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Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

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Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby calipidder » Mon Jul 18, 2011 8:01 pm

Hi kids! Hope you're enjoying our Sierra this summer!

We (three of us) have a trip coming up in a few weeks (starting Aug 6).

Normally I'd be pretty confident in settling plans ahead of time but as you are all well aware, this year is a bit different. When we started outlining this trip last year we had no idea what kind of winter we were in for...

Anyways, some of this is just asking for beta, some of this is just running a plan by a lot of other experienced people to see what you would do. Feedback most welcome, especially regarding expected snow conditions. In a 'regular' year I wouldn't be so worried about that, but going into unfamiliar terrain with this year's conditions has me a bit more cautious.

The original goal of this trip was to explore Lakes Basin and climb Observation Pk.

Permit: going in and out Taboose Pass. Entering Saturday Aug 6. Exiting the following Saturday or Sunday (flexible, would like Saturday but could exit Sunday if need be).

Backpacking Level: 4 Everyone is strong and experienced. That said, it's partially new terrain for all three of us, it's the first trip longer than a ~weekend that we've taken this summer, so we want to be conservative in the planning. Better to get further and have more time to play than to over commit. Although we are capable of cranking out the miles, we don't necessarily want to feel rushed.

Class: 2-3, depends on whether I have a pack on or not. We're all skilled scramblers and some of us have tech rock climbing skills though on this trip we will not carry any technical gear. Thus the sticking to class 2ish (with pack). Main goal is to climb peaks, get away from crowds, fish, explore.

With that said, here is a tentative itinerary with some questions:

Sat: Hike towards Taboose. Conservative plan: won't make it over on day 1, camp east side of pass somewhere.

Sun: Down west side of Taboose, along south fork of Kings towards Cartridge Pass. Camp at one of lakes south of cartridge.

Open Question: We're really wondering about the stretch along the kings. I've heard nightmare tales of deadfall, rockfall, back-and-forth crossings, etc. Hours to traverse a mile. I've also found mokelumnekid's trip report(s) from that area including this photo that makes it sound not-as-miserable. ... 2305050081

It sounds like it is best to stay on the north side of the water and traverse the rockfalls.

Does anyone have GPS track? Waypoints? Suggestions for getting around the obstacles, connecting back to trail up Cartridge (from what I understand, the trail is still pretty find-able once you climb out of the south fork - correct me if I'm wrong)

Mon: Over cartridge pass into Lakes Basin. Rest of day exploring basin. Ideally we will make it here on Sunday and will have the entire day to explore, but like I said: being conservative.

Tues: Over to Dumbbell Lakes
Open question: What is the deal with Dumbbell Pass? I keep finding conflicting information about the north side route. It looks like you take the ramp to the northeast, but
apparently it walls-out at the lake and it is better to head northwest. Again, mokelumnekid's reports have been really helpful (thanks!) but other reports out there have confused me a bit.

Wed: Observation Peak (maybe Shakspear depending on how we feel about that ridge - who named that peak anyways? Spell check, people.... :D )

Thurs (plan A): Dumbbell lakes to Bench Lake (ish? - this could be a big day depending on Dumbbell) via Cartridge
Fri (plan A): Arrow Peak
Sat (plan A): Head out
Sun (plan A): Finish hike out if we don't go all the way on Sat

Thus (plan B): Frozen Lake Pass or Vennacher Col into Upper Basin
Open question: which pass would you use? I have a feeling that Frozen Lake Pass won't be workable this year if we don't carry our ice axes.
Vennacher col looks like a promising alternate but again - not much info out there. Would be fun to bag the Needle too....
Fri (plan B): Split Mtn
Sat (plan B): Head out
Sun (plan B): Finish hike if we don't go all the way on Sat

Of course there is also plan C which would be avoiding Lakes Basin entirely and screwing around on the peaks of Bench Lake and Upper Basin (I still have to do Split...), but that would kind of remove the original goal of the trip. And would be closer to people. But it's not off the table if conditions dictate it and it makes the trip a bit more manageable.

Oh, asks MrC: how is the fishing in Lakes Basin?

Anyways, thanks for reading my rambling trip plan. Love to hear your thoughts. There is a lot of great stuff up there, I'm now wishing i had another week....

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Re: Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Mon Jul 18, 2011 8:27 pm

calipidder wrote:Sun: Down west side of Taboose, along south fork of Kings towards Cartridge Pass. Camp at one of lakes south of cartridge.
Open Question: We're really wondering about the stretch along the kings. I've heard nightmare tales of deadfall, rockfall, back-and-forth crossings, etc. Hours to traverse a mile. I've also found mokelumnekid's trip report(s) from that area including this photo that makes it sound not-as-miserable.

