European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

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grutman
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European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by grutman » Sat Jan 19, 2019 8:49 am

Hi guys,

I'm a geographer from Europe and having the luck to have some free days after a business trip to San Diego. I'm an avid hiker but do not have much experience on your continent, spending more time in the Alps near home.

It's my second time in the Sierra Nevada, two years ago (same business trip) I drove from LA to Lodgepole (Sequoia NP) do to the Lakes trail. It took me past Pear Lake to the upper Kaweah river (= Tablelands?). I was stopped by the snow there (plenty of snow there begin July 2017). I just had 48 hours between start and end at the trailhead but was really stunned by the beauty of the lakes and the wilderness past Pear Lake.

*Context*
This year I'll head for the Sierra Nevada again and - for the moment - I'm looking for a start from Onion Valley or Cottonwood Lakes/Pass.
I'm hoping to be at the trailhead on friday 12 July between 1 and 3 pm and should be driving off to LAX from the same trailhead somewhere on monday, leaving me with three nights and 2,5 walking days. I'm aiming for this rather southern Sierra trailheads as I want maximize my time up there. I thought about the San Jacinto or San Gabriel Mtns near LA as wel, but it doesn't seem as attractive to me.

*Ideas*
At first glance, the Kearsarge Pass looks most interesting to me (staying around the Kearsarge Lakes or trying to get to the Rhae Lakes). The only drawback to me is that the surrounding landscape is rather 'confined': not much space to go cross-country. The only option there I see is going to the southeastern bottom end of the Kersarge Lakes valley?
What about the "Siberian" area (west from Cottonwood) ? I can't find much information about this area. Is this better than Kearsarge Lakes?

*Skill level*
I'm rather good at orientation and am comfortable with class 3-4 terrain, but as I'm going solo on this trip I'll stick to class 2-3 terrain. As a result, I'm not really aiming for a summit.

*Requirements*
So in short, I'm looking for:
- 2,5 day backpacking trip
- Quick access from the south
- Loops are prefered, point-to-point is not an option
- Something like 10 miles a day is OK. E.g.: Emerald Lake -> Pear Lake -> (off-trail) Kaweah at 10.000ft -> back to Pear Lake Ranger Hut (back on trail) -> Emerald Lake - Heather Lake - Watchtower trail - Wolverton Creek - Panther Gap.
- Not too many people on the trail (I know, it's July...)
- Ideally, some easy (not in the forest) cross-country possibilities.
- No interest in fishing, but I like lakes, big mountain scenery and exploring vast terrain
- No dog, just me

Off course, my knowledge of the geography of the Sierra is rather limited. Could anyone give me some other options for a trip taking into account above criteria?

Thanks!








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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Jan 19, 2019 11:23 am

Cottonwood to Pacific Crest Trail, north to Soldier Lake, off-trail to Sky Blue Lake, return via New Army Pass, Cottonwood Lakes. I did this trip early July in a somewhat high snow year, at it was great, but New Army Pass had a snow cornice- no problem for us because we had snow climbing gear (crampons and ice axes). Cannot yet say if the trail on New Army Pass would be blocked by snow this coming year. This is something to check on later in June.

If you were to arrive mid-afternoon it would be better to reverse this route and camp in Cottonwood Lakes first night. You could then go to Soldier Lake, and day-hike to Sky Blue Lake and several other lakes along the way. Return one day via PCT and Chicken Springs Lake the third day. I would not spend time on the "Siberian Outpost". Cottonwood Lakes and Sky Blue Lake area are the two more scenic spots. You will run into a lot of PCT hikers on the trail, but they do not go into Cottonwood Lakes or Sky Blue Lake.

From Onion Valley via Kersarge Pass, Matlock Lake would be a good first night camp site. Very scenic. Second night you could go all the way to Rae Lakes, if weather were good. Take the lower trail and do a side trip to Kearsarge Lakes. One long day would bring you back out. Or first night all the way to Kearsarge (pretty difficult if you arrive later in the day). Then day-hike over Glen Pass. Again, there will be snow on passes, but this is a standard route for the PCT hikers, who go out to Onion Valley to resupply, so there should be plenty of tracks in the snow. Trekking poles would be useful, but you would not need crampons or ice axe.

The North Fork of Big Pine Creek ("First - Seventh Lakes") is stunning. Although about 30 miles north of Kearsarge (the town on 395), you quickly get into beautiful country, base camping at First, Second or Third Lake. Then you can day-hike the other lakes, including a side trip up to Sam Mack Meadow. Again, there will be lingering snow, but nothing requiring an ice axe or crampons. I think you would really like this trip.
IMG_6526_TempleC_ThirdL_edited-1.jpg
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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by TurboHike » Sat Jan 19, 2019 11:49 am

grutman,

If you decide on Kearsarge Pass, Mount Bago is class 1-2 to the top with amazing views to the south. I know you mentioned no peak bagging, but thought I'd mention it since it would allow you to get away from the usual summertime "crowds" in the Kearsarge Lakes area. You could do a loop, taking the higher route from the pass to the Charlotte Lake junction, then returning via the Bullfrog Lake trail.

Over Bishop Pass to Dusy Basin would also make for a nice 2.5 day trip if you're looking for alternatives.

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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by bobby49 » Sat Jan 19, 2019 1:21 pm

Whatever you decide on, try to make your plans in advance. Many of these trails extend into national parks and wilderness areas where there are daily quotas managed by the national park service or the forest service. For some trails, I try to book my permit reservation six months in advance, although 2 or 3 months in advance is more common. The advantage to booking early is that you have a better selection of trails before the quota is filled. The disadvantage is that snow may be impossible to predict until 2 or 3 months in advance. One thing working against you is the weekend, which is when human traffic on the trails is the highest and demand for early permit reservations is the highest.

