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Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2018 9:01 am
by arkheel
In early September 2017, our group of 4 women (age range 55 - 62) did a 13-day trip in the SEKI area of the Sierra, and a couple of us kind of fell in love with the area. Two of us are heading back to the Sierras in 2019, and we are pouring over maps and trying to figure out what our next Sierra adventure will be. We are in good shape and train for our backpacking trips, but we live at low altitude in North Carolina. It takes a few days for us to get used to the altitude, and in general, we don't really like hiking more than 10 or so miles per day. We like to go slowly and take in the scenery along the way.

On our 2017 trip, we started at the Sugarloaf trail head on September 3rd and made our way up thru Deadman Canyon and over Elizabeth Pass, and then hooked up with the High Sierra Trail. We followed the High Sierra Trail to Junction Meadow and then headed up the Kern-Kaweah and over Colby Pass. We made our way down Cloud Canyon and back to the Roaring River Ranger Station and back out to the Sugarloaf trail head. Along the way we took a couple of layover days and did some day hiking at Big Bird Lake and in the Milestone Basin area. The trip was incredibly beautiful, and we didn't see many people.

On our 2017 trip, we especially loved Big Arroyo and glanced longingly at Nine Lakes Basin. We also looked over at the trail to Little Five Lakes and wished that we could go there too. And, on our way out, we passed a couple of people who mentioned how much they loved Tablelands, so we mentally put Tablelands on our "places to visit in the future" list.

With all of that in mind, we are thinking of starting out of Wolverton in early September 2019, picking up the High Sierra Trail to Big Arroyo and then heading to Little Five Lakes. We are thinking that we will then head back up the HST to Nine Lakes Basin, over Lion Pass to Tamerack Lake, then over Pterodactyl Pass to Tablelands and back out to our starting point. During the trip, we are going to do 2 - 3 days of layover day hiking along the way, probably in the Little Five Lakes area, Nine Lakes Basin and Tablelands. We will just have one car, so we need to finish where we start. And, we are planning for 12 days.

I am in awe of the level of knowledge and experience of members of this forum, and I guess that I'm just curious as to whether or not we should consider some completely different part of the Sierras as opposed to repeating some of our 2017 trip. I'd appreciate hearing other's thoughts on areas within the Sierra which might be conducive for a loop or loopish type trip that includes Class 2 passes with opportunities to do 2-3 days of day hiking on layover days. Thanks in advance for your feedback and opinions.

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2018 9:58 am
by Wandering Daisy
You did not mention your off-trail experience/skills (your 2017 trip was primarily on trails). Lion Lake pass down to Tamarack Lake can be difficult for those with little off-trail experience. There are lots of other options depending on how much off-trail travel you are willing to do, but I hesitate to suggest these not knowing your off-trail experience. Can you please elaborate? Also, do you have 12 actual hiking day or are some of those for travel?

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:05 am
by arkheel
We do have 12 actual days for hiking. We have done some off trail hiking in Alaska in Gates of the Arctic National Park and also in the Oregon Cascades. I will freely admit that we are not huge fans of sketchy/unstable talus and boulders. We do feel comfortable with off-trail navigation. I would say that we are comfortable with Class 2 that does not involve unavoidable large, unstable rocks.

The only off trail hiking that we've done in the Sierras was hiking up some slabs from Deadman Canyon to Big Bird Lake and hiking from the trail leading to Colby Pass over to several small lakes in the Milestone area.

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2018 9:21 pm
by creekfeet
That's a great route you have planned out, but I have to agree with Daisy about the descent from Lion to Tamarack. Granted I took the completely wrong route, but I've done a substantial amount of cross-country travel in the Sierra, and that section was the worst situation I've ever found myself in. If you enjoy Big Arroyo, one option to consider would be to take the unmaintained trail that follows the creek. The trail's in decent shape, and is never too difficult to follow. Would also have to agree that the Tablelands are a must, especially the Table Meadows area. It's my favorite part of the Sierra. However, they can be tricky to navigate as they feature quite a bit of small gullies and micro-topography that doesn't really show up on the map. But your mostly walking on wide-open slabs the whole time, and it's not a bad area to get a little bit lost.

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2018 12:06 am
by wildhiker
How do you carry food for 12 days at once? Can you fit all of that in bear canisters, or are you counting on using the installed bear boxes along the HST for the first few days?

There are certainly many other beautiful areas in the Sierra where you could do a 12 day trip. It depends on what you are looking for and what turns you off. Many of us like to avoid the highly used trails, but others are not bothered by seeing multiple groups every day. Some want to see or climb the biggest mountains; others prefer exploring open lake basins. Tell us a bit more about what you are looking for.


P.S. As originally named by Spanish explorers, it's "una gran sierra nevada" - one big snowy mountain range. The Sierra Nevada is singular, not plural. It is geologically, topographically, and geographically a single mountain range. It is not like the Rockies, which are comprised of multiple geologically and geographically separate ranges.

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2018 7:21 am
by arkheel
Thank you Wandering Daisy and creekfeet for pointing out the difficulties of Lion to Tamerack. That doesn't sound like something I'd like to experience. I am curious though, is the route any easier to find/follow going in the other direction from Tamerack over Lion to Nine Lakes Basin?

