Winter Alta & Moose Lake Snowshoe

I had a great memories of a climb of Winter Alta in 2011 so I was excited to come back and this time I ventured further to remote Moose Lake (see route on Strava here).  The view from Winter Alta is simply outstanding. Overlooking Moose Lake and the Great Western Divide, it seems as if the entire range is at your feet.  At around 10,500 feet in elevation, Moose Lake is one of the largest high alpine lakes in the region. Nestled in a shallow bench, the lake is well above tree line which provides an unobstructed view of a large portion of the Great Western Divide and Black Kaweah.  The panorama of Moose Lake and all the peaks in the background is one of the greatest in all of the High Sierra. Complete photo album here.

This area is accessed via the Pear Lake ski hut and a marked winter trail from Wolverton.  The path from Wolverton to the ski hut is challenging for a snowshoe hike with lots of elevation gain but well worth the efforts. The slopes near the hut are fairly popular with backcountry skiers, but I found few tracks beyond a couple hundred feet above the hut and no tracks beyond Winter Alta.  Prior to summiting Winter Alta, I decided to continue further along the Tablelands to Moose Lake. The lake is about 850 feet below 11,328 foot Winter Alta which apparently deters most people from visiting. The snow conditions on this day oscillated between a stable crust and deep powder, but overall not bad for efficient progress. I made my way down some moderately sleep slopes and soon found myself walking across the tundra that is a frozen Moose Lake. I crossed the lake at its center and my poles hit a solid ice platform about a foot and half underneath the top of the powder. From the far end of the lake, I admired the view down the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, the Kaweah Gap area, and the line of peaks that stretched as far as the eye could see.

I recrossed the lake at a different point and headed up for the summit of Winter Alta taking many photos and video clips along the way. Calm conditions on the summit provided an incentive to stick around and enjoy the scenery for a bit. Once I packed up, the descent went fast and I decided to come down through Pear Lake. After some moderately steep (but soft) slopes, I was on top of frozen Pear Lake, which is located in a rugged granite cirque beneath the Alta Peak massif.  After some more photography and video, I headed down the slopes to the Pear Lake ski hut and started my return to Wolverton.  This proved to be another fantastic snowshoe outing in Sequoia National Park!  I look forward to coming back and exploring further along the Tablelands in the winter, perhaps all the way to Big Bird Peak for views down to Big Bird lake and closer views of the Great Western Divide.

Mount Silliman Snowshoe Climb

Mount Silliman rises 11,188 feet with over 4,500 feet of vertical  in a short distance from Lodgepole Visitor Center in Sequoia National Park. As its position is to the west of the main concentration of peaks along or near the Sierra Crest, the summit provides an amazing vantage of the range from the Yosmite high country all the way down to the end of the Great Western Divide. The view across Kings Canyon to the Palisades is particularly impressive, along with Mount Brewer and the line of peaks from Thunder Peak to Milestone Mountain.

In the summer, a use trail apparently leaves the Twin Lakes trail and provides relatively easy access up the drainage and to the peak. In the winter, however, no such trail exists. I started off at Lodgepole along a snowshoe track that was excellent for the first 2.0 miles as the trail slowly gained elevation. A (less defined snowshoe) track continued beyond the turnoff for Silliman Creek and I was optimistic somebody had kicked steps up to the summit or at least up the basin. No such luck. At a clearing in the trees at 8,200 ft, the tracks finished near a spot where a party had snow camped. It was all deep powder and trailblazing from here up another 3,000 feet to the summit. We had driven from the Bay Area that morning resulting in a start just after noon and it was fairly warm by this point (40s) so the snow was wet and heavy with resultant post-holing even with snowshoes. Each step was heavy and travel became exceptionally arduous until 10,000 feet when a thick crust on the snow supported my snowshoes. I made my way up to a sub-peak of Silliman with an amazing view down the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River and the Alta Peak massif that I would ascend the following day.

