Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/18

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robertseeburger
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Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/18

Post by robertseeburger » Sun Aug 05, 2018 8:01 am

Well, I finally got to do a trip around the great western divide. I have enjoyed reading many posts here on this kind of trip. I consider the upper Kern one of my favorite areas in the Sierra and have long admired just looking at the peaks of the great western divide..especially from Milestone Mountain to Thunder Mountain.
I did some research last year on this, had a permit, and with pack all packed and ready to go...I cancelled when my mother in law had a stroke. So, I decided to try again this year..and I finally got it done.

Trip Route...Surgarloaf/Colby Pass/Milestone Bowl/Milestone Creek/Upper Kern/Little Joe Pass/Longley Pass/Brewer Pass and return to Sugarloaf 11 days
Last year I could not get a permit for Road's end. So a ranger recommended Sugarloaf. I remember reading Secor recommend Sugarloaf as well and since I had never hiked from there and since I had done road's end several times, I decided to try Sugarloaf as a trailhead. More later.

Day 1. When you pick Sugarloaf, you have a choice I guess of either Rowell Meadows or Marvin Pass trailheads. Since Rowell Meadows is at 7800 feet and Marvin Pass is at 8400, without any other information, I chose Marvin Pass trailhead. Driving up there was no problem. The climb to Marvin Pass is only 700 feet and it felt great to make a pass on the first day with little effort. I eventually made the 13 miles to Scaffold Meadows/ Roaring River ranger station at 7400 feet. Amazing to have a first day backpack in the Sierras where you go DOWN. The hiking was pleasant but not spectacular. I did get demolished by a massive thunderstorm late in afternoon... a pattern for the entire trip.

Day 2. A very pleasant hike up the roaring river to Colby Lake. A picture of Whaleback..the same picture probably has been posted many times on HST.
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The interested thing this day to me was how many times I had to take off my boots to wade. I counted five times. No logs, no bridges, no rock hopping. Brewer Creek, Cunningham creek, and Roaring River 3 times. They were all full of water in a low snow year which surprised me. I wonder what this leg was like last year..probably some difficult crossings. Colby Lake was very nice. One other group of six camped there as well. I was very pleased that I had made the 23 miles here in just two days. Another massive thunderstorm just after I arrived at the lake and had set up camp..was prepared.
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Day 3. This day I wanted to go over Colby Pass and Milestone Pass into Milestone Creek. I made it over Colby Pass without incident and circled into Milestone Bowl. And it was only noon. But the clouds had started forming much earlier and I didn't want to go over the pass during a thunderstorm. I stopped and eventually just decided to camp in Milestone Bowl. The thunderstorm came..so I made a good decision..hey even though I was now behind schedule, life could be a lot worse than just staring at the Kaweahs.. I had a great view!
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A side note.. I remember the post about the most remote location in the Sierra some time ago. I remember I replied thinking about Dumbbell Lakes and I enjoyed reading everyone's perspective. In particular I remember someone did a least squares method of distance from a trailhead and came up with two locations that were tied.. 1) the area just south of Tunemah Lake and2) Milestone Bowl. It occurred to me I had just been to both in the last40 days. I can tell you Milestone Bowl is remote...but it has nothing of the feeling of remoteness of the Tunemah area to me..

Day 4. I woke up and the weather was clear. I made it over Milestone Pass no problem except for a nasty fall descending the talus on the north side. But I recovered, set down my pack and climbed Milestone Mountain. I fell in love with Milestone Mountain about 50 years ago when I saw a picture by Francis Farquar in 1925. I have always enjoyed just looking at it. I decided that it was tied with Seven Gables as my favorite mountain in the Sierra. It has been on my list to climb for years..and I finally did it. A view looking up to the pinnacle.
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It was easy class 3. Nice views of course. I picked just one...from Williamson to Whitney.
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Oh one more. I looked down at Upper Colby Lake . Boy does this look like it should have fish. If I had a list of lakes to plant in the parks, I would put this one on the list. Oh well.
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I eventually made it down to the Kern, and up to 3bay lake..aka Casper Lake.

