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TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

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TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby cgundersen » Wed Sep 05, 2012 9:28 am

A third stab at Blue Canyon via Florence Lake (8/9-8/15)
Original Trip Outline: This trip had the dual goals of providing my pal, Michael, from the East coast with some fishing opportunities and me with a chance for a seminal visit to Blue Canyon. Our plan was to take the Florence Lake Trailhead to the JMT and head up Goddard Canyon to Martha Lake. From Martha, we’d take Reinstein Col into western Ionian Basin and head south to Blue Canyon Pass. Exit the Blue Canyon area via Mantle Pass (and Hummingbird Lake). Then travel north and use Confusion and Gunsight Passes before trending northwest to Lucifer’s (Devils’) Saddles to get to the trail at Devil’s Punchbowl. Finally, continue to Upper Indian Lake and follow Mosquito Pass down to Heather Lake and the descent to the South Fork of the San Joaquin River and back to the ferry landing at Florence.
In reality, we cut this route short by using a weird variation on Finger col to leave the western Ionian Basin to reach Cathedral Lake before resuming the planned itinerary.
Photo link: Apologies, photo#1 is midway through this series and these are low-resolution shots, but they will have to suffice till I get better images from Michael.
http://florencelaketofingercol.shutterf ... tures/29#9
Both of my prior efforts to reach the Blue Canyon area had been stymied by smoke from wildfires, so when Michael and I reached Kaiser pass, we were not surprised to see smoke billowing northwest of Florence. The good news is that we were going to be heading AWAY from the smoke. Still, the helicopters dousing the blaze were a reminder of the vagaries of nature. The huge thunderheads over the Sierra crest and the hot, muggy air were also signs of fun to come. Nevertheless, after a night at Mono Hot Springs, we trotted off the morning’s first ferry all set to get as far up Goddard canyon as we could go. It turns out that we made it to the aptly named Pig Chute. Although the trail all the way to Goddard canyon was loaded with cheery folk and the stout bridge at the Piute Creek outflow was a hub of activity, we met nary another soul once we headed up Goddard canyon. The Goddard canyon trail bore signs of high activity, but not on 8/9. Surprisingly, for the ease of access and popularity of many of the areas we were about to visit, we did not see another soul for the next 4+ days. Regardless, cooling off in the pig chute was delightful, and for geologists, there were cool blue splotches (oxidized copper?) on the hillside above (east face) the Pig Chute. Oddly, we took no photo of the blue patches…
On day 2, we reached Martha Lake by midday and although Martha had fish years ago, we did not spot a single trout as we looped around the eastern shore. By the time we reached the base of Reinstein col, the dark clouds over Goddard and Evolution basin had us opting to camp rather than get caught high on the ridge in a storm. As it turned out, we only got lightly spritzed at Martha, but the folks further north and east (McGee/Evo Valley/Muir Pass) looked to be getting the serious action. As the storm clouds cleared toward sunset, we were treated to the first of several nights of fabulous displays of shooting stars, but Martha showed almost no signs of harboring trout: we saw the odd ripple, but nothing worth breaking out the gear.
Day 3 began with an uneventful ascent of Reinstein col, a moderate class 2 route into the western Ionian basin. Although our goal for day 3 was to wind up at one of the lakes below Finger Peak, the rapid onslaught of clouds/rain had us setting up camp by early afternoon. Fortunately, we parked on a ridge above Goddard creek that had great views back toward Lake 10,232, one of THE spectacular lakes in the Sierra. The rain tapered off by early evening and we got to enjoy the scenery as darkness fell.
Day 4 welcomed us with steadily building clouds on the southeast horizon, a harbinger of things to come. Still, we headed for the lakes below Finger Peak, but it was in this lake canyon that we made a fateful decision. It looked like we were going to get rain even earlier than on day 3, and we decided that if this trend were to persist, it would be dumb to continue south into Blue Canyon. Once more, so close, no cigar! But, I figured that the weather situation made it preferable to lose out a third time on Blue Canyon rather than risk trouble. Besides, Michael had an ancient map he’d ripped out of a ‘70s vintage guidebook for the Blackcap Basin area. It showed an intriguing off trail route that crept along the ridge north of Finger col. We decided to try this route and had a snack at the tarn immediately below Finger col. There is a clear low point on the ridge above this tarn, but there also appears to be a ~15 ft slab of exposed granite that looked a bit steeper than either of us wanted to risk with packs. In retrospect, this low point above the tarn certainly must be Finger col, but we decided to go with the guidebook version. However, as will become evident, I wish I’d checked out the apparent “direct route” a little more carefully. Instead, we tracked several hundred feet north of the tarn below a ~30 ft slab of solid granite that is surmounted by talus. This slab eventually gave way to an area where we interpreted the old map as showing the zone where one could cross the ridge. However, our first efforts were re-buffed by hand holds that neither of us could reach, and by a gravel-strewn, rock ramp that looked even worse than Milly’s foot pass in the Upper Kern