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Dustin R
veteran rookie



Joined: 30 Aug 2017
Posts: 15 | TRs | Pics
Location: Seattle
Dustin R
veteran rookie
PostWed Sep 21, 2022 11:55 pm 
Every week-after Labor Day my partner Mckenzie and I take a few days off work and tie together a high traverse or loop away from the crowds. We work weekends so we're usually hitting the road Sunday afternoon. This year our friends Cyrus and Adrienne joined us, and we decided to meet early that evening at the Trinity trailhead up the Chiwawa River road. Mckenzie and I have been up into the Lyman's and Cloudy Pass a handful of times, but never looped around and out Buck Creek. Neither Cyrus or Adrienne had done either, so it seemed like a good zone to get into. We had five days, and in planning our thoughts wandered to an abusive weekend trip into the Bannock Lakes in 2018. We savored a handful of moments from that one, and blocked out the rest. Until now! The Suiattle River road being closed, it seemed only fitting to stretch out the Spider - Buck Creek loop a little further north. Sunday night had us sleeping in the cars at the Phelps Creek CG. We initially wanted to get to Spider Meadows, but work kept us late and the potential of arriving to a crowded Spider Meadows on Labor Day eve didn't sound appealing. Day 1 Phelps Creek TH to PCT camp The alarms rang at 430 Monday morning. After dropping a car at Trinity with a stash of snacks and cooler full of beers we hoisted our packs with the sun and made good time to the meadows, where I realized I forgot my sunglasses in the car. Luckily Mckenzie found a hammered pair resting on a signpost. We made our way towards Phelps Basin and the climb up the head of the valley. A few folks told us the bugs weren't bad and the smoke had blown out last night. Spirits were high as I donned my bent Ray Ban ripoffs and transitioned from rock to snow. I've been up this way a good deal over the years, and never seen the snowfield in such poor shape. There are a couple breaks in the snow requiring a quick transition to rock, and one good crack running about 20 feet a quarter of the way up that's easy to step around.
Spider "glacier"
Spider "glacier"
At the top we chatted with a group that warned of a bear between the upper and lower lakes, and seconded that the bugs weren't terrible. We thanked them and continued up to have lunch on the north side of the pass. It was about 1230 and we weighed our options. We could camp at Cloudy Pass and finish the haul into the Bannocks Tuesday, but that would put us a little behind schedule since we hadn't made it to the meadows last night. We decided to push as far as we could, and knock out the bushwhack up and over to the lakes tonight if we had the gusto.
Friendly hiker and doggo
Friendly hiker and doggo
Discontinuous snow on the Spider glacier
Discontinuous snow on the Spider glacier
Winding through the Lyman basin was perfect as always. We ran into the neighborhood black bear exactly where we expected, in the meadows near the last of the end of the upper lake. He wasn't interested in anything but his berries, and sauntered off with a chip on his shoulder.
Classic upper Lyman view
Classic upper Lyman view
Descending towards the lower lake
Descending towards the lower lake
He thicc
He thicc
The walk passed the lower lake and up to Cloudy Pass was equally as perfect. Wildflowers dotted the landscape, and marmots screamed a symphony as we wound through the meadows. We dropped over the other side around 3, and laid eyes on the saddle that grants access to the Bannocks. I sucked a loud breath through my teeth. It was not close but everything looks far away from far off. We ate some snacks and kept moving. The descent to the PCT was uneventful, and it was pretty cool seeing the thru hikers in such high spirits as they crossed the 100 mile to go mark. The shadows were growing longer as we wound our way up the valley, and we decided to put the climb off until we were fresh tomorrow morning. We claimed a nice campsite near the base of the route, just south of Saddle Bow, and set our alarms for 6. 19 miles, 5000 gain Day 2 PCT - Upper Bannock lake We went through the first-morning blunders of breakfast and packing. All around us the hardened PCT'ers crawled out of tents and hit the trail within 20 minutes, while we stared at our gear trying to put our systems together. We cut off the PCT and into the brush around 830. We descended this slope in 2018, with some helpful beta from Jake Robinson. He and Fletcher had climbed up from the PCT, but we missed their mark coming down as we entered the trees. We got sucked into some well spaced but steep terrain and pretty much slipped our way down duff to the PCT. They had stuck to the younger vegetation climbers left of our line, which is visible from the trail as you approach. Jake described the route as "cruiser." I thought about him from time to time on this trip and how the word cruiser is relative smile.gif Standing 50 feet from the trail we eyed the seemingly impenetrable mass of trees. I looked back on the morning light draped across the valley and noticed two thru hikers staring in our direction. I waved and yelled a greeting, to which they responded "we are wondering what you're looking at!" in a friendly