Elizabeth Pass

26-30 August 2014

by Bill Finch

I've been over the Tableland on the northern edge of Sequoia National Park several times. The area has always intrigued me. I thought it would be fun to cross the Tableland again and do it the right way this time. On previous crossings, I have always been sucked into routes that go up and down a lot and I wanted to find a smoother route to Pterodactyl Pass.

Elizabeth Pass Map
right click and save the above map and it is a usable size for hiking this trip (1852x985)

The hike started out well. I hiked with Garth from Walnut Creek most of the day and Mike from western Pennsylvania walked with us to Pear Lake. Mike was suitably impressed with Sequoia and he guessed he would have to return some day to see more.

Marble Fork Canyon
Marble Fork Canyon from the Watchtower

After leaving Mike at Pear Lake, Garth led the way over granite slopes and slabs to the mostly dry Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. We split up just shy of Table Meadow. He went to a favorite campsite of his on the Kings-Kaweah (K-K) Divide. I spent a comfortable night at the large lake south of Table Meadow.

Lake near Table Meadow
Lake near Table Meadow

I slept in the next morning and didn't start hiking until about 10am. I headed up to Lake 10,559 to see what it looked like.

Lake 10,559
Lake 10,559

I headed toward Moose Lake and passed the east end of Table Meadow.

Table Meadow from the east
Table Meadow from the east

By the time Moose Lake came into view I had run out of time to get a closer look.

Moose Lake
Moose Lake was barely visible and doesn't show up in the photo. The ponds are the headwaters of Buck Creek.

I headed toward Pterodactyl Pass, making the same mistakes I have made in the past. I didn't climb nearly high enough towards the K-K Divide so I ended up winding around and traipsing up and down over way more of the Tableland than I wanted to.

small lake near Pterodactyl Pass
This was the last lake I saw before the last climb to Pterodactyl Pass

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived at Pterodactyl Pass.

Pterodactyl Pass from the west
An aplite dike points the way toward Pterodactyl Pass

Lonely Lake looked a long way off.

view toward Lonely Lake
Lonely Lake is not visible from Pterodactyl Pass and is nestled beneath the unnamed peak in the center. Horn Col is left of the peak and Elizabeth Pass is to the right. Mt Stewart with the Lilliput Glacier at its base is below the tiny clouds on the right.

During the descent I went too far north and came close to cliffing out several times. The ascent of the ridge west of Lonely Lake was tiring and then I had to scramble across a giant boulder rockfall to get to the lake and fill water bottles for the evening. I met a couple from Vancouver, WA, on my way to my campsite. They had started from Table Meadow about the same time I did and made it to Lonely Lake by 2pm. How? They stayed near the K-K Divide. I started setting up camp after 7pm. Dinner sure tasted good after what had turned out to be a longer and much more difficult day than I had imagined. Despite sleeping on a slope, I got a good night's rest and was up earlier than the previous day.

Day three started well with an easy cross country ascent to Horn Col which I reached by 10am.

Horn Col
The walk from Lonely Lake to Horn Col.

There was a great view of Lonely Lake on the way up.

Lonely Lake
There is a great view of Lonely Lake on the way to Horn Col

The east side of the pass was a little trickier than I had remembered when scouting it out in 2004. However, once I was on the way to Elizabeth Pass, the cross country travel continued to be easy. I intercepted the Elizabeth Pass trail at 11:24 and was on top 15 minutes later.

Horn Col from the east
Horn Col from the east

Views from Elizabeth Pass were impressive in every direction. I ate lunch on the pass and photographed flowers.

south into Sequoia NP
Looking south into Sequoia NP from Elizabeth Pass

NE from Elizabeth Ps
Looking back into Kings Canyon NP from Elizabeth pass toward Coppermine Peak/Pass

Even at the end of August in the third year of drought, the flowers on the way down from the pass were impressive.

Eriogonum next to Elizabeth Pass Trail
Eriogonum was in full bloom next to the Elizabeth Pass Trail

A number of the huge ducks commissioned in the early 1990's by former Bearpaw Meadow ranger, Bob Meadows, remained to help navigate the way down.

gigantic duck on trail
Gigantic duck with Elizabeth Pass above left

After crossing the Lonely Lake outlet stream, I endured the 20 or so rocky and hot switchbacks down to the Tamarack Lake turnoff. I was running on low and decided to go over the hill to Bearpaw Meadow. This is the second time I've been on this trail and there were more flowers than I expected. Near the top, the view of Eagle Scout Peak and Hamilton Canyon to the east was as good as I've ever seen.

Eagle Scout Peak
Mt Stewart, Black Kaweah above Hamilton Canyon, and Eagle Scout Peak

I met a hiker going up the trail in sandles just after beginning the descent to Bearpaw. I went to the High Sierra Camp and placed my SPOT locator in what I figured had to be the best place in the area. Unfortunately, the message didn't make it to my wife and she spent a sleepless night until my message from the Bearpaw Campground managed to get through when I sent it the next morning.

The fourth day was on familiar trail. I sent another SPOT message from Buck Creek because I doubted that the Bearpaw Campground message would get through.

Buck Creek
Looking down Buck Creek from near the bridge

The trail up from Buck Creek was intensely hot even though it was morning. It cooled off as soon as the trail passed into forest. I stopped at one of my favorite rest stops which is upstream from Little Blue Dome.

Buddha Rest Stop
Rest stop above Little Blue Dome

I met the supply pack train for Bearpaw High Sierra Camp and took a mental note that they might catch up to me on my way up to Mehrten Meadow. I spent at least two hours chatting with different hikers on my way to Mehrten. Sure enough, just as I got to the top of the trail, the pack train passed by. An empty backpack was strapped to one of the horses. One of the packers said someone had been air lifted from Elizabeth Pass the day before. (When I got home, I checked the newspaper and online and found no reports of any accidents near Elizabeth Pass.) My original plan was to continue past Mehrten Meadow, but by the time I got there it was 5pm. I found a fairly flat spot, had dinner and had delightful evening and morning visits with my neighbors, Alice and Ian.

Mehrten Meadow
Mehrten Meadow

The last day, I took a seldom used trail back to Wolverton. Instead of the NW then W descent to Wolverton, I hiked past Panther Peak through Panther and Red Fir Meadows (now very much dried up) and on to the Long Meadow Trail. Long Meadow was also very dry and it looked like the corn lilies in the meadow never flowered this year. I didn't see a soul and from the looks of the trail, it probably sees more activity in the winter from cross country skiers than it sees in the summer.

Long Meadow
Long Meadow was very dry

I arrived to a full parking lot at Wolverton. It was Sunday of the Labor Day weekend. I imagine every parking lot in Sequoia and Kings Canyon looked about the same. Traffic on the return to Fresno was a little heavier than normal, but fortunately, I never got behind any rubber neckers or scared drivers.

10 September 2014