Volcanic Lakes loop

30 Jul - 3 Aug 2006 - by Will Mollandsimms

Three of us started up the hot and dusty Lewis Creek Trailhead towards Frypan Meadow at around 3:30 in the afternoon on July 30th. That number did not last for long though. As we approached the Hotel Creek turnoff it became clear that Joe would be unable to continue due to some undiagnosed mystery illness. After some deliberation, two of us begrudgingly carried on the steep trail and arrived at our destination of Frypan Meadow at about 7:45.

We awoke the next morning at the crack of 8:30 and hurriedly ate breakfast and broke down camp in order to maximize the few short hours of daylight we had left. We were on the trail no later than 10:15 or maybe it was 10:30. We continued up the Lewis Creek trail towards Kennedy Pass. Past Frypan meadow the trail seems to get little attention. The trail was quite faint in some places and in moist areas it was almost completely overgrown with wildflowers. Never the less we carried on up the trail and wheezed our way up the last 800 feet of very steep terrain to Kennedy Pass. It was here the first magnificent views of the Sierra come into view. Unobstructed views to the north and south yield a breathtaking skyline of still snowy peaks and valleys. From the pass it was a simple walk up to Kennedy Peak. For the adventurous climber, there are a few spots where second class moves can be found in the 600 feet leading to the summit. We were adventurous. From the summit the views are even more spectacular, with unlimited views in almost every direction. The Palisades and Kaweahs are easily clearly visible as Split Mountain, Middle Palisade, Mt. Goddard, Mt. Brewer, etc. etc. We were the first people to sign the register this year, and were in fact the first people to sign the register in over 12 months. The peak receives only between 2-4 visits per year, quite sad when considering the breathtaking view that once receives at summit. I suppose the 7000 feet of vertical gain scare off many a climber, but not us! We lounged on top and admired the collection of happy looking cumulous clouds all around us before heading back down to the pass. From the pass we descended several hundred feet to the small lake just northwest and about 150 feet lower than East Kennedy Lake. We found a flat campsite near this peaceful lake and called it a day.

The next morning we awoke at about 6:30 to find frost covering all of our gear. After a leisurely breakfast we headed cross country up to East Kennedy Lake. The route to the Lake is quite simple as there is a moderately gentle slope to the south of the lower lake that leads directly to East Kennedy Lake. From the lake we ascended a second class ridge for a few hundred feet until a small grassy canyon became visible. We then proceeded up the grassy canyon as it steepened and eventually turned into granite slabs. From there it was just a simple walk to a notch where the Volcanic Lakes can first be seen. We ate a snack at the notch and the continued down the other side over a few second class moves and down into the headwaters of a small creek drainage. From there we followed the creek down into the mosquito infested Volcanic Lakes. I think the world mosquito summit was held at the Volcanic Lakes this year because I have never been so pestered by mosquitoes in all my days. Even with the mosquitoes, the lakes are quite stunning. Not a trace of human existence anywhere; just alpine lakes, stunning vistas, mountain streams and a lone black bear. We descended to the middle of one of the volcanic lakes and then skirted around it to the southeast, went over a snowfield, and then up a creek drainage to one of the higher volcanic lakes. Here we ate lunch, sprayed ourselves down with bug dope and snapped a few shots before continuing on our merry way. From this lake we went northeast and then descended straight north to another of the volcanic lakes. At this point we decided it was time to move on to the Granite Basin so we scurried over a grassy chute to the right(east) and ascended about 500 feet. We got to the top of this and then went down about 50 feet before going back up 100 feet. From this point we could more or less see where Granite Pass should be and descended gradually to it. From the pass we simply descended down the trail and into the Granite Basin, another mosquito dominated land, and sauntered down the trail. After a few miles of sauntering we came to final pass that led back down to the Kings Canyon. We descended to the first switchback and then cut off left to the base of the creek leading from Grouse Lake. We ascended a hundred feet or so and then came to a nice meadow. As we cavorted across the meadow we noticed a person coming down the other side of the meadow towards us. Who could that be I wondered? An axe murderer perhaps? As the figure came closer it became apparent that it was the man we had left two days earlier two miles from the trailhead. Joe Baker had returned to us. Apparently two shots in the bum and some antibiotics can turn someone half dead into superman. He had left from the Lewis Creek trailhead the day before and walked our exact route in a half the time. Impressive! We recounted our travels and then continued up to Grouse Lake where we camped for the night under a marvelously starry sky.

The next morning we rose about 8, ate some breakie, and then headed up towards Goat Mountain, our goal for the day. We traversed around the east side of the lake and up some steep grassy slopes until we reached a wide gradually ascending canyon. We surveyed the peak and decided to ascend it through a break in the brush on the north side of the peak. We went up our gradually ascending canyon until we were below the break in the brush. From here we climbed up through sand and loose scree at first, then semi-stable rocks and sand, and finally to stable boulders. It turns out that the actual peak is just a little bit up and to the right of break is the brush. We, of course, did not realize that and did a nice traverse off to the right and went to what we though was the high point. It was not so we descended back down and traversed back 100 yards or so to the real summit. I wasn't too disappointed with the extra mileage though as going up farther right yielded some very enjoyable 3rd class moves. The summit of Goat Mountain somehow yields even more impressive view that the summit of Kennedy. Here there is nothing, absolutely nothing, blocking the views in all directions. Every peak imaginable is visible from the top of Goat, including a snowy looking Whitney to the south and Olancha Peak even farther south than that. The Palisades are clearly visible as is the twin summits of Split Mountain as well as grand views down the Kings Canyon and the Muro Blanco. We lounged on top eating jelly beans and conversing for some time before retreating back to Grouse Lake the same way we came up. Once there we decided we had enough energy to meander down the trail a bit in order to lessen the 5000 feet of vertical loss for the next day. We moseyed down the trail admiring the splendid views that were all around and finally stopped for the night at Lower Tent Meadow.

After one more night in the backcountry we arose and walked back down to civilization, or at least to Cedar Grove, and ate deliciously overpriced food. After a drive out of the Canyon and one final look at the Sierra's it was so long to the stunning 5 days trip through the Volcanic Lakes and hello to working 5 days a week. Oh the irony, how it burns!

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