valley. Just as I was muttering that we should slink back to Reinstein col, I found a 20 ft chimney that worked. We even got our ancient, external frame packs up this crease. That was the good news. The bad news is that rain was looking imminent. Sans pack, I quickly backtracked along the ridge toward the low point above the tarn, but could not see an easy way off the ridge. An easy chute on the western aspect of Finger col was blocked by a vertical granite slab. Too, bad for us. Further inspection revealed that the only sure way to get down to Cathedral Lake from where we were was to follow the ridge several hundred feet to the north to a patch of talus that led to sand/gravel and pine trees. Fifteen minutes into this effort, it started to rain. Ten minutes later, the first lightning hit. I am not a big fan of being on exposed ridges in lightning, but that’s where we were. I screamed back at Michael that I was going to head for the pine trees and started moving as fast as the rain-slicked rock would permit. The lightning was only banging at sporadic intervals, but even so, I breathed a sigh of relief when I hit the trees. Halfway down the hill, there was a good boulder overhang and I holed up for 45 min waiting either for Michael to appear or the rain to abate. No sign of Michael and the rain/lightning kept thumping. As I started to get chilly, I had to make a decision. I did not want to waste too much dry clothing under the boulder, so figuring that Michael had either taken shelter or injured himself, I launched back into the rain and hustled down to flat ground. By then, it had been raining heavily for a couple hours, so it was easy to identify porous soil where the rain was seeping efficiently into the ground. I managed to pitch the tent and get my bag and clothing inside without getting things too wet. And, the rain continued to pound. After what I reckoned was another couple hours the pitter-patter intensity dropped off. A bit later I heard a welcome shout from the ridge. It was Michael, but he had a good hour of climbing to get off the hillside. As the rain turned to mist, he made it to camp about 30 min before sunset. Well, Thor had his chances, but we got lucky. It’s not an experience I want to repeat anytime soon! For the record, the west side of Finger col looked to be easy: a bit of bouldering up high that gives way to a pretty simple descent to Cathedral Lake. There’s still that granite slab on the eastern ridge, but I’m pretty certain that one could find a way around that obstacle. I’ll be very keen to hear reports from anyone going that way in the future! And, I’d not recommend the route we took!!!
Day 5 broke with relative clearing, but even so, by midday it was threatening rain. As we worked our way north from Cathedral Lake toward Lake Confusion, we decided to stop at Rainbow Lake rather than risk being up high on the route through Confusion and Gunsight passes. Although Rainbow got scattered showers, most of the rain appeared to be hitting south and east of us, a welcome respite from the day before. And, from our vantage point at Rainbow, there was a great alpenglow show on the face of Finger Peak. Ah, it can be a compelling experience when the light shows take over!
For day 6 we got going early with the hope of reaching Horseshoe Lake where my wife had caught some gorgeous rainbow trout years ago. However, with Confusion/Gunsight passes and Lucifer’s Saddles in our path (Michael has photos of these off trail passes that I’ll post separately when he sends them to me) and more monsoonal moisture creeping over the Sierra crest we finally pulled the plug on the day’s walk shortly after the Devil’s Punchbowl. Michael’s fishing plans were definitely getting skunked, and our end-of-the-day routine was veering heavily on the soggy side. However, the rain stopped about the time the last vestiges of light vanished and we got a warm meal under the dripping trees. We kept wondering whether this really was a Sierra August; it felt more like the Cascades. Plus, by now, we really needed a bath. After consuming the rest of our alcoholic beverages, we decided to high tail it for Florence the next day. It’s a long haul from Devil’s Punchbowl to Florence, so we got rolling soon after daybreak of what proved to be the coolest and clearest day of the trip.
Day 7 entailed an initial segment on trail to Lower Indian Lake and then the use trail to Upper Indian Lake. Both Lakes sit in broad meadows that had greened up with all the rain. It was easy trucking to Mosquito Pass and then a slower descent on the sand-gravel coated rocks of the Mosquito defile. There is nothing terrible about this narrow route down to Heather Lake except that it will reward the hasty with a swift pratfall. We took our time and then spent a few minutes looking for the use trail I’d encountered years before below Heather. The early segments of the use trail were clearly evident and easy to follow, but about halfway down the hill, we lost any semblance of a route. Then, it was just gravity tugging us down to the river. With all the rain, the south fork of the San Joaquin was easily a foot deeper than when we’d started a week earlier. We found a spot to ford, and had water up to mid-waist for our troubles. Still, it was a cooling moment on an otherwise full bore march to Florence. We reached to ferry phone at 5 min after 5pm and although the ferry had started back, they returned to collect us. Whew! I felt sorry for the boats’ skipper as the fumes trailing his last 2 passengers had to be a bit ripe, but it was nothing a good shower could not cure. We made it to a cabin at Huntington Lake by sunset and toasted the billowing clouds over the Sierra crest. Civilization does have its comforts….
cg



