Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

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Mocs123
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Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by Mocs123 » Wed Mar 27, 2019 7:19 pm

I am planning a trip to the Sierras the third week of August, and have mapped out a loop using the JMT and SHR - It's pretty short - shorter than my usual trips, but I kept the days shorter to keep time for lots of talus and route finding on some of the off trail sections. Right now, I am planning to hike from the trailhead over Pine Creek Pass and camp near Elba Lake on night one. It's about 9.5 on trail, but 4K feet in elevation and I will be coming from near sea level. Day two I cross Carrol Col/Puppet Pass and down into Humphry's Basin, cross the Piute Trail and camping near Muriel Lake that night (How are the camping options here?). It looks like that is the last possible camping for a ways so that's where I will likely stop. The next day, I will cross Alpine Col into Darwin's Bench and hit the JMT highway through Evolution Valley camping somewhere there that night. On day four I continue on the JMT to the intersection with the Piute Trail which I take up the valley camping somewhere just short of Hutchinson Meadows. Day five leads me up French Canyon on the (old?) Pine Creek Trail, where I split off and take the SHR up toward Feather Pass camping in between Mariam Lake and LaSalle Lake (is there camping here??). Day six will take me over Feather Pass, through Bear Lakes Basin over White Bear Pass, and down to a camp near Lake Italy. The last day I would go up over Italy Pass and down to the trailhead.

What are your thoughts on my route? What about my possible campsites? Am I missing out on some beautiful areas or campsites? I have hiked in the Sierras twice, the JMT in 2011 and a route over Hell For Sure Pass in 2013. I have done several off trail routes in Wind River Range, including the WRHR, and done some off trail hiking in Colorado, and two off trail trips in Alaska. I am not a huge fan of exposure, and am trying to stay class 2 thus Alpine Col instead of Snow Tongue Pass.

My route is below. Thank you for all of your help!

https://caltopo.com/m/FPSH








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bobby49
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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by bobby49 » Wed Mar 27, 2019 7:46 pm

I've been over some bits and pieces of your route, but I don't see anything fundamentally wrong. Alpine Col can be difficult for those who carry too much load. If you are going to be a party of one, then you can put up a one-man tent just about anywhere. It's too bad that you can't get out of town earlier so that you can acclimatize at the trailhead better.

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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by lauralai627 » Wed Mar 27, 2019 8:49 pm

There are several camping options around Muriel but it can sometimes be crowded - my friend and I showed up there in the middle of a hailstorm and there were about six other parties there. Still, you should be able to find tent space.

I personally think that Bear Lakes basin is one of the more beautiful places in the Sierra. If you have time, I would suggest spending a night there and getting down to Vee Lake for a spectacular view of Seven Gables.

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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Mar 27, 2019 9:08 pm

Why not camp at French Lake or Steelhead Lake on Night 1? I went from Pine Creek TH to French Lake and did not think it was bad. The trail up to Pine Lake is well graded and less effort than you would think. Then go Steelhead, Star, Puppet, Puppet Pass.

Muriel Lake is absolutely stunning. There are plenty of small sandy established campsites on the peninsula just east of the outlet. The campsites up at Goethe Lake are flatter ground, but more exposed. There is some scrub timber at Muriel Lake. I have come down Alpine Col, not gone up. I found that staying fairly close to the west shore was better rock-hopping than getting too high up. Although a bit longer, west shore is easier than east shore.

I would camp in Darwin Basin, even though it is a short day, and then do a lot of exploring. Although that makes the next day longer, that day is on good trails all the way and you can go fast. There are nice campsites near the outlet of Lk 11582 and at the next lake down. You will be so close to Evolution Lake when you drop down the use-trail from Darwin Bench, that I would just run up there without your pack for a few photos.

I think camping at Merriam Lake near the outlet is superior in scenery to anything above it. Although not shown on the map, I believe the trail now goes up the southwest side of the creek from Merriam Lake. It peters out near the lake. Why just run through Bear Basin? I would rather camp in Bear Basin and explore half a day. Then go out Dancing Bear Pass to Granite Park if you cannot still go via Lake Italy because short on time. I think Granite Park is more scenic than Italy Lake. Too bad you cannot work in Royce Lakes.

Have you thought about looping from North Lake instead of Pine Creek? Muriel-Darwin-Hutchinson Meadow-Merriam Lake-Bear Basin-Granite Park via Dancing Bear-Royce Lakes-French/Steelhead-Puppet Col-North Lake (or the reverse, which would allow going down Apline Col instead of up). It may be a bit longer.

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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by Mocs123 » Thu Mar 28, 2019 4:23 am

Thank you so much for your input

@bobby49 - I should be starting out wit sub 25 pounds including food/water/bear can so not too bad.

@lauralai627 - I wouldn't have thought Muriel Lake would have been that crowded, but I guess it's really not that far from a trailhead or the trail. Is there camping around Vee Lake? From input here I may be playing around with my planned campsites some.

@Wandering Daisy - I don't see a "Lake 11582" in Darwin's Bench. Do you mean "Lake 11592 coming out of Darwin's Canyon? I'll probably stop at Merriam Lake - how is Feather Pass and White Bear Pass? The decent from White Bear Pass (west side) looks pretty sketchy. I will check out Dancing Bear Pass - I hadn't heard of it. I assume it goes from Bear Lakes Basin to Granite Park?

