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Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

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Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby Pietro257 » Mon Feb 20, 2012 5:23 pm

I’d like help with a trip I’m planning this summer in the western Ansel Adams Wilderness out of the Granite Creek Campground trailhead. The trip is a loop with the goal of going to my favorite place on earth, Bench Canyon. It goes something like this (cross-country portions of the trip are in italics):

Granite Creek Campground trailhead; to The Niche; to Chetwood Creek; to Bugg Meadow; to Hemlock Crossing; to Stevenson Meadow; to confluence of the No. Fork San Joaquin River and Bench Canyon Creek; up Bench Canyon Creek to Bench Canyon; to Blue Lake; over pass south to Rockbound Lake; follow Long Creek and pick up the trail south to Cora Lakes; to Chetwood Creek and Cora Lakes; to The Niche; to Granite Creek Campground trailhead

My party are experienced backpackers. We’ve been to Bench Canyon twice before, both times from the east side on the High Sierra Route (Roper Route) from North Glacier Pass and Twin Island Lakes.

My questions are:

1. If we can’t make it from Granite Creek Campground trailhead to Hemlock Crossing (13 miles) on the first day, are there many (any?) places to camp between Bugg Meadow and Hemlock Crossing? Some reports here and on the Internet say there isn’t much water in this area.

2. Has anybody hiked to Bench Canyon from the confluence of Bench Canyon Creek and the North Fork of the San Joaquin River? What is this area like? I’ve been in lower Bench Canyon but not all the way down to the San Joaquin.

3. Anybody with information about climbing over the pass between Blue Lake and Rockbound Lake? This person makes it sound pretty easy: http://www.thebackpacker.com/trailtalk/ ... 158,-1.php

4. To get from Rockbound Lake to the Cora Lakes, you follow Long Creek and then pick up the trail south to the Cora Lakes. Is this trail hard to find? It seems like this trail is not well maintained. And this report says there isn’t much water there: http://www.thebackpacker.com/trailtalk/ ... 158,-1.php Is there any good camping between Rockbound Lake and the Cora Lakes?

My other idea is to do this loop the opposite direction, and go to Rockbound Lake, Bench Canyon, and down to Hemlock Crossing. Oddly, none of my guidebooks describe the trail from the Cora Lakes north to Long Creek. Does anybody know anything about this trail or how long it is?

Thanks in advance for any and all help you can give. This community helped me a lot when I planned last year’s trip (viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6814), for which I’m very grateful.



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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby Electra » Mon Feb 20, 2012 6:21 pm

Pietro- I have done the trip to Bench Canyon numerous times in both directions. Feel free to hit me offline for more information.
1> First, you can always shorten your first day by a few miles by starting at the Isberg trailhead instead of the campground. Early season, there are numerous small creeks past Suprise Saddle though camping would be fair. The last water/camp is about a half mile from the descent into the canyon. The creeks flow obviously depend on when you go, late season they will be dry.
2> The river crossing can be serious in early/high flow. You should cross in a flat section after the trail turns NE towards Twin Island Lakes, a few hundred yards past the bench creek confluence. There will be a small use trail down to the river. Once across the river, traverse up and into the lower canyon and then ascend Bench Creek (steep) into the main canyon. I recommend ascending the south side of the creek. This lower section is quite nice and the creek is in a small gorge and then climbs a steep headwall.
3> The pass is very obvious and no problem.
4> I love this route but it can be very hard to follow. I always lose the trail at some point, especially in the meadow before the last long climb up to sadler peak saddle. There is great camping in long canyon and below sadler peak but once on the south side of the sadler ridge, camping wouldn't be great. It can be tough to find the 'trail' up and out of long canyon so just wing it if you cant find it, staying more west than east. The trail on the top of the saddle is close where it begins to climb steeply up sadler peak.