german accent. I told them that we were going up there and trying to find the best way, to which they nodded their heads and wished us luck before pounding out another 25 mile day. We started up and were instantly sucked into a vortex of pine needles and branches. An hour later and we were in one of the worse bushwhacks of our lives, forced to choose between heinously thick fir or demonic slider alder. As we became one with the trees, we slowly angled up towards the new/old tree line. Eventually we reached well spaced forest close to our old track, two hours and 400 feet later. Memories of a knee buckling descent down steep dirt floated through my head, but I was happy to make full strides again. We carefully wound our way up the hillside, eventually climbing above the tree line to views up South Fork Agnes creek behind us. Cloudy pass watched on far in the distance, and we were glad to have put those miles down yesterday.
Heading into the trees
Heading into the trees
Adrienne in one of the easier sections of schwack
Adrienne in one of the easier sections of schwack
Once the terrain opened up it was smooth sailing, and soon we were descending to the upper Bannock Lakes under clear skies and light winds. It was a perfect September day, but the hours were quickly running away from us. We hoped to tag Bannock on our way to Canyon or Image Lake, but getting up to Ross Pass and around for the approach to Miner's Ridge is tedious. I suggested we take the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon in paradise. This would almost certainly cost us a summit, but we were on vacation and there aren't many better places to camp. Besides, for me this zone was the whole point of the trip so why rush through it like we had last time? Everyone agreed and we set up around 230, enjoying a tranquil afternoon swimming and wandering between the lakes. On our last visit we saw a big black bear grazing on the slops below Saddle Bow, and wouldn't you know we saw (musta been right?) the same one in almost the same spot as we lounged around over lunch. There was also no shortage of rainbows in the first of the two lakes.
Breaking out of the trees
Breaking out of the trees
"Now I understand why you offered us mushrooms" -Cyrus
"Now I understand why you offered us mushrooms" -Cyrus
Looking down into the Bannock basin
Looking down into the Bannock basin
We had a peaceful dinner and watched the last rays of light dance over Dome before turning in early. I got up a few hours later and goofed around with my camera. The stars were out and the moon was hidden behind the sheer walls of Bannock, it's light spilling over onto Dome and the slopes above our camp. There was a nice breeze and most of the basin was illuminated, yet somehow the stars still shone brightly. It was one of those special moments that keep us coming back despite the mental and physical hardships endured to reach such places.
4ish miles 3000ish gain Day 3 Upper Bannock lake - Image Lake We were up at 6, this time slightly more organized. Breakfast and camp went down quickly and we were hiking towards the lower lake by 745. There are a few options here, just follow the path of least resistance and avoid obvious cliffs and you'll make it. Some minor schwacking and we were out of the trees and into the moonscape that is lower Bannock Lake.
Squad with Bannock behind
Squad with Bannock behind
Dropping towards the lower lake
Dropping towards the lower lake
Last time we arrived in the dark after a long day, nursing 7 wasp stings and a rolled ankle. Crossing the outlet that night to filter water, I peered down the falls and lost sight of its path as the roar filled my ears. Mentally cracked and physically exhausted, we all had a small breakdown together. I remember feeling incredibly alone and waaay out there. This time as we approached the lake large chunks of ice floated indifferently near the shoreline. A frigid morning breeze blew across the water to greet me as I snapped photos waiting for the crew. It didn't feel quite as ominous as my last visit, but I would be glad to get up this gulley and check that section off the list. As the rest of the group arrived a big piece of ice collapsed on itself, sending waves in every direction.
Ice in lower Bannock lake
Ice in lower Bannock lake
We discussed the route, which was pretty straight forward now that we were under it. The gulley is accessed by a small shoulder that goes up from the lake. Once this ends you have to cross crummy loose rock over dirt to access steep grassy slopes. They weren't wet which was nice, and there are some steps that make it fairly easy to climb. Eventually you approach a large rock feature on the left with a nice looking slab that has good hand holds. The grass and dirt combo near it looked kinda nasty so I chose to take big steps up a creek bed, which went fine until the final biiiiiig step that kind of sucked. Most of the rocks in here were dry, and a slip wouldn't have been good. Cyrus went towards the slab because he likes climbing rocks and couldn't resist. Once we got above this the slope angle relaxed and I almost ran to the top of a roll to get a view of Mckenzie and Adrienne, who were making their way up the lower section now that we'd cleared our stretch. Cyrus said the rock wasn't a good option and luckily the girls had already thought better of it. Before we knew it we were all walking up towards the next obstacle: more scree over dirt and loose talus.
