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TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

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TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby jimmeans » Sun Jul 14, 2013 1:20 am

Steve Fry, Wade Christiansen and I undertook a 7-day, 6-night trip that started at the Onion Valley trailhead and finished at the Shepherd Pass trailhead. Will Bechtel accompanied us for the first day and a half before returning to Onion Valley. This trip started on June 30 and ended on July 6, 2013. We crossed 3 major passes during this trip: Kearsarge Pass, Forester Pass, and Shepherd Pass.

Day 1: Onion Valley Trailhead to Kearsarge Lakes via Kearsarge Pass
After spending the previous two nights in Mammoth Lakes (helped with acclimation for the near-sea-level residents amongst us), we first left vehicles at the Shepherd Pass trailhead and then drove to Onion Valley. At the trailhead we became aware via posted signs that the bear boxes at Kearsarge Lakes were out of commision. While we were carrying bear canisters per regulations, some of us were planning on using the boxes for a small amount of overflow items during the first couple of days. We met a NPS ranger on the last day of the trip and asked him about this during our conversation. He said that these boxes were closed because of through-hikers illegally caching food there and then not emptying them.

We started from the Onion Valley trailhead at about 2:45PM. The cover provided by the afternoon cloud buildup made the temperature bearable. We reached Kearsarge Pass at 6PM. After a short celebration at the pass summit, we descended to Kearsarge Lakes. We found a campsite near the second lake in the chain in a spot slightly isolated from the trail. Day 1 distance was 6.2 miles.

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6/30/2013 Route Map

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Gilbert Lake

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Kearsarge Pass Celebration

Day 2: Kearsarge Lakes to Bubbs Creek
We had a leisurely morning getting ready to resume the hike since our plan was for a relatively short segment. This was planned so that we could get back on schedule if we hadn't reached Kearsarge Lakes on day 1 because of the late start.

We continued the hike following the Kearsarge Lakes chain and followed it's outlet back to the trail to Bullfrog Lake. When we reached the PCT/JMT we parted ways with Will who hiked north to Charlotte Lake and then back to the Onion Valley trailhead.

The remaining 3 of us dropped into Vidette Meadows and followed the trail up Bubbs Creek. This is a very beautiful creek with many waterfalls over slabs. When we reached the outlet of Center Basin we stopped at the last bear box supported camp site and called it a day. The original plan was to hike into Center Basin and camp, but we decided to cut that out of the trip to eliminate the backtrack mileage on the next day which was going to be the longest leg of the trip. Wade and I had fun catching the small golden trout in Bubbs Creek in front of the camp site. Day 2 distance was 6.5 miles.

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7/1/2013 Route Map

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University Peak, Kearsarge Pinnacles from Middle Kearsarge Lake

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View across Bullfrog Lake to Mt Brewer

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Vidette Meadow to Center Basin

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Bubbs Creek Waterfall

Day 3: Bubbs Creek to Lake South America via Forester Pass
We had some light showers overnight, but conditions were okay in the morning. We were concerned about the daily thunderstorms, especially since there was activity even in the morning. We could tell that there was activity on the south side of the Kings-Kern Divide, and we didn't want to get caught in an exposed area while transiting Forester Pass. We were on the trail by 8:30AM which for this group was a semi-major miracle.

The trail was in very good shape, and other than the obvious altitude issue reaching Forester Pass was uneventful. We kept querying PCT hikers about the weather conditions as we approached the pass, and the best advice was 'there are no sacred places so keep moving'. We were on top of the pass by 12:30, and after a very short stop we descended the south side. I've seen a lot of photos of this trail, but until I was on it I didn't fully appreciate the great job that was done in engineering and building that trail.

We took a short break at the first lake at the bottom of the pass where we met a 19-year-old German hiker named Axel who had started the PCT in Tehachapi. He was in a hurry because he wanted to get over Kearsarge Pass to Independence in time to see the Independence Day parade in two days. We were amazed at how fast he made his way up the trail to the pass. Continuing south on the PCT/JMT we left the trail at about 11900 ft to take a cross-country route around the end of the ridge that Caltech Peak is on. We just followed the contour until we reached the Lake South America trail. I almost had a mutiny on my hands when we reached the bottom of the 500 ft climb to get to Lake South America. We reached Lake South America at about 5PM and found a campsite on the ledge about the north side of the lake near its outlet. This area is very barren, and at first glance we thought the lake was fishless. As it got darker we could see surface feeding, and we were able to catch a few nice goldens. Day 3 distance was 9.9 miles.

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7/2/2013 Route Map

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Trailside Blossoms

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Last lake north of Forester Pass, Junction Peak, Forester Pass on far right

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Highest Elevation for the Trip

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Descending south side of Forester Pass trail

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No this isn't Lake South America, we have ONE more climb

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One more 500 ft climb up this to Lake South America (There really is a trail!)

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Great Western Divide from Lake South America camp site

Day 4: Lake South America to Lake 10660
After the previous day's adventure, I decided to pull back from the original plan and make day 4 a short hike. The original plan was to hike to Milestone Basin, but instead we decided to get close enough that we could easily day hike to Milestone on the 4th of July instead.