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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby quentinc » Wed Sep 05, 2012 9:16 pm

I was bemoaning missing most of August backpacking (new house and other issues), but maybe it was just as well! Sounds like an exciting, if soggy trip. This is another area I've never been, but would love to, so it was good to read about it.
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby SweetSierra » Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:21 am

As we speak a good friend, who has longed to see Blue Canyon and its lakes for several years, is on his way there. He's got my SPOT and make it last night to within about two miles of the lakes after ascending Blue Canyon. He took the Blue Canyon trail from Crown Meadow to the unmaintained portion of the trail around Kettle Dome to what appears to be the Big Meadow area of Blue Canyon my map. It was day two of a six-day trip and I'm hoping yesterday's weather didn't make things too soggy for him. I understand your desire to see Blue Canyon. I would have liked to have gone on this trip but couldn't make it.

He and a friend went over Finger Col several years ago. He vividly recalled the precipitous ledge right at the top of the col. He said it was pretty hairy, and he found a way, I think, over it rather than to walk the ledge. I think he said he had to lower his pack to his friend at one point.
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby balzaccom » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:32 am

This may not have been your favorite trip--but it was a great trip report. We've hiked in that area ourselves, and were grateful that the storms we saw were further east. Wasn't it Yvon Chouinard who said: "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."?

Great adventure!
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby Jimr » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:38 am

Interesting. Maybe your friend missed the col as well. For some reason, I recall Finger Col being a straight forward class 2 hike on solid granite as you approach the col.
hisierra2.JPG


Wasn't it Yvon Chouinard who said: "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."?


Yes. But, she's also dead because something went wrong.
What?!
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby cgundersen » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:50 am

quentin/sweetsierra/jimr/balzac,
Thanks for the comments/posts:
Yes, ever since giantbrookie posted a rhapsodic description of his Blue Canyon experience 4 years ago, I've been keen to try again. Since then, there have been a couple more reports of ventures in that area, but it certainly does not get a lot of traffic. Jacob posted a good TR last month of using the southern approach, and I'm hoping sweetsierra's pal will provide a report. If they can include photos of the old Finger col crossing, too that would be very interesting!
As with most reports of August trips, weather was definitely a big factor. For how things are trending, I'm not sure the monsoonal pattern has broken, so I'll be curious how September trips pan out. The good news is that all the moisture has improved water access!
jimr: I was just responding to the earlier posts when your photo popped up. THANKS! Looks dang familiar, but we had black sky in the background. I'm still wrestling with my reluctance to check out "the real Finger col". I think it was Michael's enthusiasm to scope out his old guidebook's version that swung us north, and the deteriorating weather that forced us to choose one or the other. Now, I can dream about getting back there under balmier conditions.
cg
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby quentinc » Thu Sep 06, 2012 9:49 pm

Jimr wrote:
Wasn't it Yvon Chouinard who said: "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."?


