High Sierra Trail to Mt Whitney: Day 3

On day 2, we did not make it to Arroyo junction as planned. Day three started with us waking up on top of the beautiful Kaweah Gap.

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Today was supposed to be a recovery day. We were supposed to be waking up in Arroyo Junction and hiking 8 miles to Moraine Lake. We did not quite make it to Arroyo Junction and were waking up at Camp 2, and would have to hike to Arroyo Junction and continue past to Moraine Lake

The first part of day 3 we would be finishing up the rest of the hike from day 2:

 

We woke up high above on a finger which points toward Precipice Lake. We never saw Precipice Lake the day before so I left my pack at camp and walked down the finger of the cliff to get my bearings and make sure Precipice Lake was in fact where I thought it was based on my map. The lake was there, but was completely frozen over, but I confirmed my location.

I could not see this map while hiking but my Delorme InReach recorded our path for my family. Below you will be able to see how we climbed up the west side of the finger pointing toward Precipice Lake since the trail was covered in Ice and snow. The message box icon is where we set up camp last night.




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Despite the lines on terrain markings on the map clipping above, the east side of the finger was pretty damn steep and covered in snow. The snow was extremely icy, and we were trying to get into the valley to the east in between the two fingers safely.

We decided to hike up, staying on rocks and off snow and see what we could from the top of the finger and try and find a safe route down. The snow was really rock hard this early in the morning and more like straight ice. Looking down, glissading was our only option but as you can see in the photo below all the ice chutes went straight into rocks….

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There was one particularly steep section with a small patch of rocks right below. We decided we could climb down to this small patch of rocks and then glissade down from the small patch of rocks to the valley between the fingers.

I tied my trusty 550 cord to the head of my ice axe and buried it to use as an anchor. I took my pack of and safely climbed down the 550 cord to the patch of rocks below. My buddy then pulled the 550 cord back up and tied our packs one by one and lowered them down.

Lowering our gear down the ice slope

Lowering our gear down the ice slope

Once all our gear was down my buddy dug up my ice axe and used both to climb down. Once we were on our small safe island of rocks, we glissaded down the rest of the way and hiked toward the gap.

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Once we made it through Kaweah Gap, we were standing on another slope we would glissade down. We had a beautiful view of the Big Arroyo surrounded on three sides by snow caped mountains and beautiful semi frozen stream leading to a pine forest in the valley to the south.

Yesterday we didn’t eat dinner before going to bed, our bodies were exhausted. We stopped at the river to filter water and cook some lunch. After lunch we carefully followed the river toward the pine forest south of the water.

We had to keep a bit of distance from the river while following it through the snow, there were numerous ice bridges that could have broken and collapsed into the river. As we moved south toward Arroyo Junction the snow dissipated and the river grew wider and stronger.

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As we left the snowy gap behind us, and moved toward the pine forest. In the pine forest following the trail became a bit tricky at times. In the forest visibility is greatly shortened due to the trees, and to compound that there were still large patches of snow in the forest.

At times we would be following the path and it would lead straight into a patch of snow 3-5 feet high! This is another reason why not to attempt this hike early in the season if you do not have honed land navigation skills, using a paper map.

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For the most part the trail followed next to the river, meandering through the pine forest. As we followed the trail and the map, the trail eventually lead straight to the river, and then we could see it pick back up on the other side. The river was moving pretty fast and was a decent depth, not quite waist deep but deep enough to know I did not exactly want to get the wet….

We dropped our packs next to the river, and took turns scouting north and south for a suitable crossing spot while the other guarded our gear from possible animals. After moving both North and South, we could not find a dry way to cross. Before crossing, I wanted to test the crossing without a pack on. I took my shoes and socks off and due a test crossing. I took about 4 steps before I turned around ran back out, the water was absolutely freezing and my feet physically hurt! I decided the crossing would need to be accomplished in both socks and shoes for warmth. I made the crossing got wet and dealt with my wet boots the rest of the day… If I do this hike again, I will definitely bring an extra pair shoes for water crossings.

A very very cold water crossing

A very very cold water crossing

After this crossing, we again found the trail, and the snow continued to dissipate. As we continued south we made it to Arroyo junction where we should have been last night. We made it there at 1:25pm in the afternoon, and had another 8 miles from this point if we were to get back on schedule. We took a quick break, had some snacks and got ready to push out some quick miles to make it to Moraine Lake tonight. The trail from Arroyo Junction follows the east face of the valley and is a steady climb all the way to the Moraine Lake.

 

We climbed up the east face back out of the pine forest being treated to beautiful views below. This path was not too technical but was a constant climb. Along the way there were multiple stream crossings, where we tried to stay dry but my feet were already soaked so I easily pushed through. Every little stream was a lot higher then normal levels due to the snow melts, and this continued throughout the trip.

Once the trail started to level out toward the top of the climb we were treated with a handful of beautiful open meadows and streams.

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We were finally getting close to the end of our day, Moraine Lake was only a short distance away. As the trail gently sloped down toward Moraine lake, we hit the last small problem of the day.

Most of the trip we would loose the trail due to snow, this time there were just to many pine cones on the ground and the trail was completely lost! Below you can see where we went off trail a bit to the East due to the abundance of pine cones.

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Looking at my map, it was pretty easy to get back on trail. There was a great catching feature to the west, the cliff…. I pointed my compass south west and knew that if I hit the cliff I went to far. We easily found the trail and continued on to Moraine Lake.

We got to the lake just before 7pm and it was absolutely stunning! The water was pristine and the pine trees and mountain in the background just added to the gorgeous views!

There was not another hiker at the lake, we had it all to ourselves and set up camp on the soft sand of the lake. There were a lot of mosquitoes but they stayed high in the air and did not bother us.

Beautiful Moraine Lake

Beautiful Moraine Lake

I feel like every camp site we stayed at during this trip became more beautiful than the last. But Moraine Lake was really at the top of the list, the solitude and beauty were everything I needed. I could have spent multiple nights there if I had more time off from work. I will definitely do a trip just to this lake in the future, it was awesome.

In the middle of the night, I woke up to go to the bathroom, and of course the stars were stunning. I stayed up and took a few pictures with the tripod that I lugged around the entire trip. This night at Moraine Lake, made carrying that tripod worthy every pound in weighed.

Read More about the High Sierra Trail to Mt Whitney Here!

Beautiful stars and milky way above Moraine Lake

Beautiful stars and milky way above Moraine Lake

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High Sierra Trail to Mt Whitney: Day 2

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High Sierra Trail to Mt Whitney: Day 4

4 Comments

  1. Jeremiah

    Oh man how wild! Great pics and what an adventure! Making me glad we are aiming to go much later in the season and avoiding all the ice! Looking forward to the next post!

    • Mike

      The snow and ice made for a great adventure and an amazing experience. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

  2. Tim

    Great photos, it’s nice to read your trail report. My Son and I did the HST the 1st week of September this year, and of course we didnt have to deal with the snowy conditions like you did. I also have the InReach and use my iPhone with the Earthmate app as a GPS. You mentioned that you weren’t able to see the map you posted, but with the Earthmate app. Linked to your InReach you can see in real time where you are.

    • Mike

      Really happy you found my trail report and enjoyed it! Thanks for the InReach tip! I would love to see pictures of what the trail looked like in September if you have any!

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