The Upper Kern River Loop trail seemed to be very lightly traveled in this area. The trail deviates a bit from it's indicated location on topographic maps, but it was fairly well ducked most of the way down to the series of lakes that begin at 11280 ft. The only place we had trouble following the ducks was when we were close to the lakes, and by then we were making a bee-line to the first lake anyway. We took a long break there, had lunch, and spent some time fishing. We didn't have much mid-day luck, but we certainly saw a lot of fish activity.

We then picked up the trail and continued south. The trail was a bit easier to follow from here as it seemed to be more heavily traveled. As the trail finally dropped to the Kern River it again deviated from the location on the maps, but this section was well ducked. We reached Lake 10660 at the junction with the Kern River Cut-off Trail and found a good camp site there. This became home for two nights. We fished in the lake and had a blast. There were a lot of what appeared to be Kern River Rainbows in this lake, and they were hungry. Day 4 distance was 3.6 miles.

A notable thing about Day 4: we did not see any other people all day long.

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7/3/2013 Route Map

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View to Harrison Pass and the headwaters of the Kern River from Lake South America

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Descending to lakes at 11280 from Lake South America on Upper Kern River Loop Trail

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Break time

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Kern River just above Lake 10660

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Evening shot from camp site looking north

Day 5: Milestone Basin day hike
Today's plan was simple, have fun without carrying a full pack. We day hiked from our campsite into Milestone Basin. I had scouted on Wednesday afternoon and found the trail heading into the Basin. As we hiked in along Milestone Creek the trail was usually easy to follow with an obvious path in places and ducks in others.

When we crossed the first creek that flowed into Milestone Creek from the north we decided to head down to Milestone Creek to visit the small lakes that paralleled the main part of the creek (~2 miles in). The trail is on the bluff above the creek in this area, and the first place that we tried to go down proved to be a bad choice. We recognized this and were able to back off and find a safe way down.

We spend about 1 1/2 hours fishing one of these small lakes and just kicking back. The lake had small rainbows that seemed to be so hungry that they'd leap out of the water at your fly. By around 2PM the sky had gotten pretty dark, and there was a lot of thunder that seemed to be coming from over the ridge to the south of us. We decided to head out since we were away from camp in an area without a lot of protection. We got about 1/2 back to camp when it started to rain fairly hard. We made it to camp, but one in our party fell on his hind quarters pretty hard a couple of times due to slick wet rock. Day 5 distance was 3.9 miles.

That evening the skies cleared out to treat us to an awesome Sierra summer night under the stars. We became convinced that a big flat rock was the earliest type of observatory as we all laid out on the big flat rock in the middle of camp star gazing. (The scotch was extra good too.)

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Day 5 (4th of July) Route Map

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Big Agnes formation near ancient observatory

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4th of July Picnic in Milestone Basin

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Guys, I think it's time to go

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Mt W through rain showers

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Southern sky 6 hours later

Day 6: Lake 10660 to Anvil Camp via Shepherd Pass
Today was the first day for the two day exit over Shepherd Pass. We left our camp site at about 930AM, and we reached the JMT-Tyndall Creek crossing at 1230PM. We had lunch and watered up here, and then headed towards Shepherd Pass. We reached the top of the pass at about 245PM and then made the descent.

The snowfield at the top of the pass was melted back from the trail, so there was no snowfield crossing on the upper traverse this year. I did find that the trail has deteriorated on some sections of the descent at the top of the switchbacks. This is compared to August 2011. In these areas the trail has started to get covered by scree so that it is very narrow. This along with the gusty winds that existed as we descended made for a couple of .... moments. We reached the day's destination, Anvil Camp, at 430PM. After experiencing the trail conditions and the 1 1/2 miles of descending a rocky trail from Shepherd Pass, I'd take Forester Pass any day over Shepherd. And to top things off we found that a couple of inconsiderate peak baggers had managed to take up a large number of tent sites at Anvil by hanging pieces of their gear all over the place.

Day 6 distance was 9.1 miles.

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7/5/2013 Route Map

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Heading east on the Kern River Cut-off Trail

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Eyeballing Rockwell Pass for future exploration

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Tyndall Creek crossing

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Looking backing at Milestone

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At Shepherd Pass

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Shepherd Pass looking down the chute

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No snow crossing this year!

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A couple of miles of this to Anvil Camp

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The Pothole

Day 7: Anvil Camp to Shepherd Pass Trailhead
The last day of the hike was like a lot of last days. A slow start with a mad dash to the trail head at the end. We left Anvil Camp at 830AM and reached the trail head at 2PM. Day 7 distance was 8.4 miles. We ran into the NPS ranger at the top of the final descent to Symmes Creek, and I was semi surprised at how many people we ran across who were just getting started as we were making the descent to Symmes. A common thread that I picked up a long time ago about passes like Shepherd is to get an early start and avoid the trail on a summer afternoon, yet here were groups of people who never picked up that bit of wisdom.

