Theme: Suffering and Saving/It's All Relative
Soundtrack: No One Said It Would Be Easy-Cloud Cult, The Heart of Rock and Roll-Huey Lewis
Map Part 1 (link)
Map Part 2 (link)
Day 6 August 3
Cedar Grove to Goat Crest Basin
Today was a big day. I was about to start the official Sierra High Route, which meant over 5000 feet of elevation gain along the Copper Creek trail. 8 miles of steady climbing. I knew it wouldn't be a lot of fun, but at least I'd be back in the high country by the end of it. I was awake and out on the road at 7:00. I caught a ride within minutes from the first car I saw, a couple cats that hadn't seen each other in years. They were meeting up for a quick hike out of Roads End. Good people for sure. When we hit the ranger station, I thanked them and headed for the trailhead. I was in high spirits after the first leg and eager to start moving again. Then, the trail took over and I was at its mercy. The grade was mellow, but constant. Relentless. I plodded away, periodically looking up to gauge my progress during the ascent. Four different parties started the SHR today. One was already long gone and I never saw them. For most of the morning, I played leapfrog with the other two, two guys around my age and a father son duo. I stuck with my slow and steady pace, making sure to take a break every hour or so.
|Upper Tent Meadow. Copper Creek Trail|
By the time I finally reached the saddle, where I would leave the trail, I was beat. I really hadn't eaten enough today and my body was letting me know. I took a quick break before heading cross country towards Grouse Lake. What should have been a pleasant traverse became a goal oriented push. When I finally arrived at the lakeshore, I collapsed in a heap. I wasn't hungry, but forced down some food anyway as I contemplated a quick swim. While I was eating, the two dudes showed up. They looked the way I felt and were already having serious doubts about continuing on (I learned later that they did turn around). They didn't want to take my camp spot, but I hadn't made any decisions yet and assured them that I could find another. I decided to jump in the freezing cold water. I rinsed off and quickly got back out, shivering uncontrollably. It was sunny and warm outside, but I couldn't shake the chill, even after putting on every layer I had. I huddled in a ball and fell asleep next to the lake.
I woke up around 5:00 with a decision to make. I was originally thinking of detouring into the Kid Lakes Basin, but I just didn't have another 1000 feet in me and I didn't want to stay here tonight. Looks like I was already altering my plans for this leg. I packed up and headed for Grouse Lake Pass. Those guys were passed out, having already set up camp. It was easy going up to the pass and I was feeling better after my short nap, though I still hadn't shaken that chill. After taking a few minutes to enjoy the view, I had one last look back to the south toward the peaks I'd been hanging out with for the past few days and said some goodbyes.
|Grouse Lake and the view back toward the first leg|
It was time to embrace some new country, so down into the next basin I went. It was 7:00 when I reached a good spot along the creek feeding Granite Basin. Another killer campsite. I decided on ramen for dinner as I was low on energy and that was the quickest, easiest calorie source I had. I watched yet another amazing alpenglow show while I ate. Then, off to bed.
|Goat Crest Basin|
Once in the tent, I was freezing cold and a little nauseous. I was in my sleeping bag, bundled up with every layer I had, and still couldn't get warm. Full-on misery. This lasted until around midnight, when I realized that I was about to lose my dinner. I quickly grabbed an extra freezer bag and got it to my mouth just in time (I found it a little disconcerting that the ramen looked about the same now as it did 4 hours ago). There was no way I was getting out of my sleeping bag, but I couldn't keep a half gallon of regurgitated noodles in the tent with me. I unzipped the tent and threw the ziploc as far as I could, hoping for the best. Normally, I'm very strict with food storage, but this was a very abnormal situation. I was cursing the Cedar Grove restaurant, thinking that I'd been poisoned by their burger. I'm not sure how much I slept that night, but I can safely say that it was, hands down, the most miserable night I have ever spent in the backcountry.
Day 7 August 4
Goat Crest Basin to State Lakes
The miserable night gave way to a miserable morning. I awoke to terrible cramps and a race to get outside. What did they put in that burger? I was moving really slow. I forced some breakfast down my throat and went and found the ziplock I filled last night (untouched by animals, thankfully). I wasn't too excited about carrying that around for the next week. As I was breaking camp, I noticed the father/son duo heading toward Goat Crest Saddle. I finally rolled out around 10:30.
