Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

If you've been searching for the best source of information and stimulating discussion related to Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking, hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada...look no further!
User avatar
cjt93
Topix Newbie
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Jun 03, 2019 11:47 am
Experience: Level 3 Backpacker

Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by cjt93 » Mon Mar 16, 2020 6:47 pm

Hello,

I am seeking the community’s advice on a possible trip to the Sierra. I have level 3 backpacking experience, uncomfortable with snow travel/glacier crossings and exposed class 3 terrain, and main interests in big mountain scenery, peak-bagging, and some fishing. I’d like to target 6-8 days on the trail, targeting ~8 miles per day, and a loop route. I doubt this trip will happen this year or even next, but my recent time doing the Rae Lake’s loop and 60 Lakes Basin/Col already has me looking to return. Other previous experience in the Sierra Nevada is the High Sierra Trail.

I learned after the Rae Lakes trip of a neat side hike to East Lake/Lake Reflection. In trying to come up with a route to include these lakes, I kept encountering other trip reports and other wonderful areas to explore, leading to this loop around the Great Western Divide. Highlights are Lake Reflection, upper Kern basin, Kaweah Basin, Red Spur lakes, and some off-trail travel immediately to the west of the Great Western Divide with summit options of Ericsson, Brewer, and/or Triple Divide Peak

Proposed Route
https://caltopo.com/m/T4RH

Starting at Road’s End, hike up Bubbs Creek and on to East Lake/Lake Reflection. Take x-country Harrison pass to upper Kern area/Lake South America with optional sidehike of Mt. Ericsson. I considered Little Joe’s due to its more direct path to LSA, but felt Harrison might be more scenic. Continue south along Kern River, branching off for another x-country path up to Picket Creek Lake and Kaweah Basin. Optional side hike exploring Red Spur lakes. Ascend the Pyra Queen Col and pass through Nine Lake Basin with optional side hike of Triple Divide Peak. Continue down Cloud Canyon by Whaleback and branch up Cunningham Creek to South Guard Lake area. Optional side hike of South Guard/Mt Brewer. Pass through Sphinx Lakes, following Sphinx Creek to rejoin the trail to Sphinx Junction and back to Road’s End.

1. Starting Point. Roads’s End seems the most appropriate, but Kearsarge Pass is appealing due to the higher starting elevation . The downside to these is that I hiked these paths already, and while beautiful, I prefer to navigate uncharted territory. Mineral Kings or Lodgepole from the west?
2. Keeping with a focus on big mountain scenery and remoteness, any other recommendations for alternative paths or side hikes?
3. Route without side hikes stands at 62 miles, or roughly within the 8 miles/day target. Too ambitious? Break it into multiple trips?

Thanks in advance for your insight.








User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Docent
Posts: 4791
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Contact:

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Mar 16, 2020 9:12 pm

I am not a Cal Topo user so where does it tell you the total route miles? For some reason 62 miles seems shorter than it is.

Harrison is not necessarily more scenic. I did it many years ago and it is quite steep and miserable. I had an ice axe and used it simply to make progress up loose scree. In a normal to high snow year, it would involve some steep snow. Pyra Queen Col also has a snow band across it on the Nine Lakes Basin side. Again, some years this snow band is gone, others it is a serious problem if you do not have snow experience. I have also gone up Cunningham Creek and Brewer Creek. Big Brewer Lake is amazing with great long alpenglow sunsets. From Cement Table Meadow you go up onto a bench and traverse into Brewer Creek. The only hard part is getting up to the bench; very steep. If you go via Cunningham Creek I would suggest dropping down to Big Brewer Lake as a side trip.

IF the route with side trips is truly 62 miles, then the distances are not too ambitions, but the passes you propose to go over are quite difficult and some tricky route finding too. It is also a shame to just walk down the trail through the Upper Kern and not spend some time there. This proposed trip of yours is VERY different and much more difficult than Rae Lakes Loop or the HST. You should to a few more off-trail Sierra trips over passes that are similar to be sure you are up for this level if difficulty.

