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August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

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August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby Mike M. » Thu Jan 21, 2010 5:35 pm

The August 1975 hike was an improvised, extravagantly leisurely affair, coming on the heels of the premature ending of the July hike and the need to repair my damaged backpack.

(see July 1975 Trip Report at: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=4775)

My girlfriend's father was the backcountry ranger stationed at Bearpaw Meadow Ranger Station and we arranged to spend some time together there. So naturally, I decided to begin a two-week backpacking trip from the trailhead at the Lodgepole parking lot. At the last minute my younger brother Van asked if he could come along. He was 16 at the time and didn't have any money, but I told him if he could scrounge up funds for food, he was welcome. Dad gave him $10 and off we went to Lucky’s to stock up for the trip. But $10 won’t buy much, even in 1975, and Van compounded the situation by falling for a loaf of tasty sourdough bread, which used up 1/10th of his available funds. The bread ended up spoiling in a few days and Van spent much of the trip dreaming of food, subsisting on an inadequate diet of Top Ramen, granola, dried milk, nuts, and dried fruit. We had a loose itinerary, exploring a section of the Sierra new to us, with our only firm destination coming nine days into the trip, a rendezvous with brother Dan on the top of Forester Pass. We had no camera with us on this trip, as Dan had broken the family rangefinder on his previous hike, so all the photos shown in this trip report are from subsequent years.

Here's a photo of Van taken about a year after this trip.

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After the bear incident in Cedar Grove, I took my pack to the North Face factory in Berkeley, where it was laundered and repaired at no charge to me. Now that is some lifetime warranty!

We left Sacramento on Tuesday afternoon (August 5) with A. (we drove her old Saab) and arrived in Lodgepole late in the evening. We spent the night in A.’s father’s cabin at Lodgepole, drinking scotch and making merry. Wednesday morning A. hiked ahead to Bearpaw Ranger Station to meet a pack train, while Van and I followed a little later. This area was new to me and I enjoyed the delightful eleven mile hike to Bearpaw, via the High Sierra Trail. It's a lush, forested landscape with fine vistas. Several of the forests we walked through were especially impressive: tall, thick groves of firs carpeted with ferns and a heavy population of deer. When we arrived at Bearpaw, A. had some delicious peanut cookies waiting for us (freshly baked, no less). The ranger station is located above the meadow and overlooks a deep canyon, thus offering a fine view of the surrounding peaks and valleys and meadows. What a place to live! The ranger’s “cabin” is a substantial “A frame” structure, like a vacation lodge – ahhh, what comfort! A. cooked us a stew with dumplings and we gorged ourselves. That night we sat around and played cards and basked in the beauty of our surroundings.

Thursday morning we woke early, had a fine breakfast of fresh eggs and bacon, then lingered, not wanting to leave such comfort. Finally, Van and I left Bearpaw at about 2:00 and arrived at Tamarack Lake around 5:00. At a clearing just below Tamarack Lake we saw 5 bucks, with impressive antlers, standing together, having a summit meeting of some kind I suppose. I have never seen anything like it. We spent a comfortable (although warm) night, then set out cross country through steep and pretty terrain to Lion Lake, where we camped in the shadow of the Kaweahs.

On Saturday the 9th we hiked over Lion Pass, then traversed over rocky terrain to Glacier Lake, just below Triple Divide Pass. The views here, at the head of Cloud Canyon, are majestic. There isn’t much level ground at Glacier Lake, but we found just enough room for our bed rolls and spent a wonderful afternoon reading and gawking at the incredible scenery. This was a very short hike – we left Lion Lake at about 10:00 and were at Glacier Lake before noon.

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The weather so far had been nearly perfect. It was overcast and a bit humid on the 6th, perfectly clear on the 7th and 8th, with high cloud cover the morning of the 9th, followed by afternoon sun.

