Center Basin-Junction Pass

15-18 July 2004

by Bill Finch

Ever since seeing a Sierra Club poster with a photo of Center Basin, I have wanted to visit the area.

Day 1

My hike began at road's end near Cedar Grove and soon I was up the switchbacks and at the bridge to the Sphinx Creek Trail. bridge
Bridge to Sphinx Creek Trail - After two miles of hot sand and 18 switchbacks the bridge is a welcome sight.

It was already warming up by the time I met a couple of rangers just shy of Charlotte Creek. They thoroughly examined my permit, sent me on my way and soon I was passing Charlotte Dome. Charlotte Dome
Charlotte Dome towers above Charlotte Creek and is one of the premier rock climbs in this area.

I passed a large buck relaxing in the shade. buck
Loafing Buck - I heard something moving in the brush near the trail. It was this large buck settling down for an afternoon rest.

The Bubbs Creek trail seemed a lot steeper and longer than the last time I hiked it but I chalked my feeling up to my advancing age and poor conditioning.

Late that afternoon I arrived at the bearbox below the Junction Meadow drift fence and decided I was too hungry to continue without eating dinner. A couple of guys from LA and four girls from Santa Barbara shared the camp. After finishing dinner and visiting with the two groups, both of which were doing the Rae Lakes Loop, I continued up Bubbs Creek and through Junction Meadow. Junction Mdw
The name Junction is used a lot in this vicinity. This Junction Meadow is at the juction of East Creek and Bubbs Creek. Another Junction Meadow to the south is at the junction of the Kern and Kern-Kaweah Rivers. Junction Pass and Junction Peak of this report are at the junction of the Kings-Kern Divide and the Sierra crest.

I ran out of gas at the top of the waterfall just above the meadow. The site wasn't very big but there was plenty of room for one person at this scenic spot. Sunset was spectacular. sunset
Sunset over Bubbs Creek - This was the most spectacular of several sunset shots I got on my first night out.

Day 2

The next morning proved to be very cloudy. I made my way up the steep trail to Vidette Meadows passing by a spectacular waterfall. cascade
Bubbs Creek Cascade - There are several cascades and waterfalls in the steep section of canyon between Junction Meadow and Vidette Meadows. This one is easy to view because it is right next to the trail.

There was a lovely view toward East Creek which drains into Bubbs Creek at Junction Meadow.
Junction of East Creek with Bubbs Creek - I caught this beautiful scene while looking down toward Junction Meadow.

Soon the path merged with the John Muir Trail (JMT). Where were all the people? The last time I had been through this area it had been packed. I didn't see another soul until nearing the Center Basin turnoff. I didn't take the turnoff because there wasn't a sign there and I thought the trail was closer to the creek that drains Center Basin. All of a sudden, people started appearing. I visited with a couple who were hiking to Canada and had completed several hundred miles of hiking already. There wasn't an ounce of fat on either one of them. After examining the map, I realized I had missed the turnoff but I figured it wouldn't make much difference if I walked cross country for the first mile or so. It wasn't until Golden Bear Lake that I finally found the Center Basin Trail and by then it had become faint. I had planned to camp beside one of the lakes below Junction Pass, but they proved to be too far off the trail.
Golden Bear Lake
By the time time I got to Golden Bear Lake the skies had really begun to cloud over.

The trail took an unexpected turn to the west and soon I was atop a ridge where I had great views of Junction Pass Junction Pass
Alpenglow lit up Junction Pass which is on the left end of the broad saddle.

and Forester Pass. Forester Pass
Forester Pass is usually not visible from the north but I was high enough to see it from my camp. It is the lowest notch on this view of the divide.

Soon, it became obvious that unless I wanted to back-track that I would have to camp on the ridge. I hoped that it wouldn't get too windy and blow me and my tent into the canyon below. The night turned out to be calm and mild.

Day 3

I was up early the next morning and watched some hikers break camp near the lake below Forester Pass. I passed clumps of alpine flowers as I completed the few switchbacks to Junction Pass. polomonium
Polomonium below Junction Pass - Several species of alpine wildflowers decorated the switchbacks below Junction Pass.

The trail was in pretty good shape and there were bootprints on it. It was blustery at the pass and it was easy to see why the sign at the top was weather worn. sign
The sign was really beat up.

