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Kaweah Gap, Black Rock Pass, and Deadman Canyon Figure Eight

Day 4 of 9

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Wednesday, August 17th
Big Arroyo to Timber Gap Creek
11.6 miles
2570 vertical feet (ascent)
4990 vertical feet (descent)

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GPX File

I woke up at 7am and saw that most people were already getting packed up. We were one of the last ones to leave, around 9:15am. We had a long day ahead of us.

First we went over to the trail intersection near the bear box and crossed the creek, heading toward Black Rock Pass. To get there, we first had to climb up about 500 feet, surprisingly steeply. It hadn't been obvious to me when looking at the map that this section would be steep, but apparently I hadn't looked closely enough. My 10 year old son took to looking at the map more closely than me, noting where the trail would cross contour lines so he could tell if the trail would go up and down where I would normally just say it was "basically flat".

Big Arroyo

Big Arroyo

Looking down from the switchbacks

Looking across Big Arroyo

After this steep climb to start the hike, we took a brief snack break, then continued through a beautiful pine forest as the trail begins to level out. The trail then climbs another 500 feet, then it's downhill about 200 feet to the one of the Little Five Lakes. By this time we hadn't seen anyone else on the trail, and I suspected we might not see anyone on the trail the entire day. I'm guessing most folks had gone in the opposite direction, southeast along the High Sierra Trail toward Mount Whitney.

Pine trees

Pine trees

Pine trees

Descending toward the first of the Little Five Lakes

We now climbed back up about 200 feet and went a bit further before reaching another of the Little Five Lakes. No campsites were apparent here. The trail flattens out and soon after that we reached the largest of the Little Five Lakes. There's a bear box here, and a ranger station as well. We did not visit the ranger station, however, as we stayed on the trail to the right toward Black Rock Pass. We followed the shore about halfway down the lake and then found a spot along its northwestern shore to take a break. It was another warm day and I filtered water and refilled our Camelbaks here.

Crossing the first lake's outlet stream

Second of the Little Five Lakes

Largest of the Little Five Lakes

With all the up and down and distance, it had taken us more than two and a half hours to reach this lake. No camp sites were apparent; I"m guessing they are on the eastern side of the lake, closer to the ranger station. It's a good thing we hadn't tried to reach here yesterday, as it would have been late and we would have been exhausted. It is a pretty lake. I won't lose any sleep having not been able to camp here, though.

Little Five Lake

Little Five Lake

Playing in Little Five Lake

After a long break, we left the lake just before 1pm. The trail now climbs steeply northwest away from the lake shore before heading southwest. The views of the surrounding mountains began to open up. Soon we could see a fourth lake below us to the south. My sons thought it looked like a shark.

Climbing up from Little Five Lake

Looking down at the "shark" lake

The topo map we had didn't really show how steep the final 400-500 feet of climbing is to the top of Black Rock Pass. It's also a horrible trail to walk on, as it's pretty much all loose gravel where you take two steps up and slide back one, sometimes two steps. This may be hyperbole, but the top of Black Rock Pass may be the hardest of any pass we've ever done.

View to the east

Climbing Black Rock Pass (saddle on the left)

Nearing the top of Black Rock Pass

View of the Little Five Lakes

View of the Little Five Lakes (and one of the Big Five Lakes)

It was windy and barren at the top, where we arrived around 2:40pm. After a snack break, we left the top at 3pm. We had a long 4500 foot descent to reach our camp for the night - probably the most descent we've ever done in one day. I was hoping it would go quickly. The first part was a steep gravelly descent. As we got lower, we had nice views (that would only get better) of Spring Lake and Cyclamen Lake (and the mountains surrounding them) to the south, tucked high above the valley.

View to the west from Black Rock Pass

View to the west from Black Rock Pass

Spring Lake from Black Rock Pass descent

Spring Lake

Spring Lake

After maybe an hour and 1200 feet of descent, we took a brief break on the steep trail. We were finally amongst a few trees. We were soon back out in the open as we descended some more. The gravel was now replaced with larger rocks, but rocks were pretty much standard all the way down, making descending quickly difficult. About 1700 feet down from the top we saw three backpackers coming up toward us. It was 4:30pm, and I was surprised to see someone ascending this late. At their pace, I would be surprised if they made it to Little Five Lakes by sunset, if not later. Also, as much as I didn't like climbing Black Rock Pass in the direction that we did, it felt like it would be much worse doing it in the opposite direction. I felt sorry for them.

After about 3000 feet of downhill, we took a break near Pinto Lake. There's a bear box and campsites here, though the lake is really more of a pond in a marsh. Not a very inviting place to camp. We knew we only had about 1500 feet to descend; it was now nearing 6pm, but I was hoping we'd get to camp shortly after 7pm. Unfortunately for us the trail starts to level out and it's actually a long way from Pinto Lake to the next camp site. The trail passes through some nice fern areas and passes some small waterfalls flowing over the trail. But we wanted to get to camp so we blitzed through these areas as fast as we could. The rocks beneath our feet didn't help. We were teased at about the 8000 foot elevation, where it seemed the rocks stopped. But then we soon came to a gravel bar and the rocks resumed.

Water running across the trail



Finally, just as it was nearing sunset, we reached camp at about 7:30pm. There's a bear box here and a few sites, though one was already taken by a solo backpacker. The creek is right next to the trail. We found a nice site and quickly set up camp, got water, and cleaned up before it got dark. The Timber Gap Trail crosses the creek here, and is visible from where we got water.

After dinner I went to put our excess food and garbage in the bear box. Unfortunately I couldn't get it open. It appeared to be broken. I tried for a couple minutes before giving up. I knew I could stuff everything into our bear canisters; it would just take a little work. Now I knew I had to do that work.

Tired from the day's hike, we now discussed altering tomorrow's planned hike up to Tamarack Lake. Instead of hiking up toward Elizabeth Pass and taking the 1.8 mile side trip (up 1050 feet), we could instead camp at Bearpaw Meadow tomorrow. This would make for a longer and tougher day the next day, but would save us that 1000+ feet of climbing. Alternatively, it would be nice if we could camp closer to the main trail up toward Elizabeth Pass, but it wasn't clear that there would be any good options to do so. So we mostly decided to camp at Bearpaw Meadow the next night. The kids also liked the idea of being able to stop at the store and get brownies, so they were looking forward to that.

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