Josephine Lake and near the start of the “old trail” to Brewer Lakes described by Old Ranger. Scouting up and down the trail, searching and searching, I could see no route for either! Cooking dinner in camp I was in a disappointed state of mind. Adding to my gloom, early shadows chilled the air. I decided to drop any idea of Josephine Lake because I really wanted to camp up there if I went at all. Furthermore it was just too risky to solo in late season. Going up to Big Brewer Lake and over Sphinx Pass was risky too. I kicked myself for not doing the original counter-clockwise route with an easy trail-walk out. I now had three days food left and worried that weather was changing. I almost decided to just head out on the trail.
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:03 am

DAY 7 9/20. Cement Table Meadow to Big Brewer Lake (4.7 miles, +2770/-380 elevation, 5.0 hours)

I awoke in a better mood and decided to just “do it”. A half mile down the trail, I just headed up the steep hillside, bumping into some good game trails; route finding amounted to avoiding thick impenetrable brush. Although steep there was pretty good footing on numerous solid rocks imbedded in the dirt. I basically went up a band of trees, following deer droppings. It actually went much faster than expected, but I never found the “old trail” that Old Ranger had described. I can assure you that no horse ever went up or down the route I used!

It was now easy travel along a unique northeast trending ridge adjacent to a small drainage gently drops 0.8 miles northwest to Barton Creek. As much as I looked, I found no evidence of a trail among the thick deadfall. It was a bit tricky to traverse into Brewer Creek, but once there, it was easy walking in open forest following the southeast bank of Brewer Creek. Just below the lake at 9735 I crossed to the northwest side and ascended rock slabs, open forest and meadows north of (but within hearing distance) the creek. The small lake just below Big Brewer Lake has a fine view but the impressive cliffs to the south were in shadows. It was a short jaunt up slabs to Big Brewer Lake, where there are numerous fine campsites near the outlet. I was pleased at how well the day went- nothing like I had agonized about. And so far, the weather was perfect, if a bit windy. I arrived early afternoon, took a bath, washed clothes (all which dried) and fished a bit. My fishing at Big Brewer Lake has never been successful and it was no different this time.

But fishing is not the reason to go to Big Brewer Lake. This is one of the most amazing spots in the Sierra to view alpenglow and sunsets. About 4PM puffy clouds began to build, obscuring the top of Mt. Brewer. The sunset began about 5PM and went on and on until 7PM! The clouds made the already spectacular alpenglow even better. I was so happy that I had decided to come up here. As cold and windy as it was, I still had doubts about going over Sphinx Pass. Fortunately, one can bail out down Brewer Creek to the lower lake and then follow any of a number of ridges downward to intersect the Avalanche Pass trail.
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:08 am

DAY 8 9/21. All hell breaks loose! Retreat to Sphinx Creek via Avalanche Pass (10.7 miles, +2180/-4560 elevation, 7.0 hours)

Well, the decision was made for me when I awoke at 6AM to half an inch of snow and still falling. Even if I waited it out, Sphinx Pass covered in snow would not be safe. Not only was it snowing, but a hefty wind was making for a nice blizzard. I decided to bail out to lower elevations while I could, as the storm had just started and snow was not sticking to rock slabs. I cooked breakfast in the tent vestibule, packed what I could inside, and then hid the pack under a tree while I took down the snowy tent. Since I had just come up the route, descent was fast and easy. Although snow and fog made seeing anything impossible, I was at the lower lake in an hour and half, where there were nice campsites, if needed. I decided to continue but never having been on this route, with no visibility, things got dicey. I ended up on one of the southwest ridges heading into Brewer Creek instead of the third ridge heading northwest! Fortunately, the steep slopes to Brewer Creek (and Roaring River) are very obvious. So I had to cross back north. Thick brush prevented me from going exactly where I wanted. At 8900 feet, snow stopped and I ended up in the tight valley southwest of Moraine Ridge, which although very easy travel, dropped 500 feet to Moraine Meadow, lower than I had intended. I was mighty happy when the clouds lifted enough that I could recognize the mountain west of Avalanche Pass! Getting lost at this point was not an option.



It was not so much the snow, which was not deep, but it was cold enough the entire morning that I had to keep moving to stay warm even though I was wearing three layers and rain jacket and pants, as well as knee-high gaiters. I stopped occasionally to wring out my socks. Now it was just a slog up to Avalanche Pass. At about 9700 feet the trees were again covered in a dusting of snow. More snow covered the trail north of the pass as the sky became overcast and it began to drop “gropel”. I was mighty happy to reach snow-free campsites at Sphinx Creek. I set up on a small ridge above the creek to get earlier sun; additionally, the lower sites near the creek were very wet. I spent the next two hours drinking hot soup and getting warm. My feet were like ice-cubes. About 6PM, while I was in the tent eating dinner, a gal said “hi” and that she did not want me to think she was a bear! She had followed my footprints over Avalanche Pass. She said she was not prepared for snow and had left Roaring River RS at 2PM after spending several hours in there warming up. Just before dark I saw that a tent was set up down by the creek. The next morning I met the fellow who occupied it (who had also seen the gal pass). I think she dropped down to Bubbs Creek to camp, because I never saw her again.

