Golden Trout Wilderness Lake Tour Part 1

Background

Backpacking is a great way to get outside and see the country side. Not very many people take advantage of the outdoors these days. Some could argue that is both good and bad. Backpacking was once an every day thing decades ago. Now it is a recreational sport to some degree. Some people work in the outdoors and backpacking is part of the job.

During the summer of 2007 I heard about some of the very few glaciated lakes on the Sequoia National Forest. Some of the people in the office had actually been there and shared their stories of catching large fish, staring at the stars in the night, swimming in the lakes, and more. However, there wasn’t any data on these lakes. People from work hadn’t been there in so long they didn’t know what kind of conditions they were in.

Due to the lack of data and recent information about these lakes, I took it upon myself to go and find out. I wasn’t going to go alone as I needed a full team of specialists. I needed someone from the botany, soils, wildlife, and aquatics. We could all put our specialties to work and come up with current conditions for the lakes.

At the end of July, 2009, the trip was set to reach Bullfrog Lakes, Silver Lakes, and Coyote Lake over 7 days. The trip was approximately 40 miles long. Elevations would range from as low as 6,000 feet to as high as 11,000 feet. On July 24th our adventure would begin. The team would consist of four people, one being a volunteer. I also kept track of events in an expedition log (aka small black journal).

Complete photo album -> Golden Trout Wilderness Lakes Tour

Friday – July 24th

The alarm went off at 530AM. I had gotten a good night sleep and was excited about getting out in the wilderness. Thankfully I loaded all my gear in the truck the night before. All I had to do was roll out of bed, put some clothes on, double check nothing else was lying around, and I was good to go. That is exactly what I did. By 6AM I was off to Denny’s for a good size breakfast.

Arriving at the office 15 minutes early, I made sure I had all my surveying equipment for the trip. I also brought a SPOT along with us. We had bought one last year and I really wanted to try it out in the field. I loaded the work truck up and was ready to go by 7AM. The rest of the crew showed up and we were on the road by 730AM.

We had a long drive ahead of us. The quickest way to get to Bullfrog Lakes on foot was to drive to Mineral King. We were going to start there and make our way over Farewell Gap. Mineral King is a beautiful place, but the road is narrow and windy. I was used to the windy roads, but our big 6-pack work truck was big for the road. Sometimes I wondered how others would get past us that morning.

We reached our destination in Mineral King around 1000AM and started our hike around 1030AM. The team consisted of 4 people. Fletcher, Brian, Joey and I were the only ones going. Our driver, Tony, headed back to the office a couple hours after getting to Mineral King. He wanted to take some time off and see the place since he had never been there. I didn’t blame him as the surrounding area was beautiful.

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As we made our way up, we stopped at the first creek to fill up our bottles. Some of us started out empty to save on the weight. We had another stream or two crossing us up ahead, so water wasn’t a concern. The water was clear, cold, and tasted great! After filling our bottles we continued to head up the trail towards Farewell Gap.

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1113 AM – Stopping at Franklin Creek. It is absolutely gorgeous.

The trail system in Mineral King is amazing. I guess I must be used to the Forest’s trail system. Throughout the day we kept commenting on the trail. The long switch backs made the climb from 7500 feet to 10,500 feet easy going. We were making good time on the trail and thought we would be at Bullfrog Lakes by the middle of the afternoon. However, that wasn’t going to happen.

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Shortly into the hike, Joey messed up his “hip flexor” muscles in his legs/hip area, as Brian put it. We had a starting pace of 2 mph, but had now slowed to less than 1 mph. We could tell Joey was in a lot of pain. We kept on going and just took more breaks along the way. It was a pretty view for sure no matter where one stopped. We even had some fun waiting around on our breaks.

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131 PM – Sitting under some Fox Tail Pines eating. I see a heart of snow on the mountains across the way. There is wind and it is refreshing. The trail is an easy hike. Glad I am in shape. Joey is injured but Advil and stretching is helping him.

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251 PM – Used the facilities. Joey needed a break for his messed up “hip flex” muscle. I returned to find a marmot watching us all.

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454 PM – Farewell Gap is in our sights. We are about level with it now. That is 10, 588 feet! The view is breath taking. It has been a long adventure so far. Every break/stop brings new aspects to the view of the area. I am glad they didn’t make it a ski resort.

We had made it to Farewell Gap around 517 PM. It was really windy there and surprising there was snow on the south facing side. We figured the wind howling by kept the snow from melting. Bullfrog Lakes was only 2 miles away at this point and the last mile was a brutal uphill climb.

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615 PM – Our ascent into Bullfrog Lakes begins shortly. We are all very anxious to get there and be done.

