TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

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TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by kpeter » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:45 pm

Introduction:

This trip was planned with the help of board members and the intention was to include two exciting cross country sections—Kaweah Basin and Crabtree Pass—but those plans got nuked on the second day when it became clear that I re tore my right meniscus. Instead, I continued forward and kept to main trails except when dayhiking, which along with ibuprofen eased the pain in the knee. I did not have quite the experience I had planned, but it was nonetheless a magnificent trip that had little solitude but much sociability with good people—especially as I summited Whitney with the many who were finishing the JMT and the HST. With my HST topix patch on the front of my hat I provoked many conversations and proselytized for this website, and met three of our members along the way—among them Tomba coming down Kearsarge, Saltydog at Tyndall Creek, and Scouter as I came out near Cottonwood Lakes. It was also my first extensive trip with the Inreach, allowing me to get and receive texts from my wife and brother. This also changed the character of the trip a bit. All in all, I saw spectacular scenery, met many fine people, enjoyed myself immensely, but seldom had a sense of solitude. As such, this was akin to my North Lake to South Lake loop or the Agnew Meadows to Tuolumne hike with spectacular scenery and many people. One way or the other, I still need to find a way to return to Kaweah Basin.

Prior to Day One, I drove to Lone Pine, avoiding my usual route through Yosemite and going south through Bakersfield to avoid the smoke. That evening I drove out to the Alabama Hills at sunset for a little photography.
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Day One

On the morning of Day One I drove up to Cottonwood Lakes trailhead and waited for my shuttle. Paul, owner of Eastside Sierra Shuttle, picked me up and we had an interesting conversation on the way to Onion Valley, which was my entrance point. Being a political scientist these days just about guarantees an interesting conversation! Actually, one of the reasons I relished this trip was to wipe those thoughts from my mind for a week—they are otherwise inescapable for me either at work or at home. Paul was earnest in his curiosity and opinions, though, and I enjoyed even the political aspects of our conversation. He is retired and lives in Independence and operates his shuttle service as a labor of love. I learned he is involved in several non profits, and has worked on archaeological digs at Manzanar. I visited Manzanar nearly a decade ago, but I understand it has expanded significantly and I will make a point to visit again. We picked up some other backpackers in Independence and got to the trailhead at Onion Valley by 1030.

I had been training for two months to get ready for this trip—several short backpacks in June and lots of work at the Y on cardio and leg machines. But nothing can quite prepare you for elevation. Starting at 9200 and heading for the pass at 11800 is always a rude start. Still, I chugged steadily but slowly uphill with my full pack and sea level lungs.
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Along the way I met HST member Tomba who coming down from the pass with his delightful family. Then I found myself starting out with a young man from Philly who was going to meet his wife and hike with her as she finished the JMT. I would bump into them repeatedly during the trip, including while summiting Whitney on their last day. Really nice people.

I rested near the Matlock Lake sign, where the trail comes close to the stream, had lunch, replenished water, and continued up. As I neared Heart Lake and took the turn up towards Big Pothole, the skies began to threaten. In the long switchbacks near the pass it began to rain—something it would do every afternoon for the next four days. This day, however, there was no thunder or lightning to speak of, and I arrived at the pass only a little damp. The rain eased, there was a party in the pass of mostly young people who were using Kearsarge as a resupply point for the JMT. One of them from Australia kindly snapped my picture. The view over the Kearsarge Lakes basin was as spectacular as I remembered from 25 years ago—but the grey skies put a bit of a crimp on the photography.
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On my last visit to this area, a generation ago, we bypassed Kearsarge Lakes and went to Charlotte. I have always regretted not camping at those lakes, and I descended to them and found the expected crowded conditions. The bear lockers have all been sealed shut there since they were being misused for resupply operations, apparently, but this did not discourage multiple parties from camping there. The skies partially cleared and I enjoyed a few shots of the Kearsarge Pinnacles before sunset.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by kpeter » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:46 pm

Day Two

As with most days, I got up before first light, packed by flashlight, as was ready to hike at dawn. As I tightened my first-season Asolo boot the leather grommet tore, making it impossible to lace the boot properly. That was discouraging—I often have blister problems and keeping my small heels from sliding around is key to preventing these blisters--and the lacing would now make that quite difficult. Fortunately I was able to jerry-rig something that worked, and after I returned, REI took the boots back and refunded my money.

