Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

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Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by BSquared » Mon Feb 18, 2019 7:27 am

My annual pilgrimage (yes, that is indeed the correct word) to the Sierra (which alas is becoming more like triennial :( ) looks like it may be a crossing of the crest from Florence Lake, over Pine Creek Pass, and out via (if time) Granite Park. Since we're Vermont flatlanders (I know: Vermont is "mountainous" but opportunities for high-altitude acclimation do not exactly abound...), we're planning to go in from the west so we can take our time getting used to the altitude and won't feel horrible once we get to the really good stuff ;) . We'll probably have a week or so available for back-country travel. I'd be happy to hear general comments about this route, and I have a number of specific questions. We are in our late 60s and early 70s, moderately good shape (which we have ambitions to turn into "very good shape" by the time of the trip, but you know how that often goes), very experienced trail hikers and backpackers with a some cross-country experience in the Sierra, but not a lot. We don't fish.

Specific questions:
  • From the Sierra National Forest website, it appears that the only way to get a wilderness permit for Florence-Lake entry is by mailing in a form, and there's no way to determine date availability in advance. Does that seem correct? Do we just have to list a bunch of alternate dates (we're thinking early to mid-August, although our garden will be exerting a very strong pull on my spouse at that time). Is it likely to be difficult to get the dates we want?
  • We'll probably fly in via Sacramento (we have a friend there who can put us up and perhaps offer some transportation), and it would be truly wonderful if we could find some way of getting to Flo L without driving, perhaps by train to, oh, say Merced, and then finding a driver who could meet us there and take us in. I've read about a lot of such services on the east side, but does anyone know of such a thing available to take us to Flo? (Our friend can probably pick us up on the east side.)
  • Can anyone recommend a good place to camp that's just a few miles in from where the ferry will drop us? The Grand Hotel at the junction of the Piute Pass Trail and the JMT would be a bit far for a first day (and looking pretty overused 15 years ago so I hate to imagine it today!), particularly after the ferry trip (remember that we'll be tenderfeet for a while).
  • The topo map lists a little side trail heading southeast from the French Canyon trail about 10,600 toward Elba and Moon Lakes; anyone know if it's really there? Looks like it might be a *very* nice place to camp :)
  • Any specific suggestions for a possible side trip to Granite Park on the way down from Pine Creek Pass?
Best to all!


—B²






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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by balzaccom » Mon Feb 18, 2019 8:36 am

About permits. If you write in with specific plans and a small range of dates, I think your chances of getting a permit are pretty good since there are only two of you. And the people at the permit office in Prather are very nice. I've had really good experiences with them.

Transportation is another question entirely. The road to Florence Lake is a road less traveled. (Thought you'd like that North Woods reference.) The last fifteen miles or so from Huntington Lake is a good hour. And from Prather it's more than two hours. Which means anyone driving you from Fresno is going to invest at least six hours of driving. Ooof.

Blayney Meadow has a campground just a few miles in from Florence Lake. This is usually marked on most topo maps.

I don't know if the trail to Moon and Elba Lakes is in great condition, but this area is very easy to navigate and x-country. You shouldn't have trouble./
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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by SSSdave » Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:46 am

Good. Older folks like this person on a leisurely tour.

As for a camping area not in far from the ferry dock, beware most of the considerable meadow areas beyond the Alder Creek crossing are apt to have mosquito issues this summer well beyond usual dates. Thus on the USGS topo, look for off trail areas that are not green like the 7840+ contour in bedrock west of BM7723 at that creek crossing. Check that zone out on Google Earth for small dry gruss flats.

On the second day for a camping zone, will recommend wandering southwest of the JMT/Piute Creek trail junction to bedrock areas along the river. Wonderful deep canyon zone. That way your first 2 days will be modest efforts allowing acclimatization. Also nice spots to take a refreshing dip post hike in seclusion.

On day 3 Hutchinson Meadow is about 6 miles that tends to have abundant mosquitoes so you might go another mile up French Canyon where its sunny north/south canyon orientation tends to be drier west of the stream.

There are many cross country opportunities in the higher areas with only minor difficulty that you could leisurely reach by day 4. Will recommend base camping a day about the east or north ends of L Lake to put distance between your camp and all the horse packer and many North Lake to Pine Creek loopers.

http://www.davidsenesac.com/2016_Trip_C ... 16-14.html

Also might camp up at Merriam Lake or Royce but I could argue L Lake will offer much more as a base for day hiking from for much more than just one layover day. After that if your trip is just a week, you would need the remaining 2 days to reach the trailhead.
Last edited by SSSdave on Mon Feb 18, 2019 4:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by LMBSGV » Mon Feb 18, 2019 11:17 am

I camped at Elba Lake and loved it. There is a sign for the trail at the junction where the trail heads up to Elba and Moon. The trail to Elba is easy to follow. There are numerous campsite choices at Elba. The view across French Canyon to the Royce waterfall is fabulous. In terms of Granite Park, if you follow the Italy Pass trail above Honeymoon Lake, there are many possible campsites along the creek and by the unnamed lakes. Granite Park is a spectacular classic timberline setting and so well worth a visit and a night’s stay before heading down to Pine Creek. I agree with Dave about avoiding Hutchinson Meadow in favor of a mile or so up the trail in French Canyon.

