Cottonwood to Shepherd Pass, 7 day Sierra Hike, 1969
This would be called a section hike today, because we hiked on a section of the famous John Muir Trail. We called it a Sierra hike in those days, because we tried to avoid the JMT, and enjoy lakes and valleys not on the JMT. When you hike the JMT you rarely have the energy to get into these areas, and just have to focus on doing the JMT mileage. We fished, climbed peaks, goofed off, and explored. We cooked bread and fish over open fires. Below: view of Langley from the Cottonwood Lakes. I swear this tree is still there in 2016, 45 years later.
Sat: depart Cottonwood roadhead and proceed up Cottonwood Creek past Golden Trout Camp to South Fork Lakes area for camp (5 miles).
Sun: Ascend basin to New Army Pass for commanding view of Kern Basin and Trench as well as the Owens alley and Sierra Crest. Descent into Rock Creek basin past Rock Creek Lake, down the canyon to the 9600 ft elevation for camp (9.5 miles).
Mon: Cross Guyot Creek to Guyot Pass. Hike to Crabtree Meadow and up the creek to Crabtree Lakes for camp (9 miles). Layover day here.
Wed: hike back down Crabtree Creek to the meadow and join John Muir Trail. Proceeding North to Wallace Creek and climb Wallace Creek valley to timberline campsite (9 miles) near Wallace Lake. Layover at Wallace Lake.
Fri: return to John Muir Trail and hike to Wright Creek, hike up the creek to timberline for camp (6 miles).
Sat: cross country over the ridge dividing Wright and Tyndall Creeks until we meet the Shepherd Pass Trail. Then proceed over Shepherd Pass and descend to Anvil Camp (5 miles.
Sun: Descend the eastern Sierra escarpment to the Symmes Creek roadhead. (7 miles) .
We started hiking before noon from the Cottonwood Pack Station. As we ascended we paralleled Cottonwood Creek much of the way and had lunch on its banks. Byron, Wendy, and I got started late after lunch and ambled slowly up the trail. For quite a while it had been threatening to rain and finally it burst on us. We put on our ponchos and continued for a short distance. At a convenient log we sat to wait out the storm in comfort. Byron's waterproof jacket wasn't enough to keep him dry so he wrapped up in a tube tent and we just sat in the rain, immensely enjoying the storm. Soon two couples came down the trail on horseback, obviously fleeing the storm and having a miserable time in the rain.
We decided to get to camp fast and get out of the mosquitoes so the three of us rocketed up the trail. We met the others where they had stopped to rest and four or five of us went up a small ridge and had a nice rest with a good view of Langely and some twisted foxtail pine trunks.
When we returned to our packs the others had gone and we joined them shortly at camp. This was near South Fork Lake, although the lake was not in sight. Our camp was in large well spaced trees with a thick carpet of pine needles and debris. We shared a fire with Wally’s group for a supper. Before supper Wendy, Mike and myself hiked a few miles to Muir Lake. At the lake we had the fantastic reflections we had hoped for but were being eaten alive by mosquitoes.
The lake and the meadow area around it proved to be awesomely beautiful as I remembered from a trip there a few years earlier. What a fantastic place and who better to share it with than Mike and Wendy. Even though I was prepared as to what to expect I found it hard to believe the view we had seen. We reluctantly returned to camp, where the others were ready to eat. Beef stroganoff for supper flavored by Wendy's bell peppers. The clouds had abated and we spent a quiet night under the pines. Below: our breakfast: fritters, bacon, eggs, no stove.
Sunday: Breakfast of delicious egg omelets cooked by Wendy, spiced with cheese and bell peppers. Bacon next, and then deep fat fried biscuits (which we called Sierra fritters) and honey. Wally, Conrad, and Byron left early to climb Cirque peak by a cross country route. Wendy and I were the last to leave camp. We went slowly cross country to Long Lake, where we rejoined the trail. After some small lakes and waterfalls above the lake the trail became very dry and hot. We took many rest stops before we rejoined the others on top of Army Pass. From the pass we could see Wally and crew on Cirque peak, and had a very good view of Mt. Whitney and Langely. The rocks on the pass showed horizontal cracks from the release of pressure when the very heavy. glaciers melted off them. below: near the top of Army Pass.