The terrain was nice and mild on the way up to Goat Crest Saddle, but it wore me out nonetheless. The saddle itself, was more like a long passageway that eventually opened up above Glacier Lake.
|Goat Crest Saddle and a look over to the Palisades|
In Roper's book, he says to traverse west before descending from the saddle. I watched as the father/son duo took this advice and ran into issues with cliffs. I just headed straight down on slabs and ledges, having no trouble reaching the lake shore. The lake was calming and scenic, so I took a break along the east shore and soaked up some sun for awhile.
Eventually, I had to motivate. I had originally hoped to make it to the lake below Windy Ridge tonight, but that was beginning to look like a tall order. I kept this in mind as I began my descent to the next lake. I didn't find it to be all that exciting, so I continued on without stopping. I was feeling fine at the high lake, but as the day wore on, that had begun to change. I tried to push through it, descending to Glacier Creek Meadows.
|Descending to Glacier Creek Meadows|
This was nice, comfortable country, a pleasant, mellow stroll under normal circumstances, but by 2:30, I was hurting for real. I stopped at the edge of one of the meadows and began to evaluate my situation. I've had food poisoning before, but it's never lasted more than a day. This didn't feel like it was going away any time soon. My energy level was at zero, so I laid in the sun and took a nap.
I still wasn't feeling great when I woke again, but I had to keep moving. I decided to make for State Lakes and re-evaluate when I got there. I met up with the trail and followed it for what seemed like an eternity to the first State Lake. When I arrived, I knew I was done for the day. I found a nice site right away and set up camp. The resident fish tried to entice me, but I wasn't in any kind of mood to play with them today. In fact, I wasn't in any kind of mood to do anything. Once the tent was up, I was finished. Anticipating another rough night, I went off and dug a couple holes. Then, I sent myself to bed without dinner. It was still sunny when I fell asleep.
|State Lakes Camp|
Day 8 August 5
State Lakes to South Fork Cartridge Creek
The night went about as expected. The stars were incredible though, and despite my misery, they brought a smile to my face every time I had to leave the tent. My body was giving me fits, but my environment was doing all that it could to keep me positive.
When morning came, I had to accept the fact that this had nothing to do with the burger I ate (my apologies to the restaurant). If I did have giardia, I had some decisions to make. Heading back to the trailhead wasn't going to do me much good as nothing there was of any use to me. In my condition, my car was a solid 4 days away at this point, and I had plans to meet Jen in 5 anyway. I toyed with the idea of dropping down to the Middle Fork trail, following that out towards South Lake. It would be easier going, but the timeline was about the same. In the end, I knew I could make it if I just stayed on the High Route proper. I wasn't too excited about going over Frozen Lake Pass in a weakened state, but if I was really hurting, I had other options. Regardless, it made the most sense to stay the course for the time being.
It was another slow morning. I forced down some breakfast, did some laundry, and headed out around 10. When I lost the trail shortly after reaching the next State Lake, I just turned north, heading cross country through open forest toward the general area of Horseshoe Lakes. When I came upon a talus shoulder, I ascended it for a view, finding the lakes lying directly below me to the north.
The descent was a little steep, but I managed to find a route down to the first lake. I turned it and continued north to Lake 10,515. I was already feeling iffy, so I took a little break here. I appreciated the mild country, which was quite different than that which I'd grown accustomed to on the first leg.