As I ambled down the lower trail toward Bullfrog Lake—another lake I had not seen up close, my right knee went ZING! I did nothing particular to cause it—no obvious twist or lock—but the pain was sharp. Fortunately, it was not constant, and most steps were normal, but every so often it would deliver a zinger. The knee also was slightly swollen—not quite as flexible as the left. This was the knee in which I tore my meniscus a decade ago and which had been scoped, and these symptoms felt the same as before. I remember asking my surgeon what the alternative to surgery was, and he said nonchalantly, “ibuprofen.”

At this point I had a decision. I could turn around and hobble back to Onion Valley and attempt to get rides to my car at Cottonwood Lakes, and scrub the trip. Or I could try to go ahead, probably with a reduced agenda to save as much wear and tear on the knee as possible. I decided I would give it a day to see how the knee performed, and if I was too miserable, I could still retreat.

As it turned out I made the right decision. The knee remained stiff the whole time, but some days there was no pain at all, and others there would be just the occasional zinger. As my surgeon described these symptoms to me before—when the meniscus is torn it can flop around, and if it flops into the correct position it can feel normal, and if it gets into the wrong position it can be painful. Apparently it mainly stayed in position.

As I neared Bullfrog Lake I was treated to a beautiful sight over the lake at dawn, looking across the lake at the Vidette Peaks looming up from behind the Bubbs Creek Valley that drops down below the lake. Another special sight that I had missed on my prior trip, and my camera and I lingered.
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I saw people camped at Bullfrog-- in violation of the rules. Sadly, there seemed to be little enforcement of any kind going on in these high-use corridors and I saw numerous similar violations throughout the trip.
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Leaving Bullfrog, the trail soon joins the PCT/JMT and plunges down into Vidette Canyon. My knee was sore and seemed to do better on uphill than downhill, and this was a test. From the switchbacks going down there are views south up Bubbs Creek canyon, including Center Peak which divides the two headwaters of the creek.
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It was clear that I was not going to make it over Forester on my second day, and WD had mentioned that the last good place to stop were some nice tent pads by a stream right at treeline—at 11,200. Unfortunately, when I was about half a mile shy of that goal it began to rain again—with thunder and hail-- and I scrambled to set up the tent. (I learned later that this was the storm that washed out the road to Horseshoe Meadows and left the trailhead stranded for a couple of days.) I camped at about 11000 and still had a gorgeous view back down the valley. There was a rivulet from which I could scoop and filter water. The rain continued for a couple of hours, and by the time I was sure it had finished I was not about to move camp, so I sat tight after half a day of hiking. The sun came out enough to brighten the evening.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by kpeter » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:47 pm

Day Three

Again, up with the early light and climbing, climbing, climbing up to the highest pass I had yet done in my life. Forester is 13,200. Coming from the north it is a very long, gradual climb. The trail follows the headwaters of Bubbs Creek through some gorgeous green meadows.
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The cascades are entertaining as you snake up into the shale. The trail crosses the outlet of a pretty lake at 12,257 which is a good place to get water for the final push.
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From this point it rounds a ridge and uses the ridge as a kind of entrance ramp to the pass, with the views North steadily improving, if you remember to turn around and look back.
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Then, at the pass, a surprise! After the broad, sweeping mountain sides to the north, the pass is itself cramped and stuck in a small notch, from which you can peer over a nearly sheer cliff on the southern side. The southern approach to the pass loses 800 feet through switchbacks blasted into a cliff with some ingenuity, then after this rapid descent it enters a very gentle treeless plateau that stretches for miles, broken only by large shallow lakes that help form the headwaters of Tyndall Creek.
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After chatting amiably in the pass with a group of young people from Oregon I headed down. There was good water and even a barren tent pad or two as the trail got down to the tarns and Tyndall Creek. If I were coming to Forester from the south I would stop here before attempting it in a rainstorm—even without lightning I would not want to do the south side when the rocks on the trail were slick.

