Backpacking Across The Sierra Nevada's

Sequoia to Lone Pine

1975, 1988, 1993

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Sequoia to Mt. Whitney 

Salmon River Baptismal 2010

Sequoia  Backpack, 2010

 

The accompanying photographs are the story of my 3 backpacking trips, 1975, 1988 & 1993, across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, from the west side straight across to the east side, including ascents to the top of Mt. Whitney.   

 

The 1975 and 1993 trips were “complete”, whereas the 1988 trip was cut short half way through due to the poor physical conditioning of my backpacking partner at the time.

 

The trek begins on the west side of the Sierra in Sequoia National Park at Crescent Meadow, elevation 6,716 feet.  Following the High Sierra Trail, the first day is a relatively “level” hike with a climb  to  7,670’ elevation from Crescent Meadow to Bear Paw Meadow, a distance of 11 ½ miles.  You travel through the Giant Sequoia trees, ferns, lush meadows, and the rocky cliffs along the north side of the Kaweah Gorge.

 

Day two is a short day, only 5.8 miles, and takes you up to Hamilton Lake at an elevation of 8,240 feet.  The foliage gradually becomes mountain mahogany and tundra grasses. You arrive here early, about noon, but it’s important to “hang out” here and stay the night as you begin acclimatizing to the higher elevations.

 

The third day is an intense climb up a steep switchbacky trail to the area known as the Kaweah Gap.  About 8 miles hike today.  At this elevation you’re now well above the timber line and it’s all boulders and tundra grass.  We camp at 11,202 feet on the west side of the Kaweah mountains on a little “bench” which is just level enough to pitch a tent.   It’s bitter cold, even though it’s the middle of August.

 

Day four is a “scramble” up an incredibly steep talus slope to a very narrow “gap” in the cliffs which we named “Pants Pass”.  The name comes from the fact that we all ripped our pants on the sharp rocks as we negotiated our way over this pass.  We named this thing in 1975 and the name stuck, other trekkers call it Pants Pass even to this day.  Near the top other climbers have driven pitons into the rocks and we "rope up" so as to belay each other for safety.  At the end of the day we are high in the Kaweah Basin camped on the edge of one of the many small lakes.  It's a little over 10,000 feet up here.  Note that we’ve now been “off trail” all day and in an area seldom visited by anyone, maybe one or two people a year.

 

The next day, day 5, is a long downhill trek with no trail to the bottom of the Kern River Gorge.  Here we cross the Kern River which is “chest high”, holding our packs over our heads, and fighting the ice cold rushing water.  If you lose your pack or boots you're "done".  That night we camp at the bottom of Wallace Creek.  About 12 miles today, elevation 8,100 feet.

 

Day six takes us up Wallace Creek to join the John Muir Trail and then on to Crabtree Meadow.  We camp high above Crabtree on the edge of a little lake, 11,381 ft elevation.  For the past three days we've seen no other backpackers but now, on the Muir Trail, we encounter several Scout Troops and other backpackers. We’re on the west side and just below Mt. Whitney.  Again it’s bitter cold.  12 miles.

 

We are up early today, the 7th day.  It’s important to start early because we’re going to the top of Whitney.  It’s long switchback trail up to Trail Crest at 13,444’ elevation, then a 2 ½ mile and 1,000 foot elevation gain “lateral” out to the top of Whitney at 14,496 feet.  There’s other hikers up here, all of whom came up from the east side [Whitney Portal] without acclimatization and have left their packs miles back.  All of them have altitude sickness, most are “barfing” and miserable.  Because we've now become acclimatized to the altitude, we're carrying our packs to the summit, and we camp on top of Whitney tonight.  Spectacular!

 

Last day,,, eight days now,,,, from the top of Whitney all the way down to the parking lot at Whitney Portal [8,114 feet] , thence caught a ride down to Lone Pine for a shower, a steak dinner and a “real” bed!  Tomorrow we load onto a Greyhound bus back to Los Angeles.

 

Trip note: the 1975 trip was with 3 other backpackers, Dr's Gerry & Ralph Jung and Judy Brewster, a registered nurse, whom I met on the trail the first day.  My "driver", Randy Thomas, went with me the first couple of days and returned to the parking lot after the 3rd day to drive the car back home.  The 1988 trip was a “bust” due to the poor physical conditioning of my backpacking "partner" half way through [long story] which resulted in his quitting the hike and me hiking 18.2 miles non-stop back to Crescent Meadow on the 4th day.  In 1993 I went back and did the entire trip completely “solo” from one end to the other.