User avatar
bobby49
Topix Expert
Posts: 762
Joined: Sat Nov 11, 2017 4:17 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by bobby49 » Mon Mar 16, 2020 10:40 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Mon Mar 16, 2020 9:12 pm

Harrison is not necessarily more scenic. I did it many years ago and it is quite steep and miserable.
That's accurate. I ascended the north side, and the scree was almost unmanageable. It would have helped to have high-top boots or else gaiters, because the scree was over my pants cuffs. As I was ascending that chute, I kept trying to decide whether to move to the right side or the left side, because the middle was miserable.

User avatar
oldranger
Topix Addict
Posts: 2720
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2007 9:18 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Bend, Oregon

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by oldranger » Mon Mar 16, 2020 10:48 pm

If you choose to go up Cunningham Creek as indicated keep to the north side there is an old cowboy trail up that probably hasn't been followed since I was a ranger. I say that because several people have tried to find it but with out success. Down low it is brushy and less than 100 yards from the creek. Then the trail is obliterated for a while by avalanche debris and following that overgrown by willows. Once past the willows it winds thru low shrubbery. I'd climb Brewer from Brewer Pass then drop down to Big Brewer from Cinder Col. It is easy to get to Spinx Pass from Big Brew before the tedious descent down the talus field to the first large sphinx lake.
Mike

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!

User avatar
wildhiker
Topix Expert
Posts: 607
Joined: Tue Jul 26, 2011 4:44 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Palo Alto, CA

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by wildhiker » Mon Mar 16, 2020 11:32 pm

Caltopo may map this out at 8 miles per day (62 miles for 8 days), but a lot of your proposed route is cross-country, some quite difficult, which is a lot slower than on-trail travel. I think you would have to be in excellent physical condition and well-versed with cross-country travel in the Sierra to make this trip in 8 days. But I'm sure it would be spectacular.

I don't know about ascending Mt Brewer from the north side. I ascended it in 1974 with no problems up the southeast ridge from Brewer Pass (reached easily from Cinder Col by walking up the valley). I think I spent about 1/2 day going up to the top and back from where I left my backpack at Cinder Col. The view from the top is very extensive and you will want to spend some time up there.

I was inspired to climb Mt Brewer (one of the very few big peaks I have climbed - I'm not really a peak bagger) after reading the explorations of the Brewer geological survey party in the 1860s in the book "Up and Down California" by William Brewer. If you can find a copy in a library, I think you will enjoy reading the section about their exploration of this region before going.

-Phil

User avatar
c9h13no3
Topix Expert
Posts: 484
Joined: Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:19 pm
Experience: Level 1 Hiker
Location: San Mateo, CA

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by c9h13no3 » Tue Mar 17, 2020 7:59 am

wildhiker wrote:
Mon Mar 16, 2020 11:32 pm
I don't know about ascending Mt Brewer from the north side.
Most people use the north side route. But it's a talus pile from most directions.
"Adventure is just bad planning." - Roald Amundsen
Also, I have a blog no one reads. Please do not click here.

User avatar
bobby49
Topix Expert
Posts: 762
Joined: Sat Nov 11, 2017 4:17 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by bobby49 » Tue Mar 17, 2020 10:12 am

When heading for Mount Brewer, I was camped at East Lake, so I was approaching via the East Ridge. As I got closer, I tried to swing around the south side, and I ended up going to the top on the southwest side. There was talus, but it was big talus.

User avatar
Flamingo
Topix Regular
Posts: 233
Joined: Tue Mar 29, 2011 12:18 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: West Oakland, California

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by Flamingo » Tue Mar 17, 2020 12:33 pm

Hi @cjt93 -- Your route look exciting! Here's a couple notes:

1. For Mount Brewer, why the north slope? If you're crossing Cinder Col, you might as well climb Brewer from the south slope, which is easier than the north. The challenge with the north slope route is that it can get tricky Class 3 towards the top (depending on your line), whereas the south slopes route is straightforward Class 2.