After gaining Windy Ridge, I dropped the pack again. Regardless of my state, I wasn't going to miss Windy Point. The traverse took a bit more time and effort than expected, even without a pack, but I was rewarded with an incredible view down to and across the Middle Fork. What an unbelievable sea of peaks! Even with a decent map, I'm not sure that I could have separated them all out. I took a minute to soak them in, relishing the fact that I'd soon be traveling among them, but I was definitely moving slow, so I only lingered for about a half hour. I was starting to hurt again and I needed to get a bit farther today. Windy Lake (Lake 10,236) looked incredibly inviting and I admired it as I made my way back to my pack.
|Windy Lake and basins beyond|
I'd originally wanted to camp here yesterday, but that ship sailed when I took that much needed nap in the meadows. No worries. I'll make it here again. By the time I got back to my pack, I was ready for a nap. I made my way to the little pond below Gray Pass and took another break. My lack of energy was really getting to be frustrating.
|Windy Lake from the Gray Pass Pond|
Finally, I forced myself to buck up and get to the pass. It was a good move. The South Fork of Cartridge Creek looked like another wonderland. From the pass, I saw a nice spot near a few small lakes. Another happy home. I eagerly headed down, ready to enjoy this beautiful basin and immediately felt incredibly isolated. Geographically, I wasn't far from civilization, but the nature and layout of the basin negated that. I had the world to myself again. I found one of those perfect seats near a small lake and kicked back for awhile, fully taking in my surroundings.
|South Fork of Cartridge Creek|
It was still early when I set up the tent. I had originally hoped to explore the upper basin but the energy just wasn't there. The lakes near camp were gorgeous though, and I made sure to wander around a little bit more and enjoy them before cooking dinner. I was still counting days until I could get medicine, but at least I was able to appreciate my environment.
Day 9 August 6
South Fork Cartridge Creek to Lakes Basin
Another rough night, but now I was starting to get used to it. I let the sun heat up the tent again before I got up, ate a quick breakfast, and broke camp. I thought about taking a roundabout path up to White Pass, exploring the rest of the basin along the way, but, still having no detailed maps, I decided against it. I had seen a nice direct route when I was on Gray Pass yesterday, so I went with that.
|Looking back down the basin|
I was only about ten minutes out when I heard someone yell my name. I figured I was well behind anyone I had met by now, having taken 3 days to go 2 days distance. I turned around to find John and Dan, the father/son duo I'd met on the way to Grouse Lake. They were equally surprised to find me here. They had struggled somewhat with navigation and found the going to be slower than they expected in general. I filled them in on my situation. Morale was a bit low all the way around, so we decided to hike together for awhile.
The timing could not have been better for this meet up. I already wasn't feeling well this morning and found that I was counting days, pushing myself to just complete this leg. They were struggling to locate the next passes after missing Gray Pass and coming down something awful yesterday. We were all happy to move at about the same speed on the way up to White Pass, chatting most of the way. The more we talked, the more I was distracted from my ailment, and we were all in good spirits when we made it to the top. Roper's directions to Red Pass involve dropping down a bit before heading over. I had been struggling on every uphill section so far and had no desire to lose elevation, only to gain it back again. My new friends were in agreement, so we opted to scramble along the ridge instead.
|Ridge walking toward Red Pass|
Our route worked out fine and we arrived at Red Pass in short order. I was completely blown away again. I really hadn't been expecting much from this spot, but it was, hands down, my favorite viewpoint so far. To the northwest we had the same absurd sea of peaks that we'd been keeping tabs on for the past couple days, but the real bit of amazing opened up to the northeast. The view down to Marion Lake and further into Lakes Basin was nothing short of spectacular.
|Lakes Basin from Red Pass|
We tried to locate Frozen Lake Pass, our major obstacle for tomorrow, but struggled due to our poor maps and unfamiliarity with the area. Regardless, we were all smiles as we took a nice break here. I had originally planned to head up Marion Peak, but yet again, just didn't have the energy. One by one, I was dropping all of the side trips I had planned for this leg.
The stroll down toward Marion Lake was enjoyable for the most part. Solid footing and plenty to look at. We arrived at the drop to the lake sooner than expected and worked our way over to the proper descent chute.
