West LeConte/White Divide Loop

by Bill Finch

One of my favorite areas is the country that straddles the LeConte and White Divides which form the western boundary of northernmost Kings Canyon National Park. Parts of the area are heavily used by packers and hikers but it is easy to get away from the crowd by getting off the trail. The point of departure from trail for this trip was at a lake called the Devil's Punchbowl, a timberline gem about 17 miles from the Maxon Trailhead at Courtright Reservoir. The route to Devil's Punchbowl is clearly marked, passing through Long Meadow, Post Corral Meadow, taking the trail to Red Mountain Basin at the Post Corral Creek crossing, turning toward Hell for Sure Pass at Rae Lake, and taking a right (bearing south) just before Disappointment Lake.

After camp was set up and dinner was prepared and eaten, an exceptionally beautiful sunset developed. The pink and golden rays reflected off the pass I would cross the next day on my way to the Bench Valley country to the south. pass
Pass to East Fork Meadow Brook from Devil's Punchbowl - The fish were jumping and a party on the other side of the lake was having a good time around the camp fire while the granite walls surrounding the Devil's Punchbowl were bathed in alpenglow.

I had come over the pass from the other direction several years earlier so I was not very anxious about the crossing.

The next morning, it took less than an hour and a half to make it to the top of the gentle pass into the valley of the east fork of Meadow Brook. E Fk Mdw Brook
The untouched valley of the east fork of Meadow Brook has a certain barren charm.

It clouded up like the previous day but it did not rain. The pass from Devil's Punchbowl looked even easier from the south than it had from the north. pass
The pass from Devil's Punchbowl is straightforward.

The first lake I came to was Crabtree Lake, a beautiful spot with abundant campsites. Crabtree Lk
Crabtree Lake - I saw several campsites near this lake but the area did not seem to be heavily used.

As I passed near Schoolmarm Lake, a couple of hikers came into view but they never came close enough to talk to. Schoolmarm Lk
Schoolmarm Lake - I saw several campsites near this lake but the area did not seem to be heavily used.

I filed this spot away in my memory as a place to spend more time in the future.

Use trails lead from Crabtree lake south to the numerous other lakes in Bench Valley. By lunch time, I had made Guest Lake which is at the foot of the cross country pass into Blackcap Basin. The pass looked intimidating but turned out to be easy as usual. Blackcap Ps
Pass from Bench Valley to Blackcap Basin - The pass is easier than it looks from here.

Before long, I was looking down on Guest Lake which was now far below. Guest Lk
Guest Lake - There is a pretty nice view to the north and west from the pass above Guest Lake.

Building thunder clouds kept me from climbing nearby Blackcap Mountain. Views in all directions were pleasant but they were especially spectacular towards Blackcap Basin. Dark Mt Goddard loomed over the divide to the east Mt Goddard
Mount Goddard - Just east of the LeConte Divide is dark Mount Goddard, the dominant peak of the area.

and Finger Peak was visible to the south. Finger Pk
Finger Peak - To the south lies Finger Peak and the Blackcap Basin.

Picking a route across the basin was a little more challenging than expected. Finally, at a little after five o'clock, I arrived at a lovely campsite on Pearl Lake with views of nearby Finger Peak. Pearl Lk
Pearl Lake - From my campsite on Pearl Lake I had a great view of Finger Peak.

The last day was spent on an uneventful marathon return from Blackcap Basin to the Maxon trailhead. Three days of gray skies, that's what the photos show. The clouds have faded from my memory. Three days of glorious scenery and almost total solitude, a fine adventure along the western slope of the LeConte and White Divides, that's what I remember.

13 December 1998
One Page Version 26 January 2013