We strung out on the descent of Army Pass with Wendy and myself pretty much at the rear, and we regrouped at a small stream for lunch. We talked a little about geology with Ron Bisio before he split. For once Wendy and I weren't last to leave, but were followed by Jim. We entered a nice green valley and we stopped and waited for Jim. He and I took pictures of the stream before the three of us continued. As Jim left to catch up to the main group we found ourselves alone with the mosquitoes in some cathedral like groves of trees. We then entered a glacial valley with very steep walls, still alone and I took some pictures of a chipmunk as the skeeters were just killing us. We were in Rock Creek.
We continued toward the head of the valley, by a lake with a very deep blue color and met the others as they turned around and started back down. Apparently we had missed the trail back where I was taking pictures of the chipmunk and taken a wrong turn up the dead end valley. We found the right trail but found that it was largely destroyed by the hard winter. We went down through brush to a large meadow on Rock Creek, still pursued by mosquitoes. We came to a stream we couldn’t cross, so I went upstream to look for a crossing. We could find no way so just waded across by the side of a perfectly still lake, with large trees on either side and billowy clouds reflected in the water. Fantastic.
We were all beginning to tire as evening deepened and were all anxious for camp. We passed through an avalanche area and onto a meadow where we were again confronted with a stream. This we took off our boots and waded the knee deep rushing water. Very cold and with sharp rocks, but we were rewarded by a refreshing wade and rest stop. We took off and shortly met Wally at Big Rock Creek. He, Byron and Conrad had come straight from Cirque Peak and Wally directed us up the other bank of the creek to camp. We rested a bit them prepared supper after a swim. We had supper of chili mac with taco sauce and pumpernickel break. He finally joined us but didn’t eat much. Conrad caught fish, nine in less than an hour, but poor Tim didn’t have such luck. That night Wendy, Byron and I had a good view of the myriads of stars of the Milky Way, and saw a constellation we had named on another backpack, the Chickenfoot constellation.
Monday: This morning I ate with Wally, Byron and Bill Bridwell so Wally, Byron and myself could get an early start for an unnamed peak south of us. We got off to a good start after a meager breakfast of french (melba) toast. We crossed a couple of streams and then began to really haul on the rocky slope. Wally figured that our elevation gain per hour was 1600. Near the peak Byron and I jogged trying to reach the peak in 1 hour, 30 minutes. Byron was 0ne minute short, I was a minute behind him, and Wally was 2 min. behind me. I tried my delayed shutter release on the summit block. We viewed the Kern Trench and Picket Guard Peak on the other side. For an unnamed peak this one sure had a good view of the entire Sierra. After a short rest we began the descent. Byron and I got started talking about the experiment I was doing to measure physical changes caused by the trip and he told me about the heart machines they use at San Jose State to measure the strength and conditioning of a person’s heart. Apparently this machine can detect pulse changes due to oncoming illness (colds, flue, etc) lack of conditioning, or good conditioning.
We overlooked camp and backtracked to the log crossing, still conversing. Ours were the only packs in camp and we were on our way in minutes. After some hard climbing over Guyot Pass we really hauled through big stands of foxtail pine. Above Crabtree Meadow we began a long traverse so that we wouldn’t lose so much altitude and found this a very tiring route. After at least 2 hours of hard cross country boulder hopping we stopped or a rest at a small lake. On the map this shows as a meadow with a stream but apparently the high water this year made it a lake. We deduced that the lake where we were to meet the others was about 300’ above us, over a ridge. We began circling the lake when I heard a voice. At the far end of the lake there seemed to be people in the trees. I couldn’t tell if they were our people until I saw Wendy. We circled the lake and found them just setting up camp. Man, was I ever glad to see them and be able to rest. We started tea water and all had a nice swim in the lake. I found that I had a very large blister and hobbled around barefoot all evening. As sunset approached the pines on the other side of the lake became tinted with the gold of alpenglow and the face of the cliff stood out in relief from the shadows and lines. Truly this is the range of light. Our view of infinity was framed by pines tonight, not too tightly, but just right.
