TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

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stevet
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TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by stevet » Tue Oct 15, 2019 7:05 pm

4:30pm and finally, finally clear of the talus field. Staggering to the outlet of a tarn at 11,000’ I fill my bottle and lie in the tundra and drink, totally spent…eight hours traversing Lakes Basin. Upper Basin at last.

This by far is the most physically challenging backpack of my life. Is it age? Lack of fitness? Dehydration? Or simply just a challenging trek? Then again, maybe some of each. I knew the planned loop, a blend of the SoSHR and SHR was ambitious, but in truth I might have bit off more than I can chew.

After a half hour of rest, I head southeast to grab the JMT stopping around 6 for dinner and “bath” at the Kings River crossing. Rested yet still wiped I make my way slowly southward then hike off trail to summit the bluff southwest of the Bench Lake junction and set camp. 8pm. Though the temps stay above 40F I shiver all night, just not enough juice left to keep warm.

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Fact is I intended a challenging 10-day / 9-night backpack; a 113-mile loop with a healthy dose of cross-country travel. I got challenging, and then some. Long 10-12 hours hiking days, overheating in the near 100F temps in Kings Canyon, and the inability to swallow even the smallest bite of my bars. Not complaining. I under estimated the challenge. And after crossing Frozen Lake Pass, I needed to, and adjusted.

The plan was a loop out of Onion Valley:
  • Over Kearsarge to Center Basin
  • Over Junction, Shepherd, and Rockwell to Wright Lakes Basin
  • The Bighorn Plateau, Lake South America, then over Little Joe’s Pass to Lake Reflection
  • Down to Cedar Grove for resupply and up Copper Creek to Lower Tent Meadow
  • Over Grouse Lake Pass and Goat Crest Saddle and on to State Lakes
  • Over Gray, White, and Red to Marion Lake
  • Transect Lakes Basin to Upper Basin then on to Bench Lake
  • Over Colosseum Col and staged for the ascent of Baxter
  • Summit Baxter then down Woods Creek and over Basin Col into 60 Lakes Basin
  • Over Glen and Kearsarge, and out

What I did not plan for:
  • Little Joe’s being a 3-hour descent
  • It being nearly 100F on the stretch from Junction Meadow to Roads End, and getting so hot a cold shower couldn’t cool me
  • The stretch from Roads End to Lower Tent Meadow taking 3 hours
  • Not being able to stomach my breakfast or swallow my food bars and losing 1/3 of my planned calories

On the other hand, I did have plans should I fall behind. Once in Upper Basin the JMT is a raceway to recover 1-2 days should I need them. As it played out, I maybe didn’t so much need them, but I surely wanted them.

The loop I hiked:
  • Over Kearsarge to Center Basin
  • Over Junction, Shepherd, and Rockwell to Wright Lakes Basin
  • The Bighorn Plateau, Lake South America, then over Little Joe’s Pass to Lake Reflection
  • Down to Cedar Grove for resupply and up Copper Creek to Lower Tent Meadow
  • Over Grouse Lake Pass and Goat Crest Saddle and on to outlet of the Lower Glacier Lake
  • Over Gray, White, and Red to Marion Lake
  • Transect Lakes Basin to Upper Basin then camp near the JMT/Bench Lake junction
  • JMT over Pinchot, cross-country to the larger Twin Lake inlet, then back to the JMT to Dollar Lake
  • JMT over Glen, then over Kearsarge, and out
--------------------

8/23 – Friday

An early flight out of Albany, NY connect in Chicago to Las Vegas and a 4-ish hour drive across Death Valley arriving at the visitor center in Lone Pine with just enough time to get my permit. I really appreciate the ability to get walk up permits, only once in the last dozen or so hikes have I needed to work a Plan B. I check into my room at the Mt Whitney Hostel (they’ve upgraded their store since my last stay in 2009) and then walk a few blocks up 395 nosing around the small outfitters before buying some denatured alcohol at the hardware store. Back to the room, load and ready my pack, and then call home letting my wife know I made it and that everything is set for tomorrow’s start. Around 7 or so I cross the street for a pizza and beer dinner at the Pizza Factory and call it a day a bit before 9pm.


8/24 – Saturday

Up and showered and ready for breakfast when the Alabama Hills Café opens. One last big meal and plenty of water, time to set out. I arrive at Onion Valley, 7:30am. The lot is already full and I park along the roadside. Saddling up I shoot a “starting to hike” message on my inReach and set out.

It is already rather warm and I break sweat despite an easy pace. Kearsarge Pass makes for a reasonably easy entry and though I’m feeling the elevation reach the pass in a couple hours without much huffing and puffing.

