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TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

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TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:02 pm

Blackcap Basin, Bench Valley, Red Mountain Basin, July 8-15,2013

July 8. I arrived at the Maxon Meadows trailhead at noon and left at 1PM in the hot afternoon. Heavy pack, heat and tired from a long drive, I cannot say that my first day was very pleasant. Arriving at 5PM at my intended campsite at the Flemming Creek trail junction, two guys were camped and after chatting with them for a while (they told me how beautiful it was on the North Fork) I decided to do the loop counterclockwise, and continue to the North Fork. Although the last hour was agonizing, I found a wonderful campsite after crossing the river, next to deep cool pools of clear water. Given the heat, this was better than hot springs! I finished dinner just before dark jumping into the tent at 8:30PM. It was a warm night and I did not sleep well. (6 hrs, 10.5 miles, +1230 ft)

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North Fork

July 9. I was up at 5:45 and quickly packed up and ate breakfast. Then I hiked downstream to take photos. By 8:30 I was back on the trail for the long slog to Portal Lake. I passed a FS trail crew and crossed to the south side (re-routed from what is shown on the USGS map) at noon. I put on my head net, not for mosquitoes, but for swarming black flies. The sun beat down for another unusually hot afternoon. I reached Potal Lake at 3:30 where a luxurious yet illegal campsite beckoned. The “route” to Cathedral Lake as described in Secor’s guide looked hideous. I continued up to Pearl Lake where I set up camp on the windy knoll above the outlet. At 5PM I followed what looked to be a traverse to the Cathedral Lake cirque, happy to find a use-trail that was easy, although along a very steep cliffy hillside, with a huge rock cairn on the “pass”. The other side was pure heaven (scenic with abundant great camping), and I regretted that I did not haul my pack up here to camp. I hiked a loop around all the lakes finding Midway Lake the most scenic (and with fish) and returned to my camp at Pearl Lake at 7:45. After a quick dinner and bath I watched fish jump, but was too tired to fish. Lying down after another very long day felt great, but ended up with a poor night’s sleep. Aches and pains and muscle cramps plagued me. It was another unusually warm night; my wet washing even dried overnight. (11.3 hrs, 12.3 miles, +3125 ft)

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Pearl Lake
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Chapel Lake
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Cathedral Lake

July 10. With a short day, I slept in getting up at 7:30 before the sun hit my campsite. I left camp at 9AM. Division Lake also had some nice campsites, but in my opinion, was not as scenic. I spotted fish in the lake. The “pass” to Bighorn Lake was quite easy mostly walking up rock slabs. I dropped to the little bench full of water filled joint slots on a bench above Lightning Corral Meadow, where I photographed lots of interesting little ponds and cliffs. A few years ago I saw fish in these ponds; not this time. Clouds built to the south as I climbed slabs up to Rainbow Lake. Passing this lake on a previous trip, my camera batteries died, so I wanted to photograph it this time. Given the quickly building clouds, I decided to camp here and really was ready for some rest. It was only 11:30 AM. Black skies convinced me to fish instead of day-hiking to Confusion Lake. I set up near a pond full of little fish, just north of the lake proper. I fished the lake and pond from 1-4PM, caught 4, let 2 go and got tons of “bites” that I failed to set the hook. I cooked an early dinner at 5:00 finishing just before a light drizzle started. It cleared slightly 7-8 PM and I walked around taking photos. A stead light rain fell all night, becoming heavy 3-4AM. With the rain it was still warm and the inside of my tent was like a sauna. (2.5 hrs, 3.4 mi, +800 ft)

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Bench above Lightning Corral Meadow, en route to Rainbow Lake
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Stormy weather at Rainbow Lake

