Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggestions

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cgundersen
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Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggestions

Post by cgundersen » Sat Jun 30, 2018 11:34 am

Having recently descended from the Sphinx Lakes to the Avalanche Pass trail, it was an experience I never want to repeat: some of the worst bushwhacking I've ever encountered in the Sierra. I was a bit perplexed, because I'd done this same stretch ~30 years ago and had no inclination that it would be as challenging as it turned out to be. We kept hopping from one side of Sphinx creek to the other, but there was nothing to be gained on either side. Has anyone had recent experience through this area that went more smoothly, and is there a generally accepted, easier route than staying near the creek? Mav seemed to imply that there is, but danged if we got any glimpse of a better solution.
Cameron








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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggest

Post by Shawn » Sat Jun 30, 2018 1:56 pm

Hey Cameron, I just read your fine trip report.

Seems as though the route up or down Sphinx Creek has become the eternal debate among those that have passed through the area. My very first hike into the Sierra was solo to the upper Sphinx Lakes. I'm a bit embarrassed to say how many times I've been back over the relatively short number of years I've been hiking.

Most of my excursions I've gone solo, but there were a couple of times I had friends along. One friend had little experience in the Sierra, so he just followed along as we bushwhacked through the lower segment ascending the creek. Years later, I hiked it with someone that had significantly more hiking experience than me. As I led the way up the creek, I could hear him sort of questioning my route choice, but he followed along. On the way down he asserted that we try the other side of the creek as it "couldn't be any worse".

Given his expertise with XC travel, we tried the other side. It was horrible. The stuff was so thick we got separated a bit and as the sun was setting it was getting dark. While pushing my way through the heavy shrubs, I launched myself over part of the headwall and took quite a fall, thankfully without serious injury (a long long story for another post, but if anyone finds my LA Dodgers ball cap I'd be happy to get it back). Needless to say, I've remained true to the side of the creek I've always taken, except on that one descent.

It's been some years since I've been up there, but it has been obvious to me that the area has become more overgrown between my first and last trips. The varied use trails are consequently harder to find and use (as you know).

Anyway, my vote is always for the west side of the creek. The map shows my usual "approximate" path of travel for the lower bushwhacking section (with the "oops" from my past descent). You can see where the east side is a bit steeper in sections adding to the dismay.

With all this being said, there are certainly others that will have a similar rationale for using "the other side".

I think you've inspired me to make another trip up there this summer to see if my thoughts still hold true. :)
Sphinx Creek Path.jpg
Before and After.jpg
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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggest

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Jun 30, 2018 3:17 pm

I have gone up and down the east side (2011), but once to the lower flat (where the word "Sphinx" is, which was a huge swamp) we stayed well east of the creek. We took the east side because we went early season in a high snow year and were freaked out about crossing the creek. There actually is a trail of sorts that leaves the main trail well above where the trail crosses the creek and then peters out. There was bushwhacking, but not unbearable. We followed discontinuous game trails. My understanding is that the west side is better.
Last edited by Wandering Daisy on Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggest

Post by oldranger » Sat Jun 30, 2018 8:59 pm

I always took the w. side in the 80s and never thought much about it. Seemed like a passable user trail but that was 30 years ago. Actually the first time was 81. Got off work, drove to the TH. started hiking about 5 PM and got to Screwball Meadow (where the trail crosses Sphinx Creek) about 9 PM. Next day hiked to the first lake, fished and relaxed. Next day explored the upper lakes, next day hiked out and reported to work at the Big Stump entrance Station at 4pm. A couple of days later I met my wife to be at the entrance station when she was entering the park. 2 nights later we met up about 10 pm at Junction Meadow then over the next 2 1/2 days completed the Rae Lakes Loop and our first date!
Mike

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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggest

Post by jmherrell » Sat Jun 30, 2018 10:20 pm

First time to Sphinx Lakes for me was ’58 and again in ’59. I don’t remember much details but there seemed to be some trail. I was surprised to read in this post about so much trouble with bushwhacking. In recent years I have done the east side high above the creek with almost no brush, only switching to the west to get around the first lake (9600+) – a well-used trail on that side. The only time I did the east side of the first lake was during high water one year and it was pretty bad – one slip and I would have gone into the lake for the first section, then later a field of big boulders hidden by willows. The only other potentially unpleasant section is a headwall at 9200-9400’ covered with aspen. There is a fairly good trail up the headwall if you can find it.

Oldranger, mentioned “Screwball Meadow”. I saw some park documents that specify the elevation at 7,760’. If this is where the Avalanche Trail crosses the creek, it must be wrong, the elevation is actually 8,600’. The reason I ask is that a trail crew member told me it was called “Avalanche Meadow”.

I'm heading up there next week.

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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggest

Post by giantbrookie » Sun Jul 01, 2018 5:16 pm

I did this in Sept 1999 and stayed on the east side all the way to the lowest Sphinx. There was some brush in spots and bit of talus hopping, but I felt the route was fairly mild.
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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggest

Post by chulavista » Sun Jul 01, 2018 6:09 pm

Another vote for staying east, well away from the creek. Talus is more annoying than the brush. I imagine the west side is similar along the other "wall" of Sphinx canyon. General rule: If you don't like the bushwhack, move away from the water!

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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggest

Post by cgundersen » Mon Jul 02, 2018 9:04 am

Hi everyone,
Thanks for the extensive input! I'd like to think that we got absolutely everything wrong in our attempts to find a better way down to the main trail, but it could be that new rockslides and vegetation growth has made the route far worse than my original experience. I'll be really keen to hear whether Shawn gives this a whirl and finds the experience to be more salubrious than we did. And, yes, my distant memory was that we hit regular segments of use trail back during my original transit in the late '80s, but we really struck out this time. In fact, there were very few cairns or other signs of regular passage (maybe, a well-intentioned soul tossed all the cairns?). In the end, I'll be watching closely for TRs that include this segment to find out how other folk fare in coming months. No sign of a Dodgers cap...........Cameron

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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggestions

Post by Flamingo » Thu Sep 13, 2018 4:09 pm

HI Cameron,
I ascended Sphinx Creek a few weeks ago, and I had great success staying far west, at least for the section between Avalanche Pass Trail and Sphinx Lake #1. The old use trail here is very overgrown, and I avoided it. My insight is that the talus along the west side of the creek is not bad, and I think it's my preferred route -- the talus is relatively low-angle, stable rock, with lost of flat-top rocks that make easy walking. I'm tempted to say it's "easy" talus.

My TR: http://highsierratopix.com/community/vi ... =1&t=18882

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Re: Avalanche Pass trail to/from Sphinx Lakes: route suggestions

Post by tie » Thu Sep 13, 2018 6:39 pm

I've never been, but this is a GPS track taken from a Peakbagger-logged ascent of Brewer:

Image

The more western green line is the ascent, the other the descent. (The red line is just something I drew.)

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