From the subpeak I made a quick descent down into Silliman Bowl and then climbed the final slopes up to Silliman’s summit. The southern foxtail pine forest near the top is one of the best I have seen with exquisite trunk formations and positioning. I enjoyed the 360 degree view from the top taking video and many photos before beginning my descent. Going downhill through the deep snow was a pleasure and it almost felt like jumping on pillow. I took many photos of Silliman Bowl and the high meadows. After entering the forest, the goal was to get back to Lodgepole before darkness and I was just able to make it in time. This is a fantastic snowshoe climb. If you’re prepared to break trail, you’ll be rewarded with awesome views and rugged scenery.

2012 Adventure Runs Video Recap

2012 was an awesome year for me in terms of adventure runs. While I didn’t take video clips on every adventure, below are all the videos I did create this year in chronological order. It’s nice to see them all in one place as there is over an hour in aggregate total footage. For best viewing, make sure to adjust the quality setting as high as your internet connection will allow (HD is best). I’m also in the process of completing a coffee table book of the mountain photography highlights and it will be great to actually see physical copies of some of my photos.  Check back for a post recapping the year’s adventures with my favorite images and a few words before the end of the year.

Secret Beach: 

Big Bird & Deadman Canyon (June 17, 2012): 

Hyatt Lake Loop (June 24, 2012): 

Lost Coast – King Range (July 7 &8 , 2012): 

Desolation Six Summits (July 15, 2012): 

Ritter-Banner Loop (July 29, 2012): 

Ptarmigan Traverse FKT (August 16, 2012): 

Suiattle Crest 50 Mile (August 20, 2012): 

Desolation Marathon (August 25, 2012): 

Parsons Loop (September 8, 2012): 

Rae Lakes Loop & Mount Cotter via Sixty Lakes Basin (September 30, 2012): 

Sabrina Basin (October 20, 2012): 

Dusy Basin (October 20, 2012): 

Finger Lake (October 21, 2012): 

Kuna & Koip (October 28, 2012): 

Dinkey Lakes Wilderness & Three Sisters (November 3, 2012): 

Hell for Sure & Red Mountain (November 4, 2012):

Snowshoe Ideas!

A good snowpack is far from a guarantee in California and not to be taken for granted. The high elevations have already accumulated a nice base this fall and the forecast for the second half of December has the potential to provide a series of cool and wet systems through the new year.  This forecast would give any snow-sports fan a wide grin, and if it materializes, it would provide a phenomenally great start to the season.

With all the excitement, I’ve been thinking about some snowshoe adventure ideas that would be awesome to check out this winter, some of which are located below from north to south:

  • Mount Lassen, Lassen Volcanic National Park: A 20 mile roundtrip to climb this peak that seems much more aesthetic in the winter when snow covered (as opposed to a pile of volcanic pumice).
  • Castle Peak & Peter Grubb Hut: Easy access off Interstate 80 with nice views of the peaks of north Lake Tahoe.
  • Mount Rose, Mt. Rose Wilderness: Gorgeous views of the second highest point in Tahoe.
  • Pyramid Peak, Desolation Wilderness: The highest point in the Desolation Wilderness and the views looking over a snowy Lake Aloha would be amazing to see.
  • Mount Tallac, Desolation Wilderness: One of the best views of Lake Tahoe, with a great climb.
  • Freel Peak & Trimmer Peak: The highest point in Tahoe with a fantastic view of the lake.
  • Round Top, Mokelumne Wilderness: A classic snowshoe route from Carson Pass with great views of the surroudning wilderness.
  • Horse Ridge & Ostrander Hut, Yosemite National Park: I have never been to this corner of Yosemite National Park and it looks beautiful, especially in winter conditions.
  • Winter Alta, Pear Lake Hut & the Tablelands, Sequoia National Park: A visit in 2011 to the summit of Winter Alta was amazing. This time I hope to explore further along the Tablelands with a summit of Big Bird Peak and close views of the Great Western Divide.
  • Mount Williamson, John Muir Wilderness: Lots of vertical to reach the summit of the second highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the state of California. Williamson also has one of the best views of the Kaweah Range and the Great Western Divide.
  • Mount Whitney, John Muir Wilderness: It would be great to ascend the highest point in the contiguous United States in winter conditions.

