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TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Crags

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TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Crags

Postby cgundersen » Tue Oct 17, 2017 1:58 pm

TR: Aug17-24 A Dumbbell Sandwich: Rocking between the Palisades and Devil’s Crags
A buddy from the East coast was born in August, and for the last decade, he has celebrated birthdays scrambling around the Sierra. After chasing the morning sun to LA International, the questions that sustain us for the drive to the Owens Valley are: how is the air (smoke?) going to look when we reach Olancha, and will the monsoonal systems of the past several years be waiting to douse us? To accommodate these uncertainties, we usually identify 3 or 4 target trailheads between Lone Pine and Tioga Pass. This year, South Lake-Bishop Pass won the lottery and our goal was to see whether we could get over Fair Trade Pass and into Amphitheater Basin as a prelude to the Dumbbells/Devils Crags. But, just getting to Fair Trade was half the fun, so here’s the skinny on our route. We acclimated overnight in Bishop and headed out: South Lake trailhead-Bishop Pass-Dusy Basin-Knapsack Pass-Palisades Basin-Potluck Pass-Glacier Creek Basin-Cirque Pass-Palisades Lakes-Fair Trade Pass (spoiler alert: we aborted)-Mather Pass-Upper Basin (UB) and UB Crossing-Amphitheater Basin-Cataract Creek Pass-Dumbbell Lakes Basin-Observation Peak Pass ( southwest variant)- 10 Island Lake Basin-Adventurer Pass (via ridge route)-down to Palisade Creek and the JMT back to the Bishop Pass trail and out to South Lake.
south lake.jpg


Day 1: After watching South Lake shrink to a sad puddle over the last 5 years, the welcome mat to the mountains was finding it filled to the brim. If one needed any more index of the boom-bust cycle of water in this state, South Lake is a case study. Curiously, the parking lot had plenty of open slots, and soon after we got our gear out of the car, a guy came steaming out of the woods. He was thoroughly jazzed from 7 days in the wilderness and his excitement was contagious. Pretty soon we were hitting familiar signposts for Treasure Lakes and the Chocolate/Ruwau diversion. Ample wildflowers were a reminder of the late bloom and there was abundant snow on the distant peaks: plenty of promise for chilled evening libations. The lakes leading up to Bishop Pass were as healthy looking as I’ve seen and plenty of snow was still melting at the pass. As we descended into Dusy basin, Knapsack pass looked like a doable goal. However, the traverse of Dusy took more time than expected and when we hit the last big lake north of the pass, we parked for the evening to catch the light show on Agassiz, Isosceles and Columbine Peaks. As was the case throughout the trip, we set up a tent (in case), but slept under the stars. Magnificent barely does the night sky justice.

knapsack pass.jpg

glacier creek lk.jpg

gc lk.jpg


Day 2: Being in the shadow of the Palisades, the sun was hitting Muir Pass long before it found us. By then, we were at the base of Knapsack Pass which, from the tracks through the hard-packed snow, had seen plenty of boots before ours. However, we’d not encountered another soul from the time we left the trail in Dusy basin and that remained the case as we worked our way past the Barrett Lakes toward Potluck Pass. Remnant shooting stars marked our progress and occasional mosquito swarms appeared when the wind died down. But, with few exceptions, we ran into very few insects, but lots of columbine. It was a great year for columbine! The traverse from Knapsack to Potluck is a steady grind with no major obstacles. The entertainment really begins when one reaches the top of Potluck, because there are lots of choices, but no obvious route down. As we were evaluating our options, I noticed a guy steaming across the basin below us, and he headed for the scree-laden western approach. I was tempted to go that way, too, but because the direct shot down the hillside would land me in a “glissadable” snowfield, that turned out to be my choice. My buddy went for the scree, and shared route observations with the guy headed up. The other thing I noticed on the Potluck Ridge is that there was a lone backpacker moving very swiftly across the basin behind us. It turned out to be a young lady who swept past me while I was waiting for my pal to descend the scree. About the time we shared a distant hello, I noticed a guy astride Cirque Pass, who then descended in a flash. In a matter of 30 minutes, we’d encountered a cluster of folk in this relatively obscure corner of the Sierra (OK, the high route does go through here, so it’s not that obscure). Anyway, we did contemplate trying to notch Cirque Pass that afternoon, but after spending way too long getting around a snow field at the outlet of the lake feeding Glacier Creek, we parked for the evening under the Palisade Crest. It was another night of magical star light followed by the slow transition from dawn to full sun.
Day 3: It took us a lot longer to ascend Cirque Pass than what we’d witnessed from the guy coming down the day before (as we learned later, he was rendezvousing with the young lady we saw). And, oddly, there were far fewer signs of folks going over Cirque compared with Potluck. I know this is naïve, but do folks head into the Glacier Creek basin and leave via some other route? It wasn’t obvious. Still, there were plenty of snow patches in the initial descent from Cirque Pass, so we got down to the first tarns pretty quickly. After that, it was slower going, because cliffs keep forcing one in a northwesterly direction to avoid class3-4 segments. But, because the JMT is in view for much of the drop from Cirque, we knew that the path would soon get abundantly easier, and busier. Both expectations held true. Fortunately, we were only on the JMT for a couple miles and then slipped off for the un-named lake northwest of Mather Pass that is close to the approach to Fair Trade Pass. Our campsite had a direct sightline to the segment of the JMT descending from Mather Pass, and there were plenty of folk heading down toward Palisade Lakes as nightfall approached. We felt vaguely degenerate to be sitting around with rum-based cocktails, while other people were still trucking. The “guilt” vanished quickly…..
cirque.jpg

