Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

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Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by robertseeburger » Wed Jul 04, 2018 7:14 am

Well, I have always wanted to get to Tunemah Lake. In the 70's, my brother and I would circle lakes on maps and basically say we gotta get there some day.
Tunemah is one of those lakes. I tried for the first time in 2015 with a 11 day trip that started at Courtright, went over Hell for Sure and Reinstein passes and I had a decision to make in West Goddard canyon...a one day long day hike to Tunemah or a full day in Blackcap Basin fishing ( once over Finger Col) and I chose Blackcap. Then last year in July I was at Martha Lake and just looked up at Reinstein Pass from a frozen Martha Lake and said forget it. So I decided that the best way to get to Tunemah is just to make it the single priority for a trip.

I did a tremendous amount of research for this trip, mostly on HST. I had a lot of fun reading old trip reports and a specific mention of SSSdave, Giantbrookie, and WanderingDaisy is called for as they very helpful, but there were many more. I had decided on a 7 day trip and for personal reasons I had to be back by 6/22.
I have done a June trip in each of the last 6 years and I consider it sort of a specialty to try time getting to some high mountain lakes at iceout. But I knew the probability of Tunemah being ice free was uncertain. My comparable trip was 2015 ( similar snow amounts) when I wandered around northern Kings Canyon, and most of the lakes were ice free mid June. So I equated Tunemah probability as 50/50... but I thought that the rest of the trip (Woodchuck/Blue Canyon/Alpine Canyon) would be no problem. I wound up "cheating" a little bit. I stretched the trip to 10 days in order to go down the old Tunemah trail to Simpson meadow,
go down to Tehipte Valley and back up. In my research on this extension, I was only worried about one stream crossing, that of Crown Creek below Silver Spray falls, but there was one trip report that showed in from 2015, and I felt that it would not be a problem. I pulled out my trusty 1968 version of Sierra South and it had a cross country route from Alpine Canyon to Simpson Meadow....and I thought this should be no problem. The short form of the problem with getting to Tunemah--snow not too bad, Tunemah partially frozen, and I didn't make the route to Simpson meadow and had a long slow slog to return via an alternative low route.

I normally write short and sweet posts...but for some reason this will be a little longer. Perhaps because on a nine day trip, I did not see a single person for the first eight days.. a new record for me. ( previous six). On the ninth day I saw one trail maintenance person, and then I saw one father/son team. No one else.
I have told people that the only one I had to talk to was myself and after the fifth day I was pretty bored with my company.

So without further adieu, here goes. Day 1 June 13th. I got up at 4am, got my permit at Prather, and made my way to Wishon. I indicated I had read a lot of trip reports and I decided to try the Hoffman trailhead (thanks to SSSdave for this tip). I wasn't sure my sedan would make it and Rancheria trailhead was my backup, but I found no issue driving up to Hoffman. 2 cars in Rancheria and no one parked at Hoffman mountain. What a great find! It saved 2.6 miles of walking and almost 1000 feet of elevation gain! I did the easy cross country east to the trail without any issues. I wound up making it to Woodchuck Lake the first day, pretty tired. I dont think I would have made it if I had started at Rancheria. I saw one set of footprints going up to Woodchuck.. A very nice lake.
Day 2 was meant to be an easy day. A short day to Crown Lake with a little fishing at both Woodchuck and Crown. Mosquitoes were ok at Woodchuck and miserable at Crown ( marshy meadowy).
Day 3 I had to make a decision. How to get to Blue Canyon? I had four options. 1) go via the trail and Half Moon Lake, 2)go over Scepter Pass, 3)go over the pass east of Scepter Pass, or 4) contour around to Crown Valley. All options were referenced in various trip reports. I decided that the fastest/least risky way to get there was option 3. So I headed for the obvious pass just east of Scepter Pass.
Here is Scepter Lake..
And the pass turned out to be pretty easy. (Class one on the west side, easy class two on the east). A very quick way to get to the north fork of the Kings.
A view east toward Blackcap Basin.
After some very marshy hiking up the Kings river, I headed toward Mantle Pass. After reading several reports, I decided to go direct from upper Crown Valley rather than descending and passing Hummingbird Lake. This proved very easy. There was some snow but not bad on Mantle Pass. A look back at the pass from the east side. The snow was easier than it looks.
And finally made it around to Blue Canyon. I camped at the first lake ( 10,400). A very nice setting. Lots of rings in the lake.
Day 4
My first layover day. I wanted to fish every lake in the basin and climb Finger Peak. I was torn between "you are on vacation--you dont have to do anything!" vs, "you are on must do everything!". I decided to climb Finger Peak first and then do as much as I felt like.
A mostly class 2 climb. Finger Peak is a special peak to me..and have wanted to climb it for years. You can see it from a many angles.

