TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

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Matthew
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TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by Matthew » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:42 pm

Hi HST

Thanks for the wonderful information over the past few years. I’ve been a lurker for a while, partly because I’ve taken this long to get out into the High Sierra. So here is the TR of my first trip there.

The plan was to hike 7 days and 6 nights in a large loop (starting 12 August 2019), every two days crossing a progressively higher mountain pass, 10000, 12000 and eventually the famous Forester Pass at 13166 feet. We'd see alpine scenery and acclimate for a final push up Forester. With huge elevation changes and 10 mile days we'd be focused on the journey, not leisure. The feel of the hike would be wilderness and remoteness for the first four nights (we saw 7 people including 1 ranger and 3 trail crew in four days), then join the PCT and JMT for a day and a half and out the following (we saw 36 people in one day).
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Looking down from near Sphinx Creek towards Roads End.
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The brutal switchbacks up the side of the cliff at the start of Avalanche Pass (Sphinx creek)

The first day was agonizing, hiking up thousands of feet on switchbacks, cut into the granite face of the mountain. The infamously brutal Avalanche Pass is literally stairs dynamited into the valley wall. We were soon exhausted, leg sore with our heavy backpacks (7 days of food), and suffering from the altitude (8500 feet, home is sea level). A number of other factors made it miserable and a little uncertain in our minds: a large deli sandwich lunch that weighed on our stomachs, the map being wrong and my altimeter reading 500 feet out (the Nat Geo map and Caltopo show that the second set of switchbacks on Avalanche pass are far from the stream, in reality the switchbacks end near the stream; I didn’t calibrate the altimeter). Desperately, there were no flat spots for 1000 feet elevation gain. We finally found the first flat spot on the map near the stream to put up our tent, exhausted!
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The first flat spot on the Sphinx Creek side of Avalanche pass. It is fairly obvious on the map, as you cross the creek at 8500 feet.

We are always careful about bears and minibears. But what harm of leaving a shirt out overnight? A minibear ate neat holes all over the shirt presumably trying to get salt.
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Looking up Roaring River canyon.

We hiked up to Avalanche Pass, then down to Roaring River Ranger Station, and on for a few miles. Again we couldn’t find a flat spot in the few miles during which we decided to stop, eventually sleeping on a large granite slab over the river. We spotted a pacific fisher the next morning – very rare!
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The only flat spot, but there was evidence of others camping there, also bear scat.
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Hiking up Roaring River we approach the Whaleback, which we had to traverse to the left up to Colby Lake. Taken from Big Wet Meadow which was surprisingly moderate on mosquitoes (relative to nearby areas).
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Hiking up to Colby Lake we looked back down Roaring River Valley, in the center is Palmer mountain, and the saddle to the right is Avalanche Pass.

I walked the day to Colby Lake in flip flops, as I was starting to develop some heel blisters, and there would be lots of water crossings. This worked out well, I didn't get any blisters the whole hike, but we had very sore feet and legs, but no major damage. At Colby Lake we arrived at 4PM, early by our standards, a whisky, a bit of laundry and an Alfredo Pasta, with bacon bits and chicken.
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Colby Lake was the best campsite of the trip, waking in the morning to a still lake and reflections of the opposite granite ridge, or the peak. That night the moon rose full, and it was very disorienting to wake in the night to see a bright reflection on the lake. We watched Scorpio set with Venus(?).
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More Colby Lake reflections

The following day was the crux maneuver of the trip. Could we get over Colby Pass? If not, we'd have retrace our steps. We arrived to find a single guy walking down - he'd given up. He couldn't work out the line to take, and didn't walk across the snowfield "By myself I don't want to get hurt out here, so I'm going back." This we thought was very reasonable. Unfortunately, he then left before we could look at the pass. We thought a lot about him over the next few days as the route he took back didn't compare to the grandeur of the mountains we saw over the pass. We scouted it and found a route as follows, labelled in the picture below: A) a easy walk/scramble around the bottom snow field to a very large boulder. B) a 40?foot walk across the snow field at the bottom. We walked across it without crampons, because it was full of sun cups, meaning we could walk in depressions, not on slippery angled ice. And the angle of the ice was low - we'd have fallen on our bums, not slid if we fell. C) we then had to scramble up to the trail, this was not very exposed. D) we walked up the trail for a few switchbacks (not shown to scale, arrows approximate). E) Further up the trail was obscured by more snow, and we had to scramble up a cliff, the cliff wasn't too steep, but the loose boulders were scary. The path was visible above us. F) Soon we made it back to the path and hiked up to the top, 12000 feet. I thought a lot about whether to include this much detail, as Maverick says he doesn’t give out route information as it reduces the adventure. I like this general philosophy. But I also thought a lot about the single guy who turned around, he made the right decision for him, but with this information his trip would have included some more great mountains.
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Colby Pass North side from near the top.
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Colby Pass from the bottom of the North side, the snow field at the bottom is obscured.

