Sierra loop

Joined: November 28th, 2010, 3:09 pm

September 8th, 2018, 5:50 pm #1

Sep 1-3, 2018
For all of the folks that didn't join me on this excursion (which is all of you) - it was a great time, all but about three miles on new trails to me.
This actually starts on Friday Aug 31, as I drove from City of Industry to Lone Pine, arriving in the Alabama Hills just before midnight. It was so windy going up the 14 above Mojave that the bed cover in my Ranger blew off - that was made of 3/4 inch plywood and hinged down inside the bed. Fortunately there weren't any vehicles behind me. That meant that I had some work to do once I arrived, dismantling the frame so I could have a place to sleep. I awoke to a great view of Lone Pine peak in the early morning sunrise and leisurely packed my stuff for the journey south of town to the Interagency Visitor Center. For my usual 7:55 arrival, I was greeted by the sight of approximately 2000 people waiting in line. Fortunately I knew that lines don't matter here, they have a lottery at 8am for the walk-up permits. That brings up a point of contention for me, since Inyo believes that 11am on the day prior constitutes a walk-up. I think that is a reservation and used a hotel analogy when talking with one of the rangers, all to no avail since most of the permits were already gone before a single person had been served. Anyway, I drew number 17 and still felt pretty good about my chances to score something out of Bishop, with Lake Sabrina my preference. Since after about five minutes a general announcement was made that 90 percent of the permits were gone, by the time I got called I was left with the backup plan of Trail Pass since it does not have a quota. That's another tricky one, since one ranger said it's a loophole, another didn't know and a third said it was not allowed to go north on the PCT. Fortunately by that time my permit already showed High Lake as a campsite so I got out of there before anyone changed his mind. 
All of that plus breakfast at McDonald's and filling up water in Lone Pine creek before driving to Horseshoe Meadows took a while, and it was nearly noon before I actually hit the trail. After crossing a sandy meadow, this trail meanders gently uphill through plenty of shade before arriving at Trail Pass in a couple of miles. I didn't have a map, relying instead on my faulty memory which told me this was a T-intersection, so I went straight at the junction. After going downhill on a few switchbacks I felt that it wasn't right, and finally remembered that I have the Halfmile PCT app on my phone. A quick consultation with that told me I was indeed off trail, so I retraced my steps back up to the junction where I found the trail I had overlooked before. It's hidden behind a deadfall, and I was expecting the PCT to be a bit more prominent - lesson learned there. I topped off my water bottle at the only spring along the way, and had a very nice walk for a few miles over to Cottonwood Pass. Never having been to that spot, it was great to take a lunch break and soak in the views of Horseshoe Meadow and Big Whitney Meadow on either side. There were plenty of folks moving both ways there, so I expected a pretty good gathering at Chicken Spring Lake, which was my destination for the night. It took me a little while to figure out that the lake is on a spur trail off the PCT, but I managed to find a somewhat secluded space for my tent. The lake didn't have any flow - no inlet or outlet - and seemed a bit dirty, so I had to actually use the Sawyer filter for drinking and dinner prep. That evening and all night, the wind once again made its presence known - not too much at ground level but definitely loud in the trees above. I got up once to snug down one side of my tent, using a longer line to anchor in some rocks nearby.
Total for this day was about 8 miles.

Pics and parts 2-3 below.....

IMG_5199.JPG Morning sunrise, looking at Lone Pine Peak.

DSC02868.JPG Packed and ready for me to hoist.

DSC02877.JPG Creek crossing in Horseshoe Meadow, this log only has a couple years remaining.

DSC02891.JPG At the Trail Pass junction, where I first went wrong.

DSC02918.JPG
Cows grazing in the meadow below, this about a mile before reaching Cottonwood Pass.

DSC02931.JPG View from Cottonwood Pass, looking at Horseshoe Meadow.

DSC02935.JPG Choices, choices. I chatted with one couple heading down to the meadow, I went along the PCT.

DSC02942.JPG First view of Chicken Spring Lake.

DSC02944.JPG Campsite - this was the second time taking the Tarptent. Still have to work out the tension.

