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TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

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TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Aug 16, 2013 10:16 am

The plan was to do two shortish (4- and 3-day) eastside trips in one week; I figured if I was going to drive all the way to the Owens Valley, I might as well get the most out of it. The trip areas were dictated by my Brewer project: I had to get photos from locations Brewer explored in the summer of 1864. The first trip would be over Kearsarge Pass--Brewer's exit route after exploring the Kings River high country.

I got permit and trailhead campsite reservations months in advance, since I was starting from an extremely popular trailhead and had no flexibility. Friday night I got all my gear ready, and I left Saturday morning around 7 am. I got to the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center a little after 2 pm, got my permit, and headed up to Independence and Onion Valley.

Which is where the first problem came up. As I was heading out of Independence--still on the alluvial plain, not yet into the switchbacks--I suddenly realized that I had almost certainly left my backpacking clothes (carefully gathered and packed into a single bag) at home. I pulled over, looked in the back, and...yup. Not there.

Now, this isn't necessarily as problematic as it sounds. I take Thoreau's words to heart ("beware of all enterprises that require new clothes"), and my "backpacking clothes" are pretty much just...my clothes. I buy clothes for work; when they're no longer presentable enough for work, I wear them on the weekends; and when they're too worn to wear in the city, I use them for backpacking. Since I did have a change of clothes with me, that wasn't much of an issue.

The problem was the socks. The thick cotton socks I had with me just weren't going to cut it.

So I headed back to Lone Pine, bought sock liners and some very expensive outer socks, and headed back to Onion Valley.

Later, at my campsite after dinner, the second (and bigger) problem reared its head. I started setting up my stove for the morning, and....the fuel bottle cap broke. Rendering the stove useless.

Which was decidedly sub-optimal.

I took a quick mental inventory of my food supply, and figured out that I had enough cold food to get by on (cheese & crackers, jerky, Clif bars, and trail mix). I would be carrying a bunch of pasta & sauce that I wasn't going to eat, but on the other hand I could ditch stove & pot weight. Coffee was an issue, but I discovered that instant coffee made with cold water isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. So I went ahead with a cold-camp trip.

(Afterwards, when I told Jody about subsisting on cold food, she said "that's so sad...it's like something out of a Dickens novel." To which I replied, "well, I am reading Victor Hugo, so maybe it's only appropriate.")

Day 1

I got everything packed up and hit the trail right at 7:00 am. The early part of the trail is well-graded, and I made pretty decent time by my (uphill) standards--about an hour to Little Pothole Lake, another half hour to Gilbert. Along the way I passed a bunch of guys coming out from a South Lake to Onion shuttle trip, which sounds like a pretty good way to hit the highlights, and then a smaller party all the way from Virginia who had also done that route.

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Past Flower Lake is where the trail really starts to climb, first in long lazy switchbacks up the slope above the lake, then in an endless set of tight switchbacks up the cliffs to rise above Heart Lake. This got kind of tedious, and I was really glad to level out (briefly) in the bowl below Kearsarge Pass.

Here I met a family doing Onion Valley to Whitney Portal: 4 adult brothers and their father, who had done the same trip with his father when he was 17. (He had brought a blowup of a photo of them on Whitney from that trip, which would be featured prominently in the Whitney photo from this trip.) This sounded like such a great experience--sharing with his sons the adventure he had been on with his father. But then, I'm sentimental that way.

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I pushed on up the long switchbacks to the pass. I started really feeling the elevation, and on the final approach I was stopping every five minutes or so to catch my breath. But I did get there, a little after 11:30 am.

There were a dozen or so people stopped at the pass (including that Whitney family), half of them on their way out. One woman was talking to her mom on a cell phone; a little later, someone else was checking the baseball standings. Not exactly a wilderness experience, if you know what I mean, and I found the whole scene very off-putting.

But it couldn't detract from the view.

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After 15 minutes or so I saddled up again and started down toward Kearsarge Lakes. After a few reasonable switchbacks there's a steep, loose, rocky drop to the Kearsarge/Bullfrog junction. I ran into a couple guys coming up this stretch who asked me where the "gondola"--the aerial tram--was. I told them I'd been looking for the one on the other side, without any success.