And wildhiker, thank you for your explanation of why the proper name is the singular Sierra. As a geologist with a minor in English, I really do appreciate your explanation. To follow up on your questions, we can get and have gotten a 12-day food supply into our bear canisters, so we don't need a resupply or bear boxes. As to what we are looking for, we do enjoy solitude. We don't mind seeing a few people each day on the trail, but we definitely like to camp in out of the way locations where we are the only campers. Our least favorite campsite during our 2017 trip was Moraine Lake. Our favorite areas from that trip were Upper Ranger Meadow, Big Arroyo and the Kern-Kaweah drainage. We like views of big peaks, but we don't have a desire to climb them. Open lake basins are a favorite too. We are big fans of granite.

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2018 2:51 pm
by TurboHike

Twelve days in the Sierra sounds fabulous and the areas you listed are beautiful. Just to suggest something different though, have you considered the Eastern Sierra? Entering on the east side is instant gratification with amazing tall peaks. With 12 days you could see Miter Basin, Crabtree Lakes, Wales and Wallace Lake, Wright Lakes Basin, Upper Kern, etc., or some combination of these. You could easily spend several days exploring in the Upper Kern. If you go over Forester Pass you could then head into Center Basin. Kearsarge Lakes is also wonderful, but expect more people. I will also suggest Matlock Lake on the east side of Kearsarge Pass.

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2018 3:08 pm
by sekihiker
If you would like to visit an area where you can build and hone your cross country skills, consider the Southern John Muir Wilderness. The following trip reports will convey the flavor of the area. ... index.html ... index.html
Feel free to contact me if you have questions about this area.

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2018 3:15 pm
by stringbop
I would definitely recommend seeing a different part of the Sierra. So much to see, why the heck not? You could do some variation of the North Lake to South Lake Loop. If you loved the Big Arroyo then coming down from Le Conte Canyon into Big Pete/Little Pete Meadows will have you doing back flips. You can hire a shuttle to leave your car at South Lake. The Loop is only 55 miles so you could extend it by venturing into Humphrey's Basin, Goddard Canyon, Lake Basin, further north/south on JMT....

Also, all sorts of variations of the Circle of Solitude you can do from Kearsage Pass. You could start at Kearsage Pass, then head down through Lake Reflection over Little Joes Pass (class 2), then follow the trail down to the turn off for Milestone Basin to Milestone Pass back to the HST over to the to JMT North. Or mix the Rae Lakes Loop with a loop going through Lake Reflection over Longley Pass into the Sphnx Lakes (off trail). You could start at Roads End for this also if you prefer to start on the West side of the Sierra. But Kearsage Pass should not be missed.

Re: Seeking advice for a 12-day trip in September 2019

Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2018 6:19 pm
by Wandering Daisy
I am going to second the Upper Kern. There are fine little used cirques on both sides and with 12 days you could see most of them. You have the choice of four trailheads; Onion Valley, Shepherd Pass (Symes Creek TH), Whitney Portal, and Cottonwood. Best would be to do a one way route, rather than a loop. Whitney Portal is hard to get a permit going in, but in September, you could likely get an exit permit. There are shuttle services that will allow you to do a one-way even with one car. Shephard Pass provides shorter access, but is very strenuous, and you may not want to start from that trailhead.

I did a trip from Onion Valley to Whitney Portal in 2017 (see my trip report); 1) 8 hour drive + 2 hour hike to Heart Lake, 2) at timberline on north side of Forrester Pass, 3) Lake South America, 4) unnamed lake in Jordan Peak cirque + fishing, 5) Casper Lake + day-hike to upper basin and fishing, 6) long day cross-valley to Wrights Lakes, 7) Wallace Lake + day-hike to Wales Lake and fishing, 8) Lower Crabtree Lake, 9) day-hike upper Crabtree basin and on to Arctic Lake, 10) Outpost Camp + side trip to fish Consultation lake, 11) 2-3 hour hike out. It would have worked out the same number of days had I instead exited to Cottonwood (via Sky Blue Lakes and New Army Pass) because it was a backtrack from Crabtree Lakes to get to the trail to Whitney Portal. The only cirque I skipped was Milestone which is stunning, but I had been there twice before. I had planned on going out Cottonwood, but when I picked up my first-come permit there were Whitney exit permits available, and that made it easier for my husband who picked me up. You would be on the JMT/PCT for some sections and that can be crowded, but once in the Upper Kern, I only used the PCT as a quick way to get around and never saw another tent at any place I camped, except for Outpost, but that was actually quite nice even if crowded. For first day, Matlock Lake would have been more scenic but I wanted to fish Heart Lake. I had also planned on going over Rockwell Pass to drop into upper Wrights Lakes but 2017 was a high snow year and the pass still had snow on it, so I went around the longer way. Even though there are some crowded trails on this route, there are vast expanses of less used trails and the off-trail travel is quite reasonable.

If you are flying, you can go either to Reno or Las Vegas. There is public transportation from Reno. You would have to rent a car from Las Vegas. You could also rent a car at Reno and it is a shorter drive. If you do not want to shuttle, it is quite easy to hitch hike from Whitney Portal and Onion Valley, less so for Shepherd Pass or Cottonwood.