04 January 2017

Sierra High Route/Mt Whitney - Days 1-6

One must always be careful when starting a hike/bushwalk/tramp/trek. In our experience it takes up to three days to become "pack-fit", even when training beforehand. In this instance, Andrew landed in Mammoth Lakes with a head cold and jet lag which had him sleep through half of our preparation days. However on the planned day we hopped on the Red's Meadow shuttle (having been convinced by an unscrupulous driver that it didn't leave from Mammoth Lakes town) at Mammoth Mountain and found ourselves at Devil's Postpile to begin phase one of our 31 day Sierra High Route/Mt Whitney Hike.

The Devil's Postpile (think of a log pile) National Monument is a very interesting* stack of distorted basalt columns, which made a nice diversion before heading out towards our ultimate goal for the day, Minaret Lake. There are two ways to get there. Either directly along trails (the John Muir Trail - henceforth called the  JMT - and the side trail to Minaret Lake) or over the Sierra High Route (henceforth called the SHR) which involves climbing a scree (henceforth called by its US name - talus) slope to Nancy Pass, and then spending at least a couple of hours traversing a sea of talus to get towards Minaret Lake.

The Minarets are a stunning (very interesting is too dull a description for the Minarets) collection of rhino horns, left behind after a major glacial event which is responsible for a lot of the Sierra Nevada landscape, which dot this part of the Sierras. We had looked on the map and said to ourselves "that's a nice name". We weren't disappointed.
Despite the hard work (we felt) involved getting there via Nancy Pass, Minaret Lake is a truly stunning place to spend your first night...

The next day saw us head off to the right of the sharp spire above, past Lake Cecile (left) and Iceberg Lake, towards Whitebark Pass and 1000 Islands Lake. It's a cute climb out the back of Minaret Lake to Cecile Lake but a pretty trashy descent over talus followed by a traverse of more talus along Iceberg Lake.

At Whitebark Pass, despite some intimate experience of talus in the previous 24 hours, Andrew still managed to execute a double forward roll with a twist. Only scored a 2.5 for the poor landing. Fortunately the only injury sustained was a very surprised pinky and a bruised ego.
After the climb to Whitebark Pass, it was another descent, followed by another more chunky climb to Lake Catherine, which lies west of Banner Peak.

Traversing further around, and dropping a little over the west side, we were obliged to camp near the top of a substantial waterfall (left), which became our route the next day. It was great following this route down and then back up from the North Ford of the San Joaquin River to Twin Island Lakes (visible "above" the top of the falls). We then proceeded around the ridge and up Bench Canyon (slightly to the right) to Blue Lake. Blue Lake Pass is between the horizontal patch of snow and small patches to its right below Mt Foerster.
After a pretty hot day, we cooled our heels in Blue Lake (right). Also in this pic is Mt Ritter on the left (though our waterfall is out of shot), and some of the Minarets in about the middle of the shot. Possibly Mammoth Crest in the background to the right, and probably Iron Mountain the final peak on the right in shadow. Whilst these first three days were pretty hard work as we honed our pack fitness, threw off jetlag and colds, each evening we had landed in the most stunning of campsites.
Day 4 saw us cross Blue Lake Pass to enter the Yosemite Wilderness in a beautiful broad meadow with clear sparkling brooks, heading towards the Merced Valley. We crossed the Lyell Fork of the Merced, with beautiful white granite redolent of the famous Yosemite valley 23km/15miles away. The Isberg trail follows the Merced on a shelf way up on the eastern side of the valley.

The next day we dropped down to Lewis Creek and followed it up to Vogelsang Pass. By now we had perfected the thermo-regulatory strategy of taking our shirts off, dunking them in the streams and then putting them back on soaking wet before resuming hiking. Startling when first put on, but blissfully cooling as we continued our hike in the middle of a heatwave in California's hottest summer on record.

Left: Vogelsang Lake from Vogelsang Pass. We lunched in a tiny patch of shade near the far end. Over the lip of the lake, we dropped down past the Vogelsang Sierra High Camp (a "chalet" with tent "rooms" and cooked meals, even showers!) to Boothe Lake. A half day's walk further on is Tuolumne Meadows.
The next day (day 6) we started off early as it was a long way to the Great Sierra Mine above Tioga Pass (20km/12mi, 1300m/4265ft climb and 1020m/3346ft descent), and we had to stop by Tuolumne Meadows Post Office to pick up our food. Having picked up our package by 11am, we enjoyed some pretty good burgers at the adjacent fast food joint before heading on for yet another hot afternoon's hiking.
In the first five and a half days (from Devil's Postpile to Tuolumne Meadows) we covered 64km/40mi, climbed up 4700m/15400ft, and down 5012m/16400ft. The second half of this northward section is only three nights long.

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.
Disclaimer: The information given is of a general nature only and whilst all care has been taken, no responsibility can be assumed by the author.Conditions change, regulations change. Any reader doing these hikes after reading these notes must show due diligence and be experienced enough to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions.

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