TR: Solo Broken-Elbow Big SEKI Loop, 8/07-8/16

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ChrisInIthaca
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TR: Solo Broken-Elbow Big SEKI Loop, 8/07-8/16

Post by ChrisInIthaca » Mon Sep 03, 2018 3:53 pm

The "Big SEKI Loop" is a ~150 mile loop in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. See Amy and James's detailed description of the route and many of its possible variations at http://doingmiles.com/route-big-seki-loop/. I found the route by searching "large loop in SEKI" on Google. I followed Amy and James's description of the route mostly to a "t": I started at the Copper Creek Trailhead at Road's End, hiking over Granite Pass, through Simpson Meadow and up the Middle Fork of the King's River to the JMT. I followed the JMT for about sixty miles to Wallace Creek, and then turned onto the HST. From there, I followed the HST down the Kern River and Kaweah Gap to the the Elizabeth Pass trailhead, with a detour through Sky Parlor Meadow and Moraine Lake. I crossed over Elizabeth Pass, down Deadman Canyon to Roaring River, then crossed over Avalanche Pass to take the Bubb's Creek trail back to Road's End. I gave myself ten days, and I didn't resupply. I really appreciate all the work that Amy and James did in putting the route information together on their website: As a Sierra outsider, I wouldn't have known enough to do the hike without all of the information they made available.

The broken elbow: I fell off my bike earlier in the summer a sustained a non-displaced fracture to the right radial bone of my left arm. While I was cleared to hike by my doctor and had no problems using two trekking poles, I still did not have full mobility of my left arm, and it wasn't too good for full weight-bearing activities, i.e. scrambles. So while I wanted to put down some miles and get a bit of outdoor solitude, I also wanted to stick to established trails. The BSL seemed perfect for this.

The upshot: great trip! I don't live in California, and so this was a nice way to see a lot of the park in a single trip, as well as explore some of the lesser-used trails of SEKI. There are many areas that I passed through but didn't have a chance to explore, and I can't wait to visit again next summer.


Day 1: Copper Creek Trailhead to Daugherty Creek, ~16 mi. I spent the previous night in the Sentinel campground and made it to the trailhead by 8:30am. I had read everywhere that the trail is strenuous, and people were't kidding! I had also read that the views going up were great, but they were somewhat obscured by smoke from the Ferguson Fire. Given the poor visibility, I mainly just rode off of my first-day adrenaline to get over the lip and out of the sun as early as possible. I made it into the basin by about 12pm, by which time I had caught up with two NPS field biologists and two AmeriCorp volunteers contracted to the NPS. They were on their way to a field site at State Lakes. I hiked with them a bit and stopped with them for part of their lunch-- nice people! I reached the pass around 2pm, by which point the miles and the elevation were starting to catch up with me. But I think it would have been worth it just for the view, and I could imagine that exploring the basin would be fun for a shorter trip. I kept on going until around 5pm and set up camp near Daughterty Creek, between the two trails that go east to State Lakes.

Photo: Granite Pass
1.2 Granite Pass.jpg

Day 2: Daugherty Creek to Palisade Creek, ~15.5 mi. This was one of the most difficult days of the hike. I got started around 9am, beginning the descent down to Simpson Meadow. From there, the trail ascends against the flow of the Middle Fork of the Kings River, often climbing cliffside well above the water. I had read through the NPS trail conditions, but I didn't know well enough to check under "Pehipite Valley/ Middle Fork Kings River". If I had, I would have read this: "7/31 - It is very brushy from the JMT Junction to 2 miles west. There is a 50' wide washout about 2 miles west of the JMT it is impassable to stock and very difficult for hikers to navigate- from that section of trail, there is a 200' vertical drop to the river. Route finding skills are required and caution is urged." While I didn't find the brush to be too bad, the trail blow-out was real and difficult to cross. The blow-out left a steep convex chute crossing the trail, and the surface seemed to be mainly dirt, with little to anchor your hands and feet while crossing. I was encouraged to see some cairns placed around the blow-out, taking it as a sign that somebody else had managed to make it across to the other side. This was perhaps the only time I felt that I was limited by my elbow. Also, I think I am going to bring rope for my next hike -- it would have been useful to be able to cross sans pack. I ran into a bear near the blow-out area. The bear was eating berries and completely disinterested in me, but was blocking the trail. I yelled "Bear! Bear! Pamplemousse!" (Pamplemousse is my favorite flavor of La Croix.) The bear moved on, reluctantly. Later on, I saw a hiker wearing board shorts. We said hi, but nothing more. After passing the hiker, the thought came to my head: was that the bear I saw earlier, but dressed up in a human suit? This brings me to the second problem of the day: while the trail is near the Middle Forks of the Kings River, the river is only periodically accessible from the trail for the purposes of filling up. Take that, the additional time necessary to get through the unanticipated blowout, and compound with the heat and the process of acclimating to altitude, and I was getting a bit thirsty. While loopy thoughts can be fun, dehydration is not good. After that, I revised my projected water intake upwards, at least until I knew that I was better acclimated to the altitude. I stopped that evening around 7pm, about a mile south of the Palisade Creek crossing.

