Monday, July 6, 2015

Sierra High Route - Northern Section (Day 1)

The Sierra High Route is a 195 mile cross-country hiking route developed by Steve Roper and published in the guide - Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline CountryAbout a third of the route uses existing trails, the rest is in high elevation areas of the Sierra crossing numerous mountain passes. The route roughly parallels the John Muir Trail (JMT) and uses a few miles of the famous trail where other options didn't make sense to Roper. What the route does best is get the hiker into relatively unused areas far from the typical backpacking crowds. 

Without the several weeks to dedicate to an advanced hike such as this, Susan and I decided to break it up into manageable pieces.  Last summer in 6 days we hiked the middle section, from Piute Pass on the North Fork of Bishop Creek to Mammoth Lakes. This year we went for the northern part - from near Devils Postpile National Monument to the northern terminus of the route at Twin Lakes near Bridgeport. While the official route description of the section we did listed the mileage as 72, my GPS measured our actual distance at 91 miles over 7 days.

Photos can tell a much better story than I, so this post will have an abundance.  And I've decided to put up one blog post for each day.  

Day 1 - Agnew Meadow to Lake Catherine (15 miles)

Shadow Lake
The first day started early as we had to beat the mandatory bus road closure from Mammoth Mountain down the Postpile road at 7AM. Our wonderful friend Kathy D was kind enough to get up early and drive down to the trailhead with us and then take the car back out to her house for the week. Thanks Kathy! We were on the trail by 6:30 and making tracks for above Shadow Lake where we could take off cross-country and intersect the High Route at Nydiver Lakes. Nydiver Lakes had been high on our list of places to see and they didn't disappoint - absolutely beautiful! And this area started us off with what would be a near constant for the week - peak flowers! Obviously the substantial May rain and snow trumped the bleak winter snowpack and gave us a fantastic Sierra floral display.

Shadow Creek above the lake
Nydiver Lakes
Nydiver Lakes

Nydiver Lakes from near Whitebark Pass

Mountain Heather
Mountain Pride

Sierra Primrose

Moving on from Nydiver Lakes sent us up our first cross-country pass, Whitebark Pass at 10,522 feet. This one was relatively straight forward with a moderate descent on stable talus to the inlet end of Garnet Lake. Having hiked the trail on the JMT past the outlet end of this lake many times it was interesting to come in from high above the inlet end. The same would be said for the next lake we would approach just a short time later, Thousand Island Lake, reached by a low unnamed pass separating the two lakes at the base of Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak.

If you hike long enough, especially on long trails, you will be anointed with a "trail name" by your hiking friends. Being saddled recently with the trail name of "Drought Buster" is not something I'm particularly happy about, but my dear friend Rosie, who I've hike my share of miles with, coined this name and seems to have pegged the particulars - when I go hiking, it rains.  This day, and many to follow would do nothing to dispel this moniker...  

Garnet Lake from Whitebark Pass

Thousand Island Lake from unnamed pass
Banner Peak

Mountain Heather on approach to North Glacier Pass

Flowers on approach to North Glacier Pass
Talus approach to North Glacier Pass

As we moved up the north flank of Banner Peak toward North Glacier Pass, a light but steady rain began to fall. As we made the top at 11,190 feet, the rain became heavy as the clouds dropped.  The short descent and traverse to the outlet of Lake Catherine was a study in patience as the large block talus footing was slick and treacherous. 

Lake Catherine

Navigating the slippery talus

Ritter Glacier and Lake Catherine

Lake Catherine
By the time we reached the outlet of Lake Catherine we had had enough for the day.  We continued down slope and soon came upon a small tarn with literally one space large enough to pitch a tent.  This was home for the evening.  Up went the shelter and in we dove for some warmth and dry clothes.  As is so typical with Sierra storms, the rain stopped and the sky cleared just in time for sunset and a warm cooked dinner.

Tent site? 

Sunset on the Ritter Range

Sunset in the direction we'll be headed tomorrow...

My Mapshare page from the DeLorme shows the recorded route.  You will likely have to zoom and pan around some to see the whole thing.

Bird Lists:

Agnew Meadow
Shadow Lake
Nydiver Lakes
Garnet Lake
Thousand Island Lake

1 comment:

  1. Excellent write up and pictures, and interesting bird list. Thank you Mike Prather for posting this on FB!