The trip up to Bullfrog Lakes had some beautiful water falls. Geology wise you could see the contact points from various types of rock. Hardly any trees were around at this elevation. The only trees that do survey at these heights are the Fox Tail Pines. Fletcher estimated that some of the larger Fox Tail Pines were hundreds of years old. Anyway, once at the top we setup camp and pretty much went to bed.

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712 PM – Made it to Bullfrog Lakes. I am so hungry that I am sick to my stomach. I must cook food before I lose body core temperature and start shaking.

943 PM – We are all in bed, but this is my first time in the bivy. I really like it so far. Actually Fletcher is still hiding the food from the marmots. Thank goodness for Bear Canisters :).

Saturday – July 25th

130 AM – First night is always hard outside. Body is adjusting to the elevation and sleeping on a pad. I have been tossing and turning getting cat naps for sleep.

I was the first one to get up that morning. We didn’t have a set time to be up because yesterday was so long. I am just that way when it comes to backpacking or camping. Our campsite was located on a flat near the lower lake. The morning was beautiful. Florence Peak sat in the background of the upper lake. All I did that first part of the morning was walk around and take some photos.

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Eventually everyone was up an hour or so after I was up. We made breakfast and tidied up camp a bit. We then started surveying the lakes. The upper lake had a lot more boulders and rock surrounding it, unlike the lower lake.

845 AM – Surveys begin. We all have nicknames now on the trip. Joey is “Little Darling”, Fletcher is “Daddy Long legs”, Brian is “Tadpole,” and I am “Rubber Ducky.”

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1140 AM – First time swimming, bathing, and skinny dipping in a lake. Very refreshing and look forward to Silver Lake.

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1245 PM – Surveys and lunch is done. We are on our way to Wet Meadows. It is really pretty country up here.

After finishing up our surveys, we packed up and set out again. Unfortunately for Joey, he ran into his second problem. His heals had blisters on them and they were bad. They were about the diameter size of a racket ball. We had to do some first aid on him, give him some pain killer for his hips, and then off we went.

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The rest of the day was all downhill for the most part. It gave Joey’s hips a rest because he didn’t have to pick up his leg much to go downhill. After a few hours for all of us, we wanted some level ground or even uphill for a bit. We could feel the impact around the knees from going downhill so long. The other thing was the trail was hard to find due to the overgrown vegetation. However, most of it was still visible to follow.

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350 PM – Contemplating on canceling the trip. Joey’s feet and hip are not getting better. We are trying to figure out alternatives.

The trail split at this point going down and round to wet meadows or continuing uphill slightly towards Silver Lake. Our goal for today was to arrive at Wet Meadows, so further down we went. Unfortunately the trail visibility was getting worse. In fact, for most of the time the trail disappeared. We were constantly looking for trail makers.

450 PM – Trail is difficult to follow. We missed our turn off because it was so overgrown and not maintained.

530 PM – Found the trail. We had to climb out of the Little Kern to get to it. The USGS map is wrong and the Tome Harrison Map is more accurate.

Eventually we just cross country up to another trail across the Little Kern River. We had two trail maps with us and they both had different points where the trail crosses the Little Kern River. Apparently we missed the first one and the second one no longer existed. After climbing for a bit we did find a trail. After taking a break and another hour later, we made it.

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630 PM – We have reached our destination. We broke some wood, started a fire, and started cooking food. It is nice to have a fire. It was a hard afternoon. We did 6 miles in 5.5 hours. Joey is still injured but seems to be doing better. We are going to try Silver Lake tomorrow. Hopefully we can do it.

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900 PM – Camp is setup and we are just talking and telling stories. I should sleep better tonight and look forward to it.

Sunday – July 26th

Around 3AM something came into camp. It wasn’t a bear or anything that big, but it was probably a raccoon. He found something to munch on, but after making some noise getting out of the tent Fletcher didn’t see anything. We all went back to sleep pretty quickly though.

300 AM – I woke up to some small animal in camp. It was chewing on something. We got up to look around and nothing was there.

630 AM – I am starting a fire, watching sunrise, and knowing today is our last day for surveying.

We were all up early. Brian was up the earliest as he traveled up to Wet Meadow to do his survey for frogs. He didn’t find anything and came back about an hour before we all left for Silver Lake. After eating breakfast and packing our bags, we were on our way to Silver Lake.

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820 AM – Planning our day out before we leave.

920 AM – Joey is bandaged and we are now making our way to Silver Lake.

Joey was hanging in there. His legs were still bothering him and his heals were slowly getting worse. Walking all day long was not helping him. We needed to someone arrive earlier to our destinations so his feet could air out and heal. Unfortunately with another 6 miles to go, that wasn’t going to work for him.