Now for the purpose of the trip. 4 full days on the upper Kern!!! It had taken many miles to get here and the first four days were long and hard... all with backpack.. no wandering no fishing. Now... I planned to spend my time without a backpack and just wander around a lot. This area is one of the best in the Sierra for just planting and wandering. I remember replying to someone in an earlier post recommding cutting out a leg of a trip and taking more time to do the same in this area.

Days 5-7
A view from 3 Bay Lake
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A view of the stream above 3 Bay Lake. A delightful canyon. I fished some there and caught many small beautiful goldens. But there were a couple that actually went up to 11 inches which surprised me. The lake has rainbows and hybrids.
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I favorite lake of mine ..unnamed.. I went there a couple of years ago and had to return.
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And of course Mcdermand's Three Mysterious Lakes. I have taken this same shot 4 times over 45 years but it doesn't get old to me.
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And I would call this one... just another unnamed lake with a beautiful view of the GWD.
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I finally had to leave the Upper Kern. I had done research a year before.. and chose Little Joe Pass. I had been over Harrison Pass before and had no problem doing this as long as there was little or no snow. I ruled out Lucy's Foot Pass and Thunder Pass due to too much talus. I ruled out Milly's foot pass due to accounts of the class 3. ( I would do this before Lucy's or Thunder). So I chose Little Joe's. Many thanks to Alpine Mike for his write up and for the two accounts by Sekihiker. Very easy from the south. With the descent though.. I thought it was "difficult". There was a lot of scree on rock. I did it...and I would say I encountered no moves greater than class 2, but it wasn't fun. There was one section where I had to exit the gully near the bottom to keep it at class 2.
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I met a group of six people at Reflection Lake that also had just come over the pass. They had read about it on HST. I was thinking with six people, how did they keep from kicking rocks on each other?
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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by balzaccom » Sun Aug 05, 2018 8:05 am

Forty-five years ago Colby Lake had a healthy population of Golden trout...
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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by robertseeburger » Sun Aug 05, 2018 8:44 am

Part 2
I made it down to Reflection Lake. The problem was the haze from the fires.. I assume the Yosemite fire was the main culprit. At this point, I actually thought about aborting. But the next morning it was clear. Here are two views... one in the afternoon I arrived, and the next morning. What a change!
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Now it was time to go over Longley Pass. I had read Gunderson's account with keen interest with respect to the cornice a month ago. And now it was time to make it over. The hardest part of the east side was just getting around Reflection Lake to me. I took a line that was too low. On the way up to Longley Pass, I met a couple...Chris and Julie. They were HST members and had also read Gunderson's post. Small world.
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We were able to go below the cornice without any difficulty. I looked at the alternative class 3 to the right of the cornice and thought it would not be too difficult.
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I camped at South Guard Lake. I know it used to have large goldens.. and I spied the waters carefully looking for some mistake in the reality that it is barren.
No such luck...I never believe lakes are barren just because people tell me they are... But it is a beautiful lake in a nice setting.
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I had one other mountain that I had to climb. Mount Brewer. I remember when we discussed "what is the best view in the Sierras?" I had picked Mount Goddard.
And I remember that Maverick said...you should climb Mount Brewer. Little comments like that stick with me. It was completely socked in in the evening though at South Guard Lake. When I woke up.. it was mostly clear, so I headed toward Brewer Col. When I got there though...it was 8:30 AM and already 50% cloudy.
I really wanted to climb it..but decided it wasn't safe. I thought of the line from Indiana Jones where Sean Connery says to Harrison Ford..."let it go Indiana".
Frustrated, I shrugged my shoulders and headed down to Big Brewer Lake. I know Maverick... "it gives me another excuse to return some day!".
Big Brewer Lake was of course beautiful. Lots of pics to choose from..here is one.
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And sometimes you just gotta eat fish... I was running out of food. Size doesn't matter!
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And now it was time to get back. I wanted of course to go over Sphinx Col and also visit North Guard Lake, but chose to spend more time in the Upper Kern.
Now my prime choice was to go down Brewer Creek to the Roaring River. I knew this was doable from Oldranger and Maverick. However, I also knew that you could go northwest from the lake at 9700 feet below Brewer and hit the trail. I met two climbers below South Guard Lake who had done both and suggested I do the latter. At this point in my trip, I preferred ease rather than cross country. So I chose the latter alternative.
Here is a shot of the lake below Brewer. Nice lake.
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From this lake, I headed northwest until I hit the trail to Avalanche Pass. This was extremely easy. Class 1 walking. I walked along the ridge in trees. I was very surprised just how simple it was. I left Big Brewer Lake at 7:00 and I was at Roaring River Ranger station at 10:30. This was way ahead of what I expected.
I have never done the direct route up Brewer Creek, but I can say unequivocally that the route I took was a good easy route either way to get from Roaring River to Big Brewer Lake. I think there was one 50 yard talus field...but other than this it was all class 1.

