Wind Rivers VI: Pixley Creek | High Sierra Topix  

Wind Rivers VI: Pixley Creek

A forum that'll feed your need for exploring the limitless adventure possibilities found in "other" places. Post trip reports or ask questions about outdoor adventures beyond the Sierra Nevada here.
User avatar

Wind Rivers VI: Pixley Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 28, 2014 2:16 pm

Wind Rivers VI: Pixley Creek 8/14-8/18 2014

Shortly after the Green River flows north from its headwaters above Peak Lake, Wells, Tourist, Elbow, Pixley, Slide and Clear Creeks, come crashing down from a high hidden pristine plateau filled with lakes, many fed by glaciers slapped to the steep slopes of surrounding peaks. Each creek requires serious travel to reach its headwaters. Do not believe Google Maps; there IS NO TRAIL on Pixley Creek!

I had explored the upper plateau by traversing the Continental Divide; now I wanted to see what it was like to reach this area from the High Line Trail (also CDT). This 6-day trip was a mix of; a route pioneered in the 1940’s by Finis Mitchell, on horse no less, who stocked golden trout in the Golden Lakes, a route from Golden Lakes to Baker Lake as described in several internet reports, and a descent of Pixley Creek to see if the “trail” shown on Google Maps was even a route. This was a route in my guidebook I had not done personally. I can now say that it is a spectacular route, best done late season and descending Pixley Creek, which is somewhat like Enchanted Gorge in the Sierra. Nothing is technical, but a bit masochistic. This is not a route that is recommended for solo hikers; route finding is complex and it is very remote. An old friend and competent mountaineer joined me.

Day 1- 8/14. Lander to Slide Lake.

We left Lander 6:30 AM and drove to Pinedale where we stopped to get some breakfast at the deli in the only grocery store. Shortly we turned off the highway and headed up the Green River Lakes Road. It had seriously rained the previous two days and the usual washboards were also accompanied by deep ruts, puddles and slippery mud. My poor Toyota Camry’s underside was covered in mud by the time we reached the Green River Lakes trailhead at 11:00 AM. We got on the trail quickly heading for Slide Lake. Clouds were building and the sky spit rain just after we crossed Clear Creek. After initially slogging through a swamp from recent rains, we thankfully found a good trail. Slide Creek is a very appropriately named; it slides down the sedimentary dip slope like a giant water slide. About half mile below Slide Lake, the creek sinks underground for a short distance! By the time we reached Slide Lake it was raining cats and dogs. A tent was set up; its occupants inside. We got soaked looking for an alternate site, ending up back next to our unknown neighbors. When the intense storm quit, we hopped out and hung out everything to dry. The occupants of the other tent also appeared. We were glad this retired couple had no problem with our arrival. Amazingly they were in their 60’s and had just started backpacking so were eager to see our equipment. Although not an UL backpacker, I fall in the “light” category with a lot of fairly new gear; my companion, on the other hand, still uses his rag-tag stuff from the 1970’s! Thankfully we had about an hour and half break before more rain started just as we finished dinner. It rained all night. We had come 5.5 miles.

Day 2- 8/15. Slide Lake to Elbow Lake #2.

Morning arrived with a few wispy clouds but mostly clear. Our goal for the day was to find the use-trail that is Finis Mitchell’s route. The use-trail starts at a meadow more than 500 feet elevation below Slide Lake. We first tried to short-cut and traverse ending in hideous talus so we returned to the trail and dropped to the place where Slide Creek sinks into the ground and crossed. After some traversing through soaked brush and following disconnected game trails, we finally intersected a fair use-trail that continued upward nearly 2,000 feet to the saddle between Lost Eagle Peak and Pt 11245. A narrow ridge continued up another 600 feet. We impatiently tried to cut across after 400 feet of gain, only to admit defeat and return upward to the flat top plateau of Lost Eagle Peak, where we found cairns that lead us back to the use-trail dropping down due south following a small creek. Stopping, we went to the edge and peeked over to see Elbow Lake #2 below a 600-foot cliff. The trail continues south to a narrow grassy bench nearly level with the lake. We turned east to the outlet finding an established campsite. Weather looked threatening, so we decided to camp after only 3.5 miles, instead of continuing to Golden Lakes, our original destination. All we could say was that if Finis Mitchell rode his horse to Elbow Lake #2, he was quite a horseman! The threatening weather never materialized so I walked to the other end of the lake and my friend worked on his pika data (he was doing a voluntary pika location study for some internet research project). I looked intensely towards Golden Lakes, wondering how were going to get there; it appeared like we would be stopped by cliffs.

