I have been working 7 days a week for like 2 months. And at this point I know I will never finish this before I go back into the Sierra. Week 7MAP
Continuing up Gardiner Pass was proving to be an easy task as the slopes were not very steep. Suddenly I came out on a massive avalanche
area that was staggering. It easily was one of the largest I have seen in the Sierra but luckily for me the primary bulk of debris was further down the hill so traveling through it proved to be easy. After I had crossed over it and entered the forest I picked up what was left of this old trail that could be taken to the top
. From here I had the choice to hook wide around some large rocks to my right or enter a steep small chute with a metal box
smashed at it's top. I took the chute and after about 15 feet it met up with the switchbacks that took me most of the way
to the lower lakes. From here the trail was so faint that I saw no reason to even look for it anymore.
After skirting around the small lakes
I began meandering down anyway I could. Because of other things that had been on my mind I was startled to see a pile of rocks
sealing off a large rock. I thought it might have been someone's tomb but the other side was open. More like some kind of extreme shelter.
As I made my way down the final hill to Lake 9,530 I almost tripped on a big stretch of barbed wire. It was wrapped very oddly around the area in a manor I could not make any real sense of. Nothing more than a hazard now! After skirting around the lake
close to the outlet I found an okay camp and went for a dip in the lake but was displeased to find a couple fresh water leaches on my ankles or at least that's what I thought they were. The whole area had allot of trash for being more or less a cross country location. While at the outlet a thin strip of silver was showing itself under a narrow water channel on the rock. It turned out to be a large knife
that probably had been sitting there for many years. A bit too heavy for me to pack out I thought so I left it at my camp. For the first time on this trip I caught some fish and cooked them but my cooking method was not so great and I felt it was hardly worth all the effort.
What was left of the trail was close to my camp and began down the steep hill. Even though there were some switchbacks left it was steep enough to have a hard time not slipping. I doubted that this was once a trail but a use trail that developed after the actual trail could no longer be found.
Once I had hit the bottom
and passed through a mess of talus I lost the trail and went straight out across the creek and began up some steep hill sides. After this initial climb though the grade stopped it's aggressive nature and made for nice easy up hill travel. Although at times I picked up a trail and cairns it was better to just make your own way. In good time I passed the lowest lake
of the basin, the outlet lake
and onto my destination of Lake 10,544
by lunch. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, reading and some fishing without luck. For some reason the fish in this lake showed no interest in my lures at all.
My next destination was Kings Col so I I back tracked past the outlet lake towards the Western slopes
of the approach. Getting there first involved some navigating along granite shelves mixed with tree growth. Then across a cut water channel
to where easy slopes begin up giving nice views of Mt. Gardiner
. As I got closer I noticed that the class 3 rocks of this slope could be avoided but I did not bother. I climbed straight up their face until I reached the water channels coming down these slopes displaying some of the last flower beds this area would see for the season.
Like Longely Pass the initial steep climb is then replaced by a casual stroll
to the top but before I got there I thought I would walk over to the top of King Col Option 1. When I got there though it did not offer much for views below
or a view that could give me an opinion on how difficult it might be so I resumed my trek
to the top
. When I got there I took note of a single set of foot prints that led into the Col.
All I could think was "oh crap". The snow had retreated enough to not be a problem but it was so damn steep looking that I thought maybe this will be my last pass!
As I began down
I just couldn't get any solid footing. The dirt was hard packed with small rocks to slip on. Then what larger bits of rock were sticking out of the dirt were crumbly lined with further sand. I did not make it far before the tracks that had gone into the Col. disappeared. That person was smart enough to turn back but I wasn't.
I slowly made my way to the rocks on my left in an effort to use hand holds to help lower myself down. This helped a bit but not much as I very nervously made my way down step by step. Kind of the way a cat moves when it wants to get out of a fight with another cat.
After what could only be called a horrible experience I reached the solid yet slick rocks below and put that pass on the list of "I will never do again".
Making my way down
to the lakes below the talus field I crossed was a bit weird in the way it looked like it had a couple constructed switch backs. I could have been wrong and it was just a natural formation but it sure didn't seem like it to me. Finally at the lake
the fat lady had sung and I sat to take lunch and gather myself again.
I then crossed around the Eastern shore
of the first lake and then for what ever reason crossed the Western shore of the second lake
. From here it was time to make the long drop to the bottom. As I started making my way down plumes of smoke
began coming up out of the valley. Crap! I thought hoping that there was not a fire in my way since there was not a chance in hell I was going back the way I came!
The lower I got the more smoke
blew over making for some interesting views of Castle Rocks
. Choppers flew low over head and I wondered if they had caught sight of me coming down out of this area. Finally I could see the flames burning high up the hill side a mile or two down valley.
