TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

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agfhst
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TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by agfhst » Thu Sep 13, 2018 7:06 pm

Our group of seven headed out from Florence Lake to cross the North, Middle and South Forks of the Kings River and finish at the Taboose Pass trailhead. We all made it to the Owens Valley, although two of us followed a different route at the end.

Aside from me, the group included Dave, Fred and Wayne, with whom I’ve done extended backpacks in the Sierra Nevada and the Wind River Range; Ingrid, with whom Dave, Fred and I have backpacked for years; and Michael and Sarah, a married pair of experienced backpackers that Ingrid introduced to us. We range in age from late 40s to mid 70s, and all live near sea level in the New York City area, except for Wayne, who moved from New Jersey to North Carolina earlier this year.

Day 1. After flying into Los Angeles on Friday and spending the night in Fresno, we took the Vermillion Valley Resort shuttle up to Florence Lake and crossed the lake on the 12:30 ferry. For our first night’s camp, we intended to follow Tehipite Tom’s off-trail route up the Mount Shinn drainage and camp beneath the mountain where the Mount Shinn Lake outlet creek forks.

We followed the trail from the ferry landing west to the bridge over the South Fork of the San Joaquin. A little past the bridge, we crossed Boulder Creek and found a cairn marking the junction with the Hot Springs (Thompson Lake) Trail. But that trail is faint, and we could only follow it for about 200 feet. We weren’t too concerned, however, as the terrain wasn’t difficult, and the basic idea was to head south for a little less than a mile and then cross over Boulder Creek and head along the slabs.

After crossing over at about 7600 feet, we climbed up to the southeasterly corner of the slabs at about 7900 feet, seeing two rattlesnakes along the way. After scouting to the east to verify that Mount Shinn creek had running water, we climbed steeply through the woods to about 9200 feet, where we found a good campsite near the creek.

Day 2. Although we crossed some scenic terrain, it was a somewhat disappointing day, with general fatigue and a couple of unforced errors leading us to stop hiking before we reached our intended destination. The plan was to climb up to the col southeast of Mt. Shinn Lake, hike cross-country through the Red Rock Basin and the Reddy’s Hole area, then end up over at Disappointment Lake beneath Mount Hutton.

After a little early scouting, we realized that we had camped on the right fork of the Mount Shinn outlet stream, rather than the left fork that heads up to Mount Shinn Lake. So we headed east and up the dry left fork to the lake.

Once at the col, we set a bearing for the shoulder of Fleming Mountain and Mt. Hutton.
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But we veered slightly off the bearing to follow the meadow/drainage that leads down to Post-Corral Creek. I raised an unnecessary alarm about this deviation. In fact, we were never far off the bearing, and were actually back on the bearing when we sat down for lunch, but the confusion in the heat slowed us down.

The next error happened later when we crossed the first ridge on the way to Fleming Mountain, and I saw that there was in fact an extra, fairly small descent and climb across a ridge before reaching the Reddy’s Hole area and the mountain. Since we were all feeling tired at that point, and I anticipated another climb over the shoulder of Fleming Mountain, I had us contour around the south of the nearby ridge. In the end, I’m not sure the route saved us much elevation gain, and it also took us a mile or so out of our way. We should have just contoured to the north around the drainage, basically following the route of the old trail through the area.

Anyway, around 6:00, we stopped and camped at a good site next to a tarn to the southwest of the main pond in Reddy’s Hole. Given that we were tired from the heat, elevation and full packs, we probably wouldn’t have made it much farther in any event.

Day 3. Our plan for this day had been to day hike Hell for Sure Pass and Red Mountain from Disappointment Lake, then move camp to Devil’s Punchbowl. But since we had come up short the day before, we just headed across the shoulder of Fleming Mountain, down past Rae Lake, and over the trails to Devil’s Punchbowl. An easy day, and we got to the Punchbowl early enough for a little relaxation and rinsing off in the lake.

Day 4. Our goal this day was to head south to the North Fork Kings River and then up to Halfmoon Lake. The morning hike on the trails down to and along the river was fine; we snacked on some wild strawberries growing along the trail. There was an easy crossing of the river just after turning to the right by the cabins and starting along the trail up to Halfmoon Lake.

But when we reached that junction about midday, it started to rain, and the showers turned into a serious thunderstorm as we started up the switchbacks to the lake. We were pretty much at the center of the storm, which dropped marble-sized hail and lasted on and off for about two hours. And as we were climbing in the storm, Fred’s bear canister, containing his sleeping bag, slipped out of the straps on top of his pack and rolled down the slope. Fortunately, it stopped about 15 feet down when it hit some deadwood rather than falling hundreds of feet.

Drenched and cold, we made it to the lake. A little later in the afternoon, the sky cleared and allowed us to dry off. We saw our first people since leaving Florence Lake. About nine teenagers passed by on their way down from Crown Pass to the river, where they, or someone else, decided to blow off some fireworks that evening.

