Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

If you've been searching for the best source of information and stimulating discussion related to Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking, hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada...look no further!
User avatar
richlong8
Topix Expert
Posts: 766
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2008 6:02 pm
Experience: N/A

Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by richlong8 » Fri Mar 02, 2018 1:08 pm

I wanted to file this belated trip report on a backpack I took to Gardiner Basin in mid-Sept. 2017. This was a very satisfying trip, except that it was a bit shorter than I would have liked. I fished, but the fishing was mediocre where I fished- but the scenery and solitude made up for the lack of lunkers. I originally planned this trip for 9 days, but had to cut it to 7 days due to business reasons, and ended up coming out on the 6th day due to an earlier season snow storm, more about that later.

I won't bore readers relating my "mundane" first day going in from the east side from Onion Valley over Kearsage Pass, and spending the first night at Charlotte Lake. The second morning, I took off from the north end of Charlotte Lake. Preparing for this trip, I had looked at a few internet trip reports, and there are not many for this area, and the old Wilderness Press trail guide for Pinchot Peak. Some say the old trail from Charlotte Lake to Gardiner Pass was hard to find, others reported it was easy. I crossed the outlet creek of Charlotte Lk. to the south side of the creek, and followed a narrow, well defined trail for maybe .5 mile, and then forded the creek again, and stayed on the north side of the creek all the way as the old maps & Harrison map shows. The trail was narrow, but easy to follow in most places, except for a couple of blowdowns. I suspect that this trail is primarily now a climbers trail to climb Charlotte Dome. The major landmark that I watched for was the branch creek coming in from the north just before reaching Charlotte Dome. After crossing this creek, the path will take you to a large campsite 100 yards or so from the water, that I suspect is used by climbers. I only saw 2 people that 2nd morning, and both were climbers, and I was not to see anyone else until the evening of Day 5.

From the area of the campsite, I headed north/NW to Gardiner Pass. I lost the trail somewhere shortly after leaving the campsite, but it was easy going staying to the right of a talus band coming down from Charlotte Dome, and ascending wide open slopes to the area of the pass. I suspect that the trail was about 100 yards further east, but I did not bother with trying to find the trail again. Once I got to the ridge where the pass is located, I looked straight down a very steep chute from the low point. I could see remnants of the old trail switchbacking down towards the lakes of the "west" fork of Gardiner Creek. I recalled a trip report that stated if you head east up the ridge another 50 yards, there is another easier crossing, or perhaps this is the actual pass proper. In any case, after scrambling up the ridge a bit, I decided to take the easier route, and backtracked down the way I came about 20 yards, and walked up the easy slopes to a rock cairn on the ridge. This looked like the route, and if you go down a few feet, and look up, you will a very large rusty can embedded in the slope that is mentioned in a couple of internet trip reports as marking the right spot to descend. This Class 1-2 route leads to the trail which is still in fairly good condition for the first 400-500 feet of elevation drop from the pass. Then it kind of peters out, and I followed the streams from lake to lake, staying to the right, until I reached Lake 9530' early evening, the largest lake in the east fork Gardiner chain. I spent night 2 in a rather good campsite about half way around the north shore of Lake 9530, way to the west of its outlet stream.

For those who are not familiar with Gardiner Basin, there are 3 forks of Gardiner Creek, and each fork has a group of lakes and tarns. One of my goals on the trip was to get up into the middle fork basin, which seems to be the least visited of the 3 forks. My opinion is that the west fork seems to be the least scenic of the 3 basins, but it is not ugly, by any means, especially the upper portion. As far as trails, just assume that there are only remnants of the old trail here and there. If you follow the routes others have described in their accounts, you will probably see parts of the trial here and there. But I didn't waste a lot of time worrying about finding a trail. This area does not get a lot of traffic in comparison to the busy JMT just a few air miles away. Someone who seemed quite capable, perhaps one of our members, has left occasional 3 rock ducks in appropriate spots in Gardiner Basin. It seemed like to me whenever I was a little unsure how to proceed on this cross country route, I would run into one of these ducks, but they are definitely spread out, and not worth searching for to stay on a route, in my opinion.

