Most of the snow had melted in the high country and I figured Thunder Pass would be passable. Bagging this pass had been on my agenda for more than ten years and I was really looking forward to revisiting the areas I would hike through on my way there and back.
The stairs into Sphinx Creek canyon were almost as impressive as the young hiker I met a half hour after I passed this point.
Stairway to Sphinx Creek Canyon - Impressive stonework awaits the hiker that climbs into Sphinx Creek Canyon.
He was a young German who had attended a conference in San Diego and decided to spend a week following the conference in the mountains. He put on his Tevas, strapped his scooter onto his pack, hitched to Lodgepole where he bought some cheese and crackers and a blanket, then proceeded up the High Sierra Trail, cut off to Elizabeth Pass, hiked down Deadman Canyon, came over Avalanche Pass and was heading into Cedar Grove when I met him on the trail. I was so bemused by his appearance and his story that I forgot to take his photo or ask for his name.
Soon I was off trail and crossing the riverbend on Sphinx Creek below the first Sphinx Lake.
Riverbend - The bend in Sphinx Creek is break in the forest below a broad apron of granite.
Fresh green of aspens caught my eye as I followed remnants of trail up the beautiful canyon.
Aspens West of First Sphinx Lake - Bright green of the backlit aspens caught my eye.
The moon rose over the North Guard massif as I took an after dinner stroll around the third Sphinx lake.
Moon over North Guard - Sphinx Lake Basin is surrounded by striking peaks.
Before I knew it, the next day arrived and I was quickly over Sphinx Pass into the Brewer Basin
Pass from Sphinx Lakes into Brewer Basin - I spent the better part of a day making my way across this beautiful area.
and making my way toward Cinder Col, the pass to South Guard Lake from Brewer Basin.
Cinder Col into Cunningham Creek Headwaters - I spent the better part of a day making my way across this beautiful area.
I spent a leisurely hour taking videos of the many small water falls spilling down from the lake at the pass. A wrong turn put me way behind schedule and I ended up camping by the outlet of South Guard Lake. Shortly after getting in the tent, the light became odd so I stuck my head out to see the cliffs across the canyon bathed in spectacular alpenglow.
South canyon wall of Cunningham Creek - What a view! To think I almost missed it.
I was up early the next morning and soon I was heading up the gravelly slopes to Longley Pass.
Gentle west slope of Longley Pass - I crossed tracks of many hikers as I moved toward the pass.
Beyond the ever-present cornice on Longley Pass lay the headwaters of East Creek.
Longley Pass - East from the pass are the headwaters of East Creek.
I made another navigational error which cost another few hours, but eventually Thunder Pass and Thunder Mountain came into view.
Thunder Pass and Thunder Mountain - I was a little concerned about the snow below the pass but the loose, steep grunge turned out to be the real problem.
The pass was much more difficult than I had imagined. After I reached the top, it was pretty obvious that I had not picked the easiest route. Down below were the western headwaters of the Kern River.
Pink smoke of a forest fire to the south hung over the central part of the Kern headwaters.
Smoke filled the canyon in the distance and as I descended to the lakes below, the smell of a forest fire became strong.
The next morning, I was relieved to see crystalline views to the east where there had been smoke the night before.
Central Kern Headwaters - The smoke had cleared the next morning as I descended into the central Kern headwaters.
I dropped over a couple of impressive granite benches and into the heart of the Kern headwaters, one of the most beautiful parts of the range.
Unnamed Lake of Kern Headwaters - This is one of many beautiful lakes in this huge basin.
I headed north toward the Kings-Kern divide
Unnamed Lake of Kern Headwaters and Mount Erikson - Another magnificent view in the Kern headwaters.
passing by lovely tarns and starkly beautiful scenery.
Leaving the Trees - Another magnificent view in the Kern headwaters.
Soon I was looking down at Lake Reflection from the top of Little Joe Pass.
Lake Reflection lies in another world far below.
The descent of the avalanche chute was slow - my football knee had swollen so much I couldn't bend my leg much.
Little Joe Pass - Little Joe Pass is one of the chutes that comes down this slope above Lake Reflection.
Finally I reached the bench above Lake Reflection and took a well-deserved break. This was my fourth day of hiking and I had promised the family that I would be back that night. I was pretty sure I was not going to be able to make it out, but I was going to give it a try. The sun was dropping quickly as I passed by East Lake and Mount Brewer, and by the time I got to Junction Meadow I was hiking by flashlight. I called it quits and camped by the bearbox below the drift fence.
East Lake and Mount Brewer - Clouds were building over Mount Brewer as I passed East Lake.
The next morning, I hustled down to the trailhead and called home to let everyone know that all was well.
Trail near Trailhead - The trail becomes wide and sandy along the South Fork of the Kings River.