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View from Kearsarge Pass

There are at least 20 people, 5 of us backpacking the remainder dayhiking some as far as Rae Lakes. Arriving at Bullfrog Lake just before noon I take an extended break…maybe an hour…swimming, snapping a few pictures, and down a bar, some almond butter, and a liter of water. The midpoint of today’s hike and for a first day feeling pretty good.

Arriving at the Bubbs Creek branch that flows from Center Basin I am considerably more tired and take a second longish break. I finish a 2nd bar and make note that I’ve been drinking less water than usual. Typically, I’ll force about a liter an hour, chugging on the hour if needed to empty a bottle; I’m drinking less than half that. So, I relax and nurse a liter over the next 20 minutes or so before backtracking to the faint trail that leads up to Center Basin. Arriving at Golden Bear Lake I’m dragging, pass a tent (no one’s home), continue till about ¾ of the way toward the inlet, and find a legal site above and north of the trail. I send a “camping here” message on the inReach.

The extended weather forecast is warm and clear skies. With just a few cotton balls in the sky I’ll cowboy camp so set up is minutes; inflating the neo-air the most time-consuming element. I take another swim, do laundry, and prep dinner. Dinner is the first real test of my new Caldera Cone; the setup that fits inside a 600ml Evernew pot. Brilliant. Stomach full, I feel pretty good for a nearly 14-mile first day. As the suns starts to set, I go down by the lake and try to capture some pictures…

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Golden Bear Lake

…nothing much turns out…then look about hearing voices, but see no one. A few low clouds start to settle into Center Basin then even more, and returning to camp notice heavy dewfall dampening my sleeping bag. Voices again, two people descending toward me. It is their tent I passed; they arrived yesterday and are returning from a dayhike to Junction Pass.

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Low Clouds / Fog Flowing into Center Basin

8:30, in bed with stars aglow and in minutes start drifting in and out of consciousness. I’m up twice before 10 to pee, and then a sound sleep. I wake again, wet. Not soaked, though everything dripping. My eyes adjust. Thick fog, visibility just a few feet. Drain the bladder one last time and next I know it is daylight and 6am.


8/25 – Sunday

On the trail shortly after 7. And aside from a “burning” in my left quad, feel pretty good. My last visit to Center Basin and crossing of Junction Pass was 29 years ago. There are fewer traces of trail to follow until atop the ridgeline that separates Center Basin from the main Bubbs Creek canyon, but the route is straightforward nonetheless.

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Forester Pass, current JMT route

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Junction Pass, old JMT route

Recalling that 1990 trip…

we were breaking trail in the snowfield on the north face of Junction Pass when descending toward us are two people, an 84-year-old man and his great-granddaughter. They, not us become first to cross Junction Pass in 1990. Words of wisdom from the old man, “The difference now from when I was your age…8 miles is a long day”. Those words are etched into my soul

…I too can do this for another 20 or 25 or maybe even 30 more years.

I use the short break and take some pictures then pick one of the half-dozen routes visible in the scree.

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View north from Junction Pass

Some 700’ down the slope the trail abruptly levels off, contours a mile or so navigating a number of rockslides and then exits the cirque. Last time here the descent to the Pothole had a pretty good trail, but I find no trace so pick my way through the talus then a boulder strewn slope before reaching what’s left of an old Packers Camp. From here my path heads generally south, navigating talus below the Sierra Crest until reaching the Shepherd Pass Trail.

The trail climbs gradually, then steeply toward Shepherd Pass. Halfway up I meet a guy descending. Returning from climbing Mt. Williamson, he looks like hell; a "deer in the headlights" eye-glaze and a bloody tissue in each nostril. Looking at him I say “nosebleed, that blows.” He answers, “Yeah” and stops to talk. He had stashed his pack and taken a summit bag for the final ascent, then descending couldn’t find his pack. Somewhere in the Williamson Bowl lies a green Osprey pack.

Summiting Shepherd Pass around 3pm I descend a short distance to the first crossing of Tyndall Creek and stop to water, snack, and rest. A woman is walking around the nearby lake and after a few minutes walks over to talk. She is the Tyndall Creek backcountry ranger, Kelly, out and about looking for someone’s lost iPhone. She asks where I am headed, but doesn’t ask to see my permit. “Tonight, over Rockwell Pass to Wright Lakes Basin.”

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Descending from Shepherd Pass

The trail descending west from Shepherd Pass is wondrous; the gentlest hiking and biggest views. I make my way slowly taking in the views, but also, I am tired. The push up to Rockwell Pass is not too bad, just a bit of careful routing to bypass a patch of snow. Again, big views.

Image
View to the northwest from Rockwell Pass

I make my way to the lakes below Tawny point, setting camp at the 2nd.

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Wright Lakes Basin

It’s been a 12-hour day and my whole body is tired. That said, my head seems “straighter” so maybe my fatigue is less the altitude than today just being a good workout. After dinner I don’t wait for stars, it is straight to bed. And I sleep well.


