Sierra Trip 78 -- Sugarloaf Creek

You can download the TOPO! source file to see more detail in the maps.

  Sierra78-M1.gif (252422 bytes)
Map 1 --  Cedar Grove to Sugarloaf Valley

This trip, like others before, began with a flight from Los Angeles to Fresno and a bus ride into Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks.  The bus would not take me to Kings Canyon, so I resolved to get off at Grants Grove and hitchhike.  I had already learned that the airlines would not let me take stove fuel, so I had purchased a new MSR multi-fuel stove, and filled it up for the first time at a gas station in Grant Grove with 15 cents worth of unleaded regular.

I rarely hitchhike -- really only when backpacking.  I am not cut out to survive the trauma of so many people passing me by.  I got a ride half way there, which put me in the middle of nowhere as dusk set in.  Luckily a group of German tourists picked me up and took me the rest of the way to Cedar Grove.  We shared a campsite, and I paid them back by paying the camping fee.

The next morning I got up at the first sign of dawn and headed for the trailhead, several miles down the road.  A couple cars passed, and I only halfheartedly tried to get a ride, but then a man in an old, beat-up Renault stopped for me.  In doing so, his car died, and he and I worked together (he under the hood, me behind the wheel) to get it going again.  This lead to him telling me how he and the car ware in a race to see who would give out first.  He had diabetes, and his sister was threatening to take his car away from him, and going up into the mountains could well kill him.  He was planning to take part in a three-mile nature walk, which is where he was headed.  If he died attempting it, he would be happy to know he had died in his favorite place on the earth.  With these thoughts to ponder, we arrived at the trailhead parking lot, and we bid goodbye.    

I set off with high hopes and lots of energy, but the climb out of Cedar Grove always takes the energy out of me.  It was sunny and hot, the trail dry, and the way steep.
s78-1-05.jpg (58357 bytes)

Kings Canyon in the early morning, as the sun rises above the mountains

s78-1-09.jpg (64883 bytes)
Approaching Avalanche Pass, I stopped for lunch and a rest at one of the few green spots. 
On the first day, my tee shirt (and my skin) was still pretty white.
I had in mind another attempt on Mt Brewer.  The year before, I had been frustrated by forest fire.  This time, I would approach from the North. 
s78-1-13.jpg (61491 bytes)

Mt Brewer from Avalanche Pass

After spending the night near Avalanche Pass, I descended towards Moraine Ridge and set off cross-country, trying to maintain altitude and contour towards Brewer Creek.  In these early days, I was still learning how to travel cross-country.   The year before, I had headed directly up the side of Cloud Canyon, an ordeal that I found extremely tiring.  So this time I vowed to maintain my elevation while hiking to the South.  The problem, as I was beginning to discover, was twofold.  First, no one strategy was right for all occasions: the terrain sometimes dictated maintain elevation, and other times descending and ascending again was better.  Second, as I would eventually discover, hiking off-trail is inherently slower (and/or more tiring) than hiking on the trail -- there is no way around it.

s78-1-18.jpg (88520 bytes)
As I was still learning how much effort this was, and because I went up the canyon on higher and steeper ground than necessary, I was getting alarmed at how slow and tiring my progress was.  I had hoped to ascent all the way to the foot of Mt. Brewer, and it was becoming clear that I would not attain that.  I also had to keep to my schedule to make it back to Lodgepole at the appointed time.  So I stopped at a beautiful lake on the East slope of the canyon, north of Brewer Creek..  I had a memorable afternoon sitting beside the lake.  I saw frogs and fish in the water.   I saw dozens of delicate insects dragging themselves out of the water up on shore, drying their wings in the sun, and taking off.  I wondered what it must feel like to live beneath the water, and then to come out into the air and take flight. 
The next day I had recovered some of my spirits, and decided to explore the route to Mt. Brewer, as far as I could go in the time I had, in case I should ever come this way again. 
As I came into the side canyon formed by Brewer Creek, I finally realized how much harder it was to travel high, instead of in the bottom of the canyon.
s78-1-24.jpg (100331 bytes)
s78-1-25.jpg (120411 bytes)
I reached about three quarter of the way up Brewer Creek before I had to turn back.  I took careful note of the lay of the land, assessing the remaining obstacles. 
As I was resting, a couple of Park Service rangers passed by, on their way up toward Mt. Brewer.  I think each of us was equally surprised to se anyone in so remote an area. The ranger took this picture for me.
At Big Brewer Lake I passed the rangers' pack animals.  Apparently they had ridden this far from Roaring River.
s78-1-27.jpg (126547 bytes)
s78-1-31.jpg (111505 bytes)
I followed Brewer Creek directly down to the floor of Cloud Canyon.  It was memorable in its steepness, and in the difficulty of getting through the brush at the lower elevations.  I made up my mind that I would use Moraine Ridge in the future, if I were ever to ascend Brewer Creek again. 

Brewer Creek as it descends into Cloud Canyon


  Sierra78-M2.gif (171781 bytes)
Map 2 --  Sugarloaf Valley to Lodgepole

Once I reached the trail, I had two choices for my route to Lodgepole: up Cloud Canyon, over Coppermine Pass, and back through Elizabeth Pass or Pear Lake; or along Sugarloaf Creek and through Silliman Pass. 
Since I had already been through Coppermine Pass in both directions the year before, I decided to explore the other route. 
s78-1-33.jpg (67076 bytes)


Near Roaring River

s78-2-03.jpg (95709 bytes)
I enjoyed the lush colors of Sugarloaf Valley.  The trail was level and wide, a welcome respite from the steep and exhausting days just past. 
I felt safer on the trail: at this point I was only confident enough to leave the trail for a couple days at a time.  Ironically, I saw no other hikers on the section of trail from Roaring River through Silliman Pass, although I had encountered two rangers way up Brewer Creek. 

The Sugarloaf, from Sugarloaf Creek

I reached Lost Lake near the end of the day, after hiking all the way from Roaring River.  Soon after I went to sleep, I was awakened by the full moon rising in the east.  Its huge size and the great amount of light it shed startled me.  I took several pictures of it with my telephoto lens, but the results were disappointing -- all black except for one tiny disk of nearly pure white about 5 pixels across.
s78-2-05.jpg (69281 bytes)

Lost Lake

s78-2-12.jpg (84656 bytes)
I got to do some more cross-country exploring travelling between Lost Lake and Ranger Lake.  This is Ranger Lake, with Mt. Silliman behind (the flat top, not the dome).

Ranger Lake

I took a side trip from Silliman Pass to climb Twin Peaks.  This shows a couple of the lakes just below, plus Ball Dome and Sugarloaf Valley beyond. 
s78-2-15.jpg (101238 bytes)

Lost Lake and companion, from Twin Peaks

s78-2-18.jpg (85246 bytes)
Looking the opposite direction, this shows Ranger Lake and Silliman Crest.  When I see such flat expanses of granite, I just long to explore them. 

Ranger Lake from Twin Peaks

This is the west side of Silliman Crest, looking south towards Lodgepole. 

My return to Lodgepole via Twin Lakes and Cahoon Gap was pleasant and uneventful.

s78-2-25.jpg (71160 bytes)


Silliman Crest


oGo back to Charles Hayden's Home Page