Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

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Harlen
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Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by Harlen » Fri Oct 12, 2018 1:12 pm

The “High Route” here is the classic trans-Sierra ski tour. This has long been a goal of mine, and I wanted to get a close look at the parts I've yet to travel. This route can cross the range from Kearsarge or Symmes Creek, through either Harrison - Erickson, or Junction or Shepherd Passes. It is a crossing of the high Kern Basins, and a traverse of the westernmost section of the Kings-Kern Divide.

One can begin in the west at Wolverton, passing through the Tablelands, and then up and down a great series of backcountry passes that include Horn Col, Coppermine, Triple Divide... or depending on conditions- Lion Lake Pass, TDPass, over the ridge, or down one of the headwater creeks of the Kern-Kaweah. It travels from there over Milestone Pass, and then any direction one likes through the high basins of the Kern. I learned of this High Route from my all-time favorite Sierra text- Backcountry Skiing in the High Sierra, by John Moynier.

The other goal I had was to follow a “wild gunderson route” recently documented here. He often gets himself into such wild country, and talks about such an excess of bear scat, till one just has to try to follow him- it's easier said than done! I have never been into the headwaters of either Deadman or Cloud, though they have been praised to the skies.

*Someone please clear up for me once and for all the poetic name- "The Circle of Solitude.” I am unclear as to the exact area, and meaning of this attractive name, but after this trip of mine, I have a feeling I was in that Circle. I went for the single longest stretch of Solitude yet in 30 years of Sierra travels. I left Lizzie and friends at Moose Lake, and didn't see hide nor hair of a human, or even a “gunderson” for six and a half days! What a joy. I saw a lot of wild things- though GDit- no bears! I felt I was sure to see one in such wild country, and at times, in such perfect freezing, cloudy weather for day-time bears.

I was caught in a full day of rain Tuesday, then light hail-snow of Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 3rd, and then the 4” dumping of wet snow later that same night. This gave me a slight pause as I was at Colby Lake, about to enter the high passes phase of my trip. It dawned calm and clear, and I decided to go ahead with my high route. Though it rained and hailed on me a few more times in the late afternoons, everything worked out beautifully.

All of this can be better related with the help of photo doc:
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I left from Moose Lake here, and made it farther than I planned, but not quite to Lake Josephine. I pulled up exhausted at the tiny round lake high on the west side of Glacier Ridge.

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On the first day, I saw the wonderful view of the “Big Bird” above Big Bird Lake. Here is the head and one long wing of the Bird from the edge of Tablelands.

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The lovely Deadman Canyon, with the route up Glacier Ridge to Jo Lake in the steep line of trees on the right.

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Here is the troublesome upper section of the the Glacier Ridge Crossing. Gunderson makes it sound pretty easy and I am reminded of the phrase: “Oh, easy for Leonardo!” I thrashed up through a tangle of aspen and boulders; I got stuck here, back-tracked there; left my pack to scout and couldn't find it again- idiot! Finally made it over, and Jo Lake is indeed wonderful, wild-feeling country.

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Day 2- I was in light rain from 10 AM till sunset, but everything was shiny bright, for instance, this giant downed Foxtail trunk was like a sculpture. I am standing up against it to show how big it is- about 5' DBH!

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On the route to Cloud Canyon. I down-climbed to such a strenuous degree on my way down to the valley floor that I finally let the pack roll, and it went farther than I wanted it to- should have lowered it with cord. Wild Gunderson habitat.

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Rainbows sure help one appreciate rain.

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One of the longed for beauties of Cloud Canyon is the Whaleback Ridge. I camped in the wet meadow to be sure to finally see it, and on the morning of Day 3 it was all clear. What looks like a sharp mountain is a 3 mile long ridge that stays over 11,000' for nearly 2 miles. It also has a sharp mountain look from the south.

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Colby Lake pre-storm and post-storm, note that these two photos are taken from nearly the identical location.
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Last edited by Harlen on Tue Nov 27, 2018 7:57 pm, edited 7 times in total.