8/26 – Monday

Today marks the first real navigation of this hike. Sure, Center Basin to the Shepherd Pass Trail and then over Rockwell Pass is cross-country and though it’s been nearly 30 years I hiked it from memory. Today I hop the south ridge of Tawny Point and later over Little Joe’s Pass, both new to me.

I get another 7am start and have an easy time of the first. Reaching the south ridge looking down onto the Bighorn Plateau…

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Bighorn Plateau

There are three tents near the pond and I make out a few ant sized humans. My route is a gradual down-sloping walk to the northwest where I intersect the JMT amidst some Foxtail Pines. I love the Foxtail “groves”. Trees that dare one another to grow tallest then stand as ghosts for years after lightning strikes. For the 2.5 to 3 miles along the JMT, surprisingly, I see no one.

A short jog west to the Lake South America Trail and there sits Lake 11440. My Boy Scout Troop camped there…1973? It’s been awhile. Then we hiked a loop out of Onion Valley on our first Sierra trek that included cross-country travel. That trip included my introduction to Center Basin and Junction Pass, and after our stay at Lake 11440, Harrison Pass. Fast forward to today, this hike instead routes over Little Joe’s Pass. I purposely avoided Harrison figuring the north side was still iced in and of the alternatives Lucy’s north side would be much like Harrison’s leaving Milly’s and Little Joe’s. After reading several accounts of both I selected Little Joe’s.

North of Lake 11440 is a huge meadow with a widely dispersed herd of deer.

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Meadowlands north of Lake 11440

Then a climb I don’t recall that tops out at 12,200’. Reaching the Lake South America outlet, I look for trout. On the 1973 hike there were trout leaping up the outlet. Today, none. Has Lake South America been reclaimed for the Yellow-Legged Frog? A few more steps then time for a longish rest stop near where Chile borders Peru. I take a very cold swim, warm in the sun, and eat lunch.

Resuming, there is a short climb, and due north Harrison Pass comes into view. From this vantage point I can see Mt Genevra and the deep rounded col of Milly’s Foot Pass. I head toward Milly’s until beyond Mt Ericsson’s south ridge then make a beeline to Lucy’s Foot Path as it comes into view. Stopping at the tarn below Lucy’s I drink the last of my water and refill both bottles. The next watering stop is Lake Reflection, I’m thinking, maybe 2 hours away. (which proves optimistic)

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View south from Lucy’s Foot Pass

Scanning the ridgeline between Milly’s and Lucy’s it is not clear which tiny notch is Little Joe’s so I summit Lucy’s, get a good look at why I don’t want to go that way,

Image
Lucy’s Foot Pass

then follow the crest west. Little Joe’s avalanche chute is marked by two small cairns. It is steep and a long way down, but looks quite manageable. I set out shuffling; the most difficult thing is controlling the rate of descent. So far, so good. About halfway down the chute opens up to a section of slabs and ledges. The first couple are pretty easy, then a section of three climb downs that I’d label Class 3. Not much exposure, but a slip means a slide of 20’ or so to the next ledge. I definitely need 3 points of contact and to pick decent hand and footholds to work my way down without incident. The slab and ledge system eventually give way to talus, endless mindless talus, dark blue Lake Reflection still several hundred feet below. The lakeshore does not look hike-able so though not certain I’m making the best route choice opt to stay above the lake and contour north through the talus dropping down every favorable looking chute. At long last, just a few feet above the lake I reach a use trail, follow it to the outlet, cross in bare feet and encounter swarms of mosquitos. The west side of the outlet is granite; I scramble away from the water and settle on a wide flattish area to make camp. The mosquitos are intense until dark. I use the head net, wind shirt, wind pants, and deet my hands and ankles; quite relieved when they finally abate.

Another 12-hour day, not unreasonable, but I am moving slower/taking longer than expected. I bathe, away from the outlet creek, getting eaten alive but I need to wash away the salt and grime…I’ll sleep much better for it. Dressed, netted and bullet-proofed from the skeeters I prepared dinner. Filled the spoon and shoved the first bite right into the head net…yeah, need to remember to move it out of the way next time.
About the time I finish dinner the mosquitos abate. I’m tired, but not really ready to lie down so I sit and sing a few songs…a nice way to chill when the day is done. It would be nice to have the guitar, but for this moment singing will do. Dark closes in and stars appear. I need the flashlight to seal the bear can and put everything away. A bit after 9 I finally snuggle into my sleeping bag and lay down…thinking…so far this is bigger than expected…not too big…but more than I expected.


8/27 – Tuesday

I have a good night sleeping and am up at 6 and ready to go before 7am. But I am at Lake Reflection, and since picture taking slows as fatigue sets in, instead of heading out I walk along the granite grace way intent on getting some pictures of this lake’s glory.