Once finally down I made an easy ford at the first location on Woods Creek I came to which sure felt nice on my tired feet. From here it was the last bit up valley to the suspension bridge crossing for the night. To my surprise no one was here but later two guys came out of one of the more secluded camp sites in the forest and offered me the use of their fire since they were having a trash burning party. I spent the rest of the night chatting with them ending another day.
When morning came it was a horrible sight to see. The smoke
was so thick you could not see far and I was just choking on the stuff as I climbed up the trail out of this area. When I neared the Window Peak drainage creek I began searching for the best way to start up. Before I did however I ran into a group of men and had a brief chat with them. As soon as one of them learned that I was going cross country alone with no safety net he called me a total fool and had no interest in talking to me anymore so I went on my way.
Although the first initial bits of rock to climb here needed a bit of of route finding the rest of the drainage proved to be quite easy to travel. Slowly I made my way out of the thick smoke
but still could not escape it completely. I passed what in high water would be beautiful cascades but were now only a gentle flow
. The first small lake
I came to was also displaying the lack of water for the season. From here it was a short climb
up to the primary lake
of this drainage which displayed nice glacial carved walls. When I left this lake I debated on climbing straight up the inlet but I decided to hook right and go up some easy dry slopes
instead. Although this upper portion
of the drainage has an aggressive rocky profile it's actually quite easy to travel. For me it was even easier due to the low water levels. I made my way up some small drainages
until I came out at my destination lake
. I first began looking for a camp site on the Eastern shore but I didn't go far before turning back and heading for the Western lake
. This lake was another desolate place to be offering almost no camping. Finally I found a patch of rock I could lay my body on and fought off the high winds for the rest of the day.
Leaving the lake I began up the hill
to the East until I was able to pick up a water channel of grassy slopes. I followed this until I could get out of it on my right. I took note of Explorer Pass thinking it looks quite steep from here and made the last gentle climb to White Fork Saddle
. This pass did not offer much in the way of views so I quickly began angling left across some talus
on my way to the ridge coming down from Peak 12,064. After getting past the initial rocky sections it was quite easy to make this traverse losing a minimum of altitude. Once I had reached the ridge
I dropped my pack and admired the view. I looked at Mt. Ickes which I was supposed to be climbing today. Although nothing about it looked difficult the sheer distance of the approach from White Fork Pass was rather unappealing. We'll see I thought as I began the scramble up Peak 12,064. This ridge was quite rocks and sharp. It reminded me allot of climbing along Copper Mine Pass made out of rocks heavy with iron that were rusted. The peak
offered nice views
of the whole White Fork Drainage. I examined a small cairn on top and found the register. It was interesting to read showing that I was the 5th group to the top and the 9th person at all unless of course anyone else did not sign the register. This sort of interesting history instantly peaked my interest in climbing more remote unnamed peaks.
When all was said and done I retrieved me pack and made the rocky traverse
to White Fork Pass. Like many passes from a distance it looked like a very steep scree nightmare but only the final slopes offered any trouble and I was on top
for lunch. As I sat on this rocky ridge making the last consideration of climbing Mt. Ickes I decided at last that I would not. The climb from here looked like a several hour event and it did not interest me enough. Beginning down this pass I was faced with one of the types of terrain I like the least. Rocks too big to be called scree and too small to be called talus. The sort of rocks that offer no good footing and are too mixed between stable and unstable to let you relax and you make each monotonous step down
Finally I was strolling along the desolate shore line below nicely lined with mixed types of rocks
adding character to an otherwise dull landscape. I made my way over to the small tarns
near by looking for any interesting compositions to photograph. I moved North to the other little lake
on this bench and then further North up a small hill until I started angling down a bit through mixed trees and rock. I didn't really know the best way to Bench Lake but I kept moving in a NW pattern until I came out on some cliff sides offering wonderful views of Bench Lake
. I was very happy that I had ended up here rather then going straight down the hill through the trees.
I had allot of trouble pulling myself away from this view
point but finally I began searching closer for a way down. A couple steep chutes
here seemed to offer a way. I settled on one with a strange pink soil surface that I had never really seen before. This may not have been the best idea as before I knew it I was in a very nasty class 3 chute that was reaching outside my comfort zone. Step by step I slowly made my way down meticulously picking my way through this technical descent until it dumped me out on an extremely unstable talus slope.