The next morning, Sunday the 10th, we set out to cross the divide and drop down into Upper Kaweah Basin. Not being privy to a guide book, we didn’t know what the pass just above Glacier Lake was called, but it looked awfully steep from where we stood. [This is Triple Divide Pass, the obvious route when looking at the topo map. We avoided it this trip, but have since been over it on many occasions.] So we decided to try a notch to the north of Glacier Lake. We again got a late start, breaking camp at about 10:00. We climbed around the corner of a ridge to a canyon where we expected to find a convenient col. We made our way up the canyon, only do find it led
nowhere – just more ridge. So we worked northward (along the ridge) and discovered another col, this one to the northeast of the Whaleback. This low point in the ridge was the one we thought we had seen on the map, but it looked difficult and we hesitated for quite a spell before finally deciding to make the attempt. The climb up turned out to be fairly easy until the last hundred feet or so, where we passed our packs up. But once we reached the top we discovered that there was no way down, so we worked our way southward on the ridge (again passing our packs much of the time) to a spot that was less steep, though it was far from a Sunday strut down. We could see a prominent ledge 50 feet below us and decided the best thing to do would be to lower our packs by nylon cord to the ledge, then to scramble down ourselves. We did this easily and were relieved to find it an easy jaunt down to where we had lowered our packs. We then walked down to the two lakes below us, ate lunch, and discovered we were facing yet another steep descent. There was only one way to get to the meadow below us: we had to follow the creek, climbing often in the creekbed itself. In several difficult places, we had to remove our packs and pass them down.

Here's a photo of the creek we scrambled down
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Glacier Lake from Triple Divide Pass
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Views from Triple Divide
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Finally, after leaving the steep part of the creek and finding our way to less steep terrain, we intercepted the Colby Pass trail, which we followed in extreme comfort, and in a light rain, to about two miles before Junction Meadow, where we camped for the night. Van discovered some wild (and delicious) onions, which we added to our dinners.

Monday morning we left camp at 10:00 or so (late again), walked down to the Junction Meadow junction, and then headed up to the Milestone trail, via the Kern River. Our hike was pleasant until we reached Tyndall Creek, where we intended to swim before the clouds obliterated the sun, but, alas, we were too late. We began hiking again as soon as the rain started, and made another three miles or so (just before the trail starts its steep ascent to Milestone); it was raining and sleeting heavily and we pulled our tube tents over our heads and must have sat reading for at least two hours before the rain ceased. Unfortunately, the sun never came out because it moved below a prominent ridge, so we were not able to dry ourselves out. But Van made a fire and we spent a peaceful evening cooking and smoking cigars around the fire. Our sleeping gear, and most of the rest of our belongings, never got wet, so we both had a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday morning (the 12th) we again left camp at around 10:00 (just a guess because we were without a timepiece), and hit the Milestone Trail at noon or a little before. We followed the meandering trail to the ridge that overlooks Tyndall Creek and Bighorn Plateau, then decided to cut out cross-country in the general direction of Forester Pass. First we ate lunch, then we hiked towards Forester, and in no time, it seemed, found a delightful place to camp on the hillside above the Muir Trail. The grassy bench we camped on had a gurgling creek chock full of trout, and Van was catching fish right and left (with his bare hands like Gollum!). That night we had a satisfying meal of Top Ramen and chicken soup fortified with chunks of trout meat and garnished with wild onions. This was a magical place -- impressive thunderclouds had been rolling by all afternoon, playing hide and seek with the sun, but by late afternoon the clouds began to dissipate and the stunning mountain scenery came into sharp focus under an incredibly bright sky. From our camp, we could see Forester Pass, the next day’s destination, brought into sharp relief by a dazzling array of light.

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The next morning, we were on top of the pass by 10:00, hoping to rendezvous with brother Dan and friend Mike, who had set out from Cedar Grove a few days before. We enjoyed the view for several delightful hours, talking to a steady stream of fellow hikers. An hour or so after we arrived on the pass, we watched as two fetching young female hikers made their way to the pass from the north. They greeted us, dropped their packs, then took off all their clothes as Van and I watched with rapt attention. Soon their younger brother appeared too but he kept his clothes on. Ever the horndog, :D I leaped to attention and walked over to talk to the unclad girls -- tongue hanging and eyes bulging, no doubt –- then sat down with them to study our topo maps, trying hard not to stare at their delectably tan and lovely bodies. I showed them where we expected to camp that night (at Tyndall Creek) and we made plans to hook up. They were on the home stretch of their Muir Trail hike, only a few days from Whitney Portal. Removing their clothes on the top of each pass was part of their ritual. Sadly, the clothes eventually came back on and Van and I watched the girls and their brother continue south down the trail. We resumed our wait for brother Dan.