up cirque.jpg

palisade lks.jpg

up FT.jpg

top FT.jpg

Day 4: OK, let’s see how Fair Trade Pass shapes up. As we got closer, it was clear that we could ascend on snow to within a couple hundred feet of the ridge. The surface was compliant and relative to the eager beavers ascending Mather Pass, we were doing pretty well. But, once we started running out of snow, the route became less obvious, and we eventually dropped packs for a closer look. There were a couple of candidates for reaching the ridge, but they looked to have significant zones of uncertainty. After plenty of head scratching, we started considering plan B. Our backup was to retreat to the JMT, go over Mather Pass and then scramble to the base of Upper Basin Crossing (UBC), which has its own charms. And, that’s exactly how the day played out. After spending >2 hours ascending Fair Trade, it took all of 15 minutes to glissade down. Once on the JMT, we ran into a continuous string of happy campers, but none so unexpected as a work colleague from LA. Tom had started his solo, northbound trek on the JMT about a week earlier and was really getting into the “groove”. We chatted for at least 45 min and then continued in our respective directions. The top of Mather had a cluster of people enjoying the view, but with clouds already assembling, we wanted to get to a campsite for a much needed bath. We found a great spot to park at the lake below UBC, cleaned up and enjoyed the dappled lighting on the Upper Basin. At about 1am, I awoke for the nightly bladder relief only to realize that the eastern sky was ominously dark and a brisk wind was picking up. Although we’d had plenty of daytime cloud cover, the skies had usually cleared at dusk. This was a harbinger of something else, and not long after we got into the tent, the first raindrops hit. But, it was more sound and fury and very little moisture, so by daybreak, we were contemplating prospects for doing the hop into Amphitheater Basin.
amp from ubc.jpg

amp.jpg



Day 5: By mid-morning it was obvious that the cloud cover was going to scotch any chance of witnessing the solar eclipse. But, in spite of the fast-moving clouds, there had been very little rain, so we decided to pack up and see if we could get over UBC. The cool temperatures contributed to a smooth ascent, but as the rain gods tend to do, they saved their best for when we reached the ridge. Fortunately, I’d been over UBC several years earlier, and we hit the ridge within 10 feet of where the route down begins. So, taking into account the increasingly slippery rock and being concerned about possible lightning, we ditched any opportunity to enjoy the stunning views astride UBC and headed down. Aside from looking like sodden, bedraggled rodents, it was not long till we were out of the talus and in wildflower-strewn meadows. And, as blue sky began to appear over southern ridges within an hour we were enjoying the full glory of Amphitheater Basin. It’s a mighty cool spot to celebrate a birthday!
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Last edited by cgundersen on Wed Oct 18, 2017 1:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: TR: 8/17-27: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby cgundersen » Tue Oct 17, 2017 2:12 pm

I'm going to continue here to avoid overloading the system:
cat creek pass.jpg

cat cr pa top.jpg


Day 6: Since we’d taken the long way into Amphitheater and were very keen to get a glimpse of Devils Crags, we decided to aim for the lake (10565) that I refer to as 10 Island Lake to the west of Observation Peak. Cataract Creek Pass got the juices flowing early. It had a great cornice and Dumbbell Lakes Pass was still largely snow-coated. In spite of some reluctance at not spending more time in Dumbbell Basin, we traversed over to the base of Observation Peak Pass (OPP). Rather than follow the route Rogue outlined, we did the western variant of this pass; in other words, as you are ascending the OPP couloir, you have the option of hugging the flanks of Observation Peak, or ascending the slightly lower ridge a bit to the west. Views back into Dumbbell Basin were jaw-dropping and the descent was largely on snow. One hitch is that the further we dropped toward 10 Island Lake, the more bugs we encountered. The second hitch is that my buddy hyper-extended a knee as he was hopping onto a rock. Thus, once we reached a meadow with a small pond a couple hundred feet above the lake, we decided to park for the night under a prominent snag. Devils Crags filled the western panorama, and the cocktails were a good distraction from a sore knee.
db lakes from OP.jpg

