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South Lake to Sawmill in early Oct - advise needed

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South Lake to Sawmill in early Oct - advise needed

Postby 47energy » Thu Jul 21, 2011 3:54 pm

Hi everybody,

Long time lurker, first time poster. Four of us are in the midst of planning a 5-day trip to northern SEKI during the first week of October. I have the trip fairly well lined out and am looking for some feedback from the online community. I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the Sierra however this will be the other 3 guys’ first time in the Range. I’ve tried to compile a best-of trip including picturesque lake basins, x-country travel, a 14’er, and hopefully a few golden trout.

Before I get started, here’s the requested background info on us:

What level of backpacking experience do you have?
- Three of us have “Level 3” experience with numerous backpacking trips, some x-country travel. Mostly PNW stuff but I’ve done time all over the world, including the Sierras.
- One of us has “Level 2” experience with some backpacking trips, using trails. Mostly overnighters in tame terrain.

What terrain are you comfortable/uncomfortable with?
- Three of us have done and are comfortable with Class 2 terrain. The fourth guy has never done it but will be fine on Class 2. We’re all interested in trying something Class 3.
- Doubt we’ll encounter any in early Oct. but all of us would dominate river crossings.

What is your main interest?
- Enormous Mountain scenery
- Photography
- Fishing (a distant 3rd and only for goldens)

How many days/nights is your trip, not including travel to trailhead?
- 5 days/4 nights

How many miles did you want to do a day, any layovers?
- 8-15 miles/day on trail or 4-6 miles/day x-country. No layovers.

Did you prefer a loop or out and back trip?
- Either but we have 2 vehicles so we can do a 1-way trip.

Is there a particular area in the Sierra that your most interested in(Yosemite, SEKI western sierra start or eastern start ect.)?
- SEKI w/ eastern start/end

Will you be hiking with a dog?
- No.

Now that you know who we are let me line-out our planned route (***** means campsite):

South Lake
Bishop Pass
Dusy Basin
Knapsack Pass
Barrett Lakes/Palisade Basin*****
Potluck Pass
large lake SE of Potluck Pass at head of Glacier Creek
Cirque Pass
Palisade Lakes
Mather Pass
huge lake in Upper Basin*****
Split Mtn. via north slope
huge lake in Upper Basin
2 lakes just west of Striped Mtn*****
Pinchot Pass
Woods Lake*****
Sawmill Pass
Sawmill Pass trailhead

Questions/concerns of mine include:

According to MapMyRun this trip is 45 miles. Six of those miles are x-country across Palisade Basin and 4 of those miles are x-country up Split Mtn and back. The remaining 35 miles are on trail. I don’t feel like we’re biting off too much in 5 days. Right?

We’ll have no problem getting to Dusy Basin on day 1 but can we get over Knapsack Pass to Barrett Lakes that same day? I’ve seen Knapsack Pass from the NW but have never tried it. How doable is this in 1 day if we hit the trailhead around 10am? Keep in mind the shorter days of early Oct.

Is Barrett Lakes a worthy campsite? I imagine we could get some nice alpenglow on the Palisades from there. Unless we too close?

I’ve read fairly consistent comments on the descent from Cirque Pass: It can be hairy but if you take your time and stay right (west) on the decent you can avoid most of the Class 3 stuff. Is that fairly accurate? We’ll bring a rope to lower our packs over ledges so we can tackle any sketchy stuff free of their burden. I see this being the most difficult part of our trip.

Everything I’ve read about Split Mtn makes it sound doable for our group. We’ll camp at the huge lake in Upper Basin the night before and climb it via the north slope. A long, slow, talus climb? Not sexy but the view should be worth it.

Anyone have a clue where we can find some golden trout on this trip besides the Palisade Lakes? I’ve heard the huge lake in Upper Basin is devoid of fish. Could the Barrett Lakes or the lake at the head of Glacier Creek hold goldens? I’m pretty sure everything between Mather Pass and Woods Lake is a brookie/rainbow/brown show. 3 of us are fish biologists so we want to catch the real deal!

The only possible modification I see us making would be to shorten the trip (mileage-wise) and exit via Taboose. By still taking the full 5 days we’d give ourselves a window for a layover day in case we get some weather. We’re all quite comfortable in lousy weather (we live in the PNW) but I don’t want it hindering our views. We can walk in the rain/snow/clouds any day up here, we’re heading south for that big mountain scenery!

Speaking of weather, this will be the latest I’ve backpacked in the Sierra. Thoughts on weather this time of year?

Thanks in advance,

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Re: South Lake to Sawmill in early Oct - advise needed

Postby KathyW » Thu Jul 21, 2011 5:03 pm

I think the Sawmill Pass Trail is nicer to descend than the Taboose Pass Trail. The Taboose Pass Trail is rockier and isn't as pretty as the Sawmill Pass Trail, but the Taboose Pass Trail is shorter. If you do go down the Sawmill Pass Trail on a warm day, try to hit the bottom part later in the day when that section is in the shade - by late September this isn't that much of an issue. You might end up out in a snowstorm because it's not unusual for the first snow storms to hit near the end of September to early October. Usually, they just cover everything with a dusting of snow and the heavier storms come later, but you never know for sure.

Yes, the view from Split is really nice.

