TR: Lippincott Lakes and Granite Creek (Early August)

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TR: Lippincott Lakes and Granite Creek (Early August)

Post by creekfeet » Wed Oct 30, 2019 7:05 pm

Note: My apologies, but I don’t have any photos from this trip. I don’t own a camera, and prefer not to bring a phone with me. But if you’re interested in a remote area of Sequoia that I don’t think has ever been written about here, please read on.

Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Precipice Lake
Started up the High Sierra Trail, which was lovely as always. Every gulch, spring, and creek were flowing. Wildflowers were in full bloom, with mountain pride, a personal fave, lining the trail in abundance. I’ve done the HST to Kaweah Gap a good number of times, and I still rather enjoy it. However, my one issue with it is a lack of good camping options on night one. The Bearpaw campground has few redeeming qualities, and Hamilton Lake, which in theory should be an awesome first pit stop, is a total zoo. Because of this I always press on to Precipice, and if someone’s already camped there I meander on down to Nine Lakes Basin.

My buddy works as a trailhead ranger in Lodgepole, and he shared with me all the stories he’d heard about the blowout near Hamilton Gorge. It sounded like it had even driven a good number of people to turn around, but I knew there’d be no way in hell I was turning around after doing that slog up from Hamilton. As it turned out, the blowout wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t find it to be any sketchier than the kinds of maneuvers you find yourself doing pretty regularly when ascending a cross-country pass.

It was totally worth it too, because I got Precipice all to myself...temporarily. A group came up as the sun was setting, and I was strolling around in my underwear. Wanting my solitude, I was hoping they’d push on and they did. The lake itself was about 90% covered in ice and looked foreboding as ever, like one of the seven gateways to hell.

Sleep did not come easy, as a pesky pack rat wouldn’t leave me alone. He began by knocking over my stove, and later tried to drag away a sandal, and after that successfully took my tent pole bag. I threw rocks around him to scare him off, some of which actually caused sparks when they hit the granite. But the thing was persistent, and didn’t leave me alone until I had every last possession stored in my tent, including my tent pole bag which I managed to find.

Day 2: Precipice Lake to Lippincott Lake
The next day I stayed on the HST into the Big Arroyo, right until the trail crossed the creek. From there I followed an outlet creek up to the lake just south of Eagle Scout Peak. The climb was slabby, but not bad, and the lake was a sight to behold. It was essentially Precipice’s twin, which is fitting because if you tunneled through Precipice’s back wall and went straight through Eagle Scout Peak you’d end up at that lake. It had huge, black-streaked cliffs like Precipice, and was also almost entirely frozen. The shoreline was mostly inaccessible due to snow, but I managed to find a spot to jump in. I’ve never seen a lake with that kind of visibility. It had a DEEP drop-off right from the shore, and I could see all the way to the bottom. Just a wild place.

Later in the day I pressed on to the other two lakes in the shadow of Mt. Lippincott. This required long stretches of trekking through car-sized boulders. The second lake was nothing to write home about, so I went to the third lake and set up camp mid-afternoon. But setting up camp was a chore because the above-tree-line lake only had one potential camping area, which was smack in the middle of its damp flood plain. After a prolonged search I found a spot that was mostly dry, and made a campsite, that I wound up growing quite fond of.

Afterwards a short scramble brought me to a promontory with incredible views of the Kaweahs, the Chagoopa Plateau, and Triple Divide Peak. The lake itself was mostly frozen, with a giant snowbank on the western shore. I had a lot of time to look at the pass, which maybe wasn’t a good thing. After inhaling a little medicinal I got all paranoid and managed to convince myself that the pass wasn’t doable I considered alternate options before going to bed.

Day 3: Lippincott Lake to Middle Fork Crossing
I awoke to an incredible, Southwestern-style sunset over the Kaweahs. In the early morning light I made my way towards the pass, which wound up being a total breeze. I dug the view up there for a long time, really enjoying the views to the west, especially the huge amount of domes that dot the Middle Fork watershed.

For as easy as the climb was, the descent of that pass was absolutely brutal. I mostly kept myself out of trouble until reaching a chute that needed to be crossed. It was steep and sketchy looking, but it was the only feasible route. It would’ve gone much better had I not dislodged a lawnmower sized rock. Thankfully I was hiking solo, and didn’t injure myself, but it definitely left me a little shaken up. And man did that thing leave behind a dust cloud.

My nerves eventually calmed, and I wound up in the headwaters of the northern fork of Granite Creek. My target destination was a visible pond in a swampy bottom. The route dragged on and on, and included a steady mix of descending steep slabs, climbing over talus, and bushwhacking. The little lake seemed forever on the horizon, but in due time I reached it. I had lunch there and then on a whim went to another little pond to the north.

It wound up being the best decision of the trip. This nondescript dot on the map turned out to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in the Sierra. Although small, the pond had a lot of character. It sat in a tiny, side cirque with an infinity view on the north shore. Next to the infinity shore was a charming grove of windswept foxtails. The east shore was flanked by a fully in-bloom meadow, and the area I settled in consisted of gently swaying grasses and a giant, flat boulder that was perfect for basking on.

