SO01907-01909-2x1h  10100x3500 pixels  2 frame 2 column 1 row 3 image stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view            image text section

NEXT:  Page 8   Upper Kern Basin Backpack (2of2)
2019 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Upper Kern Basin Backpack 8/20
Upper Kern Basin Backpack 8/21
Upper Kern Basin Backpack 8/22

2019 Trip Chronicles:  Page 7

Upper Kern Basin Backpack (1of2)

For over a decade, I'd been analyzing maps and media, on a trip into the upper Kern River basin, however due to inadequate winter snow, August weather, smoky August skies, the long drive to the trailhead, and particularly the strenuous effort to reach those areas, failed to actually make that trip. Besides an elaborate Excel trip sheet I'd been tweaking for years, a couple years earlier I'd made a custom topographic map of the upper Kern Basin consisting of 9 each 10x7 sheets I printed out then taped together.


This summer of 2019 as I became a septuagenarian, was screaming now or never. My health was ok, I'd already done two 6 day summer trips, and smoky skies were absent. As the week of the trip approached at mid August, I was fighting doubts I was up to the strenuous effort thus devised a Plan B that I only swerved from on that last week. As a landscape photographer, I was confident if I made it into the basin given reasonable weather, that I had good chances of bringing back some of my strongest material over decades of Sierra Nevada backpacking trips. And in the end it was that carrot that pushed me out the door.

The weather forecast for the following week was fair, mostly sunny weather with usual bouts of clouds over the range. Thus mid morning Saturday August 20, 2019, I began the familiar SR120 drive across Yosemite and down to Mono Lake that was suffering from hazy skies of a still burning wildfire in the Glass Mountain Range. South at Mammoth Lakes, early afternoon skies looked better. Within an hour I was down in Bishop easily obtaining a wilderness permit for the Shepherd Pass trailhead that given it's difficulty is never in much demand except Saturdays. Another couple hours and I'd reached Independence where I turned west on paved Onion Valley Road and then south on the dirt Foothill Road that brought me to the 6300 foot sagebrush trailhead along Symmes Creek about 3:45pm. Over years, I'd read about difficulties driving that road, however at least this summer, there were no difficult sections. About two dozen other vehicles were in the lot while my Forester thermometer read 95F degrees.

Small section of my custom map from the trailhead. Note the corrections to the USGS trail below the SS Saddle. The next water source after Symmes Creek is at "Trail Dip".


Link to online USGS topo for the:
Upper Kern River basin

My strategy I'd been considering for months, was to slowly hike late afternoon through the heat the one mile to the fourth Symmes Creek crossing at 6890, up 600 feet where I would enjoy a refreshing dip in the creek, rest, fill up with water, before beginning moving up the 2190 feet of 58 switchbacks over 3.1 miles to the saddle on the divide to Shepherd Creek. My base minimal plan was to just climb up half way to about 8k where I would either camp or decide to go for the saddle. I had incentive to reach the saddle as that was the only way I would be able to fit in important photography in the upper basin.

Without waiting at my Subaru, this person that weighs 135# set off at 4pm entering the John Muir Wilderness with about 62 pounds of carrying weight and reached the fourth crossing about 5:30pm per image above left. Stream crossings by this time of summer required only minor rock hopping and debris effort. The sun had moved behind the tall Sierra Crest ridge above about a half mile along the stream and temperature up in the shady canyon was only about 80F. Sans clothes, I dunked quickly into the creek that was much colder than expected. After drying off, resting maybe 20 minutes, and filling my water containers with about 45 heavy ounces of water, decided I might as well start.


As I continued up the steep lower switchbacks one by one sweating, I would count each turn that helped occupy my mind keeping it off of the heavy effort. I was glad to find the trail mostly smooth versus rocky trails with step-ups, that allowed more efficient sliding feet left right ahead without lifting. And as is my usual strategy stopped frequently where I would sip water. Astronomical sunset was 7:40pm and by 8pm had reached the 8k elevation where on went my headlamp. By that point had drank about 24 ounces with 21 ounces left and the temperature had lowered into the lower 60Fs. I was surprised at how I was managing thus it was a go to try reaching the saddle. I could always stop along the way and tent right on the trail. The water would need to last not only to the saddle, but overnight and then another 1.0 miles on the other side until reaching the first water. This waterless 4.1 miles with 2460 feet of uphill is the prime reason Shepherd Pass is considered the most difficult of the 4 notorious 6k+ Sierra Crest crossings. Well I kept enduring the effort stopping often and at 9:30pm in semi delirium staggered up onto the notch at 9080 feet. Nicely there are lots of flat tenting spots among mountain mahogany and pinyon pines of that divide. So a 2.7k 4.1 mile day. By 10pm was in my tent and swallowed an Ibuprofen I rarely resort to. The red arrow of image above right shows my tent below where I spent the night.


