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Backpacking Trip Advice: Bear Lakes Trail End of Sept

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Backpacking Trip Advice: Bear Lakes Trail End of Sept

Postby 7200rpm » Sat Aug 31, 2013 5:26 pm

Hi All,

I"m looking for some advice on a trip I have planned with a friend to the High Sierra region. I've done quite a bit of googling but can't seem to get some solid answers, so I figured I'd try here. After reading through an excellent book (Sierra South Backcountry Trips) on different trips, I really liked the looks of Bear Lakes loop that goes from Bear Diversion Dam Junction to Lake Italy, Vee Lakes, and the Bear Lakes. I have plenty of day hiking experience, but only a few short backpacking excursions.

1. The trail has some "cross country" travel required going from Lake Italy to Vee lakes via Jumble Lake. Any idea what kind of cross country we're talking about? I certainly don't mind walking over rocks and up some hills, but I want to make sure absolutely no climbing gear is necessary?

2. The trip is planned for the last week of Sept. I've been trying to read up on what weather will be like, and it seems its too unpredictable. My question is whether this trail is a wise decision for this timeperiod? I don't mind some difficulty, but I don't want to be stupid about it.

3. What rating for a sleeping bag should I consider for this timeframe at 10,000 ft + elevation? I have been looking at 0 degree and 15 degree bags.

4. Also, if anyone has taken the Bear Diversion Dam 4WD road, is this reasonable with a 2000 Ford Explorer?

Thanks! Appreciate any help, just trying to get a vector check before I commit to this :)



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Re: Backpacking Trip Advice: Bear Lakes Trail End of Sept

Postby medici » Sat Aug 31, 2013 8:30 pm

7200rpm wrote:Hi All,

I really liked the looks of Bear Lakes loop that goes from Bear Diversion Dam Junction to Lake Italy, Vee Lakes, and the Bear Lakes.

1. The trail has some "cross country" travel required going from Lake Italy to Vee lakes via Jumble Lake. Any idea what kind of cross country we're talking about? I certainly don't mind walking over rocks and up some hills, but I want to make sure absolutely no climbing gear is necessary?

2. The trip is planned for the last week of Sept. I've been trying to read up on what weather will be like, and it seems its too unpredictable. My question is whether this trail is a wise decision for this timeperiod? I don't mind some difficulty, but I don't want to be stupid about it.

3. What rating for a sleeping bag should I consider for this timeframe at 10,000 ft + elevation? I have been looking at 0 degree and 15 degree bags.

4. Also, if anyone has taken the Bear Diversion Dam 4WD road, is this reasonable with a 2000 Ford Explorer?



Fabulous trip! I was trying to talk my backpacking buddy into doing this in mid-September, but
couldn't manage it. I've been into that basin twice -- once via the Bear Ridge trail (what you're proposing) and once out of Pine Creek/Italy Pass. I'm not sure what your x-country experience is,
but you'll need some basic skills.

I'm guessing you'll take the Hilgard Branch to reach Lake Italy? Per the map, the trail fades away and you'll have to pick your way. I've stayed on the left-hand side of creek all the way to Lake Italy. It works with some exploring. I think the guide book (probably Sierra South, don't recall) would have you drop down and cross the creek and ascend to the lake on the right. We could see the trail
leaving the creek and climbing the opposite hillside. The creek has appeared to
be difficult to cross from up above, so I haven't done that. Water should be pretty low this year by late Sept., so you might want to try that route. Others may have good advice. Once you commit to the left side of the creek, you have to stay up there the rest of the way to the lake.

Once you get to Lake Italy, you'll stay on the trail to just below Italy Pass then follow the obvious
route across the plateau toward the saddle above White Bear Lake. There's always been snow to aid the crossing when I've done it. Probably will be all bare rock/talus this year. Jumble Lake is a jumbled mess of big talus blocks and best avoided to my eye. The drop from the saddle down
to WB Lake is loose and gravelly and quite easy. Big steps, plant your heels.

We camped at Big Bear Lake and spent a day hiking the basin. Beautiful area! You will probably
want to return past Vee Lk and down the East Fork to Bear Creek. It has some usage trails but is
basically following the drainage as best you can.

If you get enough snow to cover the talus between now and then, I'd enter and exit via East Fork,
(which you may want to do anyway). Fresh snow on talus can be really risky.

No climbing gear is necessary. Scrambling across talus at worst.

Be prepared for cold weather. One never knows that late in the season. I took my Toyota
4WD pickup in to the trailhead and don't remember any problems. People probably take passenger
cars in there, too, but I wouldn't. This was in the 90's though and conditions may have changed.

Have a great trip!

Cheers, Pete
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Re: Backpacking Trip Advice: Bear Lakes Trail End of Sept

Postby sekihiker » Sat Aug 31, 2013 11:15 pm

For an idea of what you will see visit a trip report at http://sierrahiker.home.comcast.net/~si ... index.html
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Re: Backpacking Trip Advice: Bear Lakes Trail End of Sept

Postby kpeter » Sun Sep 01, 2013 6:14 am

Be careful if you are exploring and the weather or visibility turns on you. In September 2007 an early storm came in and obscured visibility when Charles Hench was trying to cross Italy Pass from West to East. He wound up in the wrong pass, fell down a cliff and was stranded on a ledge with several broken bones.

http://www.sierrawave.net/227/missing-b ... -director/
http://www.intrepid-optimist.com/content/lost-mountains

He became the subject of one of those "I Shouldn't be Alive" episodes. SAR did not find him, but a local man with a plane searched for him on a hunch and spotted him. David Grah suspected that Hench may have made the same mistake as Grah's own brother had 30 years earlier--which is how he knew where to look.

However, the area is spectacular, and with appropriate preparation, gear, and common sense, you should have a great trip!
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Re: Backpacking Trip Advice: Bear Lakes Trail End of Sept

Postby SSSdave » Sun Sep 01, 2013 10:08 am

Consider the dangers of early snow storms when crossing the Sierra Crest at that time.

During the second half of September winter cold fronts from the Gulf of Alaska are apt to start moving down over the Sierra. More often than not they move over Washington or Oregon while just glancing the Sierra. The result is often a dusting of snow above 10k. Often easily endured by just holing up inside a tent at a well protected site, for a few hours. However every few years a more serious storm arrives during that period. Note by early October some rather significant storms are more common.

The route you are taking would require at least a couple days both on the way in and way out including over a 12.4k trail pass and 12.1k cross country pass. Given various steep sections, those are not places one would want to be in even a shallow layer of snow. And during storms the usual high winds at ridgelines make such places deadly as any storm skiers on this board can attest to. One can certainly safely go out on such a trip if the weather forecast is solid for fair weather. However during less certain situations one also must contend with the lower reliability of longer term weather forecasts and have the experience to make sense of them.

If the East fork basin of Bear Creek is your prime interest, then a trip up Bear Creek from Bear Diversion Dam would be a safer alternative as one could just descend the canyon in event of foul weather. Or if the east side areas are your main interest then a trip over onto the French Canyon bench of lakes would be much easier to escape to in event of foul weather.
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Re: Backpacking Trip Advice: Bear Lakes Trail End of Sept

Postby AaronRDavis » Sun Sep 01, 2013 1:58 pm

Keep an eye on weather.gov forecasts, you can select a "point forecast" by clicking on the map to get an idea what the weather might be like at a particular elevation/location.

I took my Subaru forester to the trailhead with no problems two years ago. I imagine any SUV could easily make it.
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Re: Backpacking Trip Advice: Bear Lakes Trail End of Sept

Postby 7200rpm » Mon Sep 02, 2013 1:07 pm

Thanks for all the info. Sounds like I should be fine, as long as I monitor the weather beforehand. It seems like this year has been on the dryer side, so that should be in my favor.

I am also planning on taking the trail next to Bear creek most of the way in case weather does turn bad.

Again I appreciate the detailed answers and links, really helps to understand the trip better!
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