 

 

 

 

 

The starting point at Crescent Meadow, 1988,  Sequoia National Park.  Randy Thomas, Will Giddings [our "driver"] and myself.  It's an uncomfortable feeling when you watch your driver and car go out the parking lot and know that you can't change your mind now!

Off we go through the Giant Sequoias, headed for Bear Paw Camp 11 1/2 miles away.  The first day is always the hardest it seems.

The trail goes along the north side of the Kaweah Gorge with the river about 3,000 feet below.  You can see the trail in this picture. 

From the trail looking up a rocky gorge.  We're about 5 miles out at this point.

Looking up at Angels Wing from the trail.

And looking back down into the Kaweah Gorge with the river in the bottom.

We camp at Bear Paw Meadow but visit the Bear Paw Tent Camp, a commercial operation where you can buy a shower, dinner and wine.

We have wine and watch the sun go down in the San Joaquin Valley.  Elevation is 7,600'

Day 2, short hike up to Hamilton Lake.  On the 1988 trip, against all better judgment I'm talked into continuing on to the Kaweah Gap without stopping here for acclimatizing, a HUGE mistake.

 

Hamilton Lake on the 1975 trek, late afternoon.

And Hamilton Lake on the 1993 trek.  The trail goes up the left side of the lake, right up that rock face, and then to the left of that tall peak.

Hamilton Lake from the east side looking back towards where we camped.

Another view looking west across Hamilton Lake.

Day 3, up the switchbacks, here crossing the rock cliffs where they've dug a tunnel through one of the impassable parts.  If you look carefully you can see a backpacker on the trail.

We're now well above timberline, about 10,500 feet, at the Kaweah Gap.

This is 1975, up at Kaweah Gap where there's still plenty of snow even though it's the middle of August.

One of the many little lake up here.  No fish here, the lake will freeze solid in the winter.

Judy Brewster and me on the 1975 trek.  Snow bank just below "Black Kaweah" mountain.

This is our camp on the west side of the Kaweah Range, just below "Pants Pass", elevation 11,202 feet.

The 1975 group, Randy Thomas [who went this far and turned back], Judy Brewser, RN., me, & Dr's Ralph & Gerry Jung.

From the top of "Pants Pass" looking down into the Kaweah Basin.

One of several lakes in the Kaweah Basin.  Very remote, no trails, and only one or two people visit this area each year.

This is "Pants Pass" looking down into the Kaweah Basin, Mt. Whitney is in the very far distance.

Judy Brewster, a hell of a good backpacker and great trail companion, sitting there looking down into the Kaweah Basin.

 

"Pants Pass" is at the top of the ridge behind me.

On the far edge of this lake the terrain drops steeply down to the Kern River.  Tomorrow's trek will take us up behind the near ridge on the far side of the canyon.

Still lots of ice on the lakes up here even though it's the middle of August.

A view of the Kern River Gorge from about 1/3rd of the way up the Wallace Creek trail.

Judy Brewster and me as we approach the John Muir Trail and Crabtree Meadows.

On the John Muir Trail at Crabtree Meadows.

We're about halfway up the trail to Trail Crest, view is looking south down into the Boreal Plateau Basin area.

We camped last night down by the lake on the far right.  In the way far distance you can just see the top of the black ridge [Black Kaweah Mountain] which is where we crossed via "Pants Pass".

Looking down into the upper Crabtree Basin area from Trail Crest.

Here's Trail Crest @ 13,444 feet elevation.  The mountains in the far distance are the Inyo's on the east side of Lone Pine.

Trail Crest on my "solo" hike.  It's 2 1/2 miles out to the top of Mt. Whiney from here.

And here's all the backpacks that people just couldn't carry any farther.  They're all sick and sitting on the side of the trail barfing from altitude sickness, like the guy in the picture.

Looking south from the top of Whitney, Lone Pine down below and Owens Dry Lake is in the background.

Standing on the tippy top of Whitney, 14, 496 feet elevation.  Inyo Mountains in the far distance.

I'm holding the trail map of the route across the Sierra's, 1975 trip.  Notice that my boots are tied to the backpack.  I found it much easier and more comfortable to hike in running shoes instead of heavy, clunky boots.

Looking back at Mt. Whitney on the last day's hike down to the parking lot at Whitney Portal with Lone Pine lake [9,946 feet] in the foreground.

If you're going to climb Mt. Whitney from the Lone Pine / Owens Valley side DON'T try to do it in one day, or even two days.  You HAVE TO ACCLIMATIZE or you're going to end up with altitude sickness and be miserable.  Indeed, it can be life threatening due to cerebral edema [HACE, High Altitude Cerebral Edema] and pulmonary edema [HAPE, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema].  It can kill you.

Last look at Whitney from the trail out.