Cyrus climbing junky rock on dirt
Cyrus climbing junky rock on dirt
Steep green stuff
Steep green stuff
Adrienne and Mckenzie on rare solid rock
Adrienne and Mckenzie on rare solid rock
Cyrus traversing talus above lower Bannock lake
Cyrus traversing talus above lower Bannock lake
I don't mind scree and this section isn't the worst but it felt consequential above the slopes we'd ascended. There are a series of deep runnels that require some thoughtful downclimbing and footwork. The dirt in here can be deep and soft. We reached a notch granting access to more scree fields on the north side of the mountain around noon. A summit was looking less likely by the minute, since we still had to traverse a big scree and talus basin to reach Ross Pass before the long traverse around the west side of Bannock. This next part was much worse than I remember, with twice as many runnels to navigate. From the notch we descended a couple hundred feet to an obvious contour around the basin, probably around 5700 feet. We traversed quicksand-like talus, ball bearings over dirt and mud, and nefarious boulders for about an hour before reaching a wall of green. As we approached, a handsome marmot bounded down and ducked for cover when he noticed us. As we ascended the steep heather we found easy steps worn in by the locals that made the climb feel solid, no veggie belays required. Once at the top we followed the obvious way to a broad gulley, and having had our fill of talus for the day chose to stay high to climbers left on more heather slopes. This led to a nice little hallway through a gap just south of Ross Pass. The breeze was up and the tall grass blew an enthusiastic welcome as we made our way through its domain, another one of those special moments you don't realize you're seeking until it finds you.
Easy climb up the green wall
Easy climb up the green wall
Passing through Grassy Gap
Passing through Grassy Gap
Once through the gap we stopped for lunch under shelter of some trees and discussed our options for the day. It was 1 pm, and Mckenzie and I having been through this stretch were not convinced we could tag the summit and make it to Image Lake before dark. The terrain between Ross and Totem Pass is some of my favorite to travel, but it always takes longer than you'd think which seemed to be the theme of the trip. Cyrus and Adrienne were considering splitting off and meeting us at camp, so we'd traverse as high as made sense in case they decided to go for it. There is a short schwack as you descend marmot trails to ~6200 feet, and once here you can pretty much stick to this line for the whole traverse. This section is comprised of massive boulders and slabs, dotted with patches of green grass, vibrant moss and heather. There's plenty of water to be found and I drank a few cold bottles without bothering to filter. Passing through I took note of a few optional bivvy spots for next time.
Traverse to Totem Pass
Traverse to Totem Pass
Mckenzie ascending easy slabs
Mckenzie ascending easy slabs
As we reached the base of the climbing route Adrienne stared up and back to her map, hoping someone would catch the bug and join her. Beckey describes this variation as "steep scree" and it looked much the same as most of our morning. Mckenzie and I were out, as we knew the day wasn't even halfway over and we're not really peak baggers. Cyrus was feeling cautious after a few humbling days and also declined, so we all continued in silence. If you stick to the 6200 contour you'll run into an easy gulley that leads directly up. Since we had stayed a little higher, we took a slightly spicier route with some fun class 3 moves that put us above the snowfield guarding the pass. Mckenzie and I stayed a little lower than the others, and picked our way around slabs to a small moat between snow and rock. A sullen mood had set in as the summit slipped away, but as soon as we were over the pass that energy blew away with the breeze. A few years prior Mckenzie, Adrienne and I along with some other friends had passed through this zone on our exit from the Bath Lakes high route, and those memories came floating back as we descended familiar terrain. I laughed to myself at some of the harrowing moments of that trip, even as all the good ones helped lift my spirits. We had a quick snack and realized that once again the day was running away on us. It was 330 and we still had a small bushwhack down to Canyon Lake, not to mention 7 trail miles over Miner's Ridge to Image lake. Before we had left home I noted a small fire labeled as "Canyon Lake Trail" on the fire map. It was listed as less than 1 acre and no trail closures accompanied it, otherwise there wasn't much more information. We decided if we needed to take an extra day we could turn around and backtrack which seemed doable from the couch, but my anxiety was building as we approached. We noted no smoke in the valley and I felt a little surge of relief. As you cut east from the bottom of Totem Pass there is a faint trail leading into the brush. If you find and stick to this trail the going is easy, if you don't the going sucks. It