JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH
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David Lutz
(davidlutz)

Locale: Bay Area
JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH on 01/31/2011 18:55:57 MST Print View

We plan to access the Southern half of the JMT this summer from the East side. We are considering the Pine Creek Trailhead and the North Lake Trailhead.

I haven't done any research yet, but I assume starting on the East side and finishing at the Whitney Portal will make the shuttle back to the car pretty straightforward.

But the question for now is to compare the two possible starting points. My buddy is not great with altitude and wants to give himself some time to acclimate.

The Pine Creek TH is at 7405' with a likely campsite on the first night at 9942'. The trail then crosses 11150' Pine Creek Pass on the second day.

The North Lake TH starts at 9345' and crests Piute Pass at 11423' on the first day.

What are the relative merits of these two starting points? In particular as regards transportation to and from the trailhead.

And anything else that might apply.

Thanks in advance....

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH on 01/31/2011 19:29:52 MST Print View

I started to answer this, but then erased it...

It's just too complicated! I think that you'll have to bust out some maps and consider what you want out of your hike.

More than access and altitude, I'd consider WHERE you want to hike. Would you just be-line to the JMT from those trailheads? Would you go cross country? Would you head west or southwest? There are so many good options!

My gut would be to go with Pine Creek, simply because it's farther away from Whitney so it'd mean more distance in the Sierra. How far do you want to go?

Why hike the JMT?

Do you have two cars or are you hitch hiking?

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
i've done both trails on 01/31/2011 19:30:15 MST Print View

pine creek trail is very steep and the first several miles are exposed and rocky--lots of going up a steep sunny rocky switchback slope.

paiute pass trail is beautiful and has nice trees and other scenery throughout, until you get above treeline of course--it is mostly steady not steep

going all the way over on the first day is certainly doable, but since you'd be a little closer, i'd think you'd have the option of staying at the top lake instead the first night, making the first day shorter to allow for acclimation. then, it's a very easy up and over and you'd be heading downhill pretty quickly on the other side into a beautiful canyon

edit: i see transport is a chief concern. if memory serves, both trailheads are about similarly easy to get to--probably Pine Creek is a little closer to the highway (but a bit more out of Bishop). parking seemed reasonably easy at either one, not like the South Lake fiasco.

as for length of hike--it's really not much different. both trailheads are a few miles off the JMT. I'd guess it's no more than 3 miles of difference, and both have an interestingly beautiful entry from the pass down to the trail.

Edited by cbert on 01/31/2011 19:41:50 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH on 01/31/2011 19:42:20 MST Print View

If you start from South Lake, you shoot over Bishop Pass. That is going to be shorter, but then you are missing some nice scenery just north of there (toward Darwin Canyon).

If you start from North Lake, you could also go over Lamarck Col, but it is a lot higher than Piute Pass, so your buddy might not like that. It and Darwin Canyon give a straight shot to the JMT.

There tends to be car traffic going up to Lake Sabrina, and you can walk from there up to North Lake.

Pine Creek is a little steep and sunny, but it isn't all that bad. Probably not much car traffic.

You may have trouble getting set up with the permit to pass through the Whitney Zone to Whitney Portal.

--B.G.--

drew doty
(drewdoty1444) - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz, CA
Passes on 01/31/2011 20:17:09 MST Print View

Piute is a much easier pass, and if your buddy isn't in hiking shape then I would choose piute. If your up for an adventure off trail then Italy pass is near the pine creek trailhead and it will drop you right down onto the jmt. Then u could resupply at muir trail ranch.

Drew

Robert Perkins
(rp3957)

Locale: The Sierras
Piute vs Pine Creek Passes on 01/31/2011 21:02:16 MST Print View

I have done both passes, and Piute Pass is hands-down the easiest of the two. I actually enjoyed them both for different reasons. If all you want is access to the JMT go with Piute. If you want a good challenge and like going off the beaten path, you will enjoy Pine Creek. I actually enjoyed the solitude offered by Pine Creek pass. If you are good at cross-country and want a lot of solitude, you could opt for going over Italy Pass and down to Bear Creek. I loved this area, but it is rugged, and you must be confident in your route finding abilities. If your friend needs time to acclimatize, there are some great camping areas on a ledge above Honeymoon Lake near the junction with Italy Pass and Pine Creek Pass trails. Great Vistas, and not too many people put in the effort to get there.

Edited by rp3957 on 01/31/2011 21:57:57 MST.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Piute vs Pine Creek Passes on 02/01/2011 08:27:38 MST Print View

Pine Creek is STEEP, and yes going from Granite Park over to Lake Italy and pass will require route finding.

Bob suggested Lamarck Col. Keep in mind that a lot of that is on use trail (steep) and then cross country. Route finding in Darwin Canyon and Bench are pretty straightforward and the scenery is stunning. If I were to have my pick depending on time I would go over Piute or Bishop passes. Both have stunning scenery

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Piute vs Pine Creek Passes on 02/01/2011 08:28:47 MST Print View

Also, Dave, what time of the summer are you planning to go. Cross country and snow travel can be an issue if you are not well versed in ice axe and crampons....just a thought

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Piute vs Pine Creek Passes on 02/01/2011 11:52:58 MST Print View

Seconded (thirded) that Pine Creek trail is steep and relentless, and for somebody who lives at sea level (me) it doesn't provide an acclimation period because you must sleep over 10k on night #1. For massive fun: Italy Pass on day #2.

