Looking out over
half-frozen Sunset Lake towards the Thompson Glacier
and Point Powell
in the Sierra.
For the second weekend of the
summer, we scored a coveted wilderness permit for the
Sabrina Basin near Bishop. Our plan was to camp at the
bottom of the Thompson Glacier and climb the east summit of
Perfect Sierra conditions made for a successful but tough
Mount Powell lies on the
geographic boundary between the John Muir Wilderness and
Kings Canyon National Park, about halfway between the more
well-known landmarks of Mount Humphreys and the Palisades.
Due to a series of
cartographic errors, there exists considerable confusion
regarding where the "real" Mount Powell is located.
Generally, the moniker "Mount Powell" now refers
collectively to the three distinct highpoints along the
Sierra crest between Mount Thompson and Echo Col.
Because of the confusion, these three summits are now known
colloquially after the peak's namesake, John Wesley Powell:
While Point Powell is not the
highest of three summits (it is lower than Point John by a
mere four feet), it is undeniably the most aesthetic of the
three and a challenging climb. Like many Sierra peaks,
Point Powell appears completely inaccessible when approached from the
east side of the crest. Fortunately, a weakness does
exist -- an 800' couloir splits the northeast side of the
peak and leads to the easier west slope of the mountain.
This was our route.
We started our approach hike
from the dam at Lake Sabrina (9,128'), about 18 miles west
of Bishop. Unfortunately, parking at the trailhead is
reserved for day hikers; overnight users are forced to park
about 3/4 mile down the road. You would think
it would be the other way around, since overnighters have
more crap to carry, but I don't make the rules. There
were four of us on this trip, and we had a spirited game of
"odds or evens" to determine which two suckers would have to
drop the car off and walk back to the trailhead. After
several rounds, Greg and I emerged victorious. Mike
and Griffin were dispatched to dump the car.
The hike first traverses the
south shore of Lake Sabrina, with distant views up towards
the peaks of the Evolution Region. The king daddy of
the Evolution peaks -- Mt. Darwin -- is not visible for the
first few hours of the hike, blocked by other peaks.
However, we had fine views of Mount Haeckel, Mount Wallace,
Picture Peak and the red-hued Paiute Crags. The steep
climbing begins towards the end of Lake Sabrina, where the
trail angles upward to leave the main drainage and gain the
hanging valley that holds Blue Lake .
After several rocky
switchbacks, we arrived at beautiful Blue Lake and got our
first view of Thompson Ridge, Mount Thompson and its glacier
(2.3 miles, +1,200' from the trailhead). From there,
it was another 1.5 miles and 600 feet to Baboon Lakes.
The trail is very difficult to follow through here, and of
course we promptly lost it. What trail does exist
ultimately fades out among the slabs below Baboon Lakes, resulting in a
mild bushwack and routefinding challenge.
At Baboon Lakes (10,976') we
had an even better view of the Thompson area, but Mount
Powell was still hidden behind lower foreground peaks.
We navigated our way around the northeast side of Baboon
Lakes (recommended), which involved some ups and downs, but
not as bad as the other shore (which we took on the way out
-- not recommended). From the lake outlet, we
began following the stream up valley towards our intended
campsite at Sunset Lake. (People who are not camping
at Sunset Lake should not follow the drainage up to Sunset
Lake. Instead, they should angle right and cross
through the obvious gap due north of Sunset Lake and contour
above its northwest shore en route to the glacier). We
arrived at Sunset Lake (11,464') in one piece and promptly
found a perfect campsite on some slabs above the northeast
shore of the lake.
Photos and report (continued)