Roaring River Country

July 5-10, 1994

by Bill Finch

During one of my trips of 1992, I met a guide who told me that Josephine Lake on the Glacier Divide was one of his favorite destinations. For my first trip of 1994, I planned a trip that would visit Josephine Lake and take in as much new country as possible in the process.

I began the hike at my favorite trailhead; roads end in Kings Canyon. I was on the trail a little before nine. Since it was my first hike of the season, my progress was fairly slow and I didn't reach Avalanche Pass until after five that afternoon. S from Avalanche Ps
South from Avalanche Pass - Avalanche Pass is unusual for this part of the Sierra Nevada Range in that it is below timberline.

Avalanche Pass is an unusual pass for the area. It is forested despite its elevation of 10,000 feet. About an hour later, I had found a flat spot to make camp. I cooked dinner, cleaned up and went to bed after what had felt like a tough day.

The next morning as I was preparing breakfast I experienced the most memorable encounter I have ever had with an animal in the wild. I was bent over my cooking pot checking how hot my breakfast water was getting. I don't remember hearing anything, but for some reason I glanced over my right shoulder at the trail. To my surprise, a full-grown cougar was looking at me as he walked down the trail. I stood up and for the lack of anything else to do I said, "Good morning."

The cougar looked away and continued down the trail into some brush below. Wondering if he might pay me another visit, I found a stout stick for defense. Sure enough, a minute later I spotted him again. He zigzagged toward me through the brush acting as if he wasn't interested in me. When he reached the edge of the brush, I yelled and waved my stick. The big cat did not jump, flinch, or recognize my actions or presence in any way except to change his course and contour around the mountain and out of sight. He did not make eye contact with me the entire time he was stalking me. It made me feel like he wasn't looking at me as if to reassure me that he wasn't really very interested in such small fry.

I ate breakfast and packed my gear. I realized that I had no post adrenaline jitters. All of the hormone had been used to deal with the situation at hand. During the encounter, I felt an acute awareness of the situation and my surroundings that I have seldom felt before or since. I examined the footprints he had left in the trail but didn't have the sense to photograph them. I actually wrote in my journal that I was kicking myself for not getting some photos of the cat. In hindsight, I don't regret it a bit. It was best to be focused on defending myself rather than making the situation into a photo session.

On my way down to the moraine, I met several other hikers. I told them of my encounter but they didn't seem very interested. They were worried about blisters, the steep trail, or how they missed home cooked food. I looked back toward Avalanche Pass and snapped a photo. Avalanche Ps from S
- Palmer Mountain and Avalanche Pass from the South I was stalked by a cougar in the timbered country just below this pass.

I arrived at the Roaring River Ranger Station at midmorning. Since the ranger wasn't there, I left a note about the cougar siting. By mid afternoon, I was in Cement Table Meadow and looking at the steep route to Josephine Lake, which looked pretty difficult from below. After a short break, I forded the river and began the ascent to the lake. It was steep but not technically difficult. Numerous ducks marked numerous routes. Finally, at 6:30, I arrived at Josephine Lake out of gas and ready for a break. Josephine Lk
Josephine Lake - I spent a day next to lovely Josephine Lake.

After dinner I checked out the lake and all I could see was rainbow/goldens to about ten inches. I slept well that night at my beautiful campsite and saw a half dozen shooting stars.

One of the first things I noticed after I got up was fish jumping. I didn't feel like cooking fish for breakfast so I didn't go fishing. I wondered how the fish got into this lake and guessed that packers probably stocked it. Josephine Lake is an ideal day trip from the packer camps in Cement Table Meadow. Jo lk
Josephine Lake - Fishing at the lake was not nearly as good as I had expected. The beautiful scenery made up for any disappointment in the fishing.

I took a few photos that morning and looked across the canyon for potential routes up Cunningham Creek. Cunningham Crk
Cunningham Creek from Glacier Divide - As I took this photo, I was looking a route up the creek. It didn't look that difficult.

I did a little more exploring then took a long nap in the afternoon. That evening I was enjoying fish stew. I can't say the fishing was remarkable. The fish certainly were not large but they were easy enough to catch. I was eager to get back on the trail.

The descent to Roaring River was not easy and I decided I wouldn't be returning to Josephine Lake if it were just for the fishing. The scenery made it worth while. As I began the hike down, I could see Avalanche Pass and Palmer Mountain through the haze. Palmer Mtn
Palmer Mountain and Avalanche Pass from Glacier Divide - Far down Cloud Canyon through the haze stood Palmer Mountain and Avalanche Pass.

The first part of the ascent of Cunningham Creek was on sand and through sage, so it was a hot and dry morning. The view of the Whaleback got better and better as I walked up the creek. Whaleback
Cloud Canyon and the Whaleback - The view of the Whaleback and upper Cloud Canyon got better and better as I climbed up Cunningham Creek.

The route to Josephine Lake looked impossible from across the canyon.  rte to Jo Lk
West Wall of Cloud Canyon - The west wall of Cloud Canyon and the route to Josephine Lake looked a little more difficult from here than it really was.

Around midday, I arrived at a meadow where I found evidence that this had once been a popular camp; ancient garbage such as rusted cans, broken whiskey bottles, a horseshoe driven into a tree for a hitching ring. Some one had carved a tree into a chair. A couple of hours later, I was on a couple of graded switchbacks to nowhere. There must have been a trail up the creek at one time. Finally, the climb leveled off and I looked back at Glacier Divide one last time. Glacier Divide
Glacier Divide from Upper Cunningham Creek - As I approached the headwaters of Cunningham Creek, the valley flattened out.

In the other direction was South Guard. South Guard
South Guard looks pretty impressive from here but it is an easy walkup from Longley Pass.

A little before five, I was at the outlet of South Guard Lake where I had a great view of Mt Brewer. S Guard Lk
South Guard Lake and Mt Brewer - If it hadn't been so windy, I would have considered staying at the outlet of South Guard Lake where this photo was taken.

I thought I'd make a soup stop but decided to stay for dinner as well. It was too windy to stay all night at the lake, so I headed over to Brewer Creek. There were cougar tracks in the snow atop the pass. I figured this must be my lucky trip. I found a nice camp spot between Mt Brewer and Big Brewer Lake and was asleep by nine.

I was up early enough the next morning to see the stars fade. I had wild dreams all night. Maybe that's what happens when you sleep next to a meadow that has no mosquitoes. I was fishing at Big Brewer Lake a little before eight. Caught two small but fat trout, which I threw back then headed for the pass to Sphinx Lakes which is at the south end of the Sphinx Divide. Sphinx Div
South End of the Sphinx Divide - These impressive crags of the Sphinx Divide are just west of the pass to Sphinx Lakes from Brewer Basin.

I arrived at my camp spot near the largest lake a little before noon. I spent a little time fishing but caught only small goldens which I threw back.

The next morning, I fished early but without luck. After breakfast, I went out again. This time I filled my limit with nice fish. I started the hike out in midmorning. I took it easy on the way down and didn't arrive at Bubbs Creek until two that afternoon. By then, it was warming up. An hour or so later, I was cooling my feet in the waters of Bubbs Creek where it empties into the South Fork of the Kings River at Bailey Bridge. The descent from Sphinx Creek was the hottest I could remember. I arrived at the trailhead a little after four after six days at the Roaring River Conditioning and Weight Loss Clinic. I lost about ten pounds and was ready for a summer of more intense hiking.

21 February 1999
One Page Version 25 January 2013