That's about all I can comment on.
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Re: South Lake to Sawmill in early Oct - advise needed

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 21, 2011 6:58 pm

HI 47Energy,

Honestly your rushing through some beautiful country that deserves a lot more
Your running right through Dusy Basin which is beautiful, and Lake 11393 can
give you a beautiful alpenglow reflection of the Palisade ridge behind it, plus
getting to Barrett in a day is to much with the shorter days.
Barrett Lakes on the other hand can be pass through without missing to much.
Yes, Cirque Pass is difficult, requires good navigational skills, and patience
descending the series of ledges is required.
Now we get to highlight of the area which you did not even mention, Bench Lake.
This lake is one of the finest in the Sierra, and the reflection of Arrow Peak in it is
world class, as is the summit of Arrow Peak!
Split is nice, but doesn't come close to the views from Arrow!
Though the Woods Lake area on the way to Sawmill is pretty, the view from
Taboose Pass is outstanding, and the alpineglow off of Striped Mountain can be
just as great.
So really my recommendation would be to slow down, and enjoy the scenery.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member:
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Re: South Lake to Sawmill in early Oct - advise needed

Postby quentinc » Thu Jul 21, 2011 8:54 pm

There's always that tension when you have limited time about whether you explore a few areas in detail or rush a bit to try to see as much as possible. If 5 days is really all you can take, I think the trip is doable, but you're going to have strenuous days. When I was younger, I did that trip but out to Kearsarge Pass instead, and did it in 6 days (I couldn't do that now -- the last day was insane!).

I've made it to Barrett in one day, going over Thunderbolt Pass (which is a tough chore with a heavy pack), but if you're not starting until 10a.m. and are hiking in the short days of October you'll have to be awfully fast. I actually like the Barrett Lakes, but then stark and barren appeals to my (twisted) sensibilities.

In addition to missing out on Bench Lake (which I visited on my 6 day trip), your itinerary takes you past Mt. Sill, one of the great views in the Sierra. Sill would take longer to climb than Split, but would certainly be my preference. Like KathyW, I'd also take Sawmill over Taboose. Again, this would take more time, but a cross-country route from JMT to the pass, along the stream and lakes, is surprisingly lovely. The trail from JMT to Sawmill, on the other hand, is surprisingly unlovely. It's sad how often that is the case, but that's a topic for another thread.

Finally, I've always had good luck weather-wise in October, but there definitely can be storms.
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Re: South Lake to Sawmill in early Oct - advise needed

Postby calipidder » Thu Jul 21, 2011 9:39 pm

Stitched photo of Palisade Alpenglow from campsite above Barrett Lakes

Pretty awesome.
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Re: South Lake to Sawmill in early Oct - advise needed

Postby cgundersen » Fri Jul 22, 2011 8:50 am

All the above advice is great and having done most of that same route with my wife, it looks to me like your first couple days are very demanding. I've gotten over Knapsack in one day but that was close to the summer solstice and in October you'll likely be climbing it in the dark (unless you fly). Also, even though Potluck is not hard, my recollection is that if you make the wrong choice on a couple of the granite ramps, you can waste a lot of time backtracking. So, as Maverick advised, I'd aim for Dusy on day one. Like Quentin, I like the austere high lake basins and there is a nice mound that I've camped on above the lake in the basin between Potluck and Cirque. Calpidder's shot gives you an idea what youb might get at sunset, if the weather cooperates. Once you get back to trail, you can crank out the miles and avail yourself of the other suggestions above. If you decide to loop out toward Arrow peak, the lake below below Window Peak is gorgeous, too, and obviously less visited than Bench. But that loop adds a lot of challenging x-country travel. Partly, you're going to be at the mercy of the weather, so the best bet is to have lots of plan B options.
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Re: South Lake to Sawmill in early Oct - advise needed

Postby Troutdog 59 » Fri Jul 22, 2011 9:34 am

As others have said, I think its a bit much for the days involved, but thats coming from an old fart that doesnt like big miles ;) . Its likley doable for you moutain athlete types, but you are rushing by some great stuff. I have only gone over Knapsack once and it was long ago, but IMO getting to the Barrett Lakes in 1 day will be a chore at best. Also, the cross country stuff from Potluck to Palisades lakes while all very doable and not very technical, is a slow pick not suited for making big miles (at least that was my view). After that, you are mostly on trail and the mileage will pick up.

As for fishing, this isnt the best golden trout country, but again, I havent been in this are since the early 80's so maybe things have changed. The upper Dusy Lakes had what appeared to be golden-rainbow hybrids the three times I have fished them. The lowest of the upper lakes ( :retard: ) had what appeared to be nearly pure goldens (small), but that was many moons back. The Barretts had rainbows (some nice ones I might add :) ) and the Palisade Lakes had golden-rainbow hybrids (good fishing, but didnt appear pure). The lake at the head of Glacier Creek appeared fishless, but that may have been just the day we were there as it looked like it should have fish, but we didnt even see the faintest sign of a fish and we overnighted there. We didnt fish much around Mather Pass as the weather was terrible, but the fihing on the other side of Pinchot Pass at the Twin Lakes and Woods lakes was all brookies. Sawmill has some good fish, but not Goldens.

I know fishing was a distant third on your trip, but if you want a shot at a good Golden you might want to consider going from South Lake to North Lake. Lots of smaller goldens in the Lakes north of Muir Pass and nicer fish in some of the nearby basins. That area is also a good bet for peak bagging and some cross country hiking as well. One could cross Muir Pass and then hike through the Darwin Lakes and into the Humphreys Basin via one of the cols (Alpine, Snow Tounge, around the western end of the Galcier Divide, etc) or over Lamarack Col and down to North Lake. You would get your big time scenery as well as a shot at some goldens. Just saying!!

Regardless of what trip you choose, have a great hike and let us know how it went!!!
If you stand in the light, you get the feel of the night, and the music that plays in your ear......
In your mind you can hear, a voice so sweet and clear, and the music that plays in your head......
As it flows up from the ground, taking all that hear the sound, close your eyes, it’s about to begin.

R. Trower
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