Deerhorn Saddle
6-10 September 2012
by Bill Finch
Deerhorn Saddle and Vidette Lakes looked like an interesting destination on the map. I planned a trip with reasonable daily milage, hoping I wouldn't be totally wiped out at the end of the trip. I knew full well that the milage calculated by the TOPO! program was probably about 80% of what I would really travel, but at six "TOPO! miles" per day, it didn't sound too bad.

Day 1

A little after eight I was leaving the Roads End parking lot east of Cedar Grove. I had never stayed at the camp on Charlotte Creek, before and I felt pretty good after an easy first day. That evening brought a dramatic view of the granite wall at the west end of Mt Bago.
Mt Bago - In this photo taken from Charlotte Creek Camp, the west flank of Mount Bago is bathed in alpenglow. This impressive wall lies on the other side of Charlotte Creek from Charlotte Dome, one of Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

Day 2

My destination for day two was the lower Vidette Lake. The trail from Charlotte Creek camp continued up Bubbs Creek to Junction Meadow, then switch backed up to Vidette Meadow. Just past the John Muir Trail junction, I found a likely place to ford Bubbs Creek. After walking up Bubb's Creek for a few minutes I found Shorty Lovelace's Vidette Meadow cabin. Click here for a video tour of the cabin.
Vidette Meadow cabin - Shorty Lovelace, a fur trapper, built many cabins in this part of the Sierra Nevada and used them until Kings Canyon National Park was established in 1940.

A few more minutes of walking up Bubbs Creek toward Vidette Creek brought me to a steep but distinct trail. I decided to take it, fearing that the lower part of Vidette Creek might be narrow and choked with willows. In a few minutes, I was staring at a spectacular cascade on Vidette Creek.
Unexpected cascade - Its always special when you come upon unexpected scenery. I hope this doesn't ruin this lovely place for those who chose to take this trip.

The use trail became less distinct and few ducks were visible. The jumbled topography and undergrowth didn't help, either. I pushed on up the canyon and finally made the destination for the day. The first large lake had a half dozen campsites on its west shore and I picked the largest which had room for a two man tent. The rest of the sites were about right for one person. That evening, I was rewarded with great views of alpenglow on the cliffs across Bubbs Creek.
Alpenglow - Skies were particularly dramatic during this trip thanks to moisture being pumped into the area by the remnants of a tropical storm in the South. Note the north end of the lower large lake in the right side of the photo.

The next morning, skies were mostly clear with a few cirrus clouds over the flanks of West Vidette.
Cirrus Clouds - Every morning, I expected the skies to clear. The cycle didn't end, though, so I enjoyed interesting weather the entire trip.

Day 3

I packed up, took a photo of my campsite, and headed up the canyon.
Campsite - I had my choice of several flat spots. This one provided everything I needed.

I headed up the inlet stream which gurgled under the rockslide below and soon had a view of the entire lower lake.
Lowest lake in Vidette Canyon - The canyon is typical of offtrail destinations in Sequoia/Kings Canyon - solitude and breathtaking scenery.

After passing several small lakes, I arrived at the upper and larger of the Vidette Lakes. "U"-shaped Deerhorn Saddle lay on the skyline.
Deerhorn Saddle - It was easy to navigate around the east side of the lake. The scene changed by the second as clouds built up and the area went in and out of sunlight.

Soon I was looking back on the larger, upper lake and at vegetation that had begun to take on fall colors.
Larger, upper Vidette lake - So far, the walking had been easy, but that was to change.

A little while later, I was next to a small krumholtz that represented the highest trees in the canyon.
Krumholtz - No more trees and little vegetation occupied the slopes above this point.

A single, tattered, alpine gold blossom remained on the loose slope on the way to the top.
Alpine gold blossom - Spring and summer were at their end on the slope to the top.

Finally, I encountered a small ice field that relieved the monotony of what seemed like endless, loose talus.
Small ice field - I had to take great care and move very slowly over the ice because there was just a thin layer of corn snow on top.