Day 3: After waking up the 3rd morning, I considered fishing Lake 9530, but saw no risers, and being quite tired, I decided to pass on fishing, though I would be surprised if that lake does not have fish. There was a low angle gully heading northeast form the lake, and I headed up this gully rather than going back around the lake to the east. I guessed that the gully would lead to the top of the ridge that I could see from my camp that would lead down to the main stream of Gardiner Creek. I guessed right- about 100 yards from the campsite, a 3 rock duck appeared, and when I reached the top of the ridge, I could see that a trail started down the ridge from where I was standing. This trail is narrow, but still in pretty good shape, all the way to Gardiner Creek, about 700-800' down in elevation, perhaps because of the long switchbacks that were constructed long ago. There is a long bench that you reach just before hitting the creek that is supposed to have one of Shorty Lovelace's old cabins, acc. to dated literature. I searched for the cabin, but I could not find any remnants of the structure. I would not be surprised if the Park Service removed the cabin some time in the past.

After reaching the creek, I looked around for a ford that is shown on the old map, though I was undecided whether I would ford the creek. Acc. to some maps, and accounts, the route is to ford Gardiner creek to its north side, then proceed upstream about 1/2 mile, then reford the creek back to to the south side. The old Wilderness Press guide suggests staying on the south side. I believe I found the ford, but it did not make any sense to me to ford the stream to reford it 1/2 mile later, esp. in this high water year. This area of Gardiner Ck. is wildly overgrown, and hard going, and the north side did not look any less overgrown to me than the south side of the creek in the area of the 1st ford. Gardiner Creek is beautiful, crystal clear water, and no, I did not stop to filter the water. If you can't trust this water, there is no H2O left in the Sierra you can trust.

As I made my way up stream to the middle fork, I decided to start working away from the stream to get on some slopes to the right that were more open for travel. There is a cliff to avoid as you work your way upstream, and I think this is the best route. In retrospect, unless you are fishing the creek, there is no real reason to stay on the creek, in my opinion. A traveler could work his way upstream from the "Shorty Lovelace" bench, and have much easier going just staying on the system of benches and slopes to the right of the creek as you head upstream. The probable reason for the fords of the creek become apparent as Gardiner Creek drops in a good size waterfall/cascade upstream. The old trail was probably navigating around the waterfall, and avoiding the cliff on the ride side of the creek. But, the same thing can be accomplished by staying to the right 100-200 yards from the creek as you are heading upstream. After about 1/2 mile, with the waterfall in my rear view, I headed back closer to the stream, and it is much easier going here on this beautiful, unspoiled stretch of Gardiner Creek that contains good sized fish in the pools. This is about where the 2nd ford is shown on some of the old maps, and remnants of the old trail are found here and there, along with the occasional 3 rock duck. I reached the middle fork creek, in a rocky area about midday. After a relaxing lunch, I headed up the middle fork drainage. I stayed on the right side heading upstream staying 100-200 yards away from the creek, occasionally seeing a duck, or remnants of the old trail, and game trails. Eventually, you will reach the first tarns in the middle lake basin. I regret not taking photos here- they actually show the whole ridge at the head of the basin. I did fish here, in the middle fork in some good size pools, but the fish were 8" max, and they all went back into the water. Instead I headed up to the unnamed lake that sits at about 10,300' and camped there for the night. I thought this lake would have fish, but even though the many lakes below it had abundant smaller fish, this lake seemed to be fishless. Beautiful location, no developed campsite that I could find, but I was looking forward to some fish for dinner. I did not go to the upper lake 10544, but I suspect the views would be very good from here, but fishing would be doubtful. It is hard to overstate the feeling of remoteness and solitude you experience in this middle fork basin. No apparent signs of human activity, though I am sure they exist somewhere. Day 3 summary: drop down from lake 9530 about 700-800 ' in elevation, then gain it back to Lake 10,300, about 1500' in elevation gain.

