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Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

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Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby Matilda » Sat May 03, 2008 1:21 pm

I've waited 10 years for this chance: enough free time in a summer to do a major hike, and the high route is calling. Of course I've read Roper, and a few other accounts, including Steve Howe's piece in the latest issue of Backpacker. Here's my question: just how bad are the toughest passes (Frozen Lake, Cirque, Snow Tongue)? I realize it's all subjective, but I'm hoping some of the board regulars can help frame my perspective better.
I've lived in Mammoth (ie, at altitude) for 10 years. I hike and backpack on trail and cross country, I've done most of the Muir, a few non-technical peaks in full summer conditions. I'm in great shape (lots of trail running, including high mileage stuff). But I'm no mountaineering bad ass. I don't even know how to use an ice axe (I could learn pretty quickly and easily, though). But I'm level-headed and not freaked out by heights and exposure.
I'll be doing some of this trip by myself. I might have someone with more mountaineering experience with me for the first segment from King's to Dusy, but I might be on my own.
Howe decided to forgo Frozen Lake. Others accounts say it's not that bad. Anyone out there have some experience or advice? Good, similar (ideally near Eastside frontcountry) places to train?



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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby SPeacock » Sat May 03, 2008 3:43 pm

A good cross country training area not too far from you is Bishop Pass area. Take South Lake TH then drop down to the lower lakes (Treasure) by trail. Leave the trail and work your way up over Bishop (staying to the left of the trail in the draw). Continue down to Knapsack Pass staying off the trail to either high left above the creek or far right in the boulders, and get into the Palisade Basin. Take any of the other passes (e.g., T-Bolt is probably off your charts tho) returning to Bishop Pass. This would be a fairly rigorous weekend or better three day. If you think you might get paranoid, take a hank of 8mm (30 feet or so). Always easier to lower the pack or drag it up without it being on your back - at times.
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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby maverick » Mon May 05, 2008 11:46 am

Hi Matilda

I think Frozen Lake Pass is the most intimidating because of the 60 degree gully and
gravel though the steep ice on Snow Tongue may be more dangerous to some.
I think, at least for me, once you've been in the mountains alot and have had to tackle
many different situations/terrains, the more difficult natures obstacles are the more
sense of achievement is realized once its overcome.
Like you mentioned difficulty is subjective and depends one many factors like experience,
endurance(mental and physical).
You sound like these should not be a problem for you except maybe learning how to use
crampons and ice axe. Make sure you learn how to use them proficiently otherwise these
pieces of equipment can be dangerous if not used properly!
If your not comfortable with any of the passes just use either Packsaddle Pass or Alpine
Col in place of Snow Tongue, and Vennacher Col or even better go over Dumbbell Pass
and then Cataract Creek Pass ,which to me is a much better/prettier alternate route,
in place of Frozen Lake Pass.
Don't lock yourself into the route, there are prettier alternatives to the SHR!
As for training you have the whole spine of the Sierra in your backyard, get the
"High Sierra Peaks, Passes, and Trails" book if you have not already, and go do some
of the passes and peaks near you in the Minarets and Yosemite's border area.
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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby giantbrookie » Mon May 05, 2008 8:14 pm

maverick wrote: Don't lock yourself into the route, there are prettier alternatives to the SHR!


I second that. Doing a trail, such as the JMT, PCT or HST is one thing, but the SHR is mostly an off trail route. Once you have freed yourself from following a trail, there is no need to rigidly follow a set route that is written into a book. It is far more interesting to design your own.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby Snow Nymph » Tue May 06, 2008 7:46 am

We did Snow Tongue Pass and it was pretty gnarly (click on thumbnail for bigger photo)
Image

Lots of boulders that seemed solid, then would break loose
Image

The dirt was steep and slick, and whatever rock you stepped on slid
Image

This side had bigger boulders (more solid, maybe?)
Image

anyway, we were glad to get down. There were NO flat spots to camp til we got past the lower Wahoo Lake.

Thunderbolt Pass was a cakewalk compared to Snow Tongue. The west side of ST Pass was easy.
Snow Tongue Pass: http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/204292063DBnuAH
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby gdurkee » Tue May 06, 2008 8:09 pm

What everyone here said -- I do think Frozen Lake Pass may be the most difficult you come across. Snowtongue (aka Wahoo) is also kinda gnarly?? The first part of that can be bad, though not horrendous. You'll have no problem at all crossing Palisade Basin.

