Wednesday, September 15, 2021

SHR 2nd half

Continuing where we left off in Bench Canyon...

After completing our multi-challenge day, we were almost finished with off-trail travel.  Almost back to trail walking, which was on one hand less exciting, on the other hand a bit of a relief.  We were more certain Cathy would catch her plane on the other end, at least.

But first, we had plenty of great scenery ahead of us, and one big pass above Blue Lake.

As we were about to leave camp we heard voices and ran over to greet a group who was hiking down-canyon.  We hadn't seen a single other person since climbing toward North Glacier Pass, and barely anyone before that.  I think we were a bit excited to chat with people.  They were fun, telling us a couple stories.

OK, time to walk.  The pleasant morning continued with a warmup hike up to Blue Lake where we contemplated the task ahead.  Roper describes this ascent as "amazingly easy".  I'm not sure we went that exact way, or maybe his definition of easy is different than ours.

It started out quite lovely:


Always something to look at when we stopped to breathe:


Figuring out ways up through the rocks, with great help from John's reconnoitering, as usual.


The upper part has a lot of talus to pick your way through.  Overall, not super difficult, but harder than we'd expected.


Snack break at the top!  We also inspected a game camera, hello whoever is watching.  I guess they use it to try to discern migration patterns over this big ridge, into and out of Yosemite park.  The pass was the highest point of our journey this year, over 11,200' high.

The other side of the pass is described as steep talus, and yes, that is true.  It took a while to carefully drop down.  At least we had no expectation of that part being easy.

Wow, I guess we just came down that thing:


The pretty lake at the bottom:


Enjoying another great day with friends who keep making you laugh!


It was a nice cross-country walk across the outskirts of Yosemite.  Here we are sitting down again:


After a gentle traverse through woods, we were looking down at Isberg Pass trail, or at least the meadow it runs through.  I had the bright idea of contouring north to a small saddle instead of dropping down to the trail and climbing back up a bit.  Everyone was up for it.

The plan started out well, finding the drop-off to the north and following the ridge downhill to the west.  The book warned of a hard-to-find path, so when we thought we were at the saddle and didn't find it, we weren't too surprised.  We spent a rather embarrassing part of an hour trying to find a faint old horse route down.

And actually found something that worked, so we started the descent.  Then I discovered the actual trail, just over there.  It was well-trod and completely obvious.  Ah well, it's always good to remember to never take navigation skills for granted.

At the bottom of the switchbacks we came to Lyell Fork, where there were mosquitoes everywhere!  We grabbed for the head nets and quickly made a plan to move upstream where we would search for a campsite.  Thankfully we found a breezy open area that was mostly bug-reduced, near a little pool we could take a quick dip in, and we had a pleasant night near a bubbling creek.

Day 5 haiku:
Slabs, talus, high pass
How the heck did we do that?
Coochie, coochie, coo*
 (*inside joke)

The low point of the next day happened early, when John tripped while carrying his breakfast.  Some of it was salvageable, thank goodness.  Happily, we'd brought plenty of food for once (we're learning!) so he didn't starve.

Back to the trail!  Walking, chatting, doing basic backpacking stuff.

One highlight was a glimpse of Half Dome, awesome!


The trail dropped down to Lewis Creek and we started climbing again.  Another highlight was the Florence Creek waterfall.  I couldn't say that it's the "most awesome display of cascading water on the entire High Route", Mr. Roper, but it was very nice.  Maybe in a higher snowpack year it would be entirely more impressive.


Near the upper end of the valley we took a minor detour off the SHR to see about camping by Bernice Lake.  Preparing for the final climb of the day:


Yep, that was worth it!  It's a pretty, quiet lake and we were quite pleased.  John went for a walk and took a picture from higher up:


Catching Robyn and Cathy in the act of inflating their comfortable-looking sleeping pads.  I might have to get me one of those...


