Trip Advice: upper kern area

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wsp_scott
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Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by wsp_scott » Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:06 am

So I am in the process of planning for next summer in the Sierra. I had a great time this past summer (http://highsierratopix.com/community/vi ... =1&t=19052) but found that the Rae Lakes and Charlotte Lake were very crowded, I wasn't completely surprised, but I want more quiet like 60 Lakes Basin.

I'm flying into Vegas and renting a car, it looks like my flight will land early afternoon, so I am thinking of camping in the Alabama Hills and then pick up my permit the next day. One concern is this will not allow me to acclimate like I did this past summer, so my first day needs to be relatively easy. I had no altitude problems the past summer, maybe it was sleeping at Onion Valley for 2 nights, don't know. I also plan on doing more training than I did this past summer, so hopefully be more ready for 2500' climbs at 10000'. Also, enter/exit at the same point, no shuttle. And I'll be solo again if that matters.

So, after poking around here and looking at caltopo, I am thinking of ~8 days at the end of July/beginning of August. Basically my goal for this trip is to poke around some basins and avoid the JMT/PCT as much as possible. I saw a trip report here about off trail near Lake South America but I can't find it now (by Wandering Daisy?) and the upper Kern area looks pretty cool.

Basins that have caught my eye: Milestone, Wright Lakes, Wallace and Wales Lakes, Crabtree, Miter

My original thought was to enter at Cottonwood Lakes and explore that area a bit and then New Army pass early the next day. I saw a trip report of Miter Basin and Sky Blue Lake so I thought that would be a good 2nd night and then cross Crabtree Pass and head towards the upper Kern area. Then I read this report viewtopic.php?t=16401#p123589 about snow at the end of July and needing an ice axe and started having 2nd thoughts about this plan. I'm comfortable with a little scrambling, but I am not a climber.

Now I'm considering Kearsarge Pass as the entry/exit and still aiming for the upper Kern area. I would not mind spending a night near Kearsarge Lakes, and Golden Bear Lake looks interesting. But, I would likely miss everything but Milestone and Lake South America. This has the benefit of being a shorter route to the upper Kern area (~23 vs 31 miles according to Caltopo).

I also traced out a path on Bubbs Creek, Colby Pass, Upper Kern, Forester Pass that I later discovered is referred as the "Circle of Solitude". The main drawback there is a loop vs out and back adds potential complexity as far as making a return flight home if weather causes problems.

So any suggestions? If you were ranking the places mentioned are there any that are way better/cooler than others? And thanks for reading all of this :)


My trip reports: backpackandbeer.blogspot.com






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TurboHike
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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by TurboHike » Wed Dec 05, 2018 4:09 pm

The winter of 2016-2017 had some amazing snowfall, which impacted the summer of 2017 backpacking. This is one reason why you're seeing a trip report from July 2017 that mentions an ice axe. Who knows what this coming winter will bring? Normally I do not carry an ice axe in July.

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wsp_scott
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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by wsp_scott » Wed Dec 05, 2018 7:33 pm

Thanks, an ice axe makes more sense now
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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by wildhiker » Wed Dec 05, 2018 11:51 pm

If you want to explore lake basins off the John Muir Trail with a flexible itinerary, consider the Mono Creek area, accessed from the east side by starting at Little Lakes Valley (Rock Creek) between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes and heading west over Mono Pass. There are multiple beautiful lake basins branching off Mono Creek, some with trails and others cross-country. You could even acclimate the first day by first day-hiking a few miles up the very gentle but extremely scenic (and thus well-used) Little Lakes Valley, then go back to the car, get your pack and head up toward Mono Pass, camping less than 3 miles in (and 1000 feet up) at Ruby Lake the first night.
-Phil

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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by kursavwilage » Thu Dec 06, 2018 1:23 am

I have been through the Upper Kern Basin 4 times over the years. 3 times starting at Roads End through the East Lake area and then over Milly's Foot Pass into the Upper Kern. The first time we went from the Upper Kern into the Milestone creek area and over Milestone Pass to Colby Pass to Colby Lake and then over Avalanche Pass back out to Roads End. The second time we went down from the Upper Kern to the Kern Kaweah then through the Kaweah Basin and then out Kaweah Gap to Crescent Meadows. The third time we went to the Upper Kern and then came back over Lucy's Foot pass out to Roads End. The fourth time we went from Mineral King over Franklin Pass down into the Kern River up to the Upper Kern and then headed east to exit out Shepherd Pass. My favorite area to camp is the first lake south of the lake with the 3 northern bays. There is a great campsite at the northern end of this lake right where the northeastern creek drains into it and the lake is full of Golden Trout.
If your goal is to get into the Upper Kern Basin from the east side then a more direct route would be from Shepherd pass. Shepherd Pass is probably not as pleasant as Kearsarge Pass and probably quite difficult for the first couple of days of your trip but, it will get you into the Upper Kern more directly. Once into the Upper Kern the traveling will be less difficult and you should be able to make better time.... In 2008 the trail going north from the Kern into the Upper Kern was pretty spotty and not maintained very well, maybe because most travel on the Kern river turns east out either Wallace Creek to Mt Whitney or out toTyndall Creek....

