TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

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johnz
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TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by johnz » Wed Jan 22, 2020 7:15 pm

Hello fellow hikers, I have been lurking on High Sierra Topix for a couple years now, living vicariously through the many wonderful trip reports that have been posted. This summer two friends and I decided to explore Cartridge Creek Basin with the hope of seeing some rarely visited places in the Sierras. I consulted HST extensively for information about various passes, lakes, and basins. This information was crucial in ensuring that we had an enjoyable, exciting and safe trip. The following report documents our adventure. My hope is that it will provide some valuable information for others who might be thinking about traveling in and around the areas we visited.

8/8/2019 Thursday

I had been wanting to do some version of this trip for at least a year. I usually hike solo and while I have done some off-trail in the Sierras, a tour through Cartridge Creek Basin seemed a little big to do solo. This March my friend Jerzy mentioned wanting to visit the Sierras – both he and I live in Ithaca, NY and he had never been. I suggested visiting Cartridge Creek, Jerzy recruited a friend of his, Joe from Kentucky, and within a few weeks we had a permit for three to hike up the Copper Creek Trail.

Throughout the summer I closely tracked snow levels using Sentinel Playground which takes fairly high resolution satellite pictures of the entire globe every few days. As August approached, it seemed likely we would have some snow travel but not much. As a compromise I decided to bring a small axe (CAMP Corsa) and no traction – this would turn out to backfire a little bit a few days into the trip…

Joe and I met up in Fresno Thursday morning. Originally, our plan was to start hiking at 1pm and camp at either Grouse Lake or Granite Basin. But Jerzy’s flight into Fresno was delayed until 5pm. This made things awkward: If we waited for Jerzy before heading to Road’s End we would be able to pick up our permit at 7am the next day at the earliest, further delaying the start of our trip. Thus, we made the painful decision of first driving to Road’s End to pick up the permit, then driving back to Fresno to pick up Jerzy, and then back to Road’s End to start hiking in the evening. Having left San Martin in the morning, I ended up spending something like 8 hours in the car before we started hiking. Day 0 turned into quite the marathon!

After a quick dinner at Bear Mountain Pizza, where we also finalized our packs, we arrived at Road’s End for the second time at 8pm just as the sun was setting. The evening air was warm at first but cooled rapidly as the moon gradually emerged above Grand Sentinel.
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The gibbous moon was bright enough that we could for the most part hike without headlights. We arrived at Lower Tent Meadow around 10pm. One other party was camped there. They were still up but not too pleased with us stumbling in so late. Not wanting to create any more commotion searching for an ideal campsite in the dark, we quickly settled on a little clearing. I had a fitful sleep lying on my Zlite SOL on ground that slightly sloped down my left side at an elevation of almost 8000 ft after sleeping at near sea level the night before.


8/9/2019 Friday

The next day we started hiking around 7:45am. As we gained elevation, we got a nice view across Kings Canyon toward Palmer Mountain, the Sphinx, and Sphinx Crest.
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As we approached the turnoff to Grouse Lake, we made a choice to continue along the trail toward Granite Pass. Then on the way back, with our packs lighter, and our footing hopefully more sure, we would take Roper’s high route back to the Copper Creek Trail. We made it to The Lip a little after 10am.
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The walk through Granite Basin was lovely. Neither Jerzy nor Joe had ever experienced the classic Sierra treeline landscape and both were quite impressed with the garden-like quality of the environs.
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Granite Basin was also our first encounter with mosquitoes. I had warned both Jerzy and Joe that, given the snowpack, the mosquitoes could be quite bad along our route. In retrospect, the mosquitoes we encountered in Granite Basin were pretty tame compared to what we suffered later on.
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Hiking up toward Granite Pass.
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We reached Granite Pass a little after noon. We were treated to an expansive view of the Black Divide and the Palisades.
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A closeup of Wheel, Woodworth, and Devil’s Crags.
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This was the first time I had seen the undulating spine of Devil’s Crags. It was also the first time we saw other hikers since we left camp in the morning. Over the next four full days, we would get increasingly better and closer views of Devil’s Crags and we would not see another soul. One last view to the south.
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We descended into a gorgeous meadow through which the Middle Fork of Dougherty Creek meandered.
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During our trip, we walked through many a beautiful meadow but this one was probably the loveliest until we passed through Glacier Valley toward the end of our trip. As we descended below the treeline, we crossed the creek a number of times and could see numerous little trout, around 6-8 inches, darting around in the gently bubbling waters.
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Eventually we met up with the State Lakes Trail.
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Our original plan was to camp at Lake 10236 but by the time we were on the State Lakes Trail, it was clear that was not going to happen. Instead, we aimed to get to or at least close to Horseshoe Lakes. We were all getting a little tired and since we were expecting to take the State Lakes Trail again on the way back we opted not to take pictures of State Lakes. This was too bad since our itinerary changed somewhat later in the trip and we never made it back to State Lakes. Our first glimpse of the lower State Lake was impressive. Even though we were tired, we stopped to admire the lake as it glimmered below the intimidating wall of granite that dominated its far shore. However, the mosquitoes were awful and we quickly left. The trail kind of gets confusing after upper State Lake and it took us a few minutes to find the Horseshoe Lakes offshoot. Once we found it, we walked for a bit before entering a large grassy clearing where we set up camp.