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As we did some back tracking we eventually found out one of our maps was correct. The Tom Harrison map for the Golden Trout Wilderness was accurate compared to the USGS topo quad. We took a snack break at the river crossing. A few minutes after we did we heard some noises come from back where we had crossed. People on horse back were passing through. You would have never have guessed it, but the girl leading the pack train new Joey. Eventually, when we had some distance between the horses, we gave Joey a hard time about it.

1020 AM – We made it to the Little Kern River really quick. We are taking a water and resting break. There is a lot of shade and a slight breeze.

1045 AM – We are moving again. Next stop will be lunch. Mmmm Promax bars!

1046 AM – Horses came up behind us. The funny part is the girl leading the pack knows Joey.

We made our way up hill from where the trail had split the day before. It was nice to go uphill for a change, especially early morning. Near lunch time we had made it to the final viewing point of Farewell Gap. We stopped, took a look, rehydrated, and made the final push to Silver Lake trail junction.

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1145 AM – We are at the top for the final pass before we no longer can see Farewell Gap. Fletcher is excited we made a lot of ground before noon. I share in that joy and moral boost. Soon we will be at Shotgun Creek for lunch. For now we will take a break for a bit and enjoy the view.

The trail contoured at this point and we moved very quickly. We did a mile in about 20 minutes….well….at least Brian and I did. Fletch hung back with Joey to make sure he was doing okay. When they caught up, we broke for lunched and discussed or options. There was no way Joey was going to make it up to Silver Lake without further inflecting pain on his hips and heals. It was 2.5 miles uphill. So this became our plan; Brian and I would go to Silver Lake for the surveys while Fletcher and Joey traveled downhill to Tamarack Creek disperse camp. They would wait for us there till around noon the next day. We were going to skip Coyote Lake this trip. We concluded we needed to get Joey back.

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1220 PM – Stopped at Shotgun Creek for lunch. Lunch talk sounds like the group will split up. Fletcher and Joey will make their way back to the truck. Brian and I will press on to Silver Lake.

After lunch was done and we were all well rested, we split up. The trail up hill to Silver is very steep in the beginning. Brian let me lead since I moved slower uphill than he did. It took us about 1 hour to finally make it to the top. Once we arrived, I discovered I liked this lake better than Bullfrog Lakes. There was a lot more Fox Tail Pines and the vegetation really added to the aesthetics of the place.

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330 PM – We have made it to Silver Lake. I like it better than Bullfrog Lakes personally. There are thunder clouds in the east. I think we may get rained on but I don’t really know for sure. Brian and I are the two members of the crew who made the climb. Joey and Fletcher are heading to Tamarrak and will be waiting for us. Fletcher is tired and concerned for Joey.

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Brian needed to check out the upper lakes for frogs and he also wanted to cross Shotgun Pass. As he proceeded, or more like flew, to Shotgun pass, I setup camp. Made a fire ring and decided to try out my pocket shower. I collected some what from the lake and tried it out.

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350 PM – Hung my shower up in a tree. Brian is off to check on the upper lakes. His side goal is to check out Shotgun Pass since he is so close. I stayed back to do my tests and build camp.

During my shower time I noticed something golden brown and big approaching to my right. Without my glasses on my first instinct was a mountain lion. A thought was, “great I get killed by a mountain lion while showering.” Fortunately seconds after I thought that I realized it was a doe. She apparently was curious enough she came in pretty close to where I was showering. I started to chuckle because apparently the doe was “checking me out” while I was showering.

430 PM – Took a shower and it feels great to be clean. It was definitely worth the $25. While showering a deer came into camp. She was checking me out, the campsite, and the gear. She obviously doesn’t see a lot of humans for her curiosity to bring here in that close.

458 PM – The fire circle is built, water is filtered for dinner and breakfast, and the deer is still around but at the back of the lake. She is making her way along the shoreline. Storm clouds are breaking up and there hasn’t been any rain yet.

502 PM – The deer is back at camp. Curious mammal or maybe we took over her sleeping spot?

Two hours later Brian returned. Apparently he made it to shotgun pass within 24 minutes! The rest of the time was checking out the lakes and exploring a little bit. Now it was time to do some fishing. We needed to find out what kinds of fish were in the lake. We were hoping for Golden Trout because they are native to the area. Thankfully that is all we could find. No rainbow trout were in the lake.

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600 PM – It is time to see what fish are in the lake. Brian fishes while I keep a tally.

658 PM – No luck catching a fish big enough to eat this time. I go back to camp to start a fire and dinner.

After helping Brian fish around most of the lake, I returned to make a fire. We used down trees and limbs. We both discovered Fox Tail Pine has an amazing smell to it when it burns. Anyway we made dinner, talked for awhile, and soon crawled in our bivys to get some sleep.

