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TR Window Peak July 11-17

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TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby Zoltan » Sun Jul 24, 2011 6:36 pm

For your perusal, here is my report of a trip taken from July 11-17 in Kings Canyon. My good friend and longtime hiking partner Tim and I arrived at the Taboose Pass trailhead on the 11th just as the sun was setting over the Sierra Crest. Only one other car there, belonging to a climber who intended to summit Cardinal Mountain the following day. Very mellow temperatures as we climbed out of the sandy desert into Taboose Canyon. Soon it became fully dark and the night hike was spectacular; when we reached about 7,000 ft the moon came out and provided us plenty of light, no headlamp required!

We arrived at the first crossing of Taboose Creek at about 9:30pm and it was raging pretty good. Here we made the first of several good decisions. It looked crossable, but there is a small waterfall right below the crossing point and a slip would send us downriver, so we opted to camp right there and wait for morning to cross.

July 12

In the morning I watched the creek visibly rise several inches while we packed up. The crossing was not difficult with poles, but I'm glad we didn't attempt it in the dark. We saw two hikers across the creek soon after, climbing the talus on the north side of Taboose Creek; apparently they decided that the rough off-trail climb was preferable to the stream crossing. We slowly made our way up across talus and snowfields that obliterated the trail starting about 9500 ft. I'd say the route was about 40% snow covered here on the east side. Routefinding was quite easy of course, there is really only one way to go on this trail: UP! By the time we reached the pass, the world had become a wash of snow melt, and our feet would not be totally dry again until the end of our hike. Here's the lake just below the pass

: Here's a view west from the top of Taboose Pass on July 12:

taboose 12.JPG


We found a great campsite near some western white pines, took off our packs and headed up to the basin below Striped Mountain. All of the lakes were still frozen up here.
striped.JPG


July13
Today's goal was to reach the White Fork via a pass just to the west of Pinchot Pass. Neither of us had actually seen it before, and it looked OK on a map, and I had heard from somebody at HST that this pass was OK (or did he mean the route from Woods Creek??). But first we had to traverse over to Lake Marjorie. The gentle slopes west of Taboose Pass were literally underwater, the deep meadow channels were covered at least six inches in water, so we really had to watch where we stepped or could end up in four feet of water – those channels can be very deep. Tim and I split up briefly and I never really was on the trail meeting the JMT, but enjoyable cross country with only occasional snow in the forest brought me to the lake in good time. After some dithering over which was our pass (which Tim nailed, and I was just confused), we agreed that it was hidden behind the ridge over Marjorie, and climbed further to get a good look at it. Here it is:

gnarly pass.JPG


The large rocks sticking out of the snow on the lower reaches made travel initially very easy, but we underestimated the pitch at the top, which was much steeper than our earlier view. I would not have gone on even with ice axe out, but the snow was very very soft by now. I went for the rocks about 20 yards below the pass, postholing on every step for about ¼ mile before reaching them. It turned out to be not nearly as stable or large as the rocks below. It was loose all the way and far from comfortable, but I finally managed the pass. Tim took a different route when I called to him that the snow was too cruddy near the rocks and the rocks themselves no better. He was eventually forced to the rocks by an icy patch just below the pass, but he made it too. Neither of us expected such a tough crossing, and wondered how many people actually try this pass. Under these conditions at least, I would put it up there with Snow Tongue and Frozen Lake passes for freakiest. Here's Tim on the last stretch:
Tim Pass.JPG


and here's a map of the pass:
White Fork.jpg


I welcome all comments on our crossing of this pass given the photo and map. My belief is we should have had at least microspikes, and were very lucky the snow condition was as it was. We both have a decent amount of cross country experience, with multiple trips over the past ten years. Would you go over this pass from the above photo? We both felt like we dodged a bullet on this one.

The west side of the pass, by contrast, was delightful, or would have been delightful but for the extraordinarily deep and well-developed suncups which were to be our constant companion until we reached the outlet of the lakes leading to our next pass. The view south to the Gardiner/King/Cotter area was astounding and made it easy to enjoy the suncups, which were at least solid so we weren't floudering. View south:

view south.JPG


We found passable campsites near the outlet and that's when the fog came pouring up the canyon from Woods Creek, repeating a weather pattern we were to experience all week. It obliterated all it passed, and I spent a nice half an hour watching Crater Mountain, still lit up by the last rays of the sun, fade in and out of view as the fog blew through.