Tuesday: This was a layover day at Crabtree Lakes. Everyone took off for their goal for the day: Byron to run the trail to Mount Whitney (18 miles) Wally and Dean Ranger to climb Hale, Young and Hitchcock, the fisherman to fish the lakes above us, and Mike, Wendy and I to explore the lakes above us. The camp seemed to explode as everyone packed a lunch and some gear and took off for the day. Mike grew impatient and said he would meet us at the upper lakes, and he was off. Wendy and I packed my flower books, Wendy’s notebook, our lunches, and headed up to the upper lakes. We explored the flowers and waterfalls on the way up to the first Crabtree Lake. There we met Ron Bisio as he fished in the outlet of the lake. The lake was very big, with a giant cliff on the other side. We continued up and met Jim Lawrence below a series of long water falls. We talked with him and were soon on our way up. About halfway up the falls I could see Mike sitting and waiting for us, but by the time we got there he was gone again. Evidence of the glacial past were evident in the form of glacial polish, rounded ridges on the rocks, glacial erratics, and in the shape of the valley itself.
At the uppermost of the Crabtree lakes we finally caught up with Mike. I came over the last ridge and saw him sitting on a rock just off shore. He didn’t say anything but motioned to the water. When I saw what was there I was amazed. Hundreds of big red trout, some 15 inches long were just swimming along the shore and in the shallows of the lake. Wendy and I joined Mike on the rock, and had lunch surrounded by hundreds oflong sleek trout. They were not darting around as usual, but just cruising, like they were out for a Sunday drive and we were the most interesting thing around. This is the spawning season, and they were either preparing to spawn or had just done it. We found that the fisherman were having no luck when Conrad and Tim joined us. Ron and Jim arrived and were equally amazed, hopeful, persistent, and frustrated. After lunch Wendy headed down and everyone else split for places unknown. I had the lake to myself and just relaxed around the shore. After a few hours people began showing up and I headed down to our camp with Ron and Jim, taking pictures, looking at flowers, and talking on the way.
We met a forest ranger who was heading up to Crabtree Lake because he had heard of some people who had been catching fish by gaffing them, which is totally illegal. They had been in our camp the previous night, and gave us some big fish, which we had eaten. Jim and I went on back to camp, where we were soon joined by Byron returning from his work out. He said he was exhausted but managed to try one of Wendy’s oatmeal cookies before collapsing. Next we had popcorn balls for a before supper snack and gave Wally and Jim a taste. Wally and Dean were also very tired from the three peaks they had climbed that day. We took another swim before supper.
Wendy and I talked Byron into going up to the lake above us to see the trout so after an early supper we started off. We arrived at the first lake as the sky in the West turned gold, were climbing the falls as it deepened, and were at the lakes as it turned a light purple. Violet turned a darker purple as we took pictures of the falls on the way down and purple turned cobalt blue as we came into camp. One of the best spent hours of my life. We got beautiful pictures but the didn’t capture the shades of the sky and rocks.
Wednesday: I felt lazy today. I got up late and we made breakfast of eggs and bacon. Byron, Wendy and Conrad and I were the last to leave camp. We descended the trail to Crabtree Meadow and circled it, passing a camp of many Sierra Club people on a group hike. Shortly after that we joined the John Muir Trail and passed Jim, and we met him and everyone else later at a stream for lunch. Everyone but Mike that is, who had apparently charged ahead of the group. After lunch Wally, Byron, Dean, Wendy and I went down to the stream below us and met Mike. The others went by a cross country route to a lake near Wales and Wallace lakes. The rest of us hiked down the trail into the Kern River Trench . This trail started at Wallace Creek and is now the High Sierra Trail. As we descended we passed through several life zones, finally reaching transitional, which probably continued to the river. This zone is characterized by Juniper trees, grasses, manzanita, buckwheat, and is a fairly dry and arid life zone. After descending 2000 feet we were disappointed by the not so mighty river, so we retraced our path to Wallace Creek.
