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Kaweah Basin questions

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Kaweah Basin questions

Postby LMBSGV » Sun Feb 21, 2010 3:31 pm

This summer I’m fulfilling another “dream trip” and going to Kaweah Basin. I’ll either be going the end of July/early August or late August/early September. (I have work deadlines that dictate trip dates.) Since I want as much time in the basin as possible and I have 7 nights, I’ve opted for the quick and relatively easy route of the High Sierra Trail then Pyra-Queen Col. I figure that will give me at least 4 days and nights in the basin. I rejected Shepherd Pass since I don’t want to do that climb. Kaweah Pass and Pants Pass seem like they would be more difficult and longer than Pyra-Queen. Doing a route because it’s more gnarly, doesn’t interest me. It’s getting to a magnificent place where I find solitude, can photograph, and feel that intangible, spiritual transcendence of the Sierra. I considered Colby Pass, but I’ve already done the hike up Cloud Canyon and over the pass plus the approach and depart miles are longer. On the High Sierra Trail, I’ve only been as far west as Precipice Lake so a lot of it will be new even if it’s overused and crowded.

I know how valuable the input is one receives from all of you, so I figured before the March 1 permit date window opens at SEKI, I’d ask a few questions. Since I’ll be driving up from the Bay Area the first day, I probably won’t hit the trail until past noon or later. Bearpaw Meadow is the usual first day stop, but it sounds like an overcrowded horror to me. I was thinking of camping at 9 Mile Creek. Any other suggestions for the first night?

The second night I was figuring on Lake 11682 or one of the others below Pyra-Queen (unless I actually make better then expected time and can get over the col that day, but I don’t think that’s realistic for me). Is it best to follow the creek to climb from the heart-shaped lake in Nine Lakes Basin up to 11682? Any suggestions for camping in that area? How bad is the snowfield above Lake 11682? I’m assuming this year, especially in late July, snow will be pretty heavy. Is one approach to the notch of the col better or does the terrain essentially dictate the approach?

Then there’s the basin itself — ah paradise! With 4 days, I’ll be able to both really explore and take it all in. The Picket Creek lake is a definite for one night. One of the lakes in the upper part of the basin below the col is probably where I’ll stay the fourth night so I can linger in the morning and still make it to Hamilton Lakes for the final night. I was thinking of two nights with day hiking for the other two days. If you were going to do a layover day, where would you camp?

Thanks for any and all your insight and ideas. I know weather and other unforeseen circumstances will lead to the usual wonderful improvisations that help make a trip memorable, but I’ve learned the more I learn before going, the better I’m able to appreciate the day-to-day surprises.



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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Feb 21, 2010 4:45 pm

You'll probably want to look over some of the other threads on this forum relative to crossing the Kaweahs. There have been several of them that discussed various ways into the Kaweah Basin proper. There seem to be a range of opinions: some favor the Pyra-Queen col, some favor Pants Pass as the optimal ways across. I wish I could offer a comparison of all three, but I've only done Pants Pass and Kaweah Pass. I can certainly say that I will NEVER do Kaweah Pass again. It had some of the most scary loose, large, steep talus I have seen in 43 years of hiking in the Sierra. It was so bad that even cruddy Kaweah-style class 3 (I hate that stuff) was better than the frightening class 2 talus that marks the climax of the Kaweah Basin side of this pass (pass is all class 2 if best route is followed but that is some nasty class 2). Pants Pass I'd do again, were it not for the fact that there simply isn't much fishing to be found on the east side of it (I do tend to be rather fishing focused). The top of the east side of Pants Pass is a very steep scree chute and both that section and the top of the west side (all class 2) need to be associated with group strategy (one-at-at-time moves between cover) to avoid putting others of your party at risk of rocks dislodged by others, but I have taken a full pack over a number of hairier passes in my day (including Kaweah Pass), so I don't see Pants Pass as being a bad choice. So as long as fishing isn't a priority, there are a number of exotic spots on the east side of the Kaweahs and there is really an abundance of good campsites. It isn't like Ionian Basin where a square centimeter of flat ground is difficult to come by. Kaweah Basin proper, Picket Creek, the lakes below Pants Pass, the lake north of Picket Guard, and (to me), above all, Red Spur Lakes are as remote and exotic as it gets in the High Sierra.