I wrung out all my wet stuff, wrapped my shoes in my gaiters and put them inside the tent, set two platypus 2L containers in the vestibule and buttoned up for the night. I was wearing three layers inside my sleeping bag- wool undershirt, fleece and down sweater. I had two hats- balaclava and fleece beanie. Dry wool socks on my feet and my larger down jacket wrapped around my feet. Finally my feet were warm! Then I listened to music for a few hours. When I got up to pee, stars were out.


DAY 9 9/22. Sphinx Creek to Roads End (6.0 miles, +235/-3850 elevation, 3.5 hours)

By morning half of the water in the jugs was frozen, my shoes were frozen so that I could not get my feet inside, and the tent was iced. No sun was going to immediately warm things up. Again I cooked breakfast in the vestibule and packed what I could. I boiled more water and poured back into the bottles to melt the ice. Anything wet immediately froze. (Later someone told me that it was 12-degrees). Finally, the sun peeked over the ridge so I could thaw the frozen stuff. I left at 9:30 and briefly talked to the fellow in the tent below, who was going in. He looked well prepared for cold and was quite pleasant and optimistic. My knees were stressed from the previous day’s epic, so I descended slowly. I changed out of my long johns and fleece at the Bubbs Creek trail junction.

By the time I reached Roads End it was like another world; still a bit chilly but sunny. Everyone going in was dressed in short sleeves and had shockingly optimistic travel plans and shockingly small UL packs. Next week’s weather forecast, although sunny, still calls for night temperatures in the teens and twenty’s. I contemplated staying in Kings Canyon and fish, but decided to get up the road in case it got icy the next day. The drive home also provided some adventure when I accidently missed Hwy 99 turnoff and got a tour of the seedy sides of Fresno, with closed on ramps due to construction. After 45 minutes of who knows where I was, I finally go back on the highway. I can navigate the mountains, but sure need a GPS for cities!
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby SSSdave » Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:59 am

Excellent bilateral split mirror reflection image of Big Bird Lake during nicely calm morning conditions.

DW >>>"I stopped occasionally to wring out my socks...My feet were like ice-cubes."

What kind of footwear were you using?

WD >>>"By morning half of the water in the jugs was frozen, my shoes were frozen so that I could not get my feet inside, and the tent was iced."

During winter sub freezing nights, I use <1mil thick plastic kitchen waste basket bags of a usable size to put wet items like boots and gloves into that I can later put inside my sleeping bag in order to keep them from freezing and not bring wetness into a sleeping bag. And don't put such items into my sleeping bag until the wee hours after my body heat has gradually warmed up the inside of the sleeping bag enough. Otherwise putting a mass of boots inside a bag will leave that area cold. Another situation I do the same as a decades old dirtbag snow skier, is when I decide to be cheap sleeping overnight inside a vehicle instead of getting a motel room. David
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 10:26 am

I've done plenty of winter backpacking, including nights to -40F. I used to do serious winter mountaineering. It is not that I do not know the proceedure, but I did not anticipate it would get that cold! The night before at Big Brewer Lake I did all the "right" stuff, and it barely got below freezing. The cold was more wind chill. At Sphinx Creek, being the last day out and a short one at that, I simply was not as rigorous as usual at my cold weather practices. The only reason I kept full Platypus bottles at camp is that I did not want to get out of my warm sleeping bag to walk to the stream for water in the morning. It is quite easy to boil water and thaw ice in the Platypus- I had plenty of fuel. I had a large zip-lock bag suitable to put my shoes in, but I had used it to carry fish, so it smelled of fish, and there was fairly fresh bear poo at Sphinx Creek. The only real mistake I made was not unlacing the shoes wide enough when I took them off the night before. I have been out plenty of times where you put on frozen shoes and just get going and they warm up.

Any shoe (leather low-hiker) will get wet after hours of sloshing through wet snow and brush and stepping in puddles that you do not see under the brush!. I could have stuffed my feet in the frozen shoes as last resort but I was in no hurry so waited for sunshine. I cannot wear high top boots due to an old ankle injury- if I do, I end up crippled for months. So one of the consequences of low top shoes in snow is even with good gaiters, feet eventually get wet. Wool socks stay pretty warm and if wrung out occasionally, work just fine. I had two dry pair for the night and next day.

SSSdave- Have you ever photographed up at Big Brewer Lake? I have never been any other place with as spectacular sunsets and alpenglow.

I actually thought Big Brewer Lake would be a great place for a Meet-Up.
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby thegib » Sun Sep 24, 2017 7:45 pm

You guys probably know another plastic bag trick - put on your socks as usual, then simply put on a small grocery bag, or a gallon ziplock, over your foot, then into the frozen boot. Works as a VBL, and really really helps.
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Re: TR: SEKI Loop 9/14-22

Postby sekihiker » Mon Sep 25, 2017 10:13 am

Sorry you weren't able to make Sphinx Lakes or Josephine but it looks like you took in a lot of great scenery anyway. Snow kind of puts a damper on things.
The reflection and the alpenglow photos are really special.
Thanks for a great report.
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