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TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

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TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Aug 21, 2012 7:11 am

This trip report is yet another try - I've been trying to get it done and keep having to re-do when something happens and it disappears!

I don't often write trip reports. I usually just update the conditions thread when there's something to note, since so many of my trips are short and often to places I have been before, or are very well documented here already. This last long trip was a little different than usual in that it was a preventive SAR for me - looking at the world through that lens changes the experience. I spent the trip noticing things about other hikers. I saw a LOT of people who were just a few decisions from trouble. I also had a great time and did not want to come back.

There were three of us, N, J and myself. We spent the night with friends at Jackass Meadow campground and started at the ferry at Florence, crossing the lake with a couple of other backpackers heading to Sallie Keys on a fishing expedition. The trail between the ferry drop off and the Muir Trail Ranch was as warm as I remembered - lots of open granite, open sunny trail, and hardly any water to offset that. I recall dancing through several inches of water in parts of this trail while searching for someone last year - not this year! We saw the trucks heading out from MTR to the lake, probably to pick up the van load of resupply buckets we saw being unloaded in front of the Florence Store, and probably more MTR customers. As usual there were day hikers coming out from the ranch as well.

We arrived at the ranch and took advantage of the spigot dispensing spring water, and sat eating lunch with the thru hikers. There were tons of people doing the JMT. Several solo hikers with light packs (there were a number of Gossamer Gear and ULA packs about) and many 20-somethings wearing tank tops, shorts, beat up sneakers, and massive Osprey backpacks were unloading, reloading, sifting through the many many buckets that constitute the hiker box - so much stuff gets left here that there are categorized buckets, first aid, cooking oil, books, clothing, breakfast food, meat, veggies, etc. We watched a joyful unpacking - "COOOOKIEEESSS!" - of a resupply someone had obviously packed for the hiker.

Hiking onward, we chatted about where we wanted to stop for the day. My goal for the first day was acclimatizing - we found a campsite along the San Joaquin near Aspen Meadow and set up. For a while we were leapfrogging up the trail with a group of guys - grandfather, three adult sons, 3-4 grandsons (it was hard to tally those so accurately, they were all over the place and fast) - who were stopping a lot. They were swimming in Piute Creek under the bridge and in several spots where they took breaks, they were sitting and lying on logs or rocks along the side of the trail. These guys were hauling loads, massive packs, and intending to get to Martha Lake. What struck me about them was not the load but carrying a huge pack while wearing flip flops!

In Aspen Meadow we found massive blowdown had obscured most of the campsites. We picked a site near the trail - the alternative was picking one near the water. Most of the established campsites through this canyon are too close to both. It was a nice night and we got a good start in the morning, around eight, full of breakfast and energy. We passed the group of guys at the bridge - they were finishing breakfast - and went on to the second bridge, then upward to Evolution Valley. The scenery there is so stunning we kept stopping to take pictures, enjoy the view, and let raindrops fall on our faces.

It sprinkled on and off throughout the day. We stopped to talk to the ranger in McClure Meadow in the midafternoon. He was not very encouraging of our plan to go off trail via Davis Lakes to Goddard Canyon, but after we talked a bit about having done cross country navigation before he said it would probably be fine to go if we could get over to Goddard Canyon before the afternoon storms started. The pattern had been for heavy rain between 3 - 7 pm, and he cautioned us about getting caught above treeline in it. The forecast was for some rain and lightning from 3 pm til sunset each day, until the following Wednesday. Well, that was good information for us, since we had no intention of taking a lot of risks.

We set up camp and I fished for golden trout in Evolution Creek. Lots of little ones, all released. When it started to really rain I beat it for camp, and stood watching the rain pour down - then hail, then rain. The thunder cracked loudly enough that we jumped a couple times. Streams of runoff flowed down under our tents off the granite. N put flat rocks in front of her door so she wouldn't be tracking mud or standing in a puddle when getting in and out of her tent. My rain jacket soaked through, as did N's. (So much for waterproof-breathable.) J's North Face jacket held up. Then the storm broke and sun on granite commenced. Steam rising out of the forests and a spectacular sunset were the end result.

