Cottonwood Lakes to Kearsarge Pass via use and Cross Country Trails. 2

Wednesday August 5, 2015

Cottonwood trailhead 10,000to High lake 11,400
I met Lisa at Onion valley where a shuttle picked us up and drove us to the Cottonwood lakes trailhead. We started hiking at 3pm. Both of our packs, with 8.5 days of food were a little heavy, mine at 31,5 lbs and Lisa’s at 35,5 lbs and we were happy for the cloud and smoke cover as we trudged up the trail. The smoke is from the Cabin Fire in Kern County. We arrived at High lake at 7:15 and quickly set up camp while the wind howled down from New Army Pass.  ( NAP) I put my bear canister inside my tent so it wouldn’t blow away while I was setting it up. While we were eating dinner the sky lit up in amazing hues of orange and blue….a great way to end the first day on the trail.
High lake is the last place to camp before heading over NAP and the sites. are crammed together on the sand in between talus blocks. We found a lot of trash here, an onion, a cardboard cup of oatmeal, a WAG bag, TP, and a hole infested jacket, since it was the beginning of the trip we didn’t pick any of it up.
Tall Trees

Tall Trees

The Trail up to New Army Pass

The Trail up to New Army Pass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday August 6, 2015
High Lake 11,400 to Sky Blue Lake (SBL) 10,908.
At 5:30 I poked my head out of the tent and  watched the early morning light touching the tip top of the peaks. The sunrise was magnificent yellow, orange and purple hues reaching for each other and melting together. So much beauty it’s hard to take it all in….but someone has to and I try.
The Beauty I MUST take in!

The Beauty I MUST take in!

We were on the trail at 7:30 making our way up the nicely graded switchbacks to New Army Pass. At the top of the pass the wind was relentless and stayed with us for most of the morning. From our barren rocky vantage point I could see tiny toothpick like trees …Sequoia National Forest
We continued up the sandy trail with Mt Langley, our goal,  looming in the distance. The sky started clouding over and we were both feeling the altitude, we pressed on waiting until  we arrived at our use trail that would eventually lead us into Miter Basin before deciding  to summit or not.
Mt Langley

Mt Langley

 

We plunged down the use trail leaving Mt Langley for another trip. Our objective now was to stay above upper soldier lake while easing our way around The Major General keeping as much elevation as possible and dropping into Miter Basin. Gnarled and wind twisted white bark pine guided our contour line climb up over and around granite slabs, ramps and benches. I loved picking my way through this easy maze as the gateway to Miter Basin unfolded in front of me.
When we reached Rock Creek we found a little waterfall to swell down our feet, drink trail side coffee milkshakes and take a prolonged rest. After our coffee milkshakes we were ready to find our way up through Miter Basin to our destination, Sky Blue Lake. (SBL) We found an on again off again use trail and took our time naming the peaks and looking for fish in the stream as we climbed closer and closer to The Miter. We also noticed that the clouds were gathering and for a short second I wondered about rain. We stopped and chatted a bit with two men who were day the only people we’ve encountered since setting foot on the trail yesterday. Although we did see 4 people in the distance but our paths did not cross.
We arrived at SBL and as we were hunting around for a wind sheltered camp spot a light rain began. We saw lightening streak across the sky and then, then the loudest boooooom of  thunder I think I’ve ever heard scared both of us almost out of our boots!
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Camp overlooking Miter Basin

Camp overlooking Miter Basin

 

We quickly set up our tents, again I used my bear canister to hold it down while the wind tried to turn it into a kite. We spent a little time in our tents….rain and wind but no thunder. The sky cleared in time for dinner and cribbage. And the wind died down too! We found a few small pieces of trash which we picked up and a rope which we didn’t pick up and later wished we had as we could have used it.
Another great day on the trail.
Friday August 7, 2015. SBL 10,908 to Upper Crabtree Lake
Morning coffee watching the brilliant blue of SBL and the sun tipped peaks in the cirque surrounding the lake was a great way to start the day.
Sky Blue Lake

Sky Blue Lake

Our first goal of the day was to find the inlet stream and begin our cross country course to Crabtree Pass. We had one false start where we headed up the wrong chute and needed to climb back down and begin again. We re-orientated ourselves and climbed high above SBL until massive Mt Langley came into view. We rested by the stream eating powerbars and salt and vinegar almonds before we set off again….in the wrong direction! Arg!! Thankfully we didn’t go too far before we discovered our mistake and turned around. But Jeeeez! Why do I keep doing this? Our course is righted now and we are getting water at a beautiful glacier tarn before hiking what seems to be up a shear cliff face!
Cliff Face we climbed

