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TR: Granny does Ropers High Route: Days 1-5

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TR: Granny does Ropers High Route: Days 1-5

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 09, 2010 12:59 pm

Roper’s High Route is a challenging mostly off-trail route (approximately 200 miles) that stays close to the crest of the Sierra. At least one if not two difficult passes are crossed every day. I had done a great share of the route in bits and pieces over the years and have always wanted to “through-hike” it. Although I did not hike the route contiguously, south-to-north as suggested by Roper, I hiked the route continuously with one “zero day”. To reduce driving miles, I hiked the route out of sequence – 1) Twin Lakes south to Devils Postpile; 2) North Lake north to Devils Postpile; and 3) Roads End near Cedar Grove, Kings Canyon north back to my car at North Lake. I added two side trips that are not part of the High Route and substituted alternatives for two passes which I had done before and did not feel comfortable doing solo.

The route has been through-hiked in as little as 12 days; most take about 25-30 days. Senior Citizens and Grandmothers are allowed to take over 30 days! My husband joined me for the middle section and we really slowed things down so he could fish every day. By the daily mileage you choose, you can make this route about as tough as you want. The route was perhaps fairly easy for me because of the slow pace and 45 years of mountaineering experience. Several skills served me well – extensive off-trail route-finding experience, previous living in the wilderness for months at a time and good rock-hopping ability. In my youth we had contests to see who could run the fastest through boulder fields!

I also planned my daily travel in detail and mostly stuck to this schedule, which helped me to continue when unmotivated and stop to camp when my competitive nature urged me to unwisely push on. As an “over 60” backpacker you need more recovery time, hence, I planned days to quit hiking by 3PM. I was a bit pessimistic on estimating travel time uphill; when acclimated, even old farts can go uphill like crazy! I was a bit optimistic on travel time downhill; old knees have a way of slowing you down. And nothing helps like a lighter pack! I did no extra “getting in shape” prior to the trip however I am active and maintain my weight and conditioning year-round. I lost 6 pounds during the trip and generally had about 1 pound of food leftover at each rationing, except the trip with my husband where we had unexpected luck fishing and he got on a weight-loss kick only eating half his trail food. We had about 3 pounds leftover food.

This is a long trip report, so it is broken into segments.

Granny does Roper’s High Route 2010
Days 1-5 (north-to-south)
Twin Lakes to Rafferty Creek

Day 1: August 3 (3.7 miles, 3.75 hours, +2500 feet). The deciding factor for starting at Twin Lakes was a 4-day food supply (thus a light pack for the start). I left Sacramento 6:20 reaching Tioga Pass at 11:45 after stashing a dry-iced cooler of rations in the bear boxes. I reached Bridgeport Ranger Station at noon and procured a permit and then drove to Twin Lakes (elevation 7,032), paid for 2 weeks of parking and had lunch at the café, leaving the trailhead at 2PM. Not a quarter mile down the trail and I realized I forgot to put my permit in my pocket! Oh, those “senior moments”. Back to the car I went and grabbed the permit. Although hot, a nice breezed cooled the air and kept the mosquitoes down as I climbed the steep trail. I did not have to put on the head-net until 4:00. My pack seemed heavy, although it really was not. Maybe I am too old to do this! Continuing up Horse Creek, what used to be a faint use-trail is now nearly as well worn as the maintained trail. At the end of the first flat soggy meadow at 8,200 feet, there are many ways to go up the talus cone to the next level. The stream flows far under the rock, eerily babbling although cannot be accessed. Just knowing you cannot get the water makes you thirsty! The spectacular Sawtooth Ridge was partially hidden from view. This hill was hard for me as I was getting a twinge of altitude sickness. Sea level to 9,400 feet in 12 hours shocked my system. I found a nice campsite nestled in trees. I immediately broke a tent stake – glad I had packed an extra with my supplies at Tuolumne Meadows! Mosquitoes were bothersome, but I ate some trail snacks and retreated inside the tent. I ached. It was definitely a 2-Advil night. Although exhausted, I was happy to have traveled a mile further than planned so that my ambitious next day would be easier. Other than a few day-hikers going down the trail near Twin Lakes, I saw no other person.