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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by maverick » Mon Feb 18, 2019 12:08 pm

We'll probably fly in via Sacramento (we have a friend there who can put us up and perhaps offer some transportation), and it would be truly wonderful if we could find some way of getting to Flo L without driving, perhaps by train to, oh, say Merced, and then finding a driver who could meet us there and take us in. I've read about a lot of such services on the east side, but does anyone know of such a thing available to take us to Flo? (Our friend can probably pick us up on the east side.)
If you can get to Fresno you can use this service: http://www.edisonlake.com/hikers/transportation
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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 18, 2019 12:52 pm

Once I missed the ferry so walked out. I passed the Boulder Creek Campground, which I thought was very nice. The trail junction is about half a mile up the trail from the ferry landing, and then you have to drop down 250 feet, another half mile, and cross the bridge. The SF of the San Joaquin goes through a slot canyon at this point.

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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by Mike M. » Mon Feb 18, 2019 2:22 pm

BSquared,

Have you considered an east side entry? Coming from Sacramento, your travel time to Bishop wouldn't be much longer than your drive to Florence Lake and the drive to Bishop is much more scenic. Moreover, if you were to enter the wilderness from, say, Piute Pass, you'd be in the high country almost immediately and would avoid the bland hike from Florence Lake to the JMT/Piute Creek junction. You could do an easy loop from Piute Pass and then out over Pine Creek Pass, which would give you abundant time to explore the various lake basins in the area, including Granite Park. Or you could do the classic Bishop Pass to Piute Pass loop, which takes you over Muir Pass and down through Evolution Valley.

I am not a fan of Florence Lake as a starting point for a hike because it takes too long to get to the high country from there; you basically burn a day walking through dull country just to get to the JMT.

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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by maverick » Mon Feb 18, 2019 3:24 pm

Agree that the eastside entry would be a more attractive alternative Mike, but the OP mention the need to hike at lower elevations to acclimate before hitting the high country.
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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 18, 2019 3:53 pm

One other consideration for Florence Lake entry. What exact dates are you planning? I did a mid-July trip where we came in from North Lake over Piute Pass, then dropped down through Piute Canyon to turn up to Evolution Basin. It gets REALLY hot in the canyon- there is no or little shade and the dark rock really radiates heat. A shade umbrella is advised. We were going downhill; we met folks coming uphill and they looked quite miserable. I thought it was plenty scenic but personally would not go uphill in the heat, if I had a choice. So you have to decide if the altitude of starting from North Lake would be worse than the heat starting from Florence, in addition to the difficult drive to Florence. There is no need to push it going in North Lake. The first day could be very leisurely camping at Loch Leven Lake. Short days and slow pace could mitigate the altitude. There are so many places to stop that each day need not be more than 4 or 5 miles. It is only 2000 feet gain up to Piute Pass.

If you would be willing to go in North Lake, then flying to Reno and renting a car is the way to go. There also is a bus if you prefer public transportation. And easy to get shuttles between Pine Creek TH and North Lake.

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Re: Sierra Traverse via French Canyon: Questions

Post by SSSdave » Mon Feb 18, 2019 4:12 pm

Although I would agree entering from either Piute or Bishop Pass is more spectacular, personally would not call areas beyond Muir Trail Ranch "dull country" although I can readily understand how many will relate so. The junction of Piute Creek at the San Joaquin River is one of the deepest glaciated granite canyons in the range with Pavillion Dome rising 3800 feet like a feature in Yosemite Valley except the trail is at twice the elevation.

https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=37.2216 ... 6&z=15&b=t

The South Fork of the San Joaquin River itself has one of the highest minimum flows of any river in the range at 8k+ altitudes with spectacular cascades and pools though until one passes Piute Creek into KCNP it is out of view from the forested trail requiring a short hike to reach. Also the canyon walls both along the river and creek have many spectacular Sierra juniper trees and the trail along the creek that would be missed if coming in from the east side, has many wonderful wildflower spots. One is also more likely to see a greater range and numbers of mammals, birds, reptiles, at these lower elevations versus timberline areas.

On the other hand it it is true such features may not excite many visitors depending on their orientation especially if one hikes just trails all day before plopping down in camps late afternoon. Like many areas in the range, there is much more to enjoy if one leisurely spends time in such areas and is more natural science oriented.
Last edited by SSSdave on Mon Feb 18, 2019 8:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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