1997 Leader's Report Trip Number 97154
Trip Name: GATES OF VALHALLA
Number Of Paid Participants: 12
Dates: JULY 21-29, 1997
Staff: Leader - Jim Watters
Assistant Leader - Kathie Brock
Maps: 7.5 Minute Series
Triple Divide Peak
I. TRIP AREA:
National Park or Forest(s): Sequoia National Park
Daily Camp Elevation Ascent Descent Mileage 1. Sugarbowl View 7,500' 1,600' 1,300' 9.0 2. Hamilton Lake 8,200' 1,000¹ 300' 6.5 3. ‹layover- 4. Big Arroyo 10,100' 2,500' 600' 4.5 5. Little Five L. 10,400' 900' 700' 6.5 6. -layover- 7. Cliff Creek 7,100' 1,200' 4,500' 6.5 8. Sugarbowl View 7,500' 2,000' 1,500' 10.8 9. Crescent Mdw. 7,100' 700' 9.2 Totals For Each Catcgory 9,200' 9,600' 53.0
TOTAL MILES 53.0
POW SYSTEM SCORE: 8.9
Panorama from Panther Gap
An eerie Valhalla
Abundance of wildflowers
Big Arroyo campsite
Redwood Meadow and Big Trees
Blackrock Pass trail
View from Blackrock of step-down lakes Columbine, Cyclamen and Spring.
IV. AREA REGULATION:
(Comment on travel camping restrictions imposed by regulatory authority; any prevailing group size limitations; impact.)
Park Service wants used toilet paper carried out.
Campers urged to camp where there are bear boxes.
No fires in most High Sierra Trail campsites.
Group size limited to 15
(Problems, if any, associated with the trip area.)
Buck Creek trail crossing being repaired, and new bridge under construction. Stock able to access Bearpaw area via High Sierra Trail since 7/30. High Sierra Traii above Hamilton Lake blocked by boulders. A mile stretch of the Cliff Creek trail washed out below Pinto Lake.
VI. VERBAL SUMMARY OF TRIP (daily diary):
We had heard that Sequoia Park had been rainless for many weeks. With our arrival this would change.
The trip started at Wolverton trailhead in order to get the expansive view of the Middle Kaweah canyon from Panther Gap. Payback comes with 1,500 feet extra climb, and 1,300 feet descent to intersect the High Sierra Trail at its 6-mile mark. The wonder of this special view never diminishes! In mid afternoon rain began gently, but soon warranted the putting on of pack covers and parkas. It stopped before camp was reached, however. The spot at Nine-mile Creek was full, which was a plus. We moved on to an extensive granite outcrop I refer to as Sugarbowl Overlook. Ellen S., a cautious hiker who favored one knee, slowed the group pace noticeably. We'd left Wolverton at 10:15, and arrived in camp at 5:15. Actual hiking time: about 5 hours.
Buck Creek's banks took a heavy scouring in January, wiping out both trail and bridge. A repair crew had installed taut climbing ropes to help hikers safely up a crude path on the east embankment. At Bearpaw Meadow threatening weather obscured the famous view into the Great Western Divide, and we did not linger. From there the trail descends through flower gardens and occasionally along narrow ledges to "River Valley" before starting to wind up Hamilton Creek to our "Gates of Valhalla". We paused for lunch on the bench above the grand waterfall, only to be interrupted by more rain. Light showers persisted through the afternoon. In my trip brochure I had waxed lyrically about the enshrouding peaks of Wagnerian Valhalla. Well, that was exactly what we got; a picture and mood fulfilled! The rain became intense at Hamilton Lake during the night.
We had covered our camp kitchen with a tarp. At get up time rain was falling hard. The word went out that we would delay breakfast an hour. When rain did not quit, I decided we would hole up for the morning then decide whether or not to leave for Kaweah Gap. The storm did not let up; we stayed put all day. I, myself, spent most of this day under the tarp hugging my sopping wet sleeping bag. Eventually, body warmth made the bag look dry. A few rays of sun came through at six p.m., too late to do more than raise spirits.
A delightful morning, clear and fresh! The wildflowers spread before us, and the hiking was a joy on the meandering trail. A coyote caught our attention as it explored an ice peninsula in the upper Hamilton Lake. Precipice Lake, typically frozen, matched the many photographs I have seen of it this way. I chose a campsite well up in the Big Arroyo where the view is exquisite. People pay the Bear-Paw Camp people $140.00 a night for accommodations and its view. Our vista, I figure, was worth twice that. Clouds built up to enhance the scene, but dissipated by evening.
I formed a plan to make up for the "lost" day at Hamilton Lake. This morning would be a half layover in Nine Lake Basin (no one was disposed to do any climbing). After lunch we would hike down five miles to Little Five Lakes where the next day would be a full layover. To compensate, our trip then would leave the high country over Blackrock Pass rather than "Hands and Knees Pass" which links Big Five Lakes to Spring Lake. Big Five could, however, be visited on the Layover. The hitches in this design were minor. First of all, the afternoon hike before us was to be six and a half miles ending on the uphill; and we lost time wading streams three times. We camped among the second, or farther, group of Little Five Lakes at 5:30, far more tired than expected. Weather held.
A fine day for laying over; altogether clear skies in the morning, and lasting most of the day. A few were content to "walk around the lake". Four set off for Mt. Eisen, while a number elected to hike to Big Five Lakes for sunning and swimming. The local ranger was away on patrol according to a note left at the station. She did not return during our stay. I did not do the Eisen climb, and from reports I have the impression our gang did not reach the true summit. No register or benchmark was located on top, and my impression is that our climbers were not gone long enough to reach the high point. I hope I am wrong; I held my tongue.
The trip had 2 days to go to the cars, some of which had been shuttled to Crescent Meadow. My decision to shuttle to Crescent Meadow instead of the much lower Moro Creek, was done for practical reasons, and violated one of my trip planning credos, which is that one does not repeat any trail segment. We had twenty-eight miles to travel, of which five were repetition. I wanted to be as close as conditions allowed to Redwood Meadow this Sunday night, then the "overlook" Monday night. We fell short by four miles, camping on Cliff Creek at the Timber Gap Trail junction, in cramped quarters. The weather ended on a gloomy note, but brought no precipitation.
A few turns in the trail above Redwood Meadow we find ourselves in a grove of "Giants", which is to say a grove of Sequoias far from any road. The isolation makes this fine display so very special; in a sense it is the backpackers' own. A patrol cabin at Redwood Meadow heightens the isolation further. It is old; well built, well maintained, but of a design from another time. Bears have scratched at it, showing their displeasure, I suppose, toward an edifice they cannot access. From the meadow the signs point it to be 4.8 miles up to Bearpaw Meadow via Little Bearpaw Meadow. After that, two more miles to go today. So, it begins raining again at noon, lasting until late afternoon. We hang out briefly on the porch at the Bearpaw lodge awhile, waiting for the rain to stop, and drinking cokes at $4.00 a pop. Weather clears all at once, and we are on our way to camp two miles farther. A large bear is seen scrounging for grubs on the outskirts of camp. He or she does not come in to bother us. We have had no bear encounters all trip, although plenty of scat is seen.
We rise earlier than usual, eat an abbreviated breakfast, and head out the nine remaining miles. Take-off time: 7 a.m. As promised, the group made it to the cars before noon, 11:5O to be precise. It was all sunshine for us going out, although we were followed closely by storm clouds. By one o'clock rain fell at Lodgepole Visitor Center, and the lesser gods were rolling their bowling balls along the crest peaks.
The group jelled, and no one suffered any injury worth a footnote. I believe we delivered all that we'd promised, and more.