TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16, 2017

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hobbitbook
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TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16, 2017

Post by hobbitbook » Tue Sep 19, 2017 12:18 pm

Brewer header.jpg
Nothing like a 60mph midnight wind slamming down off the crest, howling with the imperative of a speeding train and flattening your tent over and over again, to take your mind off how much you miss your family...

Day 1. They’d hugged and left me at Monarch Lakes, in Mineral King. Sweet of them to hike the 4.5 miles. Sweeter yet to help carry some of my load. After we parted, I continued up to Glacier Pass, cached inessentials, and traversed over to climb Sawtooth Peak (12,343’). I'd thought that was the salve for a hollow heart. Little did I know what the weather gods had in store for me that night. I dropped over Glacier Pass (11,080’) and patted myself on the back for bringing the crampons and ice axe. I needed them. I set up my tent with a spectacular view of Spring Lake and the Sawtooth crest on...er... a very exposed granite shelf. At midnight, cringing with every roar that slammed the tent on top of me, I finally gave up and deconstructed it, stuffed everything into my pack, and crawled into the lee of a copse of lodgepole as the wind continued to rage around me. Don’t tell the rangers I cowered on top of plants all night...

Day 2. By morning, the wind hadn’t abated much. Even at 10,000 ft elevation I was being blown off my feet. Black Rock Pass, very exposed and another 1,600 feet above me, was being blasted. I had intended to get to Nine Lakes Basin that way. There was another way: Valhalla. I’d always wanted to see Valhalla. Decision made. The Redwood Meadow Grove of wild sequoia along the way was magical. I camped at Bearpaw Meadow, with bear lockers and faucets. Surreal in the wilderness.

Day 3. I’m a complete sucker for beautifully engineered trails that cling improbably to the side of soaring, granite cliffs. And who doesn’t love sweeping monoliths in the Sierra morning light? Valhalla was heaven, everything I’d heard about and then some. Full to bursting with aesthetic from Valhalla, I topped a rise to see Precipice Lake and the exact vision of the Ansel Adams print: snow-covered lake, striped rocks, all in black and white. A complete surprise. Campers complained of the powerful winds and rain overnight. I commiserated, glad I’d camped low. Kaweah Gap (10,689’) opened onto Nine Lakes Basin, I was back on route. From here there is a direct view of Pants Pass (11,960’) across the Basin, my gateway to the upper Kern headwaters. It took me a few minutes to scrape my jaw up off the granite. I was going over THAT? Had I gotten it right? A nearby hiker asserted knowingly, “It doesn’t look that bad.” Really?
Well...angles and distance foreshorten, I reasoned. Hitching in my sphincter, I sped across the basin. Sure enough, it wasn’t as steep close up, but I was tired and breathing hard by the time I reached the huge cairn in the northern notch. 12,000-ish feet is still oxygen-deprived. A little down-climbing was in order on the eastern side, before I could slide on scree and snow down to the lake below. I followed a line through the barren highlands that I’d found online, past lakes, and down to pine forest.

Day 4. The Colby Pass trail is not shy about gaining elevation from the Kern Kaweah River into a beautiful meadowed hanging valley and higher. Colby Pass (12,000’) is the border between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The views north from here surprised me. The trail-less high country to the east, where I intended to hike, was so stark: gray, barren, lifeless. Slopes were entirely talus-covered, seemingly impenetrable. My heart sank. Please tell me I’m wrong, that I made a mistake not to climb to Talus Lake and traverse to Brewer from there as I had planned. But I didn’t think the three days I had left would be enough time for me to hike endless talus slopes. And I might just use of my entire lifetime quota of talus-patience. Instead, I stayed on the trail, dropping past Colby Lake and Big Wet Meadow, reveling in beautiful flowers and stunning views into Cloud Canyon, until I found the most aesthetic campsite I’ve ever enjoyed, on a granite slab with the creek pouring in a giant bend around one side, and spilling over a graceful waterfall. UTM 11 S 0361424, 4061126.

Day 5. Still aiming for Brewer, I climbed up Brewer Creek to Brewer Lake. By staying south of the creek, I found easy hiking up a small ridge. At 9,600’, at an enormous flat shelf, I contoured over to the stream, and easy pine forest walking. The creek is gorgeous. When the vegetation got thick, I was able to hike up dry streambeds, like granite escalators. At 10,300’, I crossed to the north side. It took about 3h from the Colby Lake trail to gain Brewer Lake. The lake is stunning, in a cirque surrounded by mountains, and a shore dotted with whitebark, penstemon and aster. That night temperatures dropped below freezing for the first time, but it was calm.