Always nice to see some fellow HST members from the summit register! Not that many people climb this one.
A shot toward Mount Goddard. I climbed Goddard 6/16/15. So on 6/16/18, I compared snow levels. I would say there is just a little bit more snow in 2018 than 2015. I dont remember the snow on the shoulder of Goddard.
And a shot of the Palisades
and Whitney
and lastly a shot looking down at Finger Col and Cathedral Lake. In the last year I met a second person who told me he couldn't find a route to get over Finger Col from the east. I did it 2015 and went right up without issue...dont remember even any thought of route finding. Oh well.
Finger Peak ... a delightful peak. Part 2 of this trip coming up...
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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by robertseeburger » Wed Jul 04, 2018 7:49 am

OK.. part 2 of this trip.

After climbing Finger Peak, I set out to fishing. I decided the top two lakes in the basin looked less promising so I headed east to the lake at 10,600 feet.
A very pretty lake.
I then wanted to go down to the famous or infamous "ponds" at 9600 feet. I went straight down from the lake at 10400 feet and had some tedious talus and brush. I got close to the lake and reached down for my Mount Goddard topo map which I had put in my pocket...and it was gone. Lost somewhere in the brush probably. I have lost one map like this in my past and should know better. So, there I was wondering around cross country by myself with no topo map.
I went to where I thought the lakes were and found them and did some fishing.. one had fish and one didn't. And it was time to head back to camp after a long day. I didn't want to go the way I came so I headed east up the canyon thinking I would find an easier way. I wound up going too far and got to a lake one drainage east of where I wanted to be. I knew something wasn't right. So.. my favorite cross country quote is from Kit Carson. " I have never been lost. I have been mighty confused for a week or two but never lost". There I was at 5:00 not where I wanted to be. I wasn't lost... but I was "a little confused for an hour or two". There were rings on the lake and normally I would have fished, but I wanted to get back to camp. I wasn't nervous..but I was anxious. I just headed toward Finger Peak and made it back to camp without incident.

Here is one of the "ponds".

Day 5
Now was the day to get to Tunemah. I had to do it from memory.
I had to guess which pass was Dyckman Pass but fortunately I had studied it from Finger Peak.
Here is Finger Peak from Dyckman Pass.
And I finally made it to Tunemah. I was disappointed but not surprised that it was mostly frozen.
A few different views.
DSC00805 (1).jpg
Day 6
Layover day. I wanted to spend some time in the lake basin east of Tunemah. Very few basins get the press as this basin does in terms of beauty and isolation.
It did not disappoint.
The first lake east of basin
toward the Black Divide
My favorite picture of the trip. I am not an excellent photographer, but this sort of captures the feeling of the basin.
And Maverick asked if I had a picture looking down into Goddard Canyon.. a long way down... here is one.
The lowest lake--perhaps the prettiest
I had planned to hike out the next day, but I decided to leave about 5 pm. I wanted to tackle the snow field on the south side of Tunemah while the snow was soft in the afternoon rather than the next morning. ( didn't want to slide into the lake). So I went over Alpine Pass and down to 9800 feet in Alpine Canyon.
One last view of Tunemah. Note how much it has melted in just 30 hours.. I suspect it was ice free in 2-3 days.
One last note on ice free dates. There was a good post showing Tunemah Lake in July 2011 ( heavy snow year). I believe it was Oldranger? If you compare my post with that one, I believe you can come up with a basic thought process. That is light snow year ..June 30th. Normal year July 31st. Heavy snow year August 31st. Just my thinking for future reference.