The following morning it started to hail again. N did not want to continue into Evolution Basin and off trail. J concurred. N was using a new pack, a 70 liter Golite Jam (not full, she had maybe 45-50 liters of stuff), and it wasn't so comfortable as her other Golite pack had been for her, so she was not wanting to go talus hopping for extended periods, and did not like the idea of being above treeline in ongoing stormy weather. The previous night we had seen many JMT southbound hikers in shorts marching resolutely down the trail, and imagining what they would be facing was enough to turn us. Some of them were determined to hit Muir Pass last night! It was a little boggling to us that they would be so set on marching through such gorgeous wilderness at night and in sporadic rain, when they wouldn't be able to see a thing and the temps were plunging. Many did not have rain gear.

We came down to the junction of Goddard Canyon trail and the JMT, and had lunch in patchy sun. After discussion of options we decided to spread everything out and dry it. The clouds were still pretty dense but there were frequent blue sky patches, and we decided to build a fire. My SAR shirt, a cotton blend, was still soaked (I brought a synthetic long sleeve to wear, since I predicted this might happen). J's sleeping bag had gotten damp. N's shirt, bra and socks were all soaked. Everyone's tent had water clinging (silnylon seems to want to do this) and had been packed wet. We picked a campsite sufficiently distant from the river and spread it all out. And then I went fishing. We had golden trout for dinner, and spent some quality time wandering around taking pictures. I talked to a packer with a string of mules camped a ways from us; he was on his way to pick up a trail crew in Evolution.

The next day we wandered up into Goddard Canyon, taking our time. The clouds weren't nearly as oppressive, more scattered as the day wore on. I kept trying to find ways to go down to the water - there were huge pools in the canyon, with steep walls around them. We camped somewhere near the junction of Hell for Sure and spent time wandering and fishing. I caught a lot of golden trout and kept none. We saw a young couple go by with a dog and wondered - but discovered much later that they had come over Hell for Sure, and probably didn't know they'd crossed into the national park. (We saw them days later on the west side of the divide - they recrossed HfS.)

We also found here a 16 oz canister of Jetboil fuel. Daily hot baths ensued. We wouldn't leave it there, but we were trying to make it lighter!

Coming over Hell for Sure was a long slow hike, or so we felt. Then we got to the top and came across two older folks we had met briefly back at the junction of JMT/GC. We didn't feel so slow after we talked to them. They were traditional packers, heavily loaded and struggling slowly up the pass. While taking each other's pictures at the top we chatted - they'd made it halfway up Hell for Sure the previous day and camped. N, J and I left them up there lunching in the saddle and went down to Hell for Sure Lake, surely one of the prettiest lakes in the area, and while I fished we listened to the couple talking (sound carries far) as they made their way slowly down. They were on a 14 day backpack - sounded like they were having a great time.

We went cross country to Horseshoe Lake, around to Black Rock Lake, and eventually down to Devil's Punchbowl. There are good campsites and all were empty, perhaps because it is above 10,000 feet and no campfires allowed? More trout for dinner, and we watched a fantastic sunset from the granite ridge next to the lake.

The next morning a solo backpacker showed up at the lake. He had come over the route we were intending to take - climb to Little and Big Shot lakes, then over the ridge between Red Mountain Basin and Bench Valley, saving us 12 miles of trail hiking. He gave us some pointers and up we went. I have the feeling we could have kept the route to class 2 if we really tried, but short-cutted by roping up packs and pulling them up a steep face we free climbed. A little adventure and then we were climbing a chute full of talus, passing the only patch of snow we had seen, and making our way down a steep hill to Bench. The alpine meadows in Bench were easily navigated and by lunch we were sitting at Crabtree Lake.

The lakes in Bench are beautiful and well worth a return trip, I think. We made our way from one to the next - most are only 5-10 minutes apart. Twin Buck Lakes are full of rainbow trout (the backpacker we'd met said goldens - think he is confused) and as we went from one to the next we found lots of brookies. Horsehead Lake inlet was dry and we rescued some flailing brook trout minnows from a mud hole there.

