Oct 25, 2012 at 2:45 am #1295514
After finishing a section of the Sierra High Route a few weeks ago I met a guy named Donn while hiking out through Sabrina Basin. We talked nutrition, gear, exercise, footwear and world politics while hiking a few miles to the parking lot. I rarely meet somebody who shares so many similar common interests, including a passion for cross country backpacking in the High Sierra.
I couldn’t believe it when he showed me a map of the cross country passes he had been scouting out for the past week. They were the same passes that I had been researching all winter. We decided to take one last trip of the season together, weather permitting.
During the next few weeks we had to delay the trip due to the mid October storm, but we lucked out and took advantage of an unusually warm break in the weather last week.
We started out by acclimating at Midnight Lake the first day. It's only a few miles to Midnight Lake from the Sabrina Lake TH so I was able to leave home in the morning and still get there in time to have dinner at the lake.
There was still some snow on the trail from the storm the week before.
Cowboy camping on some pine duff at Midnight Lake.
The next morning we got an early start up the ridge between Hungry Packer Lake and Midnight Lake. Secor recommends starting at the very beginning of this ridge, but Donn had scouted a short cut directly from Midnight Lake.
Mt. Darwin in the morning from Midnight Lake.
The route up from Midnight Lake.
Soon we reached the base of the large valley that leads to Haeckel Col (12,780 feet).
Looking back on the way through the valley.
I took this picture of the west side of Haeckel Col from the JMT earlier this summer. I couldn’t wait to check out the lakes, cirques and mountains in the huge basin above Sapphire Lake, but Mt. Haeckel and the col (see the red arrow) looked intimidating from the west. Could there really be a route up that steep granite wall?
Once we got near the crest on the east side we dropped our packs and decided to try out what looked like it could be the ‘best’ route. We lucked out and found an easy way over the col the first try, with only a short class III climb down the west side.
Haeckel Col from lake 12,345 (on the east side).
East side approach to Haeckel Col.
The views from the top were amazing in both directions.
The scale is difficult to capture. Donn and I are somewhere on the boulders in these pxts.
After a 1,000 foot scramble down to lake 11,808 we followed some more boulder fields and a few granite benches down to Sapphire Lake. By that time we were losing light so we booked it on the JMT to a campsite at the top of the waterfall leading from Evolution Lake.
The view of the west side approach to Haeckel Col on the way to Sapphire Lake.
Fall colors in Evolution Basin.
We found a great site covered by trees at the top of the waterfall.
The next morning we headed up to Darwin Bench, with some great views looking back toward Evolution Lake.
The color of the lakes in Darwin Canyon was similar to the bright blue/green of Marion Lake on the SHR.
And there were a few sandy beaches.
We climbed up the boulder fields at the east end of Darwin Canyon on the way up to Darwin Col (13,034 feet).
It was a challenge finding the boulders that were stable AND didn’t have any snow on them. I was just wearing trail runners.
Darwin Glacier just after sunset.
The east side of Darwin Col is much like the east side of Frozen Lake Pass. We had fun scree skiing down the steep slope.
By the time we got toward the bottom it was getting dark.
We found the nearest flat spot that had a little cover from the wind. It was a cold night at our camp at the base of Mt. Darwin (about 12,700 feet). The wind seemed to come from all directions as it swirled around the end of the cirque. My meager 1/8” GG pad and Klymit Inertia inflatable torso pad barely did the trick insulating me from the cold granite, but my homemade 20 degree quilt kept me toasty on top.
Our water bottles froze solid overnight.
The scramble back down to Midnight Lake was a breeze compared to the previous two days.
Darwin Col from the east.
Mt. Darwin from Blue Heaven Lake.
The fall colors on the hike out through Sabrina Basin reminded me that this would probably be my last trip of the season before the first real winter storms kicked in. . . although I’m still hoping for a trip in November.
I found the word "Candy" with an arrow written in the snow on the way down. I knew it must be time to get home to see my wife, her name is Candy. Possibly a note from the mountain gods?
About gear, I was using a homemade cuben backpack with a removable internal frame. I took the frame out and cached my bear canister at Midnight Lake after the first night. The 20 degree quilt is also homemade (thanks to all of the people on the MYOG forums).
Although I went UL with a base weight of 7.5 lbs (including the bear canister) my hiking buddy Donn was using mostly traditional gear. By the third day he was talking about how he could save 10 lbs just by using a different backpack, sleeping bag and shelter. I think carrying 35+ lbs up those boulder fields was uncomfortable.
If you're interested here's a link to my gear list
Here's a map of our route:
Thanks for reading. Andy.Oct 25, 2012 at 3:04 am #1924297
Ike JutkowitzBPL Member
@ikeLocale: Central Michigan
Cool route, Andy, and a really interesting read. Thanks for putting this up.
Looks like you did a great job on that quilt by the way.Oct 25, 2012 at 9:37 am #1924328
Nice report and pictures, Andy. I like the red lines/arrows you added to the pics and including the map saved be a bit of time when trying to follow along. Good stuff!Oct 25, 2012 at 10:00 am #1924330
@andrew-fLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Nice trip. It's great to see some snow up there for a change. Haeckel Col looks pretty improbable from the west side… I'm not sure that I would think there would be a way up there from Sapphire Lake if I didn't know better. That whole area from Goethe to Wallace seems to have a disproportionate share of talus. It's got to be one of the most rugged areas in the whole Sierra.