From here, I was planning to spend a night , but like a horse heading for the barn, I just kept walking and I made it out the same day, one day early. I hiked all the way from Big Brewer to Marvin Pass trailhead in one day... I think like 25 miles. ( easy). While there was no thunderstorm that hit me, it was overcast which kept the heat down.

Some fish pictures from the trip. Mixed rainbow and golden country.
A rainbow...from a lake where I read sekihiker caught a 15 incher years ago... a fifteen inch rainbow.
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And a couple of sixteen inch goldens
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And one 18 inch golden... sleek but beautiful...great fighter
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Overall a great trip. Spent time in Upper Kern, climbed Milestone, caught some nice fish. The time in the upper Kern without backpack on was wonderful.
Haze was bad at times. And a little too much rain. But had a good time.
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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by sekihiker » Sun Aug 05, 2018 9:14 am

Every time I read a report like yours I want to pack up and head there. Great photos and wonderful account of an awesome trip. Thanks.

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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by BigMan » Sun Aug 05, 2018 9:36 am

Thanks for the entertaining report. I heart the upper Kern.

I was in Miter Basin during the same time and experienced some of the same storm activity. Except there it was intense hail and lightning.
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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by maverick » Sun Aug 05, 2018 11:15 am

Enjoyed the TR and pic's Robert! :thumbsup:
Good to see that the area was not impacted by the smoke to much, I see Mt. Brewer in your future. :)
It's always wonderful to meet fellow HST members in the backcountry, is a real special treat!
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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by BigSea » Sun Aug 05, 2018 1:49 pm

Nice report, Bob. It was really nice to meet you out there and to spend the day hiking with you over Longley pass. Julie and I finished up our trip yesterday and got back home last night. While bypassing the upper kern area, we were talking about focusing one of our next trips on that area and your report has us more convinced that we need to do that. Here's that pic Julie took of us hiking down from Longley pass....
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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by lambertiana » Sun Aug 05, 2018 4:50 pm

No fish in Colby? When I was there in 2006 the people in my group were catching them on every cast. And when I was there in 2016 some guys in my group caught some nice ones, too.

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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by robertseeburger » Mon Aug 06, 2018 7:25 am

There were two comments on fish in Colby Lake. I should have been more clear on my post. I can confirm, yes, there are fish ( rainbow ) in Colby Lake. I fished there for a few minutes and there is a substantial population there. My comments and my picture from near the top of Milestone Mountain referred to the lake that is known by some as "Upper Colby Lake". It is the large lake northeast of Colby Lake at 11500 feet or so. While I did not visit it, there are references to it in HST to be fishless.

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Re: Trip Report Circle Great Western Divide 7/22/18 to 8/1/1

Post by TehipiteTom » Mon Aug 06, 2018 8:52 am

Great report, really nice pics.
Here is a shot of the lake below Brewer. Nice lake.
That's the lake Brewer & his party used as a basecamp in late June/early July 1864, when they climbed (and named) Mt. Brewer.

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