DSC02946.JPG View from my dinner table, sitting on a rock also doing some Kindle reading.
"Argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours"
(Donald Shimoda)
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Joined: November 28th, 2010, 3:09 pm

September 8th, 2018, 5:58 pm #2

Part Two:
In the morning, a large group arose about 6am and held some very loud conversations while I was luxuriating in the warmth inside the tent before sunshine hit my spot. I went to the lake a couple of times to get water, filling up my Camelbak along with a spare bottle to carry. Shortly after ascending the trail above the lake, I met up with an older gentleman and spent about 45 minutes in conversation with him, talking about different places to visit and just exactly why we like doing this stuff. Leaving him on a break, I set off alone again on the trail, seeing only a few people cross my path. I met up with a couple at the Rock Creek junction, and we traded stories for a while and then passed each other on the trail towards New Army Pass. Once there, I filled my bottle once again from Rock Creek and took a lunch break in the shade. The trail up to NAP starts easily enough, with an easy climb through shade along the hillside. Once a little creek is crossed, the expanse of rock opens up and the entire valley can be seen ahead. It looks daunting from there, especially in the early afternoon walking directly into the sun. NAP isn't noticeable from anywhere on this trail, it's just a lot of uphill. I took things fairly slow, trying to remember to pace myself and setting intermediate goals of 50-100 yards before stopping to lean on my trekking poles and gasp in the thin air. I also worked a bit on the rest step, which actually seems like a faster way to go up the steeper sections. Just about the time I arrived at a big plateau, I checked my phone GPS and it said I was at nearly 11,900 feet which excited me because it was just 400 feet more elevation. 10 minutes of uphill later, I looked again and it said 11,800 feet  so I was a bit sad. Around there I also saw another trail branch off, which was blocked by some rocks - I figured it was a shortcut that skipped some switchbacks so I ignored it and kept to the main trail. If I had a map, I would have seen that was the way to Army Pass, which would have saved me the last 300 feet of elevation gain to New Army. Dang. New Army Pass isn't a low point or col, it seems to be made just out of convenience, intended to melt off quickly in the springtime, as Army Pass tends to hold snow late into the season. Once at the pass, I took a short break and surveyed the great views from there, and then headed down the very rocky trail toward the Cottonwood lakes basin. While going down, I pretty much decided to push a bit farther than High Lake, reducing the hiking time for the next morning. Nearly every visible tent spot was occupied at Long Lake, and the lower lakes are in marshy terrain which is not suitable for overnight camping. So I kept going down the trail, and soon realized I was in new territory heading down a large valley/meadow. Once I realized this trail would connect with the familiar-to-me trail, I knew I would find a tent site near the John Muir Wilderness sign. Just below that, I spotted a great area about 70 yards off the trail and set up for the night. I was really tired, once I got the tent up and sleeping pad inflated I just laid there for about 45 minutes before I felt like doing anything else. Turned out I was near the Golden Trout Camp, I could hear their mules braying and also occasional loudspeaker announcements. The experience of being in a place where no one would randomly hike past or set up camp nearby was great, I enjoyed a quiet evening of reading and some Macallan 12 year old scotch prior to bedtime.
I think it was about 14 miles this day, long by Sierra standards.

Day two pics:

DSC02968.JPG Higher view of Chicken Spring Lake as I left in the morning.

DSC02976.JPG Looking down at Big Whitney Meadow between Chicken Spring and Rock Creek.

DSC02980.JPG Parts of the trail were walking through beach-like sand.

DSC02992.JPG This trail is very well-marked.

DSC03002.JPG First view of the climb toward New Army Pass.

DSC03004.JPG 30 minutes of walking and still a lot of uphill in front of me.

DSC03018.JPG Welcome to the moon. Almost there!

DSC03024.JPG Tired pose. Mt Langley is the high point in this photo.

DSC03031.JPG Heading down NAP, view of Cottonwood Lakes basin.

DSC03037.JPG View from the outlet of Long Lake back toward NAP.
Last edited by JeffH on September 8th, 2018, 6:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours"
(Donald Shimoda)
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Joined: November 28th, 2010, 3:09 pm

September 8th, 2018, 6:07 pm #3

Day three:

I got up in the morning and came close to a personal record, getting packed up and out of camp by 7:30. It was still cool enough to wear a long sleeve shirt, and fortunately shady enough so that I didn't need my sunglasses. I realized that I had wrapped them up with my tent and they were now stuffed securely in the depths of my pack. I stopped for a short break to change shirts and zip off my pant legs, and then reached the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead about 8:40. I had read there is a trail connecting the two parking areas, but I couldn't find it even after walking over to the horse packer area. So my last bit of hiking was on the paved road back to the Horseshoe Meadows lot, where I discovered someone took all the food I stored in the bear bin. The cardboard box had been closed back up, although my Sawyer bag was left loose in the bin. I just hope he/she was really hungry and needed the food more than me, although I was counting on eating the peanut butter m&m's that were waiting for me.
Total for this day about two miles.