Day 4: I headed down the middle fork watershed on Day 4. I noticed a few isolated weird looking clouds early in the morning, and I thought, uh-oh, storm system coming in? The clouds dissipated, and it was a beautiful, sunny day. I headed down to about the 10,000' level, looking for a way to head east to the east fork of Gardiner Basin. I picked out what seemed like the right spot, crossed the double channel of Gardiner Creek. Instead of following the creek to the lowest lake in the east fork basin, I went slightly north to cross the creek coming down from the small tarns on the SW side of Mt. Clarence King. Then I just headed E/SE until I reached a point where I could see over to the next small lake in the basin sitting at about 10500. I stayed well about the lakes going up, coming to the large lake 10544. I headed over to the NW shore of the lake, where there were a grove of trees, and found an old campsite, as stated in the old Wilderness Press guide(MNt.Pinchot). I don't think it has been used for many years. I debated whether to push on to the next lake and camp, or stay here. There were abundant fish, and I decided to wet a line, and I caught one with every cast for a few minutes, releasing them all- they definitely were not large or fat. I decided to push on to the next lake up, because I just had this feeling the weather was changing, and I knew I might have to cover a lot of ground the next day. After reaching the lake that sits at about 11,040, I found remnants of a campsite, and decided to call it a day. Beautiful campsite, no fish! Geesh! No fish dinner again. In my quest for bigger and better fish, I kept going to places where the fish population was gone.
Day 5: This day saw clouds come in early. Clearly, there was a storm system coming into the Sierra in mid-September. I went to the north side of the lake and headed north up a slope to an obvious little ridge. The other side of the ridge should contain the tarns shown on the map that sit below massive Lake 11407'. That proved to be the case, and I proceeded around the south side of the tarns, and worked my way up cross country to the upper lake. I stayed on the left side of the lake heading for Sixty Lakes Col which is the cross country route that leads to Sixty Lakes Basin and civilization. Going around this lake is tedious, lots of talus and boulders. Finally, I reached the head of the lake and a couple of large isolated boulders. Fortunately, I found a duck here that marked the right spot to lead to the obviously best marked route up to Sixty Lake Col. In this area, in my opinion, it is worth while trying to stay on the ducked route, unless you want to do some rock scrambling and climbing with your backpack on. It is even quite often a narrow trail, and I had not seen a real trail in a couple of days. Finally, you get to the final 15', where you scramble up the rock to Sixty Lake Col. The col is about 11700-11750', and I think it is at least class 2, and very easy to get into class 3 rock scrambling if you don't choose your route carefully. The way down to the lake and creek seems to be going down from ledge to ledge, ramp to ramp, a lot of ducks, many different choices. Instead of heading directly north to the fjord shaped lake 10840, I headed down to the outlet creek of the tarn below lake 11270. I don't know if this was the best way, but it worked, and it was easier travel once I reached the creek. I just followed the creek all the way down to a point where you climb a hill on the left side of lake 10840. This is primitive trail here, and once you get to the top of the slope, it takes you down to the north end of the lake and its outlet creek. I followed the outlet creek of the fjord lake down and to the right, and intersected a "real" trail around the north side of the larger lake 10800'?, as planned in 60 Lake Basin. I had originally planned to camp at this lake, but the winds were high, and the clouds were ominous. It looked like it was already snowing up on Mt. Gardiner. This looked like a storm system, not just a thunder shower, so I decided to change plans and head down to the Rae Lakes and camp back in civilization on the JMT. I originally had wanted to camp at lovely Dragon Lake, instead of the Rae Lakes, on my last night, but it was almost dark when I reached the Rae Lake camping area. I saw a couple of people by a bear locker with all their stuff on top sorting things out. I looked in the locker, and I could not believe it... the locker was full of bear canisters! Being quite tired instead of just being quiet, I asked, could you help me and answer a question? Why would someone put their bear canister in a bear locker? I thought the idea of a canister was the canister protected you from food pilfering. They replied quite seriously, "well putting the canister in a locker protects it, that keeps the bears from rolling your bear canister around where you can't find it". Oh, I said, I didn't realize,its kind of like Yogi Bear, and Boo-Boo sort of thing. I didn't wait for their reply, and quickly hightailed it out of there to find a place to camp for the night.....Me and my smart mouth!
Perhaps, and this is not to insult anyone, but this is one reason why I much prefer to go to more remote places like Gardiner Basin than places like Rae Lakes, unless it is mid-week, in off season or something. I pitched my tent in high winds and spent my last night in stormy Rae Lakes Basin. I already had about made up my mind that I would rise early and hike out to Onion Valley in the morning.

