Monday, September 01, 2014

A piece of the Sierra High Route: Lower Desolation Lake to Puppet Lake Basin via Pilot Knob

After a good, though cold, night (it did get below freezing and there was frost in the morning), we do the usual morning things and get underway by 8:45 (late! we're out of practice!). Shortly after 8 another backpacker walks by about 100m away, this is the last person we'll see until day 6 (whoot!).
Lower Desolation Lake in the morning
From the lake we go cross-country, slowly climbing until we hit the crest above Mesa Lake that Roper mentions. We had planned to go through Puppet Pass, head to Puppet Lake, and then think about climbing Pilot Knob, but given the beautiful day and how appealing the mountain looks, decide to do Pilot Knob first. So we skip Mesa Lake, cross its basin, and climb up to the ridge above. From here we have a great view of Pilot Knob and its saddle as well as Pilot Lake below. We take a break to have a snack and plan the approach to the saddle.
break with view to Pilot Knob and its saddle to the right
After planning, we set out, first down, then traversing, through trees, over talus, up, up, up, until we hit footprints (!) that we follow the rest of the way up. We ditch our packs and take water, snacks, and the camera and then head along the ridge to go up Pilot Knob. This ends up being longer than anticipated, but it's great fun and good scrambling. We hit the ridge at a point well before the real peak (what the heck is "Vorgipfel" in English anyway?) and do a nice traverse to the true peak (~3700m). If we had been doing this in the Alps, we almost certainly would have had some gear with us and done some alpine belaying along the way, but we aren't there and don't have that stuff along anyway. ;-) At the real peak we enjoy the views and have a short break to enjoy the magnificent panorama (not too long, greg is thinking about the descent a bit too much). We end up taking a different, better, route down and are back at our packs reasonably quickly.
view from Pilot Knob to French canyon and Puppet Lake Basin
The next order of business is lunch, after which we descend the steep other side of the pass. There's a clear use trail for the first bit of this, so there's no route finding required and it's not particularly hairy.
descent towards Alsace Lake
After some descending and a bit of talus hopping (yay!) we hit Alsace Lake where we pump water before continuing around the lake. We're enjoying the lake too much and we end up leaving the basin too late, so we have to do a bit of backtracking before ascending to the ridge over Puppet Lake and the two nameless tarns in its basin. We ditch the packs and wander around for a bit to find a good campsite (we're too stubborn and stick up high near the trees for too long), it's about 15:30 by now.

After retrieving the packs, we set up camp (pitch tents, pump water, wash up, etc.) and then have a nice rest in the shade (oh is it nice to be in shade, we really aren't used to full days under intense sun!) before doing dinner. After dinner we take a good stroll around the basin to enjoy the sunset.

Dinner: Broccoli cheese soup. "Tagine" with salami, toasted "sambar" spice mix, olive oil, garlic, and couscous.


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