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Trip Report: Sequoia - Early Season 2006 (late snow year)

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Trip Report: Sequoia - Early Season 2006 (late snow year)

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu May 27, 2010 11:30 am

Early Season Sequoia-Kings Canyon Trip
July 5-12, 2006 (high snow year)

This trip report may give you an idea of what this year’s delayed summer may be like. As long as you can walk on snow, the delayed melt should not keep you from the mountains. My only regret on this trip is that I should have taken an ice axe.

Route: Wolverton-Pear Lake-Tablelands-Deadman Canyon-Glacier Ridge-Tamarack Lake-Lion Lake-Buck Creek-Panther Gap-Wolverton. 50 miles, 8 days, 63% off-trail.

Day 1. After camping at the Lodgepole campground the night before, I left Wolverton 10AM and reached Pear Lake at 3PM. (6 mile, +2,400 ft). The Watchtower (Photo 1) provided a late-lunch view. Soon snow patches dotted the trail and several groups of day-hikers were retreating. As I reached Pear Lake (Photo2), I crossed the outlet on logs and set up. I spotted another tent across the lake.

[IMG]http://i249.photobucket.com/albums/gg233/npallister/Piute%20Creek_Yosemite/Tenaya%
20To%20Valley/02_TBL_Watchtower.jpg[/IMG]

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Day 2. I left at 8:20AM and scrambled up the short headwall into Table Meadows. I jumped from one soggy side of the creek to the other to find the best path. After 3.5 miles I reached the head of the drainage and things got confusing. Although generally headed the correct direction, I never exactly knew where I was. The deep snow often hid voids in the talus below, requiring careful foot placement. Once I climbed over the ridge and dropped to traverse the upper reaches of Buck Creek, the snow was less of a problem and I knew where I was. Over the next ridge a stunning view of the north side of Valhalla opened. (photo 3) I dropped on more snow and traversed to Lonely Lake, where unfortunately, Peak 11,760 blocked the view. I headed up to the ridge that dropped into Big Bird Lake. I filled up my 2.5-liter platypus at the last water, quickly took a bath and climbed up onto the ridge guided only by faith that I would find a campsite with a better view. And did I find a site- what a great view to Big Bird Lake. (photo 4) The 6 tricky miles consumed 8 hours of my day. High up on this ridge I was able to enjoy the last rays of the sun, although smoke was in the air from a fire.

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Day 3. Thankfully the smoke had cleared by morning. Waiting for the sun to hit the snow, I slowly headed towards Horn Pass, supposedly a Class 1 pass used by trans-Sierra skiers. (photo 5) The unknown of the status of the pass was unsettling. I was disappointed to find the south side icy snow between protruding rocks. With only trekking poles I used a sharp rock to cut steps. I sat at the top (photo 6) for a while thinking I would have to retreat when I spied a “chimney” between a rock wall and the cornice. I took off my pack and explored this slot. It would go! Luckily I had parachute cord so lowered my pack and then shimmied down the cold slot, landing on a sloping slab. A few more times I had to lower my pack over a cliff while I zigzag down ramps, finally reaching the huge snowfield below. The deep sun-cupped snow seemed to last an eternity before I reached the Elizabeth Pass trail where the creek, thankfully, was easy to cross. As I descend the trail, I looked back at the waterfall as it tumbled downward. (photo 7) The head of Deadman Canyon was covered with the remains of large avalanches. As I crossed the last snow and dropped into the large meadow, a thick swarm of mosquitoes attacked! I threw off my pack, put on gloves and jacket and head-net and ran down the meadow. The next hour was hell. Plans to descend to Ranger Meadow were scrapped and I found a windy site out on a large rock slab next to the stream as it cascaded down the slab. (photo 8) I quickly set up the tent and hopped in.
It was a short 4-mile day but enough “adventure” for one day!

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Day 4. I got up at 5AM to have a peaceful breakfast before the mosquitoes awoke. Today I would take a 6-mile hike to explore the lakes on Glacier Ridge. I left camp at 6AM and headed cross-country where the creek from Big Bird Lake joined the main stream in Deadman Canyon. I headed northeast up the steep slope through wildflowers, grass and small rocks, rounded the ridge and ascended another few hundred feet to five beautiful little lakes. (Photo 9) (Photo 10) I hiked around all the lakes but unfortunately, with weather deteriorating, did not have time to continue north to Josephine Lake. I dropped back down the steep slope looking up at Elizabeth Pass in the distance. (Photo 10) Back in camp I was able to get a quick bath just as rain started at 1:30PM. Then the sun cleared and I moved the tent to a shady spot. Big mistake-the tent was in a hollow. At 4PM the next storm came in. I soon realized my mistake -I re-stuffed my sleeping bag, clutched all my gear and floated in 4 inches of water! This certainly was a good test for the “bathtub” floor of the tent- it did not leak! At 7PM, I moved up to drier ground just in time for another big storm with lightning, thunder and downpours. To add insult to injury, my therm-a-rest sprung a leak.