I think we had all picked out the same inviting grassy area on the lakeshore to have a bite to eat. When we arrived, we found the plaque placed in dedication to Helen Marion Leconte, for whom the lake was named. The lake itself is considered by many to be the jewel of Lakes Basin, and as I ate my lunch on its shore, I could see that its reputation was well earned.
|Our lunch spot on Marion Lake|
We took a nice long break here, debating whether or not we even wanted to continue on today. But, it was still early and we were all sweating the climb up to Frozen Lake Pass, so we decided to keep moving toward the "L shaped lake" another 400 feet above us.
|En route to the "L shaped lake"|
It wasn't long before we arrived at our lake and a pretty ideal campsite. We all agreed that this had been the best day of this leg by a long shot. Great company and non-stop magnificent country to enjoy. It wasn't a very long one, but we were all ready to relax. I even broke out the fly rod and played with some of the little guys in the lake. I stayed up to watch the alpenglow show before heading to bed. For the first time on this section, I went to sleep with a smile on my face.
|Home in Lakes Basin|
Day 10 August 7
Lakes Basin to Upper Basin
Tough day again. I was slow getting up, but my new friends were kind enough to hang out and let me move at my own pace. After consulting the Roper book in conjunction with my park map, I was able to locate Frozen Lake Pass. I was feeling relatively decent and these guys were headed that direction, so it seemed like the best route to take.
|Lakes Basin Camp|
I still wasn't happy about missing Dumbell and Amphitheater Basins and I kept trying to convince myself that my original route was still possible. I was getting used to the giardia now and knew what to expect from it. Mornings were always better than afternoons and evenings. I still had no appetite and when I did eat, my stomach would start bubbling like a flask on a bunsen burner before eventually seizing and cramping up, stopping me in my tracks. Every day, when I hit that inevitable wall, I'd be forced into a long break or nap. If that didn't take care of it, I was stuck setting up camp and calling it a day. I had plenty of food though, and could have taken it slow, stopping whenever necessary. The thing was, I had a friend meeting me in Dusy Basin on the 9th as well as family expecting a phone call on the 10th. There was no way I'd make those deadlines if I didn't head over Frozen Lake. I didn't want a worried family and while I'm sure my friend would have understood if I'd been a day late, I wasn't about to let her sit there waiting for me.
So, we set off around 10 again and headed up through the basin. We enjoyed the walk and found ourselves sitting at the lake below the pass at noon.
|Strolling in Lakes Basin|
We took a break and planned our route as we watched another group celebrate at the top. It seemed best to head straight up the talus to the cliff wall that we'd follow up and to the left to our notch.
|Looking up at Frozen Lake Pass|
It started well enough, as the talus was large and mostly stable. As I led us up along the cliff wall, however, it began to get looser and steeper. I cautiously made my way up, paying close attention to my footing and my two friends below. When it started getting loose to the point that I didn't trust myself anymore, I traversed onto some cliffs to my left. That's when I realized that I'd led us into a chute that took us above the cliff wall we'd seen from below. I'm still not sure how I missed the turn, but the thought of backtracking appealed to nobody, so we continued up, hoping we could find a way over to our notch. In the end, I managed to locate one little spot where we could downclimb to a point about 20 feet below the pass. From what I could see, it was the only place that this was at all reasonable. It's nice to get a bit of luck every now and again!
Once we got down, it was a stroll to the top. Wow! Another fantastic view. This one called for a bit of celebration. John and Dan called home on their sat phone to share the experience and it was all smiles all around as we danced around on our windy perch. I had originally planned to avoid this pass due to its nasty reputation. Now, I couldn't think of anywhere else I'd rather be. To the south, Lakes Basin opened all the way up leading me to wonder if we'd left it too soon.
|Dan and John on Frozen Lake Pass|
The view north toward Upper Basin was equally inviting though, and we couldn't help but get excited about what lied ahead. The descent route did look a bit formidable, but nothing that couldn't be handled.
|Looking north from Frozen Lake Pass|
After about 45 minutes, we started down, spacing out on the loose talus. I went last, which proved to be a good move as it was getting on mid-afternoon again and the evil little bastards inside me were having a celebration of their own. What should have been a tedious descent turned into pure agony. The unstable talus seemed to go on forever, both before and after the (un)frozen lake. I caught up to the others at the bottom of the awful portion, apologizing for my ridiculously slow pace and finding that John was just as frustrated as I was. How quickly a mood can change!
|The uninviting north side of Frozen Lake Pass|
We agreed that Frozen Lake does indeed deserve its nasty reputation and Mather Pass just wasn't in the cards today. We kept our eyes peeled for a campsite as we made our way down through Upper Basin, eventually finding a great spot near a few nice lakes at around 3430 meters.
|Strolling along in Upper Basin|
I was still in rough shape, but I hung out and chatted with those guys for awhile, hoping to make it long enough to see the alpenglow show that night. Alas, it was not to be. I took a few photos and went to bed without dinner again.
