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South Lake North Lake Loop TR

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South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby Silverfox » Thu Jul 14, 2011 4:24 pm

First Timer - TR July 8-13 Patchy snow from Long Lake to top of Bishop Lake, from there 100% snow coverage to top of pass, follow trail through the chute to the east, stay to the right, water running under snow on left, very steep ascent (microspikes and trekking poles extremely helpful). Into Dusy Basin 90% snow coverage down to 10,800, lower lake snow free (no mosquitos). On descent into Le Conte Canyon, 2nd water crossing is running fast and frothy, cannot see bottom, turn right through trees to boulder hop around hazard. Lots of trees down from earlier avalanche obstructing trail (go over around and under to base of canyon. Ascent from Le Conte Canyon up and over Muir Pass, 100% snow coverage from 10,800 over pass until the inlet to Evolution Lake. Warning going over Muir Pass, the lake at 10,800 from Le Conte Canyon trail crosses over to the right of the canyon (IMPASSABLE) extremely dangerous snow bridges crossing creek, major fractures in ice above creek. Stay to the left side off trail on ascent to Muir Pass, lots of PCT and JMTrs using this route. Some sections are very steep and fall could lead you on slide into creek below (microspikes and trekking poles extremely helpful). From 11,200 to Helen Lake continue on left side, potential for avalanches exist, some fractures in ice high above are evident. Rest of climb from Helen Lake is fairly benign, on descent from Muir Pass to Evolution Lake. Be careful near edge of Wanda Lake and Sapphire Lake, the path created by PCTr's in some places appears to be on ice directly above lake, re-route slightly higher and should have no problem. Sun cups are not very significant yet. Crossing inlet to Evolution Lake is a breeze, patchy snow to end of Evolution Lake, no mosquitos. No more snow until you reach 11,000 on Piute Pass Trail. Use alternate creek crossing in Evolution Valley through meadow, water level was upper thigh and not difficult (I'm 6 feet tall). Goddard Canyon has lots of trees across trail, its over, under and around, a few mosquitos near swampy areas otherwise peaceful. Up Piute Pass Trail, by far the scariest creek crossing is the West Pinnacles Creek, it is very steep, fast, and cannot see bottom where creek passes trail. Attempted to probe bottom, but force of water was so strong my pole was continually pushed out from under me. Scrambled uphill about 100 ft, found spot where two downed trees cross creek, used first tree as a hand bridge on right side, at mid point climbed several rocks to next tree, climbed across next tree to otherside. Whew! By the way it was about 10 A.M. Water crossing in Hutchinson Meadow was strong but manageable, knee high crossed at noon. The last water crossing of consequence was the confluence that leads to Upper Golden Trout Lake, lots of deep areas and some strong flows (use caution, look for good spot). Patchy snow from there to top of Piute Pass, sun cups much more pronounced. The descent from Piute Pass, 85% snow from top of Piute Pass to Piute Lake, then patchy snow to bottom of Loch Leven. Piute Pass was by far the easiest and least snow. Blessings and safe travel, I'll be heading out to camp at by a lake next week near Sequoia National Park. Well respond to questions when I return next week.

Pictures:
IMG_1580.JPG
Bishop Pass 7/9/11
IMG_1631.JPG
Le Conte Canyon 7/9/11
Last edited by Silverfox on Sun Jul 24, 2011 1:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby balzaccom » Thu Jul 14, 2011 4:49 pm

Great report. thanks---and thanks for being careful out there!
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 14, 2011 4:57 pm

Welcome to HST!
Thanks Silverfox for posting this TR, which will answer questions about the Bishop Pass
Evolution Valley, and Humphrey's Basin(Piute Pass), and creek crossing related questions.
Hope you'll have time to post some pic's too, when you get back next week.
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby kpeter » Fri Jul 15, 2011 8:17 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to post that report. I'll be doing the loop N-S starting on the 27th. My guess is that by then there will be a lot less snow but that stream crossings will still be about as you describe them.
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby kpeter » Mon Jul 18, 2011 1:44 pm

Question: by the July 27-Aug 3 window I am planning to do the loop, will there be any snow steep enough to make me bring along my aluminum crampons and ice axe for an extra measure of safety, or should I leave them behind and stick strictly with trekking poles and microspikes?

