Kern-Kaweah Country

Summer 1970

by Bill Finch

Fresh out of the Navy with school a month away, it was time to head for the mountains. Friend Bryan Jessup had the same idea so we put together a trip that would take us into the remote Kern-Kaweah River drainage.

Day 1

We were on the trail by eight on the first day and stopped for lunch at the Bearpaw Meadow Ranger Station. After enjoying the spectacular view of the granite cliffs across the valley of the Kaweah River, we resumed our hike to our destination of Hamilton Lake. The trail descended into Pine Creek where trail crew was building a new bridge. After some up and down hiking and a few switchbacks, we crossed the Middle Fork of the Kaweah then ascended the fairly steep trail to Hamilton Lake. I arrived at our campsite at the lower end of the lake at about four where Bryan found me about a half-hour later. Despite being well populated, we decided that we had found a good place to stay. Bryan remarked that if we had started at six instead of eight, we might have been able to make it into Nine Lakes Basin.

Day 2

It took us a couple of hours to eat and pack before hitting the trail at eight. Bryan was intrigued with the reflections off Precipice Lake. Precipice Lk
Like most hikers who pass by this dramatic place, Bryan felt a need to capture the mood of Precipice Lake on film.

We stopped for lunch at Lake 10,370 in the Nine Lake Basin. After the break we headed up to the next lake in the string keeping our eyes peeled for the knapsacker pass to the Kern-Kaweah River we had read about in Starr's Guide. We found out from hikers we talked to along the way that the pass was called Pants Pass. We spotted what we thought must be the pass directly above the northernmost lake in the chain. The slippery, steep ascent from the lake took us about an hour. At the top we found a cairn protecting a register. The view back toward Kaweah Gap was spectacular.
view from Pants Ps
Kaweah Gap from Pants Pass - The wind was blowing hard through Pants Pass. The descent of the other side looked terribly steep. It occured to me that I might never again cross another off trail pass in my life if they were all like this one. So I asked Bryan to take my picture so I would be able to prove that I had crossed at least one. The mountain in the background is Eagle Scout Peak.

The wind blew hard as we looked down the other side of the pass. Bryan led the slide down to the snowfield at the bottom of the slope. We took a short break and enjoyed the view of the upper Kern-Kaweah River before descending to our night's camp among the stunted pines of the valley below. KK River
Upper Reaches of the Kern-Kaweah River - During a break next to the Kern-Kaweah River, we could see the timberline below. We camped just inside the tree line.

While fishing for pan-sized trout in the river, we spotted a curious but wary coyote in this seldom-visited country.

Day 3

Day three began much like the previous two. We were up at six and on our way by eight. After a short walk we reached the Colby Pass trail. We descended past marshy Gallats Lake until trees that blocked the trail slowed our way. downed trees
Trees Downed by Avalance Block the Trail - Heavy snow storms of 1968 spawned avalanches that flattened trees flanking the Colby Pass Trail.

Heavy snows of 1968 had flattened several stands of trees along the trail. We arrived at Rockslide Lake at noon, which really wasn't much of a lake, but mostly a series of large, marshy pools filled with fallen trees. We fished the lake a little then headed back up the trail to a campsite we had seen on the way down. That afternoon we fished the river with flies and caught another dinner of pan-sized trout. trout
Golden Trout from the Kern-Kaweah - We quit hiking early enough most days to catch trout for dinner.

We enjoyed a campfire after dinner. campfire
Campfire in Kern-Kaweah Canyon - In 1970, a campfire was more than a conversation center. We cooked all of our meals over a campfire because neither one of us owned a stove. As a matter of fact, we knew no one who used a stove back then. Two years later, it seemed like everybody had a stove.

Day 4

The next morning, we slept in. After some hesitating and second thinking, we decided to hike up the creek that flows from Kaweah Basin. We left our packs at camp. The route was steep, but we figured it would be possible with a pack if we came back during a future hike. campfire
Falls on Kaweah Basin Outlet Stream - On the final ascent to the basin, there are lovely falls decorating the slope.

After ascending the last bench KK Cyn
Kern-Kaweah Canyon from Route to Kaweah Basin - Even in its lower reaches, Kern-Kaweah Canyon has been scoured to bedrock.

into the basin, we were rewarded with a fabulous view of the Kaweah Peaks. KPR
Kaweah Peaks Ridge - There is no view in the range more spectacular than the Kaweah Peaks Ridge from the Kaweah Basin.

