2015 Memorial Day Massacre: Kibbie Ridge Granite Waterslide Edition

  • Updated: May 21, 2015
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

May 21st to 25th 23rd, 2015
Kibbie Ridge

Memorial Day has become a tradition for me ever since a trip gone slightly wrong back in 2010.  It's a long weekend which happens at an annoying time of year where you can get into the Sierra but there's a good chance you'll face weather and less than ideal conditions.

Back in 2010 I planned a trip to Walker Pass to clean out a bunch of SPS/HPS peaks along the PCT.  What was intended to be a fairly approachable trip ended up being a bit harder due to heat, route finding on the infamous Spanish Needle, and a dried up water source.  Some extra miles and one dry camp later only Jen and I did the last few peaks while the rest of the group headed straight for the cars.  It was retroactively branded the Memorial Day Massacre.

When the following year came around we decided to do another butt kicker cleanout and despite some memorable weather events it's stuck around.

A brief summary of the Massacres so far
2010 Walker Pass - The trip that inspired the name.  Went at Chimney Creek to get a number of peaks and hike south to Walker Pass.  Only Jen and I completed all the peaks.
2011 Williamson Cleanout - Well, planned to be a Williamson are cleanout.  Went in on a bad forecast which proceeded to get worse.  Retreated from Shepherd Pass due to 100 mph winds to set up near Anvil only to have our tent ripped open by gusts.  Spent the night in a bush getting snowed on.  No peaks.
2012 Golden Trout - Some weather but highly successful.  Lots of miles & peaks.  Started with 3 and ended with 2.
2013 Courtright - Spectacular weather, lots of peaks, lots of miles.  And a kilt!
2014 Skip Year - Didn't happen due to the job switch and Boise move

Which brings us to 2015. Work has settled down and I was itching to get back into the Sierra after a fun desert trip season. After looking into a number options we settled on a loop out Cherry Lake on the west side just south of Sonora Pass. None of us had been in this particular area so we were all looking forward to seeing some new trails.

We left the park and ride in Orange County around 3:30 pm and headed north up the 5 / 99. We made a brief stop to pick up our permit (fortunately the area allows night drops) and continued on to a campground near Cherry Lake.

Day 1: What  Weather?

It was a late night and we were understandably a bit slow getting.  The campground is huge and was all but deserted except for the camp host that dropped by to pick up our fee.

View from Cherry Lake Dam
The weather was spectacular...unless you take into account the large amount of clouds already present this early in the morning.  (Well, and the slightly concerning forecast for the next 4 days...)  But this was the Massacre and we were committed.

The trailhead is actually further north between then lakes than what I'd had mapped out.  Considering the loop we were trying to do it would have been a better idea to park closer to the  dam between the lakes near where we planned to come out a few days from now rather than deal with an uphill slog right at the end.  But we were already here.

The trailhead had bear boxes but no bathrooms  and a pretty nice view of the lake below.

The trail starts climbing immediately and passes through an extensive burn area.

It was readily apparent something was building and sure enough a few hours in we had the first splattering of rain...

Which quickly became graupel...

And kept coming.

It was rather wet and cold and we took the opportunity to swap out some layers under the awning of a cabin located near where we left the trail. 

Getting moving again we went cross country along Kibbie Ridge aiming for the highpoint.

We stood on top of Kibbie Ridge with no view whatsoever and quickly continued on in order to stay warm.  We'd been intending to do Mercur (which looks far more interesting than I expected) but now the grauple had turned to rain and everything was melting.

It took quite a bit of care to pick our way from the ridge back down to the trail.  Every surface was streaming water  and the ice slush made the rocks extremely slippery.

Things didn't improve much once we did reach the bottom.  Everything was either underwater or flowing.  We did find the trail, easily identifiable by the amount of water running down it, though it was impossible to follow without major diversions.

After a bit of interesting cross country roughly dogging the trail we decided it was time to look for a camp.  It was getting late in the day and considering the amount of water we were seeing we didn't know if the meadow on the far side of Styx Pass would have any dry spots.