July 11. I got up 5AM during a break in the rain but returned to the tent finally getting up at 6:30 under overcast conditions. It was only a short distance to Horsehead Lake in Bench Valley, so I could wait for better weather. It kept clearing slowly, and I left at 8:15 and reached Horsehead Lake at 11:30. It only took an hour to reach the pass. The west side was very cliffy and at one point I lowered my pack and it did not behave, tumbling to the next bench down. Thankfully it stopped there with nothing broken except an edge off my water bottle lid. I followed the route marked by cairns, but I wondered if it actually was the easiest route down. From the little meadow below the pass I contoured up slightly to the ridge to the north where it was easy open forest all the way until I intersected the trail at Colt Lake. I found a nice campsite above the outlet of Horsehead Lake with a good view of the Little Joe cirque and a nice breeze. It was still overcast as I hiked up to Little Joe Lake, unfortunately, never getting good lighting to photograph this lovely cirque. Then I headed southwest and dropped to Guest Lake where mosquitoes were thick and the lighting for photographs was still awful. I got out of there as quickly as I coud! Back at camp at 3:30, I washed clothes, took a bath and then fished until 5PM, catching six 5-8 inch Golden trout that filled the pan and cooked an early dinner. At 7PM I hiked up to Filly Lake and the lighting was great for photography. The night was much colder, and by early morning there was ice on the inside walls of my tent. (7.5 hrs, 7.4 miles, + 1600 ft)

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Horsehead Lake
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Fish from Horsehead Lake

July 12. What a disorganized morning! I had set up the tent in a very shady spot and it was soaking wet inside and out. It was 8:15 by the time I got everything dried out and packed. To avoid the swamp around Roman Four Lake I hiked up the ridge to the northwest, setting down my pack between Twin Buck Lakes and visiting each. The western lake is the nicest. There is supposed to be good fishing, but I did not try nor did I see fish. Continuing north to Schoolmarm Lake, I again set down my pack and day-hiked a loop to the uppermost lake above Bullet Lake. All these lakes are beautiful, with fish, and I really should have cut the backpack short and camp here. Back at Schoolmarm Lake, I walked along the south shore, headed northwest before descending along a prominent southwest trending joint slot to the inlet of Crabtree Lake, which was quite pretty and also had fish. Then I headed west up to a meadow with a small stream just south of Mt Hutton, over a ridge into a parallel valley. I was at the east base of “Two Passes”. The steep 400-foot climb north thankfully was under trees providing much appreciated shade. Then I scrambled on rocky ledges over the two passes. The second pass had a small snowfield at top that was easy to avoid, but the subsequent steep talus had to be crossed, ever so slowly. The unnamed lake above Big Shot Lake is quite pretty. The drop to Big Shot Lake is over rock slabs with 20-30 foot high cliffs to avoid. I arrived at Big Shot Lake at 3PM, my knees shot by the steep descent. There was recommended camping at Devils Punchbowl, but I decided to set up on the rock rib between Big Shot and Little Shot Lakes. After setting up, a swim, and washing clothes, I took a day hike down and around Devil’s Punchbowl. There is more luxurious camping and a more expansive view, but I still liked my nominal rocky perch at Big Shot Lake. At sunset, it was literally a feeding frenzy (fish) at Big Shot, but I had already eaten so did not fish. Instead I got some nice photos. (8.5 hrs, 8.4 miles, + 1570 ft)

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Six Shooter Lake
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Holseter Lake
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Big Shot Lake
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Devils Punchbowl
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Sunset at Big Shot Lake

July 13. The night produced incredible condensation inside the tent. I slept in until 7AM and left at 9AM. It is easy travel to Blackrock Lake, which is also very scenic and has nice campsites, and of course, fish! Continuing to Horseshoe Lake, I ran into very complex cliffy stuff near the outlet. I had to ascend a northeast trending grassy slot, basically climb Pt. 10941 before dropping to the large flat peninsula camping at the end. It was a beautiful, breezy, clean, grassy, very comfortable, established campsite, albeit illegal. I arrived at 11:30, set up, took a chilly bath, washed clothes, and walked to Arctic Lake and around Hell-for-Sure Lake from 1-3PM. It was very windy, so subsequent fly fishing was a challenge, but I managed to catch about 10 small golden trout, keeping six for dinner. The small fish actually are easier to cook on a stove, but what a pain to clean! Horseshoe Lake was the first lake so far that had really clear cold water. Hell-for-Sure Lake was covered with pollen and had much more algae. After dinner I waited for evening lighting in the cold wind, finally going to bed at 8PM. What a comfortable spot (nice grassy indentation for my hips); I slept great. (4.5 hrs, 4.6 mi, + 1200 ft)

