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Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

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Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby schmalz » Thu Jul 05, 2012 5:15 pm

Hey Everyone,

I'm taking off on a 9 day trip in about a week and a half. I'm planning on doing the Circle of Solitude in SeKi, and I was wondering if there is any specific info that would help me plan the trip. I've looked at the previous trip reports for this area so I have a vague idea of what to expect. Two things I am specifically interested in hearing about is potentially difficult river crossings, and stretches of trail where water might be scarce.

Here are my responses to the form questions:

What level of backpacking experience do you have?
Somewhere between level 2 and 3.
Level 2- Some backpacking trips, using trails
Level 3- Numerous backpacking trips, some x-country travel


What terrain are you comfortable/uncomfortable with?
I'm looking to keep things mainly on trail but am looking for a few offtrail excursions to get me into some pristine areas. I'm not interested in anything too sketchy (I'll be by myself and am not super experienced)

What is your main interest?
I'm interested in exploring the Sierra and getting some good photos along the way. I want a mix of forest, streams, lakes, above the treeline ridges, etc.


How many days/nights is your trip, not including travel to trailhead?
9 days. I'm looking to do an average of about 12 miles a day. If things go bad, I'm prepared to skip some of my offtrail excursions so I can get out in my timeframe. I'm also confident I'll be able to cover up to 20 miles a day at the end of the trip, if needed.

Here is a proposed itinerary:

Day 1: Onion Valley to Kearsage Lakes
Day 2: Kearsage Lakes to Lake Reflection
Day 3: Lake Reflection to Sphinx Creek (Should I expect water flow here?)
Day 4: Sphinx Creek over Avalance Pass to Moraine Meadows/Roaring River area
Day 5: Moraine Meadows to Cloud Canyon
Day 6: Cloud Canyon to Picket Creek Lake (Kaweah Basin)
Day 7: Picket Creek Lake to Milestone Basin
Day 8: Milestone Basin over Forester Pass (weather permitting)
Day 9: Forester Pass to Onion Valley

Any advice/information/concerns are greatly appreciated.



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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 05, 2012 6:25 pm

Hi Schmalz,

Yes you will have water on day 3. You are aware that you have a class 1(cornice
should not be an issue this year), and two class 2 passes (Brewer Creek Pass and
Sphinx Pass) to go over in order to get to Sphinx Lakes?
Instead of describing the route myself, Phil Arnot as a great description of the route
in his book "High Sierra, John Muir's Range Of Light".
The route up to Picket Lake is up a steep incline, and you should aim to reach
the northern side of the lake where there is a ramp (chute) which leads down to the
lake. You should start up at about where Kern Point is on the opposite side and
traverse up to the lake which will make it much easier to ascend up too the lake.
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby schmalz » Thu Jul 05, 2012 6:42 pm

maverick wrote:Hi Schmalz,

You are aware that you have a class 1(cornice
should not be an issue this year), and two class 2 passes (Brewer Creek Pass and
Sphinx Pass) to go over in order to get to Sphinx Lakes?
Instead of describing the route myself, Phil Arnot as a great description of the route
in his book "High Sierra, John Muir's Range Of Light".
The route up to Picket Lake is up a steep incline, and you should aim to reach
the northern side of the lake where there is a ramp (chute) which leads down to the
lake. You should start up at about where Kern Point is on the opposite side and
traverse up to the lake which will make it much easier to ascend up too the lake.


Thanks for the advice on getting to Picket Lake. It looks like a steep incline but doable. My pack will be getting lighter by then so I think I'll be up for it. If not, plenty of good camping around there for sure.

Regarding Sphinx, I'm not planning on going up to the lakes. I was planning on camping near the creek on the trail up towards Avalanche Pass. I don't think I'll be able to get over the pass that day, and I want to be able to camp near water so I figured I'd have to stop at Sphinx Creek to accomplish that.
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 05, 2012 7:06 pm

Schmalz wrote:
Regarding Sphinx, I'm not planning on going up to the lakes. I was planning on
camping near the creek on the trail up towards Avalanche Pass. I don't think
I'll be able to get over the pass that day, and I want to be able to camp near
water so I figured I'd have to stop at Sphinx Creek to accomplish that.