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Lake Reflection

Unfortunately, it is breezy and the lake does not offer much in the way of reflections, but I encounter a group of 8 out on a Sierra Club outing intent on summiting Longley. I visit for awhile and take my leave once their breakfast is ready. 8:30am I finally head out.

The “trail” from Lake Reflection is a rough foot path, over grown in parts until the bear box at East Lake.

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East Lake

Among the many memories of my earlier visit was the pit toilet at East Lake, there no more. So, I head uphill a few hundred feet from the trail and do my business. I didn’t really expect it to still be there, but hope springs eternal.

My load lightened; I head out reaching Junction Meadow around 11am. The crossing of Bubbs Creek is just over knee high and though I need to pay attention to foot placement the crossing is a non-issue. What is an issue, and what haunts me the remainder of this hike is the heat. Deep in Kings Canyon it is hot, hot, hot and I feel as if my head will explode inside my cap. It is nearly 4 hours from Junction Meadow to Roads End and halfway there I can stand it no longer…off with the cap, my head needs to breathe even if the skin of my baldish head broils. The thermometer on my watch shows 98F, must be at least a hundred degrees down here. F..k it is hot!

At long last I reach Roads End, 3pm or so, and set about looking for a ride to Cedar Grove. An unoccupied ranger’s truck is idling in the parking lot…I stand by, and in a couple minutes two rangers approach and I ask, if they are headed to Cedar Grove, for a ride. All good, I squeeze into the back seat and we are soon on route. They want to know what changes I’ve seen in the 50 years I’ve been backpacking the Sierra and other than bear cans, more people, and permit lotteries the biggest change is the removal of pit toilets at popular locations. They drop me off outside the visitor’s center. The ranger there retrieves my resupply bucket and I set about repacking and getting ready to return to the trail.

Still suffering from the heat I ask about campground showers and am directed to the roughly ¼ mile walk to the Cedar Grove Lodge. There I buy a cold Diet Coke and shower tokens. I should have bought 10x as many tokens…the 15-minute shower didn’t begin to cool me off. Nonetheless I had a glorious, but just not glorious enough, shower. Exiting I run into a guy I met earlier along the trail. He has a car and offers me a ride back to Roads End. Score! I take a seat and wait until he finishes his shower.

He recently moved from the east coast to Bishop, home base from which he climbs. Right now, in the process of making a few bucks, he’ll be leading a group of inner-city 8th graders on a backpacking trip, if I recall correctly, somewhere in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness. He’s been out the last couple days getting familiar with his kit. I thank him for the ride and wish him well on the adventure.

Okay, it is 6:30pm, I’ve had dinner, and the sun is low and no longer broiling Copper Creek Canyon. I set out for Lower Tent Meadow my intended camp for the night. 4.5 miles and being trail, I figure I’ve maybe 2 hours ahead of me. Think again, I am pasted and finally, at 9:30, drag my butt into camp. It is everything I have left to inflate my neo air, throw my entire pack into the bear box, and climb into my sleeping bag. I lay there, shock and awe, wondering if I am too tired to sleep. Evidently not.


8/28 – Wednesday

It is well after 8 before I hit the trail. I start the day already tired. Yesterday’s heat and 20 miles still weigh on me. And more, I couldn’t stomach breakfast. The last two days it felt stuck in my throat until I stopping hiking, today I gag. Instead I eat a bar with coffee and ½ liter of water. This works better but without the breakfast I lose 20% of my daily calories. In any event, about 2 hours hiking and I reach the top off, the benchmark reading 10,347’, and set off cross-country toward Grouse Lake; arriving lakeside just before 1pm. I swim and finally the heat of yesterday washes away. Still tired but no longer hot.

The Sierra Hike Route from here is rather straightforward. Sure, this is all new to me navigation-wise, but Grouse Lake Pass and Goat Crest Saddle are easy to identify and the routing is not at all complicated. A few short sections of talus, but mostly just strolling through boulder strewn meadows that is…until Goat Crest Saddle. If I weren’t spent, the descent to the Upper Glacier Lake and then the lower Glacier Lake would both be rather straightforward talus hops. But every step is a struggle with balance and I am constantly reaching out to recover a stumble and/or steady myself.

And as final indignity, less than 100’ above the lower Glacier Lake, a patch of snow. It is late in the day, the snow is soft, and I figure I can manage the 50’ traverse without donning my micro-spikes. I do, then immediately stumble and skid 10, maybe 15 feet coming to an abrupt halt at the base of and out of the talus. Shaken and having left a chunk of elbow and a chunk of shin DNA on one or more boulders I need a couple minutes to gather my wits. By then the blood is dripping pretty good. I drop the pack, grab my 1st aid kit and layer the wounds with quartered shop towel dressings held in place with leukotape. (I later learn to my delight that shop towel does not stick to wounds, much better than gauze!)
My planned destination today was State Lakes, another 2 to 2.5 hours away. Not difficult hiking, but in my fatigued and shaken condition I decide, not today, and instead make my way to a spot near the outlet of the lower Glacier Lake and call it good.

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Lower Glacier Lake

Bandaged, I collect water and sponge off rather than swim, then set camp and prepare dinner. Settled, I let my wife know I where I am camping and that I am behind schedule. At this point I don’t know if I can recover or if I’ll need to reconfigure the remainder of my hike, but assure her that I am okay and will keep her apprised. Though a bit arduous and taking a half hour to exchange a handful of text messages the inReach works perfectly.

I’m again in bed and asleep before it goes dark.


8/29 – Thursday

I skip the prepared breakfast and again stick with a bar. My prepared breakfast is low sugar granola, whole milk powder, and protein powder. One difference this year…whey protein isolate instead of egg white protein…maybe I don’t as readily digest the whey protein? The risk in deleting the breakfasts is running out of gas. And maybe another indicator though I know not what it means, the coffee, Starbucks Via, Veranda Blend, tastes absolutely horrid. It’s been okay up till know. Something is afoot as to how I am processing my food.

Roper calls the wooded ledges above Glacier Valley “easy”. With a little scouting to find walk-down routes between the ledges, I am soon on the floor of Glacier Valley; a damp mosquito/buggy meadow area. The coolness of the morning is calming and a stark contrast to the afternoon walk down Bubbs Creek to Roads End. It takes about an hour to reach the State Lakes Trail and another hour of gradual uphill to reach the upper State Lake. Can I be thankful for my fall yesterday and resulting decision to stay at the lower Glacier Lake? The lower Glacier Lake was stunningly beautiful, the State Lakes ho hum.

The State Lakes Trail peters out so I chart due north across undulating terrain navigating minor ups and downs and maybe ½ mile out pick up good track that leads to Horseshoe Lakes. These are beautiful and ready to be fished, a dozen or more trout visible from the shoreline as I fill a bottle.

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Horseshoe Lake

I start the next section of the SHR a little anxious and a little excited. The terrain isn’t all that complex, but the hike up to Windy Ridge is absent easy markers. I do a little calculating, pace and distance, and plan to judge my location by elapsed time. I aim due north, walk the 40 minutes, turn right then head uphill. Emerging above the tree line I find myself about 100’ south of and about 50’ above the tarn at the “entrance ramp” to Gray Pass. That worked well. Here I pick up a faint track that drops to the south fork Cartridge Creek. On a granite slab at creek side it is time for a break, snack, and drink.

From here I find ramps and an occasional slab that makes for easy climbing to the tarn just below White Pass. I keep reminding myself the Sierra Club led a huge party up this route and so if it looks as if a horse could go a particular way so do I. And sure enough, I find an easy to follow trail up to White Pass.

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View north from White Pass

From here it is easy to spot Red Pass, but the path to getting there makes me pause. A huge snow field, too steep to traverse without an ice axe.

I choose to climb up and over, estimating the snowfield ends at about 12,000’. Actually 12,200’ which puts me right above a small north pointing ridge or “finger” that drops directly onto Red Pass. On the ascent from White Pass are a few brushy areas to push through that evidently snag the Grand Canyon bandana I had hanging from a loop on my hip belt.

Far below Red Pass sits in full sun a deep blue Marion Lake.

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Marion Lake

I can use a swim. The descent is straightforward including the left-most chute and I reach the lake in an hour fifteen, unfortunately for my swim the sun is down and the mosquitos are out in force. Instead I grab a couple liters of water, sponge off, cover up with my wind clothes and head net, and do laundry. For the second time on this trip I use deet.

I sit on a rock at lake shore and reflect…

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Marion Lake

Marion Lake. I’ve been here once, in 1974, with my Boy Scout Troop. That hike, a loop out of South Lake, was our 2nd adventure with cross-country travel. From Dusy Basin we crossed Knapsack and Potluck Pass, endured a thundersnow at our Lake 11676 camp, crossed Cirque Pass, Mather Pass, and finally Cartridge Pass into Lakes Basin. I fished that trip as every other dinner was Mac & Cheese and enjoyed 3 trout at our Marion Lake camp. The old JMT route down Cartridge Creek to the Middle Fork Kings River was an overgrown willow thrash and a lesson learned: that was the one and only backpacking trip where I did not bring long pants. And now, though I rarely hike in them, always have them. The dip in the Devil’s Washbowl stung my well pinstriped legs.

Back to back to back 12 hours days are doable, but definitely need to throw a zero in every now and then. I keep relearning the lesson of my “There and Back Again” High Sierra Trail hike to Mt Whitney and return via Cloud and Deadman Canyons…six days of work and one of rest…except I never include the day of rest in my itineraries. Living on the east coast, at best I get back to the Sierra once every 2-3 years and want to make the most of it. My thinking is a zero would take something away, but what if the downtime and recovery actually add something? The zero would be here at Marion Lake. Hmmm…

Lost in thought, maybe even “resting my eyes” some, I haze back into consciousness and take in the amber skies to the west beyond Cartridge Creek. Still buggy, I slip my pad and sleeping bag into the bivy. Camp set I prepare dinner. The new Caldera Cone set up is miserly with fuel. I started with 22oz. and could easily get by with 2/3 that. Stomach full, my body relaxes, for really, the first time on this hike. The load I’ve been carrying just fades away. I’ve been on edge, not sure why, perhaps this being the most ambitious solo hike I’ve attempted…more confidence as I work through the navigation and routing challenges, and feeling better than I am back on schedule.

I send my wife an inReach message to that effect and for only the second time in 6 nights go to bed after dark.


8/30 – Friday

I sleep in and set out at 8:30am. The first choice today is whether to follow the trail that leads down Cartridge Creek from Marion Lake or stay high and attack the talus slope that makes a bee line from Marion Lake to the L-shaped Lake 10632. I choose the talus. At first it is easy going then the blocks grow and my route becomes a maze filled with dead ends…up, down, back, around…I am soon regretting this choice and as soon as I find a route down, I take it. Reaching Cartridge Creek, I find the old trail, climb a bit, and am soon traversing the heart of verdant Lakes Basin.

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Lakes Basin

Time for my first and only navigation error. Rather than orient the map and shoot a bearing with my compass I scan the horizon, choose what I think should be Vennacher Needle and head off to the left of it. I wind my way up the creek emanating from the cirque above. A glance at my watch, the altimeter reads 11,580’…I should be at or above two tarns. The altimeter changes with weather induced pressure changes, and though I had zeroed it at Marion Lake and the weather has been quite stable, I shrug off the discrepancy certain I’ll reach the two tarns soon. Still far above, the ridgeline comes into view. I alter my track to aim for the 2nd notch left of what I think is Vennacher Needle, and in minutes arrive at a swimming pool sized tarn.

—expletive—

The map shows no swimming pool sized tarn in the correct cirque, but does in the cirque to the left.

—expletive—

If I am now where I think I am a 5-minute walk should reveal a sizable tarn with a peninsula protruding into its north end. And sure enough, that is what I see. Okay, back to the swimming pool. I fire up the iPhone, open the Gaia GPS app and wait for it to find a signal. The arrow indicating my location confirms it. I am at the swimming pool.

No real harm. I work my way back down to the 12,000’ level, traverse creek to creek across ½ mile of talus and resume climbing.

I let sigh of relief when I land at the two tarns and confirm my location with the Gaia app. In all I burned maybe a couple hours by taking the scenic route. Scanning the terrain ahead, talus and more talus; time for a break. I attempt to eat some Almond Butter…too dry, and then nibble a bar…too dry. I drink some, fill both bottles, and settle for some dried fruit. In the moment it doesn’t occur to me that I am probably dehydrated.

Rested, I slowly make my way up through the talus. Everything is loose and requires a good double and triple check, the talus is definitely large enough to do damage. The ascent is not particularly hard, but every move requires care. The path I choose leads me just left of Frozen Lake Pass…decision…do I contour the talus for the 50’ or so or do I scramble up the remaining 15’ of scree and walk the ridge? I choose the latter and reaching the top get a good view to the east. Directly below me are a 4’ slab then scree and more scree, then snow and then the still mostly frozen lake. I scramble over to Frozen Lake Pass and look down upon a considerably better shaded scree fill chute a long stretch of steep snow, more scree, then snow and the frozen lake. I decide to go back and avoid the steep snow.

I skid down the scree slope for a couple hundred feet then cross short section of talus to the edge of the snow, maybe a 45-degree slope and perfect for micro-spikes. I empty my shoes of scree, slip on the micro-spikes, drink some water and set out on a most pleasant descent to the frozen lake and its blue ice.

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The frozen lake

The sun softened snow gives great purchase and I move quickly. It is less than 30 minutes from the pass to the frozen lake and I am greatly disappointed when the snow ends and I look out upon “miles” of talus between me and Upper Basin.
Fact is the final talus descent is only 400’or so and maybe a mile in distance, but after the hour it takes to traverse I declare it “like Alpine Col to Goethe Lake on steroids”. In truth the blocks are not as big as those on the descent from Alpine Col and it really isn’t as difficult, but I am hot, tired, and hangry. I reach the outlet of a tarn at the edge Upper Basin, lie down and drink. This hike is hard.
After a half hour of rest, I head southeast to grab the JMT stopping around 6 for dinner and “bath” at the Kings River crossing. Rested yet still wiped I make my way slowly southward then hike off trail to summit the bluff southwest of the Bench Lake junction and set camp. 8pm. Though the temps stay above 40F I shiver all night, just not enough juice left to keep warm.


8/31 – Saturday

I wake, light-headed and ravenous. What did I eat yesterday? Maybe 1500 calories. Still I can’t do the breakfast and settle again for a bar and coffee. Another late start, 8:15am, thankfully my morning route is the JMT. At the first and what should have been an easy creek crossing I lose my balance, dance a bit around the crossing stones, and then fall backwards my butt in the water and snapping my right hiking staff while attempting to break my fall. All I can do is laugh, pick myself up, find the lower section of the hiking staff, wade the ankle-deep creek then sit down on the far bank. I wring out my shoes and remake the staff into something short, but usable. And just before setting out again, I think, maybe I should skip Mt Baxter. Pushing the thought aside I continue toward Pinchot Pass.

Unlike the short section north of the Bighorn Plateau the jog to Pinchot Pass is nearly bumper to bumper hikers and I see more people along the mile and a half walk to Lake Marjorie than I’ve seen since Kearsarge Pass. No worries though, everyone is in a good mood and enjoying yet another day of Sierra sunshine.

Image
Lake Marjorie

It's a quick two hours to Pinchot Pass and the summit is buzzing with people, most of them thru-hiking the JMT. Lots of talk of food, and MTR and VVR experiences. 3 guys about my age ask if I’ll take a picture, I agree then call out “Steelers Wheel” when the guy in the middle starts singing “stuck in the middle with you.” We get a good chuckle. He asks about the most notable thing of my hike. I answer, “Any hat is too damn hot!” To wit he responds “Menopause is a ****.” Quick. They saddle up and head out. I overhear a woman raving about Pack-It Gourmet breakfasts. I get my dinners from them, but never looked for or knew they had breakfasts other than their Jump Start Smoothies. She gives me a run down on what she and her husband brought. Given that I can’t bring myself to eat granola and milk, I’m going to have to give these a try.

A new crowd arrives at the pass and after saying hello, it is time to be on my way. I’ve got 3 miles along the JMT until starting the next cross-country segment over Colosseum Col and beyond to Mt Baxter. Figure an hour of trail and I’ll be doing it.

The time estimate is correct and I head off trail to the smaller Twin Lake then work my way along the boggy shore of it and its larger Twin. I follow the inlet creek, brushy, but easy going. I stop to refill my bottle, squat at creekside, fill, drink, refill, stand, and whoa the world starts to spin. Done, Mt Baxter will wait for another hike. I need a rest day, or at least an easy day and start making my way back toward the JMT. Pausing in the shade of some trees I drink and snack, pull out the map and explore my options.

I decide on the easiest path…simply follow the JMT. I am ready for some human interaction and my body will get a chance to recover. I inReach my wife and let her know the change of plans. I rest for about an hour, stand up, sit down, stand up, bend over, straighten up, squat, stand, until certain my head is on tight. Tonight, Dollar Lake.

It takes about 2 hours to reach the Golden Gate. I join the queue waiting to cross the bridge. People everywhere. Swimming, sunning, and the ‘campground’ is packed. I sit on the well shaded bear box to rest, and cool off. Its central location leads to ample small talk. Of the 50 or so people milling about around ½ seem to be JMT’ers the other ½ hiking the Rae Lakes Loop. Certainly an equal number of people set out from here this morning and figure most all of them fancy camping at Rae Lakes. They plus those setting out from Onion Valley. The Rae Lakes are beautiful, but they get too crowded. Hence my choice of Dollar Lake. I’ll likely have company, but expect at most a dozen people will stop there with the REAL Rae Lakes so close.

Two hours later and dragging butt I claim one of the legal sites at the north end of Dollar Lake. I set down my pack and go out for a swim. Ahhh. I almost sizzle as the heat of the day flows out of me. I needed this.

Image
Dollar Lake

Refreshed, I prepare dinner. Around 7pm two people arrive. I say they are welcome to stay. They tell me they are of a group of six, I remember, I met them just before the Golden Gate. I say they are still welcome, there are still two legal sites. They decide to stay and while I remember them all arriving, I am lights outs before they have camp set up.


9/1 – Sunday

I wake to their laughter and am fed, packed and on my way before they breakfast. I lollygag, a nice easy stroll enjoying the coolness and the low angle morning light illuminating Fin Dome, the Painted Lady, and their reflections in the Rae Lakes. It gets more beautiful with every step. I laugh and I cry, tears of joy at the quietness and unfolding beauty. The wonder and the glory of the High Sierra. These mountains have owned my heart and spirit for 50 years. Here I find peace; time with God, time with me, and release of all my stresses.

Image
The Painted Lady over Middle Rae Lake

It takes an hour to reach the isthmus. I break, do some morning business, and it’s off to Glen Pass. Been here before; 1990, 2009, 2010. The memories bring a smile as does the here and now. I share the joy of a young couple on their first backpacking trip, and another thru-hiking the JMT. I recall being given on this pass, the trail name “Blaze” as I pass people on the ascent and someone says “You must be in damn good shape.” I may be in pretty good shape now, but Blaze, if not in better shape was certainly in younger shape then than I am now.

Atop Glen Pass I offer a ride to the couple thru-hiking the JMT, their resupply is the Mt Williamson Motel. They tell me they are a day ahead of schedule and don’t have a room for tonight, and don’t want to be stranded there. I offer to drive them down and then back again to Onion Valley if they can’t find a room in Independence.

The miles pass quickly. I stop at the Kearsarge Pass junction rest a few and head on. The pack at this point weighs less than 20 pounds and I am well acclimated. And so I just go. Three hours pass to pass, and two more to Onion Valley. 3:30pm I send the inReach message that I am finished.


Reflection
  • Researching my light-headedness, nausea, inability to swallow bars and almond butter, the change in the taste of coffee, even the hat being too hot…all signs of dehydration. Need to return to the discipline of one liter per hour and will bring some flavoring along to make it easier to drink.
  • And even if it were all dehydration I am going to rethink my food plan and bring something other than granola and milk. The Pack-It Gourmet breakfasts look good as do a few Mountain House offerings.
  • I enjoy solo hiking and solitude, but not as much solitude as I had on this hike.
  • I still average around two miles per hour on trail, but off-trail my speed is at best one mile per hour. I was thinking 10 miles on the off-trail days, recalibrating to 8 miles.
  • Six days of work, one day of rest. Need to get this out of my head and into my itineraries.

Gear Notes
  • Brooks Cascadia 12 Trail Runners – awesome shoe, great foot protection, the rubber rand protects the upper from friction caused blow outs
  • Fenix LD02 mini flashlight – great little light, but the clip does not hold tight enough to a cap visor for night hiking
  • Sawyer squeeze – great flow, wonky hose bib gasket leaks if screwed onto a bottle too tightly
  • Shop towel 1st aid dressings – though not sterile they absorb well and do not adhere to wounds
Last edited by stevet on Wed Oct 23, 2019 10:40 am, edited 3 times in total.








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tie
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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by tie » Tue Oct 15, 2019 10:04 pm

Thank you for the report. Great story with a good collection of photos. Little Joe's never ends!

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tlsharb
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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by tlsharb » Wed Oct 16, 2019 8:33 am

Wow, that is one incredibly ambitious hike. Thanks for sharing, and great pics.

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acorad
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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by acorad » Wed Oct 16, 2019 11:04 am

Wow

Andy

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davidsheridan
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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by davidsheridan » Wed Oct 16, 2019 11:56 pm

Thanks for sharing, amazing route and glad that by the finish seemed lot you got what you were looking for. Although I must say, parts seemed very gruelling! Congrats!

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Bishop_Bob
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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by Bishop_Bob » Thu Oct 17, 2019 4:24 am

I struggle to get through most long trip reports if I don't have an immediate interest in the route. Not so with yours - what a gripping account! I admire your mental strength to persevere. There have been so many times recently that I've bailed while going solo because I wasn't having the "great time" I had anticipated. It seems you were at the apex of your route when things got a bit tough (heat, food intake), but you were able to stay on track.

As for your late re-route to the JMT, I think that was wise. A few years ago, I attempted the Baxter section described in the SoSHR (along with a friend), and we found it to be so sketchy that we turned back and finished on the JMT.

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stevet
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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by stevet » Thu Oct 17, 2019 6:42 am

Glad the length didn't turn you off. Regarding the Baxter SoSHR route, where did you bail? At the chute leading to the north ridge or elsewhere?

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limpingcrab
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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by limpingcrab » Thu Oct 17, 2019 7:40 pm

Ya I'd say you chose a tough route. It's like you planned for as much uphill as possible, I like it!

Thanks for sharing!

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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by sekihiker » Fri Oct 18, 2019 8:30 am

Your report had me walking along with you. Thanks for putting in the effort to make it personal. Great photos, too.

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frozenintime
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Re: TR: Sequoia-Kings Canyon Loop 8/24-9/1 Onion Valley TH

Post by frozenintime » Fri Oct 18, 2019 9:18 am

great report. i was a few days behind you on the high route section. :)

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