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Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

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Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby mpeters » Wed Aug 10, 2011 12:04 am

Hi all,

I'm about 3 weeks away(Aug 31) from a planned excursion from Devils Postpile to Tuolumne Meadows via the SHR. I have some specific questions which I hope the community here can comment on and i'm open to any other relevant advice that people care to share.

The Plan:
Who: Myself and a friend. Decent physical condition but not uber-fitness fanatics. Late 30's :)

Experience Level: Regular backpacking trips for both of us since high school, primarily in Emigrant Wilderness and Yosemite. Level 3 as described in the forums here. Some cross-country travel and navigation. Moderate experience on shale/talus and snow(Shasta 2x and other minor snow crossings). A handful of peaks climbed over the years, nothing very technical and i'd say up to a moderate class 3 as I understand the ratings. Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Tenaya Peak, Shasta, Levitt, Crown, etc.

5 trail days; estimated distance 40-44 miles.

I'm into photography, my friend is into fishing but i think we'll be mostly hiking. I am excited to see the Minarets up close though and hope to return with a few keepers.

I've read the Roper book, browsed a lot of information on the web. For those that are interested, onthetrail.org has a nice set of maps and information on the SHR(no, i'm not affiliated with the site :))

My specific questions are these:
1. I plan to do a fly over with my dad and his Piper in the next week or two to get a visual on the snow conditions. Absent this information, should we expect to encounter difficult or extensive snow areas on this route? If so, we will add an ice axe to our pack(we have learned and practiced self arrest although I'm rusty)

2. Is our timeline reasonable? I see the section between 1000 island lake and through Bench Canyon as being very difficult and time consuming, both due to the Xcountry travel and the elevation/terrain.

3. We plan to leave a car at TM and arrange a drop off at DP or catch the shuttle. Any comments on how the shuttle works? We plan to sleep at elevation the day prior to our departure and we can drive into the park and catch the shuttle to DP in the morning. However, if the shuttle doesn't reach DP until mid-day or afternoon on our day 1, then I'd like to make other arrangements.

3. How is the fishing at the various lakes?

4. Has anyone here been through this route yet in 2011? If so, any comments?

5. My wife would like me to purchase and take a SPOT. I think it would be neat to have the breadcrmb feature that can be added to the SPOT subscription but it is pricey. Are there other similar emergency beacon options? I"m inclined to take one for her peace of mind.

We are permitted for entry on the Minaret Lake trailhead. We plan to stay the first night near Minaret Lake.

I'm sure I've missed something but hopefully it will come up in the discussion. I just finished reading Shattered Air by Bob Madgic and I would highly recommend it to the group, not only as a fascinating story but for the information regarding lightning contained within. Honestly, the lightning is most concerning to me. I've been in several rough lightning storms, but never stuck above tree line in exposed conditions.

Thanks for the help.
Mark P
www.markpetersphoto.com



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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Aug 10, 2011 8:07 am

Given your experience and desire to fish and photograph, 5 days is too short. Seven would be better. It is a real shame to run through the Minarets. Better fishing in Minarets than later. There will be some serious snow slopes to cross- must do them mid to late day because they are very icy in morning. You may want to take ice axe and crampons, or microspikes. Because of the snow you cannot simply say you will go "x" amount of miles each day.

The most difficult stream crossing of the HIgh Route is also on this leg-- outlet of Twin Island Lake. You can divert this by crossing inlet and traversing the other side-some steep snow and a cliff to go over- still not easy.

Once over Forester Pass and on the trail, it is easy and you can make big miles if you have to. There is nothing much to linger around for between the Lyell Fork crossing until you get to Lewis Creek, which is really pretty and may have fishing. Bernice Lake may be a nice side-trip. High Sierra Camp at Volgalsang to TM is just a big trail to quicly get down- not particulary scenic.

Although you have done some mountaineering, have you done class 2-3 terrain with a full pack on your back? Roper's description of route is not a description typical of early season or high snowpack condtions. I have done 40 years of mountaineering, and I think Roper "sandbags" the route for the average off-trail hiker. Of course, if you are Roper, world class mountaineer and rock climber, the route is easy. But, the key to making the route easier is to take your time. Roper may be able to go from Thousand Island Lake to Blue Lake in a day, but most people cannot.
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby mpeters » Wed Aug 10, 2011 12:44 pm

Thanks for the reply Wandering Daisy --

Regarding rushing through the Minarets... i'm also feeling sad about this. Looks like a place to spend days! We have a 6th day(Labor Day) as an option, but i'd rather not use it. However, we won't rush through any dangerous sections just to meet a 5 day schedule and I recognize that our xcountry experience level is limited

I've picked up confirmation from other people that Roper's "Class 3 scramble" is in fact not as benign as it may sound. Your comment confirms his sandbagging. :) I guess if you are a world class climber, it is a scramble.

