SEKI 2020


May 16, 2016
Warning: Tons of photos and way to much pre-trip details. Skip to the first photo if you don't care about the backstory :)

July 27 - August 5, 2020
6 nights backpack & 2 nights hotel

Caltopo says about 60 miles and 12000' of elevation gain
Camera Details: Sony A7ii and Voigtlander 21/3.5 (I decided to go light weight with only one wide angle lens)

I started planning/thinking about this trip in December 2019 with the idea of locking in permits when they opened in Feb. I talked to a backpacking friend about joining me and he was interested. No problems getting permits in Feb but there was this new disease in China that looked "interesting", probably not a big deal, so I booked my plane flight and rental car for the end of July.

Of course that "interesting" disease ended up being COVID and that scrambled everything :) The most obvious scrambling early on was kids are home from school so I ended up doing less hiking than a normal spring and I basically stopped climbing stairs when the campus shut down, and then family time in early summer ... basically I did not have the legs for a serious 8 night SEKI trip, but I had some potential options if I needed to call an audible.

COVID scrambled my flight, it was supposed to be direct from Cincinatti to Las Vegas but changed to connect through Minneapolis. The whole point of driving to CVG was for a direct flight. I called Delta repeatedly through the summer trying to change the flight, but they would not answer the phone and something about the way I purchased the ticked meant that I could not change my flight online. I finally got through a couple weeks before the departure date and changed my flight to fly out of Lexington. I still had to connect but much shorter drive and a longer flight time.

The week before I left I went on a dayhike to try out new shoes and had a horrible shoe/sock incident that left me with a horrendous blister/raw spot on one of my heals. So, out of shape with weak legs and an awesome blister/open sore, but I'm still going to make this trip work.

Early flight and my wife drops me off at the airport. The Lexington airport is never busy at 6 am, but it looks like a ghost town now. I connected through Detroit which was equally empty and eventually arrived in Vegas which had people, but was no where near crowded, got the rental car and drove to Pahrump NV to get denatured alcohol for my stove and beer a sub for dinner and then continued to Cottonwood Pass Trailhead/Campground for the night. I found a quiet site near an older man who was solo. He had a USS Constellation hat and we talked a little bit about his military service and watched a couple F/A-18s fly overhead. He was planning on hiking the JMT starting in a couple days after never really backpacking before. We chatted a bit as I got set up and then in the evening and morning before we wished each other "happy hiking" and went our separate ways. I hope his trip ended up successful.

The Cottonwood Pass trail is easy for the most part, very gentle in the beginning but even the switchbacks don't feel hard and there is shade along the way which helps. As you get higher, the views open up a bit. Horseshoe Meadows down below.

It was a dry winter so I was a little late for flowers, but there were still some out there.

Chicken Spring Lake was a good rest and refuel spot, but it appears to be popular and the chipmunks were vicious, I would not want to camp there,

Still love the Foxtail Pines, it is hard to wrap my head around the idea that this tree could have died 50 or more years ago and is slowly weathering away, not to mention that it was probably 1000 years old when it died.

Big Whitney Meadow looked hot and dry but strangely appealing. I'd like to do an early season trip through there someday.

It was a warm and dusty day along the PCT. I decided that I never want to hike the stretch of the PCT between the cutoff to Soldier Lake and Rock Creek again, it was just tiring without much of a payoff. I made it to Rock Creek and headed up the creek towards a potential campsite I had seen online. I found a largish horse packer site with a nice view of a meadow. No one else was there so it was a great place for the first night.

Almost full moon rising over Rock Creek

Next morning down Rock Creek to the PCT and then up and over Guyot Pass. Not the greatest hiking, but occasional views and big trees were very different from hiking in the southeast.

I talked to a couple guys from Oregon who were headed towards Kearsarge Pass and we leapfrogged though the day. We ended up camping near each other Wallace Creek and talking a bit over dinner and then breakfast before saying goodbyes.

Last bit of Comet Neowise

The next morning the Oregon guys headed north and I called my first audible of the trip. My original plans had been that the 2nd night was going to be down on the Kern River near Junction Meadow and then climb towards Colby Pass for some off-trail exploration. I was already behind "schedule" and I had realized on the 2nd day that my legs were probably not going to be up the the descent to the Kern and then need to climb back out a couple days later. So let's go off-trail towards Wallace and Wales Lakes. This basin had been on my list for a couple years, so I had done a little reading, but did not remember any details other than I thought there was a user trail on the north side of Wallace Creek. It did not take long to find the user trail and it was very easy to follow for the first couple miles.

I lost the trail at a creek crossing and ended up too far south, but it was easy/fun terrain to walk through. Eventually I realized my error and looking at the GPS map I aimed in the general direction of where I thought I should be going based on contours. After an hour or so of easy hiking, I climbed up a small ridge and ended up on an obvious user-trail that looked to be headed in the right direction.