From the junction the trail just kind of plummets down toward Kearsarge Lakes. There were people camped at the first two lakes. At the third lake, I took a minute to decide between crossing over to find a place on the east side, or staying on the northwest side; I chose the latter, and passed another two parties as I followed the shoreline. I found a reasonably isolated campsite with a swell view on the nubby peninsula where the lake narrows.

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And now, a rant...

There's a 2-night limit on camping at Kearsarge Lakes (for some reason I thought it was 1 night, but I'm not sure where I got that). Hiking up from Onion Valley I met some folks who said they had spent the last 4 nights at Kearsarge Lakes. The campsites that were there when I arrived looked like they had been there a while, and were going to be there a while longer. In the evening a German woman walked up to my campsite and said she needed to retrieve a bear box stashed there. She said her family had been using my spot as their cooking area for the last two nights. So there's a two-night limit, but it seems like pretty much everyone ignores it.

And by the way, next morning I passed two campsites within the forbidden zone around Bullfrog Lake. One of them was about 50 feet from the sign saying "no camping".

What the hell is wrong with people?

End rant.

Anyway, Kearsarge Lakes is not a place you go to for solitude, but it is beautiful. After settling in I took a stroll up to the highest Kearsarge Lake. Someone had told me to just follow the stream up, but I realized they can't have meant it too literally (lots of willow, and granite ridgelets going every which way); I followed the valley up at a respectful distance from the stream, and that worked okay.

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Returning, I stayed close to the shoreline, and got a different angle on the big Kearsarge Lake.

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Late afternoon reading, dinner of cheese & crackers, more reading in the evening, and bed.



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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby jessegooddog » Fri Aug 16, 2013 10:34 am

Looks like you had really clear skies, the smoke must be blowing the other way. Great photos! And isn't Gilbert Lake pretty?? I too had cold instant coffee (Starbucks packets are fairly good) on my recent one night trip to Cottonwood, having left the burner insert at home! After getting the ice off my tent, I really wanted to wrap my hands around a nice hot cup.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby Vaca Russ » Fri Aug 16, 2013 11:38 am

Tom,

Thanks for the great TR. :)

"...but I discovered that instant coffee made with cold water isn't nearly as bad as it sounds."

You are more of a man than I am! :D

Jesse, how did you get ice on your tent last Monday at Cottonwood? Was it really that cold?

-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: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby jessegooddog » Fri Aug 16, 2013 12:00 pm

I'm just an ice magnet, I guess! I was out in the open and the air was absolutely still at Cottonwood #1, but was surprised by the ice as it wasn't cold when I went to sleep. Darn glasses kept fogging up... As soon as the sun came over the mountain I started peeling off layers.

"Sue" (jessegooddog was my wonderful handsome shepherd collie mix 2 dogs ago).
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Aug 16, 2013 1:03 pm

Thanks! Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised: no smoke at all in that area.

More to come, as soon as I get it written...
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby maverick » Fri Aug 16, 2013 2:24 pm

Good TR and even better pictures TT. :) Some folks just think the rules apply to them. :\

Russ wrote:

Jesse, how did you get ice on your tent last Monday at Cottonwood? Was it really that cold?


Heard from a member who was in the Upper Kern for several days and said he was very
surprise how cold it got at night.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Aug 16, 2013 3:08 pm

maverick wrote:Good TR and even better pictures TT. :) Some folks just think the rules apply to them. :\

Russ wrote:

Jesse, how did you get ice on your tent last Monday at Cottonwood? Was it really that cold?


Heard from a member who was in the Upper Kern for several days and said he was very
surprise how cold it got at night.

Lotta frost on the inside of my rainfly Friday night. (But that's a different TR, not yet written. ;) )
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby mkbgdns » Sat Aug 17, 2013 2:22 pm

by the way, the platform to catch the gondola is right next to the escalator.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby TehipiteTom » Sun Aug 18, 2013 7:18 am

mkbgdns wrote:by the way, the platform to catch the gondola is right next to the escalator.

