Thursday, August 18, 2016

Courtright to Red Mountain Basin

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge

Hike Route
This hike was three days and two nights covering 39 miles with an overall elevation gain of about 5,000’.

Many of my backpacking trip ideas come from day hikes. Last year I reported on a day hike to Hobler Lake out of the Maxson Trailhead at Courtright Reservoir.

Looking at the map after the hike I thought it would be interesting to stay on the Blackcap Basin Trail until the Hell For Shure Pass Trail and follow it northeast. The nice thing about a preliminary day hike is the familiarization with the driving, parking, and initial part of a trail. Plan “A” was a three-day 2-night hike. I hoped to hike to Hell For Shure Lake the first day, do a day hike to Martha Lake in Goddard Canyon and return to Hell For Shure Lake for the second night. Then I would hike back to Courtright the following day. My plan “B” was better suited to my advanced age and this is the story of plan “B”

 Maxson Trailhead Sign
 Maxson Dome
 Trail Leaves Dusy Ershim OHV Route

 Maxson Meadow

 Small Meadow

 Post Coral Creek

 Greg And Gates

 Disappointment Lake
 Small Unnamed Lakes On Way To Hell For Sure Pass
 Hell For Sure Lake With Mt. Hutton
 Red Mountain From Pass
 LeConte Divide
 Horseshoe, Iceberg and Devils Punchbowl Lakes
 Fleming Lake
 Red Mountain Basin
 Disappointment Lake
Heavenly View Of Hell For Sure Lake
 Hell For Sure Pass Without Signage
 Mt. Goddard
 Goddard Canyon From Pass
 LeConte Divide
Fleming Lake

I left Fresno at 4am and arrived at the parking area for the Maxson Trailhead by 6am. It was cool since the trailhead elevation is about 8,200’. Daybreak is a great time to start a hike since the daytime temperatures were in the triple digits in Fresno. The trail from the trailhead is dry down to Post Coral Creek this time of year. The trail initially drops down to and follows the infamous Dusy-Ershim OHV trail for a time and then breaks off. Hiking on the west side of the Sierra Nevada one must be more patient since the trails generally wind through small meadows and timber with no immediate view of the mountains. This is not like traveling on the east side of the Sierra.

The trail then climbs until near the junction with Hobler Lake and unfortunately drops to the starting elevation by the time you get to the Post Coral Creek crossing. It is important to note that at this time of year, this is the first flowing water available before the long climb to Fleming Lake. Soon after you cross the creek there is a sign on your right on a tree indicating the junction of the trail to Blackcap Basin and the trail to Hell For Sure Pass.

And….you guessed it, the trail begins climbing in earnest once again as you head northeast to Fleming Lake. Along the way I met Greg and his seven year old son Gates. They spent the previous night near Post Coral Meadows and were headed to Disappointment Lake. We got to know each other on the difficult 1,500’ 4.5 mile climb to Fleming Lake (elevation 9,700’). Gates led the way and I was happy to find a sitting rock in the shade every time he took a break. When we arrived at Fleming Lake the scenery began to open up. There were several nice campsites on the east side of the trail as it passed by the lake.

It was early afternoon and Greg and I both thought Disappointment Lake was doable. It was another 2.5 miles with a net gain of about 600’. There were times when we crossed smooth granite with Cairns to mark the trail. Many of the topographical maps indicate a split in the trail that rejoins itself between Fleming and Disappointment Lakes. I saw only one trail. Additionally, I saw no evidence of a side trail leading to Disappointment Lake. Once we saw the lake from the trail, we headed down cross-country toward the northeast shore. My Garmin GPS had the distance at over 15 miles, which is my limit. Greg did a wonderful job of teaching and affirming Gates. Greg had been in this area with his father 25 years to the day earlier. There were no sundown photographs for me since I was in my tent by 7pm, exhausted.

I was up at dawn the following day and planned on hiking to Hell For Sure Pass. While this is only about a mile and a half and 1,000’ of gain, I struggled during the steeper part of the climb with a minimal amount of gear and camera equipment. The route was sketchy at best and I was off the trail for about a third of the hike. The low morning sun made trail finding difficult. I absolutely loved Hell For Sure Lake with Mt. Hutton (elevation about 11,900’) directly south of the lake.

Looking east from Hell For Sure Pass (11,286’) one can see the LeConte Divide, Goddard Canyon and the giant Mt. Goddard (13,563’) to the east. When you are at the pass, Red Mountain (nearly 12,000’) is immediately north. Joseph LeConte named many of the features in the Red Mountain Basin. From the climb to the pass, you can see other basin lakes like Horseshoe, Iceberg and Devils Punchbowl.

I returned following the trail and arrived back at camp by noon. It was then I decided that it would be better to move camp down to Fleming Lake for a “shorter” hike out the next morning. I broke camp and said my “good byes” to Greg and Gates who were headed overland to Bench Valley the following morning. I arrived at Fleming Lake about 3pm and made camp. I slept better that night but the trip back to the trailhead was long on tired legs. I ran out of water on the climb from the creek and put a chlorine tablet in a liter bottle that I filled with stagnant creek water and then later transferred to my Katadyn filter cup.

Overall, the weather was good, the insects were few and I should have planned for an additional day to get to Martha Lake in Goddard Canyon.

There is a YouTube video slideshow with additional graphics here:                                                  

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