TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

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cgundersen
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TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by cgundersen » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:34 am

The map of the route is attached later, but if it's hard to access, here's a summary: Wolverton toward Moose Lake; to Big Bird Lake; to above Josephine Lake; to Colby Lake; to the upper reaches of the Kern-Kaweah canyon; to Glacier Lake and back via Lion & Tamarack Lakes to the HST.

For the second time in the last decade, my pal from the East coast and I headed to a westside entry for a mid-August trip. In part, this reflected the relatively clear skies in the southwestern Sierra and the desire to mix things up a bit. The route followed the attached map, and big chunks of the terrain covered ground familiar to lots of folk on this site. But, the one big deviation was the over-the-hump route from Deadman Canyon to Cloud Canyon via Josephine Lake. This is a path that winds up on few itineraries, and if you ever decide to give it a whirl, you’ll see why. Nevertheless, I’ll keep the daily commentary brief and pinpoint the highlights (and, the occasional low spots).
Day1: The drive to Lodgepole (from Three Rivers) included a 30 min wait for the escort vehicle to take us past the ongoing road repair on the General’s Highway. But, even with that delay and the queue for wilderness permits, we were on the Alta trail out of Wolverton shortly after 9am. It was a moderately overcast day (ie., not too hot) and the air quality improved the deeper we got into the mountains. But, by the time we reached Alta meadow, it started to rain. Since the clouds were not that thick, we found a good stand of trees and after about an hour the shower subsided. As we reached the ridge that signals the final climb to Moose Lake, the clouds looked threatening again, so instead of ascending the exposed approach to Moose, we dropped down to the little tarns below Moose. The long-range views are not as spectacular as one gets from Moose, but the exposed granite is still pretty impressive. The evening sky cleared and the red glow of Mars on the southern horizon was a stunning beacon.
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Day2: The plan was to head across the Tablelands aiming for Big Bird Lake with the option of stopping short at one of the lakes above Big Bird. In keeping with my recent penchant for “left deviation” we missed the turnoff for Big Bird and wound up reaching the spot where the Tablelands drops down into Ferguson canyon. Yes, the views North and East were cool, but we were a long way from where we wanted to be. Upon reaching the tiny alpine tarn high above the Big Bird basin, we were surprised to come upon a group parked at THE choice campsite on the southwest approach to this water feature. It had fantastic 360 degree views, but we quickly assured the resident party that there is no way that we were going to spoil their solitude. Instead, we found a nicely groomed campsite on the isthmus between the two little lakes above Big Bird and called it a day. Although rain clouds had been buffeting Cloud Canyon, we’d been in sunshine most of the day, and the evening sky cleared for a brilliant sunset.
ferguson.jpg
big bird canyon.jpg
Day3: Our goal today was to get to Josephine or the un-named lakes immediately above Josephine. After a leisurely stroll past Big Bird down to the area where we were going to begin the climb, we stopped for an early lunch at a huge campsite, only to have a ranger and a packer escort several mules into the area for a provisions drop. These were the only folk we’d encounter all day, and I’m still curious whom they were leaving goodies for. After that, it was up, up, up. As the topo map shows, there’s nothing terribly complicated about this route. It’s just a LOT of up. We started ascending at the north end of the pond in Ranger Meadow that is slowly being claimed by meadow grasses. Vegetation was not too ornery and route-finding was pretty easy all the way up to the first, un-named lake on this side of Glacier Ridge. By the time we reached the ridge looking down into the Josephine drainage, it was raining in Cloud Canyon, and we hustled to find a place to park for the night. In the early ‘00s, I’d come over this ridge from Cloud Canyon and had generally recalled that campsite options were limited up by the ridge. This recollection was spot on. There was nothing around the uppermost lake, and by the time we finished surveying the middle lake (10898), the weather situation was looking iffy. We decided on a marginal spot on the northern fringe of the middle lake and quickly set up the tent: only to have the weather clear for a golden evening of alpenglow. For all those folk who have been over Longley Pass this year, these lakes have a great view across at Longley and its neighboring peaks. A bonus was that this lake was surrounded by more bear scat than I’ve ever seen in the Sierra. We squeezed everything even remotely scented into the bear cans. If the bear visited, we slept through it.
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Josephine ridge west.jpg
josephine east.jpg
josephine sunset.jpg
Day4: Obviously, what goes up, must come down and fortunately, our brakes worked well all the way down from Josephine into Cloud Canyon. There is maybe a 50 yard wide “doable” corridor most of the way down from Josephine to the floor of Cloud Canyon on the south side of Josephine’s outlet creek. Outside this corridor is a lot of cliff action. And, the horrible mess of aspen, willows and cottonwoods flanking Roaring River were easier to negotiate going down than they had been to climb up many years before, but that transition still does not qualify as “fun”. So, we were pretty tickled when we finally reached the Colby Pass trail at Cement Table meadow. From there, we got the scenic jolt that is the Whaleback, but storm clouds were condensing again, and it started to rain just as we crossed the outlet creek below Colby Lake. Again, we huddled in a grove of trees as lightning blasted the peaks and a steady rain basted the area for a couple hours. In spite of this, there was one campsite along the Colby shore that had enough of a pine canopy that there was a dry spot for a tent and a bedroll. Gradually, the clouds receded by nightfall, and it was a quiet night at Colby.
whaleback.jpg