We have both done some(not a lot) of mountaineering with a full pack. Neither of us are the daring types so i expect speed to be fairly slow on the xcountry sections. Given the unusual snowpack conditions, i'll likely game plan an alternate trip in case it is needed. It would complicate the transportation back if we don't end up at TM as our car will be left there. I'm open to suggestions regarding an alternate trip...

thanks,
Mark
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby Xosob » Wed Aug 10, 2011 1:30 pm

I have a similar starting point (Minaret Lakes Trail) in 1.5 weks but am planning on taking the JMT to Tuolumne over Donohue Pass (never did that section previously) and have four days total scheduled: Day 1 to Ediza Lake (or further), Day 2 in vicinity of Thousand Island Lake, and Days 3-4 to Tuolumne. I realize I going faster than desired, but I have limited time coming from MA. I have experience on Class 2-3 w/ full pack and on snow (ice out east, actually) and will be taking poles, microspikes, and possibly ice axe (can take it, but would like to minimize weight if possible).

I was planning an early start at DP to get to Minaret Lake around noon if possible, allowing "mid-afternoon" travel via Cecile and Iceberg Lakes. But I am concerned also about Whitebark Pass -- it is steep (and I expect snow-covered) on N side. How realistic is it to get over Whitebark also on the 1st day? I have been training hard for months, but time is finite for a day. Garnet Pass should be less of an issue, but should I consider taking the JMT between Ediza/Shadow & Thousand Island, or wait around in vicinity of Ediza/Nydiver on Day 2 for snow to soften on Whitebark? If I skip Whitebark I can spend more time exploring around Thousand Island (easy trail between Ediza & Thousand Island based on a trip I did last year).

I really hate to be moving so fast on this trip, but I just missed out on getting a reserved permit for Bishop Pass for the follow-up trip, which requires this Minarets trip to be shortened (I have a 5-d permit for the Minaret Lk entry).
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Aug 10, 2011 2:25 pm

You do not go down Whitebark Pass directly from the pass. It is really steep snow! In fact it often is a cornice. You go right (east-northeast) and stay on rock and there is a short rock scramble to get down to the less steep snow. That assumes that the rock scramble is not also covered in snow! The rock has big hand holds, but is steep - sort of like down climbing a ladder- you have to face the rock. White Bark Pass, unlike the snow below Cecile Lake, is not in deep shadows so would soften sooner. You can camp at Iceberg Lake or the small tarn under Mt Ritter (both spectacular campsites). Just do slightly late start (say 8:30-9AM) and by the time you get there I think the snow would be OK. To get all the way over White Bark Pass on Day 1 would be pretty energetic. Island Pass (is this what you are calling Garnet Pass?) and Donahue Pass are so trodden by PCT hikers that you should not have any problems, other than post-holeing in the afternoons.
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Aug 10, 2011 2:29 pm

Oh- why camp at Ediza Lake? The High Route traverses a lot higher (about 300 feet above Ediza Lake) and it actually is a detour to drop to Ediza Lake. Ediza Lake was crawling with people last year. I actually was rather grossed out by all the use-trails and over use. I really liked camping at Nydiver Lake last year.
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Aug 10, 2011 2:43 pm

mpeters- it is not a matter of being daring-- much difficulty is route-finding. The difference between good route finding and poor can be a 4 hour day vs an 8 hour day. The micro-route finding is critical. There is a definite joint pattern and if you go "with the grain" it can be easy but if you go "against the grain" it is really tough. The technical difficulties (class 2-3) are the section above Iceberg Lake and White Bark Pass -- if you do your starting trail alternative, you miss these. That just leaves Forester Pass for a Class 2 pass. On North Glacier Pass, stay on the far east side going up the pass. If you stay in the middle you will end up on very steep snow at the top. There basically is a trail in the talus on the east side up higher. You certainly can get into some very technical stuff if you miss the route going southwest from Catherine Lake and getting around the upper Twin Island Lake involves some slab walking. Roper's route is really rather cleaver- if you are on route it is not bad, if off route it can be hideous.
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby Xosob » Wed Aug 10, 2011 3:12 pm

Thanks Wandering Daisy -- I knew that one traverses right to get from Nydiver to Garnet Lake but had no information regarding when the snow around Whitebark would soften. I had no intention of camping right at Ediza but would be seeking something higher up, maybe w/ a little wind to keep mosquitos away. The tarn below Ritter or near Nydiver sound great. Your report from last year was useful.