Day 6: I left at 630am, and it was lightly snowing, with a couple of inches on the ground. My plan on coming out to Rae lakes the previous evening was I did not know how long the storms would last, and it would be much easier to travel on the JMT superhighway then cross country, or lesser used trails during this storm system. The hardest part of the day was going over Glen Pass. On both sides of the pass, the winds were blowing very hard, and it was a total whiteout. Fortunately, I had brought my balclava, and just kept moving to stay warm. There were a few other hikers I saw during the stretch to Glen and Kearsage Passes that were doing the same thing, headed for the car. The first wave of the storm started to breakup around noon, and Kearsage was not as brutal as Glen to cross. I was back to Onion Valley about 5pm, a day early, but eager to get home, after the 3 hour, 15 minute drive, and enjoy some real food and the family.

One reason I took this trip is it is one of the places described in Phil Arnot's book, "High Sierra", and I have been trying to visit some of the remote places he describes in his book. In the book, he talks about taking a 3rd trip to Gardiner Basin. I can understand the return visits. On one trip, I barely skimmed the surface of what this area could have to offer. On a return trip, I would fish the main branch of Gardiner Creek if possible, where I suspect the biggest fish in the area might be found. I would probably just make a camp on the bench above the creek and spend a day below and above the waterfall. Also, I would like to spend some time photographing the waterfall, which is in this rocky, shadowy area, and I think might lend itself to some good photo ops. The first tarns on the middle fork might yield some good pictures, and the highest, largest lake might be quite scenic as well. I would camp on the large lake 10544 on the east fork and try my fishing luck all around that lake. The side creek that comes in from Mt. Clarence King would probably lead you to some interesting, seldom traveled to country. That is quite a list, more than enough for another trip.
LINK TO PHOTOS: https://photos.app.goo.gl/xMb5BAIzETktWXrn2
I had some trouble posting individual pictures, but this link leads to Google Photos, where I have my pics stored in a Gardiner Basin 2017 folder. There are only 7 photos there, and all were taken with a Panasonic GM-5 with a 12-32 lens, total weight=10.5 ounces, Micro 4/3rds system. There all kinds of cameras choices out there, but I like this one for being an interchangeable lens camera with a total weight of only 10.5 ounces, and everything fits in a small, light camera bag.
If anyone knows how to post individual photos from Google Photos to HST, I would appreciate the insight. It used to be no problem posting photos when the site was Picasa. Google bought Picasa, and there were no problems early on posting pics, but now, it does not seem to work. Or a recommendation for another photo sharing site, that it would be easy to post a picture here using rimg, like I always used to use. If you look at the pics, from top left moving CW, the photos are Lake 9530, Middle Fork Basin, unknown ridge, Lake 11040, Lake 11407 looking towards 60 Lakes Col, Unnamed tarns below 60 Lakes Col, Kearsage Pinnacles from the approach to Kearssage Pass.








User avatar
zacjust32
Topix Regular
Posts: 342
Joined: Thu Apr 16, 2015 12:50 pm
Experience: Level 3 Backpacker
Location: Fresno, Ca
Contact:

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by zacjust32 » Fri Mar 02, 2018 3:50 pm

Nice report! I've been wanting to hit Gardiner Basin soon and your report is great info. Too bad you couldn't find the cabin, I'll have to look myself. I'm trying to visit all of his sites.

For the pictures: go to your Google Photos, go to the image you want and right click "copy image address". On HST just click on the Img button and insert the link between the two ["img"] boxes. Hit quote on my post and you should be able to see how I did it.

Image

Image

Image
Last edited by zacjust32 on Sat Mar 03, 2018 12:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
zacjust32
Topix Regular
Posts: 342
Joined: Thu Apr 16, 2015 12:50 pm
Experience: Level 3 Backpacker
Location: Fresno, Ca
Contact:

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by zacjust32 » Fri Mar 02, 2018 4:00 pm

And what map did you use? The Tom Harrison Kings Canyon High Country I have doesn't have the trail from Charlotte to Gardiner Pass. And the CalTopo maps I normally print out are in metric for this area.

