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Cirque Pass

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Cirque Pass

Postby alpinemike » Tue Sep 29, 2015 3:09 pm

TITLE: Cirque Pass

GENERAL OVERVIEW: This pass leads from a small drainage to the Northwest of the Palisade Lakes to Lake 11,676 which drains Glacier Creek. This Pass along with Potluck Pass are used by the Sierra High Route to obtain the Barrett Lakes.

CLASS/DIFFICULTY: Class 3

LOCATION: Kings Canyon National Park Southeast of Lake 11,676 and above the Palisade Lakes. HST Map

ELEVATION: 12,047

USGS TOPO MAP (7.5'): North Palisade/Split Mountain

ROUTE DESCRIPTION: The North Side of this pass has a large ledge system with no obvious way up it. With good route finding skills one can avoid most Class 3 on this side. One can traverse to the Southwest by the outlet stream of Lake 11,676 or further up the shore of the lake to enter the ledges.

The South side of the pass contains lots of rocks slabs and ledges that occasionally have easy Class 3 moves. One passes a tarn on the western side before reaching the descent to the JMT. Descend the western edge of a cliff on a series of ledges. Then you make a gradual descent to the East to bypass a cliff above the JMT. You will enter the JMT just below the lowest Palisade Lake.
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Re: Cirque Pass

Postby RoguePhotonic » Tue Oct 06, 2015 10:51 am

The North side of the pass is the only side that should ever have you in possible doubt about where to go. Generally you want to stay on the East side and make your way up and then cross over to the pass. It is possible to maintain class 2 on this side but very likely you'll find yourself doing some easy class 3.

On the South side I find the most tedious part of it is when you reach the small lake you'll then move to the left (West) to avoid some cliff systems. But in between is a small gorge style cut that is filled with large talus and plenty of it is not that stable. Luckily it's short.

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Re: Cirque Pass

Postby SSSdave » Sat Dec 05, 2015 12:16 pm

Did some Google Earth work on this pass as well as nearby Potluck that I'll update later.

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The below description is from Timberline Country The High Sierra Route page 128 Steve Roper:

Leave the trail about 100 yards beyond the outlet of the lower lake and begin diagonaling upward to the west, aiming for the grassy cliff seen a few hundred feet above. There are several ways to ascend this 300-foot high barier, most of which involve short stretches of class 2-3 scrambling. One of the easiest routes lies at the far left, where talus-covered shelves zigzag up the left edge of the cliff. Those who attempt the central portion of the cliff should expect to encounter exposed class 3 sections between wet, grassy slabs.
...
From Cirque Pass drop down a few feet toward the lake, then begin diagonaling left down a series of interconnected shelves. By looking around carefully in this aresa, the hiker can avoid class 3 sections.
...
Cross the outlet, stroll across lovely, glacier-polished slabs, then ascend a narrow, grassy slot on the minor knoll rising immediately to the north. Work northeast along the top of this until it is feasible to drop down towards the small lake nestling benearth Potluck Pass.


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This is a difficult cross country pass between Palisade Basin then Potluck Pass and Palisade Lakes. There are a few images in our HST Passes sub-forum and also online but they could use more graphics. Roper's route for Cirque Pass appear to this person to possibly not be the easiest routes that I now believe may be middling class 2. I tend to be very USGS topographic map oriented in my routes. Be sure to look at Rogue's nice pics on the Cirque Pass page.

On my graphics the red highlighted route is Roper's while my ideas are in magenta. The south side of Cirque Pass. The reason he may not have suggested my route is because it is not visible unless one drops a bit southwest of the small tarn at the bottom. The Roper routes sounds and looks tedious on Google Earth ie GE however one can be sure they go because that is the way most people go. One needs to be very suspicious of what GE shows unlike an actual photo.

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My idea doesn't have any steep sections so is mostly easy class 2 and starts by following down a joint crack then climbing up out of it at an obvious spot with small talus.

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The one spot requiring a closer look is where it meets one of the Roper routes crossing a modest bedrock rib.

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This GE view shows how the bedrock ramp is trivial until that point.

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An oblique view of the right Roper route. Note don't entirely trust my suggested lines as I haven't personally been there as it is simply what seems likely on the GE image. Other's with personal experience might chime in.

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Another view:

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David
Last edited by SSSdave on Sat Dec 05, 2015 12:29 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Cirque Pass

Postby SSSdave » Sat Dec 05, 2015 12:16 pm

Roper's north side route is also described as class 2-3 and again I see what appears to be a less steep idea that also doesn't need to go all the way down to the lake. First Roper's route vaguely shown by my red highlighting line. The bottom steeper section I won't guess at.

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Another view:

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And a closer oblique view of the steep section.

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Here is my idea. Less steep but longer. Note the vertical lines on the topo at top, It traverses across a less inclined bench on the slope one would not want to directly descend then drops through a broad gully with a mix of small talus and bedfrock. Bedrock is always a greater unknown. The less loose rock atop bedrock the more likely it is dangerous because rocks have tended to slide off. Thus the considerable loose rock in that section compliments what the GE image tends to indicate.

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An image of the inclined bench appears comfortable

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And a closeup of the broad gully with what appears are possible ways to descend. The more possibilities such an view shows the more likely at least one will go.

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This view shows the long traverse to Potluck Pass across rather straightforward bedrock that doesn't bother to climb down into holes of either lake.

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Cirque Pass page

Postby SSSdave » Sat Dec 05, 2015 12:24 pm

Update to the HST Cirque Pass page from some Google Earth work I did this morning. For those that have actually crossed the pass like RP, please add any corrections or your two cents.

viewtopic.php?f=31&t=13571&p=102963#p102963

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Re: Cirque Pass

Postby RoguePhotonic » Sat Dec 05, 2015 7:49 pm

The route I have used on the north has always been to head to the East some before dropping down. I have never cut to the west and came down at the outlet area of Lake 11,676. I saw a couple ascend that route though last summer.

That small tarn lake on the South side I think the route that shows passing far to the left and then curving back up is allot further than you need to go. I always went straight out and across that annoying gash filled with talus and up from there. Probably class 3.
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Re: Cirque Pass

Postby SSSdave » Sun Dec 06, 2015 10:59 am

Sounds like you did the first thing I looked at:

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With so many choices dropping through those talus filled ledges, expected there had to be multiple class 2 routes down. But then Roper recommended those slabs slanting west that doesn't look like the kind of surface to be confidently carrying a heavy pack down. To me this is the obvious route though is steeper than my idea that crosses the slanted bench.

For the south side I modified the third jpg above showing the big loop I drew adding a couple spots highlighted in green that probably would go though is not something one can tell looking at GE. Thus indeed would not have to go so far down and around. The magenta route would be certain to work. Generally Roper provides reasonable routes but sometimes they just read like the places in the 1970s he visually checked while just looking at a 15 minute topo instead of the more detailed 7.5's we now have.
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Re: Cirque Pass

Postby Mike M. » Tue Dec 08, 2015 7:52 pm

Dave, I think it's easy to misinterpret the aerial images and imagine obstacles when they don't exist, or conversely, overlook difficult terrain when it does exist. I hiked over Cirque Pass most recently in 2009, going north from the lower of the two Palisade Lakes. It was class 2 all the way, a fun challenge to find the easiest way up to the cirque basin on the south side of the pass. Once in the basin, travel is easy; there is a nice ramp system of solid granite slabs that leads to the summit and route finding here is elementary. Your concern about the easiest way down is misplaced; there are several manageable class 2 options. We followed the line you show as the Roper route and camped near the lake outlet -- highly recommended. It was easy and quick -- steep at first but with decent footing and no exposure. The sizeable lake between Potluck Pass and Cirque Pass is a beautiful spot for photography.

As a point of reference, we had two 15 year old boys with us on that trip -- I was 56 at the time. We had full packs on our backs, but were near the end of a two week hike.

Getting up Potluck Pass was harder for us -- instead of searching for the summit ramp, we forced our way up a route that involved one class 3 move.

My first time through here, in the early 80's with 16 days of food on my back, I winged it going north to south and ended up crossing the Cirque Ridge closer to Secor's preferred higher option, which had me dropping down steep granite shelves to Palisade Lake. It was much harder than the Roper option you describe.

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Re: Cirque Pass page

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Dec 14, 2015 12:03 pm

Roper's suggested route up Cirque Pass is the most "aesthetic", not the easiest. Remember that Roper is a climber and prefers clean class 3 rock to talus or dirt. For a climber, class 3 is not particularly difficult and exposure is not an issue.

