TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

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mcgenes
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TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by mcgenes » Sun Sep 10, 2017 12:39 pm

Me and my backpacking buddies make a long trip each year. This year, there were just three of us (of five). We had a permit for Harriett Lake (Isberg Pass), but the fires caused us to revise our plans. Since we didn't have a permit, and we were starting on Labor Day weekend, we got up at 2am on Friday (9/1) and headed for the ranger station near Kaiser Pass. We arrived at 7:25am and were second in line. About 4 more groups showed up soon after. We got a permit from Bear Creek, gratefully, and hit the trail the same day.

Day 1 (9/1): We left the Bear Creek Cutoff Trailhead around 9:00am and hiked along the creek until we reached about 8000 ft. We camped in a nice shady spot just before the trail starts to climb in earnest. It was a warm day and we had a pleasant evening without any mosquitoes. Met a 73 year-old man from South Korea on the trail who was out of food and headed to Vermillion (we gave him some snacks). He had been on the trail for a month. Quite a character.

Day 2 (9/2): We headed to Croney's Camp on the Hilgard Branch, right above the JMT. It was buggy (4), but had great views. We found it on the Earthmate app.

Day 3 (9/3): Awoke to hazy, smokey air coming from Selden Pass. It cleared out by the time we hit the JMT. This was the only real smoke we had on the trip. We headed up the Seven Gables trail, which was an interesting and somewhat technical ascent. There were sprinkles off and on, and bugs (3-4), but the cool weather was a plus overall as we climbed. I had contracted a headcold overnight, so we camped at one of the Seven Gables lakes. There were several folks around, and we met a guy who preached the merits of a light pack. He was carrying just 14 pounds for a 5-day trip and was covering 15-20 miles x-country each day. He was our age (40-50), so we were inspired to think about lightening our loads next time...but just enough to give his method a nod and not totally sacrifice comfort. ;)

Day 4 (9/4): Headed up the easy shoulder route to Vee Lake (as opposed to the chute). The lake is quite beautiful, as mentioned here. We headed into Bear Lakes Basin, fully enjoying the lovely lakes and surrounds. I think we crossed a snow field to reach the NE side of Big Bear Lake, but it wasn't a big deal. We camped at Big Bear Lake, and did a day hike to Ursa and Bear Paw Lakes. On the way back to Big Bear, we hiked up to see Black Bear Lake and the pass above. There were two folks headed down and across a snow field above Black Bear Lake, but we never saw them again. Very few bugs and a little afternoon rain.
IMG_1251 (1).jpg
Day 5 (9/5): We hiked up to White Bear Lake, headed for Dancing Bear Pass. No need to cross snow fields on this side of the pass, despite how it looks in the picture below. They were easily bypassed.
IMG_1252 (1).jpg
We headed to Italy Pass, which required crossing 3-4 snow fields, one of which was quite long. None of us wore spikes, and the traversing went off without any incidents. We reached Italy Pass and headed down into Granite Park, where we camped for two nights.


Day 6 (9/6): We day tripped into Chalfant Lakes, which were very beautiful. Our campsite in Granite Park was just above the first place the trail crosses lake outlets. In retrospect, we should have headed directly North from our campsite to get into the Chalfant area, but we crossed over further down the trail instead and had some ledges to address on the way down to the lakes. Saw lots of 6-8" brookies.
IMG_1257 (1).jpg
We headed down the Chalfant outlet and made our way to the trail down to Honeymoon Lake. Had lunch at the lake, but didn't linger due to gathering clouds. The rain started on our way back to camp, and we had a couple of heavy showers in early evening that pinned us in our tents for about an hour. Skies became much clearer by nightfall, and we had some excellent views of the full moon. Unfortunately, I didn't capture them, but did get a nice shot of the sunrise where you can just barely see the setting moon. Very few bugs.
IMG_1260 (1).jpg
Day 7 (9/7): Back over Italy Pass and down to Italy Lake under clear blue skies. We crossed the large snow field on the South shore. It was calving huge pieces into the lake - probably 7-8 feet high. We crossed the outlet where indicated on the old trail (wide flat spot), and then scrambled down the trail. I had been through here once before, but didn't recall the first technical section. It was loose with big steps, so I used my hands a good bit. After a big stretch on huge granite slabs, we headed into the trees on a narrow trail. I remembered this section - it has a bushwacky feel, but is easily traversed. We ended the day at Croney's Camp again. It was still buggy, but less so as it had cooled. No smoke this time, either.

Days 8 (9/8): After breakfast under clear blue skies, we headed down to the JMT and went North to the "pass" at 9800 ft. From there, we headed West on the Bear Creek Ridge Trail and traversed off trail to camp at two lakes at 8800 ft. They were both covered with lilypads, surrounded by reeds, and about 18" deep. Not gorgeous, but we were in no rush to return to civilization. We watched the sunset from a granite peak, which was red through the lingering haze to the West. Looking toward Graveyard Peak was a bit hazy, but we didn't suffer from the smoke. No bugs at all here.

I can't help but mention the disappointment of coming across a well-established campsite earlier on the trail that had a lot of trash, an abandoned sleeping bag, and two bottles of "scent be gone". We surmised it was heavily used by deer hunters. My buddy was good enough to pack out the sleeping bag, but there was too much trash to carry. What a shame.