Having spent the morning climbing the pass 8:45 to 11:00, we now had 4000 feet to drop in the afternoon to Junction Meadow on the Kern. This was very, very long and steep, the most difficult on the legs of the whole journey. But lovely, lovely scenery. The hike down was very difficult, 4 days of hiking weighing on our weary legs. I promised that we'd have to go down the last 800 feet to Junction Meadow (our camp), but we were soon faced with a narrow hill UP! The cliff was to be surmounted BEFORE going down 800 feet! See below.
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The path is etched into that gap in the mountain. Look closely – wonderful trail building. Eventually, exhausted we crossed the Kern River and set up camp in the old growth ponderosa grove. The Kern River fortunately was a very braided stream - we easily crossed six moderate streams instead of 1 large river (sorry no pictures). Easy crossing though.

To be continued...
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Matthew
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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by Matthew » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:57 pm

Continued...
There were lots of mosquitoes on most of the trip especially on the south side of Colby Pass (exception few from Kern up Wallace Creek to Forester Pass). We used DEET and head nets when needed. I lost my heat net on the second day though. In the end we got used to them, and they didn't often bother us too much.


Next day we had to hike back out of the canyon and remake the 4000 feet we'd lost the previous day. We took the Wallace Creek trail up to the JMT/PCT rather than the seemingly steeper Tyndall Creek route (but shorter). The trail makers at Wallace Creek have made a graded and very gravelly trail (gravel is easy to walk on, better than cobble or stairs). We hiked this much more easily, and found this long and steep up day to be the best on our legs relative to the others of the trip.
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The view from a campsite looking over Kern Canyon and below us Wallace Creek. This is one of the most spectacular campsites I've seen.
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The Big Horn plateau was spectacular, easily the most impressive 360 degree view I’ve ever seen. This is just a few degrees showing the Kaweah Basin.
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We wanted to be high up, so that we could approach and climb Forester Pass early the next day. The 14000 foot peak above us, was initially illuminated by residual sun, but eventually by a spot of alpenglow.
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Surprisingly, I'd never noticed that sunrises and sunsets are logarithmic rainbows. Small layer of red, orange, larger layers of yellow, green (it is there if you look) and finally a broad blue progressing high into the sky. It is amazing what we take for granted.
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Forester Pass from the south.
Although we had summited 12000 foot Colby Pass without too much trouble, the 12000foot night below Forester Pass was difficult, with lightheadedness due to lying down at altitude (compressing our diaphragms). But once trudging up the path the next morning we were fine and were soon on top of the stunning pass. What a vast endeavor to cut a trail in the cracks in the cliff face!
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Forester Pass from the top, looking south.

Our 'summit' started another journey of sorts. The glacier/snowfield on the mountain next to Forester is roughly the start of Bubb's Creek, which turns into the Kings River. So as we started down the 13166 foot pass, we were starting walking with the trickle of Bubb's Creek, and we then followed it down the valley for about many miles and 8000 feet of drop. We followed the growing creek for two days, in doing so watching a river grow through the majority of its drop to sea level.
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The glacier/snow field starting Bubb's creek.
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The other side of Forester (north side) was less steep, and had many options to choose from to go around snow and cornices. All seemed alright, and everyone we passed had a different idea as to which was best.

