Army Pass and the Earthquake!

24 June 2020
Sequoia National Park boundary on the PCT to Army Pass to Horseshoe Meadows
(13 miles, +1,600/-3,300 feet).

After being so depressed yesterday afternoon I awoke feeling somewhat better.  But I still thought I should postpone a Miter Basin trip, so I packed up my things and made my way towards Army Pass.

I left camp at that perfect cotton-candy time in the sky that I always love.

From my campsite
Siberian Outpost
Alpenglow on the Kaweahs

I turned off the PCT early, trying to find the location of the old trail heading up to Soldier Lake.  This allowed me to walk away from the creek bottom and its denizens.  It was a good strategy until I hit a big talus field and had to descend back into the forest.  I don’t think I saved any time, but I probably didn’t lose any, either, and it was fun!

Miter Basin from the talus field
Looking back on the Kaweahs
Looking forward towards Army Pass

The climb took some time, but the views were definitely worth it and a breeze even allowed me to take a proper break on the way up.

Mount Guyot and the Sierra

The last time I was up here I was with BarnFinder and MixMaster looking for NEW Army Pass, which is maintained but requires about 300 extra feet of climbing.

This time, I wanted to try Army Pass, which is unmaintained but I heard was only class 2.  It would drop me directly into the highest lakes in the Cottonwood Lakes basin, which I had not yet visited.

But when I got to the top of the pass, it was a sheer drop off.


I spent some time down-climbing some sketchy sections before realizing that I needed to cross a high angle snow field to get to the old trail.  So I climbed back up and headed to take a look at it.  Fortunately, there was a good boot print in it.

This picture doesn’t really do it justice, because immediately to the right of the frame is a 1000 foot sheer cliff.


I had to do two of these, and I was so nervous about them I didn’t take the pictures I wanted to in order to convey the situation.  I think without the snow the trail is usually class 2, but I definitely felt exposure here and would call the crossing class 3.

But of course, the views were amazing.

Cottonwood Lakes 4 and 5
Army Pass

From the lake below I stopped to study the route I had come down.  It goes from the low point on the ridge and keeps its elevation at the snow line on the cliff band coming from the pass until quite far to the left before cutting a path below the cliff band.  I will have to do this one again, but maybe not when there is snow!

Wide angle shot of Army Pass

The lakes really were stunning and in some places there was enough breeze to allow a break from the mosquitoes.

Lake 5
Peak 12369
Lake 3
Mount Langley
The “Frog Pond”
More “Frog Pond”
Mystery shack

A tarn below the frog pond set me up for a wonderful reflection shot.


Once I was back in the woods there was no breeze and that was the end of breaks and photos, except for a drive-by shooting of John Muir.


About a half mile from the trailhead I suddenly felt off balance and woozy.  Maybe I was just tired?  I stopped and looked around and all the trees looked like they were shaking.  Was I hallucinating?

Well, it turns out I was not.  When I got back to the car several people parked along the road were discussing an earthquake that had just happened.  One of them had driven down the road and could not get through because of a landslide.  Oh no!

I had to drive down and see for myself:


This one wasn’t so bad — I inched around the boulders on the right.  But there were about 20 more just like this one.

I and a couple other drivers started making our way, clearing movable rocks to make a lane.  And then I hit a rock on my undercarriage and my rental Kia Forte (!) started making a terrible sound.

I pulled over and saw that the undercarriage cover had ripped off.  I was all ready with my duct tape, but fortunately the car was well designed and I was able to reattach the cover with the nuts and bolts in place.  And while I made the repair, a county vehicle clearing the road drove past, so once I was done it was smooth sailing all the way down.

Thank goodness the earthquake did not hit while I was on Army Pass!

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