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2017 Sept Sierra Hike

High Sierra Trail from Crescent Meadow to the Chagoopa Plateau and the Red Spur.

This is a work in progress


While on the JMT last year with Rick I met a fellow with a mule camped at Grouse Meadow. He mentioned that there was a log at the top of the Red Spur range, so I thought I would take a look.


Daughter Marin, grandson Jon, and his friend Vincent decided to tag along for the first few days. They arrived at the Lodgepole campground campsite at dusk Sept 10 with windshield wipers going. Despite the drizzle, we had a couple of smores, heavy on the chocolate. I was up early and left from Crescent Meadow on the HST about 2 hours ahead of them. This year the gnats were quite bothersome all the way to Bearpaw Meadow, our first campsite.

Bearpaw is the pits. Water out of the single faucet is tinged yellow, all the sites are on a steep slope, and you have to contend with noisy neighbors. You have to walk down, down, down to get to the campsites; which means you have to walk up, up, up to get out of the pit. On the good side: there is a toilet. I again left early the next morning. It was a long climb up to Lower Precipice Lake, our second campsite. Just as I was getting there a helicopter zoomed up to dropped off a medic. A hiker was suffering from heart pains. The fog rolled in about that time so they had to wait till morning to evacuate him. Marin and boys coming up later in the fog missed the lake on first pass and had to come back a bit. Next morning, Wed. Sept 13, we got videos of the rescue helicopter with the stunning landscape as a backdrop. I was on all no-cook food. The delicious hot cup of coffee I had with Marin was the last warm ingestable I had for the rest of the trip.


2017 sept 005
On the High Sierra Trail: Little Blue Dome about a mile from Nine Mile Creek on the way to Bearpaw Meadow.


2017 sept 006
Buck Creek Bridge. Descent to the creek has a lot of steep stone steps; is quite wearisome. I always like to take a picture of this bridge with my hiking pole for comparison.


2017 sept 007
Marin, Jon, and Vincent with a late dinner. Notice the slope. I usually do not camp in populated areas; someone always seems to be talking. A person in the far tent was using an inflatable matress that squeaked whenever they moved.


2017 sept 027
Next day at Hamilton Lake. These three old-timers were at Bearpaw. Did a day-hike up to the lake just to go swimming. It was cold, but you can tell that they really enjoyed the experience.


2017 sept 032
Approaching Lower Precipice Lake campsite 2. Helicopter just beat the fog in to drop off a medic and then fly out. A hiker reported chest pains. Medic stayed overnight until the chopper could return in the morning. Fog was in and out all night, but clear enough at 8 in the morning to land and pick up the hiker.


2017 sept 003
Next morning was much clearer. Hiker got helped out to the Helicopter. This was the second Helicopter event I had seen this year. The first was in July at Bishop Pass.


2017 sept 042
Hot coffee in the morning with Marin. She was trying out her new tarp-tent. Soon after we split up. Marin and company did get up to Precipice Lake, which is a must-see, and Kaweah Gap. Then they went back and climbed to Tamarack Lake where they had some spectacular fishing.


2017 sept 046
View north-east at Kaweah Gap. In 2004 I climbed over 'Pants' Pass, just left of center. It was my first long solo hike in the sierras; a great thrill. I intended to come back over Pyra Queen Col but couldn't find the pass. Ended up exiting Kaweah Basin over Kaweah Pass. In 2015 I returned to Pyra Queen Col, this time making a successful west-to-east trip.

At this point I left the youngsters and headed for the Chagoopa plateau on my own. Past the marvelous Precipice Lake, over Kaweah Gap and down 'Big' Arroyo. The river crossing was OK, but the cold made my feet ache. I climbed up along the HST to about a mile from where I would start the off-trail hike. I was tired, so I made camp 3 near a lovely meadow and a clear-running creek.

Negotiating Chagoopa Plateau

2017 Sept 000
Off-trail path across plateau to Red Spur mostly misses boulder fields

The Chagoopa plateau can be difficult. It seems like one big rock pile at times. I enter just after the HST split down to Moraine Lake. After crossing the creek I head into the trees on a 45 degree bearing. After about half a mile (800m) you come to 'Lookout' creek. There are lots of level sandy campsites along the creek. On the northern end, there is a lookout tower just before a meadow. From here go at 70 degrees for just over a mile to 'Spindle' lake. Some talus on the way, some uphill, but not terrible. Then go about a mile at 80 degrees to 'Flat' lake. This lake is shallow, prone to drying up, can have mud flats and a good crop of grass in the lakebed. This section of the hike is easiest and prettiest: lots of trees, nearly level, and a pleasant creek bisects it about half way. The next part is the worst: lots of boulders to climb over. But it is only a third of a mile directly north to Red Spur Creek. I arrived early at the creek, camp 4, so spent the rest of the day scouting and taking it easy. There are three or so small green meadows here along the creek. I stayed between two of them to avoid the pretty but swampy grass.

