TR: Double Lollipop out of Chilnualna Falls TH (Buena vista loop + 'High Peaks' loop)

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brownbat
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TR: Double Lollipop out of Chilnualna Falls TH (Buena vista loop + 'High Peaks' loop)

Post by brownbat » Wed Sep 04, 2019 2:49 pm

Long time lurker, first time trip reporter. I've benefitted so much from reading other reports I felt it was time to contribute:)

I had my longest solo trip yet August 10-17 covering south yosemite and part of ansel adams wilderness. My original plan was a modified big SEKI loop going over granite pass, but I decided to scale back after hearing about (and also not hearing much about) the avalanche debris and palisade creek crossing on the first part of the trip I opted to do something a little lower elevation. Of course this trip also had some snow possibilities on red peak pass - so I had it in mind that I may need modify my trip depending on how the pass looked when I got to it.

Rather than embedding images I'm linking to a google photo album - you can follow along with the post.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/1G294qGZnCne1RS77

Day 1 - Chilnualna falls TH to the first chilnualna creek crossing
Drove early from San Jose to the Wawona permit station in Yosemite. Got to the park about 11am, just in time for the traffic jam getting into the park. I always forget about this issue on weekends - it took about an extra hour to get through the gate. It took very little time to pick up my permit at the station - though unfortunately the ranger on duty didn't have any intel about the passes I planned to get over. I had a quick lunch at Wawona (better than I expected) before heading to the chilnualna trailhead. I think this TH gets less action than other Yosemite locations and is a pretty decent option for a last minute walkup, though of course it is still fairly popular with day hikers.

The downside to the trail is it is a fairly steep introduction to a backpacking trip - especially being my first trip of the season with a weeks worth of food. I was SLOW (and steady?) but luckily only had to go 5 miles before calling it a day. After spending a bit of time at the falls proper I continued to where the trail crosses the creek. I headed upstream toward some lovely looking granite slabs but stopped short as I saw another group had already staked their claim. Luckily I still had a nice little fall and deep pool where I stopped, with plenty of space and privacy between my camp and the next group.

Day2 - to a dry ridge near givens creek
Took the lower trail of the first lollipop - passing by a burn section with somewhat heavy mosquitos before passing by crescent and johnson lakes and heading up the buck camp connector. Both crescent and johnson look like they have campable sections if you move away from the trail side of the lake (which looked reedy and more shallow). After buck camp I ran into another hiker who was coming all the way from Mammoth, with the plan of catching a shuttle at wawona to get back home. He gave me some great intel about givens creek (flowing) and Fernandez pass (no snow issues). After the buck connector I took the north fork (toward merced pass) and since I had enough water on me from Buck creek opted to camp on a dry ridge with a nice view before getting to the givens creek crossing. Though the terrain wasn't terribly steep this day I was feeling the impact of my heavy pack and lack of training and was happy to call it a day.

Day3 - to Lower Ottoway lake
The views start opening up with more granite past Givens creek. Givens creek itself has some beautiful pools just before the creek crossing. It looked like heading up to givens lake might be a worthy exploration. I found the hike up past moraine mountains shoulder to be a bit of a slog - perhaps more so than merced pass itself. I saw a clutch of frogs at the creek crossing below upper merced pass lake and also saw a couple of other hiking groups there as I was stopped for lunch. I then took the right fork toward Ottoway lake and didn't see anyone the rest of the day. It certainly felt like I had lower ottoway to myself, even if it wasn't true. Lower ottoway is a beautiful, expansive lake with lots of nooks and crannies - I headed to the E side below the main trail and settled in for a nice swim (good granite ledges getting into the water) and good looking sunset.

Day4 - to red devil lake (shortest, but not the easiest day)
Today I had fewer miles (only about 5) so let myself get a late start of about 8am. I opted to go xcountry between lower and upper ottoway before joining back up with the trail just to the side of upper ottoway. I'm still getting more experience with xcountry in the sierra and am constantly surprised by the scale of the map features. For example, I thought I was already getting to the upper lake but instead just hit a bench between the two. I think experience and having better map resolution will help improve my navigation! I met back up with the trail around 10 or 10:30 and saw another hiker a bit ahead of me on the pass. The W side of the pass still had some snow drifts, but they didn't significantly cover any switchbacks and so it was no issue dealing with them. The E side of the pass was another story. A steep, exposed snow chute covered the first stretch of switchbacks just over the pass. The hiker in front of me opted to cross the chute, but given that I didn't have an arresting device I didn't feel comfortable doing that. Instead I opted to scramble down some talus to get to about 10' above the first exposed switchback. I was then able to repeat the talus/kickstep/trail pattern till I got down to the relatively flat snow field where I could just march across the sun cups. Once past the snow and down to the bench area below the pass i then took a fairly easy xcountry route down to red devil lake - another gorgeous lake with granite shores, good swimming and great views that I seemingly had all to myself.