Hopefully I will get to a few of these this winter!

Dinkey Lakes Wilderness & Three Sisters

The afternoon prior to the Hell for Sure Lake & Red Mountain adventure run, I decided to make a quick exploration to the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness area to the west of Courtright Reservoir. This 30,000 acre wilderness area was added to the National Wilderness Preservation system in 1984 and features numerous alpine and subalpine lakes and a granitic crest with several peaks over 10,000 feet. I decided to make a small tour of the region including Cliff Lake, Rock Lake, Second Dinkey Lake and Island Lake. The trails in this region are moderate and very runnable. I also climbed the highest point in the wilderness, Three Sisters, at 10,619 feet. This climb was not without complexity for me as deep and slippery snow on the north slopes caused me to misjudge my route and ultimately retreat off a precarious position on icy granite cliffs. After adjustment, I made my way to the summit of Three Sisters via a more circuitous but safer route. The panoramic views of the entire High Sierra to the east are breathtaking. However, since the Dinkey crest is so far removed from the High Sierra, the distant view of the mountains is diminutive compared to the close encounters I am accustomed to on my adventures immediately beneath the peaks. The whole outing was only a bit over 4 hours, but it became cold and dark for the last 4 miles of running back to the reservoir. The snow definitely enhanced the scenery and my favorites are below with more here.

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Hell for Sure Lake & Red Mountain

Fall is a beautiful time in the High Sierra and some of my most memorable experiences have come during this season. This year was no exception with many great outings. On my last adventure run in the High Sierra before the peaks became buried in snow, I explored a region of the range I have yet to see (as hard as that might be to believe) – the LeConte Divide. This often overlooked area west of the Sierra Crest features spectacular scenery and numerous opportunities for off-trail exploration. The LeConte Divide is quite rugged belying its lower elevation compared to it’s neighbors to the east. It’s also one of the more remote sections of the range and therefore solitude can easily be achieved. All of the peaks along the Leconte Divide are guarded by long approaches as some are well over 20 miles away from the nearest trailhead, and that’s just to reach the base of the peaks. These approaches are ideal for adventure running as they are fairly moderate (runnable) and are within the montane forest zone for a large portion (not much scenery to distract). Since the LeConte Divide is so remote, only a handful of peaks have names and the remainder are simply identified by their altitude. The peaks along the divide harbor dozens of gorgeous alpine lakes, tarns and meadows; quintessential Sierra scenery.

For my first trip to this region, I started out at Courtright Reservoir (which features numerous domes for quality rock climbing) and headed to Red Mountain Basin where I ascended to Hell for Sure Lake, over 15 miles from the trailhead and much of that mileage in the forest. I’m curious what is the origin and etymology of the name “Hell for Sure” since this region is simply stunning – beautiful for sure! This late in the season, I encountered substantial snow on the last few miles above 9,000 feet, but it was well worth the effort to reach the lake, which features a backdrop of the sheer north face of Mount Hutton. I continued from the lake up a steep path to Hell for Sure Pass with a perfectly framed view of Hell for Sure Lake below. After a few photos at the pas, I headed up snow slopes to the summit of Red Mountain where I encountered much post-holing along the way. Finally at the summit, I marveled at the 360 degree views including the Sierra Crest, Goddard Canyon, the LeConte Divide, and the Sierra foothills. I could see all the way to the peaks of Yosemite high country to the north and the Great Western Divide to the south. The position of the LeConte Divide to the west of the crest affords great views up and down the High Sierra. The best view of all, however, was Red Mountain Basin immediately below, with at least seven shimmering lakes tucked beneath Mount Hutton and Hell for Sure Lake being the large centerpiece. Back at Hell for Sure Lake after the descent from Red Mountain, I made a diversion to Horseshoe Lake at the foot of Mount Hutton. The route was mainly  along the shores of Hell for Sure Lake over granite slabs and patches of unconsolidated snow. Unlike Hell for Sure Lake, Horseshoe Lake is aptly named with an obvious horseshoe shape. This lake is perhaps the most stunning in a basin filled with spectacular lakes. Horseshoe Lake is situated among polished granite cliffs, clumps of trees and the north face of Mount Hutton towering directly above. I enjoyed this trip so much that it produced at least three new ideas to visit other parts of the LeConte Divide in the future, including Bench Valley and it’s numerous lakes, Mount Reinstein & Ambition Lake, and Finger Peak & Cathedral Lake. Beyond the LeConte Divide, I’m particularly interested in the upper Goddard Creek valley area and lake 10,232, one of the most remote spots in all of the Sierra with no trail accessibility for miles around.  I would also like to revisit Red Mountain basin for further exploration including an ascent of Mount Hutton and stops at Devils Punchbowl, Little Shot Lake and Big Shot Lake. Complete photo gallery here.