We picked up our packs where we had left them and began to head toward the Wallace Lake. Shortly after that we were swarmed by gangs of mosquitoes that were the most vicious we’d met on this trip. They couldn’t be avoided. Finally we escaped them and had a peaceful rest on rocks by a slab waterfall. Our view of the Kaweah peaks seemed perfect from here, and we all dozed off for a nap.
When we again got moving we found that we were all very stiff and tired. Also we weren’t exactly sure of precisely where we were. In hopes of getting a better view we wearily climbed a ridge on the side of the valley and searched in vain for sign of Jim and the others. The distribution and size of the lakes has been very much changed by the heavy runoff and there were many new lakes and changed outlines. Still confused by the topography we started to descend with the thought in mind that we might have to camp soon wherever night overtook us. I tried a last ditch effort, and pulled out my compass, which is a sure sign of desperation. As I was oriented the map, someone said that they saw Jim. We looked and on the rocky plain below us we saw Jim and Ron and a few others of our group. They were still carrying their packs, so they must have been confused by the terrain also. We trudged down and joined them near a stream in the skeeter infested tundra. When Jim told us, between swats, that we were to camp here, I was at once glad to be home, and sad to be camping in such an area of skeeters. But when I heard that we were going to have a layover day here, I wasn’t real happy. My group made a fire on a ridge of rock above camp, hoping to catch a breeze to blow the mosquitoes away. Minus several quarts of blood we went to bed early, planning to get up early and get the hell out of camp for the day. I slept, or tried to sleep with my parka over my face to keep out the mosquitoes.
Thursday. This day was a layover day, a day of exploration and fishing. After a very short breakfast Wendy, Byron,, Mike and I took off up a high ridge of rock south of camp. We were free mosquitoes and we found some nice pools and cascades on the other side. At last free of the hated skeeters we relaxed and lay in the sun. Wendy and Mike headed upstream as Byron and I lay on either side of a fall and dozed. After a few hours I headed up and found Mike at Wales Lake, a very large and high altitude lake ringedon three sides by steep cliffs. A look at what we thought we Russell convinced us that it was worthy of an attempt to climb it, and we judged that we could climb it without difficulty.
Below: Wales Lake.
We started off for the peak pretty unprepared. I had left my pack down with Byron at the falls, it was already close to noon, and we would have to share Mikes extra clothes, food, and water. I talked to Wendy a few minutes and we split. Our route took us through a notch in a cliff, over ice fields, and we finally reached the peak after several false summits and some 3rd-4th class climbing. A spectacular view of Whitney, Russell to the immediate east of us, and the Kern trench to the west. And the cobalt jewel of Tulyinyo Lake, surrounded by barren rock on one side and steep rubble cliffs on three other sides. It remained mostly frozen over and exquisitely serene and peaceful.
We had a swift standing glissade during which we tried to see who would fall the least. This band of snow took us almostall the way off the peak and we found ourselves on an artic plateau. After following a stream through this tundra area Mike and I became separated as I began the descent of some giant boulders. I thought he was behind me but later found that he had stopped to eat. I reached Wales Lake and saw above me two figures climbing the ridge we had climbed earlier. One was obviously Conrad but I couldn’t make out the other one. I shouted but they didn’t hear me. Mike was so far behind I began to get worried and sat and waited a long time for him. I contemplated going back for him but this would have just gotten us even more mixed up if we had missed each other. I went down to the falls and waited. No sign of Wendy there, but her walking stick was there so I knew she would likely come back to this spot.