Silverfox's comment "Some sections are very steep and fall could lead you on slide into creek below (microspikes and trekking poles extremely helpful)" made me wonder, although there will be an extra 2 1/2 weeks of melting since he did the loop.

I also wonder about traverses across steep and hard snowfields on the way to the top of any of the passes or traverses across steep snowfields sloping into lakes. Will I have to scamper across exposed snowdrifts coming down from the top of Bishop Pass?

I like playing it extra safe, but the last two times I've brought axe and crampons I haven't used them. But they are safer than just the microspikes when there is a need for them. On the other hand, I don't want to bring both.

Advice?
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jul 18, 2011 2:01 pm

For me it would be a matter at what I was most experienced with. I have a lot of experience and am solid and comfortable on regurlar 10-point strap-on flexible crampons. Micro-spikes sound interesting, but I certainly would not use them without a bit of practice to see what their limits are. My biggest decision is whether to add the ice axe to trekking poles. I have found that crampons with trekking poles work well. Bottom line is that on steep hard icy snow (typical of early AM lingering August snows) if you were to fall, getting stopped with an ice axe would be difficult at best. I think if you do not have LOTS of experience self-arresting with an ice axe, you are better off with trekking poles and crampons (a combination to keep you from falling in the first place). Ice axe with crampons is pretty specialized mountaineering- very different self arresting. It also depends on the snowfield run-out. Snow ending in boulders is bad news. Snow ending in trees is bad news. Snow ending with a splash into a deep lake is bad news. Snow that just gradually gets less steep ending in a big snowy bowl will take you for quite a ride, but will not end in a crash into a rock or tree or drown you. I also have a light (8-oz) climbing helmet- I have many times taken a helmet too. Falling on snow can produce a bumpy ride and you can hit your head. For example, I always wear a helmet climbing Mt. Shasta. RJ Secor, author of the guidebook, took a serious long fall on snow and sustained tragic head injuries (he was not wearing a helmet).

The safest thing is to simply avoid the snow. This may mean zig-zagging down talus or going out of your way, but this is safer than dealing with snow. I try to avoid early morning hard snow at all costs. Sometimes I have sat on the top of a pass waiting for the snow to soften before descending. There is nothing wrong with turning around and retreating!

I have said this before- equipment alone does not make you safe. You really need training and practice. If you are serious about getting on snow, take a snow travel course from a mountaineering school.
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby kpeter » Mon Jul 18, 2011 4:04 pm

Thanks, WD, you are always reliable for good advice!

I've thought a lot about the equipment/experience connection and admit I am not as experienced with the equipment as I would need to be for anything beyond the basics. It has been decades since I've had a course, but my normal routine is to stop at the first bunny hill along the trail and practice for a couple of hours before heading to anything more dangerous. I've crossed some snowy/icy passes in Idaho in July where I had to traverse a couple of hundred feet of icy snow at maybe a 30 degree gradient to get over to the trail or scree, but I've never really had to walk for an extended time over snow in the Sierras, nor do anything too steep, nor anything too exposed. So I would like to avoid snow as much as possible within my time frame, and would cancel the trip if it seems beyond my limits.

The questions are 1) how much snow will I be unable to avoid while doing this loop at the end of July and beginning of August? and 2) how much exposure and steepness will there be in the snow that is unavoidable then? Perhaps someone has done this trip in a normal year in early July and will know exactly what to expect?

