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Spiderwoman’s KCHBR Tips || Reflections, conditions, comparisons

Spiderwoman thru-hiked the Kings Canyon High Basin Route in 2017 with her partner, The Brawn. These are her “tips” about the route, a term that does not do justice to their comprehensiveness and detail. The information has been split into eight posts to improve readability:

She has shared all of her photos from her trip, available here.


With throaty thunder as our backdrop, we settle in for the evening on a high grassy bench

Where We Camped, Approximate Daily Mileage 2016

1. Tarn below Mt Silliman. 5m
2. Lonely Lake. 12.5m
3. Just shy of Colby Lake, just past “PR-15”. 10m
4. Avalanche Pass area

The Brawn channeling Slim Pickens’ Major Kong

Where We Camped, Approximate Daily Mileage 2017

1. Creek just before Gardiner Pass. 11m
2. Between “PR-31” and “PR-32”. 5m
3. Lake below King Col Central. 2.5m (not including mistake)
4. Along Woods Creek Trail just west of JMT junction and “PR-35”. 5m
5. Halfway between “PR-39” and “PR-40”, next to swampy lake. 8m
6. Lake below/before Dumbbell Pass. 7m
7. “A-AMP-02 good campsite”. 5.5m
8. First lake below north side Bishop Pass. 17.5m
9. Brown’s Town Campground Bishop. 5m
10. Brown’s Town Campground Bishop.
11. Dusy Basin. 9m
12. Just shy of Simpson Meadow. 16m
13. Lake just east of “PR-62”. 8.5m
14. Along Copper Creek Trail ~7940’. Bear locker and stream. 10m
15. Junction of Don Cecil Trail and Rd 14S11. 9m
16. Junction with Twin Lakes Trail. 20m
17. Tarn 10410, west/below “PR-07”. 8m
18. “PR-13”. 11m
19. “PR-17”. 7m
20. Half-way down Lake Reflection. 7m
21. Brown’s Town Campground Bishop. 14.5m

The first leg of our morning commute down into town

Camping

As our ’16 WRHR trip came to a close we decided to upgrade from a shared double tent to individual tents (due to challenges finding camping spots for a double tent). We made the switch over the winter, tested our choices out in spring ’17 on the southern Arizona Trail, loved the change, and appreciated their flexibility even more once out on KCHBR.

Other perks: Improved sleep/don’t inadvertently wake each other up. Easier to manage the uncomfortable stuff like mosquitoes and wet gear and dirty gear and irritable moods and things that annoy. You’ll have a shelter if you accidentally get separated. If you want to catch a sunrise, you can pack up your entire kit and get a head start on the day’s walk. Air quality isn’t fouled. Basically, relationship bliss goes up when the need to compromise goes down.

Power campspot. A rarity along this canyon wall and tailor-made for two.

Crowded or Empty? People We Saw in 2016

1. No one once we started up Twin Lakes Trail from Lodgepole
2. No one
3. Two guys in Cloud Canyon returning to their basecamp from a climb. They were irritated because their packer took off on them because of the weather rolling in and they thought he could have waited and saved them the hike out
4. A couple of backpackers on Avalanche Pass Trail, then plenty of people on Bubbs Creek Trail the closer we got to Roads End

Summary: Two people while traveling x-country

Bert from Belgium cautiously scrambling in hand-me-down, too small, worn out, gripless shoes…and still smiling

