An Onion Valley to South Lake trip has been on my list for a number of years. The route largely follows the JMT on arguably one of the most scenic stretches of the trail and includes Pinchot Pass and Mather Pass (and Glen Pass if all trail is taken). The trip is 65 miles all on trail, but I cut off 5 miles by taking Gould Pass over the crest directly into the Rae Lakes basin instead of Kearsarge Pass and Glen Pass. While the off-trail route was shorter, it did not save much time (probably added time) and certainly required more energy. Gould Pass is rated at class 2, but it’s arduous travel beyond Golden Trout Lake. On top of that I made some small route finding errors that cumulatively cost time and energy. Once at Gould Pass, it’s not a cake walk descending into the Rae Lakes basin either. First, there is a steep and loose gully to negotiate and then a lot of cumbersome boulder hopping through an old glacier moraine down to Dragon Lake. From Dragon Lake, a faint use trail heads down to beautiful Rae Lakes where I was excited to finally hit a trail. I don’t regret taking this route with stunning views from Dragon Lake and one of the best photography angles I have seen of Rae Lakes, but next time I will likely utilize Kearsarge Pass and Glen Pass to save that energy for all the running that follows on the JMT.
It’s hard to resist not taking a lot of photos and enjoying the spectacular scenery at Rae Lakes, one of the my favorite spots in all of the High Sierra. Once I finally exited the basin I made good progress down Woods Creek and the climb to Pinchot Pass. This was my first time up Pinchot Pass and it’s a long, but gradual climb. From Pinchot Pass I continued toward Upper Basin and the final slog up to Mather Pass. At Mather Pass I enjoyed the beautiful view of the Palisades and then made the descent to Palisade Lakes. From these lakes, I had initially planned to scramble up to Palisade Basin and cross over into Dusy Basin via Thunderbolt Col and Potluck Pass, but extensive off-trail travel no longer seemed appealing so I continued down to the Middle Fork of the Kings River. This was a long way on trail and although I was moving fine, it still took a long time. By the time I got to the final climb up to Bishop Pass I was growing tired and as the sun set over Dusy Basin my energy levels had sunk. After hydrating and eating I eventually I made it up to Bishop Pass and down to the South Lake trail head. It was close to 11 pm when I arrived; 18 hours after starting. A “head down” approach could probably yield a time of under 14 hours for the route, but in all the times I’ve visited Rae Lakes, I still can’t keep my head down! This is a classic segment of the JMT and I will definitely return. Next time I will do Kearsarge Pass and pick up the JMT at Charlotte Lake. I will also aim to use the cross-country route to Dusy Basin and Bishop Pass via Thunderbolt Col and Potluck Pass. Either way you slice it (trail or cross-country variations), this is a challenging route for a single day adventure run, but well worth the efforts with the amazing scenery.
I joined Joel for a two day fastpacking adventure to one of the most remote and incredible regions in the High Sierra. The route included Mount Reinstein, Mount Goddard, Ionian Basin, Goddard Creek, Finger Basin, and Cathedral Lake. We accessed from the westside via Courtright Reservoir/Maxson Trailhead which entailed many trail miles. On the way in, we approached via Guest Lake and Blackcap Pass (easy class 3). Beyond the pass, we traversed through gorgeous Lightning Corral Meadow with streams, tarns, wildflowers and views to the White Divide including Mount Reinstein and Finger Peak. We ascended Mount Reinstein via its easy class 3 southwest slopes. Reinstein provides a fine vantage including Goddard Canyon, the White Divide, Martha Lake, Ambition Lake, and Lake 10,232. After enjoying the awesome view from Reinstein, we descended class 3 slopes on its northeast side and skirted an extremely loose chute to end up near Reinstein Pass. From there, I continued on to Martha Lake and Mount Goddard via its west chute and southwest slopes. This climb was striaghtforward and proved to be a good workout with 2,600+ gain and inspiring views the entire way. As I had remembered from my climb of Goddard in 2007, the summit’s position west of the crest provides a panorama of the high Sierra that is simply spectacular and among the best.