Day 9 (9/9): We did the short hike to Bear Creek Trailhead and had about a mile on the road back to where the car was parked (BC Cutoff Trailhead). Headed straight to Vermillion for a shower and some grub. We were pleased with the proportion of x-country to trail on this trip, and with the truly beautiful areas we were able to see.
Marnie
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Hobbes
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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by Hobbes » Mon Sep 11, 2017 3:11 am

I was also in that general area the latter part of last week. The hike up Pine creek was strenuous but not too difficult. I was impressed by the scenery, especially some of the hanging lakes in the region over the pass:

Image

At this year's meet-up, the group consensus was in favor of the Bear lakes for 2018, specifically Vee lake. Any insight as to potential camping locations or/if it could hold around 10 people would be appreciated.

As one of the UL advocates on the board, for me personally, I've found the cross over point is around 17-20 lbs. That is, for 15 lbs and under, I can get away with a MYOG beltless pack. For trips over 20lbs, I use a conventional commercial pack with an internal frame (Osprey Exos 58).

If I want to focus on longer days hiking & exploring during the summer, then it's pretty easy to get my pack weight under 15-17 lbs. I just take shorts, t-shirt, down vest, a MYOG quilt & tarp, and also go stoveless, eating only GORP and Fritos till I'm sick of it. This method works great for up to 5 days max. The alternative is warm clothes, bag, tent, stove, frying pan, multiple fishing rods + tackle, and taking decent food. I take this equipment during the shoulder seasons or if I'm taking it easy (days under 12-13 miles).

I feel like I have a pretty good system dialed in that lets me do the kinds of trips I want to do given the time & circumstances.

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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 11, 2017 12:49 pm

You are tougher than me! I cannot imagine five days without eating cooked (hot) food. I would gag on the second day of trail bars. My maximum for a no-cook trip is an overnighter. Another good reason for a 5-day limit on UL, is that the weather forecasts are only accurate for 3-5 days. You are risking it more to do a 10 day trip with your "light" option. As an extremely cold sleeper, a minimum of a 20-degree bag is essential for me. I am cold-blooded overall. My husband keeps the AC in the house on 75 and I need a sweater!

I think the no-cook option actually does not save that much weight. Ready-to-eat food weighs more than FD food. You can use an alcohol stove and add very little weight and have hot meals too. I think most who go "cook-less" do it more to avoid cooking and the time that it takes, than to save weight.

I read that a fellow did Roper's High Route in 12 days, eating ONLY trail bars. Ugh!!

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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by rlown » Mon Sep 11, 2017 1:04 pm

I fish therefore I cook.

And how hard is it to at least boil water?

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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by Lumbergh21 » Mon Sep 11, 2017 9:31 pm

I would be interested in meeting some of the fine people on this board at Vee Lake, especially since it is part of my planned hike for 2018 already.

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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by Hobbes » Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:33 am

Wandering Daisy wrote:I think the no-cook option actually does not save that much weight. Ready-to-eat food weighs more than FD food.
WD, if the thought of just eating bars is distasteful, what about cold-soaking FD meals? LOL. Yeah, part of it is simplicity, part motivation & focus, and partly bulk/weight. For instance, alcohol needs to be stored - where do you put it with a beltless pack sans pockets? Besides, I do believe the current fire restrictions include prohibitions aginst either esbit or alcohol.

Ultimately, it comes down to (available) time and interest. Lets say you have 3 days and you want to see a 60 mile stretch of trail. If you take just the bare minimum (for safety), and suck it up with respect to comfort, then you can do what you want to do without a lot of hassle. Russ, boiling water requires stove, fuel & cup. Just more stuff if you simply want to move and not hang around.

I got to do four trips this year: two in the snow (Whitney & Bishop), one to the meet-up in July, and the just concluded trip up Pine creek. Three were full gear, medium-heavy packer trips ie tent, bag, stove, etc, while the meet-up was (stoveless) UL. So, perhaps I am slowly but surely coming full circle back to the beginning. I can say that after last week, I really enjoyed lower miles and hanging out. It was my first base-camping trip (albeit just 2 nights) in years.

And yes, because fishing:

Image

As for Vee lake, all 10 attendees at this year's meet-up voted in favor of the Bear lakes, with Vee being the target. An alternative was Royce if it turns out the Bears cannot handle a group of around 10+- people. The Bear region is a great location because it can be accessed from all four corners: west from Florence, east from Pine, south from Piute and north from SHR.

The key to participation is to have a location that others can either target as a destination or swing by while on their own route.

PS No, we didn't build the kitchen - it was already constructed by the only two small spots in which to put up tents.

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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by mcgenes » Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:20 am

[quote="Hobbes"]

As one of the UL advocates on the board, for me personally, I've found the cross over point is around 17-20 lbs. That is, for 15 lbs and under, I can get away with a MYOG beltless pack. For trips over 20lbs, I use a conventional commercial pack with an internal frame (Osprey Exos 58).

My long trip pack is a 72L Osprey, so I could definitely give some thought to lightening up. Thanks for the inspiration!


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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by mcgenes » Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:22 am

Oops-the first paragraph above is a quote from Hobbes's earlier post.


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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Sep 12, 2017 10:15 am

Royce Lakes do not have great camping. The wind can be brutal and it gets very shady (and cold) early in the evenings. There is absolutely NO wind protection. There are a few built campsites, each quite a distance from the other. I doubt you can find 10 closeby campsites.

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Re: TR: Bear Lakes & Italy Pass 9/1-9/9

Post by alpinemike » Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:36 pm

I second the fact that the wind can be extremely brutal there. I spent a very restless night with Rogue there last year with easily gale force winds for hours! Needless to say I'd rather not experience that again.
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