The trail popped me out in a large meadow below Wallace and Wales Lakes. I followed the edge of the meadow and then climbed up a notch towards Wallace Lake. This is looking west after climbing up the notch.

Wallace Lake is pretty, but very stark

Looking up towards Tulainyo Lake. I had thoughts of heading up there as a dayhike, but was not sure of the route and what I could see from Wallace Lake did not look doable for a non-climber.

Instead I climbed up and over the small ridge to Wales Lake. After a bit of exploring, I found a place to set up camp, but I wish I had looked a little more since I found a great site while exploring later in the day. As I was unpacking to set up camp, I pulled out the Sawyer "bag" that I use for denatured alcohol and a whole bunch spilled on my hands. It turned out that there was what looked like a 1 inch knife cut in the middle of the bag. It was day three and I had lost most of my fuel for what was supposed to be an eight night trip. I had originally thought of staying at Wales Lake for 2 nights with the idea of trying to find my way to Tulainyo, but now it was obvious I was going to be heading back towards the trailhead. I had enough fuel to cook a couple meals, but I needed to be careful. I also had enough food like GORP and bars and dried fruit that I wasn't going to starve, but I might be uncomfortable. So time to explore while I had the chance.

Columbines tucked in among the rocks.

Shooting stars and I think Mt Hale in the left center

The water looks very inviting, but I could not bring myself to jump in the cold water. Instead I splashed water and took a bit of a "sponge bath" to wash the dust and dirt off.

Looking down from the outlet of Wales Lake.

Moonrise and Mt Hale

The sunset went fast, I wish there were some more clouds to create "interest", but it was still nice.

A hint of Comet Neowise in the center of the frame.

My tent was setup to see the alpenglow with sunrise. I rolled over about 6ish and saw the sky was lightening, so I dragged myself out of bed. I really wanted hot coffee, but did not have enough fuel. There wasn't a lot of color (still no clouds), so I went with B&W here.

Then time to pack up and start moving towards my car.

Little tree growing right out of the rock.

I got to Crabtree Meadow and headed off trail again. I easily found the user-trail to Crabtree Lakes. I was surprised to find these old sawed logs on an unofficial trail and in wilderness where machinery is not allowed. I suspect these were cut 40 or more years ago, before the wilderness was designated in 1984.

It did not take long to get to the lowest Crabtree lake, but I was feeling pretty tired. It confirmed my decision to not drop down to the Kern. I decided to layover here for a day and let my legs recover before heading over the pass. I found a great campsite not too far from the water and then just wandered a bit before dinner and the sunset.

After a day of reading, relaxing and minor exploring, it was time to head higher towards the pass.

Looking up at Crabtree Pass

West from where I had come

The view from the top of Crabtree Pass looking down on the highest lake.

I think this is the highest lake on the south side (Miter Basin side) of the pass

Same lake (just below the pass) and has the most incredible clear water with amazing colors. I wanted to jump in but way too cold for a swim.

Sky Blue Lake was very pretty, but very exposed. I'm not sure I'd like to camp in the area.

Easy walking through Miter Basin

And then down to Rock Creek where I set up camp near the bear boxes and a bunch of JMT hikers. It felt very crowded compared to the previous three nights where I had no one near me. But, it was on the edge of a great meadow ...

... and a nice pond

The next morning I was headed over New Army Pass. It was a couple days earlier than I had planned, but I used the last of my fuel for breakfast.

The climb to New Army Pass felt long with lots of switchbacks and lots of sun. From my campsite, it was about 2000 feet of elevation to the pass.

High Lake looked like it would have great sunrises, but it was too early to stop.

Cottonwood Lake #2 also had great views.

I got to the side trail to Cirque Lake and decided to keep going to the car. I still had GORP and a couple bars so I could stay out one more night if I felt like it, but bars for dinner and then breakfast did not sound appealing when I could be at my car in just a couple more hours.

I got to my car and headed down towards Lone Pine to find a hotel. I tried calling Delta to see if I could change my flight to the next day, but there was no space. So, two nights in Lone Pine.


Feb 9, 2017
I’ve been looking forward to this report. Glad you got out there this year! All the pictures are great, but I especially love the one of the lakes that were “too cold” :)
May 3, 2018
I think this is my favorite trip report of the year so far. Absolutely excellent photography skills. Despite the covid crap you made the most of what you got in an exemplary way! I think youre inspiring me to do some of my own B&W photos, my god are yours excellent!

Tim Valentine

May 24, 2015
Yeah you sure had a fun time with your photography. Great report. It is fun to see the comet from the backcountry perspective......thanks for that!
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