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Glacier Divide N-S: Packsaddle or Lobe Pass?

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Glacier Divide N-S: Packsaddle or Lobe Pass?

Postby windknot » Mon Aug 22, 2011 3:04 pm

I'm planning to cross the Glacier Divide from north to south on a 6-day loop out of North Lake next month, and the research I've been doing on the best (easiest, safest) pass to take has turned up mixed results. Packsaddle and Lobe Passes both seem to be generally easier than Snow Tongue, Alpine Col., or the Keyhole, but I've seen a couple of reports that caution the north side of Packsaddle is difficult when covered in snow (as it is likely to still be a month from now), and Lobe probably poses similar concerns.

For those of you who have done both Packsaddle or Lobe, or if you've taken another route across the Glacier Divide, which pass do you recommend taking in September during a high snow year (especially traveling north to south)? Which of these passes (Packsaddle, Lobe, or others) might be easiest to navigate with a lot of snow?

I have experience with a few more moderate Class 2 passes (Royce Pass Option, Carol Col., Thunderbolt, Knapsack, Graveyard, unnamed pass due E of Peak 11,347 on the Silver Divide), but nothing in the harder 2/2-3 range and nothing yet with lots of snow at the top. I'll be going with my father, who I would consider to be at around the same off-trail hiking level as myself, he just goes a bit slower. :)

If the general consensus is that it may be too difficult to cross the Glacier Divide in a high-snow year, I can stick to one side or the other. Still, I'd really like to make this trip a loop instead of an out-and-back if at all possible.

Appreciate any feedback in advance!

Thanks,
Matt
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/



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Re: Glacier Divide N-S: Packsaddle or Lobe Pass?

Postby cgundersen » Mon Aug 22, 2011 3:45 pm

Hi Matt,
Alpine is pretty darn similar to Thunderbolt in that you'll hit a lot of big boulder hopping on the Muriel side (above Goethe) and then a steep but tractable descent to the south side. The Keyhole is appreciably harder and definitely not a good bet. I met two guys who came over Snow Tongue (ST) from S to N and they said it was easier than Cox col where I met them 3 days ago. Cox was only challenging because of endless snow cups, so I'd not discount ST. But, for my "money", I'd highly recommend a path I did a few years back (and, there is an old trip report outlining the route with photo links) which involved going up to lower Honeymoon lake (easy use trail) and over a very accommodating ridge to Ramona (mixed conifer and grass ridge). Lots of good camping along the north shore and outlet of Ramona. From Ramona, you can do a relatively easy traverse (well marked by cairns) to lake 10907 which also has great camp sites. And, as is obvious from the topo map, the further East you go, the easier the descent to 10907. From there, we looped around to the South side of the Glacier Divide to lake 11236. It's big, bold, and beautiful with huge meadows fanning out above Evo valley. From there, we continued to traverse toward Darwin Bench and then went into Ionian Basin and finally out via Lamarck col to complete the lopsided loop. But, obviously, there are lots of other options and it would be hard to go wrong. I am not a big fan of the lake South of ST (too big and open), but the rest of the big lakes on that loop were very pretty. Finally, I've only day hiked to the ridge above Packsaddle and do not think I'd fancy doing it with a pack, but maybe I missed a trick??
cg
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Re: Glacier Divide N-S: Packsaddle or Lobe Pass?

Postby mokelumnekid » Mon Aug 22, 2011 9:47 pm

We did Packsaddle from N-to-S about ten years ago in lateish season conditions. Since almost no one goes that way there isn't much of a use trail. It is just your basic, occasionally steep, crusty scramble in the lower sections, but the north wall steepens and in the upper 1/3 to 1/4 there was a large semi-circular snow field (with a rock out-cropping in the middle) all the way to the top of the ridge. We got on it after the snow had softened a bit, but at times I still felt it was dicey because of the pack. Point being that coming down that S-to-N (always harder going down steep snow right?) could have some serious run-out issues.

If I was to try that this year I would take an ice axe and wear heavier boots that I normally do, to get more purchase kicking steps. But honestly I wouldn't try it this year- (in my mind steep snow is one of most deadly objective hazards along with stream crossings). It also is a little hard to identify the correct place to cross the ridge coming from the south. Anyway, unless you come ready to tackle sustained steep snow, I'd say pass on this plan. But maybe Maverick or SSSDave have been this way or others more recently.

