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Camping In The High Sierras © 1997 -


This year the Mountain Sabbatical went up from Sabrina Lake over Echo Col, Muir Pass and returned via Lamarck Col. The trip was abbreviated due to a combination of bad health and bad weather.

Our trip began at the Sabrina parking lot with a nice view of Mts. Haekel and Wallace and the tip of Clyde Spire.

After a fairly tedious up and down ramble through some fairly uninteresting lowland terrain we come out into some more vistas above 10,500 feet.

For most of this trip, the skies remained fairly gloomy, so the pix needed tweaking with Irfanview. Sometimes the sun busted through however.

As we approach the 11,000 foot level, the gorgeous and austere Alpine meadows open up.

The waterfall is the outlet for Moonlight Lake, which remained hidden until the following day.

Here the view from the tent at Sailor Lake is of Clyde Spire. The path peters out here, but the way up is over that granite hill on the left across the lake.

Another view of the granite hill and of the hidden depression that holds Moonlight Lake.

Fish in the lake did not appear to be feeding. Later we found out just why.

The next day it was up the hill for a look back at Sailor Lake.

After scrambling along the hill a look back at Moonlight Lake. The outlet is a gorge and the inlet is marsh.

This is the last bit of greenery to be had before assaulting the first terrace.

Here is a view of the tarn from a few years ago. The way up is to go high on the left and come down onto the snow of the couloir. Fortunately, people have added to the ducks we made over ten years ago for those not so versed in negotiating rock.

After getting around the tarn and crossing the first moraine and some flat snow, the final cirque comes into view. The way up is along the stone islands in the snow to the leftmost peninsula of rock, then a careful crossing up steep snow to the righthand peninsula where it becomes so steep that travel is nearly on hands and knees. We used instep crampons to traverse directly to the main jetty. The actual notch is inside the pronounced U-shaped cut on the far right. Yes, it becomes steeper and steeper to a full 90 degrees.

Here is a closer look at the notch. The refridgerator-sized boulder that blocked the way has long since fallen down, but it is still no joke getting up there. The actual passageway is barely four feet wide at top inside the U-shaped cut.

This is a look from the notch back north. It was blowing a cold gale through there and overcast.

Here is the view to the south from the notch. As you can see, it is quite narrow and steep. When we lowered the pack down, it just somersaulted and bounded down another fifty feet right out of the chute.

After fetching the pack and another thirty minutes of scrambling down, here is a look back at what we just did.

Can't see it? Here is a telephoto shot of Black Notch. The pack came to rest about where the solid granite merges with the talus.

After all that work, we turn to face The Black Giant under ominous skies.

The view from the tent door is worth the effort.

This is not the way to pitch a tent. The rainfly is on backwards.

Lake 11464. There are camp circles at the boulder down there and at the base of the peninsula. And the edge of the lake does drop precipitously through a steep talus chute.

Lunch at the lake.

Even well above 11,000 feet the Sierra summer was in full bloom in the crevasses.

Picking the correct route down or up can be either hair-raising or a simple job because of the steep cliffs that drop from the edge of the lake. The best way is to go right about 200 feet from the lake outlet and follow a minor drainage path. The route is shown in dotted red.

One joins the heavily travelled JMT as the wind began to really pick up. Here is part of the trail up to Lake Helen.

Lake Helen is a beautifully austere jewel, but substantially exposed to wind. People were hurrying through there bundled up as for a Chicago winter with the look of terror in their eyes. Someone with a Sattelite radio said 12 inches of snow was forecast. We made the decision to seek shelter because of the weather report. It was four pm, windy and cold.

Here is the view from Muir Pass during a brief sunlight episode. The hiker shown reported that Sapphire Lake was blowing up a gale so he had decided to push on to LeConte Canyon. Hikers the next day reported seeing this man still tramping at eight o'clock that night. We could all smell snow on the air.

View from inside the hut through the cracked window glass. Another rare moment of sunshine.

The Muir Hut with an unsightly figure temporarily blocking the view. Later diagnosed with pneumonia.

This is not a cute critter. It is a bandit and a rodent and far too large for a normal specimen of its species: Marmot Horribilis.

The trail down. Found out later it snowed that day in Bridgeport.

Looking back at Muir Pass.

The JMT is not all up and down. This is a look from Sapphire Lake to Wanda Pass and Mt. Goddard.

Another reason to book out of there on news of bad weather. All of these crossings become impassable for hours after storms blow through. The sign points the way to the trail.

The outlet of Evolution Lake and our old friend, The Hermit.

Camp just shy of Colby Meadow, where we anticipated crowds of hikers were seeking lowland shelter in the trees. It got cold enough that night to freeze the yellow water bucket shown.

Sierra waterslides! Well, perhaps in warmer weather . . .

Basic brookies.

Firelight and reflections.

Pennyroyal. About 10,000 feet.

One kind of paintbrush was blooming all over the place.

After a climb back up to 11,000 feet a look over Darwin's Bench.

For the tenth time, entering Darwin Canyon.

After rounding the 2nd rock bridge seen above, we found our usual camp in the rocks. We stayed there two nights, hacking and wheezing in the thin air.

But the view from camp was to die for.

The two bodies of water look level, but actually, the water in the foreground plashes down a 12 foot waterfall to the lake below. Trout live there but were refusing to feed at all because of the unusual air pressure system. One moment the sky was as clear as shown here, the next few minutes, boilermakers would be threatening overhead.

The following day, temps went into the 90's.

The following day, temps went into the 90's.

The following day, temps went into the 90's.

On Sunday we said goodbye to Darwin Canyon and headed up towards the col, taking a moment to snap this columbine blooming between the rocks at 11,800 feet.

Taking a lunchbreak midway up beside a snowbank. The most elegant of the notches to use is the one right at the furthest right where the hill dips down.

Just below the notch, a wonderfully well graded trail appears lined with bunches of this aromatic plant called "alpine gold".

Just brushing the leaves will cause a powerful scent to waft up.

At the top here is the look over to Mount Darwin.

The view northeast.

There is even a sign which has withstood all kinds of weather for well over twenty years. Click on the sign for a pleasant 10mb surprise.

The way down is over some talus and this short section of the glacier to the moraine.

Here is a better look at the notch.

The glacier is about as wide as it used to be in 1984 due to the unusually cold summer, but it still has lost a lot of weight in the middle.

Some of the snowfields have partially restored themselves, like this one. As a result, the sandy valley is well watered for this year.

Dropping down a series of terraces, with the trail becoming more pronounced along the way, we come back to treeline. While taking this picture we noticed an odd heart-shaped object above a boulder (off camera) to the right.

A closer look reveals a Sierra Valentine. . .

From this little knob, a sharp jog to the left and . . . see the trail . . .?

From that sharp point, we descend the "100 switchbacks", pausing for floral moments along the way.

Flocks of phlox.

More flocks.