TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

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wsp_scott
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TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by wsp_scott » Sun Oct 11, 2020 7:46 am

July 27 - August 5, 2020
6 nights backpack & 2 nights hotel
Caltopo says about 60 miles and 12000' of elevation gain
Camera Details: Sony A7ii and Voigtlander 21/3.5 (I decided to go light weight with only one wide angle lens)

I started planning/thinking about this trip in December 2019 with the idea of locking in permits when they opened in Feb. I talked to a backpacking friend about joining me and he was interested. No problems getting permits in Feb but there was this new disease in China that looked "interesting", probably not a big deal, so I booked my plane flight and rental car for the end of July.

Of course that "interesting" disease ended up being COVID and that scrambled everything :) The most obvious scrambling early on was kids are home from school so I ended up doing less hiking than a normal spring and I basically stopped climbing stairs when the campus shut down, and then family time in early summer ... basically I did not have the legs for a serious 8 night SEKI trip, but I had some potential options if I needed to call an audible.

The Cottonwood Pass trail is easy for the most part, very gentle in the beginning but even the switchbacks don't feel hard and there is shade along the way which helps. As you get higher, the views open up a bit. Horseshoe Meadows down below.
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Chicken Spring Lake was a good rest and refuel spot, but it appears to be popular and the chipmunks were vicious, I would not want to camp there,
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It was a warm and dusty day along the PCT. I decided that I never want to hike the stretch of the PCT between the cutoff to Soldier Lake and Rock Creek again, it was just tiring without much of a payoff. I made it to Rock Creek and headed up the creek towards a potential campsite I had seen online. I found a largish horse packer site with a nice view of a meadow. No one else was there so it was a great place for the first night.

Almost full moon rising over Rock Creek
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Next morning down Rock Creek to the PCT and then up and over Guyot Pass. Not the greatest hiking, but occasional views and big trees were very different from hiking in the southeast.
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I talked to a couple guys from Oregon who were headed towards Kearsarge Pass and we leapfrogged though the day. We ended up camping near each other Wallace Creek and talking a bit over dinner and then breakfast before saying goodbyes.
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The next morning the Oregon guys headed north and I called my first audible of the trip. My original plans had been that the 2nd night was going to be down on the Kern River near Junction Meadow and then climb towards Colby Pass for some off-trail exploration. I was already behind "schedule" and I had realized on the 2nd day that my legs were probably not going to be up the the descent to the Kern and then need to climb back out a couple days later. So let's go off-trail towards Wallace and Wales Lakes. This basin had been on my list for a couple years, so I had done a little reading, but did not remember any details other than I thought there was a user trail on the north side of Wallace Creek. It did not take long to find the user trail and it was very easy to follow for the first couple miles.

I lost the trail at a creek crossing and ended up too far south, but it was easy/fun terrain to walk through. Eventually I realized my error and looking at the GPS map I aimed in the general direction of where I thought I should be going based on contours. After an hour or so of easy hiking, I climbed up a small ridge and ended up on an obvious user-trail that looked to be headed in the right direction.
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Up to Wales Lake, as I was unpacking to set up camp, I pulled out the Sawyer "bag" that I use for denatured alcohol and a whole bunch spilled on my hands. It turned out that there was what looked like a 1 inch knife cut in the middle of the bag. It was day three and I had lost most of my fuel for what was supposed to be an eight night trip. I had originally thought of staying at Wales Lake for 2 nights with the idea of trying to find my way to Tulainyo, but now it was obvious I was going to be heading back towards the trailhead. I had enough fuel to cook a couple meals, but I needed to be careful. I also had enough food like GORP and bars and dried fruit that I wasn't going to starve, but I might be uncomfortable. So time to explore while I had the chance.