I'm impressed by how light you went, especially in the shoulder season. At this time of year I usually start bringing a more robust shelter and extra insulation just in case a freak storm comes through. Most of your stuff is lighter than what I use in August!
Did you post a TR anywhere of your time on the High Route?
AndrewOct 25, 2012 at 10:48 am #1924341
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Great trip and fantastic photos/report. Makes me want to go seek out a little snow if not for work. Thanks for sharing.Oct 25, 2012 at 11:58 am #1924358
Casey BowdenBPL Member
@clbowdenLocale: Berkeley Hills
Fantastic!Oct 25, 2012 at 12:42 pm #1924368
Thanks for your comments Ike, Chris, Andrew, HK and Casey.
@ike, the quilt is a copy of the zpacks 20 degree quilt. I used the green quantum pertex for the shell and some SevenD I had left from last year for the liner. That thing is super warm.
@chris, I'm glad you could see those red route lines, I wasn't sure if they would be visible. If you are ever considering the route I have some close up shots of the final approach. We shot for the large white triangular boulder that is visible from both sides.
@andrew, I agree there is a ridiculous amount of talus in that area. I tried to stay as light as possible (w/out going "stupid light" ala Skurka) for the climbing days. One thing that has saved a lot of weight is transitioning from a smaller tarp & bivy to a slightly larger tarp and a quilt with more down and slightly heavier shell material. After reading the recent article on BPL about tarp camping in bad weather I brought more guylines and stakes just in case. Those storms can get crazy. Candy & I made it through a bad night of thunderstorms while camping exposed by Wanda Lake during the August monsoons this summer. Fortunately we had a shaped tarp (SMD cuben Haven). I'm still working on the TR for the SHR, coming soon!
@casey, your trip earlier this summer through Evolution/Ionian/Goddard was a big inspiration for this trip. Thanks for the TR's on your website!Oct 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm #1924391
Tom KirchnerBPL Member
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
"Great trip and fantastic photos/report."
I'll second that! Thanks for posting it, Andy. I'm saving a link to this one for next season!Oct 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm #1924392
Jay WilkersonBPL Member
@creachenLocale: East Bay
Excellent stuff! Sounds like a awesome trip in a awesome area.. That entire area is spectacular. Winter is almost here-Darn!Oct 25, 2012 at 7:32 pm #1924445
Thanks Tom & Jay. Coming from two people with the Sierra experience you guys have it really means a lot. Still hoping for a long weekend w/ good weather in November. . . Andy.Oct 25, 2012 at 8:41 pm #1924465
W I S N E R !BPL Member
Cool trip.Oct 26, 2012 at 8:26 am #1924505
@davecLocale: The West Slope
That looks fantastic.Oct 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm #1924555
Thanks Craig & David. . .Oct 27, 2012 at 7:07 am #1924648
Ken HelwigBPL Member
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
wow that looks sooooo cool! Thank you for posting this. One of my fave areas of The SierraOct 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm #1924728
Your report leaves me very sorry I didn't get one last trip in. Good photos and accompanying comments. It looks like you hiked over Echo Col? If so would describe the difficulty of the west side? Thanks again. JohnOct 27, 2012 at 7:22 pm #1924756
I read the map wrong, sorry.Oct 27, 2012 at 7:29 pm #1924759
Ken T.BPL Member
Very nice indeed!Oct 28, 2012 at 10:51 am #1924875
Thanks Ken, John & Ken.
I went over Echo Col while exiting the SHR earlier this summer. Here are a few photos from the west side approach to Echo Col. I'll add some more about the east side approach later. I wasn't able to find a lot of detailed descriptions of the west side approach while researching the route, hopefully this will help:
The first climb from the JMT. It's just over 400 feet.
The view back toward the JMT and Black Giant.
Once over the first climb there is a large plateau with lake 12,428.
Looking back at lake 12,428 from the ridge above the lake.
The first close up view of Echo Col. The notch is hidden from view.
Echo Col. The route is visible here.
The final boulder field to Echo Col.
The class III climb to the top. This is barely class III, especially if carrying a light pack.
Looking to the left while climbing the final boulder field. It gets steep with lots of loose talus.
Looking back from the top of the boulder field, but before climbing to the top.
Looking straight down from the top.
The northeast approach to Echo Col. The wall is not as vertical as it looks from here. There are use trails/pathways that make it easier to find a good route to the top.
A map of my route.
This area is probably partially covered with snow by now, but the ice field on the east side was almost completely melted out in late September. I found the remains of a 30 year old plane crash at the bottom of the cirque.
More later. Andy.Oct 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm #1924952
Andy, fantastic trip and thanks so much for such thorough photos. Haeckel looked so intimidating from sapphire lk when we went by. Seems true (per your photos) here as it is for so many of those passes though, looking improbable for afar but sure enough there is usually a way through.
Cheers!Oct 30, 2012 at 1:42 pm #1925419
same with Echo Col peering over to the west from the JMT hiking up to Muir Pass just below Lake Helen. It looks like a vertical wall. But Andy's pictures make it look manageable. I have hiked up very near to the pass itself from the east and found it doable but always intimidated for a western approach by both the map and what I have seen from the west. Additionally attempts to find encouragement regarding the west side have gone unanswered.Oct 30, 2012 at 9:22 pm #1925523
Paul McLaughlinBPL Member
I have seen lots of photos of Echo col from the top, looking down both ways, primarily from ski trips. It's fairly regularly crossed in the spring by backcountry skiers.
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