July 14

Tim and I have adopted a much mellower attitude toward backpacking in the past couple of years, favoring shorter mileage and more relaxing. We never got up before the sun, and due to the steep eastern side of the canyon, it was already 9am before either of us got moving, and 10am when we finally left. I rarely get as much sleep as I have been out here. We headed up the drainage to the pass leading us to Window Creek drainage, a place we've been planning on visiting for three years, but circumstance had denied us (avalanche danger, timing). Again, lakes all frozen by 11,000 ft., and we were deterred by the steep-looking snow into doing a zigzag up a side stream and traversing to the pass on rock. This was not difficult at all, there was some snow crossing, but not nearly as steep as we had feared, and we probably would have been better off on the snow the whole way, but it got us there. Here's the pass from White Fork to Window Fork:
second pass.JPG


This descent was trickier with all the snow and significantly, lots of snow bridges. We played it conservative the whole way, with one very steep snow slope near the top that required a self-belay, and two self-arrests by me, three by Tim. The snow was soft enough to make this much less dangerous than it sounds. I avoided glissading because I was spooked (I don't do this much), and there was a rock on the slope below. I know mountaineers would find this all quite routine, but I'm still refining my snow chops and came out of it with a much better understanding of ice axe application. Here's a shot of Window Peak from just below our pass:
window peak.JPG






Window Lake, let's call it (unnamed on the map). It's set in under cliffs ringing most of two sides, with a raging stream pouring in from upcanyon. It was half frozen, and we had twenty minutes of sun left, so we went for a swim, very brief of course, very very very cold but uniquely refreshing. Even getting to a swimming spot required essentially a 200 yard ford across the wetlands, a journey in itself. A gorgeous spring pouring out of rocks near the shore provided the evening's top-notch drinking water. And we were safe from condensation and the ever-present fog, camped under thick pine trees uphill. This was a perfect setting for some nice bedtime reading (The Fellowship of the Ring).

July 15

We expected some tough bushwhacking this morning; the last mile of Window Creek before the JMT is purported to have brutal brush. After a customarily lazy morning, we were pleasantly surprised to find only a band or two of willows, easy to avoid, and steep but easy class 2 all the way down. The only navigational difficulty was a snow bridge over raging Window Creek, but it was a simple matter to cross at a safe point upstream and come down the other side. This was quite fun, with mind-blowing views up toward Rae Lakes and Glen Pass. Highly recommended to all who have not yet had the pleasure of visiting here, I would like to return and spend more time at the lake – what a spot!

It having taken us little over an hour to descend, it was the perfect time for a long lunch, followed by an easy ascent toward Pinchot Pass. There is a lot of damage to the trail here, including a 100 yd. Avalanche debris zone. Nothing difficult. We didn't see anyone on the JMT, to our surprise. Toward evening, we opted to go up the Shepherd Pass trail to look at Woods Lake and find better camping than we knew the upper reaches of Woods Creek offered. This turned out to be a great decision, as we were rewarded by that stellar basin just below the crest.

A word about mosquitoes: there wasn't a single mosquito bite on either of us. We beat the hatch at the elevations we were at, apparently. But here, in this flooded basin, signs were about everywhere that a hatch of epic proportions was beginning. Clouds of still unattacking, tiny mosquitoes were all about, and a multitude of stagnant meltwater ponds harbored nurseries of these cursed insects. We may have experienced the last mosquito free night for awhile. The fog was particularly spectacular this night, followed by a nice freeze toward morning. Don't you love it when you're cowboy camping, you get some condensation, and it freezes? You wake up all toasty in the bag while the outside is covered in ice. Fog on its way in:

fog.JPG



July 16

Pinchot Pass should be easy, man! I've done it three times already and it was never a big deal. Well Pinchot version 2011 wasn't too bad, but the trail won't be there for a week at least. We came over Pinchot from the north in mid June 2010, and there was actually a lot more snow then, but there is still plenty here in mid july, enough to finally convince me, after losing and finding the trail multiple times, to just forget the trail and head for the pass. Good decision! There is plenty of snow at the top, but very good footsteps in soft but not too-soft snow. Tiring of course but plenty of fun. At the top I met the first people in five days, two guys from Texas with whom I passed a pleasant half-hour. They had a bet on the number of people they would see that day for a beer, and Phil wanted to wait for Tim to arrive to up his chances of winning. Alas, Tim didn't show before they left, and I began to feel a little uneasy as they said "well, hope your friend shows up" and took off north.