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7/6/2013 Route Map

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Shepherd Creek

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Independence in sight

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Along Symmes Creek



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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby balzaccom » Sun Jul 14, 2013 7:32 am

Great report! SOunds like a fantastic trip (I'm already making plans!)

Thanks for posting this.
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby maverick » Sun Jul 14, 2013 10:33 am

Thanks Jim for the informative, fun TR, and pretty pictures. Good to read that your
friend did not seriously injury himself during his falls. The Milestone Basin area has
some beautiful lakes which make for some great sunrise reflection photos, and TR's
from the area are always great to read, and photos are always a treat.
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: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby BigMan » Sun Jul 14, 2013 12:27 pm

Thanks for the report! I love reclining on ancient observatories.

Upper Kern and Milestone Basins are on my list. I understand that Shepherd Pass is the most direct route but I've never been comfortable on steep, exposed terrain.

That bad, huh?
In wilderness lies the hope of the world.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby jimmeans » Sun Jul 14, 2013 1:34 pm

BigMan wrote:Thanks for the report! I love reclining on ancient observatories.

Upper Kern and Milestone Basins are on my list. I understand that Shepherd Pass is the most direct route but I've never been comfortable on steep, exposed terrain.

That bad, huh?


I've never had the pleasure of climbing Shepherd, only descending. I'm a big guy, and this trail takes a toll on my body.

Forester has much more exposed terrain, but it is a wide, well-maintained trail. I saw evidence of stock travel within the last few years on Forester, but stock travel is not-recommended on Shepherd for a good reason. There are areas on the Shepherd switchbacks that are in sandy scree terrain. This stuff is not stable, and I even noticed the deterioration compared to two years ago. You have to be vigilant when crossing this stuff to stay upright, but the exposure in this area isn't as severe. IMO the worst place for exposure on Shepherd is the traverse across the top, but without a snow field to cross this section was easy.

The JMT came through Shepherd at one time, and I've wondered how much the apparent trail-maintenance challenge of Shepherd led to the decision to build a trail over Forester.

Like all of the long east-side trails (Shepherd, Sawmill, Taboose), climbing Shepherd is a challenge regardless of the trail conditions. This was one factor into our decision to go in via Kearsarge. If we had been on a tighter schedule we could have made Lake South America in two days from Kearsarge. Of course we had a week, and the fact that none of us had been on Bubbs Creek was also a factor.

With that said, there are places south of Shepherd that I need to visit, so I'm going to have to bite the bullet someday and climb it...
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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby richlong8 » Mon Jul 15, 2013 9:59 am

Very nice, informative trip report. I am scheduled to visit some of this country the last week of August, coming in via Shepherd. Your TR has me wishing it was right now. Great photos.
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Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd

Postby Hobbes » Mon Jul 15, 2013 3:20 pm

IMO, the route you took is one of the great open loop hikes in the Sierra. Others you may wish to consider for future reference are:

OV->Whitney portal - head down Kern Cyn from LSA and catch the HST over & out; or explore east off the PCT after Tyndall (below)

Shepherd->HM - go x-country over Rockwell, down into WLB, head up to Wallace, reverse around back & catch the PCT, and head out via either Crabtree or Rock creek
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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby copeg » Mon Jul 15, 2013 3:35 pm

Thanks for sharing. That's some amazing country. Hard to image no snow on Shephard's this early in the year. I remember that little hill below L. S America - hiked up that thing at the end of a LONG day, not well acclimated coming from mosquite flat on Shephard's, never thought a hill that small would feel so bad.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby robert h » Mon Jul 22, 2013 8:26 pm

Thanks for the trip report. We're heading north through the upper Kern in 3 weeks. Do you recall any campsites at Lake 11280? Or are we better off stopping before or pressing on to LSA? Thanks!
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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby madeintahoe » Wed Jul 24, 2013 9:51 pm

What a beautiful trip! Glad you got to see a bit of Milestone Basin..One of my favorite places!
Pictures are lovely!
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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby jimmeans » Wed Jul 24, 2013 10:14 pm

robert h wrote:Thanks for the trip report. We're heading north through the upper Kern in 3 weeks. Do you recall any campsites at Lake 11280? Or are we better off stopping before or pressing on to LSA? Thanks!


Very close to the lakes it was pretty rocky. Not big boulders but small broken rock everywhere which makes good tent sites hard to find. Nearer to the trail location on the maps were quite a few spots to camp at the base to the climb to Lake South America. We found one site where there were a couple of old rusty cans and an old bottle that indicated there was probably a heavily used site in the past. I didn't get down around any of the outlets from the lakes. Bottom line is yes you could camp in this area. Around Lake South America it is pretty barren, so if you prefer a few trees around then the Lake 11280 area would be better.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge-Forester-Milestone-Shepherd 6/30-7/6/2013

Postby sekihiker » Sat Jul 27, 2013 8:16 am

I love that area and your TR is tempting a revisit.
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