Gary Snyder wrote/writes poetry about the Sierra, one called "A Bubb's creek haircut" in which he follows Bubb's creek to Forester Pass and Kern Canyon. Special to read it as we were there.
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The other poem is called "Riprap" which is a tight poem about trail building. A riprap is a path made of stone, where the stone is perfectly fit together to make a kind of jigsaw that lasts forever. This is a wonderful riprap that a trail crew made to allow a stream across the path. I'm in awe of these people, who move massive stones in the high alpine for the use of future generations.
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A glacial tarn that forms Bubb's creek (I haven't looked into this in any serious sense)
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The creek is lovely.
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We hiked down about 5000 feet and 12(?) miles to Charlotte Creek after summitting Forester to make an epic day. We camped and made a fire, and shortly I spotted a shaggy golden brown over the manzanita bushes. My picture sums it up - my attempt to take a picture of the bear. It was clearly a 2nd year juvenile, and largely ignored us, moving around breaking tree stumps looking for grubs. It walked off and wasn't seen again. I woke in the night again to hear a bear in the bracken, stop see our tent, then run off in fright. Our bear canisters weren't even disturbed in the night.

To be continued further...
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Matthew
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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by Matthew » Mon Aug 19, 2019 10:04 pm

Continued again...
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Had great supper of couscous, Trader Joes green olives (no water), chorizo, pecorino cheese, string cheese, sundried tomatoes.

We had two creature encounters on the last day out, one ended badly, the other great, one involved a mother bear and two cubs and one involved a squirrel. Which one was great?

I turned a corner on the trail to find a mother bear 15 feet in front of me. She sedately moved the one cub off the path and the other followed. We both were respectful of each other, as soon she was walking through the bush away from us. The mother and cub were brown with goldeny coats on the back, but the other cub was very dark. It was such a sudden and passive encounter I don't think either I or they had a spike in heart rate. A really great experience! All I said was 'Wow'. You can see bear poop on the trail, as Gary Snyder, the poet, says as respectful advice to bears: "Remember to chew your food!"
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Soon we were out, walking 7 miles and ~2500 feet down in less than three hours. We stopped at Muir rock and took a rinse in the swollen Bubb's Creek, the now giant King's River. Still azure.

The other creature encounter: We drove out, but lights started flashing on our dashboard, we stopped at the fruit stand in the valley. Then all the lights flashed, and the car wouldn't start - dead battery. Opening up the hood, we found a squirrel(?) had eaten the alternator cable while parked at Roads End! Copper wire and all! So the battery had slowly drained as we drove. I realized that I could splice the cables, which I did with medical tape, then a farmer in a large truck pulled up next to us to buy fruit and we asked "I wonder if you could give..." and the guy said "...a jump start". Thanks Mr. From flashing lights to car fixed and running was maybe 10 minutes. We drove home, no problem.
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The alternator cable eaten. Note this was not Mineral King, but Roads End.

The most lasting part of Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men is the question of what is truly lasting in this world? What simple thing can one person do that will be used or appreciated by another generation, not just their immediate children? The riprap that the trail crews have created in the remote mountains of the Sierra Nevada, surely is one of the most lovely, useful, and will last generations. Thank you, trail crews.
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bobby49
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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by bobby49 » Mon Aug 19, 2019 10:28 pm

"The alternator cable eaten. Note this was not Mineral King, but Roads End."

Yes, but it was likely the same class of marmot.

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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by Harlen » Mon Aug 19, 2019 11:31 pm

Great TR, nice trip and nice thoughts you shared.

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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by Teri » Tue Aug 20, 2019 6:02 am

Nice trip report. We did nearly the same route starting August 1, only we did Elizabeth Pass/HST rather than Colby before returning on Bubbs. Your description of climbing up Sphinx Creek Trl/Avalanche Pass was spot on.

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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by davidsheridan » Tue Aug 20, 2019 6:32 am

Thanks for great trip report! I really enjoyed it.

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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by AaronRDavis » Tue Aug 20, 2019 7:10 am

Thank you for sharing this report. I'll be headed out on a similar loop in 2 weeks. Nice to see Colby Pass will be reasonable.

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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by looks easy from here » Tue Aug 20, 2019 8:08 am

What a fantastic first trip! I did a similar (slightly smaller) loop about a week ahead of you guys. The two people we met both mentioned a trail crew, but we never saw them. Where did you meet them?

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Re: TR: Avalanche, Colby, Kern Junction Mdw, Forester, Bubbs starting 12 Aug

Post by balzaccom » Tue Aug 20, 2019 8:34 am

Great report. I hiked the first half of your trip about fifty years ago. It is still one of my all time favorite adventures in the Sierra...
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