The trail gradually disappeared and reappeared as I descended toward the Shepherd Pass trail. Talus slides covered extensive parts of it but staying on it seemed to make more sense than descending to the bottom of the canyon where the talus was even worse. Finally, the trail improved to the point where there were very few disturbed stretches. As the trail came to the edge of a bench, water gushed forth from the talus in the base of the canyon. It was the first running water I had seen since Center Basin. The area proved to be an archeological site as well. The spring melt had uncovered a number of old-fashioned tin cans that had been buried decades earlier. The trail dropped down into a wooded area by way of several switchbacks and soon I was surrounded by flowers next to the stream that drained the canyon. I detoured toward the nearby small wooded hill and discovered several built-up campsites. It looked like a popular area but no one was occupying any of the sites. Then I discovered why. The descent to the bottom of the canyon was very steep and the trail was blocked by deadfalls in many areas making the going slow. I had to push through willow thickets and cross swamps as well. Shortly after beginning the ascent toward Shepherd Pass, I met Doug, the Mount Whitney ranger. We talked for a little while and then it began to rain. Doug put on his rain gear and I pulled out my umbrella and we continued our talk for a while longer. Finally, I couldn't stall any longer so we parted and I continued the steep climb toward the pass. I met several climbers coming down the trail, two of whom had summited Mount Tyndall and a half dozen more that hadn't because of threatening skies. Shortly thereafter, I made Shepherd Pass and had a view through the rain to the Kaweah Peaks. Kaweah Pks
Kaweah Peaks from Shepherd Pass - Rain continued as I walked toward the Tyndall Creek camps.

I continued walking until mid-afternoon when I started getting cold. I headed cross country toward the Frog Ponds but found a nice spot to pitch my tent along the way. It was still raining when I crawled inside and took a long afternoon nap.

The skies were still cloudy when I awoke a couple of hours later. Skies appeared to be clearing a little to the west as Milestone Mountain came into view. Milestone
Milestone Mountain from Day 3 Camp - It cleared a little in the west in the late afternoon.

I ate dinner and decided to stay put since Forester Pass was shrouded in clouds. In the evening, it began to clear toward the west and I had some great views of the Great Western Divide. It was a little unsettling to think about how far I would have to walk the next day. I set my alarm to sound at 4:30 the next morning. I'm sure it did, but I didn't hear it.

Day 3

Fortunately, I woke up at 5:30 and was able to be on my way a little after six. Milestone looked different in the morning alpenglow. morning Milestone
Milestone Mountain in Morning Light - Milestone caught the morning alpenglow in clear skies.

The sky was cloudless as I made my way cross country past the Frog Ponds toward the JMT. The JMT was deserted and the only people I saw on my way to Forester Pass was a group that had camped by one of the lakes above the Frog Ponds. Forester Ps
Forester Pass from the South - The south face of the Kings-Kern Divide remained in shadow as I approached Forester Pass.

The view to the south from Forester Pass was fabulous. KPR from ps
Kaweah Peaks from Forester Pass - Clouds started building as I reached Forester Pass.

Polomonium or Sky Pilot were more abundant than I had ever seen them. garden
Polomonium Garden at Forester Pass - Polomonium were at their peak and abundant at the higher elevations.

I spotted a few clumps of albino Polomonium, also. albino
Albino Polomonium - I noticed albino Polomonium for the first time on this trip. This photo came from the south side of Junction Pass.

For the first time, I was able to see the Junction Pass trail from Forester Pass. new view
Junction Pass and Junction Peak - For the first time, I finally could see where the Junction Pass Trail was located. It is perched on the cliff east of Bubbs Creek then switchbacks to the east (left) end of the broad saddle on the left side of the photo.

Clouds began building again as I surveyed upper Bubbs Creek canyon. canyon view
Bubbs Creek and High Sierra from Forester Pass - Recent rains had made the view from the pass unsusually clear.

I had the trail and the pass to myself until mid-morning. Things got a little busier as I continued down the trail but I still didn't see a lot of people during my return to the trailhead. It sprinkled a little on the way out but not enough to cause any delays. With the help of a flashlight I made it to the trailhead parking lot at a little after ten that evening.

One Page Version 22 January 2013