Day5 - over post peak pass to a dry camp just before fernendez pass
The country between red devil and post peak pass is very nice - with a little bit of everything from big vistas, mature fir forests, high alpine meadow/scrub and a beautiful river crossing. Red peak pass has AMAZING views on both sides when you first get to the crest, but the views shrink as you follow the crest to the right before heading over the pass proper. I lost the trail a bit on the crest and was about to make an assumption of which way I needed to go to catch up with the trail - good thing I took a compass bearing and learned that the lake below I saw was on the isberg side not the post pass side. Lesson learned, always take a quick bearing before making any assumptions! It also took me longer to get up to post peak than I expected - maybe because I underestimated the time it would take to get back to the trail from red devil - maybe because I underestimate how long it takes to hike up decent elevation gain - hard to say, but it was almost 3 before I started heading down the other side of the pass. I ran into a few different groups in this area - one group ahead of me who went over isberg instead of post peak, another group of 3 going over post peak the other way, and then a large group of boys with some grown up supervision who were coming up the other side. I won't see another soul after that until buena vista lake. The trail on the ansel adams side was much less maintained than what I'd been experiencing on the yosemite side. The pass itself was quite chunky and tiring on already tired feet, and past the pass there was some overgrown brush. Additionally, as I was hiking along I completely missed the first intersection. I started questioning why I hadn't hit it yet when I ran into a creek crossing that shoudn't have come up until after the intersection. Unfortunately I didn't know which way in the missed junction I took, and both sides had a creek crossing and similar bearing and terrain for a stretch of time. I decided to keep going rather than turn back as both directions ultimately go where I want to go (though one would add a couple of miles). I was VERY happy when I finally passed a marshy lake that showed me I had in fact gone the right (right) way at the junction. It was around this time that I think I had my change of heart - and was ready to adopt new phone/gps/map app tech instead of just relying on map and compass :). The bugs were BAD on this stretch of the trail and the long day and pass was taking its toll. As the sun started getting low I opted to NOT head all the way to Rutherford lake as I originally planned and instead fill up my water at the last creek crossing before trying to find a dryer, less buggy site on the side of the trail. I was tired enough that I just ate a food bar instead of cooking my hot meal, and the bugs were still bad enough that I setup my tent for the first time on the trip.

Day 6 - to royal arch lake
I wanted to cover a fair # of miles today so broke camp pretty early. I found out I probably still had about 2 miles of a steady climb to get to rutherford lake, so while I have some lake regrets I felt my decision to stop where I was was the right one. I'll just have to get back to this area another time to do more exploration of the lakes near fernendez pass. I opted to go the morraine meadow (north route) option rather than head S toward chain lakes. This mean that I repeated about 6 miles of trail. This plus the lighter pack and the established trail legs meant that I could really crank it during this section. I had been promising myself that I would get a swim if I made good time to Royal arch lake (does anyone else make deals with your body like that?) so was a bit disappointed when I found out that the lake - while very picturesque - was reedy and not as attractive for a swim. I opted for a bucket bath instead which was still very refreshing. All night long I heard a 'bark' like sound on the granite shelfs across royal arch lake which I've since heard again at tamarack lake. My guess is a fox den - does anyone know do foxes do a fair bit of yipping/barking through the night? Any other animal you can think of that could have exhibited this behavior?

Day 7 - back to Chilnualna falls
While overall the country on the lower loop is pleasant, it is definitely lacking some of the same drama that is present in the 'high loop' section. Still, the hike was a nice combination of pleasant forests, dry meadows, wet meadows and granite slabs. Mosquitos were only bad in certain wet meadow/damp forest stretches. You even get some very nice views of yosemite valley both approaching and leaving buena vista lake. At buena vista lake I stopped for a breakfast break and started running into people again, including a ranger. There was some sort of huge, elaborate camp setup with large shade structures, a stage and all kinds of tents. It's always a bit strange running into a lot of people after so much solitude. At the intersection I opted to take an upper' trail back to the falls, which definitely was the less maintained trail with a lot of tree fall and more burn sections. One part I liked though was the flat top of the ridge that had some really large (I think sugar) pine trees. I got back to the falls HOT and ready to take a dip in the creek. I got there late enough in the day that the day trippers had left and I had the first pick of potential campsites before another group showed up heading up from the trailhead. I met up with the same ranger who had opted to camp above the falls - probably close to where I had camped the first night but downstream from the crossing rather than upstream where she was able to look down on the upper falls/pools. Note to self - check that area out next time. This area is really beautiful, and dunking in the many pools available at the falls is a treat after a hot day. This was only slightly dampened by the fact that I slipped on some algae and gave myself a pretty spectacular bruise on the hip (my sleeping side no less!) after I fell.

