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TR: Headwaters Kern R

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TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:00 pm

Headwaters of the Kern River, from Onion Valley TH
Aug 1-10, 2013

Driving down the east side of the Sierra, the smoke increased and I become discouraged. To save gas I had planned a 10-day and 5-day trip back to back. I stopped at the Mono Visitor Center and promptly got my first permit. Continuing south, the smoke in the air thickened. You could not even see the mountains from Bishop. I picked up a deli sandwich and a carton of delicious strawberries and drove to Onion Valley where the campground was absolutely full. It was 2:30 PM, my permit was for the next day, and I had no intention of dropping back down into the smoke-filled valley so I put on the pack, threw in the sandwich and strawberries and started up the trail. Here I was, breakfast this morning at sea level, now nearing Matllock Lake at 10,500 feet. I carefully kept a snail’s pace to prevent altitude sickness. Tons of day hikers were returning down the trail. Matlock Lake is beautiful! Arriving at 5:30 I set up, ate and had plenty of time remaining for photographing. I slept pretty well considering the altitude. The night was surprisingly warm.

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Matlock Lake

Next morning I discovered that my watch had died and my packet of face wipes had disappeared – two small unnecessary items but ones that made my backcountry travels a bit more civilized. I am a “clean freak” so 10 days and only water to clean up with was not appealing to me. Without the wipes, getting my hands free of fish smell would be difficult. So be it. I have done many trips without a watch so other than liking to keep track of my travel rate the sun would do just fine.
I was up at dawn and reached Kearsarge Pass where a large group of people were hanging out. They said it was 9:30. Although I was not stopping at Kearsarge Lakes, I took the lake trail and photographed the Kearsarge Pinnacles, because I feared when I returned smoke might ruin the scene. The place was packed with campers just getting up. I went off-trail past the lakes to Bullfrog Lake and stepped back on the trail to descend to Bubbs Creek. I crossed the creek too early and traversed uphill eventually intersecting the barely visible non-maintained trail to Vidette Lakes. From about 10,200 feet to 10,400 feet the trail disappeared in nasty brush. I was exhausted and wondered the extra 900 feet of elevation gain were worth this little side trip. The hike up was hot, buggy and nasty and camping was marginal at best. I set up at a constructed flat sandy spot on the northwest shore and dropped into the lake for a bath, when I saw the fish. After about an hour of fishing I had three 7-8 inch brookies for dinner. Then I walked around the lake, discovering that the inlet end had better camping and was much more scenic. I regretted not hiking up to the upper lake, but my energy level just was not up to that. The night was chilly and by morning my tent was drenched with condensation, inside and out.

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Kearsarge Lakes

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Vidette Lake

Third day I was up at first light but packing up was a pain with the soaking wet tent and in the shadow of East Vidette Peak sunshine would not hit the site for some time. Returning, I was able to find the trail all the way to the JMT where I passed a couple who were just getting up. I continued south on the JMT and was surprised at the beauty of the river and lack of people in the early morning hours. Tons of little “bivy” campsites were right next to the trail. I reached the lake below Forester Pass where I had planned on camping and met north-bound JMT hikers who told me it was only 1PM. The weather was great for hiking – thin clouds and cool with a nice breeze, so I decided to continue over the pass. I kept to a deliberately slow pace ascending the unending switchbacks. Soon I caught up to a large group ahead of me and a few fast hikers caught up to me from behind, resulting in a clog of people at the top of Forester Pass. I did not appreciate a condescending “good job” remark from the speedster ahead of me. Forester Pass is quite easy and my slow pace was to prevent altitude sickness, not due to the difficulty of the pass. I certainly was not struggling. I was surprised at the sign that said “13,200 feet” since the metric map leaves me clueless regarding the elevation. I was thinking about 12,000 feet. Everyone took out their cell phones (guess this is one place that has cell coverage) and was yakking it up. I left quickly, not really into that kind of wilderness experience. The south side of Forrester Pass is quite amazing. Good thing exposure did not bother me! I met a family who were camped at the first big lake, so found a site at the second lake so as not to crowd the family. It was ferociously windy, but nevertheless, I camped on a grassy spot in the full wind, hoping to reduce the condensation on my tent. Then it was a very cold bath indeed! In the evening I walked to the upper lake and took photographs and talked with the family. The night was cool enough that I had to cinch the hood of my sleeping bag but the wind did keep the condensation away! The stars were spectacular. I slept fairly well, considering my lumpy campsite. I think lumpy grass is like a pillow-top bed- comfortable if the lumps are in the right place.

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Bubbs Creek

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Upper Lake south of Forester Pass

Morning of Day 4 dawned but again I was camped in the shadows so no “sunshine on my shoulders” until I started the off-trail traverse towards Lake South America. I had done this traverse the opposite direction a few years back and got too low. This time I ended up too high! Although my traverse at the upper edge of the flat at 12,000 feet was easy, the nose of Pt. 3973 turned to steep scree and unstable boulders so I had to descend 200 feet before traversing to the pass south of Lake South America. I am still not sure the best route- sort of the same effort whether you drop to the trail or traverse. Descending from the pass I met a fellow who said he saw a big fish in the small lake just below. I stopped and fished the lake (went around the entire lake) without luck. A stiff wind and the wrong time of day may have made the fishing unsuccessful. I continued on the trail to Lake South America where I saw a tent on the west shore, then dropped off-trail to the unnamed large lake to the west (11,740 feet), continued over a small saddle and dropped into a little basin full of ponds and lakes. Here I tried fishing several lakes before hitting the jackpot and one lake that was small but deep. I caught four beautiful fat golden trout each about 8-9 inches- perfect pan size. I put them in a plastic bag full of water and dropped them in the outside back pocket of my pack, continuing west southwest to another large lake where I camped. The traverse was interesting, following large slots parallel to the joint trend of the rock. I ended up too high and had to drop down to the lake. First I went to the outlet but did not like the camping, so returned to a small pond on the north side to camp. I put my fish in the pond to cool and tried fishing this big lake. It looked like there were no fish. Once I got to the outlet, I found a nice little cove protected from the wind, and there large fish were roaming around. I hooked two, lost one shortly, almost got the other to the shore, but in the end, was not able to land them. I hooked two more on my return along the east shore but again was not able to land them. I actually was not sure what I would do if I did land a big fish – I already had dinner caught! Tying on flies is really hard for me with my poor eyesight, so I left on the tiny flies I had used in the little ponds. The big fish probably just pulled loose. Back at camp cooking was hard due to the wind, but the tent site was comfortable so I had a good night’s sleep. It was another cool night.

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View from Ponds west of Lake South America

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Mt. Jordan Basin

I was up before the sun and glad to have a dry tent. The ground cloth was not even wet. The sunrise was fantastic and I got some nice photos. As I cooked breakfast I noticed that I really smelled fishy and felt quite grubby. I wished I had my wipes! Without my watch, I think I was getting up very early and staying up later, because the days seemed very long! I packed up and kept the fishing rod assembled, dropping to the lower ponds. The western pond had only very tiny fish so I just teased them – dropped a fly and then pulled it away before they would bite. The pond to the east, getting water from a different drainage, was dramatically low on water – a 5-foot bathtub ring. No fish were in this lake. I have traveled in this area twice before, and this time, knowing where not to go, I found the best route dropping to the large lake at 10,950 at the east end of a beautiful drainage cumulating at Thunder Mountain. I stashed my pack and walked up the drainage to photograph. The other two times I had been here I did not have a camera. Back at the lake, I moved to the outlet and met a fellow there. I fished for about half an hour and caught two 10-11 inch fish. A trail-crew gal came along and said she thought they were rainbow-golden hybrids. I cleaned the fish and dropped them into two leaky plastic bags full of water and continued south to Milestone Creek and ascended the remarkably good no-longer maintained trail to 11,100 feet. I saw small fish in the creek but did not need to catch any. I originally planned to camp along the side creek on the bench to the north. It was a beautiful grassy bench, but with this year’s low water, the creek was dry. I was very tired but decided to continue up to the next lake rather than drop back to Milestone Creek. I camped at the long east-to-west lake 0.4 miles south of Pt. 3888. This turned out to be a good choice with beautiful camping and splendid views. I got some of my best sunrise photos here. After bathing and washing clothes, my energy was renewed. I hiked southwest over two little ridges to visit two other lakes. Back at camp I now cooked my big fish I had caught earlier. I fried them with brandy seasoning – yum! I pulled out my glasses to read my maps in preparation for the next morning’s hike to the upper lakes, and the ear piece broke off. I looked down and noticed the hole in my shoe had grown! I wondered what would break next.

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Thunder Mountain Basin

[r]http://i249.photobucket.com/albums/gg233/npallister/2013_HeadwatersKern/IMG_6281_Fish_edited-1.jpg[/rIMG]
Fish from a Thunder Mountain Basin Lake

[fIMG]http://i249.photobucket.com/albums/gg233/npallister/2013_HeadwatersKern/IMG_6337_Milestone_Camp_Tent_edited-1.jpg[/fIMG]
Camp at high Lake above Milestone Creek

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Sunrise at Lake above Milestone Creek

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One of the Upper Lakes

Day 6 I was up early and quickly ate breakfast. I walked counter-clockwise around the lake to get the best sunrise photos from the northeast side. From the southwest end of the lake, I did a clockwise loop through four higher lakes. At the first large lake I got stuck on a cliff, unable to backtrack, so ended up doing some stupid exposed 5th class moves to continue up and over the cliff. Glad I did not fall into the lake far below! On the return down a huge gully, I noticed mountain sheep tracks and droppings. The Milestone area is full of lakes and nooks and crannies among complex terrain – a perfect place for day-hiking. I do not think any of the upper lakes have fish. Back at camp I packed the tent and returned to the trail and took the 3+mile cross trail to the JMT. Annoyingly, I lost the trail once and had to backtrack. I had not anticipated all the uphill sections on this trail! I met two people going the other way. I left the trail just after the last round lake and bee-lined to the meadow on Tyndall Creek at 11,100 feet. After a rest, I took a bee-line route to Rockwell Pass. Luckily, I intersected the use-trail which was in good condition. As I dropped to the lake at 11,500, I was again struck by the odd landscape. I had been here before but had not remembered the scene. It was post-apocalypse- ghostly dead large sequoia trunks, dry, sandy, and even some dunes! It seemed like hours to slowly and agonizingly trudge up the sandy hot ridge north of Wrights Creek. I guess you have to go through hell before you reach paradise! Somehow, I had forgotten the hell part- only remembering the lovely delightful green upper creek! I finally reached Lake 3645 quickly losing sunlight. I managed a bath just before the shadows crept onto my tent site. Although no sunlight, there was plenty of daylight left, so I fished for an hour. My lack of skill at landing fish again prevented me from a fish dinner. I hooked three nice big fish, but alas, no fish in the pot. I even changed to a larger fly. I cooked a meager dinner huddled near a rock to get out of the wind. The alpine-glow was fantastic, in the drainage to the south! I ran up to the ridge between the two drainages and got some photos but missed the best of it. It was a cold night- frost and ice in the water bottles. I slept poorly- this time the lumps of my “pillow top” bed were all in the wrong place. No matter- the next day would be a short one.

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View from cross trail to JMT

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Lake 3645

Although I was going to sleep in on Day 7, my uncomfortable tent site precluded that luxury. Again I was parked in the shadows. I put on everything I had, cooked breakfast and packed up. I returned to Rockwell Pass via the string of lakes just south of Lake 3645. I diligently fished each lake but never saw a fish, a rise or had a bite. This not necessarily indicates no fish, but prospects do not look good. Most lakes seemed to lack any food source, except the lowest lake. At the end of the drainage there is a huge waterfall so I doubt fish in the lower Wrights Lake drainage could get up to these higher lakes. I traversed back to the three stark lakes south of Rockwell Pass and caught the biggest fish of the trip (13 inches) and another 11 inch fish. I hooked and landed another big fish and another lake, got him to shore, and dropped him when I was taking out the hook. He slithered back into the lake. Clouds were building so I thought I had better get going and packed up the rod. Over the pass, I dropped to Tyndall Creek and continued up the north branch, to a large shallow lake. I was confused for a while because there is no lake on the 7.5 minute map! For a while I worried that I had ended up on the east side of Diamond Mesa! The lake was inhospitable, with a howling wind. I could not find any sheltered spot. I decided that if I just went west I would hit the JMT, regardless of where I really was. I saw a backpacker in the distance (one good thing about the busy JMT) and was assured that I was on the west side of Diamond Mesa, thank goodness. Shortly on the trail, the clouds became more threatening. It started to “grauple” and rain. On my previous off-trail traverse to Lake South America, I had noticed good camping a bit off the JMT, so I headed for that spot and quickly set up. It was a perfect site- just out of the wind and with a comfortable sheltered “kitchen”. The storm soon passed and I had a pleasant evening, cooking up my fish caught earlier. Although less than a quarter mile off the JMT it felt very pristine and remote!

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Lake 3645

[r]http://i249.photobucket.com/albums/gg233/npallister/2013_HeadwatersKern/IMG_6388_Fish_WLB_WesBranch_edited-1.jpg[/rIMG]
Fish from lake south of Rockwell Pass

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Storm clearing

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Camp south of Forester Pass

The rest of my trip was basically returning, with a side trip to Center Basin. On Day 8 I went back over Forester Pass, leaving the JMT at the ponds at 11,300 feet and traversing to Center Basin off trail. The first part was pleasant travel following game trails and hillsides full of lupine. The last part was easy talus-hopping until I intersected the timber below the outlet ponds of Center Basin. I debated camping at Golden Bear Lake or the upper lake, choosing Golden Bear Lake. I then day-hiked to the upper lake and put in a good effort of fishing, but I think this lake is barren. I then dropped to the smaller lake southeast of Golden Bear Lake only to find gill nets. Back at Golden Bear Lake I fished the southwest shore catching four nice 8-inch golden trout. Then I dropped to the outlet ponds, but by that time I was frozen! It was cold and I had not brought enough clothing on this day hike. Back at camp I cooked hot soup and was surprised at how chilled I had become. I cleaned and cooked my little fish. I ate and photographed the remarkable sunset. It took hours in the sleeping bag to finally warm up! By dark, there was frost on the inside of my tent.

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Center Basin

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sunset in Center Basin

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Sunrise at Golden Bear Lake

Day 9 I did sleep in and was thankful when the sun hit the tent. The water bottles had ice. Packing up the fishing rod, I realized I left the stinger where I cleaned the fish. It was not there- some animal must have run off with it. Another lost item! I seem to be getting very forgetful! Again, I got up with everything on, cooked breakfast, and then only packed up when I had sunshine. I planned a slow day so an early start was not necessary. I dropped to Bubbs Creek and the JMT via the trail to Center Basin. I think my decision the previous day to short-cut was wise and saved lots of time, although I would not recommend it unless you are very comfortable and fast on talus. I got off the JMT, took a dip in Bubbs Creek and then spent several hours fishing various little pools. I basically teased the fish, because they were small and I knew I had a better chance of catching fish at Kearsarge Lakes. Besides, I was tired of leaky wet fishy smelling bags in the back pocket of my pack. Somehow, with all the stopping and such by the end of the day my toilet paper was missing. It must have fallen out of the top pocket of my pack along the way. For the rest of the trip, first-aid gauze would have to do. The trail from Bubbs Creek to Kearsarge Lakes was full of day-hikers. Turned out a boy scout group was camping at Kearsarge Lakes. I left the trail and found a nice campsite at the east end of Lake 3321. It amazes me that everyone clogs up at the lake at the end of the trail. Good for me, though. After setting up I fished catching four 7-8 inch fish. A few others were fishing too.

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Kearsarge Lakes

On the next day’s walk back to the trailhead, I found a use-trail to Heart Lake from one of the switchbacks. A group of day-hikers were fishing -it was a fly fishing club from Ridgecrest. I had a good time talking to them and watching them catch fish. I then dropped back to the trail at Flower Lake, and went back to Matlock Lake to see if I could find my missing packet of wipes, but either some animal or person had picked them up. I reached the trailhead early afternoon and drove to Bishop to get a permit for my next trip, take a hot shower at the public swimming pool, pick up a few groceries and drive up to Sage Flat Campground on Pine Creek where I ate another deli sandwich and enjoyed a cold beer. The campground was really clean as the hosts have done a great job. My car-camping tent pole and zipper broke so my shelter was a bit “saggy” but thankfully it was a warm bug-free night. It was nice to have a real pillow and my plushy 2-inch mattress!

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Heart Lake



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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:09 pm

missing photos, Day 5.

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Fish from lake in east of Thunder Mtn

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Camp above Milestone Cr
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:14 pm

Another fish photo- Day 7
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby SSSdave » Mon Aug 19, 2013 1:17 pm

Enjoyed the read while eating lunch here at work. Lots of those on outdoor web boards post pictures, though many don't even bother to provide captions so they are mere abstractions to much of an audience. Fewer still make the effort to write a story, especially for a long trip as that takes a fair amount of time and effort. But once done, one has something that will be a valuable record that combined with the camera images will last for years. Well done.

WD >>>"Next morning I discovered that my watch had died and my packet of face wipes had disappeared"

I've lost my watch before and then used my digital camera time/date that is within any digital camera via either an always display option or where it is programmed within a menu. A really small container with concentrated liquid soap, shampoo, or detergent provides the most for least size/weight though hand wipe pads are pleasantly convenient. Like you do not like fish smell on my hands, or old squeeter juice or sunscreen on my face.

WD >>>"Tying on flies is really hard for me with my poor eyesight..."

Even when wearing reading glasses?

WD >>>"I pulled out my glasses to read my maps in preparation for the next morning’s hike to the upper lakes, and the ear piece broke off. I looked down and noticed the hole in my shoe had grown! I wondered what would break next."

I carry a small length small diameter steel wire that along with duct tape can fix broken eyeglasses into useable states. Actually have a small plastic container with a number of tiny things useful in repairs.
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby freestone » Mon Aug 19, 2013 1:43 pm

On your trip over to Center Basin, I assume you went over Shepherd's pass? I did a similair trip many years ago and recall a wonderful view of the divide including the perception of actually looking down on Forester's pass a bit. After loosing so many fish dinners, maybe you shouldn't be bending those barbs after all! :)
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby KathyW » Mon Aug 19, 2013 2:22 pm

Really beautiful photos! That was a nice long trip. I have not been over Forester Pass or into Center Basin. I also have not been to Lake South America - got close this past week, but not close enough. Maybe next year I'll be able to do that shuttle trip that takes me over Forester Pass.
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby balzaccom » Mon Aug 19, 2013 2:37 pm

Great report and photos.

Those fish do look lovely!
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 19, 2013 3:29 pm

I did not go over Shepherd Pass. I went back over Forester Pass, and then, at the ponds at timberline, I left the trail and traversed directly to Center Basin. About half of it was following game trails and half talus hopping- not hard but a bit slow and quite continuous. The trail to Center Basin (from the JMT) starts way down the JMT, requiring a backtrack to Center Basin. Then I day-hiked to the upper lake in Center Basin. I talked to a lady when I was on the cross-trail from the Kern River to the JMT. She had done Shepherd-Junction Pass years ago and she said it was not worth the effort - tedious, loose, and miserable. So I decided to go back over Forester Pass.
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 19, 2013 4:23 pm

Let me wax poetic about face wipes! It is a girly thing. A pack of 10 dry face wipes weighs less than one ounce. I do not think I could find a container for shampoo that would weigh less, let alone the shampoo. The face wipes are designed for your skin on your face (delicate woman skin). There is just enough soap on one wipe for an evening and morning scrub. The wipes then become multipurpose- they are small paper cloths, pretty tough, that can be wetted and used to wipe pots and pans, wipe tent, gear, even wipe your hind end. I often leave them out to dry over night and then use them to blow my nose. These are NOT the wet baby wipes.

As for reading glasses, well, I just am at the point of getting new glasses. I do not have insurance so use my glasses until I am almost blind. Cheap reading glasses do not work- I have severe astigmatism. I just have been to eye doctor for new prescription - now just have to swallow hard and pay the $$ for the glasses.

This trip was my third trip - after an earlier 11 day and 6 day trip. Another thing that makes tying flies hard, is that my thumbs get cracked skin and are sore. Doing fine work with hard, calloused, nearly numb, sore fingers is difficult. This only happens after I have been out continuously for weeks. I had to resort to taking Eurcerin for my beat up hands the next trip.

I knew the camera had a clock. I will have to figure out how to use that. I am not sure my camera is even set on the right time. Going without checking time has its freedom too. It is a different feel - I kind of liked it.
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby venturefar » Mon Aug 19, 2013 4:36 pm

Great TR. Thanks for taking the time to share.
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby KathyW » Mon Aug 19, 2013 5:01 pm

I need my wipes too - I'd be lost without them.

I have always looked up toward Junction Pass when on the Shepherd Pass trail, but it doesn't look easy. I don't think I'd plan to go over Junction Pass either.
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Re: TR: Headwaters Kern R

Postby SweetSierra » Mon Aug 19, 2013 5:33 pm

I've also not been over Forester Pass or to Center Basin. Nor to Miter Basin. Beautiful photos and interesting trip report. I've wanted to go to these places and it whetted my desire to take those paths.
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