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TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide, 9/8-9/15

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TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide, 9/8-9/15

Postby windknot » Wed Sep 19, 2012 9:16 am

My father and I embark on an annual backpacking trip each summer in the Sierra Nevada. It began as an innocuous 3-day little jaunt up into the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness on the west slope of the Central Sierra several years ago, a long weekend spent doing a little hiking, a little more fishing, and some good old-fashioned masculine bonding over bad food and shared pain.

Over the years, as my interest in backcountry fishing and backpacking has blossomed into a passion, then exploded into an addiction, and finally proliferated into a lifestyle, these annual trips have begun to transform. Each year we’d get a little more ambitious, tacking on another day, adding a stretch of cross-country travel, maybe an off-trail pass here or there.

However, with this season quickly approaching, a wrench was thrown into the works: an upcoming career change would have me leaving the country for the next couple of years. Faced with the prospect of not being able to return to the Sierra until at least 2015, and a murky idea of where I might find myself beyond that, I began mapping out my season with renewed vigor. I asked myself which trips I had always wanted to take, and resolved to do them this year.

And so an 8-day loop trip leisurely exploring Humphreys Basin, French Canyon, the Glacier Divide, Evolution Bench, and Darwin Canyon was born.

We left Sanger a little before 7am on Saturday morning. Cruising into Bishop just before noon, we grabbed our wilderness permit after a brief delay (their system couldn’t find my reservation, so the cheerful young ranger wrote me a walk-up permit), rented another bear can (my BV500 was already stuffed to the gills with just dinners), and then headed up the road toward North Lake. Arriving at the trailhead after some brief confusion – it took us a few minutes to find the trailhead parking lot back near the pack station instead of at the actual trailhead; you learn something new every day – we soon had our gear ready to go and hit the trail, er, dirt road.

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The hike up toward Piute Pass was unremarkable except for some dark thunderclouds looming ahead providing the occasional light sprinkling of rain. The weather did provide some nice lighting for a few photos. Upon making it over the final grade to the pass, we stopped to take in the view. The sun shone through a gap in the clouds, creating a nice contrast between light and dark.

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Heading out on the trail toward Muriel Lake, we walked until we could see the lake, then headed south up a steadily sloping ramp toward the gap northeast of the lowest Lost Lake. Although it was getting later in the evening and we were tired from a long first day of driving and then unacclimated hiking with full packs, we soldiered on and gratefully dropped down the other side of the gap to the lake below.

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We fished for a bit before retiring to camp, and the lighting that evening made for some particularly striking photo opportunities (whether or not the photos themselves are striking is, of course, a completely different matter).

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The next morning, we fished a bit more, then took a well-defined use trail up to Lake #2, where we found a few established campsites and tons of fish. From there we hopped over boulders to small Lake #3, then continued on to Lake 11911, the highest lake in the basin (as well as the highest elevation lake we visited on this trip, mildly surprisingly). Returning to the lowest lake, we packed up and headed west toward the Goethes.

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We traversed past the little lake at 11720+ due west of the lowest Lost Lake, then dropped down to the smaller lake below Goethe (Lower Goethe?). After spending some time fishing the two lakes, we returned to the lower lake, grabbed our packs, and headed down past Muriel to Piute Creek. Crossing the creek, we struck out in a general north/northwest direction across the gentle gradient of Humphreys Basin toward Mesa.

Arriving at Mesa under threatening but not yet definitively wet clouds, we fished for half an hour and contemplated camping there for the night before deciding to push over the hump to reach French Canyon. We continued north, gaining elevation as we climbed steadily toward Carol Column, then reached the pass and goose-stepped gingerly down the other side. We made a beeline for the high ground between Puppet and Paris and made camp there.

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The next day was a layover day, with a full agenda of exploring, fishing, washing clothes, fishing, napping, fishing, eating, fishing, taking pictures, and fishing planned. Little did I know that we would also run into an old friend completely by chance, and not for the first time.

Late in the afternoon, I saw a solo backpacker wearing a green shirt making camp on the high ground north of our camp. I must have been staring at him for a long time, since he noticed me from across the way and waved. It was a bit far away, and I knew my dad had a green rain shell, so I wondered if it was him and if so, what he was doing over there. My curiosity got the better of me after ten minutes, so I decided to walk back over to Puppet and maybe get a better look at the two new people from my new vantage point. As I headed out across the open space south of the lake, yet another person materialized at the top of the ridge between Puppet and Lorraine and this time I heard him yelling my name. This was my dad. I headed up to meet him and saw him discover the two backpackers just below him. He and the guy in the green shook hands as I came closer, then realized that the latter was PatrickQuin, member here on HST!