After an irregular night of maybe only 6 hours of sleep I was up early dawn Sunday August 21, 2019. My day 2 plan had been to reach at least at least Anvil Camp at 10.2k with The Pothole at 11k if able. Another benefit of reaching the notch was it allowed my capturing the above Mt Williamson image at page top, a 10100 by 3800 pixel stitch blend with my 30mm lens, at Wednesday dawn, that has much better even photographic light versus after sun shines on those craggy peaks. Mt Williamson at 14,379 feet, is the second highest summit in California and appears taller than Mt Whitney as viewed from the Owens Valley with more bulk. After working that shot, packed up and was soon moving along the 550 feet of down and up and down and up sandy route towards Mahogany Flat at 9200 feet. After 2.6 miles, I stopped along Shepherd Creek for a dip in its chilly waters and an hour of resting before tackling the 800 feet to the Anvil Camp bench. I noted a couple piles of recent horse apples that showed a horse had recently made it up this far that had been blocked since a thunderstorm a few years earlier had destroyed the trail where it crosses a gully. Continuing on, along switchbacks, snapped the image at left of the terrain drop below Anvil Camp that shows a considerable mixed pine forest in the valley and sunny south slopes above. I reached the Anvil zone about 1:30pm where I stopped along the creek to cook lunch, took another dip in the cold stream, rest, and made further decisions.

After a couple hours, at 3:30pm continued up to the top of The Pothole at 11.0k 9.1 miles for a 2.6k 5.0 mile second day. By 5pm had tented per image below right and began exploring the area. I found 3 disgusting illegal camp fire pits that I disassembled tossing rocks and piles of wood into dense willow thickets. There are few trees or down wood in this timberline area so inconsiderate selfish miscreants are burning what little organic matter there is. About 8pm, a group of 4 backpackers arrived that had just descended Shepherd Pass and I pointed them to a nearby tent spot while also asking about conditions at the snow crossing.


At sunrise had looked outside to see it was going to take an hour or so for warming sunlight to start softening up the dangerous snowfield I needed to cross at the top of the pass. About an hour after sunrise Monday August 22, 2019, unzipped my tent, packed up, and headed up the trail through the last areas of scattered whitebark and foxtail pines into a barren zone of mostly talus with bedrock outcrops. Was surprised to pass another couple solo climbers that had camped not far above me. After crossing the stream at 11150 there would not be any more water available till reaching the pass as any flowing water was below talus. I did not feel too lively this morning so stopped more frequently and part of that may have been due to the high altitude. Near the base of the 300 foot steep headwall, I passed 4 backpackers making their way towards the trailhead. The switchbacks above to hiker's right of the snowfield were so eroded and crumbling that the whole steep slope was like walking on a loose scree field. Thus removed my big tripod and used a single extended leg for stability. Much of that was due to early summer hikers avoiding the edge of what had been a larger snowfield. Early summer before steps across the snow form, climbers carry an ice axe and crampons.


About two thirds of the way up, the use path was narrowly up against a rock wall with a steep slope below. With my heavy bulky pack, that required careful slow step by step movement. The snowfield crossing was about 30 vertical feet below the top. After moving around a small pinnacle at the top, I removed my pack, took the above photo and assessed the crossing. I tested the snow for about 10 feet that I was glad to find nicely soft at least for a half inch or so before feeling still firm below. That was important because a firm icy surface is treacherous and a fall here could be fatal after accelerating down to the boulders below. There were small boot depressions in the snow with some in shallow holes that are safe while most were either flat or more precariously sloping downward that tends to happen where people make such paths across melting snowfields. With my pack back on and tripod leg carefully placed ahead after each step forward, I made my way across. Within about 10 minutes I was looking west down the vast expanse of the upper Tyndall Creek basin. I greeted a fine climbing gal that was following her partner a hundred yards up the slope towards Mt Tyndall.

The below images within Sequoia National Park on this page 7 and on page 8, are not in sequence nor are locations identified though elements may be, nor do I describe my travel in the upper Kern River basin beyond the pass.


SO02  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 6 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

This single frame image above at 6000 by 4000 pixels was shot with my Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN lens, and shows a foxtail pine, pinus balfouriana snag, with 14,018 foot Mt Tyndall in background in latest possible sunset light. Early in the day, I'd surveyed possible trees to shoot against the peak that I'd analyzed years before on the topographic map to be in warm sunset light given the setting sun azimuth and height of possible blocking ridge lines to the west. The shadow at the frame lower right corner shows the sunset shadow line just starting to enter my frame.


