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TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

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TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby jfelectron » Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:04 pm

My friend and I set out on July 17th intending to connect to the Sierra High Route (SHR) via Piute Pass in Humphries Basin and take it N for 9 days to eithe Red's Meadows or Tuolemne depending on our pace. We went in prepared to bail to the JMT should conditions prove themselves beyond our equipment and comfort levels. Each day on the route we had a bail route planned that would drop us West and lower to the JMT. This proved to be wise planning as we were turned back at Feather Pass. We had trekking poles, but no technical equipment.

Conditions were as follows:

Piute Pass: 200-300 ft of snow below pass on East Side, patchy snow down to Summit Lake on West Side. Summit lake was still frozen and ensconced in snow. Just past Summit Lake, trail was unconcovered.

Humprhries Basin to Puppet Pass: Between Piute Pass trail and Tomahawk/Lower Desolation Lakes only patchy snow encountered, mostly metled out. Those two lakes as well as Mesa and Desolation still frozen. We made a minor navigation error and went over the wrong little saddle and ended up at Square Lake instead of Mesa Lake. This proved to our benefit as Square Lake and its little drainage connecting up to Puppet Pass are melted out whereas the Mesa and Desolation Lake basins and the "official" SHR approach to Puppet Pass were entirely snowbound. We climbed over the Western shoulder of Puppet Pass. The talus field on the Northern side was sketchy but doable and snow free.

French Lakes Basin and French Canyon: All the lakes in the basin were 80% frozen and the basin mostly blanketed in snow. We traversed Puppet Lake on its East side instead of the West because this side was much more melted out. Similarly, to avoid deeply sun cupped snow and descending the south wall of French Canyon in forested steep snow, we traversed from Puppet Lake to the Southern shore of Elba Lake and the connected to the Elba Lake trail to bring us down into beautiful French Canyon. We had French Canyon to ourselves and bugs were light to moderate. Pine Creek was quite swift and a little difficult to cross on tired legs.

Meriam Lake to Feather Pass: The Meriam Lake "trail" is snow free as are the meadowlands to the south and East of Meriam Lake. Meriam Lake and all lakes up to Feather Pass and mostly frozen. Meriam's northeast shore is defrosted and campable. The rest of the lakes in the basin have bivyable locations on the adjacent little rises, but nothing closes to the lakes. Traversing this area entails miles on deeply (some waist deep :) suncupped snow and is tiring. Feather Pass has a steep headwall that must be climbed to gain access to the pass. The "obvious cleft" that Roper suggests was a 70 deg+ snow field. A slide on this would dump you right into frozen La Salle Lake. Judging by the conditions in the Meriam Lk basin we assumed the Bear Lakes Basin and Lake Italy are still frozen and we did not know the condition of Gabbot Pass. Given these factors and our lack of crampons and ice axes or rope we decided to bail to the lower JMT. We ended up doing about 140 miles in total between the piece of the SHR and the JMT from the northern KCNP border and Tuolumne Meadows in YNP.


We headed back to French Canyon for a second night. The following day we hiked from French Cnyn West to connect to the JMT at the KCNP border. From there to Tuolumne Meadows were we ended we did about 16 miles a day camping at Marie Keyes Lakes, Lake Edison, Lake Virginia and Thousand Island Lakes. None of the fords between the Pine Creek/JMT junction and Tuolumne Meadows proved particularly difficult or worrisome. All should still be done with trekking poles and time taken, but they aren't particular dangerous.

Snow on JMT Passes or other divides of note:

Seldon- 200ft on S side, solid snow all the way down the N side to Marie Lk. Patchy snow for a mile or so N of Marie Lk.

Silver Pass- 200-300ft on S side, difficult navigation on N side as snow coverage is near 100% and there are footprints all over. We just navigated the safest route down and then found the trail near melted out Squaw Lake. We hit this later afternoon and it was pretty slushy. If I were climbing from the N, I would try to hit it earlier in the day. The slush made for nicer glissading down the N side.
From Squaw Lake north to Virginia Lk very little snow encountered.

Garnet Lk and 1000 Island: descent down Southern basin wall has nice glissadable snow almost all the way down to the lake. This was some of the best opportunity for safe and fun glissading on the entire trip. Snow encountered in the pass between Garnet and 1000 Is Lk but this is not difficult to traverse and the path is well tread at this point. Garnet and 1000 Island are snow free and have tons of campsites available.

1000 Island to Donahue Pass: Only patchy snow encountered. Basin North of Island Pass is melted out as is Waugh Lake.


Donahue Pass: The trail becomes fairly non-existent 1-2 miles S of Donahue. We just made our own approach to the base of the pass and were mostly able to avoid traversing snow until the base of the pass. Were there isn't snow there is lots of water flowing, but its all very calm. We had a couple deep, slow and cold crossings in the area. There is a well tread consensus path up the S side of Donahue. We hit the pass mid morning and the snow was perfect, just slushy enough to kick steps. I'm guessing later in the afternoon it becomes a real slog. It was unclear what the best route down the N side of the pass was. We traversed to the right to take advantage of a long glissade and then climbed down through stable Class 3 talus field to connect to the trail in Lyell Canyon. The consensus path seemed to go down the very long and steep snow field and then ford the nascent Lyell Fork. The route we took involved less snow and we avoided the ford, but it definitely involved more exposure on the talus field than most would be comfortable with.

Lyell Canyon trail is extremely muddy (it will take your shoes :) ) in many spots. We found the signage near TM extremely confusing and wandered around trying to find how to actually get out to civilization!