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I came over to greet him, introducing my dad, and we spent about half an hour catching up and talking about the great coincidence that we would run into each other not once but twice at the same off-trail backcountry lake, two years apart, completely unplanned.

We awoke Wednesday morning to find it bright and clear, with no wind. My dad and I packed up most of our camp early and then fished for a few hours before finishing re-loading our gear and starting back toward Carol Column.

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Reaching the top of the pass, we dropped down the other side and continued down to Mesa where we had a snack and did some fishing. Continuing down to Tomahawk, we fished some more before dropping down from the outlet, making our way through the relatively dense pine forest (dense compared to the sparse vegetation of French Canyon and upper Humphreys Basin, anyway) to connect with the trail following Piute Creek down into the canyon. We took the trail down to the junction with the Lower Honeymoon Lake trail, then crossed the creek and began making our way up the other side. This trail is steep, gaining 700 feet in less than a mile, but we plodded slowly along and soon arrived at a picturesque lake dimpled with rises and set in a granite bowl studded with pines and grasses.

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After a quick break to eat and fish and filter water, we climbed up the ridge to the southwest of the lake, dropping our packs at about the 10,800 elevation level and then traversing over a tedious boulder field to check out Upper Honeymoon. This short walk was irritatingly long because of the sheer size of the boulders, and I was frankly uninspired by the scenery/other recreational opportunities to be had there. Crossing back over to pick up our packs, we continued traversing north up the ridge and reached the gap between the Honeymoons and Ramona. The view north across Hutchinson Meadow to Merriam, the Pinnacles, and Feather Peak was outstanding, and my spirit was again uplifted as we made our way through the gap and down to Ramona on the other side. She’s a big, intimidating lake. Or maybe it was just the pre-dusk shadows and lighting. It was getting late, so we found a campsite on the north side of the lake near the outlet and set up camp just before it got dark.

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We arose relatively early in the morning and fished for a few hours before packing up. We headed west/southwest from the outlet, traversing the steep canyon wall. This section looked iffy on the map, but as cgunderson reported on his trip report on HST, the route is well-marked by cairns which saved us from getting cliffed out on several occasions. We finished the traverse, then angled up (southeast) the gentler slope north of Lake 10907. Dropping down to the lake from the northeast side, we took a quick break to dip our feet in the water and eat some snacks. I fished for a bit, and then we moved on.

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Continuing around the north side of the lake we climbed the ridge south of the outlet up conveniently-angled slabs which made the ascent almost fun. Only near the very top did the route get a bit dicey, requiring a few brief class 3 moves that could have been avoided with a more careful route. Soon though we were on top of the ridge admiring the view north and west, walking southeast along the top of the ridge until we reached the pass at the east end of the basin. Standing atop the pass looking across the Glacier Divide into Kings Canyon National Park, we snapped a few pictures and then headed down the other side, picking our way down a pretty straight-forward route down to the higher of the two small lakes above Lake 11236. I briefly plied the waters in each of these lakes as we continued through the basin, dropping down to the pretty little meadow lake at 10760+ to make camp for the night in a small stand of pine trees nearby.

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We got an early start the next morning and made our way across the shelf to the edge of the slope above Evolution Valley, then traversed east. Climbing briefly up a small ravine, we crossed over to check out the small lake at 10920+, which was shallow and pretty, and then continued east until we reached the top of the low ridge west of Lake 11092. Since we got there so early, it almost felt like a layover day. We spent the rest of the day fishing, setting up camp, and exploring. As dusk settled in, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset in the horizon above the lake after dinner.

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Friday dawned clear and sunny as well. We decided to get an early start that morning in order to have more time to explore some small lakes nearby as we made our way around to Darwin Bench, so we traversed east and crossed over several small ravines until we reached a point overlooking the western of the two larger lakes at 11200+. We spent a bit of time in this sub-basin, checking out each of the lakes and marveling at some of the aquatic life we found there.

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Continuing on, we were treated to a panoramic view of Evolution Valley as we rounded the corner of Peak 12173. We walked along constantly upward sloping slabs, feeling a bit like we were in one of those video games where you have to keep dropping your avatar down to the next level as each level rose in order to remain at the same position. Eventually we found ourselves overlooking Darwin Bench, a few hundred feet higher than the little lakes below even though we had already hopped down several “levels.” No matter, we rode the Sierra escalator down farther and walked over to the largest lake on Darwin Bench, where we enjoyed the view south and had fun fishing as we ate lunch.