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Horse Creek Camp Day 1

Day 2: August 4 (5.8 miles, 8.5 hours, +2750 feet). The off-and-on “use-trail” continued to the pass at the head of Horse Creek. I was on the trail at 7:15 reaching the pass a bit too early! The permanent snowfield was still in the shadows. I debated trying to go around on rocky ledges to the south, but nixed that idea and just waited a while. The snow was still frozen in a few places where I had to scramble over talus blocks.
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I reached the pass at 9:30. The head of Spiller Creek was green, alpine and delightful! A stiff breeze kept pesky mosquitoes hidden in the grass. Stanton Pass looked miserable and I feared hidden lingering snow on its Class-3 ledges. I decided to instead head for Spiller Lake in hopes of being able to get around the ridge to the south in order to reach Soldier Lake. It was easy traversing upward to Spiller Lake which was bleaker than I had expected.

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Spiller Lake

I had though of camping here, but it was just a little after noon so headed up the steep slope south of the lake, following distinct deer tracks. I always figure if I see deer tracks and droppings, I can do the route too! At the top of the ridge, I decided to see if I could traverse north over the top to intersect a less steep slope descending to Soldier Lake. Big mistake! I had to retreat and not having the patience to retreat far enough south, I ended up on horrible steep talus and scree, just creeping along, not reaching Soldier Lake until nearly 4:00. I had hoped to camp at a scenic spot at the outlet that I previously used but realized that my tent would not fit on the small patch of flat ground that I had previously used with a bivy sack. So I went back to a less scenic but larger campsite short of the outlet. I jumped in the cold lake and rinsed my hiking shirt. The wind both dried my clothes quickly and kept mosquitoes down. Shadows hit at 6:30 driving me into the tent by 7PM. Wish I had a book! Today my route-finding abilities hit neutral- found a cleaver route up the ridge, and then missed the obvious route down. So much of the High Route would continue to be mostly a route-finding puzzle. I saw no other person this day.

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Soldier Lake

Day 3: August 5 (5.6 miles, 8.25 hours, +2550 feet). Last night was slightly colder and the tent was wet with dew in the morning. I got up at 5:30 AM and left at 6:50. After pleasant slab walking, the final part of the 1,500-foot descent into Virginia Canyon was miserable, steep and buggy. I never did cross a trail that was supposed to be there according to the map. In a thick forest, I simply started uphill towards Shepherd Lake, choosing the north side of the creek. Soon I was wallowing in lush Lupine! I have never seen so many flowers. The entire hillside north of me was thickly covered with purple-blue Lupine. Shepherd Lake was gorgeous! I had been to this lake years back earlier in the season when it was covered with snow not realizing how green and lush the area could be. I regret not camping here.

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Shepherd Lake

From the lake to Sky Pilot Col was unique and difficult, a combination of talus and huge corniced snow patches. I went too far up one snowfield, only to cliff-out and had to descend and try again. The last 200 feet of steep talus was challenging. On the top at 12:45, there really was this sorry looking Sky Pilot gripping for dear life to the rocky saddle and a horribly steep descent on hard-as-rock dirt. This was a very scary pass- a fall would end in serious injury. I precariously inched downward gripped with fear until I reached the more mild slopes lower down. I must say this probably was my most hated pass on the entire route. Once down, there still is nearly a mile of talus and another steep slope before intersecting a use-trail that goes to Cascade Lake. I ran into a Ptarmigan mother hen and her chick at Secret Lake. All of a sudden, you are in a high-use area accessed from Saddlebag Lakes with tons of people.

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Use-Trail from Secret Lake to Cascade Lake

After hunting for nearly an hour I found a secluded little campsite near small ponds south of the lake and took a quick dip before mosquitoes could eat me. Thankfully a breeze picked up about dinner time so I could eat outside. Still not sleeping well, I am glad to dive into my sleeping bag at 7:00.

Day 4: August 6 (5.5 miles, 8.25 hours, +2400 feet). I awoke at dawn after a night of aches, pains and clogged sinuses feeling every year of my age. Leaving with a roaring headache before 7:00, I aimed too low and had to nearly return to camp to cross the ridge higher to reach the beautiful Conness Lakes where fish were jumping.