After all the trouble I finally found myself on the shore of Bench Lake
which was as wonderful to see up close as it was from higher up. I set out around the Northern shore looking for camp sites as I went without luck. Half way across the lake I found a spot that had evidence of many illegal camp fires broken up. Still not satisfied and wanting to see the Ranger anyway I kept hiking on the trail until I was near the outlet
and a man across on the other side called out to me and we had a chat. I asked him where the Ranger station was and he said that he could not find it. He said it was not marked and that his GPS had a marker for it but when it said he was 50 feet from it and still could not see it then he gave up. So considering this and the fact that I was at the end of the lake I turned around and went back to the spot with ash everywhere. I then took note of how my National Geographic map did not show a Ranger station for Bench Lake so I gave up on the idea of going to look for it myself.
While finding a place to put my solar panel I found a great deal of camp sites up the hill which were all unappealing and trashed. I may have enjoyed the beauty but camping at this lake offered me no enjoyment.
After snapping the reflection shot
of the morning I took off North straight out of my camp. At first the hill began angling down
amongst the trees and was easy walking but I quickly came to large granite slabs that I could not go down. Staring at the beautiful view
kept me from getting frustrated and I started moving West along the slabs until I found a large run out of talus. Getting into it I had to get down some easy micro cliffs and then it was a stable talus hop nearly all the way down. At one point I ended up on some micro cliffs that was more in the lines of a class 4 climbing move but certainly could be gone around if you tried.
Reaching the South Fork
it was a ford but just barely. The water was amazingly low for still being on the early side of July. When on the other side I began seeing relics that always fascinate me from older times in the Sierra. The typical tin, a tea cup and I found a tree that had markings on it from 18??. I thought it said 1886? but that seemed a bit old. I began towards the slope and was lucky that I came across the river right about where the trail begins switch backing up. What was left of this old trail began to tackle the slope with a fury and it was quite a labor to get up
. At one point I lost it for a hundred feet or so of climbing but managed to pick it up again long before reaching the lakes above. Once there
I sat and ate lunch looking at all the little unnamed peaks I would like to climb just to see what I might find on top.
After following the trail around the East shore I lost it as I began up
the grassy slopes. At times I picked it up but made no effort to follow it since there was no reason to. Once near the small lake below the pass I was able to pick up the trail again and follow it
all the way to the pass. I had an urge to climb Mt. Ruskin but I fought it off and began up
towards Peak 12,176. In about 20 minutes I was on top
. The register hadn't been signed in 4 years and there was at least one name
in it that meant something to me.
The peak offered a nice set of views
all around and once I had taken it in enough I went back down to my pack and started down into Lake Basin. Although a girl I met on the slope above the South Fork said there were a couple sketchy bits on this pass I generally did not find it to be of any trouble. I made use of the old trail until I dumped out at the bottom and began around the West shore of the lakes
below. I had made this decision based mostly the time of day and the layout of the basin. It was getting later and if I had taken the East shore I would be taking photos into a setting sun so that was no good!
I made my way through the basin
passing one murky lake
at a time until I reached the L shape lake
that was quite beautiful. From here I followed the outlet down which was a mixed way to go. In order to avoid very large talus I stayed on the North side of the creek which had me making my way down some small cliffs that were difficult but I managed to get down in one piece. Everything was great until I entered the trees and began getting assaulted by mosquitoes like a horde of angry bees! I marched down the creek not daring to stop until I reached Marion Lake
. I made my way over to the Eastern shore and decided to stay in the same camp I had the year before. It was illegal since it was too close to water but the other sites near the outlet were not appealing. The next day I would learn that up the hill from this spot are a couple good locations.
Although I was happy to be back here it seemed just wrong that the mosquitoes were worse here then any place I had camped at yet and would camp at for the rest of the hike! What sort of treat is that from your favorite lake! That night it rained at 1am breaking the cycle once again.
The next day was my first backcountry layover day since the Kern Hotspring. I set out around the West shore taking photos and wondering why the lake
was not half as blue as it was the year before. While exploring the area I was looking for something very specific. I had planned to look for it since before I began this hike and was delighted that I found what I was looking for. This however I cannot say what it was.
Continuing to explore I made my way over and up the inlet
coming into the lake from the West. This dumped me out to where people have to choose which chute to take down to Marion
. I decided I wanted to try and find the way into the proper chute furthest North that almost everyone misses but the only way I found to get into it involved one difficult down climb. After that it was an easy stroll down and back to camp.
While relaxing in camp I spotted 3 people just making their way down to the lake. I could tell even from the other side of the lake that it was 1 man and 2 woman. I went over and had a talk with them. The 3 of them were from Germany and had no idea at all that they were following the Sierra High Route. They had just wanted to explore some remote basins and saw the ridges that looked crossable on the map and ended up following exactly on the SHR.
A couple hours later 2 more people came down and I had a chat with them and finally near sunset 2 more guys set up camp at the lake and I sat and ate dinner with them. I certainly was not expecting to see 7 people on the same day here but it was a good way to end week 7.