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North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

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North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby WoundedLion » Thu Jun 07, 2012 11:16 am

I am planning a backpacking trip July 19-23 into Ansel Adams Wilderness. I'd say I'm a moderately experienced backpacker, having done perhaps 25 trips throughout California, many of them in the Northern Sierra, and several which included class 2 and 3 cross-country travel over talus, etc.

Day 1: Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lake via the Rush Creek Trail
Day 2: Over North Glacier Pass past Catherine Lake, across to Twin Island Lakes, and down into Bench Canyon
Day 3: Day hiking out of Bench Canyon
Day 4: Back up and over to Thousand Island Lake
Day 5: Back down to Silver Lake

Thanks to the members of this forum, I have managed to gather very detailed info on the route specifics from Catherine Lake to Twin Island Lakes, but I do have a few questions for those of you that are familiar with the area or have been up there this season:

1) Can we expect much snow getting up to Catherine Lake? It's been a very dry year, but I've heard there are still snowfields up there from last season. How about snow on the west side of the pass? None of us are very experienced with snow-hiking.

2) If we decided to skip Twin Island Lakes, how difficult is it to drop all the way down into the canyon of the North Fork of the San Joaquin from Roper's route?

3) Does the canyon of the NFSJ make for a nice camping spot? How would it compare to Bench Canyon in that regard?

4) Any intel on the stream crossing at the outlet of Twin Island Lakes? How deep can we expect it to be at that time of year given the dry conditions this season?

Thanks everyone, any help is much appreciated.



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Re: North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby maverick » Thu Jun 07, 2012 3:07 pm

HI WoundedLion,

Welcome to HST!
It is difficult to give out information about place without current intell, and if we do
it is just educated guessing at best, and will not help you if still run into a bunch of
snow on the western side of NGP.
There have been no Backcountry Conditions Reports filed to date on the Ansel Adams
Wilderness area which would allow us to at least gauge the current conditions.
NFSJ area is nice but does not compared to Bench Canyon and the Blue Lakes area
especially in July when the wild flowers can be outstanding, and the views towards the
Minarets from Blue Lake is sublime.
There should not be a lot or any snow left by the time of your trip, except the
snowfield/glacier up to the saddle between Banner and Ritter.
The route down to the NFSJ area can be done by following the creek starting from
Catherine Lake. Follow this creek on its northern side to about the 10000 ft level
where there is a faint mining trail that leads to a meadow at about the 8000 ft.
Once at the SJNF stay on the northwestern side instead of following the trail
on the southern side so you'll only have to ford the river once on the way to Bench
Canyon if the river is high, if it is low which it will most likely be than use the
southern side and do the two easy ford down creek instead of having to go thru the
brush which one encounters on the northwestern side. This route also gives you a
close up view of one of the best Spring run-offs in the Sierra, though the views
from Stevenson meadow from below is quite impressive also.
There is good camping where the SJNF and the 2 creeks meet (northern side between
the trees) and where one starts there ascend next to the creek up into Bench Canyon.
You may want/need a least an extra day in your itinerary for the Catherine Lake - Bench
Lake section since this area is pretty rough and slow going for a lot of people.

View of meadow near the middle and creek the coming from Catherine Lake, also Twin
Lakes below:
Image

Looking south, down from near the top of Bench Canyon:

Image
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Re: North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby maverick » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:37 pm

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: North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:10 pm

The Ritter Range and NGP currently looks about like it did in late July last year, which is to say the pass is still entirely under snow from maybe a hundred feet or so above the water level and upwards. It often holds snow well into the summer, but its hard to say what it will be like when you go through.

This doesn't really show the pass, but gives you an idea of what Banner currently looks like. Fresh snow blanketed the entire area on Monday night, but I don't have a picture of that.

Image
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Re: North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby WoundedLion » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:02 am

Thanks guys! That is all very helpful info. I realize it is a bit early for fortune-telling the snow in mid-July, so I appreciate your educated guesswork and the tactful caveats. I hope more first-hand reports will emerge as the season progresses.

Your comments and pictures confirm my suspicions that a) We would do well to push all the way to Bench Canyon rather than camp in the NFSJ and b) The area is so mind-numbingly beautiful anyway that we have good options for shortening the hike if need be. Unfortunately, adding an extra day is not an option. One guy was pushing for 4 days and I had to resort to poetic implorations just to get 5.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has tried to backpack from 1000-island lake to Bench Canyon in one day.
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Re: North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby quentinc » Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:16 pm

Well, this probably isn't what you had in mind...
I would have made it from Thousand Island to Bench Canyon in one day (probably just barely) had I not gotten confused by Roper's description of how to find the lake at 10,200 and managed to head off "trail," thrash around quite a bit in a brushy canyon and then slip and dislocate a shoulder. (You might appreciate this, given your user name :)). The good news is I still made it over Blue Lake Pass and had a great, if Aleve-enhanced trip.

