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Glacier Divide Loop ~ Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col
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Andy Duncan
(bluewater) - M

Locale: SoCal
Glacier Divide Loop ~ Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col on 04/02/2013 03:01:02 MDT Print View

After taking a few overnighters in the local San Jacinto mountains this winter I was excited to take a real winter trip in the high Sierra. For my first real winter experience in the Sierras I decided to start from familiar ground, the North Lake trailhead near Bishop. The plan was to cross the Sierra Crest at Piute Pass, then cross the Glacier Divide at Alpine Col and finally back over the Sierra Crest at Lamarck Col. I had four days and three nights to make the loop on snowshoes.


The roads were closed just outside of Aspendell so I parked and walked the three miles to the actual North Lake/Piute Pass trailhead.


By the time I got started it was already 1:30 pm so I camped on a ridge just below Piute Lake (only a few miles in from the trailhead). It seems like everything takes longer in the snow.


The lakes and streams were frozen at this altitude so I melted snow for water. I used some Toasty Feet inserts to insulate the fuel from the snow.


This was a solo trip. When I got my permit the ranger said, "you probably won't see anybody out there this time of year". I wouldn't see another person for five days. It's always strange talking to people after a long solo trip. I was enjoying the complete absence of anything except big mountain scenery and solitude.


The second night I camped above frozen Goethe Lake. The view of Mount Humphreys dominates the area.


The next morning I got an early start for Alpine Col. The hike was beautiful with rolling waves of pristine snow.


The view to the east from Alpine Col. Mt. Mendel in the distance and Lake 11,910 below.


I glissaded down the east side of Alpine Col and walked across Lake 11,910. This area is remote so most lakes are just named after the altitude. Alpine Col is the low spot on the left.


That night I camped in Darwin Canyon, surrounded by frozen lakes and huge peaks (Mt. Darwin and Mt. Mendell, both over 13,000 feet).


This bird was the first living thing I had seen in days.


I crossed back over the Sierra Crest at Lamarck Col (12,880 feet).


The view back toward Darwin Canyon.


The view to the east from Lamarck Col.


This trip was supposed to be four days/three nights but I ran into a lot of difficulty finding the way down from a steep snow covered ridge above Upper Lamarck Lake. I spent hours trying to find a safe way down. At one point I fell into an opening in the snow and into the hidden boulders below. I heard a 'crack' and figured it might be time to use the SOS on my Spot. My snowshoes got caught under the boulders as the snow filled in the opening. I spent a long time on this steep ridge digging myself out but eventually I got down to Lower Lamarck Lake. It turns out the crack was one of my LT4's breaking.

By the time I got down it was 8:00 pm and completely dark. The trails were covered with snow and the small amount of moonlight wasn't enough to find the way. I decided to just sleep there until the morning.

Camping under a tree next to Lower Lamarck Lake I fell asleep listening to the wind howl through the canyon. I watched the stars flickering through the branches above me as the melting creek flowed nearby. It was one of the most serene nights I have spent in the wilderness.


The next day I made my way back down to the North Lake trailhead and finally back to the car. There was a note on my truck from the local sheriff saying, "The owner of this truck is an overdue/missing hiker. Please call. . . ". My family was aware of my location from the Spot messages I had been sending, but they still worried something was wrong. Fortunately everything was just fine. What an adventure!


Many thanks to Roger Caffin for sharing his knowledge about snow camping in his many articles on BPL. I followed his guidance on everything from footwear to canister stoves.

My starting weight was 19 1/2 lbs which included food for four days and 1 liter of water. Here is a link to my Glacier Divide Gear List

If you're interested here is a link to the whole story:

Glacier Divide Loop

Thanks for reading.

Edited by bluewater on 04/02/2013 03:09:16 MDT.

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
Winter Adventure on 04/02/2013 04:06:31 MDT Print View

Nice report and pictures, thanks!

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Very cool on 04/02/2013 05:10:46 MDT Print View

This looks like a great early spring trip. I have done the Alpine Col route and it is likely easier and more enjoyable with snow, I seem to remember endless bolder fields. Sucks about your lt4s. Unfortunately I know that snap all too well. I made it through the Sierra on the PCT in '11 with the lt4s intact only to break three sections in three days north of Tahoe I suspect the poles weaken with serious snow use. Will you take them again on a similar trip?

Absolutely gorgeous area, great trip plan.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Glacier Divide Loop ~ Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col on 04/02/2013 07:14:57 MDT Print View

Great pics and report.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Re: Glacier Divide Loop ~ Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col on 04/02/2013 08:27:43 MDT Print View

Looks like a fun trip. Had to laugh at the note on your truck when you got back- I'm always afraid my wife is going to call SAR on me one of these days. It is a huge motivator for me to make big miles and always get back when I say I will.

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Glacier Divide Loop ~ Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col on 04/02/2013 09:50:16 MDT Print View

Wow! Awesome trip! That's an ambitious loop to do solo in the winter. It's nice to see the snow conditions too, I'm probably going to do the Rae Lakes loop sometime in April if the road opens.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Glacier Divide Loop- Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col on 04/02/2013 09:57:31 MDT Print View

Cool TR and pictures. That is a awesome area to explore and I give you a big Thumbs-Up going there with snow still on the ground. That region is tough in Summer time and I could not imagine it in early Spring. Great Stuff!

d k
(dkramalc) - MLife
Re: Glacier Divide Loop ~ Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col on 04/02/2013 10:04:08 MDT Print View

How lovely to see that route with all the snow - have done much of it (North Lake to South Lake) in summer, with only patches of snow, but this looks quite different! Great report, thanks.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Glacier Divide Loop on 04/02/2013 10:34:06 MDT Print View

Great trip report Andy! Looks like a real adventure, especially going for it solo. Glad it was your pole breaking and not a leg...