Day 6. An early start. I hiked up past icicles, frosted heather, and slick, frozen seeps to the lake below Sphinx Creek Col, where I cached most of my gear. The traverse and climb to the base of Brewer was remarkably easy, on granite slab and grassy talus. Had I underrated the beauty of this high country and overrated the challenge of traversing it? Finally, the real work began, the talus loomed large, and a snowfield intervened. The upper slopes of Brewer seemed endless, but pulling myself up giant blocks near the top was exhilarating and required my full attention. I finally reached the summit (13,570’) and reveled in remarkable views. North Guard, further along the ridge, soared grandly against the horizon. It was beyond my ability as a conservative solo climber, so I just enjoyed looking at it. Finally, full of gorgeous views and banana chips, I descended back to my cache. Sphinx Creek Col was easy, and I dropped off the north side, glissading on snow and talus-hopping right of the lakes. I stayed well above and east of lake 10,962. Granite ridgelines brought me easily to the Sphinx Lakes, two lakes created by a massive glacial terminal moraine. Whoa, a reminder of the massive forces that carved the landscape.

Day 7. Again, gently dropping granite ridgelines to the east of Sphinx Creek were the ticket for navigating through willow, talus and slab out of the drainage. When the creek veered east, I crossed and hugged the drier western slope. Soon enough I was on the Sphinx Creek Trail, and dropping to Bubbs Creek on a trail guarded by ramparts of stone, engineering marvels that would make any castle proud, with 360o views of granite cliffs, and to Road’s End.

Photo slideshow. http://www.jeannepanek.com/mountains-an ... #slideshow
Animation of route. https://www.relive.cc/view/1188901299
My blog of the trip. http://www.jeannepanek.com/mountains-an ... /lone-duck
Map.jpg
Pants Pass route detail.jpg
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Last edited by hobbitbook on Thu Sep 21, 2017 9:36 am, edited 3 times in total.








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zacjust32
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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by zacjust32 » Tue Sep 19, 2017 12:42 pm

AMAZING!!!! Loved your writing and the poetry in it. You were able to put into words what I think many of us feel when we're out there. Nicely done.

Sent from my SM-T280 using Tapatalk

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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by hobbitbook » Tue Sep 19, 2017 12:50 pm

Thanks zacjust32, for taking the time to read it and for your kind words!

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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by cgundersen » Tue Sep 19, 2017 1:10 pm

I'll second Zac's comments: prose more nimble than Tolkien and hardly any resemblance to a trip to Mordor; well, mostly! Thanks for the great report! Cameron

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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by maverick » Tue Sep 19, 2017 1:31 pm

Enjoyed the TR very much, are any pictures coming? Pants Pass is fun, eastern side is easy to slalom down on the scree, once you get out of the sandy steep section at the top of the pass. You did not miss much by not going up to Talus Lake, though the Table Creek drainage is pretty, but going up either Cunningham or Brewer Creek was a good call, plus the views of the Whaleback from BWM is well worth it. Were there any wildflowers left in BWM? You mention being a sucker for beautifully engineered trails, the trail down to Bubbs from Sphinx did not impress you?
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I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org

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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by hobbitbook » Tue Sep 19, 2017 5:18 pm

cgundersen wrote:... prose more nimble than Tolkien ...
Cameron, I blush... this is high praise, indeed! Tokien is one of my faves!

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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by hobbitbook » Tue Sep 19, 2017 5:46 pm

maverick wrote:Enjoyed the TR very much, are any pictures coming?
Thanks for the thoughts, Maverick! I added a link to a slideshow on my website... easier to put lots of pics there than here.
maverick wrote:You did not miss much by not going up to Talus Lake, though the Table Creek drainage is pretty, but going up either Cunningham or Brewer Creek was a good call, plus the views of the Whaleback from BWM is well worth it. Were there any wildflowers left in BWM?
Phew. Glad to hear I made a good choice. Yes, the hike down past Colby Lake, the Whaleback, and BWM were eye-popping. Not too many flowers left... but still beautiful.
maverick wrote:You mention being a sucker for beautifully engineered trails, the trail down to Bubbs from Sphinx did not impress you?
Yes! The Sphinx Creek trail above Bubbs Creek, and the north side of Colby Pass -- amazing ramparts of stone, marvels of engineering. I was leaving offerings of thanks for the trail crew the entire way! I had just run out of superlatives by that point in my TR.... :-)

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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by maverick » Tue Sep 19, 2017 5:51 pm

Thanks for the thoughts, Maverick! I added a link to a slideshow on my website... easier to put lots of pics there than here.
Thanks for adding that. :)
See you got some of the famous alpenglow at the Brewer Lake region, that place is know for its exquisite colors at sunset. :nod:
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I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org

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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by kpeter » Tue Sep 19, 2017 7:44 pm

Beautiful writing and a wonderful adventure! It seems there are many Tolkien fans here! This sounds more like the traverse of the Misty Mountains than a trip to Mordor!

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Re: TR: Sawtooth - Brewer, Great Western Divide, Sep 10-16,

Post by cslaght » Tue Sep 19, 2017 8:11 pm

What an incredible trip and must second (third? fourth?) the amazing prose you use in describing it. Quite poetic indeed. Also, this sounds like a really incredible trip from an exploration point of view. You basically went "straight north" from MK to Cedar Grove; which by the crow flies isn't too much. But as you illustrate is quite an adventure. Thanks for sharing!
"The mountains are calling, but can't find my phone"

Charles

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