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TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

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TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby windknot » Fri Sep 30, 2011 12:34 pm

6:30am in the morning on Thursday found us leaving Sanger with gear-laden Subaru, bound for Lone Pine. I had driven down from Berkeley the night before, four days of vacation sandwiched around a weekend, and was raring to go for a 6-day trip into the Southern Sierra. The drive down to Bakersfield and around through Tehachapi Pass was uneventful. We arrived at the Interagency Visitor Center at 11am, picked up our permits, grabbed a quick lunch at Carl’s Jr. (the taco truck I like in Lone Pine wasn't open yet) and then headed up the steep, winding road toward Horseshoe Meadow.

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We hit the trail at around 1pm with loaded packs. Mine weighed in at a hefty 58 lbs. on the bathroom scale at my parents' place before I added the water, as I was carrying the tent and the expedition-sized Garcia bear can full of food in addition to my normal gear and warmer than usual clothing. An ultralight backpacker I am decidedly not.

The trail to the Cottonwood Lakes is almost level for the first few miles, and so it was easy going even with the heavier pack than usual. However, once we crossed the creek and saw a smaller trail heading off in the direction of the creek while the larger, main trail veered away from the creek to the right, I checked my map and saw that something looked fishy. The trail on my map followed Cottonwood Creek all the way to the lakes, at which point another trail branched off toward High Lake and New Army Pass. After some debating, we decided to take the smaller trail, figuring that even if this wasn't the trail to the main basin, it would at least lead up to some of the other lakes in the area like the South Fork Lakes.

As it turned out, it did lead up to the South Fork Lakes. The trail began climbing, and we slowed our pace considerably, but eventually we reached the lowest South Fork Lake and reoriented ourselves on my map. It turned out that this trail didn't even show up on my map. All's well that ends well though, and since we were headed for High Lake anyway, we rigged up and spent about half an hour fishing before continuing up past the other two South Fork lakes, then heading to Long. I fished at Long for another half an hour, and then we hoofed it up the last bit of trail to High Lake.

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High Lake was beautiful, nestled beneath a vertical wall of cliffs with a long sight line to the east. We set up camp on the big campsite on the low ridge above the lake, and then got to fishing. Goldens were boiling at the surface near the inlet, and I had a lot of fun fly fishing for these chunky fish. When it got dark, we returned to camp and made a big dinner of capellini with pesto and smoked herring (this would be the meal du jour for the entire trip, as I brought two pounds of pasta, two jars of pesto, and three cans of herring to form the bulk of our dinners). The food was topped off with hot chocolate and Irish cream (also to be a nightly staple for the trip) and hit the sack.

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I awoke early on Friday and was treated to a gorgeous sunrise. It was still a bit too dark to fish, so instead I snapped some pictures of the sun rising up over the horizon and shivered in the morning cold. Soon it got lighter, and we set out around the perimeter of the lake to fish. After a few hours we broke camp and began hiking at 8:30am, and in 45 minutes we were at the top of New Army Pass.

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We walked down the gentle west side of the pass, marveling at the sheer number of marmots eyeing us curiously, and then descended into the ravine toward Rock Creek. Taking the spur trail to Soldier Lake, we arrived at the lake at 11am and paused for a few minutes before clambering up and over the low ridge to the northwest and striking out into Miter Basin.

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We traversed the basin east of Rock Creek, staying high until we reached the two little tarns along the creek, and then dropped our packs and headed up to Primrose. Although storm clouds were threatening, the rain stayed away and we arrived at the outlet fifteen minutes later to find a pretty lake nestled deep into a high cirque.

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We hung out here for a few hours, fishing and soaking in the lakeside views. At about 3pm, we headed back down to retrieve our packs and finished the cross-country traverse, this time along on the west side of the slope above the creek, to Sky Blue Lake.

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We arrived at the lake under darkening clouds. A party of three were camped near the outlet, huddled against the wind and cold, so we continued along the east side of the lake and found a nifty campsite sheltered from the wind. Although it was indeed cold and rather dark, this didn’t stop us from setting out to explore the water.

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Plans to head over Crabtree Pass early on Saturday morning were thwarted by threatening thunderclouds followed by intermittent bursts of heavy hail all morning. We packed up camp pretty early, then fished around to the inlet side of the lake before being forced to take refuge under a rain shelter (rain fly stretched over tent poles sans tent) as we waited out three different short but furious bursts of hail.

