6-10 August 1996

by Bill Finch

Enchanted Gorge is one of the most remote canyons in the Sierra Nevada. Located south of the Goddard Divide, the gorge is drained by Disappearing Creek. The upper reaches of the creek are fed by a string of unnamed lakes located in the Ionian Basin. Several small streams join it as it swells from a trickle at its head to a torrent where it joins Goddard Creek. The area was first explored by Theodore Solomons whose path finding in the 1890's eventually led to the establishment of the John Muir Trail. Solomons named many of the geographic features in the area such as Enchanted Gorge, Scylla, Charybdis, and Disappearing Creek on his map dated 1896. The only part of the canyon designated as the Enchanted Gorge on his map was the upper part, what I call in this report the "lake section." On its map of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Vicinity, 1958, the USGS strings the letters for the name "Enchanted Gorge" down the entire Disappearing Creek canyon. The index map shows the approximate location of the route.

The Approach

The five day hike began on Tuesday, August 6,1996, from the trailhead parking lot east of Courtwright Reservoir. The trail passes through Post Corral Meadow and climbs to the Red Mountain Basin. I arrived at Disappointment Lake at 5:00 in the afternoon. After finishing dinner, I felt like I had a few miles left in me so I headed up to Hell for Sure Lake. HFS Lk and Ps
Hell for Sure Lake from Hell for Sure Pass - Sunset bathed the area in a golden glow. I'm sure that Hell for Sure Pass must have been a tough trek before decent trail was built, but the new trail has reduced this crossing to "heck for sure" at the worst.

I reached the lake at 7:15 and still felt strong, so I headed for Hell for Sure Pass which I reached at 7:45. I pressed on to that night's camp which was located on a broad bench below the pass.

The next day took me through the beautiful, flower-filled meadows below Hell for Sure Pass and up Goddard Canyon. At 10:00 that morning I had a tea break just below Martha Lake. Martha Lk
Martha Lake and the Le Conte Divide - Martha Lake is at the head of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. From a distance, the slopes surrounding the northern shore of the lake appear to be barren, but upon closer inspection one can see that they are covered by wild flowers that hug the ground.

The area is dominated by Mt. Goddard to the east and the Le Conte Divide on the west. At 12:30, I stopped for lunch by a small, ice-covered lake between Martha Lake and the Ionian Basin. lunch
Lunch spot next to icy lake. - This frigid looking location was actually a very comfortable lunch spot. It is located at the base of Mt. Goddard between Martha Lake and the Ionian Basin.

Shortly after lunch I met a party of three men who had just climbed Mt. Goddard and I took photos of them with their cameras. Mt Goddard
Mount Goddard from Ionian Basin. - Mount Goddard, the highest peak in the area, dominates the view to the north. Since it sits by itself, views from the top of Mount Goddard are unobstructed in all directions. It is an easy class 2 climb from the south up the slope on the west side.

Large snow fields covered much of the Ionian Basin. snow
Snow fields in the Ionian Basin - An abundance of snow in the Ionian Basin slowed my progress. I had to climb around many of these snow fields because I was afraid I might slide into adjacent lakes.

I had to climb up and around some of the snow fields because the way was blocked by cornices. cornice
A thirty foot high cornice blocked the approach to the day's camp site - I had to climb up and around this cornice in order to get to my destination. I was not very happy when I peered over its edge and realized I would have to climb around it. It turned out to be a positive experience in the end, but my feet were soaked by the time I slogged through all the snow.

The climb was not such a bad thing because I got some great views of the Ionian Basin, its surrounding peaks such as Scylla and The Three Sirens, and the Enchanted Gorge from the high perches. Scylla
The Three Sirens and Scylla from the Ionian Basin - A section of dangerous snow forced me up to the place where I took this photo. I would not have been able to see the lakes below Scylla without the detour.

By 6:45, I found a camp spot at the lake in the Ionian Basin that drains into Disappearing Creek.

The Gorge

The trip down Enchanted Gorge the next day was one of my best hiking days ever. During the early morning hours, the contrast of the dark lower reaches of the canyon with the sunlit walls and peaks above was intense. Chasm Lk
Mount Solomons reflected in Chasm Lake - At the bottom of the gorge, the darkness of early morning renders the water of Chasm Lake an inky blue-black. Mount Solomons, on the other hand, glows intensely in the morning light.

I got my first taste of the challenges to come when I had to climb high above Chasm Lake in order to get around it. As I moved past the guardians of the Enchanted Gorge, Scylla and Charybdis, Charybdis
Charybdis in the light of early morning - Most of Charybdis that I could see was in shadow when I passed between it and Scylla and began moving down a steep snow-filled section of the gorge. Theodore Solomons who named the two peaks must have been apprehensive about entering the gorge. In mythological terms, passing between Scylla and Charybdis is like being between a rock and a hard place or "in a spot where avoidance of one danger exposes one to destruction by the other."

I had to climb down steep snow fields which choked the silent gorge. steep snow
Steep Snow - The upper section of the gorge was filled with alternating stretches of snow and talus. Snow cups made moving across steep snow fields relatively easy.