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Harlen
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Part 2: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by Harlen » Fri Oct 12, 2018 1:45 pm

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The snowstorm: I awoke to pressure building on the tent walls, and it was a heavy snowfall. Next morning's landscape had changed to Santaland. I told myself that as long as it didn't continue, it would just serve to make the High Route more beautiful.

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Day 4- The path up Colby is steep but the trail made it easy. The route zig-zags up the wide talus slope in the center of the high saddle to the left. Two deer, one a fawn, were followed all the way down from the pass by a coyote before I got there. They used the trail almost the whole way.

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The 12,000' top. I was very hopeful that there would be no wind-slab or deep drifts up high- if so, I would have had to explore other plans. My favorite was 17 miles downhill to the Kern Hotsprings to warm up again.
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Back down the way I've come, Colby Lake near, and Mount Goddard far.

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I crossed the next 12,000 foot ridge just south-west from Colby Pass with considerable difficulty. Hiking solo there is no one along to tell me not to be a fool, and to find an easier way. This is on top, looking over to Triple Divide Pass- the high snowy pass at the center.

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1 above is the route down to Glacier Lake from TD Pass, and here is the deep blue lake itself.

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Camp 4 above Glacier Lake.

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Day 5. I'm home free now, as the easy path over Lion Lake Pass here could lead me all the way down and out the HSTrail if necessary.
This is the view south over LL Pass; I climbed it just to have a look. Black Kaweah in the distance, Lion Lake and Lion Rock near right.


But I was in luck- As you'll see in the next set of images, I experienced brilliant weather for the 2+ days I hiked through the snow.
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Last edited by Harlen on Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:08 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Part 3: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by Harlen » Fri Oct 12, 2018 2:38 pm

My next goal was to find the elusive Coppermine Pass. I finally located the old miner's trail over Coppermine Peak, and took it to near the summit. Below are some of the great views I enjoyed from Coppermine Peak and ridges to the east and west:

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This is the fine looking peak of the Whaleback Ridge from the south, the Palisades are seen in the distance.

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View east from Coppermine Peak, Triple Divide Peak with Mt. Whitney centered over TD Pass. At the bottom of the frame you can see a corner of the old miner's trail.

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Messing about on the ridge to Coppermine Peak.

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Coppermine Peak.


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Looking south west from Coppermine; you can see that the miner's trail is on the south-east side of the ridge, just as it crosses from the north- S.F. Kings- side over to the south- Middle Fork Kaweah River- side of the mountain. I think this is the best pass route, though in winter-spring I may try to cross over snow at the low point of the ridge on the Kings River side. (??)
Farther along the ridge, you can just make out the snowy saddle that is Elizabeth Pass; it's just left of the tail end of the Horn's shadowy ridge.

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Looking back north east, with the highest of the Great Western Divide peaks in view.

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Hulsea seemingly happy in the snow at nearly 12,000.'


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There's Whitney and Russell again. These are the boots that saved the High Route for me- I would have suffered without them.
From this high ridge I descended via Elizabeth Pass. Since the weather was holding, I decided to extend my trip and visit Tamarack Lake, Hamilton Basin, and perhaps climb one of the peaks above Kaweah Gap.
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Re: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by SweetSierra » Fri Oct 12, 2018 2:42 pm

Did you camp at the one good flat spot at Glacier Lake? It looks like it (perhaps) from your photo. Thanks for the great trip report and photos. That route over Glacier Ridge does look steep. I've been over Lion Rock, Lion Lake, over to Glacier Lake (camped there at the one and only spot) and then over Copper Mine Pass and along the high ridge path past the mine to Deadman. On another trip, we had originally planned to go over Triple Divide Pass but bad weather set in at Lion Lake.
Both of those were nine day trips and both times, once over Lion Lake Pass, we didn't see anyone for days until we were back on the HST. It looks so desolate and beautiful in the snow. I've never been to Colby Pass. Interesting that you saw the prints on the pass. Animals often follow human-made trails. A late season fawn: that may be a challenge for the little one. Maybe mother and fawn were on their way to lower elevations.