I don't know what you have heard, but from Taboose Pass to "Cartridge Lake" (the biggest lake just before the pass) is all pretty easy. There is faint trail part of the way, and the talus to cross is low and easy. The hardest part will be to find the trail (such as it is) as it leaves the river for the lake, but if you have an old map with the trail on it (7.5), a short search will find it. After that, there is pretty good trail all the way over Cartridge Pass.
This is a story I did, here starting at Cartridge Pass going south.
If you do not go to Bench Lake, then you are crazy people. :nod: See why:
Other people on this forum can tell you in detail about Dumbbell Pass and give you good advice.
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Re: Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby Mike M. » Mon Jul 18, 2011 9:03 pm

I don't know what you have heard, but from Taboose Pass to "Cartridge Lake" (the biggest lake just before the pass) is all pretty easy.

If I recall, at the junction of the JMT and Taboose trails, there is a path you can follow that leads in the direction of Cartridge Pass. It soon peters out and you are in boulder and talus fields mixed in with cottonwood. Last time I was there, I crossed over to the south bank and then recrossed near where I expected to find the Cartridge Pass switchbacks. You do not have to cross and recross the river; at some point along the way, I crossed to avoid a bushwhack. Expect some bushwhacking whichever side of the river you are on -- it was short and strenuous but not awful.

If you are a good route finder, you will end up near the base of the Cartridge Pass switchbacks. They are well marked by two parallel rows of rocks, about 200 yards north of the river. These switchbacks are in surprisingly good condition and they go straight up to a lake at an elevation around 10,800'. Here it is easy to lose the trail. Just remember that the pass is above the lake. Work your way up there (don't veer too far east or west) and you will come to a tarn and sandy terrain where you should be able to spy traces of the trail just below the summit of the pass. Looking back, there is an awesome view of Bench Lake perched preposterously on a granite shoulder high above the King's River. The trail on the north side of the pass is washed out in spots but still serviceable considering it hasn't been maintained in something like 80 years -- since the JMT was rerouted to Mather Pass.

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Re: Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby Cross Country » Mon Jul 18, 2011 9:43 pm

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Be sure to get to "Cartridge Lake" in time to catch fish. Remember that the first day on the trail that it's REALLY hot and sometimes there are lots of biting flies. 70 to 80 percent of the way to Taboose there are good campsites. Hiking down to Dumbbell you'll encounter a large boulder field. Obs. Peak is an easy and fun ascent (with great views). I'm a fisherman. I almost never climb peaks. OP might be the only peak in the Sierra I (we) ever climbed.
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Re: Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby Turtleggjp » Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:06 am

I did two trips to Cartridge Pass in 2009 within about a week of each other.

The first one I came in over Taboose Pass much like you are planning, and we did a dayhike from the bottom of the pass (down by the river) up to the pass and back. On the way down to this camp, we crossed the Kings river twice, the second time on some logs very close to where the trail starts up the hill towards Cartridge Pass. On the way back, I attempted to keep us on the North side of the river, which took a bit longer, but that's mainly because my mom doesn't do too well on terrain such as boulder fields.

The second trip was a loop out of Cedar Grove, following Steve Roper's Sierra High Route to Lake Basin, then exiting over Cartridge Pass, JMT to Pinchot Pass, and returning via Woods Creek Trail. While in Lake Basin, we dayhiked up to Dumbell Lakes Pass, and crossed the boulders enough to get a view down to some of the lakes. Can't give any advice on the route down into the basin and over to Observation Peak, since we didn't go any farther. After messing with the boulders on the previous trip, I decided not to do that again, and we went ahead and crossed the Kings River twice as we made our way back up the Muro Blance to the JMT.

The trail is (in 2009 anyway) in pretty good shape about 2/3 of the way down from the JMT, and once you pick it up heading up the canyon wall, it's pretty easy to follow (but steep!). Here's a waypoint to shoot for:

N36.95749 degrees
W118.47227 degrees
Altitude: 9537ft

That's what I marked where the trail starts up the hill to Cartridge Pass. I have full Garmin Mapsource .gdb files with tracks and waypoints from both trips if you are interested.

When it comes to fishing, that's not really my area of interest. I will say though that we spotted a couple of rather large fish in the two tiny lakes near the lower end of Lake Basin (downstream of the big L shaped lake, and the closest to Lake Marion). As someone else mentioned, the large lake about halfway up to Cartridge Pass also seemed to have lots of fish.

As for after Lake Basin, I think I would lean towards Bench Lake. Frozen Lake Pass and Vennacher Col might be kinda scary this early this year. Bench Lake is beautiful and fishing has been good there in the past for us. On another trip in 2008, our group made it all the way out from Bench Lake to the Taboose trailhead in one day. Not too difficult to do, as long as you don't mind 6000ft of downhill (My mom is pretty slow coming down that trail, so we took two days to come out). A good place to stay along the Taboose trail is in a grove of trees about 1/2 mile above the upper creek crossing (About 9500 ft). We stopped there on the way up and the way out. I haven't seen too many other good places to camp after that all the way to the JMT.

Good Luck! Sounds like a great trip!


