Feeling like doing something different? Do you consider the Ebersbacher Ledges sooo last year? Are you tired of sharing the North Fork trail with the hordes? Running from the law? Feeling like doing a little tree/shrub hugging on your way back from the Cleaver to Whitney Portal? Then read on - this might be just the route for you!
If you've been in the Cleaver
area, e.g. from climbing the Cleaver
, Tunnabora, or accessing Russell
from Cleaver Col and want to get back to Portal, you have an alternative to the beaten path. Instead of dropping down to Lower Boyscout Lake and taking the Ledges and the North Fork back, you can descend a long gully to the north of the standard route. Given the bushwacking nature of this, I only consider it a descent route - don't waste your energy going up here. Why take it in the first place? Well, I guarantee you won't see a living soul here, and join the trail minutes from the Portal. It's also different, so maybe just "because it's there". If it weren't for the tedious nature of the lower half, I'd be recommending it - it's very pretty.
As you are descending the creek from the Cleaver cirque, at around 10,800ft, you will find yourself at the last flat area with conifers, near a protruding rib. Traverse over to the left instead of following the stream down to Lower Boyscout Lake. You will find yourself between canyon walls. The top half is fast and thoroughly enjoyable: the going is easy, and soft, sandy surface will make for a quick descent on steep slopes with good boot skiing. Some low brush is present, but you can follow the sandy paths that the running water and the deer have marked out for you already.
About half way down, unfortunately, the stream comes to life and the vegetation starts in earnest. The route then becomes a painstaking bushwack that will slow your progress to a standstill frequently.
Here are some tactics that worked for me:
- Try to spot the tallest vegetation in advance and move away from it. This becomes impossible lower down though. You just have to get in it.
- Squatting down as low as you can will let you escape on occasion. Also leaning back will untangle your pack from the branches.
- Heading right, as close as you can to the canyon walls will sometimes reveal a sandy "path" that will let you bypass some vegetation. The strategy doesn't always work, and sometimes your time out on the right will be short, but time and time again this paid off for me.
- Near the bottom of the gully, you have to move left at some point as the main stream bed cliffs out.
- Following the actual stream bed for some sections may be your best strategy.
- I mainly stayed to the right in the gully, and did not venture left.
You will join the trail where the "Carillon Creek" sign is, minutes from the Portal, no doubt surprising the pilgrims, looking rugged, dirty, scratched and irresistible. Try not to emerge in front of a ranger.
From 10,800ft, 2.5h moving at a very leisurely pace are enough.
A pair of gaiters will come in very handy. Wear glasses. Poles are also handy, but take off the baskets so you can pull them through the vegetation.