But again, the clouds were building, and as I trekked across this high, treeless, plateau the sprinkles began. Continuing south I could hardly believe the openness, the sweep, the size of the vista. Another vast open meadow that is the Shepherd Pass region appeared on my left. I have never been in a more open area that is ostensibly in the middle of a mountain chain. It was made to seem more vast by the lack of trees and the occasional lonely lake and babbling stream.
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The rain was not yet serious but the thunder was threatening, and the complete lack of cover was not inspiring. I trudged forward—it was impossible to “hurry” regardless of the threat, passed the turnoff for Lake South America, and came to the settled camp on Tyndall Creek.

For those who have not hiked the JMT or the HST, a word about these camps is in order. Many people hike these popular trails without bear canisters, which restricts them to camping at those locations where the Park Service has installed bear boxes. These boxes are placed strategically near water sources, and as a result, they spawn the formation of campgrounds almost as settled as car camping. Every night there will be 5-15 campsites occupied at these places, with the tents often no more than 20 feet apart, all clustered around the box and the water. I wound up staying in a number of these campsites, and to enjoy them I had to revise my thinking about the experience. I was losing solitude but gaining a social experience. For example, at the Tyndall Creek camp I met up again with the young man I has started up Kearsarge with—who had found his wife and introduced me. We chatted a bit about my time in Philly. I also met HST member Saltydog, who accurately predicted the weather pattern for the next few days, and indicated he was going to dayhike over to see Lake South America.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by kpeter » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:49 pm

Day Four

This was the real moment of truth. Hiking again at first light to get as much hiking in before the daily storm, I soon came to the intersection with the old Tyndall Creek cutoff trail down to the Kern. This was going to have been my approach to Kaweah Basin. Actually, according to my plans I should already have been down at Junction Meadow but the repeated rain delays had already made that impossible. One old timer I met had questioned how easily I could get across the Kern—I hate walking on logs, and with a knee that could spasm in pain if turned just wrong I did not relish tumbling in a logjam. Behind schedule, with a bad knee, and not very good information about the crossing, I decided to write Kaweah Basin off the list for this trip. I may try it from Colby Pass in a future year.

The hike from the Tyndall Creek camp over to the Wallace Creek camp was relatively uneventful. You do gain a nice view of the Tyndall Creek canyon as it departs toward the Kern.
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The highlight of this stretch, though, was the high Bighorn Plateau. It is a sweeping region carpeted with bunchgrass that affords a 360 degree view of the Sierra.
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From here the trail descends to pretty little Wright Creek before heading around a hill to descend again to large Wallace Creek, where the HST joins up and creates an overlap of the PCT/JMT/HST and some of the most crowded hiking in the West. As WD pointed out in my inquiry thread, there are interesting lake basins to explore by heading up Wright Creek or Wallace Creek.

At the Wallace Creek crossing I chatted with JMT and HST hikers who were getting excited about summiting Whitney and concluding their trips. I decided that even if I missed several of the other objectives of this trip, I would try to get up Whitney. I couldn’t imagine getting another chance. To do this I would need to get above the Crabtree Ranger station up to the Guitar Lake area for a basecamp, and I hoped to do it this day.

As I came down the hill to a pretty spot named Sandy Meadow, I watched as a green and white park service helicopter landed and delivered supplies to the trail crew that was camped there. A little speedier than resupply by burro! I wondered if there were any fresh hamburgers in those supplies. Then on to the intersection for Crabtree Meadow, where I met an Australian family having lunch in the shade. Finally the last mile up the high, rocky northern side of Whitney Creek to come to the Crabtree Meadow complex.

As I got there, with plenty of the day left for hiking, it began to rain again. I hurriedly set up my tent in an excellent sheltered spot, retreated inside, watched and listened to the hail and thunder, and wondered if I would be staying the night or if I could take the tent down when the storm was over and head upstream as planned. The fourth day and the fourth storm. It was getting old.

By 3:00 the sky cleared and I packed the wet tent and headed up the 3.5 mile trail toward Guitar Lake. I was tired. As I hiked I realized that I would not be ready for a 3am wake up to summit Whitney the next day. I decided to go part way, to move my camp a little higher and closer tomorrow and have an easy day to dayhike the upper basin, get further acclimated, and prepare for the final hike up. The problem was—was there anywhere to stop short of Guitar Lake, which is the traditional jumping off point for summiting Whitney from the west?