Oh, so your planning to hike back down to Bubb's Creek from Reflection and up to
Avalanche Pass. Cool trail, quite amazing how the CCC built that trail right into
those cliffs. There is a decent camp site at the top of the cliffs next to the stream
and a great site where Sphinx Creek meets up with the trail on the way to Avalanche
Pass, nice and leveled ground.
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: Circle of Solitude

Postby schmalz » Thu Jul 05, 2012 8:08 pm

maverick wrote:
Schmalz wrote:
Regarding Sphinx, I'm not planning on going up to the lakes. I was planning on
camping near the creek on the trail up towards Avalanche Pass. I don't think
I'll be able to get over the pass that day, and I want to be able to camp near
water so I figured I'd have to stop at Sphinx Creek to accomplish that.


Oh, so your planning to hike back down to Bubb's Creek from Reflection and up to
Avalanche Pass. Cool trail, quite amazing how the CCC built that trail right into
those cliffs. There is a decent camp site at the top of the cliffs next to the stream
and a great site where Sphinx Creek meets up with the trail on the way to Avalanche
Pass, nice and leveled ground.


Correct, I was planning on sticking to the trail for the first half of the trip (and most of it in general), should have clarified in the OP. Thanks for the additional info. Sounds like that will be a good place to stop and recharge before finishing the ascent.
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby cgundersen » Fri Jul 06, 2012 8:02 am

schmalz,
Nothing against Lake Reflection, but it is a bit out of the way and it requires a fair amount of backtracking to get back to the Bubbs trail. Instead, I'd recommend replacing it with a night in the upper Kern Plateau, say by Lake South America (LSA). The views of the Great Western Divide from there are fantastic. Also, the one place where water may be scarce is the climb out of the lower Kern as you leave Milestone, so make sure you have something in the tank. Otherwise, it's a fabulous loop, esp. with the other "detours" you've planned. In fact, from LSA, you could probably do an early morning scamper to the ridge for a peek at Lake Reflection before looping back and over Forester...........
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby maverick » Fri Jul 06, 2012 12:02 pm

CG wrote:
Nothing against Lake Reflection, but it is a bit out of the way and it requires a fair
amount of backtracking to get back to the Bubbs trail.


LR is considered by some as one of the prettiest lakes in the Sierra, and if the winds are
not blowing allowing for that magical reflection, and you got some clouds with some
color in them bringing it all together creating that perfect scene (which very rarely
happens by the way) than yes it can be up there with the best of them.
https://www.google.com/search?q=reflect ... 44&bih=895
The question is whether it is worth it to the OP to cross Bubbs Creek twice, hiking up
2000 ft on day, and then down 2000 ft down the next, a total of around 9.5 miles to
visit LR, well only the OP can answer that.
Personally if I have never seen a lake, have heard great things about it, have seen
beautiful photo's of it, and since I am the curious type, my answer would be yes I
would go visit it too, though probably for more than one day.
The Upper Kern Basin as CG mentions is very pretty too, though personally I do not
care much for SAL. There are many other lakes like for example near Mt Genevra
that have outstanding morning reflection views, as do some of the lakes up Milestone
Creek, but all these places require you to get of the trail, though not for long distances
and all one needs to do is follow a creek, and use the Kern Divide for orientation.
Sphinx Lakes is also a very pretty basin which one can access by following Sphinx Creek
to the lakes, but this part is crosscountry.
Here's Doyle's TR of the area, and from which you can get a peak at the route up from
Bubbs towards the Avalanche Pass section. http://www.doylewdonehoo.com/sphinx/sphinx1.htm
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby schmalz » Fri Jul 06, 2012 12:29 pm

Maverick is pretty spot on with the reasoning in his post. From what I've seen in pictures, Lake Reflection is a very scenic lake, and photography is a big part of what I'm doing out there. I'm not planning on having a full day there, but I intend to get there in the middle of the afternoon so that I can enjoy it and take advantage of the evening light, and then do something similar the following day where I will leave a little later than usual.