Kuna & Koip

At just over 13,000 feet, Kuna Peak is the third highest point in Yosemite National Park behind Mount Lyell and Mount Dana. The summit provides a spectacular view of the Yosemite high country and Ansel Adams Wilderness including the entire Cathedral Range and Ritter Range. To the south lies Mammoth Mountain and the southern High Sierra while the north features Tuolumne Meadows, the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and peaks of Northern Yosemite. The centerpiece of the view is from the rugged peaks of Banner Peak, Mount Ritter and Rodgers Peak to the “Roof of Yosemite” including Mount Lyell and Mount Maclure.  The view is not dissimilar from that achieved on Mount Dana, but Kuna is perched much closer to the Cathedral Range and Ritter Range with a direct and unobstructed view into Lyell Canyon.

On this day, several inches of new snow in the high country added to the magnificent setting, but it did not come without work. The first few miles to Mono Pass were virtually entirely snowbound  and snow continued beyond, but we were relieved to find the final approach to Parker Pass mainly snow free. The switchbacks up to Koip Peak Pass were also largely snow free and we surmised that strong winds during the preceding storm had literally blown the snow off these barren slopes. On the traverse and final climb to Koip Peak, we encountered more unconsolidated snow that proved a bit arduous. Upon reaching the summit of Koip Peak, I was amazed to be comfortably in shorts and t-shirt on a late October day with no wind to speak of. Continuing on to Kuna Peak, I encountered some more post-holing in the drifted snow, but eventually made my way to the summit and enjoyed the 360 degree panorama taking many photos. Kuna Peak is a few feet higher than Koip and features more of an unobstructed view so it’s well worth the efforts for the short out-and-back. On the way back to the trailhead, we stopped to take many photographs, including a photo session from a point with Mono Lake as the backdrop. Complete photo album here.

Parsons Loop

On a Friday afternoon Joel and I were discussing options in the Tuolumne Meadows area and I remembered looking at Ireland Lake on the map and thinking it would be a neat spot to visit. I had also viewed the Lewis Creek Basin from Vogelsang Peak and wanted to explore the many alpine lakes I saw in the basin. A high pass separates Ireland Lake from Lewis Creek Basin including some cross country travel and scrambling on the west side of the pass making for a logical loop. We could also ascend to the summit of Parsons Peak about 700 vertical feet above the pass for sweeping views of the Yosemite high country.