Descending off Goddard I passed through desolate Ionian Basin with it’s numerous lakes. Travel through the basin is not technically difficult, but tedious with numerous impediments. After a tour through Ionian Basin, I continued down to Goddard Creek Canyon and Lake 10,232. The waterfalls on the granite slopes were amazing. I must have been distracted by these falls as I descended a bit too far into the drainage where there is a deep chasm where the water flows into Lake 10,232. Fortunately, I was able to climb out of the chasm without too much trouble and complete the descent to Lake 10,232. The lake was quite mosquito infested, although still beautiful. This is impressively remote country with essentially no evidence of human impact. I wonder how many make it into this remote canyon each year. The following morning my expectations were blown away on our ascent through gorgeous Finger Basin, which contains a chain of spectacular alpine lakes that reflect the rugged granite walls of Finger Peak. We made our way up the basin taking many photos and ultimately arrived at Finger Col, an improbable window in an otherwise solid cliff band. Descending from Finger Col is tedious on massive talus blocks but we we arrived at Cathedral Lake in due course, another highlight spot of the loop. From Cathedral Lake, the most straightforward route to Portal Lake is to head north to Chapel Lake and descend easy slopes to a use path heading to Pear Lake. We had initially tried to descend directly to Portal Lake from Midway Lake but found the down climbing tricky without seeing the route from below. After Portal Lake, we began a long trip back to Courtright Reservoir. After being ambushed by mosquitoes in the upper part of the canyon, the bugs tapered off and the miles clicked off quickly. Overall, a great fastpacking experience and I’m already looking forward to more. The photos below are some of my favorites from the trip. Route on Strava here(missing last 10 miles).
Little Lakes Valley (aka rock Creek) is one of the easiest spots to access the high country in all of the Sierra. With the Mosquito Flat trailhead over 10,000 feet, one is literally a few minutes walk away from incredible scenery. The Valley is aptly named with a chain of spectacular alpine lakes. The centerpiece feature of the region is Bear Creek Spire with its renowned north arete creating a spectacular backdrop in the lakes and often reflecting in the early morning light (which I have experienced a couple times in the past on climbs of Bear Creek Spire). The Sierra crest at Mono Pass is only a few miles up a smooth, well-maintained trail and views broaden as one ascends toward the pass, including Ruby Lake, Mount Dade, Mount Abott, and Mount Mills. In my opinion, this cluster of peaks is one of the apexes of the Sierra crest. It’s no wonder this is a very popular trailhead. On this day, we only had time for a quick morning trip due to weather rolling in and obligations so I made a quick jaunt beyond Mono Pass to Mount Starr, which is an awesome viewpoint of the region. To the north is a great view of Pioneer Basin, Red Slate Mountain and Red and White Mountain. To the south all of the lakes in Little Lakes Valley are visible along with this rugged section of the Sierra crest to Bear Creek Spire. Beyond Bear Creek Spire, Glacier Divide and Mount Humpreheys can be seen on the horizon. After coming of Mount Starr I toured Ruby Lake and traveled cross country to Long Lake and Chickenfoot Lake, passing through some unnamed lakes along the way.
Sky Haven is not particularly high nor is the route aesthetic, but its perch across the North Fork Big Pine Creek provides one of the most outstanding views in all of the High Sierra. The breathtaking panorama includes the entire Palisade Range with venerable fourteeners Split Mountain, Middle Palisade, Mount Sill and North Palisade all in view. At the center is the largest glacier in the Sierra Nevada Range, the Palisade Glacier, with its impressive cirque of rock and gleaming snow captivating attention. Three additional fourtneeners with less than 300 feet of prominence join Sill and North Palisade to form this cirque and include Thunderbolt Peak, Starlight Peak and Polemonium Peak. In front of the jagged peaks lies the entire chain of lakes composing the Big Pine Lakes basin, including First through Seventh lakes along with Black Lake, Summit Lake, and Sam Mack Lake. A truly amazing and inspiring view!
