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White Bear Pass

Member descriptions, photos, and map locations of Cross Country Passes in the High Sierra. This forum is for information only - discussions should be kept in the appropriate categories.
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White Bear Pass

Postby shtinkypuppie » Wed Aug 31, 2016 7:12 pm

GENERAL OVERVIEW: This pass gives access between the Bear Lake Basin to the Italy Pass Tail just below the outlet of Lake Italy. Specifically, it runs from White Bear Lake down past Brown Bear Lake.

CLASS/DIFFICULTY: I would call this difficult class 2. Not so much difficult moves, just difficult finding a way, and a long, tall, steep pass. It could easily turn class 3 if careful, skilled routefinding isn't practiced. Please see the second post in this thread for a description of what is probably the easiest route.

LOCATION: Sierra National Forest. HST Map

ELEVATION: Just above 11,800

USGS TOPO MAP (7.5'): Mount Hilgard

ROUTE DESCRIPTION: I am describing this in the opposite direction as RJ Secor does. Please see the attached map screenshots to visualize steps noted by numbers in the text.
Starting from just about anywhere in the Bear Lakes/Vee Lake area, get to the outlet of Black Bear Lake. From here, look north to see a broad green ramp leading up from the north shore (1). Follow a decent use trail up this ramp to a pair of very small, possibly dry tarns. Hike between them, along the northeast shore of the westernmost lake. Come across the little drainage connecting the two tarns, then up an obvious dirt ramp to the north, turning left (west) as you ascend the ramp (2). This will bring you straight to the east shore of White Bear Lake. From here, ascend slightly onto the little granite knob that cliffs out the east shore of White Bear Lake - not too high (you'll find yourself on the use trail for Dancing Bear Pass), but maybe 6-10 feet above the lakeshore. Contour north along the flank of this knob (3) until it gives way to a nice sandy slope with an obvious tread cut across it (4). This tread will take you right to the summit of White Bear Pass.
whitebear1.jpg
South side of the pass. Numbers are referred to in main text.

From Black Bear Lake to the top of the pass, everything has been straightforward class 1 with a decent use trail for most of it. Starting down the north side of the pass, everything changes. There's no use trail, and the descent is what I - a relative newbie - would call difficult class 2. I can't really describe the route here, since there doesn't seem to be just one. I'll instead point out a few general things I learned in my descent.
- Directly below the low point of the pass, the slope cliffs out completely. Start your descent by traversing to the right (east) at least 100 feet.
- The grassy landings that are so obvious about halfway down the pass are attractive, but they are interspersed with little drop-offs that are very difficult to appreciate looking down. That said, they may very well be the easiest route - just be careful and re-evaluate your descent frequently.
- The pass is broad and, except for the small cliffy area directly below the low point, it looks like you could descend just about any route you picked, as long as you scouted continuously and watched for the little drop-offs that seem to be scattered all over the slope.

whitebear2.png
North side of the pass. Despite the appearance in the aerial photos, the headwall is very steep for about 600 feet down.
whitebear2.png (867.06 KiB) Viewed 99 times

Once you're at the bottom of the headwall, it's a pretty straightforward talus hop to the north shore of Brown Bear Lake. Stay a little to the right (northeast) of the drainage for slightly easier terrain. Circle Brown Bear on its north shore. Once near the outlet, one can easily contour to the right (starting to the north, arcing east) along flat granite to find the Italy Pass trail on the near side of the Hilgard Branch.

In closing, I'll just say that I really think this pass is best approached from the north. That way, you can see what you're getting into and plan a route from below. Looking down from above, everything looks like it cliffs out and you can only plan a route for the next 10 feet below you. If you don't have a particular reason to drop down to Brown Bear Lake, take Dancing Bear Pass instead. It looks much easier.

Thanks for reading and happy trails!
Attachments
IMG_20160829_194932.jpg
The Seven Gables dominate the southern skyline from just about everywhere in the Bears.
IMG_20160827_194355.jpg
The Bear Lakes Basin is an incredibly beautiful area.
Last edited by shtinkypuppie on Sun Sep 18, 2016 9:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth, and in contemplation of her beauties to know wonder and humility"

- Rachel Carson



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shtinkypuppie
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Re: White Bear Pass

Postby SSSdave » Fri Sep 02, 2016 2:03 pm

wbp1.jpg
wbp1.jpg (53.04 KiB) Viewed 87 times


I just commented on this notorious pass on this thread:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=14981

Your input is apt to get groups into class 3 trouble. If someone is going to present a difficult convex pass here, it is wise have supporting information in the way of useful images and route lines on a topographic map. The satellite map you show has some value though much less than a topo with a route plus actual jpg's. You have offered a vague description that is left to readers on the route to visually figure out difficulties. That can be fine on easy terrain however more difficult terrain should offer more.

The narrow traversing ramp I show in image above DOES NOT drop down at all. When at the saddle it presents an obvious class 1 walk though if one wanders off it is steep both above and below so can appear somewhat spooky. From the saddle, the point one ought to start down is not obvious because it is a distance aways. And that is why others have tended not to use the traversing ramp and instead be drawn down immediately since the visible slope at top looks doable as far as they can see. The point at which one has reached the ephemeral stream is obvious as it is nicely turfy with vegetation.
Last edited by SSSdave on Wed Sep 21, 2016 3:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: White Bear Pass

Postby shtinkypuppie » Sun Sep 18, 2016 9:35 pm

Dave,

Thanks for your input. I definitely agree that this is a tricky pass that requires some pretty difficult routefinding to stay class 2. Your route is probably much better than mine, although I can't vouch for it as i didn't actually walk it. I will add a note to my description directing readers to your input.
"It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth, and in contemplation of her beauties to know wonder and humility"

- Rachel Carson
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