We made our way down to McGuire Lakes for the night - they are the least scenic in the basin but positioned us right before the steep descent to the north fork of the Kings River. We saw no one at all in Bench. There were old trails that vanish into walls of downed trees, and fresh foot prints. We found a few old fire rings with broken bottles and rust in the shape of cans. And a "no camping" sign at Crabtree Lake. After a quiet night at McGuire watching the many little teeny brookies jump, we went down, down, down to the river. Late in the afternoon we finally started to see people heading in. Just a few, bound for Blackcap Basin. We spent a leisurely afternoon soaking in a deep pool and doing laundry.

The following day we passed many others - people skinny dipping in the river, a pack train, a group of truly miserable looking Outward Bound kids (day 7 of 14, from Devil's Postpile to god knows where, with big full backpacks and little baseplate compasses bouncing on their chests) and their chipper and happy chaperones. And along came the two we'd seen in Goddard Canyon with their dog. Chatting with them we discovered they had gone up to Martha and returned the way they'd gone in. They had really great tans. We leapfrogged with them til Post Corral and lost track of them.

We spent our last night (of eight nights) at Hobler Lake, just a few miles shy of the trailhead. There are surprisingly large fish in that shallow little puddle of a lake. Spent a bit of time talking to a couple of guys from Sacramento and the east coast, respectively, about backpacking and the Sierra.

On the way out we followed bear prints in the trail for a mile. At the parking lot we were happy to find our ride had gotten there 10 minutes before us, with Shock Top and fresh fruit, and on the way home we had big juicy burgers at the Wahtoki Grill in Shaver.

It was a fine trip, leaving us wanting more and longer. Next year we will contemplate a route taking us through Evolution Basin, Davis Lakes, Blackcap Basin, and perhaps down through Crown Basin, the meadows, and out to Wishon instead of Courtright. I talked to a lot of folks about safety and was glad to hear most had left itineraries - not impressed with the lack of preparation on the part of JMT thrus, tho. One fellow had only a tent groundsheet to call "shelter." An old fellow took it upon himself to lecture me about my "newfangled GPS thing" (which I wasn't really using much).

This was also the trial run for my Lightheart Gear Solo tent - it proved to be waterproof enough in a downpour, and ventilated enough not to have lots of condensation. It is also the quickest set up I've ever seen, as well as the fastest to take down. All my gear fit inside and left me room to sleep, sit up, and move around to change. I suppose, if one must use a tent, having something this light and functional is a good compromise. I appreciated very much that the fly rolled up out of the way completely, leaving me protected from bugs but open to stars and breezes. Definitely not as comfy as my hammock but my intent was to go as light as possible and it let me get the pack weight down to 25 lbs before adding food. I had a Bearikade that forced me into a larger backpack at the last minute - I had just gotten a ULA Circuit and I did not want to take it out overnight on a long trip and find that the suspension wasn't up to the task, so added a couple of pounds by taking my old Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone.

There were hardly any mosquitoes. Lots and lots of ants - the carpenter ants at Hobler were crawling in the holes in my croc knockoffs and biting my toes. It was sad to see how dry it is, but high hopes for next year.

I just got a new Mac and so was able to throw together a video including some of the songs that we sang as we went along (yeah, we can't carry a tune, but we had fun). I'll post it below separately as it's still uploading and I need to get this posted already!

In the meantime, here is the link to my gallery:



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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby windknot » Tue Aug 21, 2012 8:50 am

Thanks for the report and pictures. Interesting to see a report written from this perspective (re: safety education and preventive SAR).
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby Mradford » Tue Aug 21, 2012 9:24 am

This area sounds really cool. good trip report, thanks for posting.
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby SSSdave » Thu Aug 30, 2012 1:36 pm

AT >>>"Most of the established campsites through this canyon are too close to both."

NFS/NPS needs to put special exception placards on well established sites often packer campsites that were developed long before the 100 foot policy and which they apparently are not interested in closing. Otherwise it sends a confusing mixed message to backpackers every time someone walk past such sites and wonders why they are still being used. Otherwise they need to send trail crews in and make them unusable like they did at Kip Camp on Bear Creek years ago.