The shortest and easiest route to reach Sky Haven is via South Lake via the pipeline and then an ascent to Green Lake. Beyond Green Lake is a spectacular high tundra-like pass. Descend from this pass to a natural spring and then begin a cross country scramble through boulders up to the ridge. For those unwilling to engage in more technical scrambling and the effort it entails, Point 12,688 ft along the ridge provides essentially the same view as the true summit of Sky Haven. In order to reach the true summit, travel to the east through quite a bit of tedious class 3 scrambling to the true summit at 12,860 ft. Sky Haven can also be reached via the North Fork Big Pine Trailhead via a significantly longer approach with more elevation gain (albeit nontechnical). After enjoying the view from Sky Haven I returned to Point 12,688 where I met Erica. After long admiration of the amazing, I continued along the ridge crest to a small pass near Cloudripper. There is spectacular scenery along the entire route linking Sky Haven to Cloudripper, including close views of desolate Thunder and Lightning Lake. From the pass a straightforward climb leads to the base of Cloudripper and up its final summit block to the 13,525 foot summit. Cloudripper also possesses an amazing view, especially into the South Lake area and points north including Mount Darwin and Mount Goddard. Vagabond Peak was next, but it was more of an obstacle on the way out. I enjoyed the view from Vagabond for a few minutes and then continued down using an arduous descent through boulders down to Green Lake. I figure if I had simply continued along the ridge back to the tundra pass where the trail was located it might have only taken a few minutes longer but would have been more pleasant. I will definitely be returning to Sky Haven in the future, perhaps to view sunrise from this remarkable vantage!
Rodgers Peak first caught my eye from the summit of Mount Dana with its sharp and rugged profile. Despite rising 12,978 feet, the peak is much less known and climbed than its neighbors to the south (Ritter & Banner) and north (Lyell & Maclure), most likely due to its remote setting. However, the view from Rodgers’ summit is perhaps the best of bunch due to it’s central position between the Ritter Range and Cathedral Range. The trek to reach the summit via the shortest route is nearly 13 miles via Silver Lake. The trail miles at the beginning through Angew Lake and Gem Lake are pretty enough although the human infrastructure (tram lines, dams, etc.) is not my cup of tea. Moving past the last dam at Waugh Lake I started to feel like I was finally entering the wilderness with Lyell and Rodgers forming a snowy backdrop at the head of the valley. After a short walk on the John Muir Trail with views of Davis Peak and Banner Peak, I turned onto the Marie Lakes trail and shortly entered a meadow with stunning scenery. A stream flows through these meadows with cascading pools that have amazing turquoise waters and panoramas of Blacktop Peak and newly named Mount Andrea Lawrence across the basin. On January 13, 2013, President Obama signed into law the Mount Andrea Lawrence Designation act of 2011, naming peak 12,240 near Donahue Pass after the famed conservationist of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains (and two-time Olympic gold medalist in slalom and giant slalom at the 1952 Oslo Games).
Beyond these meadows, snow cover became more prevalent and I traveled cross country through snow and granite slabs to lower Marie Lake, which was still 50% frozen. Beyond the lowest Marie Lake it was primarily a snow climb to the middle and upper lakes with some steep and hard sections in the morning hours. I was happy I brought crampons and ice axe for the early season climb. For the final climb up Rodgers, I chose a loose chute on the north face that made for a much better descent route than ascent. In both cases caution must be taken to avoid high rockfall danger. Once clear of the chute, the final few hundred feet of vertical to the summit is a talus hop. Back at Marie Lakes and the meadows, I enjoyed the beautiful scenery once more and then returned to the JMT. Instead of going back the same route via Waugh Lake, I decided to take the JMT over Island Pass and to Thousand Island Lake. This proved to be a great decision with spectacular vistas of one of my favorite corners of the High Sierra in excellent late afternoon light for photography. Beyond Thousand Island Lake, the remainder of the trip back to Silver Lake was largely uneventful besides refreshing my memory of the rocky and arduous trail descent to Agnew Lake via Clark Lakes/Spooky Meadow. All in all an awesome day in the Sierra! Strava route here.
As always, I have many great ideas for adventure runs in the Sierra. Listed below are twenty potential trips organized from South to North. Most of these ideas are rather obscure, but the high Sierra is filled with hidden gems and I expect all of these will not be lacking in outstanding scenery and route quality. Hopefully I’ll get to several ideas this summer! All photos by me from last year’s adventures.