Snow fields alternated with vast stretches of barren boulders. The creek flowed noiselessly under the sharp, freshly fractured metamorphic rocks that covered the floor of the canyon. rocky
Rocky bottom of Enchanted Gorge - In the upper parts of the gorge, rock slides have filled the bottom of the canyon and Disappearing Creek flows far below.

By mid-morning, I arrived at an oasis fed by a stream plunging into the gorge from its west wall. Oasis
Oasis at the Head of the Lake Section - By mid-morning, I reached the top of the mid-section of the gorge which contains a series of small lakes. I took a break next to a side stream which cascades into the canyon from its west wall.

The greenery supported by the creek contrasted sharply with the gorge's barren upper reaches. During my break, I drank deeply from the icy stream, then soaked my feet in its crystalline water. Fragrant wildflowers and herbs surrounded my grass-cushioned seat. A lovely lake, the first of many in this middle section of the gorge, was just downstream of my resting place.

The "lake section" was the most inviting stretch of the gorge. I could have spent a few days in its peaceful, splendid solitude. The creek reappeared as bedrock became exposed lake
A lake in the midst of the gorge. - This small,barren lake is dammed by granitic bedrock that is exposed at the bottom of the gorge. This section of the gorge is the least forbidding-an oasis of beauty which is truly enchanted.

and then was swallowed by talus fields that invaded from the bleak, fractured walls above. no crk
Disappearing Creek is swallowed by talus. - Disappearing Creek comes and goes in the middle one third of the gorge, which I call the "lake section." Even though the lakes are barren of life-even algae-their margins are oases of life in the otherwise barren upper two thirds of Enchanted Gorge.

Bedrock and talus dams gave rise to lifeless, crystalline, azure, lakes. Fields of ferns and wildflowers fringed the barren lakes and push their way upstream next to the cascades that fed the lake. flowers
Wildflowers and ferns next to cascades - Disappearing Creek plunges over bedrock into one of the last lakes in the gorge. Fields of daisies, paintbrush, and ferns form the lush cover next to the cascades.

The lakes gave way to a steep walled section alternately choked with snow and filled with the creek which had now become a raging torrent. In the narrowest parts of the gorge, the creek had grown so much that it could no longer be forded without getting soaked. I reached a section where cliffs prevented me from going further. I made a fruitless search for a route that would allow me to stay dry. The water appeared to be at least up to my chest and the creek was about two or three body lengths wide at what looked like the best crossing. I emptied my pockets into my pack and practiced throwing it until I was satisfied that I would be able to toss it across the roaring rapids. The pack made it to the other side with a few feet to spare. Finally, I threw myself into the melted ice and swam to the other side. The powerful current almost carried me past my chosen anchorage on the far side of the stream, but I was able to grab a jagged rock and pull myself onto the bank. I wrung out my soaked clothes and was happy to note that I smelled better than before the crossing.

The chasm narrowed and deepened, becoming choked with snow which looked like it never saw direct sunlight. snow bridge
Snow Choked the Gorge hiding the creek - Snow choked parts of the gorge where its walls were so steep, direct light seldom fell there. I avoided these snow arches for the most part, but I was forced to cross the last one in the canyon because there was no other way down.

The creek ate away at the snow from beneath, forming an arched tunnel. I did my best to stay off the snow arches, fearing that if I crossed them I would break through to the icy torrent beneath. Finally, there was no alternative. The way was blocked by cliffs and I had to cross a snow arch. Pebbles which had tumbled onto the snow from the cliffs above had melted into the snow surface of the arch, in some places as deeply as a half a foot or more. bridge
Snow spans the creek where the gorge walls are steepest - This was the last of the snow barriers in the gorge. I was forced to cross it because it was the safest route. It made me a little nervous because I was not sure how thick the snow was in the center of the arch.

This gave me the courage to cross. It turned out to be the last physical barrier of the trip.

As I moved closer to the junction, vegetation became thicker then tangled and difficult to traverse. I plunged through thickets of nettles that caused the skin of my arms and legs to burn for the next 24 hours. I bathed in the icy waters of the creek in an attempt to relieve the burn of the nettles but it was of no use. I applied cortisone, benedryl lotion, sun screen-nothing relieved the burning. That night I slept fitfully on a large gravel bar, awakened every hour or so by the burning of the nettles.

The Return

The next day I made it to Goddard Creek Valley around 9:30 and began my ascent toward its west fork. The route passed through evergreens, then a small hardwood forest, and finally through sage that covered the hot slopes above the canyon. In the steep gorge below were several large and spectacular waterfalls. waterfall
Waterfall in Goddard Creek Canyon - In its middle section, Goddard Creek Canyon contains a deep gorge which is impassable. This huge waterfall is at the mouth of that section.

By 5:30, I reached the lake at the outlet of the west fork of Goddard Creek. I camped about halfway between it and Finger Col.

The final day of the hike consisted of a marathon slog through Blackcap Basin, down the North Fork of the Kings River, and over to Post Corral Meadow where the loop was complete. The uneventful return to the trailhead was carried out, in part, by flashlight. I made it to the parking lot at around ten that evening.

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