obs pass to 10 island.jpg

Day 7: The early morning report was that my buddy’s Neoair mattress had slowly deflated overnight, and it looked like a valve problem. Hmmm, we had patches, but no replacement valve. Not good. In addition, several years ago, I’d spent a vexing morning in a huge talus field on the northern shore of 10 Island Lake. And, we had already confirmed my recollection that the south shore was no more promising. Thus, rather than descend to the lake and then loop around to the pass that Rogue named Adventurer, we headed high (my buddy seemed to think a warmup climb would be good for his knee, too). It turned out to be a reasonably strenuous exercise with the benefit of great views of Devils Crags, Le Conte Canyon, the Palisades and the Black Divide. The ensuing stretch from there to Adventurer Pass and down to Palisade Creek seemed to take much longer than downhill trucking should take, but it was certainly easier than climbing UP that hillside. Of course, we heard Palisade Creek long before we saw it. It was still flowing mightily, but as we began reconnoitering crossings, there were spots that looked OK to me. But, not to my buddy, who was worried about how his knee would hold up. We eventually found a spot where we could get across mostly on logs and other debris. The JMT was right on the other side, and we had a late lunch and carried on. I thought we’d be able to get up to Dusy basin that evening, but by the time we reached Le Conte canyon, we decided to pull over early, wash off the dust and enjoy a canyon view for an evening.
dev crags.jpg

snag sunrise.jpg


Day 8: After another night on a slowly deflating air mattress, my buddy vacillated between spending a last night in the hills (we had plenty of food), or heading for South Lake. Ultimately, the prospect of a real bed won out and although we did spend an hour stalking boletus (mushrooms) in lower Dusy Basin, we eventually found ourselves racing waning daylight as we headed for the trailhead. But, before that, we had one encounter that solved a mini-mystery: we ran into the LeConte ranger (Sam) on patrol, and Sam was the guy on the Cirque ridge. His girlfriend, the swift young lady who did double time over Potluck Pass, had hiked in from South Lake for the meetup on Sam’s two days off. Darn nice spot for a rendezvous! I felt a little chagrined that they’d had to share the basin with a couple of dweebs the first night. At least we’re quiet dweebs and we did get out of there pretty darn early
so hopefully they enjoyed the solitude. Hope y'all enjoy the Sierra as much as we did! Cameron
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Re: TR: 8/17-27: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby Pulpit » Wed Oct 18, 2017 7:06 am

Wow what a trip. Thanks for sharing the pictures, they are spectcaular!
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Re: TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby sekihiker » Wed Oct 18, 2017 3:05 pm

Well written, great photos, thanks.
I love that area.
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Re: TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby gary c. » Thu Oct 19, 2017 1:17 am

Not many trees up there, love it. Thanks for the report and great pictures.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
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Re: TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby cgundersen » Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:38 am

Upon revisiting the photos my buddy took, I realized that there were a couple of additional shots that were worth posting. The first one shows the remarkable amount of snow left in the approach to Observation Peak Pass (contrast with the photos of the same area that Rogue posted in the XC passes section). The second shot was taken looking north toward Le Conte Canyon (the greenery in the upper left of the photo) from the east-west ridge that separates Mt. Shakspere and Observation Peak. Cameron
obs pass.jpg

Le Conte Canyon from on high.jpg
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Re: TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby LMBSGV » Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:40 am

Great report and photos. Amphitheater and Dumbbell Lakes basins are two places I have long hoped to get to and now probably will never manage it. I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to experience them vicariously. Thanks!
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Re: TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby maverick » Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:12 am

Many folks really like Lakes Basin in that area, DLB is really nice too, but ALB has a lot to offer and adding in Observation Lakes Basin, especially the views from the smaller lakes, west of the main lake (10565), towards the Devil's Crag, and you have an absolute winner. :nod:
The highest lake in ALB, south of 11309, is pretty nice, though rocky, but quite stunning at sunset, after a storm, as is Amphitheater Lake.
I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Oct 20, 2017 4:35 pm

One reason you may have seen more people going over Potluck pass than continuing over Cirque Pass is that the route over Potluck is one way to climb Mt. Sill, if base camped at Barrett Lakes. I did that route years ago. It is the easiest route up Mt Sill, one of the 14'ers that is on many peak bagger's "bucket list".
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Re: TR: 8/17-24: A Dumbbell Sandwich: Palisades to Devils Cr

Postby giantbrookie » Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:29 pm

Sweet! What a terrific trip! Dumbbells and L10565 will always be favorites of mine which says something given that L10565 has no fish.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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