Day 11 August 8
Upper Basin to Glacier Creek Lake
Another night. I'm pretty sure I saw more shooting stars on this leg alone than I have in my entire life. Pretty incredible. When I awoke, John informed me that he and Dan were going to stick to the JMT for awhile in an effort to cover some distance, as they were finding themselves way behind schedule. I was a bit disappointed to be parting ways with them, but their decision made perfect sense. I think we got out a little earlier today (maybe 9:30?) and met up with the JMT almost immediately. As we neared the start of the ascent to Mather Pass, I remarked at how we hadn't seen anyone yet. Spoke too soon. We were passing people non-stop the whole way up the well graded switchbacks.
|Upper Basin from near Mather Pass|
Somehow, when we reached the top, we had it all to ourselves. Another incredible view. I caught my first glimpse of the Palisades from Deerhorn Saddle on day 2. I'd been watching them creep closer almost every day since and now, they were almost at my fingertips.
|Palisade Lakes from Mather Pass|
It was all smiles again as we began our descent toward Upper Palisade Lake. Then, a small disaster. I heard it before I felt it. My left shoulder strap was no longer up to the task. It snapped on me right then and there. This was not an easy fix. I gave it a few minutes of thought, deciding once again to cut another length off of my auxiliary rope. I figured out a way to lash it back together, a temporary fix that would hopefully last another few days. As disappointed as I was, the scenery distracted me fairly quickly and it was all smiles again as we began to near the lake. This is a magical place. As we passed other hikers plodding uphill, I couldn't help but hope that they were appreciating it as much as I was. As one guy passed, he said "Wow! Look at that smile! It must be because you're heading downhill." I threw my arms out, laughing, and said, "No, I just keep looking up!"
We took a nice break above the Upper lake before continuing along on this incredible stretch of trail. We parted ways at the foot of the exquisite lower lake. Even after my friends continued out of view, I found myself lingering, staring back upstream. I could have spent days taking in that view. I had to force myself to start heading up toward Cirque Pass.
|Lower Palisade Lake|
As I made my way up, guided by my park map and Roper's description, I had serious doubts as to whether or not I was even in the right basin. He mentions an "obvious route up gullies and slabs" that I just couldn't find. The only routes I saw involved ugly talus on the outsides and class 3/4 cliffs in the middle. I checked the map and the book (and the map in the book) multiple times as I ascended.
|Palisade Lakes from partway up Cirque Pass|
After negotiating a few of these cliffs, I found myself finishing the ascent on the slabs that I'd read about. I let out an involuntary yell as I reached the pass, then another one when I looked down into the next basin at my new home.
|Glacier Creek Lake from Cirque Pass|
Then, I saw something strange. Humans. Up to this point, I hadn't yet camped at the same lake as another party. I figured I would say hello and gauge the situation.
I picked my way down quickly and easily, arriving at the outlet of the lake in short order. I asked the two residents there for the time. It was 5:30. Plenty of time to keep going if necessary, though my body was telling me to avoid that at all costs. Then, they engaged me in a conversation and mentioned that they'd found a perfect campsite nearby with room for only one tent. They were nice enough and had no problem with my presence, so I was happy to call it home.
|Glacier Creek Lake|
Day 12 August 9
Glacier Creek Lake to Dusy Basin
Another night. I only got up once, but when I did, I couldn't help but stay outside for a little while to watch the shooting star show. I had completely forgotten about the meteor shower, but thanks to the evil bastards inside me, I still got to enjoy it. Hooray! I slept in again. No need to rush the mornings. I crawled out of the tent and cooked some oatmeal as my two friends from last night were starting up Potluck Pass. They'd had a similar experience with Cirque yesterday and this one was supposedly a bit more technical. I took it easy, running around snapping photos.