How were temps and snow conditions?

I was hoping to get up to the Sierra for a winter trip with my brother this year but I just couldn't ever put it together with him. Guess there's always next year...

Edited by NickB on 04/02/2013 10:41:27 MDT.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Glacier Divide Loop on 04/02/2013 12:37:30 MDT Print View

Interesting report.


Andy Duncan
(bluewater) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: Glacier Divide Loop on 04/02/2013 13:56:38 MDT Print View

Thanks for your comments everybody, I really appreciate it.

@Malto, I will probably take the LT4's on the next winter trip. I think it broke due to some unusual use that I hope not to repeat:) Unfortunately GG is out of stock until late April.

@Ike, I was hoping my family/wife wouldn't worry too much, but as it turns out she was on the phone with the local sheriff as soon as I was 24 hrs overdue. Even with the Spot messages she was still concerned. After making no progress working an uphill slope in the dark trying to find the 'trail' I finally made the call to stay, but I knew they would be worried.

@Andrew, have fun on the Rae Lakes loop in April. I'm sure the Painted Lady will be beautiful in the snow. I hope you post photos. . .

@Nico, the lowest temp I could record was 14 degrees while making dinner in Humphreys Basin. After that my watch seemed to freeze. The NOAA forecast had temps down to 10 degrees. During the day it got up to the mid 30's. I wore shorts, s/s merino t-shirt and long gaiters during the day and stayed warm while moving. Windshirt and gloves were enough during breaks.

The snow conditions were good most of the time. After a mild three day storm the week before there was a layer of new snow, especially noticeable on the lakes. Most of it was soft on the flat areas and hard packed on the slopes, rarely too deep for snowshoeing.

There was a section on the way up to Alpine Col where I got caught on a slope that had iced over. It was supposed to be a side hill short cut, but I ended up doing a long traverse facing uphill while on the toes of the crampons that are built-in to the snow shoes. The first section from Darwin Canyon up to Lamarck Col was a similar ice wall, but it wasn't bad going straight uphill.

I can't wait to go back.

obx hiker
(obxcola) - MLife

Locale: Outer Banks of North Carolina
"Glacier Divide Loop ~ Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col" on 04/02/2013 17:17:46 MDT Print View

I used an xtherm in Sept on a trip up to Ritter Lakes and it was so warm it felt alive.

How'd you like yours in really cold weather?

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
An excellent adventure on 04/02/2013 20:46:27 MDT Print View

Way to go, Andy. That was a well conceived, committing trip thru some great country. Doing it alone makes it all the more impressive-very little margin for error. I can only imagine what it must have been like coming down off Lamarck Col. That ridge drops off pretty steeply on both sides. Thanks for the excellent trip report.

Andy Duncan
(bluewater) - M

Locale: SoCal
"Glacier Divide Loop ~ Piute Pass, Alpine Col, Lamarck Col" on 04/02/2013 20:57:12 MDT Print View

The xTherm is amazing, I can feel the heat being reflected back towards me. I got the size large to fit my shoulders and elbows and it's the only luxury item I carry. My only complaint is that even when fully inflated I still need a GG thinlight pad under my hips when sleeping on snow or ice. A small price to pay for a good nights sleep.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
niiiice on 04/02/2013 21:13:32 MDT Print View

Andy - nice trip. Thanks for the report. Looks like the snow is still in pretty good shape - I have my fingers crossed since I can't get out until early May.

If you go that way again sometime, coming down from Lamarck in the snow is easier if you stay right and don't go down where the trail goes. Instead follow the drainage that goes directly to Grass Lake.

Andy Duncan
(bluewater) - M

Locale: SoCal
An excellent adventure on 04/02/2013 21:22:58 MDT Print View

Thanks for your comments Tom! Although it was a challenge getting down the boulders at the top the glissade down from there was fun.

Here are a few pxts of the slide down the east side of Lamarck Col. The scale is hard to capture. It's 200 feet from top to bottom. I stayed to the side to avoid starting an avalanche in the steeper loose snow in the middle.



Andy Duncan
(bluewater) - M

Locale: SoCal
niiiice on 04/02/2013 21:34:21 MDT Print View

Thanks for your info about the drainage down to Grass Lake Paul! It would have saved hours of frustration at the end of a long day. Does that way also work in the summer?

Ryan Huetter of "Life in the Vertical" ( did the same route on ski's in Feb. He also recommended the drainage to Grass Lake, but not until after the trip. . .

Next time I better ask the mountain veterans ahead of time.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: niiiice on 04/02/2013 21:36:57 MDT Print View

Yes, I can remember skiing from Lamarck Col down to Grass Lake, but that was a few years ago, back when we still got decent snow.


Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
grass lake on 04/03/2013 16:58:21 MDT Print View

Andy - I've only been there in the snow, but I doubt the grass lake route is better than the use trail in the summer.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: An excellent adventure on 04/03/2013 20:12:31 MDT Print View

"Although it was a challenge getting down the boulders at the top the glissade down from there was fun."

Yup. When there's no snow it is pretty loose, but sometimes preferable to negotiating the snow field when it's iced up and you're crampon-less. I'll bet the glissade was a hoot. That said, I should have been clearer in my original post. I was referring, not clearly, to the ridge above Upper Lamarck Lake. I recall it being a real steep drop on both sides in places, and was wondering how you found it when covered with snow. I was thinking it would really concentrate your mind if the snow was hard pack or iced up, especially with no crampons and what looked to me like Northern Lites Backcountry snowshoes.