Crowded or Empty? People We Saw in 2017

1. Tons of folks around Kearsarge Pass and on the JMT, then Bird and Bill heading out to Gardiner Pass
2. No one
3. No one
4. No one until we stepped onto Woods Creek Trail, then a bunch of backpackers
5. A bunch of backpackers on Woods Creek and John Muir Trails, then no one after stepping off the trail at White Fork Creek
6. A solo backpacker descending Cartridge Pass Trail
7. No one
8. No one until we crossed Palisade Creek and stepped onto the JMT, then the kayakers and a bunch of backpackers. Dusy Basin was full of tents. Search and Rescue
9. A bunch of early birds on Bishop Pass Trail, trail runners and backpacking groups heading up
10. Zero in Bishop
11. Lots of day hikers heading back to the parking lot. Fewer tents in Dusy Basin
12. Lots of backpackers on the JMT. Several trail crew folks hiking up Middle Fork Trail
13. No one
14. Heard in the distance a group camped at another of the State Lakes as we walked past in the morning. Emily the packer. Several groups camped at Grouse Lake. Several backpacking groups ascending Copper Creek Trail
15. Early bird backpackers and day hikers ascending Copper Creek Trail. Lots of folks at Roads End Permit Station. I sat at a nearby picnic table for over an hour waiting for The Brawn to catch up and overheard lots of exchanges. One ranger in particular provided extremely warm, engaged, helpful customer service. A couple groups of day hikers descending the last ¼ mile of the Don Cecil Trail
16. A couple guys in a pickup just after we started walking. A large group RV camping at the corner of 14S11 and 13S12. Close to a dozen vehicles on 13S12. Several groups of dayhikers and backpackers on the trails over Marvin and JO passes
17. A climbing party breaking down their basecamp after summiting Silliman the day before just a short way up the use trail
18. No one
19. A backpacking couple on Colby Pass Trail
20. Solo man chatting in Russian
21. Campers at Lake Reflection’s outlet and East Lake. A couple backpacking groups ascending the trail to East Lake. Lots of backpacking groups on Bubbs Creek Trail and around Kearsarge Pass

Summary: Crowded main trails. Less than a dozen folks on use trails. One person while traveling x-country

All alone in the alpine sublime…not even an hour after stepping off the highly-utilized JMT

Weather 2016 (Late Sept into Early Oct)

1. Sunny
2. Sunny. Cold and windy as day progressed
3. Sunny. Weathercarrot kept us apprised of the weather change that was coming (snow and very cold, like a drop of over 20 degrees or something). We could see the clouds off in the distance that early evening (I included a photo). It froze hard overnight. Water that was flowing near where we camped was frozen solid in the morning, as was the ground in general. No precipitation where we were though
4. Sunny and cold

A family of autumn peaks. Diversity as bold and raw and beautiful.

Weather 2017 (1/3 Aug and 2/3 Sept)

1. Sunny with puffy clouds. Drizzle and thunder in the afternoon
2. Sunny, puffy clouds forming
3. High overcast, very cold during the solar eclipse. Sunny warm evening
4. Sunny, puffy clouds forming
5. Sunny, then puffy clouds with afternoon thunder and rain cells in the near distance
6. Sunny, then puffy clouds with afternoon thunder and rain cells in the near distance
7. Sunny, puffy clouds forming
8. Sunny, puffy clouds forming
9. Sunny and hot in Bishop
10. Sunny and hot in Bishop
11. Puffy clouds, then rain and bright flashes of lightning closely followed by cracking thunder, it started in the middle of the night and continued, keeping us awake for the rest of the night
12. Puffy clouds
13. Sunny, puffy clouds forming, smoke out to the west
14. Sunny, puffy clouds forming, smoke out to the west
15. Sunny, hot in Cedar Grove
16. Woke up to smoky smell and haze in camp. Sunny, puffy clouds. Sprinkling in evening
17. Rain and wind in the morning. Clouds breaking up by late morning. Smoke out to the west
18. Sunny, puffy clouds forming. New clouds forming quickly around Copper Mine Peak. Smoke out to the west
19. Sunny, then rapid change to dark skies, thunder, and intermittent bursts of heavy rain. Smoke out to the west
20. Very calm, clear, sunny morning. Puffy clouds forming. Thunder. Smoke out to the west
21. Sunny, then thunder clouds forming

Flowers

Albeit in patches, there were profusions of flowers for the entire span of our 2017 hike

Animals

Pika, marmot, mule deer, coyote, raptors, fish, squirrels, chipmunks, bees, grouse, frogs, mosquitoes, burrowing black flies

Preparing a winter cache

Buggy

Patchy. Never lasted all day. The swarms got pretty uncomfortable a few times.