I couldn't see Tim anywhere below me and began to worry that he had taken the other visible pass on the ridgeline. Surely he wouldn't do that! Of course the trail isn't there, but Tim rocks navigation. Fifteen, twenty minutes and still no sign of him. He was at most twenty minutes behind me, but here it was an hour later and I couldn't see him anywhere. Now the imagination really starts running wild. Slipped on a rock, bashed his head, unconcious, bleeding. A terrible vision of having to call his relatives and explaining why I wasn't with him....oh man. I managed to retain enough composure to make a plan: if he didn't show up in the next half hour, I would go back down. In the meantime, I scrambled over to the outlet of the other pass to see if he had done the unlikely and crossed that one. He wasn't there. I scrambled back up to Pinchot, ready to go back down, but when I reached the top there he was on the final approach, which produced an incredible sigh of relief from me. Damn, but it was good to see him! He had simply gotten lost in the maze below, cost him an hour.

The descent to the north was phenomenal, and the view of our pass to White Fork was quite intimidating from this angle. Not sure I would have attempted it had I seen this view first, not without crampons. My relief at Tim being OK, the gentle water wonderland coming down from Pinchot, and a steady parade of hikers coming south made for a most enjoyable afternoon. We met people from Alaska, Florida, West Virginia, and Texas. We were the only Californians. The guy from Alaska bashed the vast majority of Californians who have a world class mountain range in their backyard and don't even know it exists. While there may be some truth to this, I suspect many of us are simply delaying our trips. It came as no surprise that all of these guys had made unalterable plans long before they knew the snow situation. We eventually camped within site of our earlier spot just below Taboose Pass, in an even better spot. The moon that night was bright enough to read by, and nice and cold.

July 17

We were dreaming of steak in Mammoth this morning. There's a steakhouse there that we passed up as too extravagant when we passed through on the PCT a few years back. Today looked pretty easy – and it was, with a twist. It was a fine morning, customarily lazing in the sun eating, reading, watching the marmots eat the salt from my urine. Easy stroll up to the pass, where the snow has receded only a little bit in a week's time. Easy walk down, when we come upon a note on the trail near an unoccupied tent that this fellow had lost his hiking partner the previous night, and was out searching for him, and to please call a ranger. We left a note saying we would call the ranger and good luck. We encountered him shortly after, coming up the trail after having called the ranger and sheriff from downcanyon. Now he was on his way to Bench Lake to see if he had gone there. Dude was freaked but calm. We gave him some food – his buddy had the food – and he gave us a spare car key so his friend could get in the car if we found him down below. The friend had been tentless and bagless the previous night. Things became clearer as we descended. We found two rock letter "R"s and an arrow pointing to the trailhead (the lost fellow's first initial is R), and then a surly hiker on his way up told us that he had passed a guy on the way down asking about a car matching the other hiker's. We had a good idea that he was safe now, and expected to catch him at the trailhead, but when we arrived he wasn't there. The car was there, and we hid the key in the agreed-to spot, and took off. Apparently the lost hiker got a ride somewhere, because he wasn't on the road either. We stopped at the ranger station in Bishop and reported the whole thing, but it looks like he's ok. We thought the seeker would find a ranger at Bench Lake who could help, but apparently they are not staffing Bench this year, as well as several others I can't remember. Very sad.

I think I know the spot where they got split up, an inconspicuous switchback combined with an arroyo that looks like a trail but isn't. He could have easily gone up as I did, and kept going long enough to get lost instead of turning around as I did after realizing my mistake. It was his second backpacking trip, and experience counts in finding a trail, and knowing when you've lost it.

The whole occurence points out how easy it is to lose a hiking partner out there. I thought I had lost Tim and I could have been that guy hiking all over the place frantically searching for his friend. This poor guy wandered off trail as night was falling and boom – it's a potential SAR.

We also met a father-daughter combo doing an ambitious hike from Taboose to Cottonwood in seven days. She was a good mile ahead of him, and they both seemed to think the pass was just around the corner and did we think they could reach the JMT by dusk, even though they were still nearly 4000 vertical feet and five rough miles from the pass, and it was 2:30pm. No poles, no ice axes. We also heard tell of a couple of German girls who were surprised to hear that there was snow on the Rae Lakes loop, no poles, no ice axes. What are the rangers telling people at the trailheads? Heck, we had to show the permit ranger in Lee Vining where Taboose Pass is.