Finally, it was time to go. From below, it looked like the best route up the pass was on the climber's right. That appeared to be a steep walk up. Roper's route began on the left, following narrow ledges and such. That sounded more interesting, so I went with it. The route took a minute to locate, but once I did, it was an enjoyable traverse on ramps and ledges all the way up. Another great view. North Palisade was now directly in front of me, and for the rest of the day, he stole the show.
|Looking back from Potluck Pass|
The traverse to the next saddle and down to Barrett Lakes was a beautiful, straightforward stroll. I happily danced my way through the basin until I came down at the head of the largest lake, where I decided to stop for lunch and a quick nap. I didn't get any sleep though, as I kept hearing noises from humans on the other side of the lake. Oh well. I packed up and continued on. The first couple I passed didn't even acknowledge me when I said hello. The next group I ran into was far more friendly. I chatted with a fisherman who had just caught the biggest brookie of his life. Now I knew what all the noise was about. We compared trips and whatnot for a few minutes before I was off again. I took another break at the foot of the lake to really take in North Palisade. What a phenomenal mountain. Took some more photos that do absolutely no justice, and once again, I had to force myself to keep going. I took it nice and slow, really enjoying the walk over to the next lake and up Knapsack Pass.
I was a bit surprised at the nature of the ascent to the pass. It wasn't overly difficult or anything, but I didn't find it to be the stroll that Roper makes it out to be. Maybe I just didn't have the patience to find the perfect route.
|View back from Knapsack Pass|
At any rate, I had a look at some brand new country when I reached the pass. It was hazy, but I got a nice feel for the beginning of the next section. I took another little break before heading down into Dusy Basin. I had to backtrack a couple times on the way down, but eventually found a decent route to the beginning of some willows.
|Lower Dusy Basin|
I managed to avoid most of them as I turned north, reaching the bench lakes below Columbine Peak. More gorgeousness. It was around 5:00 and I was planning to meet a friend that night at the highest lake, so I didn't want to doddle too long. When I hit Lake 11,388, I found campers in three straight established sites on the northwest shore. I really couldn't blame them as the view across the lake was ridiculous. It's hard to believe that this place is only a day away from the trailhead.
I continued upstream to the highest lake, finding a backpack laying near the shore. As I was walking around, I looked up to see Jen coming toward me. She made it! She had already found a great campsite and I'm pretty sure we had the entire lake to ourselves. We hung out for a bit, snapped some photos, and ate a good dinner (complete with delicious boxed wine that she packed in). And of course, we watched another killer alpenglow show before getting chilly and heading for our tents.
|The end of the show|
Day 13 August 10
Dusy Basin to Bishop
|Upper Dusy Camp|
I was originally hoping to get out, resupply at Parchers Resort, then get as far back up the Bishop Pass trail as possible. Unfortunately, I needed a new backpack and medicine that neither of us had, so we were going to have to head into Bishop. We slept in a bit and rolled out of camp around 10. When we stopped for a photo shortly after reaching the trail, I noticed a couple dudes heading our way. It was John and Dan again. They had been following the JMT for the last couple days, but realized that even on the trail, they had no chance of making their original exit time. They were calling it a trip. Too bad they had to bail, but it was great to see them again. At least they seemed ok with their decision. We rolled with them up to the pass, but my stomach was already turning into a ticking time bomb, so we ran ahead on the way down.
Not a lot to say about the trail down. Very pretty, but I was completely focused on reaching the trailhead. We got there in a couple hours, but it seemed like an eternity as I was feeling worse and worse with every step. Jen hitched a ride back to her car. John and Dan showed up just as she was getting back with ice cold Gatorades for the four of us. I'm not sure that anything has ever tasted so good. They were looking to stay at Parchers, so we dropped them off on our way into town. It was nice to spend a little more time with these good people.
Bishop was a whirlwind. Got some soup, salad, and a meatloaf sandwich from a restaurant in town. We both wanted to have a few beers, so we decided to get a hotel. Did the usual chores (shower, laundry, grocery store, food) as well as a few situational ones (procure meds, buy new backpack, try weird exotic fruits). We were productive, but all that running around proved to be even more exhausting than life in the backcountry. Sleep came easy.