SHR Day 11 – July 13
Gabbot Pass to Merriam Creek
SpiceRack Special Camp to Big Bean Dinner Camp
Passes: White Bear Pass, Feather Pass
For most of the day we didn’t see single tree. That statement is certainly hyperbolic, but drives home my point. The terrain between Gabbot Pass and Merriam Lake was lunar in the ‘doesn’t actually look like the moon, but looks strange and desolate like the moon’ kind of way. That made for some pretty neat walking and looking, but it is also a hard way to live. By the time our route dripped us back below treeline in the afternoon, SpiceRack and I were both seared and crispy. Probably dehydrated too despite the abundance of water in these mountains. Neither of the two passes we crossed was particularly challenging physically, though tricky route finding all day kept our brains whirling. From there, to here. Another day south.
Our camp below Gabbot Pass treated us well. I didn’t sleep great and awoke with a slight headache, but there were no annoying buzzy things trying to suck our blood and it’s hard to beat waking up to a mountain view like that. I watched the sky brighten while SpiceRack snoozed. Around 7:30am we saddled up for a long descent after breakfast with hot chocolate and tea.
Easy travel over grassy benches put us on the sandy shore of Lake Italy. We filtered some water from the warm shallows and casually strolled around the north shore for what must have been a mile or two. Big lake, no doubt about it. At the outlet, Spice insisted on walking across the skinny tip of the lake for some reason. Even more puzzling were my reasons for following her. I was glad I did though. The cool, thigh-high water was refreshing and my socks needed a washing anyway.
We joined a trail for all of a quarter mile before hopping over a low granite shoulder to Teddy Bear Lake. Then came Brown Bear Lake. Off trail travel so far had been as easy as could be. No talus or scree in sight, or not in our way at least. We stopped for a hat soak and to palaver about our route up White Bear Pass. Our research indicated that it was one of the more troublesome passes, and our initial assessment validated this sentiment. Steep cliffs block passage to the right, and annoying bushes blocked the moderate left slope. We were left with a seam of talus up the middle that may or may not have had a climbable exit. But if we’ve learned anything on the SHR, it’s that the impossible looks more possible the closer one gets.
We hopped across boulders towards Plan A. Stopping every 50 yards to reassess, we worked our way between the bushes and cliffs until a previously invisible bench appeared on our left. Taking it, we found ourselves safely above the dastardly bushes and just a few easy ramps from the top. In the end, White Bear Pass was casual, but for the first time on the SHR, I felt like we needed some savvy to make it without undue effort or finding ourselves in a dangerous situation. I was proud of our effort. We nailed it.
Smack-dabbery-doo at the top was White Bear Lake, a deep sapphire pool with steep granite shores. On the north end we found a private beach to rest our dogs and eat lunch. Neither of us was hot enough to swim, so we roasted on the grass instead, shoving calories into our mouths. Spice forced me to eat peanut butter on dried mango. Not as bad as it sounds.
The going got tricky from there. Numerous humps of cliffy, orange granite bulged around more bear-themed lakes: Black Bear Lake was huge and distant, Ursa Lake we skipped, and Bearpaw Lake was a pain to get to. We cursed our maps for hiding so many cliffs between the contour lines. But we made it, and squished around the marshy inlet on our way to Feather Pass.
We probably should have stopped for water long before we reached a small, silty tarn halfway up. By the time I gulped a few swigs, dehydration and sun exposure were already making me loopy. However, that just made the big boulder hop along the bottom of a winding gully all the more enjoyable. At a patch of snow, Spice and I each took a handful for eating and smashed a lump behind our necks for climate control. It hurt at first, then numbed to a pleasant coolness. The final steep talus to the pass was a little tricky, but like White Bear Pass, our tandem route finding kept the drama to a minimum. Some hands were required.
From up top, views were mostly a mystery. A couple peaks jogged my mental rolodex, but mostly I was intimidated by the dark line of cliffs running across the distant horizon. That was the Glacier Divide, and somewhere within lurked the menacing presence of Snow Tongue Pass. Maybe tomorrow we would take a shot at climbing over the sketchiest terrain since Sky Pilot Col. It had been easy to ignore as a future problem up until this point, but now it was in sight, though I wasn’t quite sure where.
Descending to La Salle Lake was not as simple as I hoped. Nearly delirious with dehydration, SpiceRack belted out some of the worst pop songs from middle school with gusto. I laughed along with her as we made some pretty consequential moves down thick flakes of granite. When we reached the rocky shoreline, I made sure to make filtering and drinking water the priority. We revived a little bit before throwing our shoes back on for the final jaunt to camp.
Further down the valley, another band of cliffs afforded us a birds eye view of Merriam Lake. Wind rippled across the water far below, changing shimmering reflection to deep blue in sweeping lines. It also pelted our faces, ripping off my hood many a time. Good news: the trees below did a great job blocking this wind, and what remained kept the bugs at bay. We settled under the shade of an average pine, hopefully safely distant from the meandering creek and the mosquitos who call it home.
Spice tucked into bed at 6:30pm, pretty darn early by just about any standard that I can think of. I’m pretty sure that even 6-year-olds get to stay up until 7pm. With nothing left to do, but go to sleep myself, I found a rock that perfectly mimicked a reclining chair and watched the shadows lengthen and mosquitos thicken. At sunset, I was treated to the spectacular phenomenon called the Sierra Wave, a special cloud formation that occurs over the crest when conditions are right. It was cool for sure.
In the end, we set up the tent. The bugs just won’t quit. That’s alright, neither do we.