Triple Divide & Glacier Ridge Loop via Wolverton:I’ve scoped out a big loop with big views. The route starts with the Pear Lake Trail up to the Tablelands and Big Bird Peak followed by a high traverse to Coal Mine Pass and across granite slabs to Glacier Ridge. From Glacier Ridge, another crossing of the granite slabs leads to Lion Lake Pass and a scamble of Triple Divide Peak. The descent is through Lion Lake and Tamarack Lake, ultimately down to the High Sierra Trail. I described the loop in one direction although it might make more sense to do the run reverse with the High Sierra Trail portion first thing pre-dawn.
Tyndall & Williamson: Double the fun for these two fourteeners via Shepherd’s Pass and Williamson Bowl.
Mount Rixford, Dragon Peak & University Peak:These all look like fun peaks to ascend. Mount Rixford, with its position west of the crest, is a particularly good viewpoint. Dragon Peak looks impressively rugged from the Rae lakes Basin.
Arrow Peak and Bench Lake: An adventure via Taboose Pass that has been on the list for many years, but I haven’t made it out yet to see the classic Sierra view of Arrow Peak from Bench Lake.
Observation Peak and Amphitheater Lake: A remote part of the range also accessed via Taboose Pass. Observation Peak is apparently aptly named as it is a great spot to observe the Palisades.
Josephine Lake:Rarely visited lake tucked in below Glacier Ridge with views to Mount Brewer, South Guard, and North Guard entailing a steep scramble from Cloud Canyon.
Split Mountain: Another fourteener on the list.
Palisade Circumnavigation & Palisade Basin:A great route around the most rugged and alpine region of the High Sierra with lots of arduous talus travel.
Sky Haven & Cloudripper: Just for the tremendous views of Palisades and hopefully an overnight stay for sunrise. Access via South Lake.
Mount Reinstein, Lake 10,232 and Goddard Creek Valley:This loop comes in around 50 miles and looks stunning, passing through some of the most remote and wild terrain in the Sierra.
Ionian Basin, Scylla & Hansen: Accessed via Sabrina Basin, this region is near Muir Pass and the JMT, but far away from the beaten path and features spectacular peaks and many high lakes amid one of the most rugged and strikingly desolate settings in the High Sierra.
Charybdis & Black Giant:Two more peak in the Ionian Basin. Perhaps I will combine climbs of these peaks with objectives described immediately above and make it a single night fastpacking outing.
Bench Valley:Another western approach to the LeConte Divide, featuring a string of remote high alpine lakes off-trail.
Evolution Loop: In order to lower the FKT on this 55 mile horseshoe loop, it looks I’m going to have to curtail my photography substantially from the 300+ photos I took last time. Last time I did the horseshoe loop from north to south, but I’m wondering if south to north is actually faster. The argument for south to north is that most of the steep climbing is completed earlier rather than later, which may work better for me as I’ll be able to attack the long and at times steep climb out Pate Valley to Muir Pass early in the route. Despite it being a long uphill slog from the JMT junction to Piute Pass, it’s fairly gradual and I think most of it is runnable for me if I’m feeling good at that point in the run, whereas the climb from Pate Valley to Bishop Pass is too steep for any running late in the run. I also like the idea of running down through Evolution Basin and Valley. Finally, the South Lake trailhead is also marginally higher by about 500 feet. I guess I’ll have to find out if south to north is faster!
Volcanic Ridge: Easily the best view of the Minarets and another candidate for an overnight bivy to view sunrise and early morning light. Access via Devils Postpile and fantastic scenery including Minaret Lake, Cecile Lake, and Iceberg Lake.
Rodgers Peak: Accessed via Silver Lake, this is a fairly remote major peak in the region and looks awesome from many of the surrounding mountains, therefore spurring interest.
Northern Yosemite 50:Classic loop route all on trails from Twin Lakes, including the Benson Lake riviera, a close view of Matterhorn Peak and Sawtooth Ridge, glacially sculpted Matterhorn Canyon, and the lovely Peeler Lake and Smedberg Lake. I first ran this route in 2011, documented here. The complete loop is close to 50 miles, although a short cut via Ice Lakes Pass (off-trail) would shave off some miles and elevation gain to Mule Pass.