peters out here and there requiring some patience and exploration, but there are signs of travel through the trees that will lead you back to it if you get off course. It was another perfect Northwest September. The terrain had opened up and I closed my eyes, relishing the moment on flat ground and a soft trail As I rounded a corner I looked up and nearly ran into a black bear gorging on berries. I stumbled backwards and yelled "hooooo BEAR!" Five feet away he responded with his own backwards stumble and wide eyed expression, before turning tail and sprinting up the 40 degree slope with a mouthful of vegetation. Sorry buddy! We laughed about it all the way down to the lake, where we filtered some water and I drank a cold cup of instant coffee. I've passed through Canyon Lake a number of times and always forget how beautiful it is. The southern walls of Bannock form an impressive cirque, and the lake is surrounded by perfect stretches of green grass fed by a number of idyllic streams. We reluctantly packed up and headed for "a nice sunset hike" to Image lake around 6. The climb out of the lake sucks, but eventually the trail reaches the 6200 ft mark, where it meanders through a combination of high meadows and granite slabs. The peaks across the valley stand authoritatively over the landscape. Traveling through here at golden hour was spectacular, and again I noted some possible bivvy spots for future excursions.
Cyrus above Canyon Lake
Cyrus above Canyon Lake
Rolling terrain above Canyon Lake
Rolling terrain above Canyon Lake
More of the same
More of the same
On our 2018 trip I kicked up a swarm of ground wasps on this section of trail. Being in front, I was blissfully unaware until the three behind me jolted into action. Before I knew it we were all tripping over each other in the soft, off-camber dirt. Two of the group were wearing pants but Mckenzie was in her skirt, and she took 7 stings. That lonely evening at lower Bannock lake she slept with her legs out of her sleeping bag and my down booties on to cool the burning. The Canyon Lake trail hasn't been maintained for years but it still gets some traffic. This was about the worst I've seen it, with a number of messy blowdowns and quite a bit of erosion in places. It was slow going, and the light faded stubbornly. Golden hour transitioned to long shadows, the forest suddenly looked like it didn't want us there, and I thought I caught whiffs of smoke in the air. We rounded the bottom of the basin under Sitting Bull, and in my optimistic state I convinced myself we were further up the trail. About an hour later a hilarious sense of deja vu washed over me. It wasn't that we had been further back, we had definitely come through here already. We laughed at our failing mental states while alpenglow illuminated the ridgeline above us, and Cyrus pulled out his tool kit to tape up his boot. The sole had been separating at the toe box since our bushwhack yesterday, and he had been reapplying tape as the rocky landscape mocked his efforts. We started calling it the Mummy and each taping session became one of the sequels. A few times I swore I saw Brendan Fraser's face in that boot... We had a snack before walking up the trail towards the night. Shortly after I gazed across the valley and saw smoke. It was in thick trees about 500 feet below the trail. It wasn't strong and if I hadn't seen this I would have thought I imagined it. It was in a protected area that probably didn't get much wind, and may have just been a pile of ashes at this point. I thought about what a turn around here would have done for the groups morale, and was a little disappointed in myself for rolling the dice, but it had all worked out so maybe it didn't matter.
As we marched towards Miner's Ridge we donned headlamps for the second night of the trip. The evening wind had a cold bite and it felt like we were walking into Fall. There are some deep, nasty runnels on this stretch of trail and as we navigated these our mental strength started giving up. I entered the "why do I do this" zone more than once, until we eventually broke out of the trees into the open slopes below the ridge. As we wandered in the darkness a nearly full moon greeted us, lighting the way. I love going from such great lows to blissful highs and enjoyed yet another one of those moments I crave.
Moon
Moon
The final climb up and over towards Image Lake was uneventful. The last mile and a half dragged as we did the long traverse around the lake towards campsites. We finally threw down our bags, and Cyrus and I ran to the lake for water. It was 1030 and our second 12 hour day. Temps dropped into the 30's and we all ate quickly before diving into the tents. 10ish miles 3200ish gain Day 4 Image Lake to Sheep Camp We slept in, waiting for the sun to break the cold of the early morning. We were awoken by loud voices, and what sounded like a screaming baby. In my current state of mind I thought it coulda been a goat. The group faded and we dragged ourselves from our tents, springing to action in hopes of staying warm. Cyrus gave a quick screening of The Mummy 4 while we finished breakfast and packed. On the toilet I pondered the events of the previous evening and a smile grabbed me by the cheeks. I remembered that I do this for those "why do I do this" moments, because you can't have ones like these without ones like those. I thought about this, on the toilet.