I passed Timberline Lake, which I thought was very pretty, with the granite, forests, and green sedges framing its waters.
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But no camping is allowed there, and I was getting frustrated. As I chugged uphill from Timberline I noticed a granite rise that lay between the trail and Whitney Creek. Leaving the trail, I wandered over to explore it, and found—just out of sight of the trail—the best campsite of my life.

It had all the amenities—a flat but well drained pad for the tent, plenty of granite block tables and chairs, a private 10’ waterfall on Whitney Creek, and views down the valley to the west and up the valley to Whitney to the east.
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The sun came out, I did some laundry, and made a good dinner, and I enjoyed the photography from this idyllic spot.
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This was the ONLY camp I had during the trip entirely to myself, and it was a special place.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by kpeter » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:50 pm

Day Five

I was in no hurry this day, so I enjoyed a lazy morning before packing up to move camp uphill. Guitar lake was less than a mile away, and there I ran in with the advance guard for a troop of boy scouts that was already staking out claims for camp space.
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I wanted to get closer than Guitar Lake, but the scouts had taken all the spaces at the two tarns immediately above Guitar. Continuing upward I found a large sandy spot on the trail with a rivulet running through it where two fellows from Reno who had just summited were packing up. It was the highest you could camp and still have water, so I set up there, a little before noon.

With many hours left in the day, I set out to dayhike this basin below Whitney, exploring the many tarns and ridges between the trail and Hitchcock Lakes.
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As I did so I came across unusual rock formations that reminded me almost exactly of the Alabama Hills outside Lonepine. There were many charming streams and tarns, and I also discovered a fair number of tent pads in unusual places scattered far away from the trail. Hitchcock Lakes looked quite beautiful, tucked up against the crags of Mt. Hitchcock.
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I also warily eyed the scree slog (unmarked on the HST map) SE of Hitchcock that supposedly cuts over to Crabtree lakes. It looked steep and dangerous to me.

It was hot and there was practically no shade to be found in the basin. This was the first day there would be no rain. I eventually found a 10’ granite wall that was casting about 2’ of shade, and I lay down and snoozed in the grassy, shady strip adjacent to the cool granite cliff. When I wandered back to my tent, I found two French women had set up their tent about 10’ from mine. By early evening, a whole group of HST finishers moved in and we had a dozen people nearby. I got to know many of them and would summit with most of them the next day. All young and excited to be reaching the culmination of their trip—several of them quite experienced and all of them kind to this old man. I headed for bed at 7 pm after prepacking my daypack for the Whitney summit the next day.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by kpeter » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:51 pm

Day Six

I slept badly. I was filled with worries and excitement. I got up at 2:30, dressed warmly, and was hiking at 2:45 by headlamp—most of the crowd had already left. There are three reasons to hike up Whitney in the dark. The big safety reason is to be able to summit and get down before 11am, which is the traditional time for the earliest possible thunder storms. Second, sunrise is spectacular from the summit. Third, the switchbacks heading up to trail crest are entirely exposed and without water—doing them in the sun is not pleasant.

As I hiked in the dark, I discovered a fourth reason. I have a mild fear of heights, and I could not be afraid of what I could not see! It was easy to keep all my attention on the trail in front of me. However, every so often I would stop, turn off the lamp, and see the valley bathed in moonlight. It was eerie and beautiful, with the granite reflecting the moonlight and the lakes looking like ink blobs. The stars from 14,000+ feet were brilliant jewels. The hike in the dark will be an experience I will vividly remember forever.

I was impressed that I got from my camp at 11,500 to the summit turnoff (at 13,500) in a couple of hours. But the two additional miles over to the peak were not miles that could be rushed. The trail has sections with exposure and it is not the wide freeway that the switchbacks proved to be. In several places large boulders had fallen onto the trail and not been removed, requiring a little climbing around and over. Plus, from about the 14,000 foot level I was panting with every step. At sea level the atmosphere is 21% oxygen, at 14k it is 12%, and my lungs knew it! Many of my fellow sumiteers got slightly to seriously nauseous in this stretch. I did not, but I did lose all appetite, which concerned me since I knew I needed to eat to have enough energy for a safe downhill hike.