Last pics below:

DSC03046.JPG Nearly packed up in the morning.

DSC03048.JPG Easy trail walking on the way out.

DSC03049.JPG Convenient trail markers.

DSC03050.JPG Final creek crossing.

DSC03055.JPG Leaving this wilderness area. I was in two of these plus a National Park.

DSC03057.JPG Last bit of trail, Ranger is in sight to conclude another adventure.
"Argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours"
(Donald Shimoda)
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tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
Joined: April 11th, 2013, 11:07 pm

September 12th, 2018, 11:53 pm #4

I love that area. Been there twice on training hikes, but have never made the trip to Langley. Cool photos.
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Uncle Rico
Can Throw A Football Over Them Mountains
Uncle Rico
Can Throw A Football Over Them Mountains
Joined: March 21st, 2008, 1:48 am

September 13th, 2018, 2:44 pm #5

Nice loop Jeff. As I mentioned previously, that stretch of the PCT from Trail Pass to Cottonwood Pass is really enjoyable.

I know what you mean about the water at Chicken Spring. When I was there last, the water tasted a bit "swampy."

There is a connector from the Pack Station to the Cottonwood Pass trail. It starts just behind the horse corrals at the end of the road marked 16SO2D: https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=36.4510 ... =16&b=f16a

When I completed a similar loop earlier this summer, I too wandered over to the Pack Station looking for a way back to the Cottonwood Pass parking lot. After being rudely dismissed by several folks who had apparently come to the Sierra to re-enact City Slickers, I was directed to this pack trail by a not-so-friendly young buck who worked at the Pack Station.    
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Joined: September 30th, 2007, 1:51 am

September 13th, 2018, 10:26 pm #6

Peanut butter M&Ms missing?!?!?  I suppose you know...this means WAR!   :)

Do you like the tent?  I used to have an old Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight tent, and after I got a bivi sack, I started using just the fly and poles in combo with the bivy.  Used the fly only if the weather was a problem.

RE: permitting system...UGH!  But their 'loophole' is funny.  It's perfectly legal to enter wherever you can get a permit, and once you're in you can exit wherever you like except through the Whitney Zone.  For that you'll have to go through the lottery even if you enter through a non-quota trailhead.  When I was extensively exploring this area, I'd go to the ranger station (the old one in Lone Pine) and ask for a permit for Tuttle Creek.  I'd invariably get a blank stare, like I'd asked for a bottle of Romulan Ale.  I gradually developed a theory that most rangers don't really hike.
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Joined: November 28th, 2010, 3:09 pm

September 14th, 2018, 2:09 am #7

Thanks for confirming Rico, I did walk over to that area but didn't see any trail. That would mean taking the cutoff trail about a quarter mile before the Golden Trout Wilderness sign.
Tom - Yes, I was really counting on them! Had to wait until I got into Lone Pine for a McDonald's feast instead.

I think I like the Tarptent. I've only spent a few nights inside, it is definitely small but the ends are angled out so I don't hit them. I am a bit over 6'1" and use a 78" pad so definitely at the upper limit for this tent. I have a LL Bean Microlight FS1 that's about seven years old, usually in the summer I would use just the footprint and fly. In that one my feet would rest against the outer material plus I like netting since I really don't like crawly things at night. Those generally aren't a problem in the Sierras but definitely in the San Gabes. Also the Tarptent saves me some ounces overall and I have more space in the pack since I am carrying the poles in my hands.
"Argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours"
(Donald Shimoda)
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Girl Hiker
Rock Scrambler
Girl Hiker
Rock Scrambler
Joined: April 4th, 2014, 1:46 pm

September 14th, 2018, 7:53 pm #8

Nice pics and TR. I love the pic of the red sky. I would have liked to join your adventure, but I guess we couldn't get a group to go. I hope in the future we can do a group outing.  I love the Sierra's.
Shepard's Pass & Army Pass were two of my favorite passes until I hiked, the beautiful Kearsarge pass, earlier this year. It seems every Pass gets prettier and prettier. Anyways, that suck's that some people are so disrespectful and had to steal your food. Thankfully, you were not camped out in the middle of nowhere and were forced to eat a marmot lol.
"Never limit yourself to what you can do!"
Bart Yasso  
My Hero
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