Starting from the trailhead at 6:40 a.m. we enjoyed a great 6.5 mile run through Lyell Canyon in the crisp morning air to the junction with the Ireland Lake Trail. We hiked up the forested slopes and then broke out into golden meadows. Cirrus made for striking photography as we ascended above the tree line and entered the tundra region surrounding picturesque Ireland Lake, which is aptly named as the terrain looks much like Ireland (save for the fact that the grass was now golden instead of green). This unique setting includes a wide expanse of golden meadows, the clear waters of Ireland Lake and a rocky backdrop of Amelia Earhart Peak and Parsons Peak. After much photography we traversed around the shores of Ireland Lake and continued up the rocky slopes toward the south ridge of Parsons Peak. The final push to the summit included some talus hopping but we were soon on top enjoying 360 degree views of the Yosemite High Country including Lyell and Maclure, Simmons Peak, Mount Florence, the Cathedral Range, Half Dome and Mount Conness. We peered down at Ireland Lake on one side and the lakes of Lewis Creek Basin on the other. The first cumulus clouds were forming in the high country enhancing the photography. We surmised that we had at least a few hours before thunderstorms would develop and this proved true as we only experienced photogenic cumulus “puffs.”


After enjoying the summit vistas, we made our way down the Talus to the pass that would grant us access into the Lewis Creek Basin. After some scrambling down the upper slopes and talus lower down we were at the first of a string of high alpine lakes we would pass through on our descent towards Bernice Lake. The Lewis Creek Basin is spectacular and we were surprised to not see evidence of human travel throughout the area. At the far end of Bernice Lake we connected with a path that took us down into the canyon where we joined with the main trail heading up to Vogelsang Pass. This is a short but moderately steep ascent to the pass with great views of the Lewis Creek Basin and Clark Range. The other side of Vogelsang Pass is a gradual descent with a great view of Vogelsang Lake, which was enhanced on this day by the presence of cumulus clouds.  The final 8.5 miles from Vogelsang Pass to the trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows are very enjoyable alpine trail running.



Ritter & Banner Loop

Mount Ritter, Banner Peak and the Minarets are collectively the centerpieces of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. With numerous lovely alpine lakes surrounding these mountains and their close proximity to Mammoth Lakes it is no wonder this region is so popular with hikers and backpackers. It had been since 2007 since I last climbed Ritter and Banner and three years since I was in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (I did a climb of Clyde Minaret in 2009) so it was time to return this past July 29th. I aimed to do an aesthetic loop of the region and tour as many of the spectacular alpine lakes as possible (and take a ton of photos), particularly timing Garnet and Thousand Island Lake in the early morning when I figured (correctly) that lighting would be ideal. Many more photos here.

Joel and I started at Agnew Meadows and took the River Trail up to an unmarked junction with a short but steep use path that ascends to Garnet Lake, a spectacular lake nestled among granite cliffs with a grand view of Mount Ritter and Banner Peak. The reflections of Ritter and Banner in the calm waters were superlative and we stopped to take many photos. We continued along the John Muir Trail to Thousand Island Lake, which featured more awesome reflections of Banner Peak. We contoured the north shore of Thousand Island Lake and then began a climb up to North Glacier Pass. The pass includes a great view of Lake Catherine and the small glacier descending to the lake between Ritter and Banner. I contoured above the lake and then scrambled up some rocks to reach the upper portion of the glacier. After traversing some hazardously loose hardpan I found myself on the glacier which was showing some blue ice. I put on crampons and ascended the icy slopes to the north face route on Mount Ritter. I was happy I brought the crampons as the steep slopes to the start of the route on Ritter would not have been possible without them. The scramble up the north face of Ritter is not very difficult and goes mostly as class 3 but it requires energy, both on ascent and descent, and it is not hard to stray off route and find more difficult and technical rock. The summit of Mount Ritter provides a wonderful vantage of the Minarets and nearby Banner Peak.


Back at Ritter-Banner Saddle I embarked on the talus slog up to Banner Peak, which features the finest view of the region’s lakes from Thousand Island Lake to Lake Ediza. Descending the south side of Ritter-Banner saddle entailed more steep and icy snow slopes and then slow travel over choss before I reached the use path heading toward Lake Ediza. Ritter and Banner tower above the meadows here and I stopped for many photographs. The backdrop of the Minarets over the clear waters of Lake Ediza is always lovely. Back on the trail, I ran most of the way back to Agnew Meadows.  The Ansel Adams wilderness did not disappoint and even surpassed expectations from my previous trips here with many memorable views. Complete photo album here.