The waters were frigid everywhere I went on the trip, but due to its sun exposure and depth, the pond was relatively warm. Unlike most marshy ponds, it wasn’t silty, and you could dive into the water from a rock. I hung out at the pond a good long while, before having to walk away, knowing realistically I’ll never be back.

Not long after I came upon a decent little swimming hole with an incredible view. Over ten different domes were visible including Moro Rock, Blue Dome, Castle Rocks, a few domes at the head of Eagle Scout Creek, and a spectacular one right in front of me on Granite Creek. Hell, even Little Baldy was slightly visible way off in the distance.

Alas the rest of the way down the creek was hell. When I was descending steep, granite slabs I’d look forward to getting in the forest, and when I was bushwhacking through the forest I’d miss the slabs. Near the confluence of both forks of Granite Creek, I picked up a surprisingly well-defined game trail. I wound up riding it out the rest of the way to the trail, in spite of its tendency to run into manzanita patches, and it’s route along a steeply graded hill.

The final descent to the trail, once it was in view, was one of the most arduous sections of the entire route, but eventually I emerged on the Redwood Meadow Trail. I walked two miles north to the Middle Fork crossing, and it was the perfect warm-down hike. The camp on the south side of the river sucked, so I waded across to the other side on a whim. Thankfully it was a much better campsite.

Unfortunately my run of about 48 hours without seeing another soul came to an end. Late at night a group of maybe six or so came bumbling into the camp on the other side of the river. They set up the biggest tent that’s ever been hauled into the backcountry. It must’ve been twelve feet tall. I’m not kidding. I felt bad for whoever was stuck carrying that beast.

I can’t say the out day was particularly memorable. It was kind of eerie in a way to walk through the temporarily abandoned High Sierra Camp. I’m not a huge fan of returning via the HST because of the seemingly never ending series of side canyons, and inevitable climbs and descents they bring. However, it was lovely looking up towards the Great Western Divide with a greater knowledge of its Middle Fork Tributaries and drainages than I’d had three days prior. And of course, it’s always nice to walk through a sequoia grove as a quasi victory lap.

It was a trip I really enjoyed despite it’s challenges. Ideally I would’ve liked to spend another night out there, perhaps at the pond I grew so enamored of, but my girlfriend was already a little upset that I kept disappearing into the mountains without her during our summer vacation (we’re both teachers), so I figured I should get home earlier rather than later.

One big takeaway was the fact that there’s really no ideal natural route that connects the Middle Fork drainage to the Kern drainage (The HST is a notoriously unnatural route). I’m curious what route Indians, trappers, and the like would’ve taken before the HST was built. The route from Tamarack to Lion Lake, at least the way I took, is one of the sketchiest walks I’ve done in the Sierra. I can’t speak for Eagle Scout Creek, but it certainly looks like no picnic. Given the presence of well-defined game trail I suppose Granite Creek’s the chosen one, but man what a slog. A crazy, beautiful, dome-tastic slog.

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Re: TR: Lippincott Lakes and Granite Creek (Early August)

Post by davidsheridan » Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:37 pm

As a general rule, I prefer to have pictures accompany route descriptions and sometimes I am a lazy person who substitutes pictures for writing. But I do have to say I found the description of your favorite pond an enigma that I someday hope I can find..

...." the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in the Sierra. Although small, the pond had a lot of character. It sat in a tiny, side cirque with an infinity view on the north shore. Next to the infinity shore was a charming grove of windswept foxtails"

And you said the water was relatively warm too...

Lastly, I just wanted to be clear, I really enjoyed your TR and thanks for taking the time to share (even though you lacked pictures :)

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Re: TR: Lippincott Lakes and Granite Creek (Early August)

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Oct 31, 2019 9:27 am

Thanks so much for the trip report! I have been looking closely at that area for years and wondering what it would be like dropping down the west side. Did you ever consider just going back over the crest to Nine Lakes Basin? What does the bushwhacking compare to? Would it be like Enchanted Gorge? It seemed like the steepness of the terrain was of a problem than the brush. Game trails are wonderful when you can find them. This also means that animals frequent the area-did you see any bear scat?

Your report is a good reminder that there are dozens of obscure off-trail explorations that can be done if one simply studies the maps and Google Earth. Lately, we seem to be more focused on fast-paced, big-mileage "named" routes.

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Re: TR: Lippincott Lakes and Granite Creek (Early August)

Post by sekihiker » Thu Oct 31, 2019 9:41 am

I could feel the remoteness of the areas you described and the excitement and satisfaction you felt in reaching these beautiful places. Thanks for describing your trip so carefully and skillfully that it was almost like being there.

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Re: TR: Lippincott Lakes and Granite Creek (Early August)

Post by wsp_scott » Tue Nov 05, 2019 11:42 am

Nice report, but would have been better with photos :)

Since I like seeing new places, but I also like returning to old favorites, I especially appreciated this line "I hung out at the pond a good long while, before having to walk away, knowing realistically I’ll never be back."

thanks again for the report
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