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Morgan-Pine Creek etc 7/21-28 (Gold at End of Rainbow II)

Posted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:04 pm
by giantbrookie
Note: As commonly the case the fishing part is "asynchronous" and given at the end of this report.

To compare with the slight route overlap on Gold at the End of the Rainbow 2015 see the old post: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=13276

Starting in 2017, I have scheduled my summer to build to the featured High Sierra backpacking trip with my daughter, Dawn, bringing back the days of my youth when the year's highlight was a High Sierra peak bagging trip with my dad. The recent tradition began with a 3-day trip with Dawn to the Meeks Creek area in Desolation, then in 2018 it was a 5-day off trail loop to the Silver Divide out of Edison, and then the challenging 7-day off trail (with lots of snow hiking/climbing) Clark Range-Ansel Adams Wilderness trip of 2019. Last year was a turning point in trip planning in that I couldn't see putting together a future trip covering so much "new" (to me) ground with creative off trail routes. In addition, Dawn left me in the dust on most ascents (especially on trail) and whereas she is one of the strongest hikers I've ever seen for her age, I wondered if I was really showing my age at 60. This year I trained much harder, but Dawn was also in much better shape going in. In 2018 and 2019 we had planned to take the trip with my old death march buddy Todd Ramsden (alumni of trips such as Tunechuck 2008 and Gold at the end of the Rainbow 2015) but injury kept him out of one trip and his schedule precluded the other. This year my old death march buddy would join my new one and we have the two guys in the 60s (Todd 62, me turning 61 this coming weekend) with the young (14 going on 15) backcountry ace. After an entire off season of planning I chose to do an 8-day trip that overlapped part of the 2015 Gold at the End of the Rainbow (Little Lakes Valley to North Lake) trip, but explored new ground (in the Morgan Creek-Pine Creek-Lake Italy areas. Although aimed to be mainly off trail, the distance covered would be less than trips of the past. Most of our days were about 5 miles of hiking distance. Of course fishing potential constituted a significant part of the plan with the main goal to get Dawn her first golden (as well to break her 0 for 2020 skunk).

For East Side trips such as this I've traditionally stayed in a motel the night before hiking in, and for long trips (7 days plus) Judy and I always booked a room for the evening of when we hiked out given the long drive back to the Bay Area. But times are different in 2020. My family vetoed this plan on account of the virus risk, so we aimed to primitive camp on day zero reasonably close (ie within less than hour driving time) to our trailhead, and we'd hope I got sufficient sleep on night 7, so that the 6-hour drive home wouldn't be too much on day 8 (which was a much easier final day than those of the big trips with Judy in 90s). The change in our day zero (Monday Jul. 20) sleeping spot would be the only impact of the pandemic on the trip. I used the old Pathfinder to find a nice dispersed camp spot near McGee Creek. Judy and Lee prepared delicious bento boxes for me and Dawn---better than anything we could have snagged at a restaurant--so we didn't need to do any cooking when pulled into camp just before sundown.
We set up camp with my "luxury car camping" set up, which includes the 4-person tent (last used on the west Desolation trip) that is big enough to fit the two twin size mattresses I brought for the purpose. In addition to comfort, the game plan was to have a separate set up so as to keep our backpacks fully assembled. In addition to fine sunset views over Lake Crowley to Glass Mtn and the White Mtns, we were also treated to a comet view that may have been even better than the west Desolation view we had a few nights before. Todd was doing the standard day zero and day 8 move of getting a room, with the likely revision (for safety/hygiene) being his choice of a high-end choice in Mammoth rather than the more budget-oriented places we'd normally choose. In keeping with an old tradition, I baked a loaf of banana nut bread (with cranberries): this was dessert on night zero, breakfast on day 1, with the remainder being packed in. In addition, the morning began with my "coffee substitute", the cool mint chocolate chip Clif Bar I use to keep my caffeine withdrawal headache away.
We arranged to meet Todd at about 7 am (Tues. Jul. 21) at the Pine Creek trailhead and we arrived shortly before that with Todd pulling into the parking lot before I opened the driver's side door. After 2020-style distanced greetings, we donned our packs and trudged up the Morgan Pass road/trail. It's a road to the tungsten mine (500' of gain) then an unmaintained dirt road after that. Both the Pine Creek and Morgan Creek canyons are especially steep-sided and narrow owing to the resistant nature of the metamorphic rock making up the walls, especially the gray limestone/marble. The Morgan Creek trail has a constant and relentless grade with a coarsely rocky tread and many boulders lying on it. As I expected, there was absolutely zero water between the Pine Creek trailhead (7400') and where the trail crosses Morgan Creek at about 9600' elevation. We carried 2L of water which was sufficient because we had an early start (ca.0715) to ascend this exposed, south-facing stretch. There are two places where debris flow chutes have completely washed out the trail/road.
The lower one can be bypassed by cutting a switchback, something that Dawn and I didn't realize until we had done some delicate "dirt class 3" to cross it. Todd saw the difficulty me and Dawn were encountering and started to bypass at which time I noticed that the trail did in fact switchback to the higher level he was headed. The higher wash out is not so easily bypassed. There is a use trail that detours >50' of elevation above the tread to cross the chute higher on the face where it is less steep. Someone has left a small length of rope in place to aid with the crossing of the west wall of the chute on this bypass.
Not far after the higher washout the trail/road has several splits near some of the old mine workings then finally reaches water. At a shaded switchback next to the stream we bade the trail farewell--we would be almost entirely trailless until day 8--and headed a short distance up to wooded Bear Lake. The short stretch of off trail hiking was easy, finishing off an efficient first day of some 5 miles of hiking with 2700+ feet of gain. We were all in good hiking form and I found that the more intense conditioning (as well as two warm up backpack trips) paid off, as I set the pace as did in the years past and would for the duration of the trip.
After setting up camp, a brief thunderstorm dropped some rain, but weather was otherwise mild.
It was a bit warm, and with the lack of evening breeze we had some fairly severe mosquito harassment. Late that night we smelled smoke which seemed odd because the sky looked crystal clear. We did not realize that this was from the small fire that had started in Rock Creek (which shut down Little Lakes Valley for awhile).