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After the hail stopped for the third time in the late morning, we began climbing up through the basin above Sky Blue Lake. This is some very pretty country. We contoured up a granite ridge to circumvent the cliffs below WL 3697 (the big lake above Sky Blue), then traversed high above the lake toward the pass. From there, it was a straightforward walk up to the top of Crabtree Pass.

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We picked out a route down to the highest Crabtree lake (Crabtree #4?), a steep but also pretty simple descent, and then followed the pretty well-worn unmaintained trail around the north side of the lake. It was an easy walk down gently sloping granite slabs through another quick burst of hail and sleet to the inlet of our destination for the night.

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By this point it was already mid-afternoon, too late in the day to make it all the way to the Whitney Creek basin. Staying an extra night here and then doing a day hike into the next basin tomorrow wouldn't be the worst of Plan B options, we decided, so we made camp near the outlet. The weather cooperated for the first time all day, clouds parting for the sun to peek through, and we were able to spend an enjoyable rest of the day at the lake.

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On Sunday, we did a day hike over into the Whitney Creek drainage. We hiked down the Crabtree Lakes trail for a few miles, then cut cross-country north up to the John Muir Trail below Timberline Tarn. From there, we walked up some sloping granite slabs to the outlet of the lower Hitchcock Lake. This very pretty lake is set beneath the striking backdrop of the ominous Hitchcock Peak.

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After exploring here for a while, we headed up to the upper Hitchcock Lake.

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At this point, my dad realized that his cheap L.L. Bean boots – which had served him well on easy to moderate trips in the past few years – were now falling apart with the sole coming completely off the heel. No more off-trail boulder hopping for us. He jury-rigged the boot using athletic tape, and then we headed over some easy cross-country ridges to Guitar.

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We fished here for a bit, then took the trail down to Crabtree Meadow, then back up to the lakes, running into tons of deer along the way. At one point, we ran into two college-aged kids who turned out to be at the end of a 20-day backpack along the John Muir Trail. One of the kids was wearing a Giants shirt, and for ten minutes they hungrily gleaned updates on the fate of the Giants' season from my dad (magic number for elimination was 1 when we left) before I could pull him away. We arrived back at camp just before sunset.

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Because of my dad's footwear issues, we didn't want to risk going back over Crabtree Pass and tearing apart his boots completely. Instead, we decided to take the trail route down to Lower Crabtree Meadow, over to Guyot Pass, down to Rock Creek, and then up Rock Creek back towards Miter Basin. It would add more mileage than we had planned for, but this way we wouldn't be doing any more boulder hopping and my dad's taped up boots would hopefully survive until the end of the trip.

We packed up camp in the morning, then headed out along the trail down to Crabtree Meadow. On our way up to Guyot Pass, we ran into a husband and wife duo that were doing what he said was his version of the John Muir Trail (Horseshoe Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows, with a layover day to climb Whitney). We chatted with them for a while and learned that they were both rangers in Grand Teton National Park, and that they drove west to California every September for a lengthy Sierra backpacking trip after the crowds and mosquitoes had disappeared.

After 13 sandy, tedious miles, we finally dropped packs at the little meadow lake on Upper Rock Creek. We fished until dark, then cooked up a batch of capellini with pesto and smoked herring, ate dinner, and called it a night. As this campsite was well-used (there was a bear box about a hundred feet away) and we had already seen signs of mice, we made sure to mouse-proof our kitchen before we went to sleep.

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We had been waking up between 6:15 and 6:30am every morning of this trip (early enough to get a few fantastic sunrise shots over High Lake the first morning), but on Tuesday morning the combination of a lower altitude camp with warmer weather, and wearier legs resulted in a later start. We got up at 7:15am, ate a big breakfast, and leisurely packed up camp. The food I had brought ended up working out really well; we only had a few pieces of dried mango, half a bar of dark chocolate, some Clif bars, a couple bags of tea, and a bit of pasta left over from six days' worth of provisions packed into an expedition-sized Garcia bear can when we started out.

The walk up to the pass was a slow grind, but the cool, slightly windy weather worked in our favor and we were standing at Old Army Pass looking down at the Cottonwood Lakes basin before 11am.