Day 6:
Oatmeal tragedy
Half Dome is majestic sight
Feel the Bern-ice Lake

Our last full day on the trail, and we were excited that it was finally a short several hours to our next camping destination.  The only backpacking effort was the climb up to Vogelsang pass.  Several runners on the trail reminded us we were getting closer to civilization.

As we neared the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, we were greeted by a park ranger.  We were up for a chat (it was still new seeing other people around).  She even checked our backpacking permit and bear cans.  Excellent, that was a first for all of us; happy to dig everything out to show her.

She gave us some good beta on the lakes in the immediate area, and we set off for Townsley because it was off-trail.  Good call; we had the place to ourselves.

Well, except for a marmot who was really interested in Robyn and Cathy's tent and gear.  Talk about human-acclimated.  There was some yelling involved and I don't believe the creature came away with anything except a good talking-to.

We were sure to carefully stash our food for our afternoon day hike.  Finally a chance to walk without packs and see some higher areas around us.  Yay for that!

Climbing up to a pass further up the valley:


Ireland Lake on the other side - very nice:


John went on walk-about while us ladies decided to leisurely head back to camp to relax.  John was kind enough to take some pictures during his adventure.

Townsley is the further lake in the middle of the photo:


The ridge John decided to follow.  Have I mentioned I married a mountain goat?


There are still a few glaciers up high in the Sierras but it's not easy to see them, much less look down on one from above:


Hanging Basket Lake, an apt name for the hidden high lake tucked above the valley:


Last night on the trail, always bittersweet.

Day 7:
Ranger check - all good!
Finally a play day, yay
Go away, marmot!

The final morning was an easy downhill stroll for a few miles to Tuolumne Meadows.  John fittingly bookended our journey with another partially-blurry photo.  At least he's in it, as he was the photographer for most of the others.  Hi John!


And - hi John!  Thank you Robyn for this fun picture:


And thank you ALL for a super enjoyable trip!  Let's go do more adventurous journeys together.

Last day:
Hiking with our friends
Walking, talking, and laughing
It was a great week!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Sierra High Route with Robyn and Cathy

Our friend Robyn has been talking about exploring the Sierra High Route for years.  It's a path that mostly parallels the JMT, much of it off-trail, and with navigation to figure out where to go.  Last year John and I got to explore parts of it.  Sadly without Robyn and her wife Cathy, due to a (thankfully minor) power tool accident.

They were "in" for trying again, so we selected another section.  This time we started at the Devil's Postpile and hiked/scrambled north to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite.  The plan worked well, especially with a shuttle bus from our finish (and parking) spot to Mammoth Lakes.  Can't get much easier than that.

We stayed at a campground in town, then it was time to walk for bagels and coffee:


One more shuttle bus up to the Postpile, with an obligatory "starting here" photo - at least John is in focus:


We enjoyed a little tour of the Postpile basalt columns before starting up the John Muir Trail for a short way:


Snack break at Minaret Falls, then a review of our route for the afternoon:


We climbed up into the woods on a side trail, talking, acclimating to the packs and the altitude, and overall having a good time on our first day in the wilderness.  Lunch was at a stunning overlook, our first glimpse at the amazing Sierra and Minaret scenery awaiting us.  Oh, and Robyn and Cathy eat actual lunch while hiking, so John and I followed suit.  A nice habit we might adopt.

Soon we were at Superior Lake and our camping area for the night.  We found a plethora of mosquitoes, so we roamed around searching for some higher/windier ground.  We found a passable spot and got set up just in time to hide in the tents during an afternoon rainstorm.

Our mosquito head nets and long-sleeve shirts worked OK, and it was good to verify that our bug-avoidance system still functioned, but we hoped that climbing into higher country the following morning would reveal better campsite options.

The next day I hit upon the idea to write a haiku describing each day's experiences, inspired by my Mom and in the fashion of The Delta Flyers podcast I'm listening to (while rewatching Star Trek Voyager).