Both times I did the route (once up and once down) I went essentially the way you have shown- angle up the side hill and traverse into the small lake below the pass. It is not a pleasant clean route- lots of steep gnarly dirt. First time I found a good route; second time my route was worse and ended up in some very steep scree. Both times I chose the side hill route because it was raining and I was not interested in being on rock slabs when they were wet. Otherwise, I think I would have preferred Roper's route, particularly if going up, because for me going up class 3 is a lot easier than going down.

Secor suggests that the next higher pass to the right, is easier, in spite of more elevation gain.
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Re: Cirque Pass page

Postby alpinemike » Mon Dec 14, 2015 11:08 pm

The pass that Secor suggests is Chimney Pass which I have done this past summer. I will admit, unless we were on a completely wrong pass which is certainly possible then that pass is by far not even close to being easier. It was much harder and much more dangerous. To be honest, I don't see why Cirque Pass of all passes is even an issue. None of it was challenging in a technical aspect or in terms of route finding. Sure, certain routes will be slightly better but choosing a Class 3 route often times is easier and preferred as Wandering Daisy suggested. And I'm not sure about anyone else but if you're not comfortable doing Class 3 that is solid and for the most part safe then you probably shouldn't be travelling too far into cross country areas since you will likely encounter it even if you try to avoid it.
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Re: Cirque Pass page

Postby SSSdave » Tue Dec 15, 2015 4:59 pm

Part of the problem with talking about class 2 and 3 is that in recent decades I've noticed fair numbers of descriptions by people saying they were on a class 3 route that from my earlier era understanding decades ago would have been upper class 2. There has always been discussion by hikers and backpackers claiming some of Roper and Secor's class labels were more difficult than labeled so when they labeled a route as class 3 it is usually dangerous. What some here describe as class 2 or class 2-3 is probably just class 2 as I look at routes.

The link below describes the way I view class 3. Class 3 is where one MUST use their hands. If one falls one is PROBABLY not going to die but could well become seriously injured. However one certainly could die in class 3 if one hits say their head against a boulder. With class 4 one is LIKELY to die. With more difficult class 2 although one may get by without using hands, a lot of times it is better to use one hands. With class 3 there isn't that choice. I am quite talented at climbing up stuff without using my hands where most others would and part of that comes from my long history of hand carrying tripods and cameras while moving through terrain where one doesn't have that option.

Climbing up steep class 3 small to medium sized talus with a heavy pack is particularly scary and dangerous because the tendency is for pack weight to pull one off away from rock holds. Any longer distance of Class 3 slabs with a heavy pack is likewise asking for eventual trouble much like skiing in steeps. If one doesn't self arrest at the first instant hitting a slope, your probably going to slide a long ways.

http://www.sierradescents.com/climbing/ ... ass-3.html

Summary per Wikipedia:

Sierra Club Yosemite Decimal System

Class 1: Walking with a low chance of injury, hiking boots a good idea.
Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possibility of occasional use of the hands. Little potential danger is encountered. Hiking Boots highly recommended.
Class 3: Scrambling with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary. A rope should be available for learning climbers, or if you just choose to use one that day, but is usually not required. Falls could easily be fatal.
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Re: Cirque Pass page

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Dec 15, 2015 9:39 pm

Thankfully, there are several ways to do Cirque Pass that work. To each his own, based on individual likes, dislikes and skills, as well as weather conditions. "class 3" is a very broad rating and defined many different ways. "Must" use hands is dependent on the climber/backpacker's skill level. And carrying a 25 pound pack vs a 50 pound pack are also two different beasts. If you are loaded down with lots of fishing or camera gear Roper's route can be very difficult.

As for Potluck Pass, I have gone around the lake south of Potluck Pass both ways. Via the outlet is more direct, but is very cliffy and complex. Circling the lake at first (coming from Cirque Pass) seems better but going back west to the gully that leads up to Potluck Pass is very complex. In my opinion, you do not save much complexity, just add a longer easier part. I have ascended too far east (from the south side) to Potluck Pass and ended up in some class 3. The gully to the west is a bit loose and miserable, but class 2. You must turn right (going up) and exit the gully before it ends and traverse back east to the pass. Many little paths go up too far and stop at a cliff. Lots of people have made this mistake, leaving an apparent use-trail that dead ends.

Google Earth is a great tool, but just a tool. I would not place all bets on a route based on a Google Earth analysis alone. It does however point to some possible alternatives that could be worthy of some exploration.
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