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The trail isn't maintained but receives enough use that it's still very much legible, with only a few scattered rock falls that have caused hikers to reroute bits of the trail. In half an hour, we had clambered down the steep grade and arrived at Cottonwood Lake #4. We fished and explored the basin for the next few hours until it was eventually time to leave. We stopped at a creek to filter some more water, and then took off for the trailhead.

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I hit warp speed along the trail and covered the 4.5 miles back to the trailhead in an hour and 15 minutes. Along the way, I consulted my map and realized why we had taken the wrong turn up the trail to the South Fork lakes to begin the trip: my map still showed the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead (and of course, the trail) as beginning at the bend where the road to Horseshoe Meadow crosses Cottonwood Creek, instead of near the pack station. It didn't make much of a difference in the overall experience, but it did serve as a reminder for me to double check the accuracy of my maps before leaving on a trip. My dad arrived back at the trailhead half an hour later, and soon we had crammed everything back in the Subaru and pulled out of the trailhead parking lot.

On the way down the mountain, I was salivating thinking of the tacos at the taco truck in Lone Pine. They didn't disappoint. I ended up eating four fish tacos, two shrimp tacos, and a 32 oz. cup of horchata, while my dad got a big chicken burrito. Annoyingly, the mosquitoes were out in full force on that warm evening in Lone Pine, and so although I only got one mosquito bite in six days and fifty miles of hiking in the mountains, I ended up with nearly a dozen mostly on my legs in about half an hour of sitting under an open tent and eating Mexican food. Go figure.

The drive back to Sanger and then to Berkeley was long, but when factored into the overall experience it was well worth the time and gas money. I take these trips up to the Sierra predominantly in order to find good fishing spots, but I find that once I'm up there the fishing seems to take a back seat to the scenery, the camaraderie, and the experience. You'd think it would become routine looking at mountains and lakes set against a backdrop of vast amounts of granite. However, every time I revisit the mountains I somehow find myself amazed yet again at the variance from lake basin to lake basin and from meadow to meadow, and marveling at the incredible juxtaposition of intimate, vibrant life with the grand, stark landscape in which those organisms dwell.

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Last edited by windknot on Mon Oct 10, 2011 9:17 am, edited 3 times in total.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/



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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby balzaccom » Fri Sep 30, 2011 2:09 pm

Great report!

And that photo of fishing on Crabtree Lake with the clouds in the background is a classic!
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby maverick » Fri Sep 30, 2011 2:55 pm

Thanks Windknot for the TR, and cool pictures!
Always enjoy seeing the difference, like from Quentinc's TR's from earlier in the season
with Miter still covered in snow, Sky Blue Lake ice over, and the way things look now.
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NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby Hobbes » Fri Sep 30, 2011 3:01 pm

Great TR! Hey, while you were up there, did you see any Navy jets fly by? When I was up there a week earlier, an F-18 came barreling up the canyon right below peak height.

I was walking back down the middle of the basin around 5pm, and I could hear him quickly coming up from Rock Creek. I was really worried that he was going super-sonic, because the boom would have caromed off the walls. As it was, I swung around as he flashed by barely overhead.

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To cap it off, he did a series of half-barrel rolls (180 to 180) as he flew between the Miter (middle right with Mallory & LeConte in the background) and the spur next to lake 12K (middle left foreground) as he headed towards Arc Pass (dip in rear of photo).

As he exited up & over Arc pass, I was furiously trying to dig my camera out of my pocket. I could hear what sounded like a turn, and hoping he was coming back my way, had my camera at the ready. Alas, it was not to be, but from the sound of the jet, he was clearly was having fun flying around some of the other peaks.

Imagine being paid to have that much fun?
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby Timberline » Fri Sep 30, 2011 4:58 pm

[quote="windknot"]every time I revisit the mountains I somehow find myself amazed yet again at the variance from lake basin to lake basin and from meadow to meadow, and marveling at the incredible juxtaposition of intimate, vibrant life with the grand, stark landscape in which those organisms dwell.

Well put, indeed, Windknot. A wonderful TR also. Thanks! :thumbsup:
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby sparky » Fri Sep 30, 2011 6:08 pm

This is a really scenic area. Would like to go back and spend more time visiting all the lakes in Mired Basin.

