TR: Mt. Julius Caesar (7/25/15) and Onion Valley (7/26/15)

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TR: Mt. Julius Caesar (7/25/15) and Onion Valley (7/26/15)

Post by rams » Thu Jul 30, 2015 7:50 pm

Back in the 90s, I had just started skiing and my family used to drive to Mammoth once or twice a year. On every trip, when we passed Bishop (or just before we got to Bishop on the return trip), there was always this canyon that seemed to reveal enough to look spectacular, but concealed enough to make you wonder what else was back there. Eventually (after some years), we actually drove up the canyon to where the road ended and checked out the surrounding scenery. It was pretty cool, but we never left the road. Last weekend, for the first time, I decided to finally see what else was up there, just out of sight. With that, my friend and I found ourselves parked just outside the Pine Creek Pack Station. Tons of options seemed worthy based on web surfing over the years, including Royce Lakes, Granite Park, Bear Lakes Basin, and Mt. Julius Caesar. My buddy is a peakbagger at heart, so that settled it. We would try to overthrow the dictator in a day. As the sun started hitting the high stuff, we were off.
What looked like such a short distance dragged on and on...and on and on...and on and on until we finally hit the first real landmark at Lower Pine Lake. I could tell we were both operating at less than 100% that morning, but we weren't doing so bad that we couldn't appreciate the setting we ended up in. It was better than I expected, with a combination of open views in one direction and a taste of Convict Creek with crazy rock patterns in another direction.
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After taking lots of shots (pictures, not drinks), we trudged on up past Upper Pine Lake to Honeymoon Lake, which we both thought was awesome, though it looked like it was low (never been there so not sure if it's normal).
At this point, it seemed like the trail was dwindling away, but there were enough ducks/cairns to guide us to stretches where a discernible trail existed. Our sluggishness continued as we walked at about half of our normal pace, but the opening views towards the Royce/Feather area were motivational enough. When we hit the Granite Park area, it was just awesome. Even if our sluggishness won, the day could've been considered a success just from seeing that area. Or at least a half-success.
As we progressed through Granite Park, Italy Pass came into view as the discernible trail went out of view. Italy Pass didn't look too far as we started walking from duck to duck. Italy Pass didn't seem to get closer for a while as both of us started getting into autopilot mode. At some point we found ourselves on top of the pass with strong winds almost blowing hats off. Looking up at Caesar's talus, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it, so I hung out at the pass and just checked out the views towards Seven Gables (an area on my hit list) and open spaces to the west. There happened to be a group chatting with each other who were waiting for a friend who was going for the summit. After a long rest, I was feeling like MAYBE I would CONSIDER the talus-induced torture. Only consider, though. Just then, the hiker returned and made it sound pretty easy. After his description and our long rest, we figured we'd give it a shot. After a short distance through a use trail, the boulder hopping began until we could traverse far enough to find another use trail that the other hiker talked about. We were actually feeling pretty good at this point, which was strange. The wind was much calmer than the pass as well, which was also strange. Before we knew it, we were up top and the views were fit for a dictator. We had done it. I dropped my jaw at the landscape around us, which was incredibly expansive, incredibly DRY, incredibly quiet, and incredibly humbling.
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Knowing that we had to get back to the car, we slogged back to Italy Pass then hiked on autopilot through just below Granite Park until chatting briefly with the folks we saw at the pass, who were camped in that area. They were worried about us after not seeing us return for so long, so I guess we milked the views for as long as we should have. If you're reading this, thanks for giving my buddy the ibuprofen. Marching on down, we kept as fast a pace as we could to minimize our time hiking in the dark. Around 9 PM, the headlamps came on as we approached Lower Pine Lake. I wanted to stay and take in the night views, but I also wanted to get off the mountain. With blistered feet, we trudged in the dark for what felt like eternity down that interminable lower stretch of trail. It NEVER ended. Ugh. Get me to the car!! Now!!! I was tired enough after 17 hours of hiking that I slept in my hiking clothes in the front seat.

The next day, we took our sweet time waking up and deciding what to do for the day. We were already in the Sierra, so we might as well take advantage of it and do another hike. After a huge breakfast, we drove to Onion Valley (I had been curious about the Dragon Peak area for a while) with an alpine start of 10 or 10:30 AM. The cars were parking on the side of the street down the canyon, which I had never seen. Yet when we took the spur trail towards the Golden Trout area, it was borderline empty. Kearsarge Pass must've been a freeway that day. With every step hurting from yesterday, we arrived at the unnamed lakes below Dragon Peak (though I've heard them referred to as "Dead Mouse"). It was gorgeous and peaceful, which I'm guessing wasn't the case on the main trail out of Onion Valley. Dragon Peak was a cool backdrop for the lakes, which both showed signs of the drought, with receding shorelines and dry outlets.
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Knowing we had to get back to the real world, we started the long journey back to SoCal. We also concluded that 7 blisters is a sign that I need new hiking shoes (though these were new). Totally worth it for the sights we got to see and I can't wait to get back out there, though my feet may disagree with me.
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Re: TR: Mt. Julius Caesar (7/25/15) and Onion Valley (7/26/1

Post by balzaccom » Thu Jul 30, 2015 10:07 pm

Nice report. You covered a lot of ground that first day...more than we've tackled in many a year!

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Re: TR: Mt. Julius Caesar (7/25/15) and Onion Valley (7/26/1

Post by cslaght » Fri Jul 31, 2015 1:14 pm

Very nice TR, Granite Park is on the short list for me as well, I was in the Bear Creek area last year and almost made it to Seven Gables before the mosquitoes and thunderstorms turned us around. (Dude, the mosquitoes were bad, level 6!). We were camped at the junction between the JMT/PCH and Bear Creek and should have hiked to Lake Italy ~7-8 miles instead of shooting for Sandpiper Lake and Seven Gables. It's such a beautiful area in this section of the Sierra, really enjoy it.
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