Day 3- 8/16. Elbow Lake #2 to Baker Lake.

Early rays of sun shone through clear skies on our tent. We packed up and continued on a route we had scouted the previous day. First we had to drop down more than 200 feet over steep grassy slopes and cross a short talus cone. Once to the cliffs it was clear that we had to climb up a steep boulder studded gully left of the cliffs to a horizontal ledge supporting a snowfield. It turned out easier than it looked and then we traversed the ledge to the upper Golden Lake. Cliffs precluded any idea of going around this lake and heading directly to Baker Lake up the gentle inlet drainage. We would have to instead climb to the high plateau via the first steep gully heading north. After about 500 feet of gain we hit a flat saddle and dropped to a pretty lake at the head of the southernmost branch of Slide Creek. Then we traversed east-northeast to the upper of three lakes on the next branch of Slide Creek. Thankfully boulders in the lake offered a path were we could jump rocks to get around the southern shoreline. We erroneously headed to the lowest saddle southeast only to be stopped by an impossible snow cornice, forcing a backtrack and up a rock ridge to a snow-filled saddle between Slide Lake #1 and Baker Lake. Thankfully, there was a melt-out that we could use to get off the snow when it became steep. We dropped 200 feet to Baker Lake and found one small campsite behind a rock, in this wind-tunnel environment. It was still early as we had only come 3.5 miles.

First we checked out a route along the north side of Baker Lake and were pleased that this would be a good way to get to the east side, if need be. Then I hiked back to Slide Lake #1 and the two lower lakes. Recent melt from a high snowpack year left most the shorelines soggy rock and sand with only a few grassy flat spots for camping. My friend photographed pika. After dinner we scouted a route to get into Pixley Creek. The rest of the evening was spent huddling behind our rock, giving up when the early shadows hit, and retreating to the tent.

Day 4-8/17. Baker Lake to 9,800 feet on Pixley Creek.

We awoke to threatening skies, bitter cold and a fierce wind. Baker Lake is fed by the Sourdough Glacier, first entering Iceberg Lake, a milky lake full of icebergs, and dammed by a large terminal moraine that sieves the water as it enters Baker Lake, which is clear blue. Baker Lake sits in a bowl, with cliffs to the north, the glacier moraine to the southeast and a high rocky ridge to the south. We climbed due south up to the top of the ridge and then descended into a rock-filled drainage that flows directly into Pixley Creek, unfortunately, filled with house-sized talus. Instead we found animal tracks (mountain sheep) heading due east over a saddle and then down into Pixley Creek. The skies cleared and weather was perfect. The creek runs four miles straight southwest, from 11,200 feet elevation to 9800 feet, with 2,000-foot cliffs on each side, until it bends north and resumes its southwest course for a mile and quarter dropping the final 1,800 feet to the Green River at 8,000 feet elevation. Many moraines of now gone glaciers litter the southeast side; thankfully beautiful grassy slopes full of wildflowers lead down the northwest side interconnected by brief talus sections.

It all was easy until we reached a pinch point where a moraine had crept up onto our side! After a gnarly descent through this tight steep and loose talus we again were able to stay on grass until about 10,200 feet elevation where brush and timber choked progress. For the next mile, we had to wade across the creek many times to avoid brush. The grade of the creek was now almost flat. At 10,000 feet elevation we entered a large meadow where the creek braided into channels over a muddy flat. Travel would now become even more hideous! It was less than a half mile to the depression at 9,800 feet that marked the end of the upper stream. It took us over an hour to get down this stretch. We climbed up and over house sized boulders, crossed the raging creek. We found a campsite in a small flower-filled grassy flat next to a shallow pond, just as the creek sunk under a high terminal moraine, before briefly turning north before a 90-degree turn east to crash 1,800 feet to the Green River below.

