12 August 2012

Sierra: New Army Pass to Sky-Blue Lake

Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park

This is part of a nine day backpacking trip that starts here.

Locate the trail head.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6 | DAY 7 | DAY 8 | DAY 9

The sky seems to get a little bit brighter all through the early morning hours with a planet or two, one quite large and bright, rising followed by a sliver of moon. Finally the brightening seems to really get going and the day dawns with a few clouds but plenty of sunshine to be found to dry out the wet stuff. I reach out to untie two knots holding the roof up and fold it aside and out of my way of getting up. My sleeping bag feels wet in the bottom where the bivy sack pocked out from under my makeshift roof that I was really only trying to put over the top half of me and give me some room to store boots and rain gear. I worry for a moment that it has not held, but inspection shows no moisture, only cold. My sockless feet weren't happy about it, so I decide to wear my thinner socks of the two pair I'm wearing to hike in. Of course, I'd already decided that on going to bed, that's how they got wet in the night.

sunrise over Long Lake
The rain has long gone by the time the sun rises, but there are plenty of clouds left in the sky.

The group makes an easy morning of it, generally getting up when the sun actually hits a tent. The Meet-up group camped around us have taken off in the early hours to go up Langley. Their tents have been left for when they come back in the afternoon to pack everything up and head out again as they are only here for the weekend. I set everything out to dry and have breakfast, then get it packed away and on the trail again, heading up New Army Pass. Today, the destination is Sky-Blue Lake, a large spot of blue off the beaten path. First, we have to find High Lake, which turns out to be a fair ways further up the rocks. The trees do, indeed, stop before we get there.

red suculents
These red oddities caught my eye as I climbed into the high alpine areas.


High Lake
High Lake, which is situated above the tree line. The last lake before New Army Pass.

We start to climb switchbacks as we continue up New Army Pass. The rocks are at first a jumbled mess, but then start to resolve into weathered layers that make me think of a number of softer things than granite. As we come near the top, there are distant rumbles. Sounds of the weather telling us all to, "Hurry up."

purple flowers
Clumps of these happy purple flowers are quite common as we near the 12000 foot mark. A few other flowers, dried and much less showy, also can be found.

tiny white flowers on a small bush
Feeling a little more practical for the high altitude, but no where near as common.

loose rocks and layered rocks
The rocks change as we climb higher. The bottom is generally a loose tumble of large solid looking rocks while the top starts to show weathering in layers.

rocks in layers and like cathedrals
I wonder what is different about this section of granite as most of the walls do not seem to have this same weathered look. They are stark rock walls that have split to appear like stacked blocks instead.

Getting to the top of the pass, we finally see a little more of our surroundings. Beyond, high peaks rise pointedly. We move along the rubble at the top finding more trails than there really needs to be to cross it. Eventually we can see the long slope on the backside of the pass. I wonder at the errors of memory as I look around the decidedly not black rocks at the top. I have been here before, just over 20 years ago. That climb was long and hot from one of the lower lakes. We had planned to have lunch at the top, but were still long before it when we decided we must eat. The far side was one long, fairly green hill. Was it the heat of that day that left the impression the rocks were black? Today I see a few switchbacks to work down before we will come to the long hills, which have already browned in the summer sun. It is cool and I need a little protection from the wind to be comfortable.

wall at the end of the valley
The glacial valley ends at another mighty wall, the pass is to the right.

Long Lake and South Fork Lakes from New Army Pass
Looking back over the lakes below, High Lake is hidden by the near rocks but Long Lake can be seen pointing out toward the South Fork Lakes that I did not quite visit.

distant mountains
This is where the 14000 footers live.

