Friday, September 21, 2018

The Sierra Nevada

This summer we did our weeklong backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada.  It was certainly a great trip, but a bummer that my brother Jacob couldn't join us.  Jacob did an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at University of Oregon this summer and was unable to get a week off to go backpacking.  Mom and Jacob got to go backpacking in the Trinity Alps in June before the REU, but our typical weeklong family trip had to be without Jacob.

The end of summer ended in an awesome rush of backpacking for me so I will pick up where I left off after the the North Cascades trip.  After we came out Saturday morning, Mom and I drove down to Portland where we met Dad and our friend Ron for the Timbers game.  We got back late Saturday night and spent most of Sunday packing up and planning a route through the Sierra Nevada.  We opted for a bit of off trail travel as the main trails tend to get a bit of hiker traffic.  Monday we drove the 12 hours down to Bishop, CA and spend the night in town.  Then Tuesday morning we drove up to Lake Sabrina and took off.

Tuesday was pretty warm and coming from sea level we were feeling the elevation.  Although we spend the night at 4000 feet in Bishop that wasn't quite the same as the 9100 feet at Lake Sabrina....and it was only up from there.  We hike past a few lakes on trail, then left the trail for the last couple miles and made our way to Echo Lake.  We found a dusty flat spot near the lake which we deemed good enough as it was starting to cool off and there didn't appear to be any other spots amidst the talus.  The spot was fine until the wind came howling down from the mountains in the night.  That kicked up a bit of dust and by morning everything had a fine layer of dust on it.

Lake Sabrina

A dead trout in the creek

Hungry Packer Lake

Mom and Dad almost to Echo Lake

Echo Lake

After a dusty night we packed up the tent and headed onward toward Echo Col.  We weren't sure what we would face climbing the col as one of our guidebooks labeled the col as Class 3.  Typically we can handle Class 1 and some Class 2 so we weren't sure if we would make it up.  And if we didn't the whole trip might be a bust as we needed to cross over the east side of the Sierra some how.

The approach to Echo Col was a little tedious as we climbed over quite a bit of talus on the way to the col.  Fortunately there was only a few short sections of really big talus which is always pretty slow.  We also got to cross a small snow field which was easy going as the snow was hard and there were huge sun-cups so we didn't have to worry about sliding around.

After the talus approach to the col, we made it over without any issues.  The we descended more talus down to the JMT.  Upon reaching the JMT we headed north for a mile or two and turned west about a mile before reaching Muir Pass.  We had intended to cross Black Giant Pass that day, but for several reasons decided to camp off trail just short of Black Giant Pass.

Looking back over the valley

Cold mornings

Echo Lake

Hopping onto the snow

Echo Col is the notch just right of center

The easy side of Echo Col

The west side of the col

You might be able to pick out the JMT in the bottom

The top of Black Giant is almost off the picture on the left side

The third day we climbed up to Black Giant Pass, then dropped our packs and climbed up to Black Giant.  After tagging the summit we headed back down to the packs and continued into the Ionian Basin.  We hiked by 4 or 5 lakes in the basin and that was all pretty slow going as there was a lot of talus around the lakes.  We went as far as we could then found a tent site by the a lake and set up camp.  Finding a tent site off trail in the Sierra Nevada is trickier than you'd think since there aren't many flat places large enough to pitch a tent.

Looking up toward Black Giant

Muir Pass

I turned this rock over and there was a heavy frost on the underside.  No wonders my feet were cold all morning.

This picture and the next 8 I took from the summit of Black Giant.  I didn't move an inch between photos, I just turned counterclockwise.

A steep drop-off on this side

The water is so clear in the Sierra its easy to see the bottom, even though the lakes are fairly deep

Wanda Lake

Coming down Black Giant

A weird erosion pattern on this rock.  The photo is perhaps 18" by 24"

Chasm Lake

Chasm Lake

Dad is sporting a bloody nose in this picture

Indian Paintbrush

The next morning we climbed out of the Ionian Basin and descended down to Martha Lake.  Upon reaching Martha Lake, we angled up a drainage to our right leading toward Davis Lakes.  We went past several lakes leading to Davis Lake which all were easy to hike around.  We were making good time, but the clouds had rolled in early so we didn't want to climb a peak and risk getting caught in a storm up high.  We descended down to Davis Lake and arrived around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  It took another hour or so to hike around the lake and find a spot to pitch the tent.  We settled down early this day as we were a little worried about trying to climb higher with bad weather being a likely possibility.  Fortunately we didn't have to deal with any rain on this trip.