Sleep was still not great but my body was getting more used to the thin foam pad. At one point I had trouble falling back asleep and I just stared at the Milky Way. I saw a huge flash of light streak across the sky – much brighter than a typical shooting star and glowing orange. What could it be?
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johnz
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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by johnz » Wed Jan 22, 2020 7:36 pm

8/10/2019 Saturday

Temperatures overnight dipped below freezing and I woke up with a slightly icy water bottle and a light dusting of frost over our stuff.
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We reached Horseshoe Lakes a little before 8:30am.
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From here we followed Roper’s instructions and eventually reached the precipice overlooking Windy Canyon.
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Tehipite Dome.
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Next we headed over to Windy Point where we admired the view while contemplating the fact that 83 years ago Ansel Adams stood right here – with heavy camera equipment no less.
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One note, since I was eager to look down on Lake 10236, I tended to walk on top of or slightly on the north side of Windy Ridge. While I wouldn’t call it a mistake – we did have very nice views of Lake 10236 – it is much easier to walk slightly on the south side of the ridge and gain the top of the ridge only at the very end.

Palisade Crest peeking over Windy Ridge.
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Black Crown and Goddard Creek.
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Dumbbell Basin and the mysterious basin to its west.
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I pointed to the thin line of white dropping down from Dumbbell basin and mentioned to Jerzy and Joe that we would be following that creek down to Cartridge Creek in two days. Joe was a little skeptical. Indeed, it looked almost vertical from here.

From Windy Point we descended the sandy slopes to the north...
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...eventually curving back SE toward Lake 10236. Once the lake was in sight, the hiking became quite pleasant, with much of it along gently angled granite slabs and patches of grass.
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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by johnz » Wed Jan 22, 2020 7:55 pm

8/10/2019 Saturday cont.

We arrived at Lake 10236 at 11:23. For me, it was cathartic. I had noticed this lake on maps a long time ago and had seen many beautiful pictures of it posted by people doing Roper’s high route. It was probably the lake that I most wanted to visit in all of the Sierras. In all of the online Sierra High Route thru-hike reports that I read, not one party dropped down to the lake. It boggles my mind how people could resist such an enchanting, impossibly beautiful lake simply because it was technically not on the “official” route.
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Adding to the feeling of enchantment, there were almost no mosquitoes. The air was warm and a slight breeze grazed by every once in a while, registering a soft ripple on the lake surface. The water was surprisingly not too cold and we enjoyed a refreshing dip.
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After the swim and a light snack, we packed up and left this truly lovely lake.
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After gaining Windy Ridge again, we quickly reached Gray Pass.
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After some tedious sidehilling and our first encounter with snow, we reached the South Fork of Cartridge Creek where we had lunch.
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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by johnz » Wed Jan 22, 2020 8:12 pm

8/10/2019 Saturday cont.

It took us about 2 hours to slowly climb back up to White Pass.
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Soon after that, we reached Red Pass at 4:30.
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At this point we settled on camping at Marion Lake which was a steep 1300 ft descent away.
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I was quite surprised at how steep and loose the final chute was. Jerzy waited until I was completely down before starting.
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Marion Lake was, not surprisingly, infested with mosquitoes. That didn’t stop us from enjoying the lovely reflections on the lake.
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It did make dinner a little unpleasant. We ended consuming a lot of mosquitoes that inadvertently got stuck in our soupy dinners.

Cirque Crest.
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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by Harlen » Wed Jan 22, 2020 10:06 pm

Thank you johnz! I sure hope there is more on the way. I've just got to get up there; it has a different look, that dark, rugged canyon country to the north of Cirque Crest-- I guess its the views NE from Windy Point and Ridge that fascinate me. Stunning photos of Cirque Crest too! Great report, Thanks again.

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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by ce814 » Wed Jan 22, 2020 10:50 pm

Looks like a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing!

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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by grampy » Wed Jan 22, 2020 11:48 pm

Stunning photos, especially Marion Lake - definitely makes me want to go there ! Looking forward to more.

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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by mckee80 » Thu Jan 23, 2020 7:12 am

Awesome report! Thanks!

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gary c.
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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by gary c. » Thu Jan 23, 2020 9:54 am

Great report and beautiful 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."
-- Lionel Terray

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Re: TR: Cartridge Creek Basin – 8/8 to 8/14 2019

Post by iainmacdonald » Thu Jan 23, 2020 10:28 am

Great trip report and awesome photos of a beautiful, remote location. Hope I can get out to that area some time soon!

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