PS Try to get your permit the day before so you can start up the Taboose trail early, say 6AM. The permit offices don't open until 8AM, and from there (Bishop or Lone Pine) it's at least an hour drive to the trailhead, pushing your start time between 9AM and 10AM (HOT!!).
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Re: Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby cgundersen » Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:55 am

You've got some great info to digest here and I'll just add another nickel's worth. If your afterburners kick in and you do make it to the top of Taboose on day 1, the un-named lakes a little to the South of the trail (below Striped Mtn) are very pretty, esp with alpenglow on Striped. As with most of the lakes in this area, my wife had good luck fishing these lakes. As for Vennacher col, my wife & I went over it about 7-8 years ago and it is a challenge, because on the Marion Lake side there are a series of narrow ramps where one frequently hits spots that look impassable. But, if one drops pack and scouts around, one can gradually work one's way down. In my experience, that route is far preferable to trying to locate Cartridge Pass from the South. I've hit the worst skeeters in my life below Cartridge and have no interest in re-visiting that area when bugs are in their prime. And, the comments on Dumbell Pass sound dead on; I've done it in both directions in early season (late June/early July) and I think the presence of snow has simplified the route, because it has diminished the rock hopping necassary after the snow melts. I'm guessing there will still be snow, and my only recommendation would be to hit it fairly early to avoid post-holing. Finally, I share the sentiment that the views from Observation are some of the best bang for the buck in the Sierra. Easy climb and amazing panoramas in all directions. Plus, very few folks in that basin....
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Re: Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 19, 2011 11:11 am

From someone who just visited the area, all lakes above 11000 ft are frozen, and
Lake Marjorie on the JMT was still half frozen.
Taboose Pass has 40% snow coverage.
This would mean that the upper lakes in Dumbbell, and Amphitheater Lakes Basin
will be frozen, the lower lakes in these basins, and Lakes Basin will be partially
Dumbbell Pass on it's northern side will have quite a bit of snow, which is not a bad
thing if you time it right.
Cataract Pass's cornice will be big, and make it a class 3.
Climbing Observation Peak from Cataract Pass is straight forward, and will not be
an issue, again with correct timing (allowing for snow to soften).
When at the top of Cataract Pass you can make a judgment call on whether to
go down to Amphitheater Lakes Basin, which to me photogenically is my favorite
but with the lakes being frozen, I would skip it.
There is a pass (class 2) due east from Lake 11309 in Amphitheater Lakes Basin that
will put you into Upper Basin and just east of Split.
Since folks have all ready commented on the bottom part of Cartridge, I'll only
add that Bench Lake is one of the gems of the Sierra, and should not be missed, also
if you only climb one peak in the area make it Arrow Peak, the views from the summit
are truly outstanding, and is an easy climb from Arrow Pass, with snow you would
not have to fight all that talus on the way up to the pass, just make sure you have
enough water once you start you ascent.

For fishing in the area: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=5065&p=31173&hilit=amphitheater+basin#p31173
and viewtopic.php?f=6&t=4964&p=30515&hilit=fishing+bench+lake#p30515
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Re: Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jul 19, 2011 1:51 pm

I would be more worried about hard icy snow on north facing slopes than post-holing. Play it by ear and see what the snow is like, but I suspect that you will want to do the steep desents on the north sides of Dumbell Pass and Cartridge Pass when the snow is softer, rather than ice-hard in the early morning.

I have stayed on the north side of Kings Creek, and thought it was just fine. There are three, if I remember, talus cones to cross- pretty easy talus at that. Spend time to actually find the old trail- it is a good trail. If you miss it would be a bushwhack. It is easy to find north-to-south but harder to find from the bottom.

I recall you have to cross the Kings at least once to get on the north side. Might be a deep crossing. The PCT journals may have some information on that crossing.

As for Frozen Lake Pass- if it had lots of snow, enough to cover all the talus and the lake were totally frozen, you actually would have a good run-out if you fell. Nevertheless, I would not do it without an ice axe. I guess you could go up to the top and if it looked bad, turn around and go back over Cartridge. I personally would just bite the bullet and take ice axe and even crampons.

Lakes Basin could be snow covered and if melted at all, expect swampy conditions. Take DEET! At that little round lake about half mile south of Dumbell Pass, I recall there were campsites that probably would be dry given that it is on the sunny side slope. I have done Dumbell by going north on the ramps (slightly down), cross over the nose of the rib that ends in the lake as that little peninsula, and then there is a slot of the left side(probably covered with snow) or you can go down slabs that angle towards the outlet. If slabs are wet they could be a problem. I agree that total snow cover would actually make it easier. It is that inbetween snow-melt conditon that would be nasty.

I agree that Bench Lake and the unnamed lakes near Striped Montain are worth visiting.
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Re: Lakes Basin via Taboose (Observation Peak, more)

Postby calipidder » Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:34 pm

Thanks so much for the feedback, keep it coming. The fishing sounds quite promising, I will be hauling along my pole too. :) The more I learn, the more I look forward to this trip.

We're going to avoid Cataract (and the cornice) this year (except for Observation approach, but we wouldn't go down the north side, obviously). We may have to make up our minds about Vennacher and/or Frozen Lake once we get up there and see, but if we decide to hit Bench Lake (and Arrow) on the way out it wouldn't make sense to use those anyways.
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