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TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 7:23 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Well, it is winter, and after reading sekihiker's 1992 trip report, I thought I would add an old trip of mine. I did this trip before I joined HST; if I have already posted this, I apologize. I wrote this trip report up for another backpack forum that I used to belong to. The photos are not very good; at this time I had one of the early digital cameras with very limited pixels.

Keweah Basin September 17-26, 2006

I left Sacramento early in hopes of obtaining a permit to hike to Avalanche Pass trail junction in the cool of the evening. Instead, I encountered the national park permit system! I arrived at 3:10 and they quite doing permits at 3:00! Tempted to go in without a permit, I instead drove back to the Cedar Grove store and purchased a very large beer and bag of pretzels, drove back to the Convict Flat campground and had a sparse dinner. I had not brought extra food and did not want to shorten my 10-day backcountry supply. So far I was not off to a good start.

Day 1: A Death March

Next morning I was up at dawn, drove back to the road’s end and cooked breakfast and coffee in the parking lot waiting for the ranger who was late and told me my bear canister was not approved. I was able to change out my canister for the newer model but could not open the lid! Finally the ranger let me check out the Bearikade free. I re-packed all my food and got a 9:00 AM start. I could not fit all my food inside, so wanted to make it to an above timber camp or to the Roaring Fork bear boxes. I was in good shape from my summer ramblings and well acclimated, but this did not reduce the pain of the backpack. My trusty shoes were shot, and not wanting to invest in new shoes, I used old climbing approach shoes! Ouch!

Head to the ground, I set off. Even though I had hiked the Avalanche Pass trial twice before I still got tricked into thinking I was on the top 800 feet before I was really on the top. A forest fire filled Cloud Canyon with smoke making for an unpleasant hike. I hobbled down the trail arriving at Roaring Fork absolutely beat at 6PM. It was a long 12 miles, 5,500 feet elevation gain in 9 hours. I hopped into my bivy and slept restlessly with aches and pains.
Day 2: To Colby Lake

I awoke and cooked breakfast while still in my sleeping bag and left at 8AM. I walked up the trail, noticing fresh bear footprints and spooked lots of deer. The trail is not very scenic until Big Wet Meadow, where a vista of Cloud Canyon opens. The aspen were just beginning to turn color.

I left Cloud Canyon at noon heading towards Colby Lake. I met two CCC trail crew kids who said I was the first person they had seen in a week. I thanked them for the work they had done on the trail. I had come down this trail about 5 years ago and it is much improved now. I struggled up the last 1,000 feet. Through the smoke I could remember how beautiful this place was.

I arrived at 3:15 PM quite sore with bruises on my hips and shoulders from the previous day. I had traveled 11 miles and 3,700 feet gain in 7.5 hours- a shorter day than yesterday. I camped on a nice little bench near the north shore about half way along the lake where I bathed, washed clothes, and read. I slept poorly as the smoke increased all night.
Day 3: Kern Keweah

I left shortly after 8AM and was on Colby Pass in two hours, still sore and depressed about the smoke that blocked what I knew was a great view of Keweah Basin. This day so far was a very melancholy day. The dry land seemed as tired and worn out as I was with dying grass, no flowers, dusty trail, smoke and no water! By noon I started my off-trail adventure. Although a dry summer brought an early fall, the upper Kern-Keweah drainage was beautiful.
The drainage was lush but turning color already. Most of the moss was still spongy and walking was easy on the grass. When I reached the head of the drainage, the view was not as I had expected and I did not want to camp here. It was still early so I headed northeast to an unnamed lake at 3,300 on the next bench up over grassy benches separated by rock slabs. Here I chose a view with wind over a poor view in the protection of scrub timber. It was 3:15 and the cold wind cleared most of the smoke that had given me a headache all day. It was too cold for a bath, so explored the immediate area, read and cooked dinner. It was cold and windy all night and again I did not sleep well.
My planned short day turned into an 8.2 hour hike over 7.3 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation gain. But at least I was slightly ahead of schedule. The wind subsided at night and it froze solid. The snowmelt froze and I was covered with frost.

Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 7:35 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 4: Easy Day to Keweah Basin

As soon the sun’s rays hit me I got up and left camp at 8:45 AM. I stayed high traversing on slabs, grassy ledges and talus with some stiff class 2 scrambling before I reached the round lake below the pass between Picket Guard and Peak 3,759. Rock cairns indicated that someone else used this route before. The pass looked hard from the bottom, but was deceptively easy with only 20 feet of a few class 3 moves at the top where I hoisted my pack up on ledges ahead of me. The descent was a bit tedious, but easy.
Picket Guard Pass_Small_Route.jpg
The upper Picket Creek looked interesting, but I left that for another trip, continued down and ate lunch at a small lake that was very windy.
I traversed through a notch with sparse Sequoia trees and dropped into the unnamed creek draining the Keweah Basin, skirting a large talus fan on the west. The lake just below looked nice, but I was headed upward. It was easy to hop rocks in the much reduced flow of the creek and when I reached the unnamed lake at about 10,700 feet a view of Keweah Peaks Ridge opened up.
I slowly hiked up the drainage, finding little slot canyons, hidden puddles, and amazing glacially polished slabs. After two hours of exploring, I settled on a campsite in a little slot canyon with a small pond not shown on the maps. It was evident that, to the east in the drainage below Peak 4,049, a glacier had once resided. The lateral and terminal moraines were quite obvious. To the south was Keweah Pass, one of my route alternatives. It looked ugly! Forget that path. To the southwest was the Keweah Peaks Ridge in the fading sunlight. Facing north, it was hard to get a good photo. This late in the season, most of the small lakes in the basin were dry and by mid-afternoon shadows were long. I camped comfortably on a clean, smooth, glacially polished rock.

Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 7:45 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 5: Hell on Pyra Queen Col

I awoke to calm air and cooked breakfast while in my sleeping bag waiting for the sun to hit me. I was off by 8:30. I stayed high to the right of the drainage on grassy slopes to avoid the talus. I ran across several small lakes and stopped to see if I could figure out exactly where I was on the maps. I traversed into the upper part of the drainage where the wind picked up to a gale. This was by far one of the hardest days I have had in a long time. I nearly turned back as I was literally blown over twice in the steep endless talus as I neared the upper bench just below the pass. Luckily as I turned south the ridge offered some wind protection.
I was thankful for the ducks that others had left, but two possibilities presented themselves for the actual pass. I chose the southern notch. I peeked over the edge and got blasted. I moved back to shelter, ate a snack and put on my weather proof outer layers and my balaclava. I again poked my head through the notch and was hit by gale force winds blowing sand into my face. I descended the steep scree below the pass creating small avalanches.
The view to Lake 11,682 was spectacular. I just had to figure out how to get there! Soon I was stopped by a small icy snowfield extending across my path. I lowered my pack over the ice, carefully cut steps with a rock and backed down. I was worried about getting around the cliff at the bottom as I picked my way through tedious talus.

It is funny how paths are often found through apparently insurmountable obstacles as you get closer. I soon had a more immediate problem - how to get down the steep slab at my feet that was running with melt water. Luckily I could zig-zag on tiny ledges with easy class 3 scrambling. Although Pyra Queen Col is supposed to be moderately easy class 2, the hard late-season snow blocked the easy way so it became quit difficult because I had chosen not to carry crampons or ice axe. I found my 50 feet of tent cord very handy for lowering my pack. Without the pack I can usually get down short snow slopes safely.
I took a deep breath and traversed to the uppermost lake in Nine Lakes Basin, arriving at 3:45 and took a quick bath in the lake before I cooled off too much. I spent half an hour hunting for a site with shelter and view- I choose view and camped at another windy site. The sun soon hid behind Mt. Stewart and I snuggled into my bag after a hard day. I had only gone 5.7 miles with about 2,000 feet elevation gain and drop, but it took about 8.5 hours. My cold windy site made it a chilly start for the next day.

Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 7:53 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 6: Two Passes and Cloud Canyon

I cooked breakfast while in my sleeping bag and quickly packed up and left at 8:15 in the shadows. Once I broke out into sun as I headed to Lion Rock Pass, I stopped and shed clothing and more breakfast. The south side was easy, scrambling a bit but basically walking up the obvious north-trending benches and dropping through a notch immediately east of Lion Rock. A lingering snowfield had to be traversed to the right requiring a drop that had then to be regained to cross a ridge and descend obvious slanting ledges that lead to the outlet of Lion Lake. Having seen the north side of the pass from Lion Lake earlier this year I had a good idea of where to go. Lion Lake, now thawed, was beautiful. I stopped for a rest in the grass and sunshine.
At 10:40 I picked my way around the tedious talus of the north shore of the lake and climbed the steep 600 feet over very steep grass with a bit of rock scrambling to Lion Lake Pass. I peeked over the pass into Cloud Canyon. Luckily a route was found that stayed out of the permanent snow at the top of the pass. I had to lower my pack once. I was soon taking a rest on the grass at the outlet of this little lake. There were several campsites here, but it was too early to stop. I saw a faint path through the talus on the east side and did not like it. I probably should have taken it. Instead I chose to go down the west side, but cut down too early, ending up in a pickle. For about an hour, I slithered down slot canyons, crossed steep loose slopes and ended up lowering my pack down a rotten red cliff.
When I reached the canyon floor I was very happy to have averted a major disaster. The route was not my smartest decision. The canyon now was lush with tall grass and the creek gently gurgled over rock slabs. At 3:00 I reached camp at 10,040 feet on a polished granite slab next to the stream. It was warm and still. I took a bath and washed clothes. Clouds started to build by 4:00PM. By 6PM it was socked in with a very low cloud ceiling. It was a windless cold night. Occasionally I could see stars and it had cleared by morning. For a moment, I was racing through my mind figuring how to bail out if the weather got worse.

Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 8:08 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 6 (cont)

I had traveled 4.6 miles, with 2,600 feet elevation gain over two passes, in 7.3 hours. My route finding mistake had cost dearly, but the route still was much easier than Pyra Queen Col. All in all, it was a good day.

Day 7: Cloud Canyon and Cunningham Creek

I awoke to heavy frost, smoky smells and clear skies but had camped on the east side so now was in deep shadows. I quickly packed, crossed to the west side of the canyon and headed downstream eager to get out into the sunshine where I could spread everything out to dry. Sometimes I found the use trail, at other times I picked my way through brush, generally staying close to the creek. The canyon became ever brushier and swampier as I neared the trail.

By the time I reached Big Wet Meadow the weather appeared to have stabilized so I decided to try Cunningham Creek. A quarter mile down the trail, I spotted a game trail. As with all game trails, it ended and I climbed onto rock slabs trying to get nearer to the creek. The grade became hellishly steep as I picked up a distinct use trail paralleling high above the creek on a thin steep rib. I had little choice in my route and simply followed the path of least resistance. In the most unlikely spot, I found an antique glass bottle and suffered a parched lunch, not anticipating being high above the creek. Although trekking poles helped, I wished I had hoofs like the deer.

Efforts to get to the creek were in vein until I had climbed the initial steep 800 feet after which the slope eased and brush was replaced by an open forest and I finally could reach the creek. I drank heartily and stayed on the south side of the creek reaching a crux at 2PM, a small band of cliffs at 10,000 feet. I crossed the creek and chose to climb the large talus blocks and rock slabs instead of bashing through brush on the easier south side.
A ridge divides the upper two forks where most water comes from the fork fed by the beautiful lakes below Thunder Mountain and a smaller stream drains South Guard Lake. Delaying the inevitable decision, I climbed directly up the ridge. At top my weariness dictated the choice- the easier route to the first little pond at 11,000 feet in the South Guard drainage. I had hiked 7.4 miles with 2,600 feet gain in 6.3 hours of travel. Surprisingly, it only took 3 hours to get up Cunningham Creek.
I bathed, washed clothes and found a very comfortable camp on soft grass. This time I chose a site that would get early morning sunshine. In the fading sunlight with my back against rock drank tea and studied the maps. I could turn north to South Guard Pass to Big Brewer and Sphinx lakes with two class-2 passes. Reports I read from the internet indicted snow on the north sides. Or I could go due east to Lake Reflection over class 1 Longley Pass. I chose to go over Longley Pass because it was supposedly Class 1 and facing east-west would probably not have snow issues. I balanced my guilt for choosing the apparently easier route with the feeling that I had already paid my dues on Pyra Queen Col.

The cold hit hard as soon as the sun went behind the hills. My water bottle began to freeze before 10PM. The stars were amazing in the crisp autumn air.

Day 8: Dues to Pay

By morning, I had to break ice on my little creek to get water for cooking breakfast! I jumped back into my warm sleeping bag while water boiled and did not get out until the sun hit at 9:00AM.
Melt water creeks were still frozen solid. On the way up the pass I looked back at Glacier Divide and my campsite on Cunningham Creek. South Guard Lake looked desolate. The west side of Longley Pass lived up to its Class 1 rating with the only difficulty being excessively soft sand. To my surprise, at the top I was confronted with a cornice on the east side!
Luckily I found a small gap on the south side of the broad pass that I could get through. Further down I had to lower my pack at a few big steps - not class 1 for a short person! The slope eased and I was soon at the small lake below the pass eating lunch. I figured I had an easy afternoon ahead of me. How wrong I was! I still had dues to pay!