To get back to our car at North Lake trailhead we took the YARTS bus to Mammoth....spent the night at lovely Motel 6 and then the CREST bus to Bishop in the morning. We got numbers for a ride up to the TH from Wilson's sporting goods in Bishop. We spent about 30 minutes in the blazing sun on 168 trying to hitch to no avail and we were itching to get back the car so we called one of the numbers and negotiated $40 for the ride.

The differences between the SHR and JMT are stark, especially when you see them back to back. The JMT spends huge chunks of trail mileage buried deep in canyons or well below the Sierra Crest. It merely flirts with the high country. Furthermore, the trail itself is not particularly mentally engaging. Its nice to be able to put in big miles but it lacks the macro and micro navigational tasks of the SHR. Even if you can only do a portion of the SHR, I highly encourage you to do so. The views and opportunity for solitude are unparalleled.

Photos will follow tomorrow, once I can upload them.



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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby rlown » Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:08 pm

Thanks for the TR! looking forward to the pics..
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby cgundersen » Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:22 pm

jf,
Yep, best thing about the JMT is it makes for easier access to the really superlative parts of the Sierra. It's kinda the freeway that helps zip you between places you'd rather be....your report will be great for folks heading in during the peak month coming up!
cg
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby quentinc » Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:33 pm

Thanks for all the terrific info!
I have next week off and am struggling with where to go, given the smoke to the south and the snow on all my favorite passes to the north. I was considering a similar hike out of North Lake (although not as far as Tuolomne) but figured Feather Pass would be the sticking point. The last hundred feet or so of the northwest side may be even steeper than the south, and that's what really had me thinking it's a no go. Maybe I'll try Italy Pass -- I bet it at least has boot tracks.
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby jfelectron » Wed Jul 27, 2011 7:01 pm

Yeah, even if we had managed to make it up the S side of Feather we had no idea what the N side would look like. Given the snow coverage on the S side, I'm guessing the N side is worse. I wouldn't bet on there being traffic over Italy Pass. We saw no signs of people coming from the East and the Rangers don't know of anyone who has been into Bear Lakes or Lake Italy. Good Luck out there, you'll have solitude and some awesome sights that's for sure.
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Wed Jul 27, 2011 7:42 pm

Thanks for the report. Great info on an area I am hoping to visit in the next few years.

Just curious, on a low or normal snow year, is Feather Pass usually pretty easy to traverse?
Wonder is rock and water and the life that lives in-between.
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby jfelectron » Wed Jul 27, 2011 8:15 pm

The hardest part is the headwall that guards access to the pass from La Salle Lake. Roper recommends using an "obvious cleft" in the headwall. This picture is a good representation of what it looks like when melted out:

Image
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby quentinc » Wed Jul 27, 2011 10:17 pm

JF, thanks for the additional beta. I guess there's a good chance I'll end up trucking down to the JMT too. Then I'll have to decide whether it's worth taking a chance I can make it down Lamarck Col to do a loop.

Carne: The north side of Feather Pass is harder. The last 100 feet or so is basically a steep rockpile, that doesn't look very stable. You can angle around it, clambering up and over the boulders to the left (if you're coming from the north). I recall this being rather a chore (although I think it was late in the day too). This would all be scary in snow, though.
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby arundodonax » Wed Jul 27, 2011 10:19 pm

This is great. So would you generally say it would be easier to travel north to south, were you to leave in, say 2 weeks? Any indication as to how fast the pass snow is melting?
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jul 28, 2011 9:41 am

Provided you are comfortable navigating against the direction of Roper's guide, then yes N--->S you'll initially have to deal with less snow. Above 11k, the passes are still blanketed by feet of snow for 1-2 miles on each side. I think the passes will hold snow for the remainder of the summer but the lines will recede. We never tried to rejoin the SHR further north due to a desire to make Tuolumne with our time left. Looking back up the SHR from Tully Hole it looked like the area between Tully Hole and Lake Italy (Bighorn and Shout-of-Relief Passes) are still very snowy. However, the Mammoth Crest is snow free and the snow in the Ansel Adams area looked doable. The lakes in the area still have some steep snow fields surrounding them but the passes in the area looked very doable. The travel is slow and arduous because the sun-cups are very deep and generally run perpendicular to the direction of travel!
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jul 28, 2011 12:13 pm

OK now some photos:

View up Piute Pass:

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Up through the snow on Piute Pass:

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View down to Summit Lake and Humphries Basin:

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Sky Pilot and Sky Pilot Col:

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Making our way East across Humprhies Basin on SHR:

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Tomahawk Lake and Glacier Divide:

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Puppet Pass:
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French Lakes Basin from Puppet Pass:
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East shore of Elba Lake:
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Fording Pine Creek:

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Meriam Lake Meadowlands:

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Meriam/La Salle drainage:

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Miles of SunCups! :

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S side of Feather, the approach is much steeper with hidden steep snowfields than appears here:

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Marie Lake on JMT:

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Lakes on N side of Silver Pass:

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View across Tully Hole from climb up to Virginia Lk late in the day:
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Lk Viriginia:

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1000 Island:

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Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 and MLD Duomid with Banner:

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Southern side of Donohue:

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Yosemite baby! :

Image


Full trip album with some videos:

https://picasaweb.google.com/1165779501 ... directlink
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Re: TR: Piute Pass to SHR--->bail to JMT :)

Postby rlown » Thu Jul 28, 2011 12:20 pm

the "French Lakes Basin from Puppet Pass" pic tells me what i need to know for my sept trip.. I absolutely love that you went out and did it, and reported back! helps large..

Russ
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