After the lower ice field and more loose talus, I arrived at the base of the larger ice field. The stream came to the surface so I drank my fill of ice water. Nearby, numerous mountain sorrels were in bloom.
Mountain sorrels - I have never seen so many mountain sorrel plants in such a small area. I could have enjoyed a salad given the number of plants, but I just enjoyed a few leaves, instead.

The upper ice field was much larger and steeper than the first. The talus above the upper ice field was as nasty as I've ever encountered.
Upper ice field - I stayed as close as I could to the edge of the ice just in case I slipped. I figured it would be easier to stop on a rock than try to self arrest on the ice.

Even many of the larger rocks were loose and the slope seemed to go on for ever.
Loose talus - It seemed to take forever to get up this grungy slope.

Somehow, a few Ivesia managed to hang onto the slippery slope.
Ivesia - Even though it had gone to seed, this Ivesia raised my spirits.

Finally, I was on top. I took several photos to the north.
Vidette Canyon from Deerhorn Saddle - Clouds look pretty thick in this panorama of Vidette Canyon. I guess I should have expected what was to come.

Mt Ericson and Harrison Pass loomed across the canyon to the south.
Mt Ericson and Harrison Pass - A few minutes after taking these shots, I was being pelted by hail, then rain.

Almost as soon as I was finished the wind began to blow from the south and forced me to seek cover. I found a boulder not far north from the high point that offered some protection. Then the hail started. It blew in almost horizontally from the south and it was pelting me hard enough to hurt. I pulled out my umbrella which kept almost all of the hail stones from hitting me. The hail turned into rain and it was coming down so hard that I was afraid to take out rain gear thinking I would be soaked before I got it on. It probably was not a good decision, because by the time the rain stopped, I was hypothermic. As soon as I got my pack on, I headed south down the slope. By then I was hyperventilating, I guess the body's way of trying to generate a little internal heat. I spontaneously hollered, too, and since it felt good, I guessed that may be another way to make some extra internal heat. After a few minutes of that madness, I was warm enough to take a photo of the slope I had just come down.
Slope on south side of Deerhorn Saddle - The loose talus on the south side was a lot easier to navigate than the stuff on the north.

Ahead lay the highest lake in the canyon below.
Highest lake - Mt Ericson dominates the scenery in this area and this little lake offers a nice foreground.

I passed by a number of plants that I thought were new to me, but they just turned out to be western roseroot that had recently been frozen.
Western roseroot - A little frost makes a huge difference in the appearance of western roseroot, Sedum rosea. The entire plant turns the rosy color usually reserved for its blossoms.

I found a great campspot across from Mt Ericson, where, just before sunset, I had gorgeous views of the northern Great Western Divide.
Great Western Divide - A few clouds can help to make spectacular views.

The canyon I had just descended was bathed in a rosy glow.
Up-canyon view - The view up-canyon from my campsite was spectacular as well.

At 8:30 that evening, I was awakened my the loudest noise I had ever heard in the wilderness. At first I thought it was a jet that had decided to land near my campsite. Then, I thought it must be the end of the world. I looked to the west for a flash that should be coming from that direction if a bomb had gone off, but remembered that the light from the bomb would have reached me long before the sound. I thought about recording the sound but rejected that idea - if it was the end of the world, who would listen to the recording, anyway? Finally, the noise stopped, but several minutes later it resumed, this time identifiable as the noise of a rock slide. I heard rock slides five or six times that night. The next morning, I looked across the canyon from where the noise had come but I couldn't see evidence to pin down its location. . . . . What a day!

Days 4 and 5

The next couple of days took me back to the trailhead. I did manage to have a fairly good view of Mt Brewer on the way back. For whatever reason, the view of Brewer from East Lake is hardly ever this good when I pass by.
Mt Brewer from East Lake - Mt Brewer usually has haze in front of it when I pass by. Not this time.

Rain was a factor on the rest of day four, but my umbrella kept most of it off. The last day, I hiked out from Charlotte Creek camp and met two or three dozen hikers coming up the trail, a huge contrast to my time in Vidette Canyon and on Deerhorn Saddle where I had seen no one.

5 January 2013