It took 3.5 hours through horrendous route finding puzzles to reach the outlet of Lake Reflection. First I had to get to the outlet of Lake 3,496. This was not too bad involving slab walking and finding a way through small cliffs. From here, the going got tough. Reluctant to go straight down the drainage and unsure if I could even get to the main drainage due to cliffs around Lake 3,496, I veered north through complicated ledges and slabs to a small parallel drainage that looked better on the map, but turned out to be a slot canyon with 100 foot high overhanging walls! It ended in a steep talus fan. Luckily, I found an exit to the south and continued down steep exposed slabs that ended in a cliff. I then crossed back to the north side descending a steep slope with sagebrush followed by thick brush so crossed the creek again only to soon be forced north onto rock cliffs dotted with trees. I descend straight down to the main drainage fighting small cliffs, brush and tree limbs.
Resting at the inlet to Reflection Lake, I observed an impassable cliff on the south side. I went north although cliffs rose above the shore. I climbed high in talus to get over the first band of cliffs then descended to climb upward sloping ledges. My ledge route became progressively more difficult. A slip would be a long fall directly into the lake. I did not have the nerve to make one move so I retreated to a lower ledge, where although exposed was a shorter fall to the lake! I scrambled over 3rd class rock, slithered down a short chimney, lowered my pack and eventually reached the outlet where I had to balance over a large unstable log jam to reach the trail on the other side. It was 3:30 and I was exhausted both physically and mentally. In retrospect, I do not know why I did not just camp here, it was so scenic. Shadows were already long so perhaps in my mind’s fog I hoped to gain a bit more of the late afternoon light be continuing to East Lake.
I continued down the trail, surprised at its poor condition. I lost the trail in a few places. Farther down, a rockslide had obliterated parts of the trail. The sun was about gone so I stopped just before East Lake to take a bath in the creek, a good decision since I would have not had any privacy at the camp, where I met two fishermen.

My “easy” alternative had turned into 7.2 miles, 2,100 feet gain, 4,000 feet of drop over some very tricky country. My “short” day ended up taking 8.1 hours. I set up camp and joined the fishermen at their fire after dinner and learned that they were locals who lived at a small private in-holding in Kings Canyon National Park. They had done the Woods Lake Loop and came up to East Lake for some solitude after several crowded days on the trial. It was pleasant for me to have some company after six days solo, however I probably was an annoyance to them!

Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 8:20 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Day 9: Finally an Easy Day

East Lake was in the shade late in the morning. The day started quite late with my reluctance to get out of the bag and some more visiting with the fishermen. It was an easy hike down the trail with a good view of Mt. Bago. I had forgotten the challenging crossing of Bubbs Creek at Junction Meadow as well as how beautiful it was here.
I met more hikers as I descended. One fellow offered to take a photo in which I look quit shabby! I arrived at the last legal campsite early in the afternoon. After checking out the horse camp on the north side, I returned to the standard campsite. I soaked my feet in the river, bathed, washed clothes and finished my book. It was a lazy afternoon. It had only taken me 4 hours to go the 8 miles. Though I could have walked out, I had sufficient food, my feet were sore and I dreaded crowded campgrounds.

Day 10: Easy Out
I walked out the 3 miles in less than 1.5 hours. After a shower at Cedar Grove, coffee and muffins at Grant Village, I drove home. Although the trip would have been more scenic earlier in the season, given the dry summer of 2006, it was one of my best trips of the summer. My major regret was not buying new hiking shoes. In addition to sore feet making days seem longer, the overly tight approach shoes bruised my heel bones leaving me somewhat lame for a few weeks following the trip.


72.5 miles
21,700 feet elevation gain
50% miles off-trail
67 hours of travel
7.6 miles per day average
7 hours per day average

Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 12:25 am
by wildhiker
Thanks for posting a nice report. To me, that sounds ilke a very ambitious hike - more than I would try to do. I'm always impressed by your stamina!

I'm surprised you had so much trouble with the route from Longley Pass down to Lake Reflection. I did this in the other direction in September 1975 and followed a straightforward ducked route the whole way. I remember it as easy class 1 the entire way. There was no cornice at the top that year.


Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 9:48 am
by Wandering Daisy
I was a bit younger in 2006! I would not want to repeat that pace now. I have read trip reports for the route between Reflection Lake and Longley Pass and I probably got off route at the lake below Longley. I think a slightly higher traverse along Reflection Lake would have been easier. I do not recall seeing many ducks. But then, 1975- that is a long time ago! Also, reading Old Rangers reports, I also ascended the wrong side of Cunningham Creek. And a few years ago I found a much better route down Cloud Canyon from Lion Lake Pass. Back in those days I really did not spend a lot of time trying to find use-trails or ducks since difficult off-trail travel was not a big issue. I am a bit more patient now.

I am a bit like sekihiker; I sort of have itchy feet and I enjoy moving a lot. The 2006 trip was a quick review- I then spent more time at a lot of the locations in many later trips.

Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:05 am
by gary c.
Thanks for posting your hike. It's great to have these off season reports to read and pictures to daydream about.

Re: TR 2006 Loop from Road's End

Posted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:32 am
by Cross Country
My wife - saint Diane - and I had trouble coming down from Longley too. I have been to all of these places except Kaweah Basin. I have been to Pickett Lake. I never went to Ionian either. I like trees. I do not like high deserts - haha.
We were at South Guard so long ago that there were still a few fish in the lake. I fished North Guard too. No fish.