Sunday, October 9, 2022

The Sierra Nevada

This year's annual backpacking trip began with a climb up Kearsarge Pass.  Kearsarge is one of the shortest passes in the eastern Sierra.  With a smooth, gentle trail leading up to the top, we climbed the pass and began the descent toward Bullfrog Lake well before noon.  We stopped for a quick snack above Bullfrog Lake, the continue down the trail until it met the John Muir Trail (JMT).

From here, we headed north on the JMT toward Glen Pass and Rae Lakes.  The climb up Glen Pass is pretty short when approached from the south, so we made it over Glen Pass and down to Rae Lakes by 5pm.  We found a nice spot to camp on the east side of Rae Lakes and pitched the tent.

Dad climbing toward Kearsage Pass.

The Kearsarge Pinnacles behind Kearsarge Lakes from the pass

Looking North

Bullfrog Lake

Charlotte Dome at the end of the canyon

Dad at the upper lake on the south side of Glen Pass

Looking southeast on the way up to Glen Pass

Looking south from Glen Pass.  You can see the trail to the right of the lake.

The Painted Lady - the peak in the foreground that is just above the horizon in the middle of the picture

Rae Lakes are on the far right side of the picture in the distance.

Dad on Glen Pass

Mom and Dad descending Glen Pass with the Painted Lady in the background

Mom at Rae Lakes with the Painted Lady in the background

We were greeted with a cool morning at Rae Lakes, so we decided to hike down to Arrowhead Lake before we got out the stove to make breakfast.  After filling up our water bottles and eating breakfast at Arrowhead Lake, we continued hiking north on the JMT.

We followed the JMT down to Woods Creek where we stopped to fill our water bottles before beginning the climb up to Woods Lake.  The first 4 miles of the climb would be on the JMT, then we planned to turn off on the Baxter Pass Trail to reach Woods Lake.

Climbing up the JMT, we were thankful for clear skies.  Last year, this is where the smoke began to roll in forcing us to cut our trip short.  About 3/4 of the way up the climb, we took a break in the shade and had a snack.  After the quick respite, we continued up the JMT and soon reached the turnoff to Baxter Pass.

The trail to Baxter Pass gets far less use than the JMT, so it was markedly different than what we had been hiking on previously.  That was fine with us!  After about 1 hour of hiking, we began to reach some of the lakes in the Woods Lake basin.  We found a nice spot by one of the lakes and pitched the tent there.  As it was only 4 in the afternoon, we decided to hike up the Baxter Pass trail and scope out the route toward Colosseum Mountain which we hoped to climb the next day.

Fin Dome from Rae Lakes

Looking north from Rae Lakes

Fin Dome reflected in Arrowhead Lake

A waterfall on Woods Creek along the John Muir Trail

Climbing the Baxter Pass trail toward Woods Lake

Mom and Dad

After a night in the Woods Lake basin, we grabbed jackets, water, and a few snacks and headed up Colosseum Mountain.  The climb up Colosseum Mountain was quite easy as there was a lot of easy gravelly slopes to climb and not much talus.  On the way down I proposed that we take a more direct route to save some time, but my shortcut ended up getting onto terrain that was a bit steeper than we were comfortable on.  We ended up wasting a bit of time to get back on track.

Once we were back down at the tent, we packed up all our gear, loaded up our packs, and set off for the JMT.  After hiking the short section of the Baxter Pass Trail which we had hiked on the way in, we turned right onto the JMT and headed north toward Pinchot Pass.  A few clouds arrived in the afternoon which kept the temperature cool.

After cresting Pinchot Pass, we hiked down to Lake Marjorie where we set up camp for the night.  The descent from Pinchot Pass is quite smooth so we were able to make good time getting down to Lake Marjorie.  That was good because darkness arrived shortly after we pitched the tent and ate dinner.

Looking north toward Pinchot Pass from the pass between Colosseum Mountain and Mount Cedric Wright

Looking east from Colosseum Mountain

Mom and Dad near the top of Colosseum Mountain

Looking south on the way up to Pinchot Pass

Looking north toward Pinchot Pass

Dad on the climb up Pinchot Pass

With a cool morning upon us at Lake Marjorie, we decided to hike to Bench Lake before having breakfast.  The morning was peaceful as we made our way through the frost and shadows.

Once we reached Bench Lake, we got some water and made breakfast.  From here, we planned to leave the trail and hike up to Arrow Basin at the foot of Arrow Peak.  As we walked along Bench Lake, we got a few views of Arrow Peak above us.

At the west end of Bench Lake, the trail ended and we kept going.  We began hiking cross-country through the trees, climbing over a small ridge, before descending to a lake below Arrow Pass.  After crossing creeks and soft grassy areas alongside the lake, we headed up to Arrow Pass.  The climb started out grassy with a few granite slabs to walk on and became talus at the top.

Once we reached the pass, we dropped our backs, ate a snack, and climbed up Arrow Peak.  The climb up Arrow Peak is mostly loose gravelly soil with some talus at the top.  On top of Arrow Peak we enjoyed incredible views and a still afternoon.  This was in contrast with steady wind below at the pass.