Dang, I completely missed both. Next time.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby TehipiteTom » Sun Aug 18, 2013 7:20 am

Day 2

I had been feeling a little down at Kearsarge Lakes; with all the people there (including lots of teenagers yelling and such), it was the worst of both worlds: neither companionship nor solitude. Today I was headed to Vidette Lakes, my one off-trail destination and my one shot at some real solitude in this whole crowded area. So I was looking forward to that, but also a little anxious about the Bubbs Creek crossing and the routefinding (I always worry about routefinding and stream crossings).

I was on the trail by about 6:45 am. I followed the shoreline down, admiring the reflections as I went.

Image

Image

I stayed a ways to the right of the stream as I followed the valley down to Bullfrog Lake. Nothing too difficult there; the local topography is complicated, but the big picture is pretty clear. I hit Bullfrog Lake fairly close to the inlet stream, followed the shoreline to the trail, and the trail to the JMT.

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Once on the JMT, I shifted into Tomorrow Never Knows mode ("turn off your mind, relax and float downstream...") for the long descent into Bubbs Creek canyon.

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At the Bubbs Creek junction I hooked a left and switched back into sentient mode, keeping an eye out for where I hoped to cross. I dropped my pack at a bear box at the lower end of (main) Vidette Meadow and headed to the creek to scout. Bubbs Creek is split here, and I found a workable combination of shallow riffles (on the first stream) and log (on the second). I would be very wary of crossing in a big snow year, but this wasn't bad at all. So I went back and saddled up again, and was quickly on the south side of Bubbs Creek.

At this point I wanted to watch for the optimal point of departure into Vidette Creek canyon. I paralleled Bubbs Creek some distance away and a little upslope (where the going was easier), until I happened upon one of Shorty's cabins.

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From here you can see where the Vidette Creek ravine comes in, so I started heading up the slope, aiming roughly for the ravine rim. I hit it a couple hundred feet or so above cabin level, and was treated to a view of an unexpected waterfall:

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I followed the rim up, occasionally finding traces of trail. A little ways above this, to my surprise, I spotted another hiker: a young woman speeding up the slope above where I was plodding. I hailed her, and we both expressed our surprise. She was heading over Deerhorn Saddle; I imagine she got over it around the time I reached Vidette Lakes.

After a while I got to a big open area where the forest ended. It looked potentially ugly--lots of willow here. But I had hit a distinct trail segment, and it took me to (and through) the righthand edge of the willow thickets. (Just stay right as you get to the edge of the forest; you'll find it.)

The trail petered out again just the other side of this, but the going was pretty easy anyway (apart from being uphill). I followed a sort of upland between ravines on the far right and left. The frustrating thing in this stretch is you keep seeing a band of cliffs that you think is just below the lake but it turns out there's another one just beyond. But none of the obstacles are serious--just kind of annoying--and eventually I came out at a sort of plateau about 50' above the level of second Vidette Lake. There was a campsite with a view, so I dropped my pack and set up shop there.

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I had considered exploring further up the basin, to the higher Vidette Lake, which looked like fun on the map. But looking at the headwall from below (high and steep) demotivated me out of that scheme, so instead I took a stroll over to the lowest Vidette Lake. Not a trivial enterprise itself--in the convoluted microgeography in Vidette basin, there's rarely a direct route between any two points. Getting from one lake to the other requires navigating among a number of granite ridgelets running between the two.

Image

The lower lake is reasonably pretty, although there are a couple of extremely shallow inlets that detract from the whole.

Later I took another stroll up to the head of the second lake.

Image

Reading, dinner, more reading, and bed.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby toejam » Sun Aug 18, 2013 9:26 am

I'm glad there are places like Kearsarge Lakes for the d-bag hikers to concentrate, and guys like T-Tom who report them here so they can be avoided.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge Pass 8/4 - 8/7

Postby TehipiteTom » Sun Aug 18, 2013 11:02 am

toejam wrote:I'm glad there are places like Kearsarge Lakes for the d-bag hikers to concentrate, and guys like T-Tom who report them here so they can be avoided.

Heh. One thing I will say for Kearsarge Lakes: the evening light is wonderful. No intervening ridges to block the sun before sunset, so you get great golden low-angle light.

But yeah--been there, don't need to go back.

Vidette I had to myself, which is more my customary mode of backpacking.
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