Stubblefield Canyon and Stubblefield Lake: Remote spot in Northern Yosemite for some fun explorations.
Cherry Canyon and Boundary Lake: In Emigrant Wilderness, this area is characterized by smooth granite and clear lakes. A good route for earlier in the season when snow covers higher terrain.
Desolation Seven Summits:The same trip as last year, with the exception of taking the trail to Gilmore Lake from Dick’s Pass (instead of the off-trail segment on the ridge) and including Mount Ralston on the way out. With proper hydration and route knowledge I imagine this loop can be done in under 10 hours without too much trouble.
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.
Finger Lake is a Sierra gem beneath the towering walls of Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak. The aptly named lake is flanked by granite cliffs and features a glacial turquoise color emanating glacial remnants above. The route to Finger Lake starts at the Big Pine Creek Trailhead and follows up the South Fork Big Pine Creek. The first part is a high desert with sage and even cactus. There are clumps of aspens near the stream that on this day were brilliantly yellow. At the headwall of the South Fork, the trail switchbacks beneath an imposing cliffs and at the top of the climb it is as if you enter a new world of peaks and alpine vegetation. A small valley is crossed with a junction for Willow Lake before more switchbacks resume up to gorgeous Brainerd Lake with its amphitheater-like setting. From Brainerd Lake, the way becomes a loosely defined use path to Finger Lake. At the beginning, follow near the north shore of Brainerd Lake before following cairns alongside a talus swatch to the upper path, eventually popping out at stunning Finger Lake. On this day, I ventured onto the cliffs to the south of Finger Lake with great panoramic views of the lake and Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak. To attain these summits, cross Finger Lake at its outlet and head up granite slabs and talus to the base of the remnant glacial ice and rock. The standard route up Middle Palisade is a sustained class 3 scramble while Norman Clyde features some 4th class. Complete photo album here.
While I have made the trek from South Lake to Bishop Pass and into Dusy Basin several times, the magnificent views of the Palisades never cease to inspire. Mount Agassiz, Mount Winchell, and North Palisade collectively form a wall of granite that towers above the basin filled with numerous alpine lakes. Aptly named Isosceles Peak is especially striking from the southern part of the basin and perfectly frames the Palisades “wall.” Columbine Peak and Giraud Peak complete the 360 panorama of rock and ruggedness. On this day, the concept was to do a loop through the upper part of the basin, a “tour de Dusy” and hit some of my favorite photography spots in the process. Complete photo album here.
The weather on this autumn afternoon was perfect – a light breeze, sunny skies, and excellent clarity. We made it up to the foot of Bishop Pass in good time and negotiated some snow and ice over the trail on the final rocky switchbacks to the Pass. The south side of the Pass was snow-free and we ran into the Basin and headed cross country for the highest lake, which also happens to be the largest, but conspicuously tucked in a bowl underneath the Palisades and not visible until you crest a minor ridgeline. Additional scenic lakes lie just below with Isosceles Peak towering above. We completed the tour by passing around a few more lakes lakes before returning to the Bishop Pass trail. Complete photo album here.
I was last in Sabrina Basin in May 2007 for an overnight peakbagging outing with amazing memories of this strikingly beautiful region. My photo session at Sailor Lake on that trip produced one of my all time favorite mountain scenery photos. It was time to return. I had just enough time to squeeze in a morning run to Hungry Packer Lake and make it back in time for a run to Dusy Basin later that afternoon. On this morning there was some breeze that precluded the type of mirror-like reflection in Sailor Lake that I had witnessed in 2007, but further explorations to Hungry Packer Lake’s outlet yielded some nice shots. I climbed up the ridgelines on both sides of Hungry Packer Lake to gain 360 degree views of the Sabrina Basin. The crisp and clear autumn air produced superlative clarity. A dusting of snow on the north and east facing slopes made it magical. Among my favorite scenes from this outing was a patch of pine snags above the Hungry Packer Lake. The contrast of the reddish orange snags with the deep blue lake and granite was mesmerizing. Complete photo album here.