The Mummy 4
The Mummy 4
Smoke had crept in over night, and we enjoyed our first day of poor air quality and hazy skies. Robbed of the company of Dakobed, we wandered back towards the PCT. It seemed like this stretch of trail was probably beautiful, and despite the smoke the vibe was good. We ran into a few thru hikers that were considering bailing due to the smoke. They had closed the border a few days ago for a fire nearby, and the high hopes they'd had a few days prior were smashed at the thought of calling it quits so close. We wished them luck and forged ahead. This stretch of forest was beautiful in the morning light, and the haze added that magical element only wildfire smoke can create. We had a quick lunch at the base of the climb towards Buck Creek Pass, and I drank another cup of cold coffee. I decided to get the climb over with as quickly as possible, wishing the group luck and enjoying some solitary moments. I thought I heard a child's voice, and shortly after ran into the large group that had passed us in the morning. We exchanged greetings while the father and kid battled with trekking pole - lightsabers, and I charged ahead hoping they weren't planning to camp at the same place! A little further up the trail I ran into a few folks from the same group. They were mostly from Texas and super nice, but I still hoped we didn't have to camp nearby. An hour later I reached the turnoff for sheep camp. The trail climbs a bit more than I would have liked but it's not bad. It eventually deposits you in an expansive meadow of heather and grass at the base of the Fortress massif. This was another extra credit item on our list, and I chuckled at how badly we'd underestimated the route. I glanced over to see our 4th bear of the trip, who glanced up from his lunch and sauntered off when he saw me.
Smoky meadow
Smoky meadow
Big boye
Big boye
The smoke was thick and the sunset was painted bright, with the northern ridge of Fortress hanging above us. We talked about The Mummy and the fast approaching change of seasons before calling it early. We had 14 miles to get to the cars in the morning, so the unanimous decision was to get up at 5 for an early start. The temps were cold again and I was not looking forward to the morning chill. I stayed up watching the sunset a little longer and pre packed some stuff. As usual I awoke in the middle of the night, this time to a strong breeze. The smoke had blown up from the valley and reached out gently for our camp., We existed in the hazy fringe at its fingertips, and the stars shone above us. It was an awesome scene and I savored it despite the wind. 10 miles 2600 gain Day 5 Sheep Camp to Trinity TH I woke up a little before 5 and scrambled out of the tent for a look around. Gathering some of my camera equipment I heard the rest of the group stirring, and felt a burst of motivation through the cold as their headlamps clicked on to start the day.
We had a quick breakfast and marveled at our food bags. I had cut it a little closer than I'd like, but enjoyed the empty bag. On our way out of camp we got our first view of Dakobed in the morning haze and stood in admiration for a few minutes.
The plan was for Cyrus and I to march ahead and grab the car at Phelps Creek while the other two finished the hike. I was really interested in getting this over with, so I shot for 15-20 minute miles. The task of estimating mileage and time elapsed distracts me from the death march. Along the way I couldn't resist slowing occasionally to marvel at the burn from the Buck Creek fire a few years ago. The expansive swath of trees stood blackened amidst a sea of vibrant green grass, and purple and red wildflowers. I remember reading that trees growing in fire prone areas develop thicker bark, and marveled at the armor some of these giants used to survive. Trees across the river were burned as well, and I pondered the power of fires jumping water. Nature is neat. The bridge across the Chiwawa is out, but there's an easy log crossing 50 feet up river. Probably won't work in early season. I stuck to my schedule and stumbled into the parking lot around 1115. The weather was perfect, the smoke not so bad down in the parking lot, and I basked in post hike euphoria. Switching to sandals and changing clothes, I cracked a cold beer and waited for Cyrus who eventually wandered down the private road. He had been sucked into the potential for a more direct route and gotten a few polite reminders that it was private property from the locals. One remarked how disheveled he looked and asked if he needed a ride. I laughed at that. We retrieved the other car and chatted with some hikers in the parking lot. Adrienne arrived shortly after, then Mckenzie came jogging in and we enjoyed a beer together at the picnic table in the sun. Another one of those moments passed, and we made for the Squirrel Tree where we enjoyed burgers and beers before the drive home. 13 miles, 800 gain 4400 loss Full loop 54 miles 14000 gain The daily totals are close estimates based on our conversations each evening. Mckenzie's Gaia app logged the whole trip but we couldn't figure out how to sort it by day.