So you think it is easier to go south to north over Alpine Col rather than north to south. I may have to look into reversing my route.


I would rather go from North Lake, but the permits were gone on 3/5 when I tried to get them, so I got Pine Creek instead. I know walk ups may be available, so that may be an option. My original plan was to do the Southern Sierra High Route from South Lake to Whitney Portal (cutting off the last 20 miles or so - I'm not sure I would be comfortable with the final 400 on Whitney's Mountaineer Route) but permits were gone. A loop makes for easier logistics anyways.

Thank you again.

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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by SSSdave » Thu Mar 28, 2019 8:53 am

Mocs123 wrote:
Wed Mar 27, 2019 7:19 pm
...What are your thoughts on my route? What about my possible campsites? Am I missing out on some beautiful areas or campsites?...
https://caltopo.com/m/FPSH
Reads like another itinerary of many posted herein that seem to incorrectly think by hitting a long list of favorite popularized areas that they will have adequately experienced the best in those zones and the more the better. If one is an ultralight long distance trail runner, all that is fine because they are not really there for the scenery but rather miles and time. Just passing through on trails through these areas, one see little as those places are vast and the time of day is hugely important to what landscapes actually look like. A more serious seeker of High Sierra scenery and its environment would break those areas up into a few week long or so trips with layovers to explore and live a day in such areas.

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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by grampy » Thu Mar 28, 2019 9:27 am

Mocs123 -
see description of Dancing Bear Pass in the “Cross Country Passes” section of the Board Index:
http://highsierratopix.com/community/vi ... hp?t=16804

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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by Mocs123 » Thu Mar 28, 2019 9:37 am

To be honest, I had never heard of Pine Creek Trailhead, Bear Lake Basin, nor any of the real passes I will be crossing when I threw this trip together. I had originally intended to do a trip from South Lake, but the permits were gone so I quickly went into contingency finding mode, and put together a loop using elements of the JMT and Roper Route. It's only after I reserved my permits that I discovered that areas such as Granite Park and Bear Lakes Basin were some favorites. I had heard of Humphrey's Basin and (of course) Evolution Valley. I have only done two Sierra trips previously, my first, a JMT trip from Onion Valley to South Lake, and another from Cartwright Reservoir over Hell For Sure Pass - we were going to try and make out way over to Evolution Basin/Valley but had a foot of snow (late September) one night, and decided to not go any further than Martha Lake.

I really am not very knowledgeable about the Sierra and am much more familiar with Wind River Range, which I love, but with it being a relatively small range and me having done four cross country trips there the past few years, I decided I should re-visit the High Sierra this year.

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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Mar 28, 2019 11:13 am

Yes, that is the lake in Darwin Canyon. The elevation just does not show up very well on my TOPO map program so I misread it.

White Bear Pass is tricky and very steep. I missed the best route down when I did it and ended up doing a bit of "Jungle Jane" moves. The issue this year may be the snow, which if remains late, will be very steep and perhaps icy. White Bear Lake is beautiful, one of my favorite. Dancing Bear traverses from White Bear Lake to Italy Pass. Feather Pass is easy on the Mariam Lake side and has a tricky upper section on the Bear Basin side. Again I stayed too close to the drainage when I descended and got into large talus blocks. Just stay well north out of the talus.

Hike your own hike, regardless of other comments about your daily mile goals. If you are in good shape, your route is OK. My only issue with it was that I did not think you were camping at the most scenic locations. Unless you plan to fish, quickly walking through the Puppet Lake area is just fine. People who stay there usually fish (it is a very good fishing area). As for Bear Basin, nothing wrong with a quick survey of the area and then go back on another trip to spend more time. It is a great area to poke around off-trail in nooks and crannies as well as some good climbs, such as Seven Gables. I am bias, in that I really am not that impressed with Lake Italy, whereas others are. I really see dropping to Lake Italy just to go back up to Italy Pass is a bit of extra work for little reward. But if big lakes are something you really like to see, go for it.

The SHR uses Snow Tongue Pass to get between Darwin Bench and Humphreys Basin. It is technically easier than Alpine Col but I do not like it because it had very unstable loose scree on the north side when I did it. In fact the entire slope was unstable. But I did it when it was wet with snow-melt. Probably not as bad when dry. If you use Snow Tongue, then you have to traverse back to Darwin Bench and there are only a few spots to get off the upper bench. You definitely do not want to be up on Alpine Col if the weather goes bad. Once up on Snow Tongue Pass, you can quickly drop down to shelter, whereas once up on Alpine Col, you still have some slow talus to descend and there is very little shelter for some time.

All the passes on your route can be fairly easy or hard depending on finding the best route. It is hard to say but if you are a good route-finder none should be harrowing. And there is a lot of talus, so being an experienced rock-hopper helps.

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Re: Trip advice/critique - Pine Creek Trailhead Loop

Post by bobby49 » Thu Mar 28, 2019 11:58 am

This is not exactly on your route, but if you need to, you can go from Darwin Canyon over Lamarck Col, which will lead you down near North Lake. Some variation of that might take you out north toward Humphreys Basin.

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