Hope this helps....
Dan Braun
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby maverick » Mon Feb 20, 2012 6:27 pm

Hi Pietro

You should be able to make the crossing since in a day, especially if you opt
for the Isberg Trailhead instead, after Bugg its mostly down hill, and
there is not a lot of water. I made it to the Bench Campsite the first day after
a pretty late start.
The last time through this area, before the trail crews cleared things out, there
were a lot of downed trees in some areas.
Big flower gardens on the northern side of the trail at around 8100 ft.
There is a great campsite on the northern side of NFSJR in between the branches
that lead up Bench, and the Twin area. The ascent was steep at the beginning, but
was better as one got higher up. The easiest crossing of the river was a few 100
yards up towards Twin Lakes, and then head into around the cliffs to the stand of
trees where you should find that campsite.
There are some different routes down Long Creek, you have take care in your
route finding otherwise you can find yourself on class 3 terrain, but you say your
party is experienced so you should be able to find the easiest route.
Here is the only TR that describes this area that I know of with some pictures:
http://www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_reports/foerster_1.html
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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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby oldranger » Mon Feb 20, 2012 6:56 pm

Pietro,

Not a lot to add to Electra's advice. Definitely start at the Isberg TH. I've done your loop except did not go to Cora Lakes on the way out. However the portion to Hemlock Canyon up into Bench Canyon I did sometime in the early 60s. I led my dad on the crosscountry portions at the age of 16 or so. I don't recall going up lower bench canyon as particularly difficult.

Do some searches in this forum and you will find some pics and descriptions from maveric, giantbrookie ,and myself--a probably some others. Getting from bench canyon to long creek is a cinch just go up the obvious green break in the rock. You can go straight down the other side but the slot is filled with talus so at the top get out of the slot and turn right, go 50 yards or so to the w. then drop down to Long Creek.

The trail out of long creek is obvious as it is used by stock. The last time out I started looking for it about a half mile too soon and did considerable up and down before I got to it. Keep an eye out for the little creek that drops down from the saddle.

Yeah water will be an issue this year--go early. Don't pay too much attention to how far maverick went his first day. He is not human! :littledevil:

Mike
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby balzaccom » Mon Feb 20, 2012 7:09 pm

I'd also add that the Cora Lakes area has a LOT of trails wandering around it...and not all are marked very well. We spent a few minutes this past summer trying to figure out which trail was which as they cross and re-cross the creek near the lakes.

You shouldn't have much trouble as you head off early to get to Buggs...
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby TehipiteTom » Tue Feb 21, 2012 7:37 am

Pietro257 wrote:3. Anybody with information about climbing over the pass between Blue Lake and Rockbound Lake? This person makes it sound pretty easy: http://www.thebackpacker.com/trailtalk/ ... 158,-1.php

4. To get from Rockbound Lake to the Cora Lakes, you follow Long Creek and then pick up the trail south to the Cora Lakes. Is this trail hard to find? It seems like this trail is not well maintained. And this report says there isn’t much water there: http://www.thebackpacker.com/trailtalk/ ... 158,-1.php Is there any good camping between Rockbound Lake and the Cora Lakes?

My other idea is to do this loop the opposite direction, and go to Rockbound Lake, Bench Canyon, and down to Hemlock Crossing. Oddly, none of my guidebooks describe the trail from the Cora Lakes north to Long Creek. Does anybody know anything about this trail or how long it is?

Thanks in advance for any and all help you can give. This community helped me a lot when I planned last year’s trip (viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6814), for which I’m very grateful.

That's my trip report, and I wrote it when I actually remembered what I had done, so I don't have a lot to add to it.

On the water issue, keep in mind that the creeks you pass once you leave Long Creek (Chetwood, Cora, etc.) all have their origins in south-facing basins with relatively low ridgelines; late-season, or earlier in an especially dry season, there are no reliable streams until you get to Granite Creek. IIRC, there are some good potential campsites along Long Creek.

Edit: One more story from that trip, not particularly relevant but just for fun.

There was a young woman from Indiana on the trip, and the first day she was talking about how wonderful the forest was. I confessed that I was a little blasé about the forests in the Sierra, and tended to think of the forest stretches as the boring part of any trip. She was shocked, and wondered aloud how anyone could think of the forest as boring. An hour or so latter we got to Surprise Saddle, where you suddenly get that sweeping view of the Ritter Range and the North Fork Canyon, and she turned to me and sai "okay, now I understand."
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby fourputt » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:29 am

Hey Dan,

You might remember our meeting at Hemlock Xing (late August '99 I think); mutual friends with Tom. I was feeling a little green after the 13 mis. from Isberg. Had to leave car windows down because of a marauding trailhead bear that year if I remember correctly.