Cliff Face we climbed

Resting at Near Death Lake

Resting at Near Death Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the rest of the day was terrifying and I’m not joking! We did in fact have to climb up the cliff face…..this was accomplished by slowly, and I mean s l o w l y easing up granite ramps while gaining elevation. The first three ramps were narrow and difficult to traverse….I would climb up to a safe spot take my pack off, walk back down the ramp and haul Lisa’s pack up, while she navigated up the ramp. It was tedious for both of us. Once up a bit higher the ramps became wider and grassier and turned into easier benches to navigate. It was still a slow and tedious process…I knew I could make it and it took all of my concentration. I kept turning around to admire the expansive view of the brilliant aqua deep blue glacier tarns, SBL and Miter Basin, each becoming smaller and smaller the higher we climbed. Once on the top of the cliff, yup we made it, we traversed down a faint talus use trail to another brilliant blue no-name gigantic lake. Everything we had read told us to hug the right shore, nothing we read mentioned the climb up over and around huge talus rock ledges 30 feet above the water. To describe this as a rock ledge doesn’t begin to do it justice. Let’s just say it was scary as hell and while I had an inner melt down Lisa had an outward melt down. Going back seemed just as bad as going forward and we ended up sitting on the rock for a while plotting our course and centering ourselves. Again i was confident. I could do it AND I was afraid. I focused 110% of my energy on scrambling back and forth ferrying our packs to the far end of the ledge…talking and coaxing myself the whole way. “you’re ok. You can do this. Just a little more. You have to get off this ledge before you can go forward or backwards. Just a little more. You’re ok. Good job. You did it.”I  used my trekking pole to lower our packs down onto a ledge ever so gently so they wouldn’t plunge off the edge and roll into the water. ( this is where we wished we had picked up the rope we found.) Adrenaline   surging through us we made our way to the lake shore, threw our packs off and flopped down on the sand. While eating  PB, pepperoni, crushed corn chips and a snickers bar, Lisa christened the lake….Near Death Lake.

North Side of Crabtree Pass

North Side of Crabtree Pass

"Loose but Safe scree chute."

“Loose but Safe scree chute.”

 

 

 

Our next goal was Crabtree Pass and this climb turned out to be the ” easiest” thing we did all day.  Our navigation skills were spot on. By the time we reached the pass we were both past our tired limit, and we had to descend
” the loose but safe chute.” It was scary as hell. Our boots on the loose scree sounded like the clinking of champagne glasses and each step sent rocks sliding down the slope. It was hard not to imagine one of us falling and knocking the other person over. I would hike down 30 or so feet, find a “safe” place to wait and then help Lisa navigate the “best” route down.
I imagine some people would saunter down this chute without a second thought. We actually saw 4 people climbing up what looked to be a very treacherous cliff wall. They yelled over to us wanting to know where the pass was and telling us they felt the talus slope was too treacherous to climb up. Lisa kept saying we were going to get cliffed out and I kept thinking it was unlikely because this was a use trail and other people had made it down. When we finally made it to Upper Crabtree Lake I yelped and screamed on the tiny solid patch of green meadowy grass.  We swelled down our feet and then took the use trail around the lake, looking for a flat spot,  any flat spot to camp. Even the use trail around the lake was scary as the tiny “trail” was  perched in the crunchy granite sand and talus 10 feet above the lake. I was afraid of falling down and drowning in the lake so I unbuckled my hip belt on my pack so if I did fall into the lake I could extract myself from my pack I knew this was unlikely but the image kelt flashing in my mind. At the far end of the lake my shin connected with a sharp talus block and I felt warm blood trickle down my leg…and I kept walking….right into a stunning campsite. The campsite was perched on the point directly in front of Crabtree Pass…and we collapsed in two gelatinous heaps.
I ate my dinner, Kaibab Mac & Cheese sitting inside my sleeping bag leaning against a rock. I’ve been sitting here for the past hour writing and all the stars are now out. This was one hell of a day! And as Nano says, always to be remembered but never ever to be repeated!
Upper Crabtree Lake with the Scree chute

Upper Crabtree Lake with the Scree chute

AHH. I'm NOT moving!

AHH. I’m NOT moving!