As I approached the final push to the top I realized I would not make it by dawn. But no matter. The spectacular light show was in the sky to the west, not the east, and I was perfectly positioned to see some of the color over the western peaks.
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By the time I reached the peak a half hour after sunrise I had already done much of my photography, but it was fun meeting all the other early summiteers, comparing notes and life stories. A couple of guys from San Francisco, one of whom is starting an MA at San Francisco State, snapped my picture for me, and I them.
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I was not actually sure how much I would enjoy being on the summit. It has become a very touristy thing to do. Nevertheless, the views were awesome, in every direction. And I realized I had done one of the most physically and psychologically difficult things in my life. Those of you who are real climbers may scoff, but given the state of my body and my fear of heights, this was a major personal accomplishment for me, and one I will treasure.
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The way down was slower than I anticipated—and more of a psychological challenge than the way up.
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When I was headed down, numerous very large groups were heading up, and there were few spots on the trail where two people could safely pass. So I frequently waited, and chatted as the groups went by. I was also humbled as the 12 year old Boy Scouts passed, as the group with disabilities passed, as people considerably older than myself passed, etc. It seemed like everyone was scurrying up the last two miles of the trail—a couple of miles that were not all easy for me at all. But we each have our own challenges, and I am content that I overcame mine to have this experience.

When I got back to camp in late morning, I took my tent down and headed down the mountain, enjoying the look of Timberline Lake in the sun instead of the rain.
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The plan had been to start up the Crabtree Lake Chain this day, but my knee was pinging again and I thought going easy on it was the better course. When I arrived at Crabtree Ranger station I hardly recognized the place I had left two days before. Almost no one was there—the large groups had all moved on. I found a pretty little spot in the edge of the trees with a sweeping view of the grassy meadow and made camp. It seemed somehow like camping in a municipal park, with a large mowed lawn. But it was quiet, pleasant, and just what I needed after my exhilarating but exhausting trip up Whitney.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by kpeter » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:52 pm

Day Seven

As with the disappointment of missing Kaweah Basin, I added the disappointment of missing Crabtree Pass and Miter Basin—but I could not be too disappointed given how much I had seen and done despite the bad knee. This day I decided to take the main trail the long way around from Crabtree to Soldier Lake, rather than the shorter but more difficult cross country route that I had so meticulously planned for the same destination. I just did not want to push the knee any further.

The hike began heading down Whitney Creek to lower Crabtree Meadows, which I thought were quite beautiful—more so than the much dryer meadow near the ranger station.
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Along the way (in the first of the two meadow areas) I passed an unmarked trail that I presume was the turnoff to Crabtree Lakes. At the lower, wetter meadow there was an expanse of green and serpentine water. Someone was camped near the intersection with llamas, who were busy munching anything they could reach from their stakeout. Such curious creatures.

From Lower Crabtree Meadows up and over Guyot Pass to Rock Creek I found relatively dull. Quite woodsy with few views. But as I headed up Rock Creek, and turned off the PCT to stay on the Rock Creek trail, I was charmed. Meadow after meadow, mostly separated by a series of cascades, proved delightful to both eye and ear. When I reached the highest and largest of the meadows on Rock Creek—with open water—I ran into an emergency room doctor and his two polite boys.
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We talked for a time about taking advantage of these experiences while we could, since time is so fleeting—boys grow up, health fails, etc.

From this upper Rock Creek Meadow at 10400 the trail rises steeply to Soldier Lake (not named on the map.) The only camping at Soldier Lake is on the southern peninsula or near the intersection (and bear box) away from the lake but near the outlet stream. The trail on the map goes up the west side. Don’t take this if you are looking for camping since it has no easy access to the peninsula. Instead, take the new trail (not on the map) that goes up the east side of the outlet stream since it will take you directly to the peninsula.