SO01-4x1vo  12200x5400 pixels  4 frame 4 column 1 row 59 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

This second image composed of 4 vertical orientation stitch blended and focus stack blended frame at 12200 by 6000 pixels, was built from 59 individual Sigma 30mm F2.8 DN lens shots using my Nodal Ninja 3 MKII manual panhead. In post processing, I use Zerene Stacker, Autopano Kolor, and Adobe Photoshop CS6. The background shows the Great Western Divide while most trees below are foxtail and lodgepole pines. A couple months before the trip, my primary Sigma 30mm F1.4 lens developed an electronic fault so sent that in for warranty repair. However repair was delayed due to a need to send a part in from Japan thus ended up using my less sharp F2.8.


SO03-4x1v  11500x6000 pixels  4 frame 4 column 1 row 39 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

More foxtail pines in the foreground with metavolcanic geology of Kaweah Peaks Ridge in the background. This is another 4 frame stitch blended image. Very few backpackers ever reach the remote plateau below those peaks. And interestingly to this photographer even fewer venture out to the rim on the east side of the Kern Canyon with its amazing foxtail pines, though it is a class 1 walk as there are no lakes or running water. I did see plenty of bighorn sheep and deer hoof prints in the soft granite sands.


SO04  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 1 image  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

The upper Kern River basin has an abundance of lakes and ponds, most without topographic names though on my custom map as I noted above, have added humorous titles. This image of a no name lake shows late dusk light towards the Great Western Divide, much of which is over 13,000 feet where light and sky colors tend to be exceptionally saturated on days when air is clear. This summer of 2019 easily on average, had the clearest air in over a decade including few big fires in California until fall. Note the silhouette of grass at lower right. After working this pond, I had to hike crosscountry using my headlamp in the dark to my camp spot that was well away from any trails. A rather dangerous task as not locating one's tent with warm sleeping bag could result in fatal exposure given frosty overnight temperatures at these elevations. Accordingly as one that usually sites camp spots in remote areas well away from trails, I pay careful attention to landscapes during daylight so with certainty can find my way home, something our hunter gatherer ancestors learned to do routinely.


SO05-3x1v  9900x6000 pixels  3 frame 3 column 1 row 30 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

This view shows part of the Tyndall Creek drainage with Caltech Pk, Forester Pass, and Diamond Mesa, Junction Pk. The Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail routes just left of the mesa with the final dynamited in bedrock switchbacks visible in the full image. Lodgepole, whitebark, mountain white, and foxtail pines make up the forest. The talus is a lateral moraine with a large willow seep below. Mid day saw several deer in this area as it is well away from the trail almost all backpackers are glued to.


SO06  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 8 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Foxtail pines and snag with Mt Ericsson in the background frame edge right. On subjects like this I carefully set my tripod position to isolate important elements like branches of the tree at left and the peak in the background.


SO07-3x1v  9600x6000 pixels  3 frame 3 column 1 row 57 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Wide open view of meadows of Wrights Creek and Kaweah Peaks Ridge with a bit of haze in the atmosphere. Abundant golden trout inhabit this sizeable all year stream and many deer enjoy the lush meadows along these streams. Modestly populating the turfy meadow are Lemmon's paintbrush, castilleja lemmonii, yarrow, achillea millefolium, alpine goldenrod, solidago multiradiata, rosy everlasting, antennaria rosea, hiker's gentian, gentianopsis simplex, with gray-leafed sierra willow, salix orestera, across the stream and lodgepole pine, pinus contorta at midground .


SO08-4x1v  15000x6000 pixels  4 frame 4 column 1 row 56 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

A 15000 by 6000 pixel stitch blend of a shallow grassy pond reflection with the Great Western Divide in the background and a foxtail pine rib reflecting at right. Note this common grass species with green and red stems that enjoys shallow muddy pond edges at higher elevations while another species that prefers deeper water is visible further out.


SO09-5x1v  17000x6000 pixels  5 frame 5 column 1 row 91 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

A 5 frame stitch blend of a no name pond in weak light due to hazy skies off to the left. The light yellow green patch lower left is an unusual mossy seep spring apparently percolating through unique minerals.


SO10  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 1 image  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

This image shows the rising Earth shadow behind 14,491 foot Mt Whitney, the tallest summit in the conterminous United States with a spectacular volcano like cloud extending westward. I was actually headed somewhere else after sunset but stopped and worked this perspective. Skies were exceptionally clear necessary for this level of color. I prefer to shoot such a situation when the darker purple is just reaching peak level as waiting any further results in the warmer purple above quickly waning. A partial deck of high clouds off to the west helped illuminate the cloud base with reflected light.