AT >>>"then upward to Evolution Valley. The scenery there is so stunning we kept stopping to take pictures, enjoy the view, and let raindrops fall on our faces."

Evolution Valley was especially praised by earlier generations that tended to camp down at forest elevations where they could ride in with their horse then cook over a campfire. Current generations using backpacking stoves are able to camp most anywhere above forest areas and today many of us prefer the aesthetic in those higher areas versus canyon bottom lands. In that area, my favorite scenicly is Darwin Bench though during stormy periods, I would much prefer being down in the canyon bottoms like EV.

AT >>>"My rain jacket soaked through, as did N's. (So much for waterproof-breathable.)"

For summer backpacking, I prefer a lightweight dedicated rain shell like my Marmot Precip the surface of which absorbs no water at all versus a heavier breathable fabric jacket. Then will also carry a nylon shell plus other warmth layers. I've skied in a breathable North Face shell jacket for years and if it has been raining several hours, the outer fabric layer can become rather wet even though the inside is dry. At night such jackets just become cold staying wet outside. However by time of the year snows come, I will replace the Precip with my North Face jacket as snow does not tend to wet the outer fabric but rather bounce off.

AT >>>"The following morning it started to hail again"

Monday July 24?

AT >>>" The previous night we had seen many JMT southbound hikers in shorts marching resolutely down the trail, and imagining what they would be facing was enough to turn us. Some of them were determined to hit Muir Pass last night! It was a little boggling to us that they would be so set on marching through such gorgeous wilderness at night and in sporadic rain, when they wouldn't be able to see a thing and the temps were plunging. Many did not have rain gear."

Yeah every times a big thunderstorm event hits the Sierra, at trailheads one sees a train of groups in t-shirts and shorts fleeing the high country looking wet, cold, and miserable.

AT >>>"We saw a young couple go by with a dog and wondered - but discovered much later that they had come over Hell for Sure, and probably didn't know they'd crossed into the national park."

Probably no permit either.

AT >>>"down to Devil's Punchbowl. There are good campsites and all were empty, perhaps because it is above 10,000 feet and no campfires allowed? More trout for dinner, and we watched a fantastic sunset from the granite ridge next to the lake."

Indeed from the northeast shore one of the best lakes in the range for watching sunsets and morning reflections because views west are unblocked except for the few picturesque pines at the brink of the bench where it drops off.

AT >"The lakes in Bench are beautiful and well worth a return trip,"

Yep a wonderful set of small timberline lakes.
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby SweetSierra » Thu Aug 30, 2012 3:56 pm

Thanks for the write-up. I loved the observations and talks with people along the trail and descriptions of how you and your party felt and what you experienced along the way.

The lakes in Bench are beautiful. Your description of a myriad of trails, a few of which disappear into downfall is what I remember from a trip there. We followed a path into downfall--it appeared to vanish--but after climbing over and around trees and picking it up here and there, it led to the shore of the lake that is several hundred feet below Blackcap Pass (can't think of the name of it), which was our next destination. Blackcap Pass is a steep jumble of huge stable talus blocks that you climb until you find the way through to the top but the other side is easy.

The pass above Red Mountain Basin to Bench Valley is called Lucifer's Saddle, a name given to it by long-time Sierra mountaineer Jim Watters because of the two saddles that you ascend. At the end of the valley holding Big Shot and Little Shot lakes, I remember doing a little Class 2 climbing to reach a small bench, where you then go right a short distance to a wide-open view of the terrain sloping way, way down to the official Blackcap Basin trail. You go left there and climb mildly to the top of the saddle. I think I know the chute you climbed up, though--I thought that was the way to the top when we came to the first saddle.

Sorry, edited to say "Blackcap" not "Blackrock" and changed Devil's Saddle to the correct name of Lucifer's Saddle :)
Last edited by SweetSierra on Wed Sep 05, 2012 11:59 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby AlmostThere » Fri Aug 31, 2012 6:29 am

SSSdave wrote:AT >>>"My rain jacket soaked through, as did N's. (So much for waterproof-breathable.)"