A hearty fern

Another cold morning in the high Sierra

A nice flower garden

For some reason our footprints left these red tracks in the snow

All the lakes had incredible clear water

The descent down to Martha Lake was pretty easy as it was mostly on stable, relatively small talus

One half of Martha Lake

The other half


Midday ice in the shade

Davis Lakes

More clouds than we were hoping to see

The descent wasn't all that steep, but the snow was hard which made it seem a lot steeper than it was

We thought this was a marmot jaw bone

We left Davis Lakes and headed toward Wanda Lake and the JMT.  The climb over the pass was pretty easy and we made it down to the JMT faster than I expected.  Its always hard to tell how long things will take off trail.  Anyhow, we weren't even on the JMT before we saw a couple hikers pass by on the trail.  We call the JMT the highway which is a little unfair as its a tough trail, but it sure seems like a highway once you've gone off trail.

We hiked down the JMT for a mile or two before we dropped our packs and climbed Mt. Spencer.  The JMT was a nice break of fast hiking, but there is something to be said for the solitude gained by going off trail.  The previous 2 days we spend the entire time off trail above 11000 feet and did not see a single person.  That was awesome.

Mt. Spencer was a fairly easy climb that became tedious along the final ridge as the talus became pretty big.  The views were nice and the sky was clear at that point which made us all happy.  From Mt. Spencer we descended back down to the JMT, grabbed our pack and headed down toward Evolution Valley.  Just before the switchbacking descent down to the valley, a user trail climbs up to the east leading to Darwin Bench.  We took this trail and spend the night at Darwin Bench.

More clouds than we were hoping to see

Another cold morning

Wanda Lake

A vertabrae


One of my favorite sounds of the outdoors is hearing the Ptarmigans

Mt. Goddard farthest to the left

The view from on top of Mt. Spencer

Mt. Spencer.  It looks like the real deal from this angle

Almost to the use trail above Evolution Valley


The use trail up to Darwin Bench

The moon is out

The evening lighting in this picture was great

We climbed up from Darwin Bench for a short while before we dropped our packs and continued the climb up to Mt. Goethe.  The drainage we wanted to follow branched off to the right, but to reach Goethe we needed to head up to the left.  The climb up to Goethe was tedious as there was a lot of loose scree and talus.  We eventually made it to the top and were rewarded with some awesome views.  The descent was a bit quicker, but we were still careful to not launch any rocks down the mountain.

We got back to the back later in the afternoon than we expected so we hustled up toward Lamarck Col which we would cross the next day.  Fortunately we reached the lakes much quicker than I expected and soon we were at the far lake looking for a campsite.  We found a nice spot which was just large enough to wedge the tent into and settled down for the night.

Another frozen morning

Mt Goethe up to the left

Still along way from the ridge

The view across Humphreys Basin

A nice little chute to take you to the other side

The summit of Mt. Goethe was a surprisingly large flat area

Mom and Dad on top

Our last sunset of the trip
The final morning we packed up quick and began the climb over Lamarck Col.  Lamarck Col was the easiest of all the passes we crossed as there was lots of track and cairns marking the way.  Shortly after crossing the col we even ran into a trail which made the going even easier.  The trail lead down to Lamarck Lake where it T-ed into another trail which lead up to North Lake Trailhead.  Unfortunately we were parked 2.5 miles from North lake near Lake Sabrina so we had to do the last couple miles on dirt roads with a few short paved sections.

A nice bouquet at 12000 feet

Lamarck Col - 12880

On the trail

Upper Lamarck Lake

Looking down toward North Lake

We spent a lot of time in pants and coats this trip, but we got to enjoy some short sleeves and short for the last few hours