It was only mid-afternoon but we were beat. We worked hard for the 5 miles we had come. The hollow we were in was wind-protected and the sun shone warmly. We washed clothes, bathed and were just plain lazy. We were as surprised to see two young fishermen stumbling into our camp at 4PM as they were to see us! They had come up Pixley Creek, fishing poles in hand, on the basis of the “trail” shown on Google Maps. They had bushwhacked up the creek and wanted to get to Baker Lake before nightfall. Their “map” was on their I-phone, not as detailed as our 7.5-minute USGS maps, so they studied our maps for a while. They planned on the reverse route we had taken, only to do it in three days and were disappointed to hear there was no trail and the difficulties had just began. We pointed them to a better route up the next half mile than we had taken and suggested they may prefer to camp on Pixley Creek out of the wind. As for fishing Baker Lake, if there were fish I doubt you could throw a line out into the lake with the wind. We suggested they may prefer Golden Lakes and Elbow Lakes. We wished them well and off they went.

Day 5- 8/18. Pixley Creek at 9,800 to Green River Lakes Trailhead.

We started out fine, up over the forested hill to our north to stay out of the moraine. After dropping about 200 feet staying on this side of Pixley Creek looked like trouble. We found a log across the creek to the opposite steep hillside. Brush and deadfall were thick as we had to climb back up before we reached what appeared to be the only open buttress with a view. After a rest we resumed our descent – basically straight down, sometimes clinging to tree roots, squirming through brush. It reminded me of the northern California coast range. Once we reached the zone of Aspen, deadfall became nearly impossible to penetrate. The creek incised into a steep canyon. We stayed away and bashed through deadfall, now covered with stickers of raspberry bushes. Progress slowed as we gorged on ripe raspberries. We reached the trail two hours after we had left camp. I was glad we were not going up!

After wading across several shallow braids of both Pixley and Elbow Creeks, we met a group with several people we knew. The group was part of an academic study that was measuring the thickness of the glaciers on the east side of Gannett Peak. They had been out two weeks, climbed Gannett Peak and now were returning for a pick-up next morning. We kept running into each other all the way back the eight miles to Green River Lakes. We thought of camping at Clear Creek, but in spite of being very tired and hot, we continued the last two miles to the trailhead. We had come 10 miles this last day and were tired. The enticer was cold beer in the trunk. We noted the Arizona license plates on a car we suspected belonged to the two young fishermen. After a bath in the river we found a campsite at the USFS campground and sorted through gear, cooked dinner, and put together food for the next day when we would begin a 6-day trip up Tourist Creek.

Photos to follow.



User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2607
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Wind Rivers VI: Pixley Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 28, 2014 2:25 pm

Day 1

Image
Slide Lake

Image
Standing in the Rain (photo by Juan Laden)

Day 2

Image
View of Squaretop Mountain from plateau of Lost Eagle Peak

Image
View the other direction, back towards Slide Lake

Image
Elbow Lake #2

Image
Lower Golden Lake below Elbow Lake #2

Image
View of Route from Elbow Lake #2 to Golden Lake

Image
Afternoon hike around Elbow Lake #2
User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2607
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Wind Rivers VI: Pixley Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 28, 2014 2:29 pm

Day 3

Image
View of Golden Lake en route to top of plateau to Baker Lake

Image
Crossing rocks at first Slide Lake (photo by Juan Laden)

Image
One of the many lower Slide Lakes

Image
Snowy still at the middle Slide Lakes

Image
Baker Lake

Image
Sourdough Glacier across Baker Lake
User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2607
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Wind Rivers VI: Pixley Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 28, 2014 2:38 pm

Day 4

Image
Upper Pixley Creek

Image
Easy walking and beautiful flowers in upper Pixley Creek

Image
Things get rocky in upper Pixley Creek (photo by Juan Laden)

Image
More flowers

Image
Darn moraine blocking our easy descent

Image
We find a way through!

Image
Getting into timber

Image
Crossing the creek often to avoid brush (photo by Juan Laden)

Image
Mud Flat at 10,000 feet

Image
Camp in hollow below terminal moraine

Image
End of day at our little camp
User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2607
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Wind Rivers VI: Pixley Creek

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Sep 28, 2014 2:40 pm

Day 5

Image
View of the Green River from a buttress about a third of the way on the descent

Image
We finally make it to the Green River!

Image
Back at the river below the Trailhead
User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2607
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A


Return to Beyond The Sierra Nevada



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests