Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR

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Harlen
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Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR

Post by Harlen » Fri Nov 08, 2019 9:11 pm

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Bearzy and me on Sky Pilot Col.

Some friends and I returned from a short trip into the Tuolumne backcountry of Yosemite NP.  We hiked in via 20 Lakes Basin on November the 2nd, and hiked out late on the 5th.  This hike took us from the dog-friendly Inyo N.F., into the dog-restricted Yosemite N.P., so Bearzy had to disappear after making the climb up to the N.P. Boundary at Sky Pilot Col.  With this trip, and the crossing of Sky Pilot Col, I have completed the SHR in pieces from Mather Pass north  The stony character of crossings like S.P.Col and Snow Tongue Pass make me wonder at the idea of racing along the whole thing with one pack at Paul- aka commonloon's pace- The whole thing in 4 or 5 days?!! Incredible.

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Here's that S.P. Col from the south, with Shepherd's Crest on the left, and one of the Cascade Lakes in the foreground. The col is in the upper left, just right of the shadow on the skyline.

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  This is a view of the final indignity at the top of the col.


The description from the book: 
Sky Pilot Col, at 11,650'... a stretch of ever-steepening talus leads up... to the final indignity, a short but steep scree slope that most hikers will find offensive.
  Roper.

It was a slog, but worth it at the top for the wonderful view off to the north, framed by rock and ice.
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Here's that fine view. I think that's Matterhorn right next to sharp, reddish Virginia Peak, and Whorl Mt. is the other big granite peak in the distance, left of Matterhorn. The dark mass of high ridge and peaks to the right of V Pk. holds the "Twin Peaks" that hang over Horse Cr. Canyon. I wonder how that would go as a ridge route- first up V Pk., and then east to Twin? Gazelle?

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Here is a close up of that ridge and Twin Peaks from down on the valley floor. Where are the summits exactly?


The northern decent from SP Col was far harder going than up the south side. We had to carefully pick our way through loose talus of all sizes for half a mile or more.  Is it a breeze in early summer- glissading down nice snow?  The snow now is rock hard, and impossible w/o crampons.  Before I move on, here are some views from our first day in 20 Lakes Basin, and the morning after.  

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Views east from our camp above Steelhead Lake.

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  Bearzy's new winter coat, with North Peak in the background.

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  Morning view of North Pk. with its 3 icy couloirs.


Okay, back to the SHR trail north toward our goal of climbing Virginia Peak.  Our real goal was just to get in to the lovely upper basin of Virginia Canyon. I think it is a really dramatic and wild area, and I've been lucky enough to see a lot of wildlife there including bear.

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 1 crow's mile down from the Col is Shepherd Lake. It had a thin skin of ice over the whole surface, but nothing that WD couldn't break through to perform her swimming, and clothes washing feats. :nod:


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The more thickly frozen lake margins with crazy patterns.

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Harlen
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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR Part 2

Post by Harlen » Fri Nov 08, 2019 9:55 pm

On the route down to Virginia Canyon, Frank and I angled our way along a beautiful blond, grassy slope, over untrammeled country and the odd deer trail.  Nice to experience such pristine conditions for so much of this section of the SHR.  There was a lot of animal sign- and live chipmunks, birdlife, and this one very friendly pika seen below:

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In Virginia Canyon we chose a camp just above the trail junction for main divide passes- "Summit Lake Pass", and "Virginia Pass."   This put us below Yosemite's legal fire level of 9,600.'   We enjoyed fires night and morning, and cooked on a grate left by packers.  The creeks were mostly frozen, and Return Creek was mostly open.  We guess the nights and early mornings must have been in the high teens-low 20's, as the water in your cup began to freeze if you left it alone for a short while.  Below is a shot of one of those frozen creeks with Virginia Peak, and its 2 satellites in the background. 

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We chose to try for the south face of the peak via a gully just to the north of Stanton Pass.  We made it up to the ridgeline, but the upper section of the gully was very loose, and we could see that the cliffs above were shattered and unstable.  I try to really limit objective hazards from our routes, and to carry on above the ridgeline into the slate-rock gullies of the south face looked too much like "rockfall roulette."  So we bailed off, and headed for our consolation route- the crossing from Stanton Pass Basin, into the basin that holds Soldier Lake, and on around in a nice circle back to our campsite. Still a great day up high.  

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  Here is Frank on our pretty low high point on the ridgeline. 


We had already packed up camp, and so we made another 5 or 6 miles down valley and up toward Lower McCabe Lake.  We stopped early again to stay in a fire-friendly camp.  The forest became more diverse as we had descended to 8,500' before branching off up toward McCabe Lakes.  For a time, there was a mix of Western white pine, Red fir, and many Hemlock trees growing with the Lodgepole.  Frank and I both really appreciate the subtle fall colors, among them here were deep red blueberry shrubs, as seen in the photo below:

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  Lower McCabe Lakeshore with weird backlighting.

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  Great reflections and some medium big rainbow trout in these lakes.

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Pleasant walking around the McCabe lakeshores.
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Upper McCabe Lake, and McCabe Saddle is the low point to the right of Shepherd's Crest.

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Beautiful high meadows below the Saddle, with the unnamed peaks of Shepherd's Crest hanging above.

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Descending from the Saddle back into the 20 Lakes Basin. Mt. Dana in the distance.

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Looking east down Lundy canyon, and way off into Nevada.
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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR, Part 3

Post by Harlen » Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:56 pm

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Down from the saddle, drinking at least a quart of frigid Hidden Lake water. *remember- never carry water.


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"Hidden," aka "Secret Lake" high up under the south side of McCabe Saddle.

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Near the shore of Secret Lake we found this confounding geology specimen for a real geologist to explain. It is full of large feldspar crystals on the orange half, and perfectly aphanitic- or "crystal-free" on the other, yet joined seemingly seamlessly together? What would explain fast and slow cooling environments together with no apparent transition? John, Bill, Mokelumne Kid, ?, ?, ?

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Another cool rock near the shore of "Secret-Hidden Lake."

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Back under spectacular North Peak, and will someone please tell me what that common low-growing red plant is? I thought "bilberry" for a long time w/o ever keying it out, but Frank says bilberry is slightly taller and woodier, like a mini blueberry bush.

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Looking back at Shepherd's Crest we see the two passes we used out and back. In this trip we described two neat circles. We made a nice small high route circle tour of the Stanton Pass and Soldier Lake Basins, and the greater circle was around the full length of Shepherd's Crest by crossing to the east of it over Sky Pilot Col, and then returning along the west side of the Crest over McCabe Saddle. We closed that circle at Hidden Lake. If we had returned along the eastern side of Saddlebag Lake, that would have made it three circles. We also explored the spectacular upper basin of Virginia Canyon.

During this fall trip we experienced perfect, calm weather throughout, and usually hiked in single shirts after the morning chill went away. We saw just a few folks on the first day in, per usual, but after that we had three days alone, and saw no one even during the our last day out. We love these fall trips, and always find wonderful scenery though the flowers and green meadows are gone.

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rightstar76
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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR

Post by rightstar76 » Sat Nov 09, 2019 4:44 am

Seeing the ice in those pictures, one word came to mind: brrr. Great trip report and pictures. It looks like you had perfect albeit cool fall weather.
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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR

Post by The Other Tom » Sat Nov 09, 2019 4:50 am

Good report and nice pics. Thanks for posting

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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR

Post by commonloon » Sat Nov 09, 2019 8:37 am

Harlen,

Love the pics! Thanks for the TR. I love that section of the SHR as well. I did a run (day hike) up there last year right before they closed Tioga pass, did SHR, Mt Conness and back thru Youngs lakes, etc. It's super cool seeing everything icing up, isn't it?

I would actually agree that the SHR definitely has some bits that you don't want to "Race" thru. Frozen Lake and Snow Tongue always get mentioned, but other bits can be a little unnerving depending on conditions IMHO. Horse Creek felt like a giant Jenga puzzle to me one time I was thru with melting snow. I got this sense, even though I wasn't seeing any rockfall, that I should be damn careful. BTW, Henry calls Sky Pilot Col, Sh!t Pilot Col. He's not fond of it. LoL.

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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Nov 09, 2019 11:43 am

I really hated Sky Pilot Col, except for me, it was the south side (going down it) that was horrible- steep hard dirt with ball-bearing layer of pebbles on top. I thought I would slip and cartwheel down the thing. On the north side, you can avoid a lot of the talus going up if you go a bit east and stay on a ridge adjacent to the talus.

Given the nice sunny days, yes, I would have jumped in a lake for a bath, perhaps not in the lake with ice. I bet Bearzy takes baths. :)

2018 fall (not this late in the year though) I did a similar trip but continued northward and came out Twin Lakes. The fall colors were really great and the days were full of sunshine and the sky so blue! Good to know there are fish in Lower McCabe Lake. I did not fish on my trip because I did not have a CA license since I blew the bank on outrageous out-of-state Wyoming license and only did a few Sierra trips.

I have seen your photos of Bearzy on winter trips without a coat- was that a new winter coat for him? How did his paws do on Sky Pilot Col?

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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR

Post by c9h13no3 » Sat Nov 09, 2019 11:24 pm

The weather is so phenomenal this November. Hopefully it starts snowing soon, but just not right now (I'm in Yosemite bagging peaks now too :))
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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR

Post by Gazelle » Sun Nov 10, 2019 9:49 am

I did the ridge between Twin peaks and Virginia last summer day 1 of Sierra Challenge. It is maybe? class 3 in a couple spots with some route finding to be had, came in Horse creek royally screwed up going up Twin peaks went up too early had to go down then traverse alot then back up. Not a recommended route to Twin peaks! Went down into Spiller canyon from Virginia on some nasty loose stuff and back over Horse creek. Yes loving this weather winter can wait in my opinion last winter was very tough for me hardest 1 in 30 years of living near Donner Summit...again in my opinion!
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Re: Sierra HR to Virginia Canyon TR, Part 3

Post by sekihiker » Mon Nov 11, 2019 7:58 pm

Harlen wrote:
Fri Nov 08, 2019 10:56 pm
Near the shore of Secret Lake we found this confounding geology specimen for a real geologist to explain. It is full of large feldspar crystals on the orange half, and perfectly aphanitic- or "crystal-free" on the other, yet joined seemingly seamlessly together? What would explain fast and slow cooling environments together with no apparent transition?
The aphanitic dike had a lower [or a similar] melting temperature than the granitic rock it intruded.


Loved your pictures and words, Ian.

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