Yes. But, she's also dead because something went wrong.


The Patagonia guy? The Internet thinks he's still alive. But nowadays, his saying is "it's not an adventure until we mark up our products by at least 100%." They are sort of the Whole Foods of outdoors brands.
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Sep 07, 2012 8:21 am

Great trip report! That's a really scary situation on the ridge--I'm glad both of you made it off safely. Yikes!

There's no mistaking Finger Col if you find it: it's a narrow corridor between vertical walls, with an impressive rock column on the Cathedral side. My recollection of it is that it's easy from the east if you angle left (south), then follow a ledge (at the base of the cliffs) right (north).

I never thought of the Goddard Creek drainage as the "western Ionian Basin"...but then there isn't really a satisfactory name for that area (I end up referring to, e.g., the basin of the western fork of Goddard Creek", which is kind of clunky). Whatever it's called, it's a beautiful area.
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby East Side Hiker » Fri Sep 07, 2012 3:38 pm

Nice report and nice trip.

Seems like this was a good summer for great trips, and great photos. I just want to spend the entire summer in the high Sierra (especially now that I'm retired). I spent my summer car camping and flower searching from roadside trails :crybaby:
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby vandman » Wed Sep 19, 2012 8:41 am

"Approach from the left, and descend to the right." That's what a guy from a group of three wise Sierra dogs who appeared from the direction I was skeptically huffing and puffing toward. They seemed as surprised to see me as I was them, since the Finger Lakes area is so remote. We didn't talk much. I told them that the notch in the wall that was supposed to be Finger Pass/Col looked impassable. The told me not to worry, it "ledged out" on top. So I continued huffing and puffing up to the notch, confident that it was the way. Like most things in the mountains, it leveled out and was an easy series of granite ledges with big hoodoo towers on top. I descended to the right.[
hodos on finger peak72.jpg
Hoodoo on top
finer peak from blue canyon72.jpg
View of Finger ridge from Blue Canyon Peak. Finger pass is the slot on the right.
attachment=0]blue canyon72.jpg[/attachment]
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blue canyon72.jpg
Blue Canyon from sw ridge of Blue Canyon Peak
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby tomba » Sun Sep 23, 2012 2:39 pm

I was in that area a month later. I went up Blue Canyon Pass from from the lakes east of Finger Col to have a peek at Blue Canyon. But I was out of time to go there - had to take a shorter route back to Florence Lake. To save time I tried to traverse directly from Blue Canyon Pass to Finger Col (the traverse looked easy from below) but gave up half way through (too much talus and some icy snow fields) and instead went down to the creek and and up to Finger Col (with a prominent tower "finger" on the west side).

Seeing picture of Michel on Gunsight Pass wearing what looks like leather gloves - did you lose a pair of gloves at Bullet Lake? I found a pair there and packed it out.
-- Found trash? Please pack it out. Thank you.
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Re: TR: Another romp through Goddard Canyon & beyond (8/8-8/15)

Postby cgundersen » Mon Sep 24, 2012 10:11 am

vandman/tomba,
From the feedback others have posted, I definitely will get back to Finger col someday and take the requisite closer look. The west side was the typical class 2 grunt and my only persistent regret is that I did not climb up and scout out the "lefty" approach. We certainly ate gobs of time trying to follow the route on the guidebook map. C'est la vie!
And, tomba, you'll be pleased to hear that the same guidebook map showed a more or less direct traverse from Blue Canyon Pass to Finger col. From the tarn below Finger col, you could certainly make out where folks had started the traverse, but it's not clear that it saves any time. From our experience, the routes on the guidebook map were more for goats than geezers. No lost gloves from our party; we did recover a couple balloon shards, but did not leave anything more than scuff marks on a bunch of rocks.
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