I thought Roper or Secor called the hump between Garnet & Thousand Island "Garnet Pass" -- nothing difficult compared to the immediately preceding sections. Doesn't sound like the JMT will have too much snow other than near Donohue -- and, as you said, the path should be obvious.
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby mpeters » Thu Aug 11, 2011 12:26 pm

Thanks WD. The use of "daring" wasn't really the right word. Basically, we expect to travel slow and we won't rush through a dangerous section just because we've schedule a 5 day trip.

Thanks alot for all of your advice, particularly the info about Iceberg Lake/Whitebark Pass.

IF, we decide to do more of a loop trail so we can spend more time fishing/photographing, are we able to enter on the Minaret Lake trail, and exit the same spot? When i reserved the permit, I listed TM as our exit.

I'm really excited about the part of the SHR from Minaret to Catherine/Twin Island, less so about the section approaching Vogelsang and from Vogelsang to TM. Looks like endless photo opps.
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby oleander » Sat Aug 27, 2011 1:11 pm

I'll be honest: Viewing it from the north, Whitebark Pass has always looked just scary and daunting to me. A long long distance of vertical travel, with technical-looking stuff on the top. And in a high snow year? Hmmm.

The pass between Garnet & Thousand Island Lake is easy-peasy, and quite beautiful.

The Ritter Range is extremely rugged.

Here's the great thing: You have a bailout option that would not require you to give up anything in scenic value. Anytime before Thousand Island Lake/Catherine Pass, you can simply bail to the JMT. Once on the JMT, you can escape the crowds (and get some more mini-x-country) by exploring Davis Lakes, Marie Lakes, and Lyell Glacier on your way to TM. (If you want to go to Davis Lakes, you can x-country from the west side of Thousand Island Lake.)

Elizabeth
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby mpeters » Wed Sep 07, 2011 11:18 pm

]Hi again, thanks for all the input on this thread. Wandering Daisy -- you were right; 5 days was not enough for this trip! My friend never pulled out his fishing pole and i only took pictures in the early morning hours or a snapshot here and there during the hike. Here are a couple of highlights from the trip along with a few photos. I'll attempt to post a more detailed trip report soon for anyone that is interested.

8/31(Day 1): DP to Minaret Lake. Really just a dusty afternoon hike. We got a late start out of DP and didn't make it to ML until dark. However, our campsight was spectacular and the morning sunrise on the Minarets was phenomenal. 2 other people there, otherwise we had the place to ourselves.

_MG_3471.jpg
Minaret Lake Sunrise 9/1/11


9/1: Minaret Lake to 1000 Island Lake. Hiked from about 10:00 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. with plenty of rest stops. The Iceburg Lake snow traverse was OK, but hiking poles were really helpful. The highlight was crossing down Whitebark pass into Garnet Lake basin just as the sun was starting to set behind Banner. The wide shallow stream coming out of Banner was unique and something I hadn't seen before. About 2" deep, 30' wide, with 2-6" rocks meshed into a composite riverbed.

_MG_3633.jpg
Glacial Stream flowing from Banner to Garnet Lake

_MG_3699.jpg
Mt Banner Sunrise 9/2/11


9/3: 1000 Island Lake to a valley above the lake at 3,100 meters. Glacier Pass(moderate snow ascent), Lake Catherine, Twin Island Lakes(the stream crossing wasn't an issue, only about 30" deep and slow). Out altimeter was off by about 200' and in the dark we walked right past the unnamed lake we were shooting for. Had a great campsight though with fantastic views due to our mistake. Other than our slight detour here, this was the only real route finding issues we experienced. A second time through this area would be much easier as it seems like Roper gives you just what you need but not what you want.
_MG_3789.jpg
Campsite above Lake 3125m


9/4: to Lyell Fork of the Merced. Another long day, through Bench Canyon(sublime), up to Blue Lakes, over Blue Lakes pass, through a wonderful meadow with a trout filled stream and down into the Lyell Canyon by way of headlamps.
_MG_3877.jpg
Meadow below Blue Lakes Pass



9/5: Lyell Fork to TM:Total mileage approaching 20 miles by my estimation. Too much and my feet paid for it! Lewis Creek and the cascade from Forester Lake(??) is spectacular. Vogelsang to TM, dry and dusty!

Lots of time joking about Roper's "strolls", "gentle walks", and "scrambles". I guess for a world class mountaineer, his words are correct. For us, we rarely found much strolling, except the walk through Bench Canyon which may have been my personal highlight. :) The waterfall into the solitary tarn below Lake Catherine was unreal.
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Re: Trip Advice - Sierra High Route, DP to TM

Postby bainhameen » Thu Sep 08, 2011 6:03 am

Just curious MP, do you reside at sea level? In terms of altitude acclimatization, do you have any trouble going from sea level (or whatever altitude you reside) to Minaret Lake (~9500ft) in one day?

Thanks,

b-h
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