Anyway, if you've read this far, thank you and I can say it was a fantastic journey, the snow was thick but did not compromise my enjoyment in the least, all the trails in the area are covered intermittently by snow but easily recovered, most lakes above 11,000 feet still under ice but opening up quickly. There were no significant stream crossings other than the first Taboose crossing, which was actually not bad by daylight and not likely to flow much heavier than it is now in my estimation. Still there is water everywhere, seasonal streams that are usually dry by now are still flowing great and meadowlands are in a flood. I've never seen such a melt, just the sheer volume of snow that has melted has created waterworld in the Sierra. The wildflowers in the next month or so at timberline should be sublime. Doubt I'll be able to get out again until September, but my recommendation is get out there soon if at all possible, the snow, at least in SEKI, seems to be on its way out and it looks like late June out there.

We skipped out on the steakhouse because we would have had to wait a half hour – unacceptable! Great bbq up the road filled the bill.

~Zoltan



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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby Zoltan » Sun Jul 24, 2011 6:38 pm

oops, here's the lake at Taboose Pass:
Lake.JPG

~Z
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby rlown » Sun Jul 24, 2011 6:53 pm

excellent report, Zoltan! looked like a lot of wet work..
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Jul 24, 2011 7:27 pm

Cool report of an interesting area. Thanks for the report and photos. They bring back some fond memories of a trip my wife and I did to this area at the beginning of July in 1997.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby Mike M. » Sun Jul 24, 2011 7:38 pm

Zoltan, thanks for the great trail report, really enjoyed it. That pass on the way to White Fork looks pretty hairy!

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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby windknot » Sun Jul 24, 2011 9:31 pm

Great report! Felt like I was along for the ride, I too very much enjoyed reading it.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby atreehugger » Mon Jul 25, 2011 12:07 am

Zoltan...thanks for the trip report...great reading. Am considering doing a trip which will take us from JMT up to Window Lake around Aug 11. From the topo, it appears that Window Ck splits about 1/4 mile above the JMT. Was thinking of leaving the JMT on the north side of the northern-most creek-split. Will follow the creek up (north side) to the small lakes below Window Lake...crossing the creek in this area. Does this sound about right? Would appreciate your opinion on this route and any pics of Window Lake or the route.
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby Jimr » Mon Jul 25, 2011 8:53 am

Excellent TR Zoltan! I really appreciate when one of our brethren puts the time in to really write about their experience.
What?!
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby Zoltan » Mon Jul 25, 2011 9:43 am

Thanks everyone! @atreehugger - that is exactly the route we took, north of the northernmost branch. We were able to stay on this side all the way from Window Lake apart from one small section with a snow bridge which very well may be gone by mid August. This is not a picture of the route per se but here's your view looking back toward Rae Lakes, about 1/3 of the way down from Window Lake. It's one of the few photos I took on that section.
CIMG0599.JPG


Snow bridge upstream:
CIMG0596.JPG


Bad shot of Window Lake:
CIMG0593.JPG

Even having just returned, I'm a little jealous. ~Zoltan
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby cgundersen » Mon Jul 25, 2011 10:00 am

Hi Zoltan,
Kudos for the report. Your "Pinchot Pass" adjacent looked plenty hairy to me. Who on HST recommended that one? Anyway, your tracks probably made it easier for anyone else contemplating that route (probably, not many!!!).
Also, I was momentarily befuddled by reference to Shepherd, but I realized you meant Sawmill. Regardless, I'm sure they're all in a big skeeter bloom!
cg
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby atreehugger » Mon Jul 25, 2011 11:14 am

Thanks Zoltan. Your pics speak a 1000 words for snow / creek conditions. Nice shot of Rae Lakes area. :partyman:
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Re: TR Window Peak July 11-17

Postby maverick » Mon Jul 25, 2011 11:21 am

Zoltan writes:
Would you go over this pass from the above photo?


Yes, that is the correct route (pass) into the White Fork drainage Zoltan.
The only other way would have been to circle around Bench Lake to the upper
lake basin, and use the pass southwest of Mount Ickes.
It would not have been any easier, waiting till the snow softens up as you did
is what one needs to do, otherwise carry an ice axe and crampon (and know
how to use them).
Really like the shot up towards Rae. Kind of surprised that Window Lake was
thawed out as much as it was.
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: http://reconn.org
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