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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by wsp_scott » Fri Dec 07, 2018 5:18 pm

At this point I think I'm focused on the Upper Kern area, but I appreciate the suggestion for the Mono Creek area, I'll add that to my list for future explorations.

I don't fish, but I appreciate the campsite suggestions. I mapped out Shepherd pass on Caltopo and remembered why I wasn't considering it. I think the 7000' climb would kill me since I'm coming from ~1000'.

Playing with Caltopo, I aiming towards entering/exiting at Kearsarge Pass and skipping Crabtree and Miter basins. I have a potential route that would allow me to potentially check out Milestone, Wallace and Wright Basins depending on weather and how much I get distracted with photography along the way. The biggest drawback is the out and back on the JMT, but if I get some solitude when I'm off the JMT, I'll be happy.
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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by maverick » Fri Dec 07, 2018 5:53 pm

If photography is high one your list, then going in via Shepherd Pass should be considered, the western side of the pass has outstanding views towards the Upper Kern Divide and Great Western Divide.
There is a lake that has great morning reflections of Mt. Jordan, and there are numerous great locations up the creek back towards Thunder Mountain, up Milestone Creek, and the Bighorn Plateau area.
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, an HST member: http://reconn.org

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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by Harlen » Fri Dec 07, 2018 10:29 pm

wsp_scott wrote:
The biggest drawback is the out and back on the JMT, but if I get some solitude when I'm off the JMT, I'll be happy.
I agree, and would advise you to avoid even more of the crowds by choosing one of the many backcountry passes along the stunning Kings-Kern Divide instead of Forester Pass. I reckon Harrison Pass is the most common as it used to be the regular route before Forester was created. I think of it as a slog through some amazing scenery, i.e., the Erickson Crags. Should be manageable with good boots and a ski pole depending on conditions. This route would point you toward some of the highlight areas you mentioned, like Milestone Basin, and make for a lovely circle into Wallace Creek, or???

One thing we have done to avoid altitude headaches is to leave early and cross Kearsarge Pass around mid-day, ending up in nice low elevation for the night at either Vidette or Junction Meadow.

You are heading into some of the very best of the southern Sierra, and it sounds like you have plenty of time to make a nice loop. Someone who knows it (WD, et al.) can tell you of the route over Shepherd and Junction Passes as another way to minimize the crowded PCT-JMT on the way back to Onion Valley. You'll be strong, and your pack will be light by then right? All the best.

carl book 103.JPG
These are some of the fine views of the Great Western Divide that Mav. is talking about, as seen from the west side of Shepherd Pass.

carl book 105.JPG
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Last edited by Harlen on Sat Dec 08, 2018 2:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Mike M.
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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by Mike M. » Sat Dec 08, 2018 12:38 am

I would not recommend Harrison Pass -- it is dicey to say the least, especially traveling south to north.

I personally enjoy Forester Pass; it's a beautiful hike. If you have never been there, I highly recommend it, even with all the traffic.

Junction Pass is not difficult but the route is not as dramatic. It is a route less traveled, for sure. Moving north to south, once above Golden Bear Lake, the old trail is easily followed. It ascends the shoulder separating Center Basin from the Bubbs Creek drainage and offers terrific views of that drainage and of Forester Pass. The summit of the pass is a sandy, broad plateau with nice views of Williamson and Tyndall. Traces of the old trail exist here but are hard to follow. You work your way SW, sliding down a steep sandy slope into a drainage near the head of Junction Peak, then encounter a rough boulder hop through this drainage. There is a trace of the old trail on the slope above this drainage but every time I've been through, I've lost it. Once through the boulder field, you'll find a lovely little oasis, where the creek bubbles to the surface and flows through a zen-like garden before tumbling steeply toward the Shepherd Pass trail. From this little oasis, work your way to the right a few yards and the old trail (or a well used track) reappears. This will take you down to a broad, gentle slope where multiple water courses spread out. A prominant packer campsite can be found in this area. The Shepherd Pass trail is visible several hundred feet below, from the edge of this broad slope. You can intersect the Shepherd Pass trail by plunging straight down the hillside or do a more moderate traverse by angling to the right (west). In early season there is often snow and ice near the top of Shepherd Pass, so be aware. The west side of the pass is gentle and broad; easy walking. It is a great place to use as a base camp for the class 2 scramble up to the summit of Mt. Tyndall.

Mike M.
Last edited by Mike M. on Fri Dec 14, 2018 12:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Trip Advice: upper kern area

Post by wsp_scott » Sat Dec 08, 2018 8:09 am

Wow, thanks for that added info. Now I'm reconsidering Shepherds Pass and I never would have thought about combining Junction and Shepherds Passes as a way of avoiding the JMT but still entering at Onion Valley. If I went over Forrester one way and Junction the other way, is there a "preferred" direction for either pass (N to S or S to N) especially considering pack weight at the beginning vs end?

Lots to think about, off to read more trip reports
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