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Horseshoe Lake
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Hell for Sure Lake

July 14. This time I picked a campsite with great early sunshine. The nearby big flat rock made packing up easy; the wind prevented condensation in the tent. This time the feeding frenzy was in the morning breaking the glassy still deep blue waters. I reluctantly left at 7:45, climbed back over Point 10941, dropped to Hell-for-Sure Lake and down the trail to just above Disappointment Lake where I headed north off-trail to Diamond X Lake, getting too high ending up taking the worst route, side-hilling a steep slope and coming out 200 feet above Diamond X Lake (no fish). And the lake was not worth the effort! Then I dropped to the much nicer Davis Lake and watched the fish. My idea to traverse to Upper Indian Lake started out successful, but turned into another poor route as, this time I got too low, and was forced down to 10,200 feet above Lower Indian Lake. I flat out missed the trail, and ascended over steep difficult terrain to Upper Indian Lake. I dropped my pack and walked over to Mosquito Pass and looked down the huge slot. As I walked past Lower Indian Lake, it was not appealing, with swamps and poor water quality. I intended to to Rae Lake, but being very tired by now, missed the cut-off trail and ended up at Flemming Lake where I set up in the meadow to the northeast, and walked over to the creek for water. A bath in the water was out due to gunk, so I poured water from my cook pot over myself. Then I went fishing. First cast a big splash, but after that I failed to catch anything. The wind blew hard off the pond and my fly casting in wind was pretty pathetic. Later someone told me that Flemming Lake is stocked (they saw the helicopter drop the fish) and that there are big fish (15-18 inches) in that little shallow pond. (8.5 hrs, 9.0 mi, 750 ft)

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Upper Indian Lake

July 15. I had one more day’s food, and wished I had spent that extra day above Schoolmarm Lake. But given where I was, I decided to walk out. The north part of Red Mountain Basin was a let-down for scenery. The walk out was uneventful. At the trail junction below Post Corral I met a fellow, the first person I had seen since early day 2 when I met the FS trail crew. I had initially intended to drop down the North Fork and climb the hillside to the northwest back to the trailhead (all off-trail) but given the hot conditions I opted to turn north on the trail and simply take the trail back to my car. The last five miles out was full of day-hikers and backpackers with huge packs. I arrived at my car at 2:15PM. (6 hrs, 11.0 mi, +940 ft)
I drove back to Shaver Lake, quickly bought cheese and margarine, and drove to the Ranger Station at Huntinigton Lake arriving just in time before closing to get a permit for my next trip from Florence Lake. I was hot, sweaty, hungry and tired and on the way over Kaiser Pass I realized my gas tank was near empty. Oh well …, I dropped to Mono Hot Springs, spent an hour in the spa shower, washing myself, my hair, and my backpack clothes in the shower (using shampoo for all). Then over to the store I went to buy a cold beer, which I drank in the car while calling everyone. Believe it or not, there is cell phone coverage at Mono Hot Springs! I had just enough time for a steak dinner in the restaurant. The dinner was so big that I took half of it for the next day’s breakfast. Then I drove back up to the Florence Lake road junction, took the first “dispersed” campsite, and set up the tent getting in my sleeping bag just before dark. Next trip out of Florence Lake in a separate report!