SO29-4x1v  12500x6000 pixels  4 frame 4 column 1 row 71 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

A 12500 by 6000 pixel ground level view below the canopy of a foxtail pine grove showing the typical shallow dry pine debris in grainy well drained granite sands and bedrock. In the background is Mt Genevra and Mt Ericsson. Note the small size of foxtail pine cones.


SO36  4000x5500 pixels  1 frame 17 image focus stack blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Timberline foxtail pine snag against clouds with its small green child beside its trunk. The close-up image 2 images below shows at the end of the log at frame left.


SO15-2x1h  11200x4000 pixels  2 frame 2 column 1 row 33 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

A less than calm morning reflection of a long rib with modest foxtail pines in a no name pond. Although I enjoyed some excellent clear atmospheres with occasional clouds, mornings tended to be breezy without perfect mirror reflecting waters. Note the single shooting star at frame center out on a turfy mini peninsula.


SO14  3800x5500 pixels  1 frame 20 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm
enlarged vertical slice view

The above image shows a flame-like spiraling close-up up in the sky of a root at the base of a fallen foxtail pine trunk showing its golden hues from hardened pitch. Foxtail pines are the closest relatives to the famous long lived bristlecone pines of the White Mountains and Great Basin. Both species that can live well over a millenium at highest elevations, exhibit such amazing wood art that its hard pitch preserves.


SO13  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 1 image  A6000 SEL1650@16mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Above image shows a rising dawn reflecting in a pond with silhouettes of Mt Williamson, Trojan Pk, Mt Barnard, Mt Russell, and Mt Whitney, 3 of which top 14,000 feet. I had to get up in the chilly dark before 5am and then after putting on warm clothing, with headlamp hiked up less than a mile to this no name pond where I set up and waited in frosty turf grass. This was shot with my Sony SEL1650 zoom kit lens that I prefer for such dawn and dusk subjects.


SO35-5x1v  16300x6000 pixels  5 frame 5 column 1 row 83 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Gnarly timberline grove where fierce winter snow storms prune back all but stout foxtail pines. The Kings Kern Divide is in the background including Forester Pass at mid right and Mt Genevra at frame left. I saw no human foot prints anywhere in this area though numbers of bighorn sheep hoof prints and watched 4 deer grazing in a nearby meadow.


SO16-2x1h  10700x4000 pixels  2 frame 2 column 1 row 24 image focus stack stitch blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

Morning reflection of the Great Western Divide and Kings Kern Divide, the calmest half hour I experienced during my 9 day trip that was otherwise rather breezy. That was a key reason I focused on foxtail subjects. This is a two column horizontal orientation stitch blend that I uncommonly frame with as my Nodal Ninja 3 MKII manual panoramic head is designed for only a vertical portrait orientation that takes advantage of the longer length side to overlap in column.


SO31  5700x4000 pixels  1 frame 16 image focus stack blend  A6000 30mm
enlarged vertical slice view

A near view of the fascinating mineral moss spring noted above at SO09-5x1v. Check the enlarged vertical slice view at the bottom that shows the unusual water cohesion at the meeting of water and moss. The water much prefers to attract to itself causing a rounded edge instead of extending gravity flat against the moss. It is a mystery whether that is due to properties of minerals in the water, or organic moss properties, or the slimy algae and bacteria in the water. Notice how even below the water, the moss shows air bubbles as though the water can't even touch it there.


SO19  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 1 image  A6000 SEL1650@39mm
enlarged vertical slice view

This last dawn foxtail pine silhouette image was shot on my ninth morning east of the crest in the John Muir Wilderness from right at my camp spot in the Anvil Camp zone. I sometimes will camp at where I find worthwhile dawn subjects because it is rather difficult to get up while still groggy in a warm sleeping bag. Here I didn't even bother to get dressed as excellent rising sky color spurred my interest that would not wait for the time it would take to put on clothes. Another even stronger image at this spot is at the top of chronicles page 8. The ridge at left is part of the Shepherd Creek canyon above the trail saddle notch while the ridge at center in the distance is part of the White Mountains.

Here at below right is one of my remote camp sites below several large foxtail pines. Note my cooking gear setup against the base of the trunk at middle. Before the trip I'd noted on Google Earth, an unusually green area on a small meadow amid an otherwise significant zone without any surface water. And indeed there was flowing water coming out of some boulders that quickly sank into the deep granite sands. Enough to supply my water over a couple days and even took a bottle bath.


NEXT:  Page 8   Upper Kern Basin Backpack (2of2)
2019 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac

return to home page