I did this in September, and the outlet of Twin Island Lake was easy to step over.

Anyway, if you don't make it to Bench Canyon, the lake at 10,200 is nice. It's actually below the trail (to the west), and you might not see it until you overshoot it a bit.
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Re: North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby WoundedLion » Sat Jun 09, 2012 11:32 am

Yeah, it's hard to get a sense from Google Earth of how disorienting the landscape can be when there is no trail. I've done a fair bit of canyon hiking in Death Valley and been surprised many times by completely impassable (to me at least) falls despite studying the topo map religiously before embarking. I've then headed back up canyon only to be tricked into following a side canyon I didn't notice on the way down. Nothing beats first-hand descriptions of trouble-spots, although there is some fun to finding your way without knowing the place by heart beforehand.

Thanks for the advice. I'm thinking we will have lots of options once we get back there.

Ouch. Sorry about your shoulder. That sounds like a terrifying experience. Thankfully, I haven't yet sustained any serious wounds on the trail. Glad you made it out OK, though.
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Re: North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 11, 2012 8:40 pm

I did the High Route through that area several times and also have been up the San Joaquin from the bottom. Dropping down to the San Joaquin is NOT as nice as going into Bench Canyon. I am not sure what you mean by "dropping into Bench Canyon" - I assume you mean via Roper's route. Bench Canyon is nice, but if you go into it the really spectacular location is Blue Lakes and it is only a few hours up to Blue Lakes. If you do not want to go all the way to Blue Lakes, I think a really nice area to explore are the lakes north of Twin Island Lakes. These lakes are by far better scenery than dropping down to the San Joaquin. There are fish in the river up there and also some nice camping spots - free of snow because it is a south facing bowl.

The map shows a "trail" at the head of the San Joaquin. It sort of is still there in bits and pieces. I was able to follow it most of the way. There is a fairly distinct "use-trail" that goes down from the bench below Ritter Lakes and intersect the trail shown on the map. The use trail goes on a somewhat grassy area to the northwest of the big waterfall. From what I call "Ritter Lakes Bench" many little trails (actually old mining works trails) head upward in lots of directions. There are old cables left here and also a few old mine shafts. I followed these trails up to the Ritter Lakes and did not try to follow Ropers route. The map below shows where I have gone, but that does not mean there are not lots of other paths to take.

I hate river crossings so I went around the opposite side of the lower Twin Island Lakes - not very easy but it does avoid the crossing. I do not think the crossing would be bad this year. I also found the best traverse to Bench Canyon is to stay fairly high above the little lakes. There are lots of cliffy areas down by the lakes. The shoulder that you go over now has a cairn. You actually drop below it and then go back up. There is a fairly well worn path to follow. Dropping down from the lower Bench Canyon directly in to the San Joaquin is difficult - one photo below shows the waterfall out of Bench Canyon.

As for North Glacier Pass, stay on the southeast side even though it appears from lower that it is easier to head to the other side. There is a big use-trail up to the pass if you can find it.

Camping in the Ritter Lakes are is sparse - I have shown a few places that have worked for me.

Image
map with some routes

Image
camping down on the headwater of the San Joaquin (june trip)

Image
waterfall coming out of Bench Canyon down to the San Joaquin

Image
Waterfall coming from the Ritter Lakes bench down to the San Joaquin, the "trail" is left of the falls on what you can see as grassy areas

Image
A few trees just where the waterfall starts off the Ritter Lakes Bench - some established campsites

Image
Typical August snow conditions at Ritter Lakes (2010)

Image
camp on east side of Catherine Lake
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Re: North Glacier Pass Snow Conditions

Postby Xosob » Tue Jun 12, 2012 2:38 pm

I just got back from a 3-nighter at 1000 Island Lake. Went up to NGP this past Sun 6/10 -- it looks like it did last yr mid-Aug, with some snow fields but nothing too steep (poles alone will do, and I tried glissading down in the afternoon but the snow was very soft and the slope not steep enough). West side of pass to Lk Catherine was clear, but Lk Catherine was only beginning to thaw. Went up Mt Davis to ~11800', when I hit my turnaround time. I had my ice axe but never used it; used my microspikes, but more because I was being extra careful and I was carrying them.
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