Photos: Middle Fork of Kings
2.3 MF Kings.jpg

Day 3: Palisade Creek to Bench Lake Trailhead, ~16 mi. I started around 8:30am. I crossed the Palisades Creek, prepared to join the onslaught of JMT hikers, but then... where was everybody? Turns out, the closure of Yosemite prevented a lot of people with JMT permits from getting to the trail. So while the trail wasn't empty -- the longest I would go without seeing people would be a couple of hours -- it certainly wasn't the "super-highway" that I was expecting. For the most of the passes (with the obvious exception of Glen), I could look out without seeing other hikers. The other thing: while I had spent a lot of time studying maps and a bit of time with RJ Secor's book, I didn't really study pictures of the scenery along the JMT or the HST. So, I was seeing a lot of this classic scenery with virgin eyes. After making it over Mather and through the Upper Basin, I camped about two miles shy of the junction with the Bench Lake Trail.

Photos: Mather Pass (view north), Upper Basin
3.1 Mather Pass (north view).jpg
3.3 Upper Basin.jpg

Day 4: Bench Lake Trailhead to Woods Creek, ~14.5 mi. I woke up super late, and I only got started at around 11am. But I felt rested! Just as I was getting going, I was stopped by an NPS trail maintenance worker, as a trail crew was about to blow some charges ahead. Let's call this guy Thor, because he looked like Thor, but with a big beard and a prominent "Carpe Diem" tattoo; and instead of using his hammer to hit bad guys, he smashes rocks. Super nice guy. We chatted for around a half an hour, and I got a sense of what life is like as a trail worker. His girlfriend works on a crew elsewhere in the park, and they send letters to each other via courier. Once we heard the big boom and got the okay over the radio, I said goodbye, and I was on my way. After Pinchot, it was an easy downhill stretch to Woods Creek. I crossed the suspension bridge around 5ish and kept going for about an hour. I found a small campsite between the trail and the creek at about 6:15. Cowboy camped.


Day 5: Woods Creek to Vidette Meadow, ~15 mi. This is the one part of the trail that I knew pretty well-- I had done the Rae Lakes Loop with my father and older brother six years prior, and I have a bit of a sentimental attachment to the area. I started around 7:30am and got up to Glen Pass around 11am. This part of the trail was pretty crowded, and I was excited to get past the junction with Bubbs. Two super-fast backpackers passed me on the way down. I ran into them again at the junction and talked with them a little bit. They were guides at Yosemite, and I guess hiking in SEKI while Yosemite was closed. Somebody had scratched "PCT" over "John Muir Trail" on one of the signs. "Another perfectly good sign defaced by a PCT hiker." "We see these guys all the time in Yosemite, lost and asking for directions. You would think that after 950 miles, they would have learned how to use a map and compass!" Pretty funny. One thing I learned: people have strong opinions about other people's hikes, and how they're doing them! That was one of the good things about hiking the BSL-- nobody on the trail knows about it (I took to describing it as a big loop around SEKI), so there wasn't much for anybody to say! I headed up Vidette Meadows and camped about 3.5 miles past the junction with Bubbs.