Day5: Rain had washed the trail clear of signs of earlier hikers, but I knew that Levi had been through this area several weeks before, so even though we had seen no one on day 4, I kept expecting to see someone else on the trail. Heck, it was mid-August! In the end, not a soul. This part of the Circle of Solitude lived up to its moniker, and by the time we veered off trail again, we’d still not encountered another hiker. Nevertheless, we did spend a bit of time at Colby Pass mooting whether we wanted to try a “high route” over the ridge separating us from the lakes below Triple Divide pass, but in the end, we chose to head for the glacial lake at the upper end of the Kern-Kaweah basin. It was a gorgeous day and the hiking was easy, and the scenery, well, check out the other TRs (like, Levi’s) that include Colby Pass, because they’re abundantly more eloquent than I am. Also, this was the first day that rain clouds had not converged at the upper end of Cloud Canyon, so we had plenty of time to take a glacial plunge and dry off in the waning daylight. It does not get much sweeter in the Sierra……and the rum punch had ice in it!
colby view.jpg
kern kaw.jpg
Day6: OK, it was decision time at breakfast: Pants Pass; Piss-in-your-Pants Pass , or option #3. We chose #3. The hillside roughly due north of the upper Kern Kaweah turns out to be a pretty benign way to reach the approach to Triple Divide Pass. We followed the gentlest contours and encountered no real obstacles. So, after ample huffing and puffing, we got to the final ascent for the Triple Divide ridge. There was some loose junk on the way up, but nothing nasty. We stopped for lunch when the slope hit zero. If the views from Colby are great, Triple Divide is right up there, too. The lone campsite that some enterprising folks carved along Glacier Lake is still there, but we continued over to the tarn at the upper end of Cloud Canyon right beneath Lion Lake pass. We were debating whether to continue over to Lion Lake (which has great campsites on its western shore), but my buddy had been fighting with leaks in his Thermarest and wanted to see whether he could plug the holes. There are very few spots to toss a sleeping bag near this tarn, but we made the best of meager circumstances. The huge views down Cloud canyon, particularly on this cloud-free day were also beguiling. Just as we were thinking about pre-prandial cocktails, we heard voices: an Aussie duo appeared moments later and they were as startled to see us as we were to see them. They were hustling to reach Lion or Tamarack Lake, so we chatted briefly before watching them ascend the 150 ft to the saddle of Lion Lake Pass. After that long uphill slog, it was pretty much a snooze for them.
option3.jpg