I had a snack. Oops, I dropped an orange M&M Peanut. Oops there's another. Van is watching me like a starving puppy.

"Hey Van."

"What?"

"I dropped an M&M. You want it?"

He's there in a nanosecond.

"Oh," I point on the ground, "There's a couple nuts there too if you want them."

He grabs them in a flash, then picks up a raisin I hadn't seen and stuffs it in his mouth.

He watches me intently as I continue to eat (and drop choice morsels), pouncing on his treats whenever there's an accidental spillage.

By 1:00 we were losing patience, and decided to wait only another hour for Dan, and then go north if he didn’t show up. I found a perch a little above the pass and read Native Son, occasionally glancing up to see if there was any sign of Dan – and sure enough, around 1:20, we spotted his distinctive gait, and in no time he was on top of the pass, sharing his M&M’s and "Limbus" (a combination of equal parts honey and peanut butter, mixed with milk and anything else you feel like throwing in). Dan had driven to Cedar Grove with his friend Mike on Monday. Mike was having a hard time and did not reach the pass until 2:30 or 3:00, but in time we all marched down Forester (south, the way Van and I had come) to Tyndall Creek, where we planned to take a layover day, before heading for Milestone Basin.

When we told them about the nude hikers, they didn’t believe us.

We had a great time that night, happy to have met as planned. Unfortunately, the two women (and younger brother) we had met on Forester Pass were nowhere to be found. Dan and Mike were generous in sharing their abundant munchies with Van.

We laid over the next day (Thursday, August 14th), sleeping in and pigging out on some awful pancake mix another hiker had given us. At about noon, I went up the hill and finished Native Son. I came back to camp about 2:30 with the intention of washing my clothes, but I was sidetracked when I discovered everyone sitting around obsessing about food. So I fled to my pack and ate my second and last Halvah bar, and then broke down and ate several pieces of salami. The boys were torturing me with their constant talk of food. Finally I dragged myself away and washed my t-shirts and underpants. As I was hanging my clothes to dry, a cute young hiker walked into camp, and for a brief moment I failed to recognize that it was A. I stood dumbfounded and blurted, “What are you doing here?!” Then I took her into my arms. What a delight! A. had picked her mother up at Florence Lake on the 12th, then rushed to Cedar Grove and started a forced march up to Forester Pass, knowing we were to rendezvous with Dan there on the 13th (that was our only concrete plan the entire trip). By the time she reached the pass, we had already left. Tired after her strenuous hike, she spent the night just below Forester Pass, then took off down the trail the next morning, hoping to intercept us. She hiked all the way up to Shepherd Pass, but there was no sign of us. Discouraged and sure she had missed us, she backtracked and decided to head for Junction Meadow via the Tyndall Creek Trail. And there I was, hanging my laundry!

We had a big old party, everybody pigging out. Late the next morning, A. and I left the others (I would rendezvous with them near the Roaring River ranger station) and hiked into picturesque Milestone Basin. Rain threatened, with big billowing clouds and a stiff and cold breeze, but we got no precipitation. In the morning, we woke up with frost all over our bags.

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On Saturday, we hiked over Milestone Pass to a lovely campsite beside the upper Kern-Kaweah River, near the little creek Van and I had plunged down only a few days before. We were very lazy in our hiking, lying around for 30 minutes at the top of the pass, then spending an hour in the sun just below the pass, beside a snowfield which provided the ingredients for our grape snow cones, and then spending another hour eating lunch just above the Colby Trail. The day was pleasant but cold. While A. was out scouting around, I watched the threatening clouds, which promised snow if it came to precipitation.

Pants Pass was our next destination. A. had been over the true pass the year before and knew the way. I was afraid it would be much harder than it actually was (there is a lot of discussion about the correct route; route finding makes all the difference). We left camp at about 9:00 and were at the foot of the steep chute leading to the top of the pass within an hour. The chute is very steep at the top; we opted to climb on the firm rock to the right of the chute as we neared the top. Once on top of the pass, we pulled down our pants, in genuine tribute to the delightful view which the pass afforded of Nine Lakes Basin and the surrounding area. (My view was better than hers!) We snacked briefly on the top, then plunged down a steep scree-filled chute and eventually to a little creek which runs from one small lake to a bigger one. Here we ate lunch and enjoyed snowcones. Finally, we said our goodbyes. To match the mood, a thick layer of low and mysterious clouds was billowing up through Kaweah Gap, where A. was headed, and over Lion Ridge, where I was headed.