Day 6: Vidette Meadow to Junction Meadow (Kerns), ~16.5mi. Another late-ish start. I got on the trail at about 9:15am and made it up to Forester at around 11:45am. There was a small contingent of friendly hikers at the top. Chatted a bit, took some pictures, but there was a storm coming up from the south, so I hooved it down the trail. I really liked the trail in the "Diamond Mesa." I ran across a coyote on what my map calls the "Bighorn Plateau". I went to take a picture, but I had put my camera in the main compartment of my pack during a period of rain. Bummer! I came up on the HST junction around 4pm. I set up camp at Junction Meadow. That night, I had to decide whether I was going to cut over Colby Pass or continue on towards Elizabeth Pass. I really wanted to see Cloud Canyon, but I was enjoying being out, so I elected for the longer option. Another time!

Photos: Approach to Forester Pass, Forester Pass (view south)
6.1 approach to Forester Pass.jpg
6.3 Forester (view south).jpg

Day 7: Junction Meadow (Kerns) to Moraine Lake, ~15.5mi. This was a late morning. Right before going to bed the night before, I noticed that the treading on the toebox of my shoes was coming off. This has happened before to me with Cascadias, but never this bad. I had Aquaseal, and I wanted to fix them before going to bed. (I glued my fingers together in the process, of course.) So, a late night. I rolled out of my tent around 8:45am, and there was a large doe resting just across from my tent. Like the bear, she couldn't be bothered, and continued to hang out while I packed up. The first half of this day was tough, mentally. Going over passes is tough but fun-- there is a feeling of excitement that carries you. Walking ten miles down the Kern River, with multiple water crossings, clouds overhead, thunder in the distance, and a coiled rattlesnake off the trail to remind you of all the rattlesnakes you don't see-- tough in a different way, and you carry yourself. When I finally got to the lowest point of the Kern before the trail ascends, I started to hear lightening. I put down my pack, found a low place and waited it off, for quite a while. When things cleared out and I was finally able to get back on the trail, I was glad to be done with the Kern. While I'm sure I'll make it back to the Kern River again, I'll never listen to the Merle Haggard song in quite the same way! Bit of a steep hike coming out of the Kern, but the sky cleared and I had the trail all to myself. I had read from Secor that I shouldn't miss Moraine Lake, so I split off from the HST and took on the additional half mile or so. I am glad I did. Sky Parlor Meadow alone was simply ethereal. I took my time getting the lake, setting up camp around 6:30pm. I watched the sunset over the late (while eating out of a freezer bag).

Photos: Sky Parlor Meadow, Moraine Lake
7.6 Sky Parlor Meadow.jpg
7.7 Moraine Lake.jpg

Day 8: Moraine Lake to Elizabeth Pass/ Tamarack Lake trail junction, ~15mi. At the beginning of the trip, I had been pretty concerned about making my mileage every day, and whether my body would hold up. At some point the day before, I realized that I was doing just fine, and I was able to enter a deeper state of chilling out. I woke up feeling great, took my time packing up, and I got back on the trail around 10am. Between Moraine Lake and the Kaweah Gap, I ran into maybe two groups. Although, that doesn't include another NPS trail crew. Super nice guys/ladies, and incredibly impressive at what they do. The scenery going towards the Kaweah Gap was gorgeous. As I wrote earlier, I had never looked at pictures of the area. Aside from studying maps, I had no notion that Precipice Lake was anything special, and all that I knew about Hamilton Lakes aside from the maps was from reading Secor. So, when I came over Kaweah Gap, I was absolutely shocked. I felt like I had discovered Yosemite Valley. I am sure everybody on this forum knows this section -- trails that tunnel through the cliffside, mineral patterns in the granite that would make John McPhee blush -- so I won't go on about it. I stopped near the Elizabeth Pass/Tamarack Lake trail junction around 7pm and camped for the night. I found it a bit hard to follow the trail after the turnoff from the HST, but as soon as the trail crosses Lone Pine Creek, it's not so bad. There is definitely a trail there to follow.

Photos: view from trail to Moraine Lake, view back on way to camp
8.1 View from HST.jpg
8.6 near night's camp.jpg

Day 9: Elizabeth Pass/ Tamarack Lake trail junction to Avalanche Pass approach, ~14 mi. I set off around 8:15. The hike up to Elizabeth Pass is beautiful. I made sure to stop every once and while and look back on my way up. I could see Tamarack Lake as I made my way up to the top of the pass, and it seemed like a great place to explore in the future. From what I had read before the trip, the trail to Elizabeth Pass has been bad in previous years, but it seemed that perhaps some work had been done on it. There were some helpful cairns, and the last part of the trail going up the pass was pretty clearly indicated. I made the pass around 10:45am. I was sad to leave Sequoia, and I was tempted to explore the ridge along the Kings-Kaweah Divide; but I would have wanted to study it beforehand, and besides, broken elbow! It felt like it took more time getting down Elizabeth Pass than up -- the trail was well-marked, but not the easiest surface to walk on. I ran into the first hikers I would see that day well after 12pm. I reached Roaring River around 5pm. The ranger there warned me that the trail around Avalanche Pass was in pretty bad shape. I hiked about 2.5 miles up towards the pass. I stopped around 7pm and camped where the trail and the creek run almost run tangent to each other on the Tom Harrison map.