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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by c9h13no3 » Sat Jan 19, 2019 2:19 pm

Daisy's trips are the 3 best options in my opinion, they get you into the big views quickly without a ton of hiking. But for that reason, they're also popular. Currently Cottonwood Lakes (JM39) has 1 spot left for Friday the 12th, North Fork of Big Pine Creek (JM23) has 1 spot left, and Kearsarge Pass (JM31) has plenty of spots left.
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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Jan 19, 2019 5:11 pm

It is a good idea to get a permit, so you have at least one route for sure. This may not be your first choice. Have a few of your other trips ready to go and see if you can get a "first-come" permit. I hope this explanation below is not too confusing. Others here on the forum may be able to explain it better than me.

If your reserved trip IS your first choice, then you just pick up your reserved permit and start your trip.

There are usually cancellations, right up to the day for the permit. At 11AM, the permits that had cancellations or were not picked up, are open to the first person in line at the permit station. If coming from LA, to the east side, the permit station is close to Lone Pine. The Lone Pine permit station can give permits for ALL of the Inyo NF, so all your choices can be permitted from that office.

Stop at the Lone Pine office by 11AM and if the reserved permit you have is not your fist choice, ask about first-come permits for the trip you prefer. If others are there picking up their permits, ask them if all their members showed up. If not, ask them to tell the ranger, so that the slot is freed up. Some cancelled permits allow you to walk in the same day and some are for the following day. A following day permit is not the end of the world- it allows you to camp and day hike at the entry trailhead which really helps acclimatize. You just have to go farther the day you go in.

Do not get discouraged if reserved permits are not available. Get what you can now and then check back regularly (use the Inyo NF web site). Some people call ahead to cancel and those will show up again on the web site.

If all fails on the permits, you can actually have a nice trip simply by camping near the trailheads (or even staying in a motel in Lone Pine) and day-hiking. There are plenty of campgrounds in the area, plus ask where one can simply camp along the road (it is called "dispersed camping"). The east side trailheads get you into good scenery very quickly.

Check availability of permits from the South Lake, North Lake and Sabrina Lake trailheads. More permits are available on these so you may be able to get one. All three have great 2-3 day trips. The extra driving to get to these is only an hour more than getting to Cottonwood or Onion Valley (Kearsarge).

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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by c9h13no3 » Sat Jan 19, 2019 5:39 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Sat Jan 19, 2019 5:11 pm
Stop at the Lone Pine office by 11AM and if the reserved permit you have is not your fist choice, ask about first-come permits for the trip you prefer.
You'll want to stop by a little earlier, since there's usually a line and you don't want the permit you have reserved getting released to the public at 11AM. ;) Go once as soon as they open, because sitting in line sucks. And then go again at 11 if you want to try for a FCFS permit for a different trip.

But yes, having a backup plan is a great choice either way, as fires, snow, bridges going out, or bad weather can make your original trip a bad idea. And yeah, the Inyo NF kinda sucks for permits, but they're not as bad as national parks (lol fax machines, wtf Yosemite).
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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by davidsheridan » Sun Jan 20, 2019 12:28 pm

Wandering Daisy's advice is really good. You will love the Eastern Sierra. The East side is spectacular and dramatic.

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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by papercup » Fri Feb 15, 2019 4:53 pm

Lots of good advice. I agree with Daisy that I'd choose one of your other options over the Siberian Outpost, but I'll give you a little background on it anyway so that you've got the information. I'm also just going to post a few photos of some of the areas you're looking at; maybe you'll see something that inspires you one way or another.

The Siberian Outpost is a giant, fairly flat meadow ringed by mountains. The scale of the place is the major draw, and it certainly does provide opportunities for easy cross country wandering. Early in the season, right as the snow is melting, seasonal creeks thread through it and it is green and beautiful. I am told that this period only lasts for a brief time before it dries up, turns brown, and loses some of its appeal. I think it is beautiful but it is probably less stunning than some of the other options you're looking at.

Here is the outpost:

Image

Image

This is close to Daisy's described route involving the Army Passes and Soldier and Sky Blue Lakes. Here's Lower Soldier:

Image

Same general area:

Image

With respect to Kearsarge, while there will be some crowds on the trail, it is a good option that gets very beautiful very quickly. Mount Bago is indeed a great off-trail excursion. You could also climb Mount Gould -- it's a straight shot up the ridge from the pass, very easy navigation, and only a short tricky bit at the very top.

This is taken from the north side of the valley above Kearsarge Lakes, looking south:

Image

This is from most of the way up Mount Gould, looking south. Kearsarge pass is on the ridgeline.

Image

Mount Bago summit:

Image

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Re: European newbie needing trail advice (2,5 days)

Post by sekihiker » Sat Feb 16, 2019 2:05 pm

The Dinkey Lakes Wilderness is a small area of great beauty with many lakes both on and off trail. The trailhead is about eight hours north of San Diego near the west shore of Courtright Reservoir. A hike of less than seven miles from the Cliff Lake Trailhead (37°06'22.2"N 118°59'14.7"W) takes you into the heart of this "pocket" wilderness at Second Dinkey Lake. For a trip report from a June trip during a very snowy year, visit: http://www.sierrahiker.com/DinkeyLakes/index.html
It's unlikely that you will encounter much snow in mid-July. Since you will be visiting on the weekend, you will probably be running into other hikers. But, it's not a holiday weekend, so you should be able to find some solitude with very little effort.

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