Fords

Crossings that got our attention: Bubbs Creek was fast and knee high but no problem. Gardiner Creek was fast pounding whitewater where you intersect it initially. We quickly found something to cross on. Woods Creek was swift, wide, and deep. We weren’t willing to step into it and got lucky by quickly finding a log to cross on. We would have walked the bank for as long as needed (or possible) to find a safe crossing. Palisade Creek (close to where it empties into the Middle Fork) was too swift and deep to ford where the Middle Fork Trail crosses it, so we explored a bit upstream and found a log to cross on near an old stone foundation I assume was part of a long forgotten bridge.

Thank you to every single person who has plucked me off the side of the road over the years. I was a stranger to you but an irreplaceable daughter, partner, and dog mom to my family. You delivered me safely and I remember you all. It’s a fact that the vast majority of people are GOOD. Spread the word!!!

Worries

Thanks to Weathercarrot’s expertise and care for our safety, we had a head’s up in 2016 that a weather event would roll in soon after we got out there (sharp drop in temp and precipitation in places). I made the prudent decision to bag the hike when my GI issues devolved. I knew I couldn’t be in a weakened state and safely negotiate a snow event and tricky cross country travel at the same time.

In 2017, the major worry was whether or not Should-Go Canyon was going to ‘go’. Pretrip, I worried about the Middle Fork River ford, but it became a nonissue after we ended up taking an alternate.

I Learned…

This trip cemented for me that providing leadership and experienced companionship to a kindred spirit(s) while backpacking cross country deeply fulfills me. A major life goal of mine is to do more of that in the future, especially with women.

The Sierra’s classic treatment of light and shadow

I Wouldn’t Do This Particular Route Without My…

Being okay with altering our itinerary on the fly to a less aggressive path due to less than ideal (safety-wise) conditions. I was glad I could let a goal go and embrace what our alternate had to offer (rather than focusing on what we were missing).

Gratitude is good

Skurka’s KCHBR – To Thru-Hike Or Not

This is a great route to thru-hike. If immersing yourself in a physically and mentally stimulating backcountry experience turns you on…if you are already head over heels for the Sierra or are new to it completely…if you find the continuity of a loop hike elegant…if you want to call this small portion of the Sierra home for a couple/few weeks while you tour its various pockets and infrequently visited gems…if you want a complement to Roper’s SHR…if you want to do your part by giving the ecosystems around the crowded corridor trails some breathing room…then my vote is definitely GO FOR IT!!!

Crystalline silence and morning’s first golden rays

KCHBR and SHR Compared

1. KCHBR has fords. SHR (with the exception of crossing Twin Lake’s outlet) has none.

2. KCHBR map/compass navigation was tricky in a couple wooded stretches. I was glad I wasn’t navigating solo through those sections. SHR map/compass navigation presents no similar challenges; it is straightforward for the entire route.

3. KCHBR passes through more wooded areas. Comparatively, the SHR stays truer to high, open terrain.

4. KCHBR tours a small section of the Sierra. The SHR spans their entire length, so the landscape you move through is much more varied.

5. KCHBR struck me as having more vertical change per mile than the SHR.

6. KCHBR was similar to the SHR in the overall level of scrambling difficulty. As a total newbie, descending the north side of Snow Tongue Pass was the sketchiest challenge for me on the SHR. With the exception of descending Should Go Canyon, nothing on KCHBR exceeded Snow Tongue.

7. KCHBR potentially has easier transportation logistics.

We do it because we’re curious…

Because we like hard things…

Because we honor our Earth’s unfathomably delicate, infinitely interconnected ecosystem…

Because we’re better, in all the ways, when we come back

2 Comments

  1. Brad R on December 29, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    Thank you for sharing your trip report and comparisons with the SHR.

  2. James Carretta on January 2, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Great trip and tips. What animal was caching the vegetation?

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