We finish our lunching at the top of the pass and turn to continue down the other side. A confused sign welcomes us to one of the National Parks, but isn't sure if this is Sequoia or Kings Canyon. It says no weapons, but without the TSA to take them away, we keep all of our pocket knives. As we start down, there are more weather noises as thunder plays over the mountains. Rain drops start to hit me before I finish the first switchback. I decide to put away my cotton hat and, although the rain is still light, get out my jacket I've just put away. The rain turns to hail as I do this and I briefly think maybe I better keep the hat out as it is more protection, but then I put it away because it is really a mixture of water and ice balls coming down. My rain jacket hood will have to provide the protection.

landscape turning white with little round balls of ice
Coming down New Army Pass in a winter wonderland made of fresh hail stones.

hail stones in the dried grasses
It isn't winter, it's summer. The grasses are drying and now getting pelted with hail stones.

hail on the high points
It is interesting how the hail changes the look of the landscape.

nearing the treeline and the hail is thinning
Getting back near the treeline and the hail is turning to rain again.

As we get closer to the treeline, the creek is flowing with water and the hail is turning to a heavy rain. I hadn't pulled on my rain pants, so the quick drying nylon is plastering itself to my legs and threatening to allow water into the top of my boots. The rain lightens up as we get to the trees, but we are still thinking about shelter and take some for a moment. It is particularly nice to reach the trees as we've been hearing thunder just 2-3 seconds off from the flashes, but the booms are just about gone now, too. We continue down the pass in the light rain among the trees. I get to the junction to go to Siberian Pass to find a group has put up a nice shelter with their rain fly and has made the lead of our group some hot chocolate while he waits for the rest of us.

water coming down off the pass
A creek pours down from the area of Army and New Army Passes and is reliable water, if I recall correctly, even when it isn't pouring or hailing.

We continue on down the short distance to Soldier Lake and turn onto a trail marked simply "food storage box". At the far side of the lake, we start one of the cross country sections of the hike. Turning to the rock slide of hill on the north side of the lake, we start to climb, passing by a couple guys huddled under a tree in the light rain. They follow us up. It turns out, they had been a little daunted by their route and were about to turn back because they'd read all sorts of things about going up to Sky-Blue Lake online, but were somehow expecting a trail. Use trails abound, but no trail is built over this bit of land.

Soldier Lake
Soldier Lake in the light rain. The peaks above show some more leftover hail. We hike over the hill just to the left of this photo.

hiking on slanted wet granite
Hiking up Rock Creek to Sky-Blue Lake joined briefly by two extras.

alpine frog
I find a tiny amphibian hopping through the cold and wet along Rock Creek.

rain lifting, mist lifting
As the rain is finishing, the mists in the high peaks start rising and they get busy with making some more weather for later.

Climbing through Rock Creek was first lovely meadows with trees at the edges. Gradually, we lose the trees and the creek becomes a succession of waterfalls and lakes. The waterfalls are generally more cascade than fall and aren't very tall or difficult to traverse. Many routes present themselves as we climb. Eventually we leave the trees behind again as we approach our destination.

slot waterfall
A shorter route presents to the left with a use trail, but we decide to head across a cute slot waterfall to the right and not skip parts of the creek.

rock creek, not much trees
Rock Creek right around the treeline.

waterfall or cascade of water from the lake above
The waterfall that allows water out of Sky-Blue Lake.

an odd red flower
Another flower that caught my attention along the route as the plant life gets sparse.

Sky-Blue Lake
Sky-Blue Lake, a large body of water above the treeline.

The clearing skies give us some time to dry out our things once we reach our destination of Sky-Blue Lake. We have a couple of other groups camping around the lake while we are here. In the evening, the peaks behind us present a lovely alpine glow and the remaining clouds give a good show down the valley. I worry about the rain some more, so set up a shelter again using a couple of borrowed hiking sticks and a lot of rocks. Other than a few minutes of very light rain in the evening and as it gets dark, there is nothing to worry about. The sky clears in the night to give a glorious show of stars, then clouds over and clears again for more stars and planets and the sliver of moon.

Continue reading: day 3




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 25 Aug 2012

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