Day 2 (Wednesday Jul. 22) on our fairly relaxed itinerary moved our camp a short distance and about 1400' of gain to Spire Lake that features one of my favorite views in the entire High Sierra. I have always liked the savage alpine ruggedness of Bear Creek Spire rising above this lake. The off trail hiking was not particularly difficult, nor challenging in route finding, but there were a couple of steep class 2 chutes/chimneys climbed to surmount cliff bands.
A persistent breeze refreshed us, but when clouds blocked the sun, refreshing became downright cold. Spire is rather spartan in its camping accommodations. I'm fairly sure we reoccupied the same site Todd and I camped at in 2015 but some engineering was necessary to fit two tents in that area, versus the one we used five years ago. The site is very high above the lake and typical of the "high ground" sorts of sites I prefer for views and bug avoidance, although with the breezy, cold conditions, mosquitoes were a non-factor and would remain so for the duration of the trip.

Morgan-Pine Creek (Gold at End of Rainbow II) cont'd

Posted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:27 pm
by giantbrookie
Day 3 (Thurs. Jul. 23) was slated to be the hardest day of the trip and it was: the Day of the Three Passes v. 2. In 2015, Todd and I had done the first two passes (Peppermint and Not Cox=Bear Creek Spire N shoulder at 13120+ which is the rounded high point north of the col), then ended the day with White Bear. The third pass on day 3 would be Gabbot Pass. The Bear Creek Spire shoulder features much less steep climbing than the col as can be seen from the topo map and one does not have to lose too much elevation from Peppermint Pass to begin the climb.
Todd and I were surprised to see quite a bit more snow than we did at about the same time of year in 2015(we were actually about one week later in 2015). In contrast to the no-snow 2015, the descent from Peppermint Pass was mainly a glissade, much to Dawn's delight; Dawn had done some epic glissades on the 2019 Clark Range trip.
The condition of the snow was a bit surprising, though. It was fairly icy and we found this to be consistent for high snow patches we encountered throughout the trip.
There was a high band of snow we had to cross at ~13000 that required a bit of finesse to get across its lower steep front.
In reaching the high point, Dawn smashed her old altitude record (had been about 11200 before reaching Spire L. at 11520+ the day before) and she climbed up to the actual high point to give it a ceremonial touch.
As we took in the outstanding 360 degree view Dawn asked why some slopes on the east flank of Rock Creek canyon were so dramatically red colored. Todd and I first replied that this could be the bedrock color, but I then reconsidering because the color did not seem to be a natural bedrock color. I proposed that this might be some kind of fire retardant--this turned out to be the fire site.
The move from the Sierra crest to Gabbot Pass entailed my favorite aspect of off trail hiking: multscale terrain reading. Broad scale terrain analysis begins with the topo map and this scale largely drove the off trail routes in the 2019 trip whereas this year's trip did more of the finer scale analysis (after initial topo map planning) which can only be done on sight. The trick for getting to Gabbot from our point on the crest is to stay above the lower set of cliff bands and steep-sided gullies but below the upper set of cliffs. Ambiguous from the topo is how rough some of the "corrugations" are. This is where the visual part comes in. The traverse worked beautifully and the amount of uphill necessary to gain Gabbot Pass at the end of it was probably no more than about 200'. During the traverse it clouded up and some clumpy snow (or fluffy hail, depending on your point of view) fell.
The snow ceased cleared by the time we reached Gabbot Pass and we descended to Upper Mills Creek Lake under partly cloudy skies.
Our campsite was a nice one with lack of shade being the only drawback (no nearby trees). It was fairly hot when the sun shone but cold when clouds covered the sun. A consistent breeze kept the us nearly mosquito free.