Haiku for day 1:
Postpile awesomeness
Up into mosquito cloud
We can do better

Our first off-trail challenge was first up the next morning.  We could see the approximate area of Nancy Pass from our campsite, and John did a little scouting in that direction to get us started.  It looked like a short but steep ascent, with obvious vegetation issues and potential loose rock.

Well, the rocks weren't too bad, but willows blocked much of the lower half of the gully.  There wasn't anything to be done except charge ahead, entangle ourselves, and then extricate our bodies and our packs little by little on the other side.  Eventually we achieved higher ground, picked leaves and sticks out of our hair, and were free to continue slowly climbing to the top of the pass.

The rest of the day (continued below) had other notable moments, but when it came down to it, the haiku had to be about our right-off-the-bat challenge.

Haiku for day 2:
Nancy Pass is steep
Clawing, clawing our way up
Willow birth canal

Continuing on!  From there it was much more fun.  Deciphering the map and loving the views of the Minarets (thanks for the photo, Robyn!):


It helped to have copies of Roper's book (chapter 5) to refer to.  Not only for the route directions, but some of the more colorful descriptions.  "Descend unstable talus below Nancy Pass, then wander left toward the uppermost visible trees.  From here drop down a precipitous slope to easier ground, then contour to the north."

We descended and wandered as instructed.  The "precipitous slope" was actually the easiest part of the day, with a use trail now in place.

Lunch was at another pleasant pass with views north and south.  Eventually we found our way over to Minaret Lake, and wow how gorgeous!  This would be a wonderful place to come back to, stay for a couple days, appreciate the peaceful beauty.


Looking back longingly as we climbed away from Minaret Lake.  Places to go...


...like up this "class 3 slot" toward Cecile Lake above us.  We picked out the slot by the Millennium Falcon-shaped boulder wedged into the bottom of it:


Because I know myself, we brought along a piece of cord.  It was useful for hauling packs up the slot (after John mountain goated his way to the top).  Also for minor belays to help the rest of us as we took turns grabbing for handholds and pulling ourselves upwards.  I wasn't sure how difficult this section of the SHR would be, but it turns out that this is the single spot I'm not comfortable doing by myself.  Luckily I have friends who love this kind of stuff too!

Also: cord = good as a clothesline

We clambered over rocks around to the north side of Cecile Lake, happy for the beautiful afternoon weather.


Checking out Iceberg Lake below us, and admiring the patch of green on the north end where we might camp that night:


So close, and yet so far... first we had to descend an "unpleasant slope", and we agree with Roper on that assessment.  Rocks, pebbles, bare slippery dirt.  Can't be too upset though, with all the views around as we worked our way down.

The traverse was also slow, but not nearly as unpleasant:


Amazing how flowers can bloom in a place like this:


We were stoked to find an empty campsite, not only empty of people but also of mosquitoes.  Much better.

Roper calls this "a singularly peaceful place"


Doing a bit of planning and map study before bed:


Coffee on the rocks at dawn:


Getting moving again, we hopped the creek and sauntered over to a nice view of Shadow Creek valley.  Working our way up above Ediza Lake, we saw several other camping parties and managed a couple more creek crossings.  

I believe this was the scene after a wading experience:


We found a nice trail - and then a really nice waterfall, yay!  It was a good morning.


At the top of the valley, below Ritter and Banner peaks, we found what Roper calls "a bleak tarn".  This was good water refill and snack spot, admiring the views all around us.


Time for some rock-hopping on a traverse above Nydiver Lakes.  John took us on a very nice line over to Whitebark Pass, where we set up a camera for this fun group shot:


Garnet Lake, something beautiful to look at while avoiding looking down the other side of the pass (it was a bit steep and rocky):


The descent (or the "plunge", per Roper) turned out to be not-too-bad, just slow rock-scrambling.  Then it was easy travel over the next pass and down to Thousand Island Lake.  Another piece of delicious scenery, with even more islands than Garnet.  Maybe not quite a thousand of them, but close.  We could see taking a packraft trip back there.

