Mt. Brewer Loop ~ October 2014

Kings Canyon

Earlier this summer I planned on traversing the Great Western Divide during a ten day solo trip through the Sierra, but when bad weather approached I had to cut it short. This time I rejoined the Great Western Divide near Lake Reflection for a four day trip over three cross country passes, three remote basins and an attempt at climbing Mt. Brewer.

The plan was to finish the north end of the Great Western Divide during a 40 mile loop out of Roads End in Kings Canyon. Although the total mileage didn't pose a problem the daily climbs were a challenge. The daily elevation change on trail ranged from the 5,000 foot ascent on the first day to the 6,980 foot descent on the hike out. Ouch.

Overview Map

Although this is a popular cross country loop my route was partly inspired by Bill Finch's report: Mount Brewer Loop.

Day 1: Roads End to Lake Reflection. 17 miles.

After sleeping at the Roads End trailhead the night before I planned on getting my permit as soon as the ranger station opened at 8:00 am. Unfortunately it took longer than I anticipated and I didn't get started until after 10:00 am. I usually access the Sierra from the east side (where the permits are free) so I was surprised to pay the $15 for a one man permit. So with a light load and slightly lighter wallet I headed out along the two miles of sandy flat trail which leads to Bubbs Creek.

I noticed people hiking out wearing head nets which seemed strange since the mosquito season is usually over by September. Little did I know there were swarms of flies in this area in late season. I didn't think to bring a head net. . . so I covered up and walked fast as the flies swarmed around my head. The ranger mentioned that the flies went away at about 6,600 feet, and he was right on. Soon after passing the junction with the Avalanche Pass trail I wouldn't see another fly until the hike out.

Looking up Paradise Valley while on the switchbacks up to Bubbs Creek

The Sphinx
The focus of the day was reaching Lake Reflection to set up the climb to Longley Pass on day 2. I used a technique outlined by Glen Van Peski that helps make the miles go by more easily (see Change Your Hiking Schedule).

I took long lunch and dinner breaks by the creek while it was still sunny and warm out. By the time I reached Lake Reflection the smells of cooking were miles away which kept the bears uninterested in my camp. Another advantage to having my main meals during the day is that I didn't need to carry a heavy jacket to keep warm while cooking at night.

I made it to the lake at 7:00 pm and was surprised to find another solo hiker already camped at the first prime spot, right above the outlet creek and surrounded by trees.

A ranger at East Lake recommended a good place to camp on a small promontory/peninsula on the eastern shoreline of Lake Reflection. This would be prefect for early morning pictures of the sunrise reflecting on the lake. It was getting dark so after quickly passing the solo camper I started searching for the next camp. . . but there was a long boulder field that ended in the lake and I couldn't see the end of it.

Was the solo camper in the rangers recommended spot? It was hard to tell, but I could see some very good places to camp on the opposite side of the lake. Instead of going all the way around the lake I crossed a large log jam to the other side and setup my tarp. While cleaning up on the shore I could see there was a use trail above the boulder field on the other side that lead right to the spot the ranger had recommended. Next time!

After 17 miles and a 5,000 foot climb I slept very well that night.

Day 2: Lake Reflection to Brewer Basin. 6 miles.

Today I would rejoin the Great Western Divide at Longley Pass and travel cross country to Brewer Basin. After deciding to skip the steep north chute of Thunder Pass earlier in the summer this would be my way to redemption! . . or at least to finish the northern end of the GWD.

The first part of the cross country 'route' from Lake Reflection up toward Longely Pass was a challenge. Route-finding through the mix of forest and benches was a challenge but I found a good use trail up to Longely Lake. From there the route up to Longley Pass is wide open. There was no sign of the usual snow field at the top.

I scrambled above the eastern shore of South Guard Lake. This was also a somewhat challenging mix of terrain but before long I was overlooking Brewer Basin from the top of Cinder Col. It was all downhill and easy going over long granite slabs down into Brewer Basin. I found a good legal camp site just before the waterfall to Big Brewer Lake. The alpenglow on Mt. Brewer was beautiful.

Cross Country route along Lake Reflection

Starting the climb up from Lake Reflection. 

Looking back at Lake Reflection

Pano of Lake Reflection on the hike up to Longley Pass. 

Use trail and some switchbacks below Longley Lake

Longley Lake outlet

Longley Lake cirque
Longley Pass

On the climb to Longely Pass

Longely Lake 

Longley Lake 

Longley Lake

View from the top of Longley Pass
West side of Longley Pass

East side approach to Longley Pass

My route up the east side of Longley Pass

Cross country route finding above South Guard Lake. Mt. Brewer is in the background.

Brewer Basin from Cinder Col

Camp in Brewer Basin. Mt. Brewer in the background.

Alpenglow on Mt. Brewer.

Day 3: Mt. Brewer. 4 miles.

Today I made an attempt on Mt. Brewer and even though I got turned back by bad weather it was a fun climb. I planned to follow the north chute to the top but once I got within a few hundred feet of the top storm clouds rolled in and unfortunately I had to scramble down.

I still had plenty of time in the day so I packed up camp and moved to the small tarn on the south side of Sphinx Col. I read about this spot and it sounded like a hidden gem. I made camp between the granite slabs and fell asleep listening to the wind blow through the basin.

Brewer Basin

View from the climb to Mt. Brewer

Boulder field on the climb to Mt. Brewer

Mt. Brewer, north chute route.

The climb to Mt. Brewer

Steep climb to Mt. Brewer

Final approach.

Brewer Basin and North Guard

Weather approaching

Retreat from the storm.

Brewer Basin

Day 4: Brewer Basin to Roads End. 12 miles.

I was looking forward to hiking through Sphinx Col and the route up and over Sphinx Col was relatively easy on the south side. The north side is made up of a long boulder field that is tedious but not really a challenge. The hike through Sphinx Basin was pleasant with mostly easy route finding. I met another solo hiker the day before who gave me some good advice about the best way down and within a few hours I was at the junction with the Avalanche Pass trail. The intermittent rain was a welcome way to cool off on the hike down. By the end of the day I would hike downhill almost 7,000 feet! Once I reached the switchbacks down from Bubbs Creek to Roads End a storm brought heavy rain for about 30 minutes. Water rushed down the sides of the canyon and created waterfalls along the trail. I was safe and warm under my homemade poncho. 

The view of Brewer Basin from Sphinx Col

The view of Sphinx Basin from Sphinx Col.

Upper Sphinx Lake

Cooking dinner in Sphinx Basin

Rain on Sphinx Creek

Granite stairway to Roads End

Stone work on the Avalanche Pass Trail.

Fall colors.
Once I got down into the forest again the bugs chased me all the way back to the car. Most people that passed by were totally unaffected but they must have really liked me. Since I made the drive in at night it was a surprise to see the well engineered road on the drive out. Portions of the road were blasted straight into the canyon walls. I made it to the main view turnout just in time for sunset. The end to a successful trip!

Thanks for reading.

Looking back at the South Fork Kings Canyon (right) and the Middle Fork Kings River and Tehipite Valley (left). 

For more information about the gear I used on this trip check out:

1 comment:

  1. A little late here, but great post. I did the reverse of this trip in July of that year and Longley pass still had a huge cornice, so I am impressed it was all gone by October!