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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:48 pm

A great area: one of my favorites. Nice pictures.
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:02 pm

Thanks for the detailed report and pretty pictures. :thumbsup:
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby Mike M. » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:19 pm

Terrific report WD! Sounds like you had to deal with unusually hot and muggy conditions. I'm surprised you didn't run into more mosquitoes. Blackcap Basin is such a beautiful area and a good place to go if you want solitude. I don't like the relatively boring westside approach either, preferring to enter via Hell-For-Sure Pass or one of the other cross country passes that cross over the White Divide from east to west.

Looking forward to your next trail report.

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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby giantbrookie » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:24 pm

Nice report and photos. I've always wanted to combine Red Mtn Basin and Bench Valley with Blackcap but haven't gotten around to it. This is one of those grand reports that has me taking out my topo and daydreaming. Sounds like some hard hiking in muggy conditions, though.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby SSSdave » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:45 pm

Nicely balanced and framed photography at good times of day. Always impressed how you cover so much ground bothering to check out so much. Enough to fill two or three of my own week long efforts.
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby freestone » Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:03 pm

Curious about the helicopter stocking. I thought air drops were a thing of the past. Are you sure they were fish and not frogs?
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:47 pm

I ran into an older fellow (mid-70's) on the trail on the day I returned and told him that I tried to fish Fleming Lake and thought a big fish had gone for my fly. He then told me he caught big fish in the little lake and that he actually saw a fish stocking drop. Given his age, it could have been years ago. Hard to say how much to believe. I only fly fished with short casts near the shore. All the lakes had fish. I suspect if I were spin fishing out deeper I may have caught bigger fish. I am fine with smaller fish - they actually are easier to cook, particularly now that there is a campfire ban. I was surprised not to see a single person for nearly 7 days. May have been due to the time period right after the Fourth of July holiday and that people were still leery of mosquitoes.

Yes it was hotter than I had ever experienced in the Sierra. I have had hot days now and then before, but not two weeks straight of heat. The odd thing was the very warm nights. I got out (second trip) just as the monsoon weather started.
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby giantbrookie » Thu Jul 25, 2013 8:36 pm

freestone wrote:Curious about the helicopter stocking. I thought air drops were a thing of the past. Are you sure they were fish and not frogs?

Air drops are still done outside of the NPs in the Sierra, but the number of lakes air dropped is much less than in the days before series of recent fisheries management changes. For all the 700+ lakes I've visited (say 600-ish outside of the NPs) I only witnessed one air drop which was in the late 80's at a lake in the Russian Wilderness in the Klamath Mtns. That drop was done with a stubby-winged twin engine plane. I have heard that such a plane is the standard for air dropping; I have never heard of a helicopter drop even though some of those cirques are very tight. The flying involved for the twin engine plane drop I saw was truly frightening and I have to imagine fairly typical for such tight cirque lakes.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby caddis » Fri Jul 26, 2013 7:40 am

Great report.

but I managed to catch about 10 small golden trout, keeping six for dinner.
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Last edited by caddis on Fri Jul 26, 2013 10:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby jessegooddog » Fri Jul 26, 2013 9:16 am

I love reading your reports and seeing your beautiful photos, they are especially inspiring for me, an official senior woman who loves hiking and now backpacking alone. Your dog stayed home this time??
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Re: TR 7/8-15 Blackcap Basin Plus

Postby Bluewater » Sun Jul 28, 2013 7:48 pm

"I had initially intended to drop down the North Fork and climb the hillside to the northwest back to the trailhead (all off-trail)".

Thanks for your report. I always enjoy your photos and narrative.

I noticed that you mentioned something about a possible cross country route down the North Fork.

A few years ago I hiked from the parking lot on the east side of Courtright Dam to some sandy beach camp sites along the North Fork Kings (red line). I day hiked a short way up the North Fork (blue line).

I have always wondered if there is a reasonable route heading north along the North Fork Kings to the trail, just before it meets the Fleming Creek junction (green line).

Do you have any experience with this area? It would be a useful short-cut on the way to Blackcap Basin.

Thanks again, Andy.
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