(cgundersen- interesting route- but am confused a bit- when you described the x-country route from Ramona to lk 10907 and then to 11236. Also how high did you stay on the long traverse to Darwin Bench? Did you post a TR on this one? I'd love to see details and pics. A great trip would to do yours in reverse, and at Honeymoon Lk. drop into Piute Canyon, x-country up into West Pinnacles, then north into Seven Gables and out Pine Creek. If only Granite Bear Pass was reliable- arrgggh! I've done all parts of this except for your nice route around Glacier Divide- sounds better than Packsaddle)
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Re: Glacier Divide N-S: Packsaddle or Lobe Pass?

Postby windknot » Mon Aug 22, 2011 11:03 pm

Thanks for the input, cgundersen and mokelumnekid. This is exactly what I was digging around for.

CG, I read your report from a few years ago with great interest and thought you guys planned a great route around the Glacier Divide. I'm planning to camp at Ramona too, so the Ramona-10907-11236 traverse would definitely be convenient. I just don't know if there would be enough time, as I hoped to be at Ramona on the third day from North Lake and then reach the lake south of Snow Tongue on Day 4 (for fishing reasons). Seems like it would be a long day, although with no fish in Lake 10907 or 11236 there wouldn't be any fishing distractions along the way to waste time and daylight.

MK, your experience seems to mirror Tom Kenney's Correction to Secor regarding Packsaddle Pass, wherein he states that "he had to laugh at the class 2 rating." I too believe steep snow to be one of the most dangerous hazards out there, and it's not one that I want to take lightly.

Anyway, thanks again for the input. I've got a Plan B in the works for a trip a bit further south in the Whitney area, so I won't be too bummed if I have to save the Glacier Divide merry-go-round for another year with less snow.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: Glacier Divide N-S: Packsaddle or Lobe Pass?

Postby cgundersen » Tue Aug 23, 2011 10:08 am

WK & MK,

Yep, getting from Ramona to the lake below Snow Tongue in one day would require a herculean effort (or wings). On the other hand, getting to Ramona on day 2 would be no big deal (my recollection is that Ramona had some large fish) and having two days to get around the divide would be very feasible (if the weather cooperates). I know you're going for the fish, but I hope you snap a few photos, too!

MK: My trip report for the Glacier Divide loop was posted in late July 2008 and there is a link to photos. I agree that this loop provides a good launch pad for other areas, and it just happened to be Ionian that we chose on our trip. As for the traverse to Darwin bench, we simply chose routes that looked to follow the gentlest contours on the topo map and that worked perfectly. There were absolutely no unpleasant surprises; just the usual scrambling. Also, as you can imagine (and the photos help a little) the elevated views one gets of Piute, Goddard & McGee Canyons as well as Evo Valley and the surroundings are sensational.

cg
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Re: Glacier Divide N-S: Packsaddle or Lobe Pass?

Postby Coops » Tue Aug 23, 2011 1:13 pm

If you've gone over Thunderbolt and Knapsack, then you should be capable enough to get over Snow Toungue. There's almost always some snow there (hence the name) and the rocks to the West/north of the "toungue" are quite loose at the top, but it is manageable and the south side isn't too formidable. Roper offers good description in his High Route book for this pass.

I've heard Lamarck Col is easier. I don't have a map in front of me, but that could be a nice option for your trip.
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Re: Glacier Divide N-S: Packsaddle or Lobe Pass?

Postby windknot » Wed Aug 24, 2011 10:11 am

Thanks Coops. I'm mostly worried about the increased difficulty due to this year's high levels of snow, which unfortunately will pose an issue on the north side of all trans-Glacier Divide passes this year. My planned loop was going to enter Humphreys Basin via Piute Pass, poke around Humphreys and French Canyon for a few days, then cross over the divide and exit via Darwin Canyon and Lamarck Column. I've decided to just play it safe and do a trip in a different area now though (the best thing about trip planning is that there's always another option that is equally appealing!).
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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