Best wishes for a great trip.
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: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby LMBSGV » Sun Feb 21, 2010 5:10 pm

Thanks giantbrookie. You confirmed my research on Kaweah Pass. I was hoping to dayhike to Red Spur Lakes.
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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby copeg » Sun Feb 21, 2010 6:07 pm

As giantbrookie mentioned, a search will pull up much information from many of us that have visited this area. Red Spur Lakes is a definite recommendation, as is the lowest of the lakes along Picket Creek. If you have the time I'd recommend trying to spend a night in either of these adjacent locations. I've only explored the bases of many of the passes and not actually summited them (I went over Colby), so can't provide too much help, but in my time in the basin proper heard at least half a dozen rock slides coming from Kaweah Pass area (pyra-queen seems the best bet for fastest entry). If you fish, Kaweah Basin and Red Spur basin are fishless, however Picket Creek has some hungry ones (hungry enough to jump several feet out of the water to try and bite a lure hanging there).
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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby trav867 » Mon Feb 22, 2010 12:07 pm

Hey sounds like its going to be a great trip. Regarding camping on the first day, the options are kind of limited between Wolverton/Lodgepole and Bearpaw Meadow. I camped once near the bottom of seven mile hill just north of the High Sierra trail. It was very makeshift. Your best bet is probably just see how far you get and make camp where you can.
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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby maverick » Mon Feb 22, 2010 12:24 pm

Follow the the chain of lakes from the heart shaped lake to Lake 11,682.
The route up from 9 Lakes to Lake 11682 is a rocky class 2.
There is a notch that you will see from the northern shore on the the ridge of
Kaweah Queen, this is your Col.
I climbed around the snow that was present at the time.
The route is rocky with some scree, loose rock in portions of the chute, and the descent
into KB is very rocky.
This is still better than Kaweah Pass, which is dangerously loose rock, and not for the
inexperienced backpacker.
I liked Pants Pass, which to me was fun, especially the eastern sides scree which made
for some fun scree skiing.
From the west PQ Col is the easiest, Pants the second, and KP the third, and least desirable.
9 Mile Creek is good especially if BM is crowded, and the creek is near by plus you have
a bear box.
The heart shaped lake has some good campsites and probably a good place for your
second night.
Get an early start for PQ Col and you can make it down to lower KB where the lake
with an island in it makes for some great camping.
Then go up the shoulder to about the 11000 ft level and go over and into Red Spur Basin
to the second large lake which has a great campsite and views from above the lake.
Next night go back down towards the lake from the following day and you will see a
dip in the ridge which is the obvious crossing to get to Picket Lake for your next campsite.
Come back the same way and head up to the upper part of KB for you last night.
I personally would rather go over Pants and down the Picket drainage to Picket Lake
for the first night.
Then hop the ridge and go to Red Spur Basin for the next night, and the next in lower KB
(lake with island in it) and the last night in upper KB, and then out PQ Col.
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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby LMBSGV » Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:14 pm

Thanks Greg, trav and Maverick. Your itinerary Maverick is pretty close to what I'd planned. I just like layover days, but Red Spur seems it requires more than just a dayhike to appreciate. Looking at previous posts, sunrise and sunset look too good to pass up photographically. I still want to get closer to Pyra-Queen the second night if possible, but the heart-shaped lake is a good alternative (I camped at the lake 10,725 above it a few years ago).
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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby Mike M. » Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:47 pm

You might also consider hiking into the Kaweah Basin from Triple Divide Pass via Lodgepole, Pear Lake, The Tablelands, Big Bird Lake, and a traverse to Glacier Lake just below Triple Divide Pass. This route is at least as fast as the trailed route you are considering into Nine Lakes Basin and from Pear Lake on you will see very few people, if any. Plus, the views are spectacular and entering from this direction sets you up for a loop where you won't have to retrace your steps on the way out.

Once on the Kaweah Basin side of Triple Divide Pass, I would drop down below Gallats Lake on Day 4 and then climb up to Picket Guard Lake, which I would use as a base camp the next two days as I explored the area. That would give you two days to dayhike in the basin, then two additional days to get over either Pants Pass or Pyra Queen and out to the trailhead (a long push for two days, but doable).

It is easier to go up Pants Pass from the upper Kern-Kaweah Basin than go down; the scree slope leading down to Nine Lakes Basin from Pants Pass is easy to go down, probably not much fun going up (I have only been down, not up).

No matter which way you go in, it'll take you three hiking days to get into Kaweah Basin unless you are up to two monster days right out of the car. Too bad you can't stretch your trip to 8 nights.

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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 22, 2010 9:19 pm

I have camped on Buck Creek- there is a bear box there.

The talus around the lake west of Pyra Queen Col is full of talus - it is passable but will slow you down. The pass actually may be easier with snow than without. The top 200 feet is very loose sand and scree. I went down it and thought it would be a chore to go up. Once over the pass you turn left and traverse into the main drainage. Get out of that drainage to the left as soon as you can. This avoids a lot of talus.