There's always the western approach, which is better from an acclimation standpoint. Or spend a night in Mammoth before leaving because wherever you enter from 395 you'll be at altitude quickly. The east side payoff is fast access to some of the most beautiful mountains there are.

Cheers,

Rick

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH on 02/01/2011 14:25:44 MST Print View

The Pine Creek TH is at 7405' with a likely campsite on the first night at 9942'. The trail then crosses 11150' Pine Creek Pass on the second day.

The North Lake TH starts at 9345' and crests Piute Pass at 11423' on the first day.
At what elevation would you camp after coming over Piute Pass? I'd want to sleep below 8000' if possible on the first day.

It's been a while since I've been through there, but Evolution valley is really beautiful.

HJ

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Re: JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH on 02/01/2011 16:45:30 MST Print View

From Piute, you will have to make it all the way to the JMT to hit 8200' Near the trail junction there is a cluster of heavily used sites. There are also good sites in French Canyon and acres of open space at 11k.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH on 02/01/2011 17:43:30 MST Print View

"From Piute, you will have to make it all the way to the JMT to hit 8200' Near the trail junction there is a cluster of heavily used sites. There are also good sites in French Canyon and acres of open space at 11k."

Paiute is probably the easiest pass on the east side, at least from the Bishop area on south, and it is all easy downhill from the pass to JMT. There are loads of good campsites strung out along Paiute Creek, and if you waited until you were just above the final descent to JMT, you could camp at or just below 10,000', IIRC. If you are feeling good, a delightful place to camp would be to cross Paiute Creek and hike the use trail up to Honeymoon Lake. It is an exquisite little lake in a gorgeous setting, and is not often used.

David Lutz
(davidlutz)

Locale: Bay Area
"JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH" on 02/01/2011 17:55:07 MST Print View

Thanks to all for your replies......

Sounds like Piute Pass from North Lake is the way to go. We'll probably just hang out the first day, or take a really short day, to get used to the altitude.

Then we'll cross over Piute and walk around to the JMT and continue on our way south.

Thanks again!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: "JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH" on 02/01/2011 18:04:10 MST Print View

"Sounds like Piute Pass from North Lake is the way to go. We'll probably just hang out the first day, or take a really short day, to get used to the altitude."

That is a wise idea, David. One important variable hasn't been mentioned so far. Both Lamarck Col and Paiute Pass TH's are at ~9400'. If you drive up from the valley, you will gain over 5000' VERY quickly and have difficulty if you try to hike directly over either pass, but particularly Lamarck Col, which is just shy of 13000'. Even Pauite Pass is 7500' above the valley. That's a lot of elevation to gain in one day, especially when you top out at ~11,500'.

A far better approach would be to drive up to the North Lake parking lot and maybe hike a couple of miles up the trail to the first campsitess at around 10,000' or so and hang out/camp for the first night.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: "JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH" on 02/01/2011 18:23:30 MST Print View

Sound advice by Tom! Dave, if you take Piute or go over Lamarck you will have some amazing scenery. Just sitting at the North Lake parking lot and looking up where Lamarck Col is and trying to figure out how the heck you are going over that is mind boggling. Maybe I will run into you guys, though I am exiting on the Bishop Pass Trail on Aug. 3rd

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: "JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH" on 02/02/2011 08:13:16 MST Print View

Wow, loads of good info. Last time in that area, I went over Piute Pass (just after a snow storm; it was beautiful). I'd like to try Lamark Col if I get up that way again. Hmm... :)

HJ

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: "JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH" on 02/02/2011 12:31:48 MST Print View

If you are not used to the altitude, going over Lamarck Col is a butt-kicker. If you are coming up the east side, the navigation gets pretty spotty between Lower Lamarck Lake and Upper Lamarck Lake where the trail peters out. If you are coming up the west side, basic navigation is not that difficult, but it is still hard to pick the exact spot that you want to call Lamarck Col. It is kind of spread out over 100 yards.

I've been through there twice on foot and once on skis.

--B.G.--

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Re: "JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH" on 02/02/2011 13:05:21 MST Print View

Bob is right about coming up the west side. Picking the correct notch took a little work for us. That and hiking from the southern portion of Saphire lake to Lamarck was catching up to us. The view on top of Lamarch are amazing!!!!!

That must be a haul on skis Bob. Was that a one day ascent?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: "JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH" on 02/02/2011 13:58:33 MST Print View

"That must be a haul on skis Bob. Was that a one day ascent?"

For the ski trip, we started late from South Lake, so the first camp was before Bishop Pass. Second camp was in LeConte Canyon. Third and fourth nights were in the Muir Hut. Fifth night was at Evolution Lake. Then, we had to haul up through Darwin Canyon, up and over Lamarck Col, and then ski all the way down to Grassy Lake for the sixth camp. Then it was a quick walk out to Lake Sabrina where we had one car stashed.

It was a good thing that we got out after that sixth camp, because I was almost out of white gas for the stove. That was the sort of trip where UL techniques apply well. Two guys started the trip with packs of sixty pounds. Two others started with about 45 pounds each. My buddy and I started with about 36 pounds each.

--B.G.--

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: "JMT Access - Pine Creek TH vs North Lake TH" on 02/02/2011 14:10:33 MST Print View

I am sure that area was sublime during winter ......quite jealous!