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Day 5. Up again early, I had a but-free breakfast. At 7AM I headed back up, this time to Elizabeth Pass. After crossing the creek I again stepped onto the snow and steadily plodded up the slope utilizing the sun cups for footing. Kicking steps for 1,000 became tedious. Clouds began building at 9AM. The last few hundred feet were quite steep. I enjoyed lunch on top among the snow-free rocks. After descending about 1,200 feet on a good trail that was mostly free of snow, I left the trail and traversed back to a flat just below Lonely Lake. I had spotted this fine site on the second day and knew it would have fantastic view. I was not disappointed. (Photo 11). I just beat the rain by minutes. It soon cleared and I time to find a much better campsite in a small clump of trees with a view of the waterfalls from Lonely Lake on direction and beautiful “storm lighting” on Valhalla. I found an old tent stake, so I was not the first to enjoy this site. The original plan was to descend Deadman Canyon and then go up Cloud Canyon but weather and ferocious mosquitoes nixed that plan. Now as I patched the therm-a-rest with moleskin, I contemplated what to do next. Tomorrow is another day, so I put off the decision!

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Day 6. Up at 6:30, I bumbled around my shady campsite leaving at 8AM, directly descending the creek flowing from Lonely Lake, through amazing wildflowers, until I intersected the trail where it crossed. After many switchbacks the trail dropped into buggy Lone Pine Creek. In all I had dropped nearly 2,500 feet! I followed the trail up the creek, taking off shoes to wade many side streams. The trail became progressively faint and soggy as I neared Tamarack Lake hiking in a head-net. (photo 12) I circled the south shoreline and then scrambled up the rocky headwall above the lake, onto the next bench where I found a campsite at 1PM right on the edge with a fine view. I had again only come about 5 miles. It was early afternoon so I again wandered around, took a bath and washed clothes. I began the second reading of the book I brought! With bugs buzzing outside the tent door, I contemplated cooking dinner in the moonlight!

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Day 7. I awoke at 6AM and packed up. Before leaving I hiked up to Lion Lake. The route-finding was very tricky and a few bits of rock climbing were required as I ascended 1,500 feet south of the creek. Lion Lake was snow covered (photo 13). To the south was a view of Lone Pine Creek was breathtaking. (photo 14). After about an hour exploring Lion Lake, I returned, the descent being more difficult than the ascent over the more tricky steep rock sections. Back at camp at 11AM I returned down Lone Pine Creek. At the trail crossing, the creek was roaring. My attempted crossing failed and I had to retreat upstream half a mile to cross in a flat area, wading thorough mud and muck before I found a deep but more tranquil crossing. After a short bushwhack I intersected the trail to the bridge. This is an awesome bridge – the skeleton of the old washed out bridge hung far below like tangled pieces of an erector set. The High Sierra Trail now was snow-free and I quickly traversed to the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp. It was not yet open for the season; the bear boxes at the campground were covered with disgusting marmot poop. I was not going to stay here! Off I went, to Buck Creek where I set up my tent on the top of a huge flat rock nearly in the stream. Someone else had taken the campsite next to the bear box. I had traveled more than 10 miles, ascended 3,000 feet and descended over 5,000 feet! .There was time for a quick bath just before the sun went behind the ridge.

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Day 8. Although Wolverton is nearly the same elevation, 9 miles away, I had to go up 2,800 feet and down the same to get back! The trail was good. The walk was uneventful, unlike the last time I returned on this trail when I had a serious encounter with a mama bear and cub at a spot with no possibility of getting off the trail! (photo 15). I took the last rest-stop at Panther Pass before descending to the parking lot.

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Wandering Daisy
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Re: Trip Report: Sequoia - Early Season 2006 (late snow year)

Postby diesel » Thu May 27, 2010 7:08 pm

Amazing pictures! Thanks for the report.
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Re: Trip Report: Sequoia - Early Season 2006 (late snow year)

Postby miked » Fri May 28, 2010 1:18 pm

Did you use crampons on this trip?
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Re: Trip Report: Sequoia - Early Season 2006 (late snow year)

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri May 28, 2010 1:32 pm

No crampons. If I had crampons and ice axe, I probably could have directly descended the cornice on Horn Pass. Chopping a few steps with a rock on the SW side of the pass was less than ideal, but it worked. The snow was icy early AM but quickly warmed up so I did not need crampons on north side of Elizabeth Pass. There were deep sun-cups - really helped. I rarely take crampons - this usually just means I have to wait for the sun to soften the snow. I would not have done this without trekking poles (particularly needed these to cross Lone Pine Creek). I always take about 70 feet of parachute cord to lower my pack and I have used this many times!

PS I have done considerable technical snow climbing so am quite comfortable on steep snow. I would not suggest my methods for someone who has not been on snow a lot.
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Re: Trip Report: Sequoia - Early Season 2006 (late snow year)

Postby Mike M. » Fri May 28, 2010 4:13 pm

Nice report -- really beautiful country. Some day I want to visit the lakes on Glacier Ridge . . .

I like hiking in the early season, especially at high altitudes where the contrast between the snow, blue sky, and rock is so dramatic, but skeeters can be terrible, as you experienced. But it looks like you were prepared for them, with your head net.

Ditch the Therm-a-rest -- blue foam pads are fool proof!

Mike
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