Oh well, I didn't finish.. got one more part to come.
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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by robertseeburger » Wed Jul 04, 2018 8:39 am

Apologize for the length for those who are bored.
The first six days were great. Great weather, great scenery. And now for the last 3 days. They were bad. It started out well though.
Day 7
I had a private exchange with an HST member who suggested I go to the lake on the west side of Alpine Canyon at 10,400 feet. So I made a short excursion to this lake. It is a beautiful lake.
I also remember a post by WanderingDaisy about coming over the wrong pass just south of Dyckman and getting some class 3. Here is what it looks like above this lake. The cliffs to the right do look difficult
So, now I had decided that this was the day to take the old Tunemah trail to Simpson Meadow. My Sierra south book lists it as 8 miles and does it in one day.
I mentioned that I had done a lot of research for this trip. Unfortunately, as I started out, I couldn't remember what the route was. I didn't want to go all the way down Alpine creek and around to Bunchgrass Flat. I decided based upon staring at the map to contour around from my 9800 feet starting point. This was a mistake. I encountered tedious brush with nettles and some difficult talus. The Sierra south route I should have taken was basically go up to Tunemah peak and down the ridge. I eventually gained elevation and got to the White Divide at 11,200 feet. I thought it would be easy going down the divide to Tunemah pass and the route to Simpson meadow ( from the peak south of Tunemah pass). Even though there were many Whitebark Pines, and the route looked easy from googleearth beforehand, it was extremely tedious. Large talus intermixed with Whitebark Pines. Progress was very slow. It reminded me as I was doing it of Alpine Col. Except Alpine Col was relatively short. The ridge seemed endless. I remember thinking that somehow I had taken the wrong line. However, at one point I noticed there was no good route where I was, there was no good route above, and there was no good route below. Here is a shot..doesnt do justice of the talus/tree combination.
And a shot across the divide, looking east.
It occurred to me also that like a broken clock that is right twice a day, I had crossed the Sierra South "route". I broke. I frankly had not made sufficient progress to be able to make it down the Tunemah trail to Simpson meadow. I felt it was akin to Mount Everest climbers who need to turn around by noon and dont. I didn't want to be descending in the dark. I abandoned the Middle fork of the Kings part of the trip, and I decided to head west via the low route back to Hoffman trailhead. It started with descending to Dog Creek.
This actually was a nice view. It reminded me of Upper Basin looking south to Mount Ickes.
I wound around to Bunchgrass flat and rounded the nose and eventually wound up, end of day at Alpine Creek. The irony is I started the day at Alpine Creek at 9800 feet, and ended the day on Alpine creek at 9000 feet.

Lots of bear sign...each of Alpine, Blue Canyon and Crown creeks.
Day 8
I located the old Tunemah trail just east of Alpine creek. There were lots of ducks, especially from the pass north of Burnt Mountain down to Blue Canyon.
I made it pretty easily to Blue Canyon where I hoped to pick up the trail. Very pretty meadow.
The truth is the trail from Blue Canyon to Crown Creek hasn't been maintained. It is extensively overgrown. A couple of shots so you can see what you might be getting into.
Ferns covering trail.
And worse.. bushes...with thorns. very nasty.
some nice snow plant though!
Overall, I lost the trail many times.. I always was able to find it.. but progress was slow. There were many many downed trees. I had to look at my map many times and relocate. I dont carry a gps, but it would have been handy. Here is a shot with the trail completely disappearing into bushes with burnt out trees.
I finally made it to Crown Creek. I thought it might be hard to cross, but it was surprisingly easy.
Here is shot of what it looks like at Crown Creek. It is not a good picture, but there was a bear in this shot. You can't make it out. You can see all the dead tress though.
I have one more conclusion to go...
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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by robertseeburger » Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:12 pm

Last one..
I missed one picture in my last post. It is a picture of one of the Blue Canyon ponds.
here it is..
Day 9 Last day.
I made it from Crown Creek back to Hoffman trailhead. Long boring day. Here is a shot of what it looked like in many places. I didn't know there was a fire that went thru there in recent years. It was a combination of boring/tedious/and even a little bit depressing hike. Down trees, burnt trees, and dead trees from drought.
The trail finally became easy to follow near the Crown Valley buildings. I saw some horses there.
I finally saw some people this day. I saw a trail crew member working on a fallen tree. He told me was a volunteer. I asked him if he knew Almostthere and he said he did. I thanked him for what he does. I then saw a father son combo near Rancheria trailhead. That is it.

One logistics note. On the way back to Hoffman, I took the trail toward Rancheria. I noticed there was dirt road with a pretty direct route that is directly above
the trail to Rancheria. I bush whacked for 20 yards and found the road. It saved a mile or maybe two of hiking to take it and it was easily followed to where it intersected with the road from Rancheria to Hoffman. A good shortcut to Hoffman if you have to approach from the south. I thought the gate would be locked on this road, but it was not. I made to Hoffman trailhead and my car was still the only one in the parking area. There were 4 now in Rancheria on the drive out.

On fishing, there was a some success. Some brookies in the 14-17 inch range. Biggest 17 inches. A couple of shots.
There were many lakes with small to medium size rainbows. (8-12). Basically all the lakes in Blue Canyon and east of Tunemah had these. I had one lake with perhaps a 14-16 incher. Many lakes to choose from. Here is one that I was impressed with the color.
I was only able to fish Tunemah in a very small portion of the lake due to ice, and I saw nothing and caught nothing. I guess I have to return.

One last item on the trip.. this is a throw down! Can anyone beat this? I found 7 balloons! Wow does anyone realize these wind up as trash in the Sierra?
Overall.. a good and bad trip.. some memorable moments.
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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by MountainMinstrel » Wed Jul 04, 2018 1:12 pm

Thanks for a great trip report. Losing a map is the one thing that scares me the most as it doesn't matter how much studying I do, I can't remember it.

And you beat me with the mylars. I only found 5, but then I was only out for three days.
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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by Pato » Wed Jul 04, 2018 2:24 pm

Thanks for posting Robert...I too was among the many anxiously awaiting your TR. It was worth the wait! Sounds like you timed things perfectly as far as post ice-out, pre-mosquito. I went in late June 2014, Tunemah was completely melted and it was mosquito hell! I'm sorry to hear that you had to skip Simpson Mdw/Tehipte but it seems you made the right call. The elusive Tunemah-Tehipte combo has been an obsession of mine since I first read GB's post many years ago - I may have to return although I wish the fishing was better east of the White Divide. Sadly I'm beginning to believe that Tunemah is now fishless.

I also snapped a pic of that wonderful falls overlooking Ragged Spur and Goddard Creek down below on my trip in 2014. Thanks for bringing back the memory! What an amazing's my pic. Question - did you consider descending that slope to Goddard Creek below in lieu of trying to find the old trail down to Simpson Meadow? It totally looked doable to me from that falls and I had thought about trying to piece together a Tunehipte trip that year but only had 5 days and figured it wasn't enough time.
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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by maverick » Wed Jul 04, 2018 2:30 pm

Thanks for the TR, pic's, and including that shot Robert.
Look at it this way, you did not get down to Tehipite, but now you have a reason to go back. :nod:
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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by wildhiker » Thu Jul 05, 2018 12:00 am

Thanks for a great trip report. I remember reading Sierra South back in the early 70s and feeling enchanted by the idea of doing that "Tunemah Trail" all the way to Simpson Meadow. But never made it into that country, so it's great to read your report and photos.

I am worried enough about losing the map that I always put another copy - usually a smaller scale "overview" map - deep in my pack. It helps if you return to familiar areas because for some of them, I really do have the map in my head.


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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by cgundersen » Thu Jul 05, 2018 9:11 am

Hi Robert,
Phenomenal report! Having gotten beaten up in the Sphinx creek drainage around the same time you were bushwhacking, I feel a bit of shared grief. At the same time, we had great long views toward Goddard and Finger Peaks from our camp in upper Sphinx basin, and I'm guessing it was around the time you were bagging, we did not see you! Anyway, thanks for the photos and commentary. It's an amazing area that definitely gets few visitors. Cameron

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Re: Trip Report Woodchuck Country and Tunemah 6-18

Post by windknot » Thu Jul 05, 2018 11:22 am

Great report! Thanks so much for taking the time to write it up and include so many wonderful photos. I enjoyed following along with your journey (and as others have mentioned, losing my map is one of my greatest worries when hiking solo offtrail -- glad you navigated around safely with only a few hours of being "confused").

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