TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

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TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by jhfowler » Wed Sep 11, 2019 2:39 pm

Hi all,

Just got back from a lollypop out of the Isberg Pass Trailhead up to Hemlock Crossing, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork, and Isberg Pass.

Prior to the trip I was not able to find much information about Bench Canyon or Lyell Fork (other than everyone saying they were spectacular and must be visited!), so I posted an especially detailed trip report on those sections here:

https://jimmyjamhikingclub.com/2019/08/ ... -crossing/
https://jimmyjamhikingclub.com/2019/08/26/bench-canyon/
https://jimmyjamhikingclub.com/2019/08/27/lyell-fork/
https://jimmyjamhikingclub.com/2019/08/28/isberg-pass/
https://jimmyjamhikingclub.com/2019/08/ ... ittle-bit/

We had surprisingly constant mosquitoes at about a 2-3 for the whole trip. I guess that's what happens in a wet year, even in late August.

Route finding was not difficult on the trip, and we were almost always able to avoid class 3 terrain. Highlights included:

* After crossing North Fork San Joaquin we stayed left of the creek out of Bench Canyon and had to cross some steep loose talus for about 200 feet or so, bordering on class 3

* The climb up to Bench Canyon where it joins with the Sierra High Route is steep and the creek flows over pure granite there, but we found grassy benches to climb up on the left side that were solid class 2. We called that section "The Wall."

* The Sierra High Route part of the trip up to Blue Lake Pass was just as described by Roper, class 1-2

* The circumnavigation of Foerster Peak from the lake below Blue Lake Pass to get to Foerster Ridge was easy class 1 until about quarter of a mile from the ridge where it turned into a low angle boulder field, class 2

* Dropping down from Foerster Ridge is class 2+ but verges on class 3 for about 100 feet of descent. It then mellows out into very low angle boulders on the ridge that are surprisingly easy to traverse. The final drop down to Lyell Fork is a steep bouldery ravine, class 2+. We were glad we didn't go straight down from Foerster Ridge to the lake right below -- it looked very steep and the ravine below the lake looked just as talus-filled as the ridge above.

* In upper Lyell Fork it's probably best to climb to the top of the hill west of Lake 10999. We wasted a lot of time in loose talus in the ravine and then on the west side of this hill instead of just accepting that 80 feet of extra climbing was worth it.

* In lower Lyell Fork it might be better to cross to the north side of the stream about half mile before the Isberg Pass Trail crossing. That last bit on the south side is all willows and huge boulders and very slow going.

* There is a very nice camp site on the ridge on the switchbacks south of Lyell Fork at about 9800 feet that has a great view of the Clark Range and the Lyell Fork as it plummets to the Merced.

I've mapped our route on caltopo, including some suggestions for "better" routes for the tricky areas we encountered:

https://caltopo.com/m/K3HE

Some of my favorite images of the trip:

Image
North Fork of the San Joaquin

Image
Climbing up "The Wall" (Ritter in distance)

Image
Lower Bench Canyon

Image
Pure granite below Mount Ansel Adams

Image
Upper Bench Canyon

Image
Aptly named Blue Lake

Image
Grassy seam on the way up to Blue Lake Pass

Image
Blue Lake Pass from the west

Image
Foerster Ridge

Image
Terrain to the west of Foerster Ridge

Image
Lyell Fork from Foerster Ridge

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Descending below Foerster Peak

Image
Final steep descent to Lyell Fork

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Unnamed lake above Lake 10217

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Waterfall below Lake 10702

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Lake 10702 from the hill west of Lake 10999

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Lake 11160+

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My swimming hole in Lake 11311

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Unnamed tarn at 10960+

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Lake 10880+

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Paintbrushes

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Lower Lyell Fork

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Looking back up Lyell Fork

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Awesome camp site on switchbacks at 9800 feet above Lyell Fork








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TahoeJeff
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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by TahoeJeff » Wed Sep 11, 2019 3:46 pm

Great photos!
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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by acorad » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:13 pm

Wow

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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by balzaccom » Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:29 pm

Lovely stuff. Great photos, great report. We've done some of that route...and now we need to go back and see more of it.

Thank you.
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by kpeter » Wed Sep 11, 2019 9:21 pm

Gorgeous photography. Reminds me of our HST meetup on the Lyell fork a few years ago. Such magnificent territory.

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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by CAMERONM » Wed Sep 11, 2019 10:43 pm

Great area, nice report!

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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by cslaght » Thu Sep 12, 2019 12:35 pm

Very nice! I had a trip planned going the opposite direction a few years back, but we had to cut it short and turned into an out and back due to time constraints. It is such a beautiful area.
"The mountains are calling, but can't find my phone"

Charles

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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by Electra » Thu Sep 12, 2019 5:07 pm

Great report and photos and bringing me out of lurk mode lately :) . Nice to see my old stomping grounds and know that even though more folks seem to be heading out this way, it is still relatively untraveled and pristine, regardless of SHR.

I usually cross the north fork a bit farther up then where you crossed, maybe 300-400 yards? There is a faint use trail taking you down to the river and I then traverse over to the creek and stay on the east side and cross it right below 'the wall'. For those staying in lower bench, keep an eye out for the peregrines that nest on the prominent rock outcropping extending off the ridge from Ansel Adams....
Dan Braun
Camp Navarro, Evergreen Lodge & SYMG

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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by jhfowler » Fri Sep 13, 2019 11:11 am

Thanks everyone!

And Electra, we looked upstream for a place to cross but from your description I don't think we went far enough. It definitely would have made that first climb up easier, I think, so I will try that next time.

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Re: TR: Isberg Pass, Bench Canyon, Lyell Fork 8/25-29/2019

Post by Bishop_Bob » Fri Sep 13, 2019 11:40 am

JJ, One of your pictures has 2 lakes side by side (the picture is titled "Grassy seam on the way up to Blue Lake Pass"). The lake on the left is brilliant blue, the other is kinda gray-blue. If the former is Blue Lake, what makes it so blue? Or could it be that the grayer one is reflecting rock and the bluer one is reflecting sky? I cannot tell from the photo.

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