Pants Pass northeast side can be avoided if you just traverse over the ridge to the right (when going from 9 Lakes Basin to Kern-Keweah. You then come to a less steep slope of talus that is actually pretty stable.

I used a pass on the shoulder of Picket Guard to get to Keweah Basin. I do not remember the name of it. You can actually traverse from Pants Pass without going all the way down to Galletts Lake - you traverse to the round lake that is directly under "Picket Guard" pass. It is really a quite easy pass on nice stable ramps and ledges. There is talus on the Picket Guard side. Once over you then have to traverse past Picket Guard drainage into the main drainage to Keweah Basin. In the upper Keweah Basin there are many small water bodies that are not shown on the map. I would not worry about where to camp. I just set up on a nice smooth flat rock! I found it difficult to get a good photo. It seemed like I was always shooting into the sun. I also went late September and it was so dry that many of the lakes were gone and it was not green. If I were to go again I would go earlier in the season, although some stream crossings may be more difficult.
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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby giantbrookie » Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:09 pm

npallister wrote:I have camped on Buck Creek- there is a bear box there.

I used a pass on the shoulder of Picket Guard to get to Keweah Basin. I do not remember the name of it. .

I had intentionally kept mum on Buck Cyn/Creek because that's my favorite stopping spot on the HS trail if not going all the way to Hamilton (actually never camped on way in, but camped there twice on way out), but since the cat is out of the bag, I highly recommend it. There are two campsites and they are sort of hidden from view so folks may overlook it. The creek is a wonderful place to cool your feet. There should even be some fish in it, although I actually didn't look too hard (too busy cooling off my feet).

On another note: although I try to avoid trails for most of my trips, I must say that the High Sierra trail between Bearpaw and Precipice Lake is my favorite section of anyh trail. There are places where the trail is really built into a cliff with abundant air on one side. When you combine this highly scenic trail prelude section with the wild and remote trailless country that follow beyond the Kaweahs, it makes for a wonderful trip.
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: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby LMBSGV » Tue Feb 23, 2010 1:56 pm

Once again, thanks for all your replies. My wife kids me when she sees me looking at pictures, Google Earth, and reading the descriptions that since I already know so much I don’t need to go there. I considered the Tablelands route and decided I want to do that as a separate trip. I want to be able to really linger instead of rushing (relatively speaking) through. I really appreciate the Buck Creek heads up for the first night. I noticed the bear box on the SEKI listings, but they also suggest 9 Mile Creek for a first night so I was leaning towards that until now. When I camped at Precipice Lake in 2004, the view down to Hamilton Lakes enthralled me and I vowed to hike it one day so I’m looking forward to that section with a lot of anticipation. It’s good to know about the talus around Lake 11682. I had an intuitive suspicion that might be the case, which is why I want to get to near that point the second day. I hike rather slowly these days through talus. Turning left from Pyra-Queen is the way I saw it from photos, but when I get to places, I have an annoying tendency to try and go more directly. Now I know I should maintain my patience and take it easy instead of hurrying my way down.
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Re: Kaweah Basin questions

Postby maverick » Tue Feb 23, 2010 2:58 pm

The view towards the Kaweah ridge from Kaweah Gap can be very impressive at sunset
especially if your lucky enough to get clouds coming up the Big Arroyo.
I have been looking at the area between the Lippincott Mtn, and Mt Eisen area
which is about centered, and across from Kaweah ridge.
With the right conditions it would make for a gorgeous panorama, but getting
thunderstorms to partially clear an hour before sunset, clouds to fill the Big Arroyo, all
turning blood red, at the same time is a very rare thing, even rarer would be there
witnessing it, but I can dream.
I have been at the Gap when the clouds had filled the Big Arroyo, and Nine Lakes Basin.
The clouds would part for 2-3 seconds giving a great view of the Kaweahs, and then
disappearing again, this would go on for several min's, it was quite a surreal site.
I was without a camera which was vexing to say the least, but at least I could see
the cloud element to my photo was possible.
I have also witnessed the entire range turn red, and crimson after thunderstorms at
sunset, so I have seen the other elements of the vision at different times just not together
at the same time.
Getting a good shot of the eastern side of the Kaweah Ridge is just as tricky since you
will need several condition to exist at the same time to make it an extraordinary photo
but this is the case for most photos.
My ideal case would be a clearing storm again, but this time the emphasis is on the the
cloud colors, and just allowing the ridge to be a dark silhouette, or the same clouds but
sunrise colors lighting up the range from the east, and using the small lakes near
the base of the range for reflections of the colors.
I wish I could get the sunrise I got at Lake Ediza last year, while in KB, but this was
one of those sunrises that was a show stopper, and does not happen very often.
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