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For the first time since leaving French Canyon we began encountering other hikers. At each of our last three camps, we had the entire basin to ourselves. Now, we ran into three hikers coming down a use trail near the lake and would see several more parties of backpackers after we followed the creek up to Lake 11592 and entered Darwin Canyon. The rest of the day was spent fishing and exploring this iconic High Sierra basin.

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We awoke on our last morning to find frost and a bit of wind. It was cold, but we had no problem motivating ourselves to eat breakfast and pack up camp quickly. After spending a few hours doing some fishing and checking out the higher lakes in the canyon, we packed away our fishing gear and began following the well-defined use trail up the slope toward the column.

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As we neared the top of the canyon, the use trail petered out (or more accurately, filtered into several different use trails) and I got momentarily mixed up with my directions. I made a beeline for a nearby ridge where I thought the pass was and peered over the edge. Wrong pass. After a bit of orienting with the topo and looking back into the canyon, I realized that we were looking over the pass into the Sabrina Lakes Basin. I had thought about designing a trip to connect a visit to the Schober Holes, visible below, with Darwin Canyon, so I took a few photos. It looked steep on the north side of the pass, but probably doable. Lamarck Column was only a short distance away, so we traversed large boulders until we reached the column and posed for pictures with the pass sign. Dropping down the other side, the ice field had melted to the point where it was too dangerous to cross (hard and slippery), so we gingerly picked a route through the boulders above it and then descended carefully until we reached more level topography.

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The rest of the hike back to the trailhead was a straightforward walk along the very well-defined use trail. I shouldn’t have been so surprised at how well-used the trail was, but the only sign that this trail is not officially maintained is that there is no sign marking the turnoff for the trail just before Upper Lamarck Lake. Because the trail begins on the other side of Lamarck Creek from the official trail, I suppose one would have to know where the use trail branches off from the main trail in order to stay on the right track. Also surprisingly, most of the hikers we met on the trail were backpackers heading up to Lamarck Column and beyond. Only a few groups were day hikers heading to Upper Lamarck or Lower Lamarck lakes, and this was a bright, clear Saturday afternoon. We made good time back to the trailhead, reaching Lamarck Column at 12:15pm and arriving at the North Lake parking lot at 2:45pm for a brisk downhill hiking pace of just under 3 miles per hour.

Of all the great trips I’ve taken with my dad over the years, I think we’d both agree that this one was the clear winner in terms of scenery, interesting off-trail hiking, fishing, wow factor, and overall experience.

[Edit: I didn't include any fish pictures because I know many of you don't fish/care about fishing, but for those of you who are interested in a more piscine twist to the trip, I threw some pictures up on the Fishing Hole here: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=8361]

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Last edited by windknot on Sat Nov 03, 2012 8:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/



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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby The Other Tom » Wed Sep 19, 2012 9:32 am

What a great story. Thanks for posting. So, how did your "future" turn out...will you be away for awhile, or did you manage to stay put ?
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby windknot » Wed Sep 19, 2012 10:39 am

Thanks! Yes, I will be moving to Zambia to begin my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in February. I'll be there at least until May 2015, so it'll be a couple of years before I'll be able to experience the Sierra again (hence my focus on taking a lot of trips this season).
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby TehipiteTom » Wed Sep 19, 2012 11:05 am

Great trip report, great pics. I've been eyeing some form of this trip (espeically the part from Honeymoon to Ramona and around the corner) for a few years...hope to get there someday.

Thanks for posting!
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby Laserjet3051 » Wed Sep 19, 2012 3:18 pm

Great trip report. Thanks for taking the time to share. Which Saturday this summer did you start this trip? I will be heading out from North Lake TH this Friday with my dog to do a 4 day, in and out via Piute Pass, Humphries Basin, French Canyon and if I am lucky a brief ascent up to the Glacier Divide. I have never been to this particular Sierra locale, and being so late in the season might you tell me if Piute Creek (between Piute Pass and Hutchinson meadow) provided a dependable source of drinking water, or was it dry?

You stated that “Continuing down to Tomahawk, we fished some more before dropping down from the outlet, making our way through the relatively dense pine forest ............to connect with the trail following Piute Creek down into the canyon.”

