TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

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TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by jhfowler » Wed Apr 11, 2018 2:09 pm

I just got back from an early spring adventure in the Sierra!

Day 1: Middle Fork Trailhead to Mile 72 on the Kaweah
(14 miles, +6,000/-3,000 feet).

Day 2: Kaweah Mile 72 to Hamilton Lake to Middle Fork Trailhead
(19 miles, +5,000/-8,000 feet).

Full TR:

https://jimmyjamhikingclub.wordpress.co ... ork-trail/
https://jimmyjamhikingclub.wordpress.co ... lton-lake/

Brief overview:

I wanted to hike the Middle Fork Trail to Redwood Meadow Grove, but I did not feel confident crossing Granite Creek solo. So instead I hiked off trail up the south side of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah to about mile 72. Snow patches started around 6200 feet and were not an issue on Day 1. Moro, Mehrten, and Panther creek crossings were manageable, and there are bridges at Buck Canyon and the Middle Fork of the Kaweah.

On Day 2 I headed cross country straight for the falls where the High Sierra Trail (HST) crosses the Middle Fork Kaweah. The willows were brutal! I've never done that before, and my shins are still complaining....

I couldn't figure out how to ascend on the south (right) side, so I sought (and found) a crossing about 50 feet below the falls and then battled more willows and scrambled up mostly class 2 ledges and ramps on the north side of the Middle Fork up to the HST.

Crossing the falls on the HST was easy and then snow patches started getting longer until there was full snow coverage above 7800 feet. Lower Hamilton Lake is open but lake 8235 is still frozen over. The traverse between the lakes had a couple of sketchy spots where crampons would be essential in icy conditions, but it was warm for me so kick-stepping and plunge-stepping in my trail runners was sufficient (though I donned the crampons on the trip back down after experiencing the icy sections on the way up).

I hiked the HST back to Bearpaw Meadow then descended through Little Bearpaw Meadow back to the Middle Fork Trail and back to my car.

No mosquitoes yet but the gnats were thirsty on the way out!

It was a really quick trip but I really liked the challenge. I don’t think I would plan to bushwhack through willows again, but I’m really happy I tried it (though my battered shins aren’t!). At least now I know what it’s like if I ever find myself in a situation where it’s necessary I’ll be able to do it. And it was a real confidence builder to be able to routefind my way up to the HST, do some class 3 moves, and use my snow equipment to traverse steep slopes, all while traveling solo and trying to minimize risk.

Here are some photos:

Granite Creek ford on the Middle Fork Trail:
Image

Final push through the willows to get to the falls on the HST. I crossed the Kaweah between the lower and upper falls and then followed ramps and ledges to get up to the HST:
Image

The inlet of lower Hamilton Lake:
Image

The traverse up to Hamilton Lake 8235:
Image

Full Hamilton Lake 8235 panorama:
Image

Last view of the falls from the HST:
Image

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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by rlown » Wed Apr 11, 2018 2:14 pm

Very nice TR! Thanks.

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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by Flamingo » Wed Apr 11, 2018 2:40 pm

Thanks for posting the TR! I'm planning to head to Middle Fork next week, and I truly appreciate your photos and data.

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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by kpeter » Wed Apr 11, 2018 7:29 pm

Thank you for that report!

When you got to the ford over Eagle Scout Creek, I recall that ford being tame last summer when I did it but in kind of a precarious setting, with a need to hug a wall while the creek dropped off a small cliff on the other side. I can see why it would not be safe to cross with a raging torrent. Too bad though, since there is a very substantial bridge over Granite Creek if you could have gotten past Eagle Scout Creek.
DSC02449.jpg
Then going up the other way, when you got to the marked trail crossing of the Middle Fork where you decided to go cross country rather than risk the crossing--good decision. I crossed at that very spot last summer in early August and it was the most precarious crossing of my circuit through the whole area. I recognize the spot and you were dealing with a much greater volume. The water that was closest to you was the shallow side--the most dangerous spot was 3/4 of the way across from where you took your picture. You made a wise choice, and it all seems to have worked out!
DSC02446.jpg
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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Apr 11, 2018 8:06 pm

I suspect those willows will be much worse when the fully leaf-out. May not even be possible later in the season. Thanks for the photos of the snow conditions. How was the creek crossing below Little Hamilton Lake?

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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by giantbrookie » Wed Apr 11, 2018 8:17 pm

Wow that looks like May. I too am interested in how the creek crossing was below Lower Hamilton, given that it is sketchy at times in early season.
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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by CAMERONM » Wed Apr 11, 2018 9:29 pm

Great report, I felt like I got to go along! I love those five spot flowers. After an effort like that I can't imagine how you stayed awake for that long drive back to SD.

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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by jhfowler » Thu Apr 12, 2018 5:55 am

rlown: Thanks!

Flamingo: I hope you post a TR when you come back -- would be neat to see how much difference a week makes up there.

kpeter: Thanks for those great comparison photos! I worry that if I had known about the other bridge over Granite Creek I might have been a bit more willing to risk crossing Eagle Scout Creek. Sometimes ignorance works in my favor!

CAMERONM: This is why God invented liter-sized sodas! :)

Daisy and giantbrookie: The creek crossing below Lower Hamilton was easy. On the way there I crossed on huge logs with dry feet:
Image

Then on the way back I just waded through calf-deep water. It was well distributed so not really fast at all.
Image

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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by kpeter » Thu Apr 12, 2018 7:18 pm

jhfowler wrote: Then on the way back I just waded through calf-deep water. It was well distributed so not really fast at all.
Image
I think it was only inches deep in August and my biggest fear was slipping on moss or algae, not worried about the current. A very wide ledge which helps the nerves of acrophobes like me. But calf deep would definitely have been more nerve wracking than 2" deep. I imagine it will be quite different as it warms up!
DSC02414.jpg
Sorry to belabor these comparisons. I always enjoy seeing places I have been before in very different times and conditions. Makes it fun to follow along :)
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Re: TR 4/8-9 Middle Fork Trail to Hamilton Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Apr 12, 2018 8:36 pm

Yes, that looks a lot like the last two times I crossed. But in 2001, at peak runoff, I had to wade across in crotch deep water, swift at that. My husband had to help me across. Going back it had receeded a foot and was much easier. I do not remember that log being there back then. Or maybe it was under water. We dropped down below the waterfall the next day in order try to climb one of the domes (but failed). We did not go too far in the willows before we got onto the south slabs.

I have always wondered what the lower trail was like. Thanks so much for your photos. I read your blog with the more details (obviously should have done this before I asked the question about the crossing). In fact, on my 2001 trip, Mehrten Creek was also really hard to cross and we had to wade EVERY creek that was running along the upper trail. The main climb we were going to do (trying to put up a new route up a big vertical crack) was running with water too. Failing to do any climbing, we walked up to Keweah Gap and took this photo at Precipice Lake, which when back home we found a picture of the same spot in an Ansel Adams photo book.
Kaweah 1.JPG
100-0097_IMG.JPG
Mt Stewart climb.JPG
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