Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Kearsarge Pass (11,760') - John Muir Wilderness - (Eastern Sierras) - 9/23/16

Big Pothole Lake below Kearsarge Pass

Kings Canyon side of Kearsarge Pass

Gilbert Lake

Cold at the Trailhead
 Friday, five club members left Lone Pine and drove up 395 to Independence, CA to Onion Valley Road and hung a left. This road climbs into Onion Valley below the Eastern Sierra peaks with many twists and turns. Concentration is required but it is paved all the way up to the Kearsarge Pass Trailhead. Along the last part of the road, there were several deer around. We got out of the cars in 38 degree cold and dressed up.

One of Many Deer Around
 Starting up the trail, the switchbacks passed the junction for Golden Trout Lake.

Looking Back at Onion Valley
 Since we were doing a day hike up to the pass and back, we did not need a permit nor a bear cannister. It is likely that one of the hikers we passed was a ranger there to check permits. With our day packs, we didn't look like we were going to camp and he didn't stop us.

Gaining Elevation

Icicles over Independence Creek
 We passed Little Pothole Lake then one of the switchbacks led us to the creek that runs down the canyon called Independence Creek. There were fat icicles hanging on the sticks above the creek but we were beginning to warm up and a layer had already been shed. There were already a few hikers on the trail and we were out in the open for the most part so bears weren't really too much on the front of our mind.

Steady Gain toward University Peak
 University Peak and the pointy peak in front of it were our constant landscape view. The trail curved with the canyon up around to the right.

Onion Valley Road still in Sight
 When we looked back, we saw Onion Valley Road until we passed through a morraine of granite boulders. The trail had been dug through the rocks.

Hiking through a Morraine

Gilbert Lake
 Next, we came upon the most beautiful of the five trail lakes, Gilbert Lake. We arrived at a perfect time for mirrored photos of the calm water. With cameras all around, we stayed at the lake for several minutes. A few other hikers passed us at this time. Most were carrying large backpacks. The Kearsarge Pass Trail is the eastern terminus of the High Sierra Route that ends in Sequoia National Park. It is also used to do Rae Lakes Loop, a beautiful two or three nighter.

Panorama of Gilbert Lake
 A few of the backpackers were heading back to the John Muir Trail after crossing over the pass to spend a welcomed night in a hotel before returning.

Diamonds on Gilbert Lake
 When the sun shone on the lakes, we imagined sparkling diamonds on the surface.

Stepping Up the Switchbacks

Passing Heart Lake
 At Flower Lake, we decided not to drop down to it and continued up a new set of switchbacks. The fourth lake was Heart Lake. A view of the entire lake was difficult to get but the photo to the right gives you the essentials. On a nearby switchback, we passed an unusual old tree that reminded us of a bristlecone. We never found out if it was, indeed, a bristlecone. (Seen in photo below.) Other trees included foxtail pines and white pines.

Peak through Tree
 A more difficult set of switchbacks followed. We still felt fresh. Our pace was slow and steady with several photo stops.

Working on Switchbacks
 At the end of this set, the remaining leg of the trail opened up. We could see the pass, itself, and the trail following the contour of the steep mountainside.

Last Leg before Pass

Kearsarge Pass Approach
Since we were now above 11,000 feet in elevation, the air was thinner. Our pace slowed and we stopped to breathe more often. As we passed above Big Pothole Lake (seen in the first photo), the hike felt very much like the last switchbacks on the North Loop on our own Charleston Peak. As we made our approach to the pass, we saw a crowd developing.

We're there!
 While we were on the pass, hikers were coming up from the other side as well as the hikers that had passed us on the way up. PARTY!!

Required Photo
 We sat at the pass alongside the trail and viewed the basin and valley on the other side. We were told that the John Muir Trail ran along the other side of the last lake that we could see down there.

Kearsarge Pinnacles on Kings Canyon side of Pass

Starting down above Big Pothole Lake
 After our break, the "Trail Sisters" took our photo at the sign. These girls had actually met my brother and David on the JMT earlier. They were returning to the JMT to do the last leg to the Mt. Whitney summit. As it turns out, there are many hikers allowed permits on the JMT at once and they tend to run into each other on a regular basis as hikers will hike at different paces at different times.

The Descent
 We started down past Big Pothole Lake and the pace was lively. The descent was our second reward for the big climb.

David on Higher Switchback
 We passed mostly day hikers on the descent. Even saw a family or two. Flower Lake was on our agenda for the descent and we made the extra steps down for photos.

Flower Lake

Bear Claw Marks at Flower Lake
 There are a lot of campsites at Flower Lake. We noted one tree that had been climbed by a very large bear at one point. We also stopped for photos of Little Pothole Lake on the way down noting that the trail had been redirected here in the past. Our descent finished pleasantly on feet that were beginning to get a little sore. The temperature had risen to around 58 degrees. This was definitely a great hike!

10 miles; 2600 feet elevation gain; 6.5 hours

Little Pothole Lake

Descending past the Wilderness Boundary

Trailhead in Sight

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