I assume this particular section of your trip was all cross country travel. How easy was it to sight and intersect the Piute Creek trail coming down out of Humphries Basin (via Mesa Lake)? I’ll be doing some xc travel from Upper Desolation in Humphries and would prefer to descend back into Piute Creek off-trail taking a SW heading rather than retracing my steps via the trail (leading to Desolation).

Can I assume that there weren’t any mosquitos to speak of on this trip? If so, that will save me a few oz in pack weight as I am battling an already overloaded pack.

Thanks for your attention!

Howard
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby The Other Tom » Wed Sep 19, 2012 5:23 pm

windknot wrote:Thanks! Yes, I will be moving to Zambia to begin my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in February. I'll be there at least until May 2015, so it'll be a couple of years before I'll be able to experience the Sierra again (hence my focus on taking a lot of trips this season).

Wow. Thanks for your service.
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby jandj » Wed Sep 19, 2012 6:25 pm

Matt can speak for the routes and water supplies, but we did not encounter one mosquito on the trip which included some heavily forested and moist areas (Honeymoon Lakes) Water was plentiful considering the low snowpack this past Winter. Several dry creekbeds, and an average 2 ft lower lake level. but one could usually find pools along the way.

I was impressed with the abundant invertebrate life in the several fishless lakes we encountered: large mayflies, scuds, and caddis.

John
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby windknot » Wed Sep 19, 2012 8:17 pm

Laserjet3051 wrote:Great trip report. Thanks for taking the time to share. Which Saturday this summer did you start this trip? I will be heading out from North Lake TH this Friday with my dog to do a 4 day, in and out via Piute Pass, Humphries Basin, French Canyon and if I am lucky a brief ascent up to the Glacier Divide. I have never been to this particular Sierra locale, and being so late in the season might you tell me if Piute Creek (between Piute Pass and Hutchinson meadow) provided a dependable source of drinking water, or was it dry?

You stated that “Continuing down to Tomahawk, we fished some more before dropping down from the outlet, making our way through the relatively dense pine forest ............to connect with the trail following Piute Creek down into the canyon.”

I assume this particular section of your trip was all cross country travel. How easy was it to sight and intersect the Piute Creek trail coming down out of Humphries Basin (via Mesa Lake)? I’ll be doing some xc travel from Upper Desolation in Humphries and would prefer to descend back into Piute Creek off-trail taking a SW heading rather than retracing my steps via the trail (leading to Desolation).

Can I assume that there weren’t any mosquitos to speak of on this trip? If so, that will save me a few oz in pack weight as I am battling an already overloaded pack.

Thanks for your attention!

Howard


Thanks! Our trip was last week, from Sept. 8-15. No mosquitoes, and Piute Creek was definitely flowing strongly and will not dry out completely at any point this season. We couldn't see the trail from the top of the canyon, but I knew that the trail ran parallel to the creek so we just angled down the canyon at a roughly southwest heading and hit the trail eventually. If you don't particularly care about knowing the exact spot on the trail you want to intersect, this will work just fine for your trip.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby gary c. » Wed Sep 19, 2012 11:47 pm

Great report and beautiful pictures.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby Vaca Russ » Thu Sep 20, 2012 8:17 am

Matt,

"my interest in backcountry fishing and backpacking has blossomed into a passion, then exploded into an addiction, and finally proliferated into a lifestyle"

No! Not you! :)

Thanks for another great TR!

-Russ
” Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports … all others are games.”- Ernest Hemingway
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby windknot » Thu Sep 20, 2012 10:06 am

Thanks all!

Russ, by the end of September, I will have spent 26 of the past 37 days in the backcountry. I wish I could say the lifestyle thing was an exaggeration, but I'm obligated to report that it is temporarily a fact.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Ring Around the Glacier Divide

Postby overheadx2 » Thu Sep 20, 2012 1:36 pm

Windknot, you have certainly peaked my interest. I backpacked in there probably 20 years ago. and wondered about doing some xc exploring. I am interested in starting to do some more sign. xc trips besides hiking a few miles to connect trails. Are the areas like Lamarck or Carroll columns doable for a relative xc rookie. I'm a strong packer and carry GPS and have good map reading skills, but have always been a little sheepish about class 2 stuff. Is there a xc route in there you would recommend for a starter 5 or six day trip? How about a loop down Piute, up bear creek and then up and over Carroll column and back to North lake. Is there a way over honeymoon lakes area to Lake 11092 and then on to Darwin bench and then over Lamarck. Sorry about all the ?'s, but your trip sounds amazing, and I told myself next year I would start more xc exploring. Can an slightly above average Joe do it? Thanks, Phil
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