I was beginning to get antsy about the time. I wanted to get back in time to study the California driving handbook. Turning 70. My license expires next month, and I had an appointment to renew it next week. In these on-trail planning sessions I usually assign a token (penny, pebble) to each night on the trail, and place them on a map at a possible campsite. It looked like I could climb Red Spur the next day AND exit the Chagoopa plateau in the afternoon. I would need only two nights on the trail after the climb. So that's what I did.

I started the climb about 7:30 Saturday Sept 16. I went up the obvious central gully. It was sandy in spots, so I would sometimes clamber over the rocky sides. I got up to the crest at about 11:00. The views were spectacular. The Red Spur drops precipitously on the eastern side to about 7400 feet only to rise up again to over 14000 feet at Mt. Whitney less than 9 miles away. With the aid of a small pair of binoculars I could see the stone hut on top of that peak. I could see the Kaweahs peeking over Kaweah pass to the north west, and sweep all the way around to Diamond mesa near Mt. Tyndal to the north east. I made a small rock shelter for my binoculars and left them there for the next hiker (small knoll at 36.51885 N, 118.42472 W). After I had my fill of the grandeur I hurried back down. The only footprints I saw were those I had made on the way up. I packed up my gear and headed back over the Chagoopa plateau. It took about 4 hours to get to camp 5, same as camp 3.


2017 sept 051
Camp 3 (and 5). Pleasant area away from the trail. I had planned to get to the first creek off-trail; but I was tired and the next day looked short. So I stopped.


2017 sept 054
Lookout Tower. Platform built up in the trees; purpose and age unknown. Some name carving in wooden logs near its base. A meadow is through the trees ahead, and a creek runs to the right ('Lookout' creek). I stumbled across the tower in 2015 when I was coming down from Kaweah pass. I camped here then. The only drawback is that the ground here is dirty not sandy. It sticks to pads and tent.


2017 sept 057
From the west end of 'Spindle' Lake (because of the shape on the map). I camped on each side of this lake in 2011. Pretty views but no fish. It shrinks a lot in dry years.


2017 sept 059
'Flat' Lake. Very shallow. You can see the mud in the foreground and the lush grass springing up in the receeding shoreline.


2017 sept 062
Red Spur. It is a wild boulder field all the way down to the creek. Some up and down, but thankfully a short 2000 feet (600m) to the creek. I climbed the central gully, showing up slightly lighter in the picture. I got to the small hill on the crest, slightly to the right. The height is deceptive from here. It is another 800-1000 foot climb to the peak from the hill. I saved that one for another day.


2017 sept 073
Looking east from the Red Spur crest. Mt. Whitney is a quarter the way from the left. I could pick out the stone hut from here with binoculars. Tremendous views all around.


2017 sept 077
Looking west from the Red Spur crest. Mt. Kaweah is sloping down from the right. You can see all the boulder fields that characterize the Chagoopa plateau. Not made for easy strolling.

At 6:00 the next day I awoke to a coyote howling 100-200 meters away. I find that scary when hiking alone. I started hiking about 7:45 and made it over Kaweah Gap and all the way down to Bearpaw. Then on Monday I hiked out. I got to Apple Annie's in the early afternoon for my California Omelette. Took I5 through the heart of LA rush hour. Home by 9PM to a shower and clean sheets.


2017 sept 111
Lower Precipice Lake, coming down from Kaweah Gap. The views going down from here are stunning.


2017 sept 112
Hamilton Lake, another amazing view.


2017 sept 113
Trail Repair. The quality of repair work seems sub-par. The gravel is too large to be comfortable. The stones kick loose and stub toes. They roll when stepped on straining the ankle. It is like walking on golf balls.


2017 sept 118
Back at the Crescent Meadow trailhead.


2004 sept 80
Same view 13 years earlier. Notice that the distance to Mt. Whitney is 71 miles on this sign but 60 on the current sign in the previous picture.

©2016, 2017 Tom Judd.
Carlsbad, CA