Morgan-Pine Creek (Gold at End of Rainbow II) cont'd

Posted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:56 pm
by giantbrookie
Day 4 (Fri. Jul. 24) should have been a fairly straightforward day. We had a relaxed late morning departure from Upper Mills Creek Lake and efficient ascent of Gabbot Pass followed by an easy descent to the shores of Lake Italy. Clouds began to gather. We encountered two young men hiking in the opposite direction along the shore, the first people we'd seen since leaving the trailhead. They were on day 11 of their hike of the Sierra High Route and headed for Gabbot Pass. One asked me for my opinion on the threat level of the clouds and I remarked that it had snowed a bit on high the afternoon before. I said it was still pretty early and Gabbot Pass was near, but that one could still easily bail if it started rumbling (no thunder afternoon before) or conditions otherwise became unsafe to cross the pass. Lake Italy has one of the longest and most exposed shorelines of any place in the deep Sierra backcountry. Just how exposed it was soon became apparent as the little windows of blue closed and hail began. At first it was fairly light, then thunder boomed and it reached normal Sierran thunderstorm/hailstorm intensity, which is pretty intense, but then it got worse. The largest hailstones we've ever been hit with pelted us (not "pea sized" but "peas on steroids sized"--"tofu cube sized?") and really hurt, especially the headshots. I wanted a hard hat. I searched for a place to cover as I put my arms and hands above my head to absorb the blows. I am sure Dawn and Todd understood my intent when I veered upslope from the north shore use trail and headed for the biggest slabs I could see. I tried unsuccessfully to prop my pack up as a roof as I squeezed up against a rock face, but I was still getting beaned so I shelled up trying to minimize the target area. Todd found a good crack he could roof with his pack, but nearby Dawn found a crack and overhang combination that could fit both her and me and she invited me out of my boxer-getting-pounded-on-the-ropes position to join her. Beneath this cold, dripping, shelter I monitored the line-of-sight and when the heaviest artillery eased shouted out that it was time to make a move.
We emerged onto hail-mantled landscape, finally cleared the Lake Italy shoreline, made a short descent, then split off to the first campsite we stumbled upon between Teddy Bear and Brown Bear Lakes. We hurriedly pitched camp. Setting up while it's raining or hailing is a bit of a pain with most modern backpacking tents such as mine which have a mess top. Some water always gets in before you can get the rainfly up. Fortunately it wasn't hailing as hard as it was at the time we pitched compared to last year when we pitched our tent at Edna Lake under similar conditions so our interior would have been fairly dry were it not for all the wet stuff we dragged in (such as our own clothing). Had we had the time to look more carefully for an optimal campsite we would have chosen one of the more "downstream" spots which had the dual down-canyon and upslope view and were much flatter. Our site suffered from a fairly pronounced slope which negatively impacted our sleep quality. To our surprise we found a group of three camped at Brown Bear L. This group consisted of a father in his 70s and his two grown sons. The older fellow was quite inspirational. To still be hiking this deep into the backcountry at that age and after hip replacement is cool indeed. He also had a wealth of info on how the lakes in the area have fished over the decades.

Day 5 (Sat. Jul. 25) was the first layover day I've done on one of these trips in memory. This gave the opportunity to dry off our drenched items in the morning and early afternoon sun, as well as "refreshing" our socks and feet.
On long trips like this I always carry two sets of socks (ie I'm wearing one and have one in reserve) which are "rotated" after being rinsed and dried. I had planned a moderate dayhike to Beartrap Lake then over a pass to Coronet Lake and Bear Basin proper with return via White Bear pass but the potential for afternoon storms argued against that option so we just did a super quick jump over to Beartrap Lake--super quick because a storm did in fact come in and send us scurrying back to our tent.
One very close thunderclap (about 1 second delay) made Dawn and I jump out of our skins. We couldn't really move super fast back to camp, either, because of the rain-slicked granite slabs, many of which had smooth glacial polish, were treacherous footing.

