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2010 Western High Sierra Backpacking Trip

Saturday, September 11, 2010

 2010 Western High Sierra Backpacking Trip Picture
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ID# SEQ-278
Angels Wings Classic Sierra Granite Massif - Sequoia National Park
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 2010 Western High Sierra Backpacking Trip

After a couple year layoff, my eighth High Sierra backpacking trip is in the books. It was the fifth with Brian Laird and our first entering from the western side of the Sierra. We did an eight day sixty mile trip starting from Crescent Meadow at the southwestern edge of Sequoia National Park. We followed the western portion of the High Sierra Trail widely known and used for doing west to east trans sierra hikes ending on the eastern side at Whitney Portal including a summit of Mt Whitney. The western side of the Sierra offers very different topography from the east. Access to the high country is much more gradual adding elevation over a twenty mile distance rather than the monster nearly straight up first day passes found on the eastern side. The first two days are spent hiking through heavily forested areas with numerous creek crossings so there is little need to carry more than a quart of water at a time. The trailhead actually begins in a Giant Sequoia grove.

We followed the High Sierra Trail as it slowly gains elevation before climbing rapidly over the last five miles, topping out at the Kaweah Gap (11,000) some twenty one miles in from the trailhead. The last few miles between Hamilton Lake and the gap are some of the most scenic I have yet seen in the Sierra. Numerous sections of trail have been carved out of the nearly vertical granite terrain. At one point a tunnel was required, built by coal miners, its the only one in the Sierra. From here our planned route had been to continue east the next day cross country over a second much more difficult pass called Pyra-Queen Col to access a very remote area called Kaweah Basin but the Sierra had other ideas. As we reached the top of Kaweah Gap, the first low pressure system of the year closed in around us. We found ourselves inside swirling clouds, visibility went from unlimited to maybe thirty feet and within minutes the temperature plummeted. Dropping off the east side of the pass, still in limited visibility, we setup camp in Nine Lakes Basin. Here is why I like backpacking with Brian. Here we were at high elevation in frigid conditions not knowing if we would wakeup to a couple feet of snow on the ground and Brian has a big smile on his face while cooking dinner.

We woke to extremely cold conditions but the front had cleared through and the signature late season sierra blue skys had returned. Not knowing if another front could be on its way, we decided to go to plan-b with the itinerary. Rather than placing another thirteen thousand foot pass between us and home we continued following the High Sierra Trail south down a huge glacially formed valley called Big Arroyo and then west into upper Little Five Lakes. At our turn around point we were some twenty eight miles in from the trailhead.

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