After descending from Arrow Peak, we picked up our backs and headed down to Arrow Basin.  There was one talus field we needed to cross, but the hiking was mostly easy.  We found a nice spot by a lake and pitched the tent.

Frozen bear cans at Lake Marjorie

Arrow Peak

Bench Lake (center) from the top of Arrow Peak

Looking north from Arrow Peak

Looking west from Arrow Peak

After spending the night in Arrow Basin, we climbed up Pyramid Peak in the morning.  The lower portion of Pyramid Peak is easy cross-country.  The upper section has a little bit of talus which made the going a bit slower.  From the top of Pyramid Peak we had great views in all directions.  It was fun to look back on the ground we had covered over the last 4 days.

After descending Pyramid Peak, we packed up the tent and headed down Arrow Creek.  The descend started out pretty easy as we were able to follow grassy meadows along the creek.  As anticipated, the descent got a bit harder as we kept going; the grade became steeper and the grassy meadows gave way to more rugged terrain.

We continued down Arrow Creek until the route turned into talus slopes and steep granite slabs.  We decided to pull out the maps and see if we were on track.  It didn't take us long to realize there was a slight miscommunication at the top of the descent.  We should have been descending Window Creek, not Arrow Creek.

Fortunately Window Creek was only 3/4 of a mile away.  We did have to climb several hundred feet back up to a ridge and then traverse over to the creek, but it was fairly easy going.  Well, at least once we got back up to the ridge.  The climb up wasn't too popular with some members of the party.

We arrived at Window Creek around 5pm.  We were planning to make the descent down to Woods Creek that afternoon, but we lost of a bit of time going down Arrow Creek.  After filling up the bottles at Window Creek, we decided to camp there for the night.  With darkness arriving shortly after 7, it didn't seem like a good idea to try to finish the descent that afternoon.

Looking south from Pyramid Peak

Last view from Pyramid Peak

After spending a night along Window Creek, we made the descent down to Woods Creek.  We had done this descent back in 2014, and seemed to run into a bit more brush that time!  This time, the descent seemed much easier.  We decided to stay further to the east of Window Creek instead of hugging the creek more closely.  However, the descent still took 2 hours so it was good that we camped at Window Creek!

Back on the trail along Woods Creek, we made good time climbing up to the JMT.  At the Woods Creek crossing, we stopped to fill up our bottles before heading back to Arrowhead Lake.

The climb up to Arrowhead Lake went by faster than expected.  We took a short break to fill up our bottles, then took off cross-country to head over to 60 Lakes Basin.  While this is a cross-country route, it is quite popular so we were able to follow faint use trails most of the way.

After entering 60 Lakes Basin, we made our way toward the southwest side of the basin as this would put us in the best position to climb Mount Cotter the next morning.  As evening fell, we found a small spot near one of the larger lakes in 60 Lakes Basin and pitched the tent.

Bubbs Creek canyon

Castle Domes

Fin Dome

In the morning, we packed up the tent and hiked to the north end of the lake that we had camped at before dropping that packs and starting up Mount Cotter.  The initial climb is up through granite slabs and meadows so was pretty easy hiking.  After that, there was a scree field which didn't get great review from my trail companions.

As we ascended the scree field, the scree turned to talus which mad the footing a bit more stable.  As the talus got progressively larger, we made our way up to the east ridge of Mount Cotter.  Upon reaching the east ridge, we could see that we still had a ways to go to the top.  The talus was getting fairly big, so we decided to skip the top, do a short traverse to the south ridge for a view to the west, then head back down.

The descent down from Mt Cotter was pretty easy, the scree working in our favor now, and soon we were back at the packs.  With packs on our backs, we followed the trail over to Rae Lakes.  Upon reaching Rae Lakes, we rejoined with the JMT and began the climb up to Glen Pass.  We made a quick stop for water along a creek at the bottom of the climb.  Then we climbed up the pass, descended past a couples lakes on the south side of the pass and found a place to pitch the tent.

This would be our last night in the Sierra Nevada.  With warmer temperature, I decided to stand outside for a while and watch the sunlight slowly fade away.  Soon a few stars came out.

Looking north from the east ridge of Mount Cotter

Gardiner Basin from the south ridge of Mount Cotter

In the morning we packed up the tent and headed down the JMT.  With full water bottles from the night before, we figured that we wouldn't need to get any water before we reached the car.  After all, we didn't have too far to go.  A mile or two to traverse above Bullfrog Lake, then a short climb up to Kearsarge Pass before the easy descent down to the car.

It didn't take long for us to reach Kearsarge Pass.  From here we took in our last expansive views, then headed down toward Onion Valley and the Kearsarge parking lot.  Descending down the east side of the mountains we were greeted with views of the Owens Valley instead of the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains.

The gentle grade down from Kearsarge Pass made for fast hiking and we made good time going down.  The biggest slow-up was all the uphill hiking traffic that we yielded to.  We reached the car around noon.

This year we were lucky to have ideal weather.  There were a couple cool mornings, but midday temperatures were always moderate.  And we didn't have any smoke.  Last year smoke ruined the trip, but this year we had clear skies and no sign of smoke the entire week.

Looking east from Kearsarge Pass