I hiked up to Bench the next day but can't offer much Pietro re the crossing since the North Fork was very low. You might find logs above the confluence to cross, but that's entirely your call. Instead of Rockbound, I did a pass south of Blue Pass to Harriet Lakes in Yosemite and then crossed back into Ansel Adams over Long Mtn to McGee Lake. I've been down Long Canyon too and the trail to Chetwood is easy to find. They're both fun routes.

- Lou Argyres
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby Pietro257 » Mon Feb 27, 2012 12:42 pm

As always, thanks for the great info and advice (how did we plan these trips before the Internet?).

This trip now seems quite doable. My remaining questions are:

1. Crossing the No. Fork San Joaquin at confluence with Bench Canyon Creek – can I do this in late July? This has been a very mild winter and I’m thinking I can.

2. Can anybody give me a mileage estimate from Isberg trailhead to Long Creek (to the end of the trail that goes from Isberg trailhead due north past Cora Lakes up to Long Creek)? I’m trying to decide where to camp in this area.

3. I’m getting confusing info about this trail to Long Creek. Old Ranger says “The trail out of long creek is obvious as it is used by stock,” but others say you can lose your way on it.

Again, thanks so much for your help. And I’ll probably bother some of you with inbox requests as the trip draws near.

P.S. I saw Maverick’s trip report earlier. The man is amazing.
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby Electra » Mon Feb 27, 2012 3:37 pm

1. Late july shouldn't be an issue. Just make sure to cross above the confluence where the gradient flattens out.
2. I would say ten miles to long creek.
3. Once on the trail, it isn't too tough to follow but it can be tough to find leaving long canyon and in the big meadow that the trail crosses between chetwood cabin and sadler peak. Part of the fun is the trail/route finding on this section.
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby Pietro257 » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:49 pm

BUMP!

I'm leaving on this trip in less than two weeks. I'm excited. I'm bumping this in case anybody has more advice to offer.

The itinerary is as follows:

Day 1: From Isberg Pass trailhead, hike on trail 9 miles to the overlook of the No. Fork San Joaquin (8500') (or 12 miles to Hemlock Crossing).

Day 2: Hike 5 miles on trail to the confluence of the No. Fork San Joaquin and Bench Canyon Creek (9000') (or 10 miles to upper Bench Canyon).

Day 3: Hike cross-country 5 miles to upper Bench Canyon (9500') (or rest in Bench Canyon).

Day 4: Stay in Bench Canyon.

Day 5: Hike cross-country 5 miles over Rockbound Lake Pass (10,500') to Rockbound Lake and to Long Creek (8500').

Day 6: Downhill on trail 10 miles to Isberg Pass trailhead.

Does anybody know what the water situation is like in this area? If we can't make it to Hemlock Crossing the first day, is there a camp with reliable water on the overlook of the No. Fork San Joaquin? Is there reliable water between Long Creek and Chetwood cabin?
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby Electra » Wed Jul 18, 2012 7:09 am

Get ready for lots of trees down (unless they have cut that area, doubtful though) your first day and please look for my sunglasses which fell off going over or under trees a few weeks ago! :angry: Check the recent topic on western AA wilderness...Water is minimal in creeks but a few were still running and i would suspect will continue to do so for a bit more time. Load up at the creek as you get closer to where the trail veers northeast into the canyon and you can decide if you want to camp on rim or drop to hemlock. On your last day, water is available in the creek near the trail and in the large meadow you pass thru after a few miles. Have fun and don't keep your glasses off your hat during tree sections...
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Re: Trip Advice: western Ansel Adams, Bench Canyon, Rockbound La

Postby Pietro257 » Mon Jul 23, 2012 11:33 am

Thanks for the info. It looks like the loop idea wont' work due to the number of fallen trees around Chetwood Cabin. The Clover Meadow ranger says the trail between the Niche and Hemlock Crossing is clear for walkers but not for stock. He also mentioned a water problem. He said I shouldn't rely on good water between Cora Creek and Hemlock Crossing (the San Joaquin).

I plan now to go to Bench Canyon by way of the San Joaquin and come back the same way.

This could be trying little trip!
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