Day 6 (Sun. Jul 26) we moved to the lower large lake in Granite Park (elev. 11360+) by going over Italy Pass. As we stopped at aptly-named Jumble Lake we saw a solitary backpacker descend from Italy Pass to the lake, then climb toward Jumble Pass(? I think that's what the pass through to White Bear Lake is called). This was a classic demonstration of brute force versus more nuanced off trail route finding. A quick inspection of the topo map shows that you can easily traverse across from Italy Pass and do very little ascending to Jumble Pass. A quick visual terrain inspection reveals this, too. Moreover, once having descended to Jumble Lake, this fellow took about the worse possible line to climb to Jumble Pass. Perhaps he was doing this to get a better workout, although his plodding pace indicated otherwise. Dawn who is getting pretty good at smaller scale route finding was amazed at this hiker's route choices.
In the meantime, we heard and briefly spotted some hikers descending from Italy Pass. Because of our route from the inlet side of Jumble Lake we ended up missing them as we hiked to this easy pass.
The 'trail' on both sides is good in places but it sort of flashes on and off and one loses it for stretches. This is not a concern because the terrain is really mellow (class 1) on both sides. We reached Granite Park and quickly made camp again as the weather once again threatened. As with the previous day the weather nixed the more adventurous hiking options (had planned to dayhike to higher Royce Lakes).

Re: Morgan-Pine Creek (Gold at End of Rainbow II)cont'd

Posted: Fri Jul 31, 2020 11:32 pm
by giantbrookie
Day 7 (Mon. Jul. 27) was a short off trail move to a scenic off trail lake. The off trail route was another great example of multiscale terrain analysis, although by this time the off trail stuff, especially boulder hopping, were getting a bit old for Dawn. I was having some minor issues from wearing out fingertips from frequently grabbing hand holds. Part of the issue, I think, was not putting away my walking stick when getting on to class 2 terrain---most of the damage was to my left hand fingertips with the exception of a gouge on my right hand index finger (from a fall when I got careless while fishing a lake). Given the long drive back on day 8, I was concerned about the quality of sleep, too. I hadn't slept that soundly the last three nights and needed a good night sleep to do the 6 hour drive home following our hike out. I suspected that one problem might be that I had been taking my caffeine bomb Clif Bar a bit late (when beginning morning hiking rather than at breakfast), so I made sure to put the caffeine down when I woke up, rather than waiting. We had a really flat tent site and that Dawn expertly arranged the tent, including the all-important pillow set up. The last night was indeed the best night of sleep of the entire trip.
Day 8 (Tues. Jul. 28) began with an easy off trail descent to reached trailed country. There was a scenic slot canyon segment where I remarked to Todd "I think this canyon goes and it we'd get more style points for doing that, but I'd rather have the brain points, so I will zig zag." Again it was the combination of topo map reading and smaller scale analysis that dispensed with the difficulties. Once on the trail we encountered people although not too many. It was, however, Tuesday, so relatively light crowds would be expected. In fact, that is one of the points to this whole enterprise: everything in the backcountry is as it always is.
The wilderness permit situation is a smidge revised this year, as is going through Yosemite (avoided this and drove over Sonora Pass), but once away from the car, it's the same as any season of the past. We who are able to get out there are really fortunate. There are not too many things we can do where we can escape the reality of the outside world for such an extended period of time.

