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TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 1:31 pm
by Bluewater
After finishing a section of the Sierra High Route a few weeks ago I met a guy named Donn on the way out via Sabrina Basin. We talked nutrition, gear, exercise, footwear and world politics while hiking a few miles to the parking lot. I rarely meet somebody who shares so many similar common interests including a passion for cross country backpacking in the High Sierra.

I couldn’t believe it when he showed me a map of couple of the cross country passes he had been scouting out for the past week. They were the same two passes that were next on my list. We decided to take one last trip of the season together, weather permitting.

During the next few weeks we had to delay the trip due to the mid October storm, but we lucked out and took advantage of an unusually warm break in the weather last week.

We started out by acclimating at Midnight Lake for the first day. Since it was only a few miles to Midnight Lake from the Sabrina Lake TH I was able to leave home in the morning and still get there in time to have dinner at the lake.

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The next morning we got an early start up the ridge between Hungry Packer Lake and Midnight Lake. Secor recommends starting at the very beginning of this ridge, but Donn had scouted a short cut directly from Midnight Lake. Soon we reached lake 12,345 and the boulder field that leads to Haeckel Col (12,780 feet).

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Once we got to near the crest on the east side we dropped our packs and decided to try out what looked like it could be the ‘best’ route. We lucked out and found an easy way over the col the first try, with only a short class III climb down the west side. The views were amazing in both directions.

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The scale of the boulder field is difficult to capture. If you look closely Donn is visible in this pxt.

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After a 1,000 foot scramble down to lake 11,808 we followed some more boulder fields and a few grassy granite benches down to Sapphire Lake. By that time we were losing sunlight so we booked it on the JMT to a campsite.The fall colors in Evolution Basin matched the alpenglow on Mt. Mendel.

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I read about a great camp at the top of the waterfall leading from Evolution Lake. We found a site covered by trees at the top of the waterfall overlooking Evolution Valley

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The next morning we headed up to Darwin Bench, with some great views looking back toward Evolution Lake. The color of the lakes in Darwin Canyon was a similar to the bright blue/green of Marion Lake. And there were a few sandy beaches.

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We climbed up the boulder fields at the east end of Darwin Canyon on the way up to Darwin Col (13,034 feet). It was a challenge finding the boulders that were stable AND didn’t have any snow on them. The east side of Darwin Col is much like the east side of Frozen Lake Pass. We had fun scree skiing down the steep slope.

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By the time we got toward the bottom it was getting dark. We found the nearest flat spot that had a little cover from the wind by one of the tarns below Mt. Darwin. It was a cold night and the wind seemed to come from all directions as it swirled around the end of the cirque. My meager 1/8” GG pad and Klymit Inertia inflatable torso pad barely did the trick insulating the cold from below, but my homemade 20 degree quilt kept me toasty. Our water bottles froze solid overnight.

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The scramble back down to Midnight Lake was a breeze compared to the previous two days. Once back to Midnight Lake I made it to the car in 2 hours on the smooth trails through Sabrina Basin. The fall colors reminded me that this would probably be my last trip of the season.

If you're interested I posted more photos and a detailed map of our route on my blog:

http://seatosummitultralight.blogspot.c ... n-via.html

Re: TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 4:16 pm
by Mike M.
Very cool trip report! And great October weather.

Mike

Re: TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 6:30 pm
by copeg
Nice! Looks like some tough x-country passes to deal with, but worth every boulder hop.

Re: TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 7:15 pm
by giantbrookie
Nice report. Doing two rugged and seldom crossed passes into one trip makes for a fine loop. The fall snow dusting the ledges and tops of rocks adds a nice touch to the scenery.

TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 7:16 pm
by Bluewater
Thanks Mike and Copeg. It was fun to climb those passes after reading about them all winter!

TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 7:43 pm
by Bluewater
Thanx Giantbrookie. The fall colors and snow were a welcome change from the 2 season year we get at home.

Re: TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 7:50 pm
by freestone
Excellent UL effort. Dare I guess, under 20 pounds for four trail days? I recall the sandy beach on my last visit to Darwin and thought how that had to be the best beach in the world above 11,000ft!

TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 8:29 pm
by Bluewater
Thanx Freestone. You're right on! I started with just under 15 lbs on the first day including a bear canister, one liter of water, a 20 degree quilt, food, shelter, etc. After leaving the internal frame and canister at Midnight Lake on the second day it got much better. It only made sense for this kind of hiking/climbing trip, I would bring more comfort items otherwise (a full size neo-air would have been nice).

I didn't know about those sandy beaches in Darwin Canyon. That white sandy beach on the last lake, much like the one along upper Glacier Lake on the SHR, is one of the high points of this Sierra season:)

Re: TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 9:03 pm
by mokelumnekid
What a terrific TR! The pics on your site are great too. Thanks.

TR: Loop Around Mt. Darwin via Haeckel Col & Darwin Col

PostPosted: Fri Nov 02, 2012 1:00 pm
by Bluewater
Thanks mokelumnekid. It's hard to really tell the full story with the 10 pxt limit (although I understand the need for it) so I'm glad you checked out the website. Right on!