TR: avalanche, colby, and forester pass loop, august 26-31

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frozenintime
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TR: avalanche, colby, and forester pass loop, august 26-31

Post by frozenintime » Tue Sep 11, 2018 8:31 pm

at the tail end of august, three of us hiked a loop over avalanche, colby, and forester passes. since this was almost entirely on trail and this stuff has been covered extensively before, i'll try to keep the trail descriptions brief.

we picked up our permit at roads end on the afternoon prior to our hike. the ranger mentioned that there was a small fire on the bubbs creek trail, but that hikers were being escorted through. we spent the night at sentinel campground: lots of families, huge mesh tent palaces/rooms, and everyone having a great time. we ate at the empty cedar grove restaurant, which was totally passable. there was a bit of smoke and haze in the valley.


day 1: roads end to moraine meadows

the next morning, we parked at roads end, got our gear together, and promptly saw a new sign announcing that the bubbs trail was now closed. whoops! fortunately, the closure was just beyond the sphinx creek junction and no one that we spoke to thought that the fire would still be burning in a week...

so, we simply reversed the direction of our hike and headed towards avalanche pass.

we had lunch at sphinx junction, and watched as groups of hikers were escorted out. some had been waiting for a full day on the other side of the fire without much (any?) information on what to do. they were a bit freaked out.

from the avalanche pass switchbacks, we could see a few small fires burning along the bubbs drainage.

IMG_5389.jpg

of course, there was a reason i had routed us up bubbs creek first: avalanche pass was an absolute beast with day 1 packs, legs, and lungs. 5500 feet up! unfortunately, the trail closure confusion meant that we got a late start, and found ourselves on the endless, switchbacking granite stairs in the middle of the day.

we put one slow foot in front of the other, and made it to the pass by 5. the trail gets pretty faint near the pass on the northern side and once up and over the pass, it's far worse on the southern side. fortunately, the topography funneled us in the generally proper direction until the trail remerges in earnest. eventually we found ourselves at moraine meadows as the light started to fade.

moraine meadows is a totally acceptable and entirely forgettable place to camp. in fact, this entire day was pretty mediocre by the impossibly high standards of where we were headed.

(after the turnoff at sphinx creek, we saw two other people all day.)




day 2 moraine meadows to colby lake

we dropped down to roaring river and spoke with cindy, the longtime ranger. from there, we ascended slowly through modest and somewhat lackluster forest until we were at big wet meadow and its amazing view of the whaleback. it was around here that the subtle, smokey haze finally seemed to lift for good.

the rest of the ascent to colby lake was steeper and very beautiful. the lake itself did not disappoint. i wish we’d had more time there.

we saw one solo hiker earlier in the day, and shared colby lake with a single large group camped a few hundred yards away.



day 3: colby lake to junction meadow

the view of colby lake as one ascends towards colby pass is lovely.

IMG_5465.jpg

i don’t understand how someone ever looked at the northern head wall of colby pass and thought “yes, we can definitely put a trail over THAT.” but they sure got the job done.

this summer's small rockslide near the top of the pass made the already steep climb a bit spicier than expected, mostly because the various improvised shortcuts around the trail washouts tended to be steep, loose gravel with runouts that would likely spell serious injury if you were so unlucky. still, they were quickly and fairly easily passed.

at the top, we ran into two nice guys headed back from kaweah basin and in the middle of an 11 day trip. they pointed out the "tree escalator" route from the pass. someday!

the basin or valley just south of colby pass is exceedingly beautiful and deserves a name, no? it reminded me a bit of dusy basin, but i think i liked it more. the rest of the day was pleasant. the gallats area was nice, though i wasn’t as taken with it as others seem to be.

we ran into trail crew working on the overgrown trail near rockslide lake, who assured us that bubbs would be open when we got there a few days on.

the final descent towards the kern was beautiful in the afternoon light. i just love that canyon. i wasn’t excited to stay at junction meadow, but we found a huge and totally quiet area all to ourselves right by the colby pass junction. besides the guys on colby pass, we didn’t see another hiker until junction meadow.



day 4: junction meadow to tyndall frog ponds

the high sierra trail is absolutely beautiful as it ascends parallel to the kern river. i love how the kaweahs slowly loom their heads out above the unnamed ridge standing between us.

IMG_5547.jpg


i’d never been on bighorn plateau, and was amazed at the views up there. that area is really one of the most striking things i've seen in the sierra, and that's saying a lot! it made me want to spend more time up there (perhaps wright lakes basin?).