Wait...I almost forgot the fishing. The number one agenda item--Dawn's first golden-- was accomplished. Oddly enough her first golden, a 10-incher, came out of a lake where brookies predominate.
She also caught her first truly big golden, a plump 14-incher
, and had her first double-digit golden day of 11 goldens out of two lakes in one day.
Overall, though, the fishing was not spectacular, as we expected. Midsummer fishing for goldens is seldom anything but slow and there was some serious skunkage at some locations including one place where I think I set a personal record of blank casts. The relatively slow fishing is reflected in the cumulative stats. Dawn's trip totals were 14 goldens, topped by the 14-incher, with the next-largest fish being 12" (out of different lake than biggest one), as well one brookie of 11". My trip totals were 14 goldens (top fish were 15, 14, 14, 12.5, 12.5, 12"), 2 rainbows (best 12.5"), and 7 brookies (top 11.5").
I caught fish of 12"+ out of 4 lakes. On paper, this was a better result than the original Gold at the End of the Rainbow 2015, but it lacked the electric one hour that elevated the 2015 experience. No doubt I need to do the early season approach if I want to get better golden results. Last year is a case in point. The 2019 "warm up" trip hit a still frozen-over lake (fished into hole off cantilevered ice) and I caught more large goldens than I did in on this trip and the 2015 trip combined. Nonetheless, although the fishing results were not stellar, they were more than enough to keep me and Dawn excited and engaged. Whereas we always bring enough food to cover us in the event of total skunkage, we had plenty of tasty fish to eat, sometimes for more than one meal (one day featured fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with Dawn's efforts supplying the breakfast and lunch). Red-meated goldens are particularly delicious, of course, and we had a number of ways to season them. First was the homemade teriyaki sauce that Lee made for the trip. Then there was simple salt and pepper. Finally there was the strategy of using a bit of leftover from a freeze dried dinner. The best of those was a chicken and rice dish.
We arrived home to the "real world" at a bit past 9 pm on Tuesday. Lee had asked us what we craved. After some debate among me, Dawn, and Lee, the request went out for Lee's signature pesto, rotini, and chicken (w cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts) dish which he prepared after we got home. En route home Dawn and I figured we'd need something to sustain us, so we stopped at the justifiably renowned Jolly Kone in Bridgeport for large soft serve cones. It was Dawn's first Jolly Kone visit and my first time since a late 90s visit with Judy. Wednesday I downloaded my photos and then leafed through 9 days worth of professional emails. Yes, back to reality, but with such a lingering, wonderful aftertaste, whichone we hope will persist until 2021. Very very preliminary 2021 plan and trip title "The Legends of Goddard Country", but the 2020 season isn't over yet, and scheming of short fall trips has begun.

Re: Morgan-Pine Creek etc 7/21-28 (Gold at End of Rainbow II)

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 7:29 am
by dougieb
What a great trip! It was interesting to see the shape of Morgan Pass since the washouts. Also interesting to see some of the little used routes above it. It's fun to revisit places and to compare memory of a place with your present experience of it. Also nice to have new company to create and share new memories. The weather looked gnarly from other reports I had heard about that time period. People reported quarter sized hail in Tahoe area and it sounds like you experienced that first hand. I love the light on the landscape when it is stormy but I still get pretty scared of lightening and thunder... and it's always hard to know whether you still have time to hike or if you should start getting set up to weather the storm. Thanks for sharing your experience. I like the sound of your next big trip too!

Re: Morgan-Pine Creek etc 7/21-28 (Gold at End of Rainbow II)

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 8:15 am
by sekihiker
Another great trip and report. Great fish photos as usual. It's fun to watch Dawn continue to gain experience and confidence in back country travel. It's a shame when weather interferes with plans, but trips like these often turn out more memorable.

Re: Morgan-Pine Creek etc 7/21-28 (Gold at End of Rainbow II)

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 8:56 am
by Harlen
Wait...I almost forgot the fishing.

Hah! What a score for Dawn! For someone like me, who has never caught a single golden, Dawn's 11 is incredible. And I believe in her catch- unlike the wide eyed, wide-armed tales of the older folk, who are trying to create a legacy as their time runs out. :nod:

What a great route for a trip that seemingly had it all- exciting high route adventure, path-finding, geologic wonders, interesting weather challenges, and fishing!

Congratulations John for putting it all together again. Cheers, Ian.

Re: Morgan-Pine Creek etc 7/21-28 (Gold at End of Rainbow II)

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 12:09 pm
by Lumbergh21
Nice, easy to follow trip report. Thanks for posting.

Re: Morgan-Pine Creek etc 7/21-28 (Gold at End of Rainbow II)

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2020 11:38 pm
by wildhiker
Thanks for another great trip report. And posted only three days after you returned! Are you that efficient at work, also?

I'm impressed at Dawn's abilities to keep up on such a rugged hike. I took my own children on some cross-country adventures, but nothing like the trip you describe! Keep it up! In a few years, she can lead you!


Re: Morgan-Pine Creek etc 7/21-28 (Gold at End of Rainbow II)

Posted: Sun Aug 02, 2020 10:08 am
Thanks for the great report. Your route planning is so interesting and creative. Dawn is amazing. Like Phil, I took my son cross-country, but it was Dusy Basin and Humphreys Basin, not the gnarly stuff she encountered here.