KL day 2: Crabtree Meadow to Lake NE of Kern Point; Ericsson

Panorama west of Bighorn Plateau

Panorama west of Bighorn Plateau


One normal way to get from Crabtree to the Kaweahs is to drop down Wallace Creek to the Kern, take the Colby Pass trail back up and somehow squeeze through between the Kaweahs and Great Western Divide, perhaps via Pants Pass. This is direct, but requires dropping down to the Kern River at Junction Meadow (8,300′). Having plenty of time to reach the Big Arroyo, I made a detour around the head of the Kern to tag Mount Ericsson, my last SPS peak in the Shepherd Pass area. This route had the added advantage of allowing me to stay above 10,000 feet for the next few days.

After packing up, I made my way down to the JMT and listened to some NPR as I made the morning “commute” to Lake South America. I do not normally enjoy extended trail hiking. However, crossing the Bighorn Plateau in the morning, with the sun rising on the Kaweahs and Great Western Divide, put me in a good mood; I even took out one headphone to be friendly to the south-bound JMTers. Mount Ericsson’s distinctive, jagged south ridge loomed for hours in the distance.

Just past Tyndall Creek, I turned left on the Kern cutoff trail, then right on the less-traveled, new-to-me trail to Lake South America, leaving the JMT to wind its way up Forester Pass. This unmaintained trail follows a long, grassy valley to its headwall, passing a few smaller lakes. I was surprised to see two herds of deer, and I in turn surprised the heck out of a fox (I think) stalking something next to one of the lakes — when he finally noticed me, he sprinted all the way to the opposite shore.

After crossing the headwall, I made my way past a scenic, unnamed lake, then dropped my pack at the next trail junction, cramming as much trail mix and water as I could stand before heading for Harrison Pass and Ericsson’s east face. Since it is class 3, I had glanced at Bob’s trip report for beta on the route; I learned, most importantly, that the northernmost high point was the summit. The climb is mostly forgettable but not unpleasant class 2. Near the summit, however, things get trickier. Heading north too soon, I got into some tricky terrain near the steep chute just south of the summit, but managed to zig-zag my way to the summit ridge with some creative hand-and-a-half climbing.

The summit views were well worth the climb: to the southwest, I looked down the Kern from its origin; to the northwest, the deep valleys holding East Lake, Bubbs Creek, and the Kings River, as well as Charlotte Dome and the steep side of Bago; to the east, Stanford, Deerhorn and, behind them, University; to the west, Brewer and its companion peaks. Unable to find the register, I scrambled along the west side of the summit ridge and up the class 3-4 cracks to a lower, southern summit, which at least had a cairn. I found the “correct” route partway between these two summits on the way down, then finally made my way across undulating terrain to my pack.

Following the extremely faint Kern trail southwest, I was surprised to see an older woman backpacking by herself. I said “hello” to try to avoid startling her, and remarked that I did not expect to meet anyone; she did likewise, but seemed not to want to talk, so I went quickly on my way.

At around 10,500′, I crossed the “mighty” Kern (all of a foot wide at this place and time of year) and picked up the old Milestone Basin trail. I left it before it started climbing, crossed the creek south, and was surprised to find another creek flowing in a sheer, deep valley. I was forced to climb slabs to the west to where it rose to join the level of the valley, where I easily crossed, then climbed some annoying talus to pass through the ridge to the south. I was surprised to find a couple of cairns along the way, though there were no other signs of human traffic. I spent the rest of the afternoon contouring around 11,000′ along the plateau west of the Kern, finding a convenient lake north-northeast of Kern Point around sundown.

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