Day 5. This day’s route was to head south on trails across Crown Pass and down to Crown Valley before camping along Rogers Creek. The trails were mostly in the forest and generally in good shape, with occasional spots where a little routefinding was necessary.

One highlight of the day was running across a bear ahead of us on the trail. The low point of the day was reaching Rogers Creek after a long, hot day and not being able to find a good campsite. While there’s a nice meadow right after the creek crossing, I had misunderstood that there were other good sites a little further along, and in any event at that point none of us had a great desire to camp in the hot meadow. There is a site for two or so tents about a half-mile beyond the meadow, and we eventually did find tolerable spots for the rest of our tents in the trees, although water access was inconvenient. Once we were set up, a marten stopped by to check out my tent.

Day 6. Overall, a great day ending with us down in Tehipite Valley by the Middle Fork Kings River. We had some bad news at the beginning of the day, however. Michael had fallen and injured his back the evening before while heading down the steep slope to Rogers Creek, and it was now apparent that the injury was bad enough to slow him down. But there was no bleeding or bruising, and he felt up to continuing on the trip, so we headed out along the trail to the valley.

As we were hiking, we saw a pair of spotted owls. While the northern and Mexican subspecies are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, the California subspecies is not. But it is apparently still a pretty rare sighting.
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The switchbacks down into Tehipite Valley are in nice shape. I had been in touch with the Kings Canyon trail supervisor before the trip, and he had told me that they were sending a crew down to work on that trail in June and July. They did a good job. From some reports I’ve read, the trail had been covered with deep beds of leaves, was obstructed with branches, poison oak and stinging nettles, and was almost impossible to find in some spots. But it’s now clear and easy to follow. The trail is still somewhat steep, the tread has a lot of loose gravel and cobbles, and there are still a few fallen logs across the trail, but it’s not that difficult to descend.
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We made it down from Poop-Out Point to the bottom in about 1 ½ hours, and were able to set up camp in the big open area on the valley floor by about 2:00, giving us the afternoon to relax, enjoy the scenery – including a great view of Tehipite Dome – and cool off in Crown Creek. Some of us saw a bear later in the day near the creek.

Day 7. Our goal today was to head up the trail along the Middle Fork and cross the river to camp at Simpson Meadow. We almost made it. Michael’s injury was getting somewhat more painful, so Michael and Sarah decided to leave the group and hike separately along trails all the way up the Middle Fork and then over Bishop Pass to avoid the more strenuous off-trail hiking we had planned for later in the trip.

The rest of us went on ahead of them and made our way up the river without too much difficulty. The trail was generally in good shape. I am told I walked right past a rattlesnake.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t clear where the easy river crossing that I had read about was located. As we approached where we thought the ford would be, the trail petered out, to be replaced by a beat-down pathway through some thigh-high grass. In retrospect, that seems to have been the continuation of the trail, but it was so indistinct that at the time we thought it might have just been where a bear or deer had passed through.

However, there appeared to be a decent river crossing a little before the point where the trail entered the grass. Since it was getting late, we put the crossing off until the next morning in the hope that the water level might go down a bit. Michael and Sarah caught up and camped with the rest of us.

Day 8: This day’s plan was to hike up the trail toward Granite Pass on the south side of the river and camp at one of the Horseshoe Lakes. The water in the Middle Fork was a little lower in the morning, and the crossing was not that difficult – knee level or a little higher, with a moderately strong current in the middle. Once on the other side, we realized that we had camped opposite Horseshoe Creek. Michael and Sarah parted with us again to continue hiking up the river, while we bushwhacked over to the trail up the south side of the canyon. We ran into a couple of women camped out in Simpson Meadow, and a man and woman from Connecticut coming down the trail.

The climb was easier than we had anticipated, with good switchbacks and some nice views into the various canyons. The last mile of northerly “trail” to the Horseshoe Lakes was not always apparent, but it wasn’t difficult to navigate over to the lakes. We found a great campsite on the south end of the largest lake and enjoyed a good swim and dinner.

Day 9: This day we headed cross country along the Sierra High Route to Lake Basin. Navigation through Gray, White and Red Passes was pretty straightforward. Along the way to Gray Pass, we got a nice view of Goddard Creek.
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While eating lunch beneath White Pass, we heard a young sooty grouse calling, and then the mother noisily circled around us before joining back up with the young one. Between White and Red Pass, we maintained elevation and traversed the talus the whole way. Once over Red Pass, we found a herd path down to Marion Lake on the left side of the canyon that allowed us to avoid the worst of the talus there. After reaching the lake, we headed cross country up into Lake Basin, camping at a tarn on the second highest bench.