Moonrise, Mt Hale(?) and Wales Lake
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Next morning, time for another audible, back to the PCT and south towards Crabtree. I got to Crabtree Meadow and headed off trail again. I easily found the user-trail to Crabtree Lakes. I was surprised to find these old sawed logs on an unofficial trail and in wilderness where machinery is not allowed. I suspect these were cut 40 or more years ago, before the wilderness was designated in 1984. Anyone know if this used to be an official trail?
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Lowest Crabtree Lake
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The view from the top of Crabtree Pass looking down on the highest lake.
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Crazy blue water just below Crabtree Pass
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Miter Basin was beautiful to walk through
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And then down to Rock Creek where I set up camp near the bear boxes and a bunch of JMT hikers. It felt very crowded compared to the previous three nights where I had no one near me.
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New Army Pass felt hot and tiring, here is looking west from near the top of the pass
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High Lake
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I had thought about staying at Cirque Lake, but I was out of fuel and did not like the idea of GORP for dinner and then breakfast, so I kept going to the trailhead. I came off the trail two days early, so I had some time to kill.

I drove up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest outside of Big Pine in the White Mountains. This turned out to be a great way to spend a day.
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Last day, I woke up in time to see the sunrise in the Alabama Hills
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And then did a dayhike up to Mulkey Pass and then over and down from Trail Pass
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And then shower at Whitney Hostel in Lone Pine and drive through Death Valley to Vegas
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lots more photos here (no ads) https://backpackandbeer.blogspot.com/20 ... -2020.html


My trip reports: backpackandbeer.blogspot.com






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thegib
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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by thegib » Sun Oct 11, 2020 5:06 pm

Good ad libbing. I love that spot at Wales lake, and crabtree pass thru Miter basin is underrated no matter how highly rated.

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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by Bishop_Bob » Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:41 am

I finished a trip 1 day early last year and also went to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. I had always been curious. What a beautiful and tranquil place! I was so enamored.

As for your trip, chalk another one up for the Sawyer bags. I don't know how a container intended for liquid can be so poorly constructed.

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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by Lumbergh21 » Mon Oct 12, 2020 8:49 pm

Thanks for the trip report. I've been thinking abot hiking from Horseshoe to Wales, Wallace, Wright, and others for a few years. Your description of the hike to Wales has me moving this hike to the top of the list for next year.

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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Oct 12, 2020 9:07 pm

I think I would have gone hungry just to spend an extra day to loop by Wallace Lake on the way out. Although not tasty at all, you can "cold soak" most backpack food and at least get the calories. In fact cold soaking is all some PCT thru-hikers do.

I agree that the PCT between Cottonwood Pass and Rock Creek is not that great. I even think the PCT all the way to Wallace Creek is not that great.

Crabtree Lakes are one of my favorite places. Miter Basin is a gem too. I did similar but longer trips in 2019 and 2017, but in wetter years and a bit earlier than your trip when the vegetation was green and lush. A few photos from those trips below.

Well, even if it did not go as planned, now you have a good excuse to go back and spend a bit more time. The fishing is good, so perhaps do a bit of fishing too. I highly recommend going earlier in the season even if you have to put up with more snow on passes and some mosquitoes.
714-15_Wallace Lk_edited-1.jpg

7579_Above Middle Crabtree Lake_small.jpg
688-89_Miter Basin Meadow_edited-2.jpg
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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by kpeter » Tue Oct 13, 2020 4:44 pm

I was trying to follow along but got a bit confused as to whether, after Cottonwood pass, you stayed on the PCT all the way to the crossing of Rock Creek, or whether you took the cutoff over toward Soldier Lake and then descended Rock Creek back to the PCT? In other words, where did you camp on night 1?

In any case, I enjoyed having you lead me through some familiar places. You very much salvaged a good trip after your equipment failure.

I keep thinking that Cottonwood and the PCT might be my fastest route to Kaweah Basin, but I keep hearing comments like yours about the route that make it sounds somewhat bleak. ("I never want to hike the stretch of the PCT between the cutoff to Soldier Lake and Rock Creek again".) I have hiked from Soldier Lake down to Rock Creek and on to Guyot Pass and found the route somewhat pleasant.