If you're going alone, you might consider one of those SPOT gizmos. A friend just took one on a ski trip through that same area. Worked great. It's got both a emergency panic-alarm signal and a "I'm here" signal for friends.

I'm less a fan of crampons than most. Even an ice ax I find unnecessary, usually (in almost 40 years, I've never felt the need for one anyway). Ski poles though, are a really good idea. Maybe an ice ax. Get one of those real light ones from Black Diamond and, as Mavirick suggests, practice with ice ax. His other suggestion is good -- consider Vennecher Col. It's less gnarly. East side of it is no problem at all.

Finally, I'm always a little paranoid (plus being a teensy bit professional concerned in finding someone easily), so I'm less enthused about leaving the route if you have no way of telling anyone you've done so.

It's a great route through some excellent country. If you have some basic confidence and a moderate amount of skill on loose scree and occasional gnarly sections (though nothing hugely exposed), you should do fine. Have a great trip.

George
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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby gvilleg » Wed May 07, 2008 8:29 am

Hi Matilda,

Have been reading about SHR for the past few years. If you don't mind company, I would be interested. Met some folks last summer who did it in sections and they said Frozen Lake Pass was the most challenging cross on their whole trip but certainly doable. My time frame would be in Sept. Have some photos posted at....http://picasaweb.google.com/skywalker49 to give you an idea about me.

Gordon
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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby Matilda » Wed May 07, 2008 12:09 pm

Thanks, everyone--this is exactly the beta I was hoping for!
Gordon, I don't have the dates set yet, but it's looking like late July into August for me, and I'm figuring on a month.
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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby gvilleg » Wed May 07, 2008 1:16 pm

Matilda,

Here is a link that should be of interest. http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=210670

Larry and Sandie Tyler completed the High Route last year. They never carried more than 5 days worth of food and had little problem with resupply. They did hit that winter weather last Sept on the last section and had to bail and regroup. Read their journal, it is very helpful. Taking a month to complete the route will be more than sufficient time.
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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby SSSdave » Fri May 09, 2008 7:19 pm

Snow Nymph, that's a terrific sequence of images going down Snow Tongue Pass. An excellent documentary of one of the more difficult Sierra crosscountry passes. Great work on #25 showing the line of your whole route. Anyone that has not lugged a heavy pack down such a route probably is in for a sobering reality check when they do. Much more difficult than when free climbing with little weight. Your image #14 is a good one. The main issue is any small movements away from the slope become magnified as the weight on one's back tends to pull one backwards. It is especially unnerving while trying to grasp onto small hand holds in steep areas. I always carry a short length of 5mm rope in order to lower my pack down the more dicy spots. One can of course take Alpine Col that is further east with less steep sections though that is hard a bargain as one must navigate a long distance through monster sized talus. ...David
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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby Snow Nymph » Tue May 13, 2008 8:44 pm

Thanks, Dave. SnowDude and I took different routes after a few close calls. At one point I heard rockfall and saw the dust cloud and was yelling for him (no answer). I thought I lost him! He didn't hear me even though we weren't that far apart. It was a pretty 'exciting' climb down for the first section. It was easier once we got down to the snow. The other side of the pass was pretty mellow.
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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Re: Sierra High Route: Tough Passes?

Postby Steve Bearman » Tue May 20, 2008 2:03 pm

I've done most of the High Route, and I have to say, I am a fan of following the route. Roper makes interesting choices informed by decades of deepening his relationship with the Sierras. Following his route has helped me to learn how to think about my own routes. So, I can relate with the folks who say there's no need to stay true to the route, but I am a voice in the other direction.

I have not done Frozen Lake pass, so I can't speak to it. Cirque Pass is easy, only requiring some thoughtful routefinding on the way up. Snow Tongue Pass, on the other hand, is in my top 3 most difficult passes. Worse, I'm sure it's not the same as when I was last there, as it seems to be a pass in a constant state of flux. There were four of us crossing. We made for the low point and descended from there. It was really only the first 50 feet or so that gave us trouble: loose dirt over bare rock. Our main concern was not knocking rocks down on each other. It took a long time to go one at a time, carefully, across each difficult stretch, and it helped that we had camped at the tarn just below the South side of the pass, so we had plenty of time.

All that said, I suspect you're perfectly capable of navigating the passes, and you'll only get better as you travel Northward. On the segments of the High Route I have done, I have never brought, or needed, an ice axe or crampons. In a dry year like this one, you should be fine. If you omit snow gear, just make sure that any time you're worried about steep snowfields, you plan to cross them in the middle of the day when the snow is soft.

Have I been encouraging enough?
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