Complete photo album here.



Rae Lakes Loop & Mount Cotter via Sixty Lakes Basin

It has been a couple years since I visited the marvelous Rae Lakes region so it was time to return. However, having run the loop straight through twice in the past (deep snow in 2009 and FKT of 7:29:50 in 2010) I thought it was time for something new and Sixty Lakes Basin was intriguing place I’ve been wanting to explore. My original plan called for summits of Mount Cotter, Painted Lady, and Mount Rixford as an out-and-back along Bubbs Creek, but this plan changed along the way with time constraints and my proclivity for aesthetic loops kicking in. Instead, after climbing Mount Cotter and completing a photography extravaganza in the Sixty Lakes Basin, I decided to finish out the loop and descended towards Woods Creek and Paradise Valley. Total time was 12h28m with the Rae Lakes Loop portion taking around 8h15m. Joel had completed the loop straight through enjoying the amazing scenery and idyllic early fall weather. We had agreed to make best efforts to finish by 5 pm in order to allow for a sane arrival time back in the bay and I was able to accomplish that finishing before 4:50 pm. Complete photo album here.

We started at 4:18 am on a clear and unseasonably warm fall night with a full moon providing extra light. With anticipation for a beautiful day ahead, we wished each other enjoyable trips. The first switchbacks up Bubbs Creek were uncomfortably warm, but fortunately the temperatures dropped into a nice running range during the ascent and I even needed my gloves past Junction Meadow to Glen Pass. I made it to Glenn pass in 3h45m, only 15 minutes slower than my FKT effort in 2010. This gave me confidence that under similar conditions I could hopefully dip under 7 hours for the entire loop. From Glen Pass, I made my way down the north side and marveled at the beauty of the Rae Lakes, magical as ever. At the middle Rae Lake, I left the trail and found a rock balcony above a small inlet and peninsula that provided a breathtaking vista, a feature I dubbed “postcard peninsula” (pictured above in the first photo).

From Rae Lakes, I ascended granite slabs to a small lake below Rae Col, the entrance to Sixty Lakes Basin, which features more of the same stunning scenery as Rae Lakes. The novelty of the peaks and lakes in this region proved especially enjoyable for me. After passing numerous lakes, I began the ascent up Mount Cotter on slabs and then talus and gravel. After a few minutes of scrambling on the final ridge line I found myself on the summit. The top of Mount Cotter features an impressive view of the the Sixty Lakes Basin on one side and Gardiner Basin’s numerous lakes on the other. Mount Clarence King towers to the north and Mount Gardiner dominates to the south. Interestingly, I hadn’t met anybody in the Sixty Lakes Basin until I was a couple hundred feet from the summit, where I passed a recent Cal graduate who was in the midst of an extended JMT trip with extensive peakbagging aspirations. It was fun hearing about his plans and pointing out peaks and features from the summit. After 25 minutes on the summit, I made my way down Cotter’s slopes and through Sixty Lakes Basin, stopping to photograph the amazing scenery. My favorite lake in the  including a long narrow lake with a palette of turquoise to deep blue set amidst granite cliffs, my favorite lake in the Basin. More photo stops and scenery gawking welcomed me back to the Rae Lakes. After nearly 300 photos, it was time to start the ~22 mile trail run back to Road’s End. Having prior experience on this trail, I knew exactly what to anticipate and ran this last stretch in under 3.5 hrs, stopping for a break at Woods Creek Bridge and the Castle Domes. Complete photo album here.

Splits:

  • Road’s End: 0:00:00 (4:18 am)
  • Sphinx Junction: 42:06
  • Junction Meadow: 1:55:09
  • Vidette Meadow: 2:33:13
  • Glen Pass: 3:45:11
  • Arrive Mount Cotter Summit: 6:45:34
  • Depart Mount Cotter Summit: 7:10:20
  • Rae Lakes (back on trail): 8:58:20
  • Woods Creek Crossing: 9:58:16
  • Road’s End: 12:28:55 (4:47 pm)