For summer backpacking, I prefer a lightweight dedicated rain shell like my Marmot Precip the surface of which absorbs no water at all versus a heavier breathable fabric jacket. Then will also carry a nylon shell plus other warmth layers. I've skied in a breathable North Face shell jacket for years and if it has been raining several hours, the outer fabric layer can become rather wet even though the inside is dry. At night such jackets just become cold staying wet outside. However by time of the year snows come, I will replace the Precip with my North Face jacket as snow does not tend to wet the outer fabric but rather bounce off.


N's jacket, which also soaked through in the same manner as mine, was a Marmot Precip. Didn't work at all. Mine was light enough until it soaked up all that water. But, I have had many jackets and none of them worked as advertised....

J had a North Face rain jacket, very light, that he got at an outlet in the Bay Area. It's held up well for him.

AT >>>"The following morning it started to hail again"

Monday July 24?


We started on Saturday the 21st, so it would have been Monday July 23.
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby AlmostThere » Fri Aug 31, 2012 6:32 am

SweetSierra wrote:
The pass above Red Mountain Basin to Bench Valley is called Devil's Saddle, a name given to it by long-time Sierra mountaineer Jim Watters because of the two saddles that you ascend. At the end of the valley holding Big Shot and Little Shot lakes, I remember doing a little Class 2 climbing to reach a small bench, where you then go right a short distance to a wide-open view of the terrain sloping way, way down to the official Blackrock Basin trail. You go left there and climb mildly to the top of the saddle. I think I know the chute you climbed up, though--I thought that was the way to the top when we came to the first saddle.


I think your way and our way was the same, actually. We crossed a couple of talus fields but most of it was hiking with a little hands/feet to get up. We roped the packs up a short stretch as well. We went nowhere near Black Rock - that lake was behind us to the north. We passed it on the way from Horseshoe Lake over to Little Shot/Punchbowl.
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby LMBSGV » Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:04 am

I finally got the time to read your report. Wonderful read on some areas I've never been to and great descriptions of the people you met. Thanks for posting.
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby SweetSierra » Fri Aug 31, 2012 11:01 am

Almostthere, that does sound like the same route. I had forgotten that we did cross talus fields and the climb to Devil's Saddle was fairly steep in places.

Sorry, I mistakingly said "Blackrock" instead of "Blackcap Pass" and trail, and edited my post.

The name of the lake I couldn't remember is Guest Lake. From that lake, you climb to Blackcap Pass to Blackcap Basin. I thought if you or others hadn't been up Blackcap Pass and planned to go that way sometime, I thought I'd mention it. If you're starting from Courtright Reservoir, it's a nice loop from there (Blackcap Basin) to Portal Lake and back to Courtright.

I've never been over Hell For Sure Pass and would love to do the trip to Goddard Canyon or in the other direction someday.
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby SSSdave » Fri Aug 31, 2012 1:28 pm

AlmostThere wrote:N's jacket, which also soaked through in the same manner as mine, was a Marmot Precip. Didn't work at all. Mine was light enough until it soaked up all that water. But, I have had many jackets and none of them worked as advertised....
Monday July 24?


We started on Saturday the 21st, so it would have been Monday July 23.[/quote]

Yeah that was the 23rd with Sunday the 22nd the day darkest storms slammed Bear Creek to the south of us hardest. A shame your jackets leaked. I noticed quite a number of web reviews like at REI site now complaining of the PreCip model leaking. Also noticed some related their jacket they owned was not seam sealed. Of course the model has been around about a dozen years now, has a reputation, and likely gone through design changes while retaining the model name purely for marketing advantages. Mine is one of the older versions. There are certainly quite a lot of owners that have never had any leaks like this person even though it has seen quite a bit of rain like earlier this year on this redwoods trip:

http://www.davidsenesac.com/Redwoods_20 ... _2012.html

My jacket gets crumpled up a lot in packs but tend to remove it and put on my non-waterproof nylon shell when rambling about crosscountry as do not want it punctured or get it bruised against rock.
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Re: TR Florence to Courtright, via JMT, Goddard Canyon, etc.

Postby kpeter » Fri Aug 31, 2012 2:30 pm

Wonderful write-up which captures the personality of the terrain, of the people you came across, and conveys your own!
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