Day7: After another bad night on the leaky Thermarest, my buddy asked whether we might be able to reach Wolverton, instead of heading for a last night at Moose Lake. Well, I figured that if we made it past Lion and Tamarack Lakes pretty smoothly, then no problem, because the rest would be on trail. So, we gave it the old college try, only to get stymied by my penchant to veer left. Yes, I managed to get us into some nasty vegetation heading down to Tamarack, and we probably wasted an hour or more crawling over and under shrubs that were far hardier than we were. And, it was the warmest day of the trip, so by the time we got to the connector between the HST and Alta trails, it was clear that we were not going to reach Wolverton before dark. So, we started looking for a place to park for a final night and pulled over near Mehrten Creek. Obviously, it was not one of our more-memorable camp sites, but we did have to scream at a young bear who seemed to think that we were going to share rations with him (her?). I have a hunch the gorgeous coat this animal was sporting had been supported by provisions from REI, Costco, Ralphs and Vons. Once again, everything went into the bearikade…………
Day8: We timed it almost perfectly to catch the 11am opening for traffic going down the General’s Highway, and we even had time to wash off some dust at Wolverton. My buddy tracked down the nearest In ‘N Out and we were definitely back in civilization. He’s already planning for next year!
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Last edited by cgundersen on Mon Sep 17, 2018 1:23 pm, edited 3 times in total.








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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by cgundersen » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:41 am

Here are a few more photos first during the ascent out of the Kern-Kaweah basin and then of Triple Divide Pass and Glacier Lake
kaweahs.jpg
kaweahs2.jpg
kk ridge.jpg
trip div pass.jpg
glacier lake.jpg
bad air.jpg
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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by cgundersen » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:48 am

Here's the map; sorry!
2018_Sierra_Sequioa_Kings_Backpack.pdf
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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by rlown » Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:32 am

Nice TR! What is up with that "penchant to veer left?"

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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by cgundersen » Mon Sep 17, 2018 12:46 pm

Hi Russ,
I don't know; although route-finding was not terribly challenging throughout this trip, I think the Tablelands can be a bit tricky. As for the Lion-Tamarack leg, there are some patches of cliffs that we were trying to avoid, but the overgrown vegetation was hardly a bargain; it looked like sticking near the creek was the best option most of the way. We did find a slick way to avoid the talus on the southern side of Tamarack, but it required some fidgeting to reach the lake. Cameron
Last edited by cgundersen on Mon Sep 17, 2018 3:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by levi » Mon Sep 17, 2018 2:25 pm

Thanks for the beautiful pics and report as usual, Cameron! For whatever reason, the photo of Ferguson canyon looking north, with those distant peaks and ridges high up in the background, really spoke to me. Looking forward to having more to see next time I'm in the area... I should remember to seek views in other cardinal directions when I'm on a ridge (I missed out on those northerly views from the upper Tablelands on my short trip in late August).

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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by oldranger » Mon Sep 17, 2018 3:43 pm

Nice trip. One thing of note: despite what the map signifies as Ferguson Meadow it is really Long Meadow. Ferguson Meadow is down stream always and out of sight. This misnaming apparently occurred with the development of the 7 1/2 minute series maps. Also the old timers I met in the 80's referred to this upper Meadow as Long Meadow and as I recall an old survey of the meadows back about 1940 or 41 referred to the lower Meadow as Ferguson and the upper Meadow as Long Meadow.
Mike

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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by sekihiker » Mon Sep 17, 2018 5:17 pm

Wow! What a trip - nicely reported and with great photos. I spent a lot of time in that country after returning to California in the late 80's. I miss it but it might be a little rough for me now on parts of that route. Most of that country IS pretty lonely.

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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by windknot » Tue Sep 18, 2018 10:31 pm

Cool trip report and great photos! I need to spend some more time in this area. Thanks for sharing!
You can read a few backcountry reports here: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/

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Re: TR: Sequoia solitude in Deadman, Cloud and Kern Kaweah

Post by cgundersen » Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:05 am

As more time passes, I find myself lingering on images of what an unusual area the Tablelands represent, as well as the remarkable transitions they make into basins like those holding Big Bird Lake and the canyons to the northwest. But, more to the point, I looked at some of the old maps I have and I could not find anything to confirm the Long meadow/ Ferguson meadow situation Mike pointed to (above), but I have no reason to doubt what Mike pointed out. Hence, I think I should maybe go back and re-label that view with the proviso that this may be Long meadow. Regardless, one thing I'm pretty certain about is that there are seldom many folk wandering through that canyon. It looked very undisturbed! Cameron

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