After half an hour or so Mike came down and we rested on warm rocks in the sun, the falls calming our nerves and an occasional drift of mist cooling us. Soon Byron and Wendy came down, and we found that they had climbed Tunnabora Peak. Wendy’s description of the view of Owen’s Valley sounded great and Mike and I decided to climb it, or at least go to Tulyinyo lake. In her Scottish burl Wendy said something like “aye, an truly, ya should na due that very thin.” But we were off and on our way, this time with both or our packs and food, water and clothing for both of us. As we ascended the notch in the cliff we met Conrad and Jim coming down from Tulyinyo Lake. They told us the lake was a big dissappointment, mostly iced up, as we had seen from our peak, and devoid of life. We talked awhile, then continued, reaching the lake without difficulty. At the lake we ate and started the ascentof Tunnabora, what looked like an easy class 2. I had become very tired and had to stop to rest and was exhausted by the time we reached the peak, but what a view rewarded us. To the East a very sheer drop off to Owens Valley, sough the crystal blue emerald of Tulyinyo Lake, and west of the heartland of the Sierra. Our stay had to be short because the sun was soon to set, so we signed in after Wendy and Byron and began a traverse of the summit ridge that would put us on the tundra flats. The view of Mount Carrillon reflected in the blue of Tulyinyo and surrounded by the brown bleakness of glacial moraines and polishes was truly impressive and tired as we were becoming we immensely enjoyed this traverse of Tunnabora Peak.
We arrived at the falls at sunset and were met by Byron and Wally, who had come to swim. We went down the ridge in semi-darkness and were greeted by the others. Wendy had prepared supper and we gratefully enjoyed our mosquito flavored food. “Aye an truly, I should no ha doon it.” I said as I placed my creaking body gently on a rock. “Aye an truly, for its on the morrow that you’ll be in pain.” Wendy replied, “ee its nobodies fault but yoor oon." Too tired to fight mosquitoes , we went to bed early and planned for a hasty retreat out of the Hellhole. However, this layover day had turned out to be the best day we’d had in terms of scenery and total enjoyment for all. The fishermen had good luck at Wallace Lake and Wally, Dean and Rob climbed Barnard and Trojan Peaks.
Friday: After a sleep of the dead, we awoke to a fast breakfast augmented by fish donated by the fisherman. Wally, Mike, and some others left early, planning to meet us at camp for that night, a high treeless lake. Our route was cross country over a ridge and down into a wide glacial valley, the Wright Lakes Valley. We went slow for a change, keeping together. On the top of the ridge we passed through the ruins of an ancient forest. Even in death and decay they trees remained strong and beautiful, their bark stripped and their cinnamon colored wood warm to the eye. We took several rest stops and thoroughly enjoyed the restful pace and conversation. In the bottom of the glacial trough we crossed a stream and headed up broad fields of little lupines into a stand of large foxtail pines for another rest.
Above this we left our packs and headed up to a lake indicated on the topo to take a swim. Here we met Wally and decided to camp. The lake was high and cold, although protected from wind, and perfectly treeless. Wally assured us that there were no mosquitoes but I think he exaggerated. We started lunch but before I could finish Wally was hot to trot for a peak east of camp. Wally, Wendy , Byron, Dean and I struck off for a very swift climb. Wendy was sure she was holding us back but I was certainly puffing too and Dean beat us all to the peak by a long ways. We had a great view of the inner Sierra and the fast enclosing clouds. To our north was a big dropoff and a terrible knife edge to Tyndall Peak. We descended to camp and enjoyed a cold swim. At this time in the eveningthe sun reflected strongly against the water and we took several pictures using Mikes diffusing gradient. This was perhaps the first camp where we seemed to operate as a unified group. We made a cooperative effort with Conrad with our date nut bread after supper, and Wendy showed them how to make oatmeal cookies. Supper of Turkey primavera and dumplings. We had a campfire well into the night at Jim’s fire. I think I may have been too critical of Wally’s cooking over the previous days, but tonight I’ll never forget when Wally brought his pot of biscuits over to the campfire as the other two groups enjoyed Conrad’s date nut bread. Wally split his bread among his group and Byron showed me his. Black on the outside and not cooked on the inside. Wally said that he had never seen a meal that something couldn’t be saved from, as he scooped biscuit dough out of the black shell and threw the rest in the fire. I thought I’d better cool it and didn’t say a word as we ate our bread and shared some of cookies with him, but I sure am glad Wendy was in my group and not Wally. After the campfire Byron, Wendy and I stumbled around looking for a sleeping site, and finally had to sleep on the fields of small rocks. We talked late into the night and hoped the fringes of clouds would not rain on us.