Day 8 - back to car
I almost beat the first day trippers - who were JUST coming up to the crest of the falls as I was heading down. They must have gotten an early start. After a quick march back down the trail (meeting progressively more and more people as I went) and quick cleanup at the trailhead I headed to oakhurst for a well-deserved hamburger and mountain of fries at Pete's before heading home. I highly recommend Pete's place.

Overall a great trip, but I think in the future I wouldn't combine these two loops/lollipops.Instead I think I would keep the lower loop as an option for shorter trips where last minute permits are needed. I think for the high pass area I would come in on one of the closer trailheads and spend more time in that area exploring off-trail lakes.








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bobby49
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Re: TR: Double Lollipop out of Chilnualna Falls TH (Buena vista loop + 'High Peaks' loop)

Post by bobby49 » Wed Sep 04, 2019 4:24 pm

"My guess is a fox den - does anyone know do foxes do a fair bit of yipping/barking through the night?"

Perhaps a gray fox. A gray fox scared the hell out of me one night in southern Yosemite.

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Re: TR: Double Lollipop out of Chilnualna Falls TH (Buena vista loop + 'High Peaks' loop)

Post by tmorton23 » Thu Sep 05, 2019 5:00 pm

I did a somewhat smaller lollipop loop as yours for my first solo trip. I left out of the Chiquito Pass trailhead in the Sierra National Forest. My trip was counterclockwise, so I had Fernandez Pass as my first big pass. While Rutherford Lake tempted me, Anne Lake (slightly more north and east of Rutherford) was quite nice. That was the first time I was truly by myself, and it was really incredible. I agree that your decision to stop before the climb to Rutherford was appropriate. That would have been a really gruesome end to the day.

I appreciate the info on Royal Arch Lake. I've been toying with the idea of expanding my lollipop loop to include Royal Arch and Buena Vista Lakes. I'm glad you had a good trip and I'm glad that Red Peak Pass didn't give you any trouble. I did my solo trip last year and snow was not a problem on the east side of the pass. I'm wondering how I would have reacted had I seen the snow field that you saw.

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Re: TR: Double Lollipop out of Chilnualna Falls TH (Buena vista loop + 'High Peaks' loop)

Post by brownbat » Fri Sep 06, 2019 10:19 am

bobby49 wrote:
Wed Sep 04, 2019 4:24 pm
"My guess is a fox den - does anyone know do foxes do a fair bit of yipping/barking through the night?"

Perhaps a gray fox. A gray fox scared the hell out of me one night in southern Yosemite.
I've since listened to some fox calls on youtube and think that it is a fox! They weren't warning/mating/or territory calls but they sounded a lot like the playing/fighting sounds. Maybe a den of cubs playing around all night while the mom was out hunting:) There was also a lot of small predator scat (lots of fur in the poop) around the area.

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Re: TR: Double Lollipop out of Chilnualna Falls TH (Buena vista loop + 'High Peaks' loop)

Post by LightBulb » Fri Sep 06, 2019 1:46 pm

How did the fire damage look?

I did a trip there in 2017 and was bummed to see that a fire had burned over my favorite campsites.

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Re: TR: Double Lollipop out of Chilnualna Falls TH (Buena vista loop + 'High Peaks' loop)

Post by brownbat » Fri Sep 06, 2019 5:31 pm

LightBulb wrote:
Fri Sep 06, 2019 1:46 pm
How did the fire damage look?

I did a trip there in 2017 and was bummed to see that a fire had burned over my favorite campsites.
Most of the burned areas were more of the mosaic burn variety - where there were still quite a few living trees mixed in with the dead and downed wood. The openings allowed for a lot more flowers like ...fireweed! and lupine to fill in. So overall I didn't find it unpleasant, though it is not quite the same as the original unburned forest I'm sure.

There was maybe only one stretch that was full-on crispy critter. What is it about burns that favor mosquito concentrations in those areas? Does the ash hold more moisture or something?

It is always hard to see our favorite spots burned knowing that it will take beyond our lives most likely to get back to the condition it once was.

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Re: TR: Double Lollipop out of Chilnualna Falls TH (Buena vista loop + 'High Peaks' loop)

Post by LightBulb » Mon Sep 09, 2019 8:41 am

Thanks! I'm glad to here it's not all char. I understand that it needs to happen but try and avoid locations of recent burns for aesthetic reasons.

I love this area, it's some of my favorite cross country travel.

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