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TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

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TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby vhsvhs » Tue Aug 20, 2013 7:56 pm

Hi Everyone,

I completed a circuit this weekend starting and ending at Mono Pass trailhead in Yosemite. We connected five high passes: Parker, Koip, Gem, Donohue, and an unnamed saddle that I call "Helen Lake Pass." [Update: Secor calls this saddle Kuna Pass]. Our route combined trail with cross-country trekking, and there were two short sections of class 2-3 scrambling. Our journey started along the same path as VitaminC's recent loop around Mono Pass (link), but we diverged from the trail east of Donohue Pass.

The route overview is shown below. Red dots are trail, yellow dots are cross-country.
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Here is a zoom on the cross-country section.
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We started hiking on Saturday morning from the Mono Pass trailhead. At Parker Pass, we refilled our water from a tarn near the summit, and then followed the trail beyond the Yosemite boundary and towards the switchbacks up Parker Peak. The switchbacks are well-graded, and an hour later we reached Koip Peak Pass. We enjoyed the views of Mono Lake, then descended to Alger Lakes for lunch.

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Parker Pass

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On the Northern Switchbacks of Koip Peak

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Alger Lakes (in the Ansel Adams Wilderness)

After lunch, we followed the trail over Gem Pass, and then dropped down to Gem Lake. At this point we were getting tired, so we slowed our pace to a stroll and enjoyed the afternoon walk up to Waugh Lake. This stretch of Rush Creek has dozens of great camping spots, and we passed several groups of fishermen. Finally, we arrived at Waugh Lake and made camp. We cooked sausages and veggies over a small fire near the western shore.

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Unexpected Rabbit

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Gem Pass from the north

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Rush Creek Reflection

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Junction of Waugh Lake / Pacific Crest Trail

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Waugh Lake

On Sunday, we started hiking at 7:00. By 8:30, we arrived at the intersection with the Marie Lakes trail, where we encountered HST member DesertDawg, along with a group of people involved in a search and rescue operation for DesertDawg's friend. Surprisingly, my cellphone had one bar of service (AT&T), and DesertDawg used it to call 911 in Lee Vining. Someone else in the group produced another cellphone, along with a satellite phone, and then all of a sudden multiple calls and SMS messages were happening. Eventually, it was known that a helicopter was en route and a ground team was a few miles away. At this point, there wasn't much more we could do for DesertDawg, so we continued along the PCT.

Our cross-country route began where the PCT turns south to climb Donohue Pass. We left the PCT/JMT and ascended the easy class 2 saddle immediately west of Donohue Peak. We ate lunch at the top, at Lake 11050', and very enjoyed the scenery above Lyell Canyon. At this point, a dark storm erupted over Mount Ritter and the Minarets, and heavy sheets of rain marched across the Cathedral Range. The sky above the Kuna Crest, however, remained clear.

We followed the route shown in my map above. The terrain is gentle around the Kuna Creek headwaters, with the exception of a couple cliffs that I've marked on the map. After a few hours of traversing across the basin, we reached the easy ramp up to "Helen Lake Pass." This pass has no official name, but it's the saddle south of Helen Lake. [Update: Secor calls this pass both Kuna Pass and Kuna Crest Saddle]. Whatever its name, the east side of this pass is relatively steep and covered with big talus; It's easy class 3 without exposure for the top 200 feet, and then it becomes class 2 down to the lake. I think crossing this pass is not especially dangerous, but it does require patience. Down from the talus, we followed the eastern side of Helen Lake outflow, crossing a beautiful set of grassy terraces on our way to Spillway Lake. At this point, we were approaching total exhaustion. We followed the trail back to Mono Pass trailhead, and ended the trip with an amazing sunset over Yosemite.

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Rush Creek Basin

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Lake 11050'

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Kuna Peak, West Basin (Yosemite National Park)

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Kuna Creek Headwaters



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Hello from the Kuna Creek Headwaters

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Kuna Peak, West Face Detail

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On "Helen Lake Pass"

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Class 3 rock on the top east side of Helen Lake Pass

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Class 2 slopes on the lower east side of Helen Lake Pass

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Above Helen Lake

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Above Spillway Lake

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Slogging back to the trailhead.

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Last Sun on Clouds Rest.

Thanks for reading my trip report! I posted more photos on my Flickr stream (link).
Last edited by vhsvhs on Thu Jun 11, 2015 4:07 pm, edited 8 times in total.



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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby Shawn » Tue Aug 20, 2013 9:55 pm

Terrific TR and photos. I really enjoyed the detail you added to the maps, nice touch.
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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby tomba » Tue Aug 20, 2013 10:02 pm

Thanks for the report with good route description and maps. That unnamed pass is unofficially called Kuna Crest Saddle or Kuna Pass. Secor uses both names in his book.
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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby vhsvhs » Tue Aug 20, 2013 10:14 pm

Thanks for the info @tomba. I'll re-label my map notes when I get a chance.
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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby wildhiker » Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:54 pm

Thanks for the trip report. We were originally planning a trip in this area early August, but bailed because of all the smoke from the Aspen fire.

We've been through the Kuna creek headwaters basin (I call it "Kuna Basin") three times and I always think it is exceptionally scenic. It looks really dry in your photos, however.

A few route-finding points on the cross-country section:
1) Coming from the PCT, it is easier to cross Donohue pass on trail to the north side, and then leave the trail a short ways below the pass (just above the big switchback where the PCT changes from north to southwest and has a stunning view of Lyell Glacier) and contour north to Lake 11050 - a class 1 walk all the way on meadows and slabs. You do have to pass through a band of dense "krumholz" (wind pruned low-growing whitebark pine). It's less dense lower down.
2) You took the direct route across Kuna Basin passing the unnamed lake at 10,800+. Instead of dropping north down class 2+ talus to that lake, you can instead make a broad contour around the head of the basin gaining elevation slightly to a bit more than 11,100. This is all class 1 walking on meadows and slabs.
3) The talus on the north side of Kuna Pass is less hairy if you head northwest a couple hundred yards from the low point of the pass and then descend down the very slight ridge. I never thought this was class 3. The talus is steep, but very stable. I took my kids over it when the youngest was 8.

I am impressed with your stamina. Your two day trip would take me at least 4 days.

-Phil
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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Aug 21, 2013 7:38 am

Good report! I have done most of the route. I found "Helen Pass" more class 2, but perhaps I lucked out on route finding. I carried water up from Helen Lake and camped on top one year, just to get out of the mosquitoes! The Kuna Crest is a route described in Arnot's book, High Sierra, Range of Light.
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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby jessegooddog » Wed Aug 21, 2013 8:17 am

Was DesertDawg's friend found?
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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby desertdawg » Wed Aug 21, 2013 5:57 pm

jessegooddog wrote:Was DesertDawg's friend found?



viewtopic.php?f=1&t=9913
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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby vhsvhs » Wed Aug 21, 2013 6:42 pm

Hey @wildhiker,
Thanks for the extra information; it confirmed my suspicion that our route was suboptimal. We were being chased by a gnarly storm, so we made some expedient route choices rather than exploring around for easier terrain. In any case, I agree that the Kuna Basin is exceptionally scenic, and I'm excited to visit the area again soon.

By the way, do you know anything about entering the Kuna Basin by following Kuna Creek from Lyell Canyon? Or is it more advisable to climb Donohue and then traverse along 11k'?
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Re: TR: The Koip-to-Kuna Circuit (Aug 17-18, 2013)

Postby wildhiker » Mon Aug 26, 2013 10:11 am

vhsvhs wrote:
By the way, do you know anything about entering the Kuna Basin by following Kuna Creek from Lyell Canyon? Or is it more advisable to climb Donohue and then traverse along 11k'?


Many years ago, a real old-timer (did his first backpacking in the Sierra in the 1920s!) told me he had ascended Kuna Creek from the Lyell Fork, but it sounded difficult. I've viewed that area from the opposite rim of the Lyell Fork canyon, and it looks quite steep. Not only would taking the Muir Trail up towards Donohue Pass be easier, but I think it would be more scenic, with better views. Plus you get that awesome closeup view of Mt. Lyell and its glacier on the trail.

-Phil
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