2. The route looks ambitious for 6-8 days, but it depends on your strength and backpacking style. On long trips like this, I prefer to take at least one zero-day somewhere on trail. If you want to shorten your mileage, in order to make time to enjoy some of these locations, my suggestion is to skip the Kaweahs; instead of Lion Lake Pass, cross over Colby Pass (on trail), and then turn east and cross Milestone Col (off trail), trek through Milestone Basin, and rejoin your loop in the Upper Kern. Milestone Basin is a worthy destination that's often overlooked. Anyway, this alternate route would eliminate your long slog up the Kern Canyon trail.

User avatar
kursavwilage
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 56
Joined: Thu May 08, 2014 9:52 am
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Atascadero, Ca

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by kursavwilage » Tue Mar 17, 2020 12:41 pm

I agree with Daisy, the mileage does seem a little low for that proposed route. In my opinion the more cross country passes and cross country travel that you add to a trip the more time needed.
I have never been over Lion Rock or Lion Lake passes but, if you want to avoid snow then these 2 may have year round snow fields owing to their north south orientation. I have been over Pyra-Queen, Milly's, Lucy's and any of those three are fairly big undertakings. Lucy's isn't hard, more miserable than hard, steep, loose and possible snow on the northern side. Milly's is pretty cool but it does have that chimney the last 100+ feet that could be terrifying if you are not comfortable with class 3 and It could be choked with snow. Harrison is on my to do list and from what I have read, from some very qualified contributors here, there might be some misery involving loose, steep, talus, scree and snow in early season and heavy snow years. Pyra-Queen, when I did it had snow on the west side and quite a sizable sun cup filled snow field on the east side.
Just getting into the Kaweah Basin isn't a breeze either. You might try shortening your loop by hooking up with Colby pass by either going down to Junction Meadow in the Kern then up the Kern-Kaweah which would bring you by the Kaweah Basin or by going through Milestone Creek area over Milestone Pass then to Colby pass to Cloud Canyon. Shortening would allow more time in the Upper Kern.....

User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Docent
Posts: 4791
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Contact:

Re: Route Advice - Great Western Divide Loop

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Mar 17, 2020 2:56 pm

I have been over Lion Rock and Lion Lake passes twice. I never did it the way you have on your map. From Lone Rock Pass I descended to the outlet of Lion Lake and then traversed upward on the north side to Lion Lake Pass. There was a bit of snow when I did it, but most was avoidable. But then, I have a lot of snow travel experience. Neither time did I use traction devices- just trekking poles. Descending from Lion Lake Pass to Cloud Canyon is tricky and can be very slow. There is a lot of talus. If you drop down too quickly you become hung up in cliffs. You do NOT go right down the drainage as your map shoes.

Also, once down Pyra Queen you it is talus block jumping all the way to the outlet of the lake. I somewhat agree that this part of the route- Pyra Queen, Lion Rock, Lion Lake -- is questionable with your experience. Although there is no Class 3, the passes are very steep and feel quite exposed. You could do a day-hike up to Keweah Basin, and then over Colby Pass, as was suggested.

It would be worthwhile to figure out where you camp each night and the miles and elevation gain (all the ups and downs, not just beginning and ending points) for each day. Real on-the-ground miles are usually about 20% more than what is on the map. Getting over each pass likely will require twice the mileage, given that one usually zig-zags up passes instead of going directly over them. Take altitude and acclimating into consideration. The trail miles shown are not a problem, it is the off-trail miles and passes that will slow you down. It may work out fine, but you will not know until you do the numbers.

You say you prefer to "navigate uncharted territory". Can I assume you mean off-trail? Or do you mean less used trails and use-trails? The only reference you gave were two all-trail routes on well maintained major trails.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 4 guests