 

Saturday August 8, 2015
Upper Crabtree Lake  11,400 to just above Wallace Creek 10,300
The lake was completely still, Mt McAdie and Mt Newcomb reflecting in its almost black water, when my eyeballs emerged from my tent at 5:30. As the sky became lighter the lake water took on different hues, dark blue, green, teal,  azure and finally a deep indigo blue that was mesmerizing. I drank my coffee nestled inside my sleeping bag leaning against a rock slab an watched the sun slowly creep down the peaks.
Lisa making her way down the slabs

Lisa making her way down the slabs

Middle Crabtree Lake

Middle Crabtree Lake

We continued our cross country hike down long granite and red rock slabs crossing and recrossing the braided stream in route for Middle Crabtree Lake. It was the most magnificent Sierra day, brilliant deep blue cloudless sky and warm sun. The hike down was enjoyable and we arrived on a fabulous sandy beach and jumped in the freezing freezing cold water. So cold and so refreshing! We took our time swimming, sunning and rinsing our clothes before we headed down to Lower Crabtree Lake. Here we picked up a use trail and a pretty darn good one at that. We were both happy to amble down the trail without too much route finding. I also found my requisite Mylar balloon and again want to encourage people to give them to me rather than letting them go and me having to traipse all over the SIERRA to find them….although….hmm I do like hiking here.

Crabtree Lakes

Crabtree Lakes

The SANDY beach....YEAH.

The SANDY beach….YEAH.

Soon we arrived at Crabtree Meadow and immediately saw about 30 people, ( all headed to Mt Whitney) our first real encounter with anyone in two days….it was quite jarring. After a quick swelling down of feet and a snack we made a bee line for the trail that would take us away from so many people. By now it was 4:30 and this was “supposed” to be our short day. I noticed that the clouds were gathering and they were moving in fast. Rain was likely on its way. We hiked another 4 miles before we found a water source that we could call home for the night. As soon as we took off our packs it started to sprinkle, Up went our tents in record time and just in time for the thunder and hail! After about an hour it stopped and we crawled out of our tents hungry for dinner, which we are while watching a fabulous sunset. It was another great day in the Sierra.

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Sunday August 9, 2015 above  Wallace Creek to Wales Lake
It was an exquisite day of hiking. I feel immense gratitude for being able to witness so much beauty all around me. The higher we hiked the more beautiful the scenery became. We headed up a faint use trail along Wallace creek and continued to both enjoy and hone our navigation skills. We would locate our position on the map and then double check it with the GPS App on Lisa’s iPhone….our accuracy fed our confidence.
We hiked up to Wallace Lake, a huge lake with a white and red boulder strewn shoreline. Next we climbed up the ridges and eventually landed at Wales Lake.
Wales Lake sits in a cirque with jagged cliffs and an incredible view of the Great Western Divide. We spent the afternoon playing cribbage, swelling down our feet, and laying in our tents staring at the awesome surroundings.
Wales Lake

Wales Lake

Campsite at Wales

Campsite at Wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wales Lake

Wales Lake

Monday August 10, 2015
The stars and Milky Way were amazingly bright and clear last night! We were both up at 5:45, drinking coffee and watching the first light creep across the Great Western Divide. The wind made for a chilly morning of packing up and we were on the trail by 7:30.
Like two pieces of thread aiming for the eye of the needle we cross stitched our way back and forth down the granite slabs alongside Wales creek outlet. Clear blue skies as far as the eye can see and the sun now warming our backs makes for another exceptional hiking morning. At a rest stop we saw several deer and a fawn. I rested my pack against a huge pine and when I looked up I noticed the tree was full of claw marks from a bear. Cool!
Bear Claws.....not the kind you eat!

Bear Claws…..not the kind you eat!

Fun on the trail.