User avatar
richlong8
Topix Expert
Posts: 766
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2008 6:02 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by richlong8 » Fri Mar 02, 2018 4:15 pm

A number of different maps: If you go to Topoquest, you can see one route to the pass, it is the same as you will find on the old Topo series put out by National Geographic, and it is in metric. Now, it will not show the route crossing the Charlotte Lk. outlet, then refording back to the north side, but perhaps there is another trail that stays all the way on the north side, I don't think so, but it is possible. The route I describe from Charlotte to the pass works, and a few people that have gone this way describe losing the trail after leaving the lake. On the Topoquest map, you can see the route that descends to Gardiner Creek fording the creek 2x, by the way. Sometime this weekend, I will try and scan a jpeg of a map marked on the Harrison map of the route I used with the approximate routes. Also, I used the map from the old Wilderness Press hiking guide to Mt. Pinchot, which is a 15 minute series topo, with trails and routes marked. That series of books is invaluable. It can be surprising how little has changed since they were published 30+ years ago.

User avatar
richlong8
Topix Expert
Posts: 766
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2008 6:02 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by richlong8 » Fri Mar 02, 2018 4:17 pm

zacjust32 wrote:Nice report! I've been wanting to hit Gardiner Basin soon and your report is great info. Too bad you couldn't find the cabin, I'll have to look myself. I'm trying to visit all of his sites.

For the pictures: go to your Google Photos, go to the image you want and right click "copy image address". On HST just click on the Img button and insert the link between the two Image

Image

Image

User avatar
kpeter
Topix Fanatic
Posts: 1063
Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 1:11 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by kpeter » Sat Mar 03, 2018 8:09 pm

Great report! I have not made it to Gardiner Basin. Once in the mid 1990s I dayhiked to the top of Gardiner Pass from a camp at Charolotte. I tried to follow the route indicated on the old topo, which stays on the north bank of Charlotte Creek and out of the willows as the creek drops lower, and gradually climbs as the creek drops. There were a few ducks and a few pieces of trail but I did not find a sustained and obvious trail until I got into the woods going NNW up the hill to the pass, where there were obvious switchbacks. I understand there has been a fire through there since and I haven't heard that anyone else has found those switchbacks since.

You have inspired me to put this back on my to-do list!

User avatar
CAMERONM
Topix Regular
Posts: 301
Joined: Thu Jul 02, 2015 10:04 am
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Los Angeles
Contact:

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by CAMERONM » Sat Mar 03, 2018 10:54 pm

The USGS 7.5' on Caltopo shows an "approximate" trail; it looks pretty obvious:
Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 9.49.05 PM copy.jpg
You must be registered and logged in to view the files/photos attached to this post.

User avatar
kpeter
Topix Fanatic
Posts: 1063
Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 1:11 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by kpeter » Sun Mar 04, 2018 7:21 am

CAMERONM wrote:The USGS 7.5' on Caltopo shows an "approximate" trail; it looks pretty obvious:
Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 9.49.05 PM copy.jpg
Yes, that is the route I was describing--the one I attempted to follow.

User avatar
Eiprahs
Topix Regular
Posts: 111
Joined: Sun Mar 18, 2012 7:12 pm
Experience: Level 1 Hiker
Location: Mount Angel, Oregon
Contact:

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by Eiprahs » Sun Mar 04, 2018 8:55 am

Gardiner Basin has always been a Sierra Shangri-La for me. Thanks richlong for posting about your great adventure. An earlier Gardiner Basin trip report links to a gps track: http://www.highsierratopix.com/communit ... pSzhi.dpbs

In Gmap4 you can toggle between satellite image and the Caltopo map provided above. Due to amount of exposed rock, there aren't many places you can see the trail in the sat photos. Here are three. Cross hairs in center of map are on the trail:

On slope South of Gardiner Pass:

https://mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php? ... 8&z=16&t=s

Just North of Gardiner Pass:

https://mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php? ... 8&z=19&t=s

West of ponds half way between Gardiner Pass and Gardiner Creek:

https://mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php? ... 3&z=19&t=s

Happy armchair exploration!!
Dave

User avatar
sekihiker
Founding Member
Posts: 672
Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2005 2:47 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Fresno
Contact:

Re: Gardiner Basin Trip Report September 2017

Post by sekihiker » Mon Mar 12, 2018 7:55 pm

Here's a Gardiner Basin trip report I posted 20 years ago: http://www.sierrahiker.com/GardinerBasin/index.htm

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests