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TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 11:01 am
by Carne_DelMuerto
Earlier this month, two friends and I completed a loop across the Glacier Divide. We hiked out of North Lake, taking Lamarck Col over and then down to Darwin Bench. From there we crossed back over via Alpine Col and spent some time at Lake Muriel before hiking out over Piute Pass and back to North Lake.

K drove from San Jose on Tuesday, July 8th and picked up N in Davis before meeting me in Auburn. We drove over I-80 and down 395 to Bishop. After grabbing our permit and some sandwiches, we drove to North Lake, ate, and then hiked in to Lower Lamarck Lake. The bugs were a problem at North Lake, but lessened as we climbed. By about 7:30 pm we had found a simple campsite right off the trail and went to sleep early in anticipation of an early start the next day.

I awoke nauseous and with a headache. We hoped the night at Lower Lamarck would help with acclimation, but obviously it wasn't enough. After water, ibuprofen, coffee, and some food I felt better and by about 7:30 we were climbing. I felt better as the day progressed.

The hike up to Lamarck Col has been well documented, so I'll just say a few things. We were pleased with how defined the trail is and loved the views afforded. At the top the snow field worried me at first, but once I got to it and felt how soft it was, we climbed it easily. It was the first time crossing Lamarck Col for all of us.
We had spotted a lone hiker catching up with us and just after we reached the col, Dario, long time back-country ranger, caught up welcomed us to Kings Canyon. He gave us some advice on our route down and camping spots in Darwin Canyon. Then he kept on hiking, moving much faster than us. We were impressed as he probably has 20 years on us. We hiked down into the canyon, encountering a few talus fields. We made camp between the last two lakes, worried about some dark clouds over the divide. No significant rain to report.
N and I fished for a while and there were large Goldens everywhere. Unfortunately, they were not interested in anything we threw at them. They looked to be spawning and were more concerned about defending shallow patches of sand than eating.

The next morning I awoke nauseous again, but the same ibuprofen/coffee ritual helped me overcome it and we hiked down to Darwin Bench. After finding a high spot between the two creeks and dumping our packs we hiked around the bench. It was amazing. We sat overlooking Evolution Valley and took in the view of so many high peaks. K went off to explore as N and I fished our way back up the bench. The Goldens were small, but they hit everything. Their bellies were the brighest red-orange I've ever seen on Goldens. We plucked them out all afternoon—great fun.
We encountered a lone hiker—a Marine fresh out of the service who was on his first trip into the Sierra. He was doing a 3-night trip over Piute Pass, down Piute Canyon to the PCT, back up Evolution Valley, and out over Lamarck Col. He was solo. We chatted for a while and gave him some info on the route up to Lamarck Col. We were impressed. After that, some alpine frisbee filled part of the evening and then we all slept great.

I awoke feeling great. We packed up an started on what would be a huge day for us—over Alpine Col. We took a route that had us cross the isthmus between Lakes 11540 and 11546 and stay left of the drainage from Lake 11910. We intended to follow the west side of Lake 11910 as suggested in Secor. It was the real start to some serious talus-hopping. Secor also mentions granite ledges to follow, and so that lead me to make a mistake. It looked as if there was a cliff face on the west side that would require us to go up and over. I thought getting above that early would be best and so followed a scree line up to some granite ledges that required a barely class 3 move. That move scared me though and I did not feel comfortable having N and K follow me. I also did not like the idea of climbing down. I directed them to see if there was lower route and I continued on the cliff tops hoping to find a talus or scree line to descend. We were separated, I did not know if I'd be able to find a route down, and a mistake at this point would be costly, if not deadly. I had to collect myself for a moment and then I moved forward. I did find a talus line down and N and K stayed on the shore and were able to cross below the cliff on a snow field. We met back up and started the climb up to Alpine Col. We went up the middle ramp and the climb became easier the higher we went. We took a break at the top, quite pleased with ourselves.

Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 11:02 am
by Carne_DelMuerto
The view from Alpine Col was awesome. We could see Humphreys Basin out in the distance. The view down to Goethe Lake, however, was concerning. Dario had warned us: we'll be climbing a lot of talus. "A lot" is an understatement. After our break at the top, we started our descent, using one small snow field to travel down and then working through the talus. Once we reached the cliff face half-way down, we neither went left or right but straight down the middle, using a ramp that appeared to have a slight use trial. It required a class 3 move to get around a granite nose, but I think it saved us some time and talus. Looking back at the route later, we thought it looked crazy to have come down that way—funny how different things look with some distance. We stopped at the inlet to Goethe Lake to pump and snack and then continued with the talus slog around the lake. It seemed like the talus was never going to end.
We finally made it to lower Goethe Lake and we desperate to find a decent camping spot. There was an older couple camped at the lake, about 15 feet from shore. They didn't seem keen on visitors and we didn't feel like camping out in the exposed area below the lake, so we kept moving, hoping to find a decent spot above Muriel Lake with easy water access. K was fading and wanted to rest soon. We didn't find anything with good water high above the lake, so we followed the western shore to a small knob that overlooks Muriel Lake to the right and Humphreys Basin everywhere else. It was bit exposed and a small descent to get water, but it would do nicely.
I have never been in an environment like the Humpreys Basin. The granite of varying sizes from peas to houses evenly distributed across large rolling hills was a sight to behold. We explored as the sun set, checking out the view above the eastern-most Wahoo Lake. It's hard to put into words how amazing I found this area. We all agreed we'll be coming back some day. That night we stayed up to watch the full moon light up the area. The only thing wrong with the evening was the loud group across the lake with their HUGE campfire.
The wind blew all night. The gusts at times seemed like they might pick me up, bivy and all. The morning did not bring a reprieve. While we had another day on the schedule, built-in for fishing and exploring, we decided we had accomplished enough and that after a lazy morning we'd hike to Piute Pass and out. As we took our time, a helicopter came over the divide and started making loops over the basin. We could hear something from it's loudspeaker as it went down the canyon, but couldn't understand it. After another 10 minutes of looping up and down the basin, the helicopter landed next to a group that we could barely see in the distance. 20-30 minutes later it took off again and zipped down over Piute Pass. We found out later on the trail, the helicopter was for a woman suffering from acute altitude sickness. She was reported to fine and doing much better once down at the hospital.

The wind never let up, so we made our way over Piute Pass and down the trail. It was such a treat after the talus slog the day before. We saw lots of day-hikers and backpackers coming up the trail, including a group of Asian tourists all wearing a lot of brand new equipment. My guess is that a shop in Bishop had just made a killing. Once out, we headed to Bishop for some grub and then made the drive back to our families. The extra day at home would turn out to be a benefit to all of us.

This was the most ambitious and physically challenging trip I have ever done. While we were happy we made it over Alpine Col, none of us have a desire to hike it again. I highly recommend seeing Darwin Bench and Humpreys Basin—both places were mind-blowing.

Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 11:02 am
by Carne_DelMuerto
A few notes...

Animals sighted: Jack Rabbit, Pika, Marmots (of course!), Golden Trout, Coyote, and we think we heard a pair of Eagles circling Humpreys Basin after sunset.

We had a couple instances of rock-fall in Darwin Canyon above the lowest lake. It appeared it was starting from a wet spot on the ridge south of the lowest lake.

In addition to the Marine we encountered on Darwin Bench, we saw a group of 4 from a distance heading down in the evening. Based on their route, I guessed the had come over Alpine Col and followed the western-most drainage below Lake 11540. We also encountered a day-hiker from North Lake who came over Lamarck Col, explored Darwin Bench, climbed back up to col, summited Mt. Lamarck and back to North Lake the same day.

Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 12:56 pm
by Mradford
Awesome! Did that trip in reverse last year. Darwin Canyon//Bench has to be one of my favorite places.

Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2014 8:34 pm
by giantbrookie
Nice report from one of the real crown jewel parts of the High Sierra.

Interesting about enjoyable encounters with other hikers---it happens that one of my most memorable meetings other hikers took place in Darwin Canyon, too. It was two guys who had hiked to and fished more of the Seki backcountry than I had (I'd say by a factor of 2+). Over G and Ts they mixed at their campsite (which was close to ours) we looked over their giant taped-up Seki-JMW topo map and discussed the premium lakes of the highest part of the range. I must say this one one conversation in which I'm pretty sure I received more info than I was able to give back in exchange. To this day, I still remember pretty much ever last one of those tips and fish stories.

Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 11:24 am
by balance

Thanks for bringing back fond memories of a solo trip over Lamarck Col. Crossing a wide field of suncups. Finding that the benches down from the Col into the Basin we're almost like a well planned staircase. I continued along the JMT to Piute Canyon Trail and looped back through Humphreys Basin. The South fork of the San Joaquin River has good fishing.

One funny story. There was a temporary ranger station near the trailhead, where they gave out permits. A nice couple in their late fifties-early sixties, carrying brand new gear, was asking a young ranger for advice on where to go. They left ahead of me. I later passed them by, doggedly stepping through the suncups, the cellophane and price tags still on their sleeping pads, headed for Lamarck Col. I always wondered how in the heck that ranger thought this would be a good route for them???

I remember feeling that Darwin Canyon is beautiful and a bit mysterious. I thought about staying there for a while, like maybe forever.


Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 8:17 pm
by seanr
Nice pics! Those bring back some good memories. I need to find time to go through my own before I'm out wandering again. Speaking of boulders, talus slopes, and rescues, it has crossed my mind that we weren't all that far from the Goddard incident and rescue. You guys were the only folks I saw out there that day, but I can't say the same about recent hikes over Piute, Bishop, Kearsarge, and Glen Passes. Anything besides major easy passes and the JMT, I haven't seen anyone.

Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 8:37 pm
by rlown
nice report! no fish caught as you went along?

Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Fri Jul 25, 2014 6:23 am
by endlessbummer
I am "K" from that trip. Kirk

We were too focused on approaching the Col to fish 11910 and the other one on the Darwin side.

Then same story on Goethe, we weren't sure how long it was going to take us to navigate the talus.

Then I started to bonk, as mentioned, so by the time we got to Muriel it was too windy to fish, but I think there was a lot of fish in there.

Recapping a couple items Carne mentioned, regarding responsible / sustainable camp sites:

We saw a grand total of 6 backpack parties camped out:

- One above Lower Lamarck (no problem)
- One near Upper Lamarck (no problem)
- One at Darwin Bench (no problem)
- One ON Goethe (tent was pitched in hardpan/mud not even 10 feet from shore….ridiculous)
- Party #1 at Muriel (no problem)
- Party #2 at Muriel (fires strictly prohibited up there at the time, they had a bonfire, huge like Carne mentioned, total frat bros, winds gusted to at least 30 knots that night too)

That is obviously crappy ratio: two out of six parties totally blowing it up there.

(stepping off high horse, going back into my glass house now)

Re: TR: Glacier Divide, July 8-12, 2014

Posted: Fri Jul 25, 2014 10:24 am
by seanr
Kirk, I almost always find an entirely different world and culture when not near the most popular or relatively easy routes. Rugged, steep, and/or x-country routes that have sections requiring ambition and concentration thin out crowds and inexperienced hikers. Places without big name recognition, or without names at all, help with that as well. So does out of peak season hiking. I'm glad you got to experience the difference.