Photo: Looking back during ascent of Elizabeth Pass, descending Elizabeth Pass
9.1 Looking back during EP ascent.jpg
9.4 descending E Pass.jpg

Day 10: Avalanche Pass approach to Copper Creek Trailhead, ~12 mi. This was my last day, and I was not excited to get going. But then I remembered: the visitor center at Cedar Grove closes at 5pm, and I wanted to get my four-year-old nephew a junior ranger vest. I was on the trail at 10am, bustling for Avalanche Pass. I found that the trail was fine until right when I got up to the pass, and then it disappeared. After I got back home, I read the following on the NPS Trail Conditions page, posted after I was already on the trail: "8/7 - Both sides completly washed out, hard to navigate and easy to lose the trail." After a certain point in the descent, I completely lost the trail, and so I just resigned myself to the fact that this would be cross-country. I don't like doing that if there is an actual trail, but I didn't see much of an option. It wasn't too bad-- at certain points I could orient myself from the Sphinx, and I figured that I would probably find the trail again once I got to Sphinx Creek, which turned out to be the case. From there, I descended the endless switchbacks down to the Bubbs Creek trail. I walked as fast as I could back to the car, and I got to the visitor's center five minutes before closing. Bought the vest. Trip over!


There's not much I would do differently with this trip, except that I am never backpacking in Brooks Cascadias again. Also, I got a bad sunburn from my trekking pole straps, so I would like to get some gloves. I would recommend this trail to anybody who wants to get to know SEKI better. Given all of the easy bail-outs, I would also recommend it for somebody who wants to test their mettle for a longer hike. My first thought after finishing was that I wanted to do the trail again next year; but now I think that I want to explore some of the areas around Tamarack Lake and Cloud Canyon, and perhaps explore some of the peaks and ridge lines via an off-trail route.
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creekfeet
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Re: TR: Solo Broken-Elbow Big SEKI Loop, 8/07-8/16

Post by creekfeet » Mon Sep 03, 2018 5:23 pm

Wow, Copper Creek Trailhead to Daugherty Creek in one day...that's one helluva way to get acclimated.

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Re: TR: Solo Broken-Elbow Big SEKI Loop, 8/07-8/16

Post by sekihiker » Tue Sep 04, 2018 8:06 am

Great trip report for some great country. What an excellent trip for getting an idea of what's out there. Sounds like you had a great time. You have to be in pretty good shape to take this one on in ten days. Sounds like you're hooked. For more suggestions, visit: www.sierrahiker.com

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Re: TR: Solo Broken-Elbow Big SEKI Loop, 8/07-8/16

Post by maiathebee » Tue Sep 04, 2018 10:35 am

Very cool trip! You got to see a lot of really excellent country in a short amount of time.
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Re: TR: Solo Broken-Elbow Big SEKI Loop, 8/07-8/16

Post by windknot » Wed Sep 05, 2018 9:02 am

This is a lot of ground covered! Kudos on completing a great loop (and with a broken elbow, no less).

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ChrisInIthaca
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Re: TR: Solo Broken-Elbow Big SEKI Loop, 8/07-8/16

Post by ChrisInIthaca » Wed Sep 05, 2018 2:11 pm

Thanks! I am still trying to come down from my post-hike buzz.

I mainly mentioned the broken elbow because I have been following the forum on "Route-Itis". So perhaps I should announce: I think I now hold the FKT for the BEBSL. I also want to emphasize for future backpackers attempting the BEBSL that the BEBSL is only officially completed once you have bought a junior ranger vest from the visitor center at Cedar Grove. ;-)

Kidding aside, I have appreciated hearing out the different perspectives on the "Route-Itis" forum, and my nephew LOVES the junior ranger vest.

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