IMG_5588.jpg


it was around this time that a cloudy aspect started to build, like a thin white tablecloth had been spread across half of the sky. we set up shop at the tyndall creek frog ponds, which we had entirely to ourselves despite the existence of something like 20 or 30 sites around us. i found the area around those shallow lakes quite lovely, and i didn't see much negative impact (i.e. toilet paper).

while we did see more hikers than we had on the previous days, it felt like a modest trickle and not a deluge.


day 5: tyndall creek to golden bear lake

the morning had a similarly flat, cloudy look. the hike up towards forester was quite beautiful and so modestly graded that it was easy to forget you were climbing at all.

IMG_5615.jpg

unrelated: diamond mesa is so metal.

the final push up to the pass was remarkably well constructed. i was surprised to see that "the chute" -- home to much early season gnashing of teeth -- was a wide, easy sidewalk underneath all that snow.

at the pass, we ran into a young couple and their 15 month old doing the JMT! naturally, the kids name was sequoia. when they finally headed down the south side, they literally ran down it. i couldn’t fathom that kind of energy, though later i decided it was probably because the kid liked the bouncing (at least that’s what my kid likes) and not that they necessarily wanted to run down the south side of forester.

we ate lunch at some campsites impressively terraced into a hillside above bubbs creek before pushing on towards the turn off for center basin. ultimately, we turned off the JMT just north of the outlet from golden bear lake, figuring we’d save time by not descending all the way to the old center basin trail itself, since we didn’t know what shape it would be in to begin with.

as it turned out, we stumbled onto the trail within 20 minutes, and were surprised to see that it was in far better shape than portions of the avalanche pass and cloud canyon-area trails, despite being removed from modern maps and no longer (?) maintained.

the trail lead us right to golden bear, where we rooted around for a campsite for longer than usual. eventually we found a decent spot for two tents behind some trees, but i'd expect more and better spots at a relatively well-loved sierra lake, off trail or no.

this lower section of center basin reminded me of humphrey's basin, albeit closely hemmed in on two sides by hugely impressive granite faces. we lounged on rocks near the water while four velvet-antlered bucks wandered around munching on grass. it was idyllic.

IMG_5682.jpg


day 6: golden bear lake to roads end

it froze overnight, our first truly cold evening. soon after waking, i scrambled up the big rock in front of our campsite to check out the morning light. immediately, something on the other side of the lake started howling -- LOUD. it cut straight through the otherwise silent morning. it took me a minute to find the coyote. when i did, he or she was nearing the end of their solo, apparently sated that they had made their presence well known to us. he or she then turned and sauntered around the far side of the lake before disappearing into some rocks.

the whole experience probably lasted less than a minute, but felt like much longer! it was an amazing experience on what turned out to be our last day in the backcountry.

we packed up with numb fingers and got moving. of course, soon the sun was peaking over the eastern crest and we were flinging off layers. on the descent to the JMT, we did some quick calculations and decided that, instead of taking two short days and a (possibly mediocre?) night along bubbs creek, why not hike out to the car today? we had town food to eat and families to see.

so, we did. 18 miles -- almost entirely downhill, from 11,200 in center basin to roads end at 5,000 feet. it was surprisingly easy for such a long (by our standards) day. though the final, flat two miles to roads end did seem to last an extra three (or seven) hours...

i had wondered before we left whether the lack of off trail travel/effort/trauma/fun would affect my satisfaction with our trip. the answer was a resounding NO! the high sierra is such an amazing place, and so overwhelming to me in its richness. i (and all of you reading this) are so lucky to have found it for ourselves.
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rightstar76
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Re: TR: avalanche, colby, and forester pass loop, august 26-31

Post by rightstar76 » Wed Sep 12, 2018 3:01 am

That's a great picture of Golden Bear Lake. An original composition and very nice colors! Thanks for sharing with us.

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ChrisInIthaca
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Re: TR: avalanche, colby, and forester pass loop, august 26-31

Post by ChrisInIthaca » Wed Sep 12, 2018 12:37 pm

> unrelated: diamond mesa is so metal.

agreed!

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Re: TR: avalanche, colby, and forester pass loop, august 26-31

Post by steiny98 » Wed Sep 12, 2018 1:56 pm

Looks like a great trip!

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levi
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Re: TR: avalanche, colby, and forester pass loop, august 26-31

Post by levi » Wed Sep 12, 2018 4:50 pm

thanks for the report and beautiful pics! looks like you made excellent time. clearly i have to check out center basin next time i'm in the vicinity :)

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Re: TR: avalanche, colby, and forester pass loop, august 26-31

Post by cgundersen » Thu Sep 13, 2018 3:34 pm

frozen,
Great photos and generally it looks like you had excellent air quality (ignoring the Bubbs smoke). Your shot on Bighorn is reminiscent of the fabulous photo levi posted earlier this year: truly a stunning spot; and yes, the dearth of people during the first half of the trip is why it's part of the circle of solitude. Then again, for how much fun Avalanche pass is: you can see why it's a deterrent. Thanks for the post! cg

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