Fun on the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we reached the JMT we headed North and were like fish swimming up stream. In the 7 miles we hiked on the JMT today we saw 80, yes EIGHTY people, all hiking the JMT. Crazy. We were so thankful for all the solitude we had off trail. We chatted with the ranger and when we told her our route she said, “Oh I like your route.”
At Tyndall creek we stopped for an extended lunch break that included chocolate mousse dessert! Mmmm mmmm. We swelled down our feet and rested in the warm sun before beginning our assent to Forester Pass. On our climb I noticed something odd looking in the bushes and because I’m curious I had to go look….it turned out to be a very worn and tattered paperback book, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Next. Yup, you guess it, I touched it so I had to toss it into pack and pack it out.
It was a long day and we are now camped at the last tarn before the final switchbacks that will bring us to 13,200 foot Forester Pass. Even though out  campsite is nestled in the rocks and down out of the wind it is COLD and we are tucked in our cocoons. It is 39 degrees and it is 8:20 pm.
Tuesday August 11, 2015
Below Forester Pass, 13,200 to Golden Bear Lake, 10,200.
It was hard to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag at 6:00 am as it was only 32 degrees outside AND the wind was blowing. There was even a thin layer of ice on my  tent. Hot coffee was just the thing to get both of us going and before long we were at the top of Forester Pass, 13,200 feet eating a celebratory pop tart. I should also mention that when I was packing up my pack I had a big fat ridiculous melt down because I couldn’t get my pack to close. It was as if all stuff had grown and my fingers were so cold I couldn’t get anything to work.
In the 5 miles that we were on the JMT descending Forester Pass we counted 52 people! Everyone kept asking us if it was windy on the other side of the pass and then shared stories of 60 mph gusts on the ridge and not being able to step out of their tent because the wind would carry it away sleeping bag and all. It was cold hiking up and down the pass and I even wore my down vest and stopped halfway down for special coffee drink! We chatted with a couple from Eugene and reviewed the map with them. The man said he doesn’t like to stop early because he has allotted himself 15 Good & Plenty per day and if he stops early he will eat them all. For some reason this stuck in my head all day,  and I kept thinking about those 15 Good & Plenty!
After 5 miles on the JMT we hung a sharp right and headed into Center Basin on a use trail which was part of the JMT before the trail over Forester Pass was built. The use trail into Center Basin has not been maintained since 1932 and yet you can still see some of the huge rocks used to build the switchbacks.
On the hike up we saw two bucks that looked to be in good shape despite the drought. As far as we can tell we are the only people in this exquisite basin. We climbed up to Golden Bear Lake and watched the wind swirl like a vortex around its shore. We found a camp spot amongst the white bark pines above two small tarns nestled in a meadow dotted with granite boulders like a trail of bread crumbs. Our home” is framed by Center Peak, Junction Peak and the Center Basin Crags. Stunning! We spent the afternoon doing not much of anything, and it was perfect.
Center Basin

Center Basin

My tent and Bear Can

My tent and Bear Can

Sunset in Center Basin

Sunset in Center Basin

Wednesday August 12, 2015
Center Basin to Flower Lake Creek
We attempted to watch the stars last night without putting our “tent caps” (rainfly) on but the wind picked up and proceeded to bluster and blow every which way all night long. Instead of watching the stars we hungered down and discussed what we would have on our burgers on Thursday and if we should get both sweet potato fries and regular fries and homemade ice cream and iced coffee. YUM! It’s that time on the trail when powerbars, PB ( even with crushed corn chips and dehydrated dinners don’t quite satisfy the hunger and cravings. Talking about and dreaming of food becomes a fun pastime.
I felt like Winnie the Pooh this morning on a blustery day. In order to exit my tent without it blowing away I had to hold onto the poles while putting on my boots. Then I quickly worked my way around the tent extracting the stakes and removing the rocks I used to secure it. We were able to start our stoves by putting them in a rock crevice……no miles will be walked without our morning coffee!
We flew down the use trail and hit the JMT in time to see 35 people before cutting over to Kearsarge Pass, 11,160 feet. We stopped for lunch at Bullfrog Lake and I noticed something red in the bushes so of course I had to go investigate. It turned out to be a 1 pound jar of Folgers Instant coffee which is hilarious on so many levels. Since I not only found it but also touched it u didn’t feel right about leaving this “trash” behind so I tossed it in my bear canister along with the other throw away items.
We thought about hiking out but decide to spend a relaxing late afternoon and evening camped next to the creek. We ate a three course meal, soup, pasta primavera and chocolate mousse. Mmm. Then we reviewed the trip and talked about all our favorite campsites and all the off trail navigation we did. We covered a lot of ground on this trip and saw some incredible scenery!
Thursday August 13, 2015
Onion  Valley to Burger Barn in Bishop.
We were up early to hike the last 2.5 miles to our cars, where we used our solar showers, which we left on our roofs, to take a shower. Fabulous! Then off to Bishop for burgers and errands and re-supply for my next 10 days part with Nancy and Rich and part solo. Stay tuned.
This blog was typed trail-side with my index finger, one letter at a time!
Happy Trails!

Happy Trails!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Cottonwood Lakes to Kearsarge Pass via use and Cross Country Trails.

  1. Reply Wes Phillips Aug 14,2015 4:48 am

    Thank you for the amazing,exciting and inspiring trail report. You always seem to create an amazing adventure. by the way, it looks like you have a Zpack sleeping bag, I am jealous as I just did not decide in time to invest in one each for my wife and me this year. Three weeks from today, we start an 8 day trip on the “Circle of Solitude” (as I mentioned in a earlier email to you, your previous report was part of the inspiration!. I am looking forward to your next post

  2. Reply Les Aug 26,2015 3:25 pm

    Quite an adventure Bren!! Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos too. And in addition to your backpacking skills, I’m impressed with your index finger trail side typing.

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