I should also mention that I don't think I'll be hiking along Bubb's again anytime soon so this seems like my opportunity to go to Reflection. I'm planning on doing a Horseshoe Meadow to Onion Valley trip sometime, which is when I would check out the area surrounding Lake South America.

You mention the issue of crossing Bubb's creek twice. This is one of the river crossings I was curious about. Considering the low snow year, should I be worried about it at all? Will it simply be a matter of wearing river shoes and getting wet up to my knees? Or is it going to be more involved/dangerous?
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby maverick » Fri Jul 06, 2012 12:42 pm

Schmalz wrote:
You mention the issue of crossing Bubb's creek twice. This is one of the river
crossings I was curious about. Considering the low snow year, should I be worried
about it at all? Will it simply be a matter of wearing river shoes and getting wet
up to my knees? Or is it going to be more involved/dangerous?


Usually it still would be a difficult crossing if it was an average/above average
snow year, but since it is neither this year it will not be a major issue. If the water
is running high at the normal crossing (Junction Meadow) then head down creek
and you will find shallower water that will make your crossing much easier.
Morning crossing and river shoes will be adequate.
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:20 pm

Hey Schmalz,

What happened to your TR? See you have all ready posted a beautiful picture
of Lake Reflection on FM before anything here on HST. http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1134294
You haven't forgotten about us? :D
Looking forward to reading about your trip, and seeing the pic's.
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby schmalz » Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:44 pm

Of course I haven't forgotten. This is easily my favorite place to talk/read about the Sierra.

I only got back a few days ago and have barely started processing photos. It will be at least a week before I've compiled my thoughts and photos onto calitrails. When I put the post up, I'll be sure to link it here immediately.

I do want to thank you and everyone else who chimed in with some info. It was very appreciated. Unfortunately, I got sick midway through and had to bail on my plans for Picket Lake and Milestone Basin. I didn't feel comfortable going offtrail by myself in my weakened state, and I also wanted to give myself as much time as possible to get back to the car. Realizing you are sick but still 40+ miles from your car is an unfortunate feeling. My tripod ballhead also broke midway through :(

Good trip though, and thanks for the kind words on the Reflection shot. I'm quite happy with it too. I'm really happy I made that little sidetrip. It's one of the most amazing places I've had the privilege to spend a night.

A few notes: There are no mosquitoes left out there pretty much. They were bad at sphinx creek and a few other creek areas, but for the most part, there are none. There were none in big wet meadow!!!!

Everything is really dry. Most meadows are already yellow.

The canyon southeast of Colby Pass is not very nice. There are tons of downed trees, the trail is a mess, and the whole area feels barren and lifeless. There aren't many good views there either. Definitely the disappointment of the trip. I'm sure once you get into Kaweah Basin it's a whole different world, but hiking along the trail in that canyon was not that nice.
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Re: Trip Advice: Circle of Solitude

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:59 pm

Sorry to hear you did not make it too Picket or Milestone, but there will be a next
time. Hope you have recovered from whatever ailment you were suffering from.
Loosing your tripods functionality is a big thing, it allows you to really focus in on
your subject, compose the photo to its fullest potential, allows one to shoot in low
light conditions, and shooting multi-exposure shots like the one you took of Lake
Reflection without movement. By the way was that a 2 or 3 shots blend?
Plus when not useable it becomes some serious dead weight, which just adds insult to
injury.

Was Gallats Meadod affected much by the blow down also? This meadow can be quite
exquisite especially when the grass turns golden during the fall with Triple Divide
area as the back drop.
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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