Saturday: Byron and I got up, or rather woke up, before dawn and waited for a perfect picture of the rosy tint on Mt. Whitney. Some time later we got up and my group had breakfast of delicious pancakes, fresh apple slices, and bacon. The three of us were again the last to leave camp and saw the others from a low pass looking into a broad glacial valley. We descended into the valley between Diamond Mesa and Tyndall Pk, and hiked through the Husdonian meadow for an hour or so. The bleak tundra-like meadow was the stage for our performance of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea (I was Clark), as well as French trappers, Runners of the woods, Basque shepherds, Swiss shepherds, Scottish hilanders, Austrian crossing the Alps fleeing from the Naziis and Spaniards crossing the Pyrenees fleeing Franco. Senor Lowry wanted to sacrifice his life and hold off los federales while Wendy and I fled but I wouldn’t have it. Either we all made it or none of us would. Viva La Republica! This was our best one act play because as we neared the pass and the French border we saw that some Frenchmen were there and would lead us safely off the mountains and find shelter for us on the way. After a short rest all but Mike and I left. We rested a long time and then headed to Tyndall, a big impressive14,000+peak of the range.
We climbed the north face over good class three rock, mostly friction climbing. We hurriedly signed in with lightning flashing on neighboring peaks and the thunderhead bearing down on us as we scurried down. Just above the ice field I kicked loose a bed sized rock that sent several other good sized rocks with it onto the ice field. They missed Mike by 20 feet or so. We picked up our packs at Shepherd Pass and had a good long glissade down the pass.
We joined the others at Shepherd Creek in a pleasant little glen by the creek. For several hours we loafed, wrote in notebooks, and took pictures of columbines and larkspur before Wally, Dean, and Bill got back from climbing Kieth. We had another fantastic supper including popcorn and apricot nut bread for dessert. Another quiet time of the evening at small campfires before we got to bed late in the night or early in the morning.
Sunday: Although I would have advised a novice to string a tube tent that night, I was lazy and chose to defy the black clouds that blocked the stars, and several hours later awoke to a cold shower. Still undaunted or perhaps just stubborn, I struggled inside my tube tent without stringing it and without even getting out of my bag. I suffered in silence for several hours as the wind beat the wet plastic against my face and slowly soaked my bag. As it started to get light I decided it would be more comfortable to get up and get a fire going for a fast start out. Jim and Wally were already up and preparing to bomb out to the cars. An hour after they left people began to get up and we had a fast breakfast before we hit the trail
Jim and Wally say they hauled but they couldn’t have gone much faster than we did. We were shaded by the remnants of last nights storm and probably went too fast to enjoy the colored rock walls around the gorge. We crossed over to the Symnes Creek watershed and barreled down to Symmes Creek. This area was pleasant but could not compare to the High Sierra we had left. I was sad that we had to come down so soon. I didn’t suffer form any craving for food that I had the last year.
The cars were parked in a sagebrush area, near Symmes Creeek. We found that Jim and Wally had left our clean clothes for us near the parking lot but couldn’t find the cokes till someone looked under the clothes. We washed in the cold water and admired each others blisters. Mike had some good ones, but mine were really much nicer. Feeling totally refreshed we put on clean clothes, combed our hair, and stared at the strange, clean civilized people around us. As we sat there in our contentedness it began to rain. For 45 minutes we sat in the rain and looked at each other and talked. Wally and Jim showed up in the van only. Jim’s car had run out of gas. We packed into the van and tooled to Austin’s drug store in Independence for the much anticipated milk shakes. Byron and I got two to go also and stashed them in the van’s icebox. We met at Dirty Sox hot springs for a swim in the slime pool, although some of us refrained. On the trip back Wendy, Byron and I sat back in the van and feasted on figs, shepherds bread, cokes and the milk shakes, accompanied by Simon and Garfunkel and the Dance of the Shaherizad. We got back to Lancaster in the afternoon and everyone split for hot showers and home cooking.