Mount Julius Caesar Kaweah Snow Outing

  • Updated: May 20, 2013
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

May 18th & 19th, 2013

It's been a fun start to the year with the occasional desert trip snuck in between the always awesome 10 week Wilderness Travel Course and the spring session of the Advanced Mountaineering Program but at long bloody last it's time to kick off the Sierra season.

This particular weekend along with the Alabama Hills rock climbing trip a few weeks back were planned as private outings to give the WTC students of Kaweah group the opportunity to learn some more advanced skills beyond what we teach in the course.  (WTC used to be called BMTC and included rock climbing and ice axe and crampons but these days we are limited to rock scrambling and winter backpacking)

The original plan had been more along the lines of a car camp with a day of ice axe and crampon practice followed by a easier but non trivial peak climb to put the new skills to use.  Unfortunately this seasons rather apathetic snow levels meant that there wasn't much that was easily accessible.  So instead we changed it to a backpack with the plan of hopefully finding some decent snow up high.

After some last minute debate I settled on Julius Caesar out of Pine Creek.  It had spectacular views, the approach was a trailhead I'd never used before, and at 13,220 ft I figured we'd probably be able to manage some amount of snow.

Five of us in 3 different cars converged on Pine Creek Friday night.  As I had to take the usual flight back from Boise to OC Friday afternoon Jen and I were the last ones to arrive sometime around 2 am.

Heading up Pine Creek past Rovana on the south side of the road there was a short dirt road with a number of primitive campsites available.  It was packed so we only drove through but it looked like there were trashcans but no bathroom facilities.  Returning to the main road we found another dirt road heading off on the north side which had a number of suitable bivy spots and even a few small campfire rings.  We threw out our sleeping bags and quickly passed out.

After precious few hours of sleep we woke up to a rather nice view and hustled a few miles up the road to the actual trailhead to meet the rest of the group.

The trailhead is right by the gate which blocks off access to the Pine Creek Mine.  The mine appears to be inactive but is apparently maintained so that it might be reopened at some point.  At the trailhead itself there are no bear boxes or bathroom facilities but plenty of room to sleep as long as you don't mind some rather loud white noise from running water.

We got moving at 7:30 am and took the trail through the pack station and up the switchbacks that eventually lead to Pine Lake around 10k'.  The view was pretty much dominated by the Pine Creek Mine down below and the old road that used to lead over to Morgan Pass before access was shut off.

A few miles up we came across the remains of the old Brownstone Mine.  As usual I gleefully dropped my pack and went running over to see what could be seen.

There were a few promising looking adits along a vertical feature in the rock wall above but none of them could be reached without some 5th class moves and the one at ground level had been sealed rather enthusiastically with foam.

Down the slope by the remains of what looked like an old tram was a shallow room with intact shelving inside and a more interesting looking entrance that was a bit too precarious to explore on account of the soft snow, exposed nails, and rotting timber.  Without the snow I would have climbed in for a look but the combination was enough to defeat my usual need to stick my nose in any open mine.

Somewhat disappointed we went back, grabbed our packs, and continued up the switchbacks to where the trail leveled off somewhat and things finally started to feel like we were in the wilderness proper.

The first major landmark was Pine Lake and we pulled over for a break and to enjoy the view though a cold wind blowing down the canyon kept us from sticking around too long.

From here it was significantly prettier and we all reacted to the scenery in our own way.

We crossed water several times but there was always a well prepared log or a series of rocks we could easily step across.  So much for breaking in my river crossing crocs for the season.

We arrived at Honeymoon Lake around 1 pm and found a number of tent spots on the eastern side with easy access to water and a nice view of the lake / peaks above.  We had a very nice view of Treasure which I think I may come back for next year as a snow climb since I saw several good looking chutes that seemed to be fairly well protected.

We threw up outs tents and set off ice axes in hand to look for snow to practice on.

Unfortunately by this time the snow was pretty slushy everywhere and chutes without exposed rocks or foliage were in short supply.  To the south of where we camped we did find one semi decent slope and proceeded to do some glissade and self arrest practice.

We continued this until a bit before the sun disappeared behind the mountains and then relocated back to camp.  An expedition to get water from the intake at the southern side of the lake (I wasn't filtering and preferred to get water from a running source instead of from the still lake) turned out to be quite an adventure s we postholed our way across the snow field that obliterated the trail and then through some brush and across the inflow itself.

Back in camp the temperature dropped precipitously once we lost the sun.  We didn't stay up much past dinner since we were all eager to get in our warm sleeping bags.

Neither Jen nor myself had brought a tent since the weather looked to be decent and we spent the night sleeping out under the stars.  My guess is it was in the high 20s that night and we awoke the next morning to frozen boots and water bottles.

We crawled out of our bags at daybreak and were on our way in about an hour.  One advantage of the cold was that the snow was nice and firm at the previously precarious southern end of the lake.  We found this out after initially trying to circle the lake on the north side and turning back after finding all the rocks and logs coated in ice.

Once past that the trail to Italy Pass from Honeymoon Lake climbed steadily but gently and was largely clear of snow until around 11k.

At that point we hopped onto a still largely firm snowfield and then up on the ridge separating our drainage from Chalfant Lakes.

We took this ridge up over a few bumps and down into the pass which was still a mix of rock and scattered snow fields.

We reached Italy Pass without the need to touch our axes and found a clear use trail heading up towards the summit.  An easy 2nd class scramble later we arrived at the top.

(The flag was custom made by one of the Kaweah students this year.  Have I mentioned the 2013 Kaweah class was awesome?)

We were a few hours behind our nominal schedule so after a short time enjoying the view and taking pictures it was time to descend.

We retraced our steps down to Italy Pass and instead of taking the ridge stuck to the lower snow / rock fields skirting left where needed to avoid ending up over water.

We made good time in some sections but unfortunately the sun had turned most of the fields slush and  most of us were activly postholing

This meant we arrived back in camp even later than I'd originally hoped.  We made the best of things packed up, ate the last of our food, and were headed down the trail by 6 pm.

The hike out was uneventful and other than one brief section where the trail had been overwhelmed by yet more soft posthole prone snow.  We made good time even once we had to strap on headlamps.

We reached the cars at 10:30 pm which unfortunately meant we were out of luck as far as getting post trip Mexican food at Amigos in Bishop.

Instead we all jumped in our cars and started the long drive back to Orange County.  We arrived back at the carpool point around 4:30 am.

It was a long weekend without much sleep but it's hard to complain too much when we had such spectacular views all to ourselves.  Now it's back to Boise for 4 days before heading off to the west side of the Sierra for the 4th Annual Memorial Day Massacre.

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