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833 PM – We are both sitting by the fire talking about PCT/Whitney trip and other adventures.

958 PM – Good night all.

Monday – July 27th

We woke up at 6AM and started doing our usual morning routine. We were out of there early that morning as we had 8 miles to cover in order to meet up with Fletcher and Joey. The morning was nice and cool and we made a lot of ground. We were talking about various outdoor adventures and whatever came to mind. Time flew by pretty quickly.

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600 AM – We are both up and building a fire. We are trying to be quick this morning so we can get an early start to meet up with the other part members.

740 AM – We leave camp

Over half way to our destination the trail disappeared. Apparently the old Tamarack wilderness fire and the rain/snow that followed afterwards destroyed the trail. There was no tread left anywhere. Not even trail markers. Using the maps we had we just made our way down the drainage where the trail should have been. We did find it near Riffle Creek. Our next stop was in Riffle Camp for a break and it was a nice camp. There was chairs, fire pits, tables, tools, fences for livestock, posthole diggers, grills, and more. It was all brought in from various packers.

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1003 AM – Steep downhill just before Riffle Camp. The trail is gone. We are bushwhacking through an old fire right now.

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1112 AM – About 1 miles or less till we get to Tamarack Creek. Being in the sun is very hot. We are back to being in shorts again.

Eventually we made it to Tamarack Creek area. Fletcher and Joey were relaxed and waiting for our arrival. The first thing we did was go to the creek. Being a few thousand feet lower in elevation, you could feel the heat now. We ate lunch and rested for a few hours to escape the afternoon heat. Both Fletcher and Joey wanted to get to the Little Kern River. It was an additional 6 miles for us, but they said only if we wanted to. Both Brian and I decided to go for it, but we need a few hours break.

1145 AM – We arrive at camp to meet up with Fletcher and Joey.

1245 PM – We are eating a big lunch.

212 PM – Waiting for my headache to relax and the heat to go down before we all continue on the trail.

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Once the afternoon heat had calmed down, we all made our way to the Little Kern River. It took about 3.5 hours to get there. Joey was feeling better, but his heals were not. We kept baiting him with drugs, “if you get up that hill, we will give you more ibuprofen.” It worked haha.

320 PM – We left Tamarack to proceed to the Little Ker River. Another 6 miles to go.

We made it to the turn off at Sagebrush Gulch. We had one mile to go and that was probably the fastest mile we all walked on the trip so far. When we arrived I had never seen a person so happy to get in the water like Fletcher. He ran down the last hundred feet or so, stripped off his close and jumped in. About half an hour later we went down to the swimming hole area, just a few hundred yards below camp, and swam for a bit. It felt so good to get all the grime off.

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545 PM – We have arrived at the Little Kern River. Brian and I have walked 14 miles in 6 hours and 40 minutes! Woohoo!

552 PM – Fletcher, Joey, and I made our way to the swimming hole. I jumped in and it felt so good to rinse off all that grime.

That evening we sat around the fire as a full team again. We talked about having to create another trip to get back to Coyote Lake and the Kern Lakes. Shared some more stories, had a good amount of laughter, and went to bed.

928 PM – It is time to get some sleep for tomorrows last hike out. We have about four miles to go then drive home.

Tuesday – July 28th

608 AM – I am the first one up. Time to build a fire.

630 AM – Everyone is up and making breakfast. Fletcher went for one last swim.

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The last day of our trip started early. Being at a lower elevation, we new that sun would bake us. We had about 6 miles left of our trip and it was all uphill. At least as the temperatures increased, so did the amount of shade along the trail. It was a pleasant day though and we just marched along up the hill and continued to bait Joey with more drugs.

810 AM – We are heading home.

910 AM – Arrived at the last creek crossing. We are resting before we do the 3 mile uphill climb to our trucks.

922 AM – Starting the uphill climb. We are almost done with our trip.

942 AM – Hardest part of the climb is over. Fletcher and I are waiting on Joey. He is going to need more ibuprofen.

951 AM – Joey arrives and he gets his drugs.

1056 AM – Ten minutes or less from truck. I am waiting for Joey and Fletcher to catch up.

1150 AM – Trip is complete. We are at the trucks and it is time to go home.

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Once we arrived at the vehicles, we loaded up and made our way out. Lunch that day was from Subway. The fresh vegetables sounded great. Brian offered to pay for all of our lunches too. It was a great trip and I think Joey fully recovered in about a week or so. Next year we will get to the other lakes. Not bad for a weeks worth of work.

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