We traversed an isthmus, all the while saying the word "isthmus" over and over because we couldn't help it.

One last big climb for the day, up along the stream that feeds the islanded lake.  The book describes an interesting bird we kept a watch for, called a dipper or an ouzel.  They skim the surface of the water, following the turns in the creek while bobbing and diving.  Sure enough, there were ouzels!  So fun to watch.

Heading toward North Glacier Pass we had to get back to work, figuring how to cross large boulder fields (both the boulders and the fields were large).  We greeted a group coming down, 3 guys who were also doing the SHR but in the other direction.  It was fun to talk to them, although we weren't sure how they were getting away with not carrying bear cans.

More climbing, more rocks...

Wind!!  The top of the pass was gusty, and we hid for a minute while John figured out the best direction to start down the other side.

On the map it looked like such a short distance, but it took some time for us to traverse over the north side of Lake Catherine to find an area suitable for camping.  We were sure ready to pitch tents and relax for the rest of the evening.

Our two-bedroom condo at the tarn to the west of the lake, very nice:


Day 3 haiku:
Bleak tarn - not so bleak
If fire... Thousand Island Lake
Ouzels are cool-zels!

For the final day of this post (to be continued in part 2), we had a lot of challenges to figure out.  It was basically "crux day", with navigational focus, a possible maze, a big water crossing, and various ways to get stuck or lost.  Needless to say, we were up early and ready to figure it out.

From our high camp, the water spilled down the rocks and just kept going.  We had no idea how many drops there were in this creek until we followed it way, way down the side of the hill.  Every time we looked back, there were more cascades to gawk at.  Wow, if this area were more accessible, there would be a ton of tourists here because it's awesome.

The very top:


John had scouted the first part of our descent, and we were happy to let him check ahead for the best way.  We practiced our granite ramp walking, which was quite fun.  So many neat rocks and slabs.  John figured out excellent and mostly easy ways down between the class 3 cliffs and it was really enjoyable because of his help.  Thank you John!

The water falls:


Roper uses the word "reconnoiter" and we decided that was definitely what John was doing.

Big waterfall:


One by one, we figured out each challenge.  There were probably a few high-fives involved.

The basic idea of the extent of the cascading creek:


Lower down there was a small trail to follow along a steep traverse, that helped a lot.

Then we reached the "labyrinthine granite corridors" and John dropped his pack to go figure it out.  We're always up for a good labyrinth.  He returned to lead us up to the Twin Island Lakes, no problem.  Thank you John!


Doesn't it look like we know what we're doing?


We were all wondering about the upcoming lake ford, but the bigger challenge turned out to be the traverse to get to it.  Perhaps we should have climbed up over the hill instead.  There was some hand-holding and face-making involved, but we got there.

Because this was a low-snow year, the water crossing was simple.  Just a careful wade.  One more challenge = complete!


Another view of the creek we had been next to, now on the far side of the valley:


And while we're taking group shots in beautiful places:


The southern Twin Island Lake was much easier to maneuver around:


John had plenty of time to take pictures, including this curious rock with possible fossil patterns?


We were up for the next challenge - potentially tricky route finding.  It made us pay attention, but we didn't have any issues.  A small unnamed lake was rather uninspiring, without running water coming in or out.  We were happy to find a bubbling stream to the west where we could refill bottles for the final traverse.

Yep, more rocks and talus, not a surprise.  At least we were almost to our destination - Bench Canyon, down at the bottom of this lovely area:


One last drop down, and soon we were "cavorting like a child", in the words of Roper.  Yes, it was a perfect place to set up camp.  Complete with little bathtubs for bathing.  We were very pleased.

Day 4:
Endless waterfalls
John is reconnoiterer
Lake ford - no big deal!