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Conness Lakes

I popped some Advil and allergy pills started up rock slabs to cross the northeast shoulder of Mt. Conness. This time I hit the route “right on” reaching this pass at 9:00! The bench with ponds to the south was very green and lush.

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Lush bench on shoulder of Mt. Conness

I spooked a coyote as I descended, again finding a very good route the unnamed lake below. Then luck ran out- I went too high and made the easy task of getting to Green Treble Lake a lot more difficult than it is. At 11:00 I stopped at the small pass north of Spuller Lake, more tired than usual due to lack of sleep. Roper’s route description to the “Great Sierra Mine” and the terrain in front of me hardly matched, so I simply headed up what to me was a logical route, passing surprising little green pockets and lingering snow patches among the jumble of sharp dark broken rocks. I never did find Great Sierra Mine, instead topping out on a saddle above Granite Lakes. There was a slimy pond for water and sufficient flat ground, but the saddle was not very appealing and supposedly on private land, swarming with mosquitoes. So I descended to Granite Lakes. Now, too tired and sore to continue to Tuolumne Meadows, I hid in the bushes at a campsite not sanctioned by Yosemite National Park. Nobody was in the area at all. I did not set up my tent until dark, suffering the mosquitoes and feeling like a bank robber waiting until quitting time. Due to the Hetch-Hetchy fire, many small planes flew over and I imagined they all were looking for me and a dozen rangers would be outside my tent at dawn to take me to the Yosemite Valley jail! Aside from this snafu at the end of the day, travel was delightful through very alpine country of green, wildflowers, tons of little waterfalls and beautiful little lake not shown on the map.

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Lower Granite Lake

Day 5: August 7 (9.1 miles, 5 hours plus 3 hours down time at Tuolumne, +700 feet). Up at dawn again, I left before 7:00, ran into a huge deer in a meadow and reached the Tioga Pass road by 8:45, waded through the creek and arrived at the backpacking kiosk and parking lot at 9:45. I found my food and re-loaded the bear canister. The food was in good shape but now my pack was heavy again- ugh! I then took the shuttle bus to the post office and store to mail postcards to family. I called my husband to let him know I was OK (later to find out that little pay-phone call cost $20!) After a hamburger and ice cream cone at the Grill and chatting with another High Route hiker who was going north, I again hopped on the bus to Tuolumne Lodge where I took a shower. From here you just step onto the JMT! By 2:30 PM thunderclouds were building. Rain hit at 3PM and I had to quickly hide and set up camp half a mile shy of the required distance to be legal. Another illegal night! This was the first real rain for my Tarp-tent Moment. I only had one small leak where I missed seam sealing. After the big lunch, I simply had soup for dinner. The rain continued. Three yellow bellied ferret-like animals played around my tent. What a difference a trial makes! Today I easily went 9 miles in 5 hours whereas my typical off-trail days were 5 miles in 9 hours. I was thankful to re-supply and get a shower, but it really destroyed the wilderness feeling.



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Wandering Daisy
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Re: TR: Granny does Ropers High Route: Days 1-5

Postby maverick » Thu Sep 09, 2010 1:22 pm

Great TR and pictures, and looking forward to the next installment.
Though I'm wondering how you carried 2 bear canisters, one for food, and another
for the Advil.
Any pic's of the Lupine?
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Re: TR: Granny does Ropers High Route: Days 1-5

Postby Mike M. » Thu Sep 09, 2010 5:56 pm

Terrific trail report. I really enjoyed it!

Mike
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Re: TR: Granny does Ropers High Route: Days 1-5

Postby windknot » Thu Sep 09, 2010 7:03 pm

Wonderful report, I too am looking forward to the next part!

Matt
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Granny does Ropers High Route: Days 1-5

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:09 pm

bringing this forward.
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Re: TR: Granny does Ropers High Route: Days 1-5

Postby OzSwaggie » Sat Apr 07, 2012 3:30 am

lovely and inspiring, love the photos too!
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