This side wasn't much better.  We climbed up to the lake just below the pass and started looking around for anything workable where we could pitch our tent.  Most of the spots that had obviously been used before were either flowing or under deep puddles.

We eventually found some exposed slightly slanted rocks that had only minor puddles and decided this was likely the best we were going to find.

Doing our best to pitch the tent from underneath the rain fly
Once inside it was so humid everything was wet but the rain did eventually taper off a bit as we cooked dinner and settled in for the night.

Day 2: Dry Out And...Damn

The next morning everything was still wet but we had enough of a break in the ever present clouds that we were able to dry things out a bit.

After a rather impressive breakfast we got moving and jumped over Styx Pass happy to finally feel like we were in the Sierra proper.

The trail drops down the far side of the pass and and meets the East Fork of the Cherry in Lord Meadow.  Here we ran into a problem.

The trail jumps back and forth across the river and all the crossings were basically impassable.  The creek was extra wide due to the storm overflow and too fast and deep to try crossing.

In the time we spent debating our weather situation and trying to follow the southern shore we could see the water raising noticeably.

We talked about following the southern shore which  looked passable but a lot of slick boulder hopping and we had a good distance we needed to cover.  Also we had reports of more difficult crossings towards the end of our loop and the weather wasn't going to improve much.  Also there was the fact that even if we did manage to get across somewhere we didn't want to be stuck on the wrong side of a rising river.

We made the call to back off settling for staying at a rather nice campsite we'd just passed complete with an existing fire pit.

It took some work to get the fire going since everything was soaked but we managed to build something hot enough whatever side was facing the fire stayed dry.

Day 3: Bail!

The following morning we packed up our only slightly soggy gear and headed back the way we'd come.

We debated climbing Mercer or some other nearby peak on the way but we didn't even make it through Lord Meadow before it was raining hard enough we needed the pack covers again.  We did get a little sunshine going over Styx Pass but had rain, thunder, and lightning by the time we passed Kibbie Ridge.

Not to say it wasn't pretty along the way.

We did run into a group of guys who had been trying to do something similar to us and had attempted the southern shore of the Cherry.  They said it was miserable and they hadn't made it much further than us before camping and coming back out that morning as well.

We had a rather interesting bit of thunder and lightning coming over the last high area which Kristen found somewhat less entertaining than Kristen and I.  We had some bright flashes and some very loud close thunder but no downstrikes we could see.  It tailed off towards sunset.

We reached the car just after sunset.  The thought of sleeping in a campsite after a few days being cold and wet didn't sound overly appealing but neither did spending most of the night driving home.

So settles for headed back to the same campground we stayed at before the trip.  This time it was a lot busier but we found a fairly out of the way spot which had the added bonus of a kind neighbor who came over, chatted, and gave us a bunch of firewood.

Day 4: And Home.  After Lunch...

We spent a pleasant night and a slow morning drinking coffee and looking through the trees at the lake below.  It was sunny again but there were enough clouds in the sky that I figured we were looking at another storm before noon.

It took us most of the day to get home.  Since it's unusual for us to be driving along the 99 during normal business hours we took the opportunity to stop at one of my regular pit stops along the west side called Bravo Farms.

It's a gas station / store / restaurant / tourist destination located right off the freeway.  I started stopping here due to the fact they have two small donkeys in a field next door huffing all the fumes from the truck stop across the street.  It has more character than your average gas station.

I'm usually there long after they've closed but this time we could actually go inside.  They have a BBQ, beer, a decent selection of other food, and a whole lot of things for sale.

And more animals.  Lots of chickens, goats, and they used to have a turkey.

Upstairs there's a multi story treehouse that's a little bit of a tight fit if you're not a little kid but we managed.  There's also a mini golf course on the upper deck.

The food was good, the beer was decent, and we entertained ourselves looking around before driving the rest of the way home.

We all liked the area and we're planning to go back and do the loop later on in the summer probably next year.

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