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Sphinx Lakes Basin, Early Fall
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Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Sphinx Lakes Basin, Early Fall on 12/01/2008 20:23:25 MST Print View

Water Under the First Bridge

Water under the first bridge, crossing Bubbs Creek, where the trail begins its climb. I'm about a mile from the trailhead at Road's End, in King's Canyon National Park, (near Sequoia National Park), in the Southern Sierras. When I take off, there's a 40% chance of rain, but the day is warm and the sky clear. (This is a solo trip, so in there are no people in the photos).

The Sphinx

The Sphinx


Willows along the trail.


Day 2. Things starting to get a little strange. But no large white rabbits anywhere around.

Mountain Dogs

In the Throne Room of the Mountain Dogs.


Off trail now, and gaining altitude rapidly toward Sphinx Lakes.


A camp engineer's dream! At the lake, the rock is fractured in perfect blocks.

Gathering fog

Fog is starting to gather, and the temperature begins to drop as evening comes on. Unknown to me, the 40% chance of rain has changed to a 90% chance of snow.

One of the peaks near Mt. Brewer

One of the peaks near Mt. Brewer.

Morning Light

Rain begins to fall at 11 PM, quickly turning to snow. It snows all night long, but luckily the wind, which sounds quite fierce, stays well above my tent. Day 3.


The SMD Gatewood Cape bravely holds off the elements throughout the night. Notice the extremely oblique angle of the hiking pole in the tent--I've since gotten some adjustable poles from Gossamer Gear, which look great, and should be much easier to use as tent poles.

WhiteBark Pine

Our friend at altitude, the WhiteBark Pine. A break in the snow. Snow continues falling till about 1 in the afternoon.

Upper Sphinx Lake

The second of the two largest Sphinx Lakes. In the background is the ramp which leads eventually to Mt. Brewer.


Afternoon, and the snow has stopped; heavy fogs form, vanish, and re-form. During one extremely heavy fog, a large avalanche can be heard from a nearby cliff, going on forever, but one can't see any of it.


Grasses near the lake's edge.

Boulder field

Now on the way back, day 4. A consequence of poor route finding--one of many boulder fields to cross.

Aspen Grove

But at the end of the boulder field, a small, beautiful Aspen Grove.

Aspen 2

And this is my last photo. The camera, which my son had given me, is still new to me, and I've somehow switched into video mode without realizing it.

Edited by swimjay on 12/06/2008 12:01:42 MST.

David T
(DaveT) - F
. on 12/01/2008 23:43:23 MST Print View


Edited by DaveT on 01/18/2015 19:24:56 MST.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: sphinx. on 12/02/2008 13:52:51 MST Print View


Great photos and thanks for posting them up.

Beautiful looking place.

How low did the temperatures get and what did you use for a sleeping and clothing system to stay warm?


Edited by Valshar on 12/02/2008 13:53:51 MST.

Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Min temps on 12/02/2008 15:38:20 MST Print View

Thanks for your comments.

Tony, judging by the amount of water frozen in a hanging water bag left outside the tent (about half a gallon), I'd guess the temps got into the mid 20's, on the third night. (A little more than half the water was frozen--if it had been all frozen, a "hard freeze", I would have guessed 20 or below; if just the surface 1/2", low 30's--high 20's). While the snow was falling, on the second night, low 30's?

I slept in BPL Cocoon Pro 90 (hooded) Parka, Cocoon UL 60 pants, wool socks, under a 16 oz BMW down quilt made by Nunatak (very similar to the current Nunatak Arc Specialist), in an Oware Quantum-silnylon draw cord bivy sac, on a Gossamer Gear 3.7 oz Nightlight pad. The pad was a little minimal in terms of comfort, but the ground hadn't gotten too cold yet, so it was warm enough. The comfort was more of an issue because I spent quite a bit of time lying under the Gatewood Cape to be out of the snow, and, snugged to the ground as it was, I couldn't comfortably sit up. The whole set-up was quite cozy, with brief chilly spells when the wind would come up, or I'd shift under the quilt, or reach out to wipe the condensation off the tent ceiling. On the coldest night the condensation just froze, and I let it.

I think the altitude was about 10,500'.

Edited by swimjay on 12/02/2008 15:39:55 MST.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Min temps on 12/02/2008 17:00:44 MST Print View

Hi James,
This thread sure brings back fond memories. I spent a lot of time in that basin back in the late 70's/early 80's. It makes for really nice 3-4 day trips. Thanks for posting.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Min temps on 12/02/2008 17:01:37 MST Print View


Come to think about it, you really did have a bit of an adventure from snow to fall colors...makes for a trip of big contrast.

I appreciate your sharing your strategy for layering up your clothing.

I currently have two sleeping bags, a Marmot Helium EQ 15 degree that I have used down to 5 degrees and a 40 degree Atom bag that is 1 lb, but I am trying to figure out how low a temperature that I can use it comfortably at.

For layering, in the cold, I have a Montbell Thermawrap Jacket and Pants.

Kinda a fine balance between being comfortable and ending up on the 6 o'clock news. :)

Vs. a tarp, do you think that the Gatewood Cape would handle much of a snow load on top of it or would it just collapse on you?

Any trouble navigating with the snow covering the trails or were you going off trail?


Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Gatewood Collapse on 12/02/2008 19:58:00 MST Print View

I don't think the Gatewood would handle much of a snow load, and its walls are at such a low angle that snow doesn't slide off as easily as it does on a steep-walled tent.

On the other hand, it does have two tie-outs, one of which I used, and it was easy enough to knock the snow off from the inside, in a light snow. And I was very glad to be able to seal off the ends, which one couldn't do easily in a conventional tarp.

I was off-trail above snow-line; I did have some concern about slipping, if it got icy, as I was travelling over blocks and talus, and some slabs, but I got out before the snow melted and refroze. It was actually perfect for walking in--not very deep, reasonably firm. There wasn't any danger of getting lost, because of the contours of the ridges and valleys; route optimizing was actually more difficult down lower, where there were a lot of trees and brush, and sometimes marshy conditions.

Tom, I definitely want to go back there as soon as the passes are clear; I think there are great 8 to 10 day loops possible, going beyond the Sphinx Lakes Basin.

Edited by swimjay on 12/02/2008 20:06:16 MST.

michael nieto
(wolfgangXaxt) - F
Photo Narratives on 12/19/2008 14:43:13 MST Print View


I enjoyed the photos and the clever and humurous narratives.

Inadvertently switching to video mode affectionatley reminds me of some of my photo mishaps over the years.


Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Sphinx Lakes Basin, Early Fall on 12/19/2008 18:23:21 MST Print View

Looks like a great trip, thanks for sharing the photos. I think some of my favorite trips were the ones that had lots of variety (weather, terrain, views, etc.).

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Gatewood Collapse on 12/19/2008 21:26:27 MST Print View

You're definitely right about the 8-10 day loops continuing south out of Sphinx Lakes Basin. Over Longley Pass and either down to Reflection Lake, East Lake,etc, or over Thunder Pass into the Upper Kern Basin and out over Harrison Pass or Forrester Pass, and back to Roads End/Cedar Grove in either case. Both would fall into that range. timewise and traverse some spectacular country. Best of luck.