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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by bobby49 » Tue Oct 13, 2020 6:38 pm

kpeter wrote:
Tue Oct 13, 2020 4:44 pm
I have hiked from Soldier Lake down to Rock Creek and on to Guyot Pass and found the route somewhat pleasant.
Isn't downhill always pleasant?

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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Oct 13, 2020 7:01 pm

I think the "pleasantness" of the PCT down Rock Creek and over Guyot Pass depends on conditions. It was blazing hot and miserable when I did it; only one water source once I left Rock Creek. Plus I did it in addition to dropping from Sky Blue Lake, so it was the latter half of the day. I think if you hit it in the morning, it would not be so bad.

kpeter- Although going over New Army Pass involves more elevation gain, it is much prettier and logistically works out better in my opinion because you can camp at one of the beautiful Cottonwood lakes the first night for an easy first day while you acclimate. I did this in 2019. Or even go over Crabtree Pass if you want a very scenic off-trail route. Going in from Whitney Portal is even shorter, although more elevation gain, Consultation Lake night 1 (surprisingly private and scenic but only 15 minutes off the main trail); somewhere on Wallace Creek second night or perhaps even down to Junction Meadow. The trick is to get a permit. I would rather do Whitney Portal than Shepherd Pass- more water sources and better camping along the way.

I wonder if the Sawyer bag is made of a plastic that is not intended for long-term storage of 100% alcohol? In wetter years you could have just built some small cooking fires, but that was not an option this year. I use butane fuel, but one of my fears is what if the canister does not work? Or what if I stupidly not fully close the valve after dinner so the fuel leaks out overnight? Certainly could ruin a trip.

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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by Bishop_Bob » Wed Oct 14, 2020 9:40 am

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Tue Oct 13, 2020 7:01 pm
I wonder if the Sawyer bag is made of a plastic that is not intended for long-term storage of 100% alcohol?
I've only put water in the Sawyer bags, and what puzzles me is how they spring a leak in the middle of the panel of the bag, not at a seam. Twice this has happened to me, each time with a new Sawyer bag. I wasn't even using the bags for water storage; I was scooping up water from a source and squeezing it through the filter. Now I use the CNOC Vecto, though I bring a Sawyer bag as a backup because the CNOC once split a seam on me in mid-squeeze The good thing about the Sawyer leaks I've had is that I can easily plug the dike by putting my finger over the hole as I squeeze.

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Re: TR: Cottonwood Pass - Wallace/Wales - Miter Basin (Aug 2020)

Post by Jim F » Wed Oct 14, 2020 4:20 pm

wsp-scott,

The awesome photography and TR is much appreciated.

Your outing is reassuring. Despite all the headwinds in 2020, it is still possible to score a win if one is resilient and prepared to call audibles.

The solitude one can find in the Miter Basin is likely due to the fact that there is no well defined path into it. Remarkably, Whitney Portal is only 4 miles from Sky Blue Lake, as the crow flies.

On approaching Lower Crabtree Lake, you noted the logs cut and cleared from the trail (maybe 40+ years ago). Whether official or not prior to the Wilderness Act of 1964, that path lead to a popular location. For example, in 1962 both of the Sierra Club's High Trips set up camp at the Crabtree Lakes. The participants in the High Trips (hikers, packers, pack animals, guides, cooks, photographers) numbered in the hundreds. On a layover day (there were many), one could journey up the drainage, cross Crabtree Pass, explore some of the Miter Basin, and return at sunset just as the cooks were finishing diner preparations. (No need for the Sawyer bag in those days!)

By the way, if one follows Crabtree Creek down to the PCT (where it joins Whitney Creek), and then continues downstream another mile, one encounters a "packers camp" where the cut logs serve as tables, benches, seats,..

Jim

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