olderthanIusedtobe, Prosit, DWB27, geyer, rubywrangler, Lightning_bug, zimmertr, Slim, brewermd, RichP, awilsondc, Tom  GaliWalker
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GaliWalker
Have camera will use



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GaliWalker
Have camera will use
PostThu Sep 22, 2022 6:13 am 
Dustin R wrote:
... everything looks far away from far off
Signature worthy! hockeygrin.gif

'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!" Photography: flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani

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zimmertr
TJ Zimmerman



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zimmertr
TJ Zimmerman
PostThu Sep 22, 2022 8:54 am 
Awesome! I've been curious about the Bannock Lakes for a while! Looks like a great trip.

Flickr | Strava

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RichP
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PostThu Sep 22, 2022 8:59 am 
That's getting out there. Awesome up.gif

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Silas
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Silas
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PostThu Sep 22, 2022 10:27 am 
Thanks for this report. Love niche, seldom-travelled areas in the GPW. We wanted to hit Bannock Lakes after Bath Lakes High Route a few years ago, but when we got to Totem Pass the weather was turning. Glad to see you made it there! The descent from Totem to Canyon Lake is no joke...or maybe we took a long way...Cheers!

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Jason Hummel
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Jason Hummel
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PostThu Sep 22, 2022 7:33 pm 
Awesome. Swam there on a ski trip once, and always wanted to go back in the summer. Someday! Thx for the story and pics.

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geyer
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PostFri Sep 23, 2022 8:08 am 
Awesome trip! Was supposed to go there earlier this summer but changed plans. Really like this pic!
Dustin R wrote:

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Dustin R
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Dustin R
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PostFri Sep 23, 2022 9:05 am 
Silas wrote:
Thanks for this report. Love niche, seldom-travelled areas in the GPW. We wanted to hit Bannock Lakes after Bath Lakes High Route a few years ago, but when we got to Totem Pass the weather was turning. Glad to see you made it there! The descent from Totem to Canyon Lake is no joke...or maybe we took a long way...Cheers!
Tying in Bath Lakes would be great. I've wanted to do that from East to West since my last visit descending the Great Wall. I'm convinced counter clockwise is the best way to access the Bannocks to avoid all the loose, steep terrain getting into and out of the basin. From Totem Pass if you traverse skiers left around 5900 feet you'll run into the trail. It avoid the steepest and thickest trees and drops gently towards the lake outlet. I've missed it before and any other way is no joke!

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Dustin R
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Dustin R
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PostFri Sep 23, 2022 9:10 am 
Jason Hummel wrote:
Awesome. Swam there on a ski trip once, and always wanted to go back in the summer. Someday! Thx for the story and pics.
I remember reading that story in your book and thinking I needed to get back there. We made our first visit the next summer smile.gif

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Prosit
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PostFri Sep 23, 2022 6:47 pm 
A well told tale of adventure, experienced in moments; and good fun to read. Thank you! It's a wonderful area worthy of repeat visits, especially Bannock Lakes and Hanging Gardens. You'll get Bannock Mtn next time.

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