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Re: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by SweetSierra » Fri Oct 12, 2018 2:44 pm

That's a beautiful photo of the Copper Mine Pass trail. It's a great trail once you're on top.

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Part 4: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by Harlen » Fri Oct 12, 2018 3:11 pm

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At the top of Elizabeth Pass, looking back to the east.

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Day 6. Morning mist at Tamarack Lake, back into the clouds. Every afternoon the weather turned now, but the nights were cold (high 20's) and clear. I have bailed off the Wild Gunderson backcountry route onto the Elizabeth Pass trail- I must admit, the trail felt nice. I bow down to Gunderson, and his passion for scrambling about in the rocks and brush.

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While quietly waiting for the clouds to clear for a photo, these 3 deer showed up. They were 3 of the total of 10 deer seen.

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I arrived in Hamilton Basin, and camped 2 nights here. This is part of the stunning Valhalla formation called "Angel Wings." It is a truly impressive view, akin to El Capitan.


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What a lot of cliffy trails! The HS Trail is quite a route. Two golden eagles wildly chasing each other flew by against the cliff so near that I heard their wings before I saw them!

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On my 7th Day I hiked up to Kaweah Gap, past the famously beautiful Precipice Lake .


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I had the basin to myself, and It is a wonderful place. I found myself with the Led Zepellin song in my head- you know the one with line “Valhalla I am coming...,” and another: “I come from the land of the ice and the snow...” Seemed very fitting.
Speaking of all the ice and snow I hiked through- I probably would not have carried on through it over the High Route if I didn't have my La Sportiva mountain boots. I almost wore my lightweight Merrels, and if I had, instead of having wet and cold feet, which was manageable, I would have had soaking and freezing feet- which is not. I guess I could have put bread bags over my wooly socks, and gritted it out, but it would have been a trial.
I headed up to climb Eagle Scout Peak, but was foiled by the afternoon clouds. I crossed Kaweah Gap, and had very nice views of 9 Lakes Basin and the Kaweah Peaks Ridge.

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Three times I found this big red-tailed hawk perched in one of these dead trees above my camp. I had amazing luck with raptors on this trip- eagles, falcons, accipiter and soaring hawks... I also saw American dippers swimming and diving, a covey of quail, ducks, grouse, Townsend's solitaires, and a lot of the usual little songbirds who seemed to be out in large numbers. Perhaps the storm and cold reminded them to get ready for winter.

For mammals, I saw no less than 5 pika, 1 marmot, 10 deer, and 1 bushy-looking coyote very close up.
In terms of scouting out The Sierra High Route, I did pretty well; I can recognize the new sections of the route now, and I was able to look into the base of the Milestone Bowl, which is the last untravelled ground.

On the 8th day I hiked about 16 miles on the way out via the High Sierra Trail. It had been a fine trip, and I couldn't have been more pleased by the long spell of solitude
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Re: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by Flamingo » Fri Oct 12, 2018 3:24 pm

Wow, thanks for posting this great TR and excellent photos. It's thrilling to see these locations in their late-season glory with the light dusting of snow.
(Also, those rainbow pics. . . incredible.)

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Re: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by balzaccom » Fri Oct 12, 2018 5:12 pm

What a great report. Lovely, lovely photos...and a whole slew of great places to visit. Kudos!
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Re: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by sekihiker » Fri Oct 12, 2018 7:08 pm

So many great photos at a time of year we seldom see. Thanks for the report.

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Re: Solitude in Deadman and Cloud, and Scouting "The High Route"

Post by davidsheridan » Fri Oct 12, 2018 10:20 pm

Great report Harlen. Thanks for posting. I really liked your photos too, especially the first one. Looks like an amazing adventure.

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