Day 10: A long day that ended on the east side of Taboose Pass. We first climbed Cartridge Pass. The lower part is steep, but we found a herd path/abandoned trail, and the climb was easier than expected.
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Looking south from the pass.
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We then descended to the South Fork Kings River. The upper part of this unmaintained trail was sometimes a little hard to find, and the lower two-thirds of the trail is a series of unstable switchbacks. We felt this stretch was worse than the descent into Tehipite Valley. But we made it down to the river and then along the river through the talus fields to the John Muir Trail without any problem. Once on the JMT, we saw more people in 45 minutes than we had seen during the previous nine days of hiking.

We crossed the South Fork on the JMT. About a quarter-mile south of the crossing, we took one of the alternate trails up to Taboose Pass, then descended down the canyon on the east side of the pass about 1000 feet, where there was a small campsite in some trees.

Day 11: Our last day, with the goal being to time our hike down the remaining 5000 feet to the Taboose Pass trailhead in the desert so that we would arrive at around 2:00 when our shuttle was scheduled to arrive. The hike down was scenic, with lots of currants and elderberries along the way. We ended up getting to the trailhead early, but the forested creek had a healthy flow of water, so we could cool off while waiting.

The shuttle took us back to civilization at the Mt. Whitney Hostel in Lone Pine, where we were very happy to find Michael and Sarah, who had made it across Palisade Creek and over Bishop Pass without problem after being surveilled by a bear while camped along the Middle Fork near Devil’s Washbowl. We all spent the night at the hostel before heading back to Los Angeles and flying home the next day.
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kpeter
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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by kpeter » Thu Sep 13, 2018 7:55 pm

Quite an adventure! I enjoyed following your travelog, peering at your pictures and finding where you were on the map. A nice report in territory that I do not know well.

Were you all able to get 11 days of food in your canisters on the first day? I struggled with 10 days on my trip and couldn't quite make it.

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rightstar76
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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by rightstar76 » Fri Sep 14, 2018 2:16 am

Fireworks along the North Fork Kings River. That's a first.

I think there was a crew last year that did substantial work on the trail from Tehipite Valley up to Hay Meadow. Glad to hear another crew was out this year working on the trail. Gosh that picture descending to Tehipite Valley with the poison oak in the foreground and the Gorge of Despair and Mount Harrington in the background is classic! Cold climate mediterranean at its finest. The photo of Tehipite Dome is gorgeous.

Nice trip report and pictures!

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Wandering Daisy
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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Sep 14, 2018 10:44 am

Did you have many bugs- black flies or mosquitoes? I have yet to read of a report into Tehipite Valley that did not say there were lots of bugs.

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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by windknot » Fri Sep 14, 2018 11:41 am

Sounds like a wonderful journey. Thanks for sharing!
You can read a few backcountry reports here: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/

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levi
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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by levi » Fri Sep 14, 2018 1:15 pm

I second kpeter's comments - what an interesting route! I had hoped to do a more direct west-east traverse over 4 days, from Courtright Reservoir to Bishop Pass, in early August, but the plans fell through due to smoke and friends' availability. You covered an impressive amount of ground in 11 days. And I'm also intrigued by your food storage strategy, which was clearly successful :) thanks for the report!

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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by giantbrookie » Sat Sep 15, 2018 8:04 pm

Super cool route. That is certainly a "route less traveled" to put the forks together in one trip. It also mixes an unusual range of territory from the classic high Sierra to areas with poison oak and rattlesnakes and the like.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by agfhst » Sun Sep 16, 2018 6:20 pm

Thanks for the comments!

kpeter and levi: We unfortunately don’t have any food storage secrets to share. We had Bearikade Expeditions and Weekenders, and one BV500. None of us got all the food in the canisters at the start, so we were hanging some food at the beginning.

Wandering Daisy: I don’t remember any bugs in Tehipite Valley. But there were bugs on the trail up the Middle Fork the next day, and lots of bugs around dinner time at our campsite across the river from Simpson Meadow.

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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by cgundersen » Thu Sep 20, 2018 10:04 am

Wow, what a trip! I second giantbrookie's comment about a cool route: the varied terrain and vegetation are amazing. And, the owl photo is my favorite. In 40+ years, I've seen one owl, one rattler and one porcupine in the Sierra. I don't need to see any more rattlers and the fact you saw them above 7000 ft has me a bit concerned. I've tended to regard 7000 as about their cutoff elevation. Well, maybe 8K is the new normal? I'll be keen to see what you guys manage next year; I'm usually happy I get everything loaded for a trip out of LA, and the logistics from NY have to be several-fold more complex. Cameron

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Re: TR: Three Kings Traverse, July 28 - August 7, 2018

Post by TehipiteTom » Thu Sep 20, 2018 3:30 pm

Great report of a really interesting route. I remember looking at the maps years ago trying to put together a "Three Kings" route, so it's very cool to me that you not only had the same idea but actually managed to do it.

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