Hobbes, a few years ago hiking up kern canyon a few miles past the forks I suddenly heard an explosion. Brain instantly went into red alert. The sound was extremely loud. As I looked up I expected to see the mountain crumbling to engulf me. They were intact....next up was nuclear halocaust, or aliens.....then I saw the black streak, flying IN kern canyon, below the rim. I watched him make a Sharp left, and he was gone. No fade in fade out of sound....just was there, then gone. After a minute or two I started to question if it even hapned, the way the sound behaved.
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby bluefintu » Fri Sep 30, 2011 7:42 pm

Great report windknot, I hope to return next year. My trip at the begining of the first week last month was cut short because of the nasty weather when my son and I we're supposed to leave so our trip was cut short. We still had a great time.
Sanger? My Dad grew up there. (Jenson and Highland? I have'nt be there in 25 plus years) My wife grew up in Reedley.

Hey Hobbes, I wonder if it was that test pilot that used to do barrel rolls to check out the back country conditions? Naw, maybe it was his son.
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby freestone » Sat Oct 01, 2011 6:44 am

Sounds like your Dad was with you every step of the way. even with the bum boot! Sky Blue has the magic for sure, but not an easy fish by any means. On my visit there many moons ago, I casted out my line to wet it, and bam, a huge fish wet air borne on it. I was so surprised that I yanked too hard to set the hook and pulled it right out of his mouth. After that first hit on a practice cast, nada. I saw huge fish cruising the submerged talus, but they weren't interested in my offerings.
Taco truck in Lone Pine? Did not know about that. Did you say where they parked? I was there yesterday and did McD but would have much preferred the tacos! Lots of weather was happening up there as well on Friday.
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby windknot » Sat Oct 01, 2011 2:37 pm

Thanks everybody. It was a very enjoyable trip and I had a lot of fun going through the pictures later for the report. Freestone, the taco truck is in the empty lot right on 395 which has a sign for the motel a block down. It's on the north end of town, about a block away from the Carl's Jr. and right across from the Mobil station. Cheaper food than any of the non-fast food restaurants there, and very good tacos and burritos.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby bob adams » Thu Oct 06, 2011 9:09 am

Awesome trip report especially the photos. Makes me want to go back to the Miter Basin so bad!
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby Vaca Russ » Fri Oct 07, 2011 7:18 am

Matt,

WOW! This is an excellent TR on so many different levels. I find it inspiring that you made this trip with your father. Has he purchased a new pair of boots? Any recommendations? Mine are getting rather worn but, like an old girlfriend, I'm am afraid to give them up. They are just too trustworthy and comfortable. :)

You will never forget the time you and your father huddled under a tent fly waiting out hail storms.

Those pesky college-aged kids! :) It's a good thing we are all way more mature today. :lol:

I have been dreaming about visitling this area all summer long. Maybe next year. Maybe, like SHig, I'll start with something less ambitious. Someday I would like to visit all of those productive lakes with my son. It is good to find I now know a resource with first hand experience.

This is my favorite TR this year.

Thanks,

-Russ
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Re: TR: NAP to Miter Basin, Crabtree Basin, Whitney Creek

Postby windknot » Fri Oct 07, 2011 8:33 am

Thanks Russ! I personally like Asolos (have bought four pairs in the past five months, trying to find a suitable replacement for my old pair). I used the Asolo Echo model for two years and several hundred miles of hiking and they worked great; the only downside for Asolo boots is that the sole is very grippy, so it wears down relatively quickly. Great for off-trail hiking, but not so great if you want a boot that you can wear for years. I suppose you can always get it re-soled, but at $60-80 a pop, it's almost worth it just to buy a new pair of boots (around $200 retail, but you can find them for nearly half that if you look on Ebay or Sierra Trading Post).

Now I'm using Asolo Fugitives (the GTX version of the Echo) and they work equally well. I found a pair of TPS 520's at an REI used gear sale, and they were great for the one overnight trip I used them until I got back to the trailhead and drove off, leaving them behind. Then I bought a used pair of Power Matic 200's because I found a good deal on a slightly different size, but it turns out that my feet will only fit a certain size and width boot (Asolo seems to make narrower boots than most companies).
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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