I found Soldier Lake to be a charming place. A couple from Marin was already on the peninsula, but they invited me over and I found a tent pad with a lake view that was somewhat secluded from them. The lake has granite, forest, sedge, and some drama, and the camps on the peninsula all afford a splendid view.
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An hour or so later, however, a very large Russian family arrived and camped in multiple spots within 20 feet of me, hanging laundry across the view, playing music on their devices, and utterly wrecking what was left of the wilderness experience. I also learned something about cultural differences with modesty, as the whole family changed in and out of their swimsuits in plain view. One of them was quite an accomplished swimmer, going halfway across the lake and back. Other would-be campers arrived, took a look at the carnival, and retreated to the intersection—Soldier Lake had turned into quite the motel. I refused to get perturbed. I went on strolls to quieter areas, and the Russians (to their credit) calmed down early enough for me to get some early sleep.
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by kpeter » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:53 pm

Day Eight

I got up, packed by flashlight, ate a bar rather than cooking breakfast, and was hiking before first light—eager to get up New Army Pass before it became hot. Being hot turned out not to be a problem. The wind came up and I stopped twice to put on more clothes. When I reached New Army Pass I felt like I was coming home. I had spent some time in the Cottonwood Lakes Basin in 2007 and dayhiked up to the Pass. New Army Pass was as interesting as I remembered. To the north and west you can look back at the approach to Langley and the low saddle that was the old Army Pass, and to the east you look over the south fork chain, including High Lake, Long Lake, and South Fork Lakes.
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The trail ducks through a notch in the granite before beginning a long (and not terribly efficient) series of switchbacks down.

I paused to enjoy a look at my old camp at Long Lake. It is always interesting how memories alter things. When I visited in 2007 there was no water in the inlet or outlet streams and I was not very fond of the dry, desolate feeling. Now there was water babbling in both and the place seemed much more cheerful.
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I paused below the lake next to the outlet for a deserved break and replenishment of water.

The hike continued to be pleasant as it followed Cottonwood Creek downhill as far as the Golden Trout Camp, but when the trail turned south to head to the trailhead it began to stay high and dry. It was dusty, rocky, dull, and spent some time going uphill to reach the trailhead—a surprise after a descent from the pass. During one of these stretches I met HST member Scouter who was with a large group on the way in. He recognized my HST patch and we had a friendly conversation about burgers and salads in Lone Pine. I am ashamed to say that by this point my mind had obviously already checked out of the wilderness.

I reached the trailhead as my water ran out—it had never once run out during the entire previous 8 days—and as I was cleaning up for the drive out I met a fascinating octogenarian. He had been a climber much of his life, and he was dayhiking at Cottonwood to get acclimated for a coming family pack trip “when I will have to keep up with the grand kids.” As I was feeling sorry for my aging knee and body, I found him to be an inspiration. I hope I will be able to manage at least a few pack trips by the time I turn 84.

Conclusion


This was not the trip I planned, but rather than be disappointed in what I was not able to do, I am quite pleased with the sights and memories I will take from eight delightful days. I explored many places for the first time, and it will make it that much easier for me to go back now that I have “the lay of the land.” After all, I am not 84 yet, and even that doesn’t seem to stop one intrepid soul!
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by maverick » Thu Aug 09, 2018 3:15 pm

Really enjoyed the TR and the wonderful pictures your were able to capture, in spite of the smoke on the horizon.
More importantly, how is your knee? What is the doc saying? Have they x-rayed or scoped it yet? Your knee isn't locking I hope? Probably will have you rest, ice, and take some OTC pain killers, if it's not bad, maybe some physical therapy.
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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, an HST member: http://reconn.org

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windknot
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Re: TR: Kearsarge to Cottonwood July 30-August 8

Post by windknot » Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:00 pm

What an excellent report of a wonderful journey, and on a knee injury to boot! I'm no climber either, but I remain impressed with everyone who can summit Whitney no matter how many do it. I appreciate the honest and humorous descriptions of life on the most popular trail in the Sierra, too. I've been on most of this route over the course of a couple of different trips, but not once in those 11 nights did I ever camp within eyesight of anyone else -- the difference between sticking to the trail (whether forced or by choice) and venturing a bit off seems to be pronounced.

Anyhow, thanks again for sharing this with us!
You can read a few backcountry reports here: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/

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