It rained on us a little during our lunch break, the only rain we got during the trip. The country looked untouched. We had seen just one campsite by a small lake and a few trail ducks on our way up from the Kern-Kaweah. lake
Lowest Lake on Stream Draining Kaweah Basin - The only campsite we saw in the area was next to this small lake. I have revisited Kaweah Basin several more times during the last 25 years and seen few other campsites, most of them next to the lake with islands.

We were back at camp by 3:30 and got out the fishing poles. We did a lot of catch and release fishing. I saved a nice mess of pan-sized trout for dinner.

Day 5

Bryan was on the trail at 8:20 the next morning and I followed at 8:45. I met two men just before arriving at Landslide Lake, the first hikers we had seen in two days. I caught up with Bryan as he was making his way across the Kern River. A trail sign at the beginning of the Colby Pass trail warned against taking stock since the trail was not maintained.

Between the river crossing we had just made at Junction Meadow and Kern Hot Springs, we met many hikers. All the ones we talked to were going to Mount Whitney. We met again a family we had seen in the Nine Lakes Basin. They had taken the High Sierra Trail and were going to return to the Nine Lakes Basin on the trail we had just taken. We arrived at Kern Hot Springs at 2:15. bathtub
Bathtub at Kern Hot Spring - Kern Hot Spring-a must stop when you are in the area. I've camped near the Spring during three hikes and bathed on the way through during another. Each experience has been delightful and refreshing.

I took a leisurely afternoon bath in this overpopulated area and Bryan caught some nice fish from the Kern River. Bryan
Bryan at Kern Hot Spring - Bryan looked freshly scrubbed as we prepared to start hiking on our penultimate day.

Day 6

We left camp the next morning at eight. We passed by Chagoopa Falls just as the moon was setting. moon
Moonset Over Chagoopa Falls - As we passed Chagoopa Falls, the moon was setting.

We arrived at the Rattlesnake Creek turnoff at about ten. The trail up the creek was hot and dusty. trail
Rattlesnake Creek Trail - The Rattlesnake Creek Trail is especially hot and dusty at its lower end.

We stopped for lunch just above the first stock fence. Bryan cooled off by taking a dip in the icy creek.

Shortly after returning to the trail we met a ranger who asked us how it was in Kern Canyon. We said that there were too many people down there. He replied that three weeks earlier the canyon was deserted.

We arrived at our last camp of the trip, which was among trees just above the lower Little Claire Lake turnoff. Rattlesnake Crk
Upper Rattlesnake Creek - Our last camp was near a beautiful meadow in the basin east of Franklin Pass.

Shortly after dinner, which included some tasty fried biscuits, we heard some whoops and hollers from a nearby meadow. We walked a little way up the trail and found a family of ten who would be crossing Franklin Pass the next morning like we would.

Day 7

As the sun rose the next morning, I grabbed my camera and squeezed off a shot of a nearby peak bathed in morning alpenglow. alpenglow
Peak Near Franklin Pass Bathed in Morning Alpenglow - A nearby peak was bathed in alpenglow at our last camp of the trip.

As had been our habit for most of the trip, we were on the trail at eight and soon passed the family we had met the night before. We crossed the pass and met many people coming in from Mineral King. Sawtooth Pk
Alpine Mineral King Country - Sawtooth Peak and other alpine features can be viewed from the high places near Franklin Pass.

Just below the Franklin Creek crossing we spotted a familiar sight. It was Wooly, Luke Fritz's Shetland pony. Luke, scoutmaster extraordinaire and Bryan's and my scoutmaster in years past, was leading yet another group of scouts on Boy Scout Troop 152's annual High Sierra trek.

We were not prepared for the next sight. Larry Fritz, Luke's son, was walking up the trail with a birdcage atop a rack that extended above his pack frame. Unfortunately I had run out of film and could not record the strangest sight I have ever seen in the backcountry. Finally, we met Luke leading a packhorse just above the lower crossing of Franklin Creek. Luke had a surplus aircraft altimeter tied to his belt and looked like he was heading to the golf course rather than up a trail. He told us of all the improvements he had made since we went with him on Troop 152's first High Sierra trek ten years earlier. The birds in Larry's bird cage? Homing pigeons to take messages home to anxious parents.

At 2:30, we pulled into Mineral King. We found out one reason why the trails had been so crowded during the last few days. The Los Angeles Area Boy Scout Council had recommended the area to its troops in one of its publications that spring.

10 January 1999
One Page Version 26 January 2013