Table Mountain (~11,600)
Piute Pass (11,483) (being conservative to avoid Lamarck Col)
Muir pass (11,955)
Bishop Pass (11,972)
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby Mike M. » Mon Jul 18, 2011 4:39 pm

Kpeter, take this with a grain of salt since I have not been out on the trail yet this year and won't hit the trail until August 3rd: you will not need any special equipment for your South Lake to North Lake loop. There is no need for an ice axe or for crampons or for other traction devices. By the time you hit the trail, any snow left high up on Bishop Pass will be consolidated, with footprints from hundreds of previous backpackers easily and safely followed. Bishop Pass is the only pass you must cross on this loop that has the potential for steep snowfields (on the north side). Reports are that most of the snow has melted; the sensor near the pass is showing the melt is almost complete. There is one area on this trail, just below the final switchbacks, that is prone to rockfall (you will see signs). I expect this area will be completely melted out by the time you get there, if it isn't already. Don't linger here -- walk right through the area without stopping to rest.

The terrain near Muir Pass is gradual, not steep; you may encounter sun cups, but special equipment will not help you with those (except for gaiters!). Ditto for Piute Pass.

More of a concern might be high water, but I am guessing stream levels will be much lower in two weeks than they were last week -- a little above normal, but manageable.

Have fun and post a TR!

Mike
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Mon Jul 18, 2011 5:39 pm

I think the snow on the east side of Muir can be a long haul, but doable. We brought ice axes with us a few years ago and didn't need them. But it was quite a stretch of snow. Sun cups were large.

The real issue we had were the stream crossings. We went in a very wet summer. The outlet to one of the lakes on the east side of Muir was a mess (probably Helen Lake). There was a dicey snow bridge we chose to avoid. The alternative was a wade through the outlet end of the lake. Cold, of course, but very doable. I think we also could have gone on snow far to the east, but the slope was a bit steep for my girlfriend's taste.

People had been warning us about the inlet to Evolution Lake, but I didn't think it was too tough. With the high water this year, you may have to wade that one, too.

If you skip Lamarck, you have the wade across the river toward the west end of the valley. People seem to get pretty worked up about that crossing, but we had no problem. Just expect to get wet. When we did it I think it was hip deep, but not flowing strongly. It may be deeper this year.

Up Piute Canyon there are two problems: First, it's boring, at least compared to where you came from. Second, the crossing of one of the Pinnacle Creeks was a fright. I think it was West Pinnacles Creek, but I'm not sure. I read somewhere in the last week that that crossing is a hazard again this year. The crossing isn't long, but the water was knee and thigh deep and churning so you couldn't see the bottom and there was a lot of force against the leg. The crossing was in the middle of rapids; I wasn't sure where my girlfriend would end up if she fell.

I haven't been on Lamarck Col in nearly 30 years. It was a heavier snow year than this one, but not as late melting. My recollection was that the west side was rock and the east side was snow nearly top to bottom. The snow, however, was easily crossed. You might find some trip reports that give more details.

We were supposed to do South Lake-North Lake this summer, but we're going to the southern Sierra instead. The deciding factor was that we plan to swing through the Ionian Basin and maybe Davis and McGee Lakes. With the heavy snow and water and with the unfamiliarity with parts of the route, we are postponing until next year.
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby windknot » Mon Jul 18, 2011 6:45 pm

Thanks for the report, and welcome to the board!
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby orbweaver » Mon Jul 18, 2011 8:40 pm

I have a permit to enter Piute Pass on August 10, going to South Lake. A friend did this trip last year at about the same time and said he only had to wade Evolution Creek, I believe. Now I'm reading about a couple of difficult crossings. Any advice will be appreciated. I'll certainly give a trip report when I return. Thanks.
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Re: South Lake North Lake Loop TR

Postby kpeter » Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:30 am

Mike M, ManoftooMany,

Thank you very much for the advice. I'll take the microspikes just in case, but unless we get trail reports indicating otherwise I'll leave the crampons and axe.

WD, here is a link to the microspikes. They seem to be what the through hikers primarily use:

http://www.rei.com/product/774966/kahto ... ion-system

There are not too many trail conditions when crampons would be better, but the lack of toe spikes and longer spikes on the edges make them less secure when cutting and kicking steps on steep slopes. They also take much less practice and skill to use properly than crampons. If you take the microspikes and don't use them you have wasted 12 ounces.
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