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Then I chugged on up the ridge and at the top was confronted with a thick cloud layer that prevented me from seeing more than 100 yards in front of me. I could only guess where I was, but assumed Tamarack Lake was just below me. After a long and tedious, but eerily beautiful, hike down the wall of the ridge, I finally arrived at Tamarack Lake, then went ahead a couple more miles to a fine campsite just before the junction to Elizabeth Pass.

Monday morning (the 18th) I woke up fairly early and was out of camp by 9:00. The hike up Elizabeth Pass was fairly hard; the trail rises steadily for 3 1/2 miles and gains about 3,500 feet. My knees were sore from the long climb down the day before, so the hike was harder for me than I thought it would be.

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Once on the top of Elizabeth, I signed the trail register and ate a small lunch. The weather looked foreboding; the wind blew steadily and a thick layer of clouds covered the western horizon. It looked to me like a major weather front, so I convinced myself not to visit the mine, which is about a mile away from the Elizabeth Pass. Shortly thereafter I ran into a group of four guys who were headed for the mine, and this convinced me further not to go there. Instead I walked the eleven miles down Deadman Canyon to the Roaring River Ranger Station, where I planned to layover on Tuesday, resting my feet and waiting for Dan, Mike, and Van.

I came across the famous grave that gives the canyon its name. Burned into the wooden marker is the inscription:

┼ H e r e R e p o s e s ┼
Alfred Moniere
Sheepherder,
Mountain Man
18 1887

I got into camp around 4:00, ate dinner, and scouted around a bit, then smoked a cigar. Just as I was getting ready to bed down for the night, it started raining, so I quickly put up the tube tent and settled in for the night. It rained all night long, but I was dry and comfortable.

It was still cloudy when I woke up in the morning, and although the clouds persisted all day long, it did not rain. I loafed around camp, posted a note on the trail sign directing Dan, Mike, and Van to my campsite, and read my book. A Berkeley couple showed up around noon and we sat down to a spirited game of hearts. Then Dan, Van, and Mike came bounding into camp and, as usual, the talk was all about food. (I was very, very low on food at this point.) We decided that we would hike out the next day, spend the night in Cedar Grove, then head to the Okie Frijole (all you can eat!) in Visalia, where we could pig out royally. That night, we combined our resources and ate an impossibly large dinner.

On Wednesday (the 20th), fueled by our feast the night before, we rocketed down to Cedar Grove and civilization. Aside from the pig-out at Okie Frijole, what I remember the most about the drive home was Mike’s refusal to push his little Fiat sedan beyond 55 mph. That drive seemed to take forever!
Last edited by Mike M. on Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Re: August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby mokelumnekid » Fri Jan 22, 2010 12:38 am

Another winner! You guys were simply so care-free, that's what really capures a certain 'time of life' aspect for me. Those were the days (as long as one didn't get drafted...my lottery number was 277).
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Re: August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby hikerduane » Sat Jan 23, 2010 12:29 am

Yep, carefree. Thank you for your report.
Piece of cake.
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Re: August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby Mike M. » Sat Jan 23, 2010 12:48 am

I had the whole summer to burn and there wasn't anywhere else in the world I would rather have been. Those were the days!

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Re: August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby maverick » Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:20 am

Those were the days, no care, and no bear canisters!
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Re: August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby copeg » Sat Jan 23, 2010 1:30 pm

Another nice report! Thanks for sharing :thumbsup:
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Re: August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby vandman » Fri Sep 30, 2011 11:39 am

makes me hungry just thinking about it!
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Re: August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby cgundersen » Sun Oct 02, 2011 1:26 pm

Great report and a reminder that the mountains have not changed as dramatically as I have. But, I must say, since the '70s there tends to be a lot less permanent snow; some lakes have dried up; pika are much rarer (at least, I don't see them as often); and now there are ravens/crows in the Sierra while I never remember them from "ages" ago.
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Re: August 1975 -- Great Western Divide

Postby Cross Country » Sun Oct 02, 2011 7:41 pm

You were at a lot of my favorite places. The upper Kern is my favorite area (in retrospect) and I was there only 3 times (albeit 3 long trips).
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