Bighorn and Shout of Relief Pass

Mono Creek to Duck Lake
(16 miles, +5,500/-3,600 feet).

Well things have a way of working out.  I slept really well last night not only because I found a beautiful flat spot next to Mono Creek, but also because I was deep in the shadow of the woods and away from the bright moon.  Wonderful!  So much for camping above treeline….

It’s actually really nice to start a big climb at the very beginning of the day.  It always takes me an hour to warm up anyway, so I might as well accelerate that process.

It was only about half a mile up Mono Creek to the turnoff for Laurel Lake.

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Thataway

The trail was easy to find but steep as it switchbacked up through chaparral and into a higher forest.

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Up, up, up

At around 10,000 feet it leveled out, taking me past some spectacularly serene meadows.

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Meadow along Laurel Creek
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Lovely canyon walls
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Looking back down the valley
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More meadows
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Reflection shot
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Looking back
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Laurel Lake

When I got to the lake I was very worried.  I initially thought I needed to climb the headwall above the lake, and I could not see a class 2/3 route to do it.  But then I realized I was looking at the wrong drainage.  The one to the left looked much friendlier.

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That’s better!

I climbed up the green chute to the right in the above picture, and it was fine but it would have been easier for me to climb up the wider chute to the left.

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The top of my chute looking down on Laurel Lake
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Lovely wildflowers

At the top of the chute the route flattened out to a boulder-filled plain just below Bighorn Pass.

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Bighorn Pass
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A tarn below Bighorn Pass

It was pretty easy to follow a grassy path between the boulders all the way to the top of the pass.

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Laurel Lake from Bighorn pass
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Looking west from Bighorn Pass towards Rosy Finch Lake

The next bit of the route is a little confusing because you are supposed to make your way to Shout of Relief Pass without dropping to the lake.  In between the two passes is a ridge that is a little higher than Bighorn but a little lower than Shout of Relief, and climbing that ridge was actually harder than either of the passes!

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View towards Bighorn Pass from the intermediate ridge
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Final approach to Shout of Relief Pass
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Tarn above Rosy Finch Lake
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The tarn and Rosy Finch 

The terrain northwest of Shout of Relief Pass was amazingly gentle.  For the next couple of hours it was a pure delight to descend into the meadows and wind around all the lakes in the basin.

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View northwest from Shout of Relief Pass
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Looking back at Shout of Relief Pass
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Beautiful valley walls

Once I got far enough in the valley I started to get some amazing views of Red Slate Mountain.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it!

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Red Slate Mountain
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Red Slate Mountain
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Red Slate Mountain
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Red Slate Mountain
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Red Slate Mountain
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Not Red Slate Mountain

The route eventually took me over a small ridge and into the next drainage to the west where I curved around Cotton Lake

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Cotton Lake
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Mount Izaak Walton and the Silver Divide

I continued down past Izaak Walton Lake and then had a steep descent to get down to Fish Creek.  Some of the walking was on granite slabs, but I kept getting cliffed out so it took some time to find a way down.

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Actually, this was NOT the steep part!
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Where do the slabs end?

The last 100 feet or so I had to do a couple of class 3 moves to finish up down narrow chutes, but they were fine.  I just took my time.

And then I was in…..  Horse Heaven!

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Horse Heaven
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Cliffs above Horse Heaven

The problem with Horse Heaven is that I had to get to the trail on the other side of what was essentially a big poop-filled boggy meadow.  I did okay at first finding my way around on some dry tufts, but eventually I reached a bow in the braided river that I could not cross without removing my shoes.  Then on the other side there was no place to sit to put them back on.  So I just walked through the muck barefoot until I reached the river proper.

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Washing all the Horse Heaven off my feet

And then there was trail!

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Wait, I don’t have to find my own way?!?

At Tully Hole the McGee Pass Trail intersects with the PCT.  The USGS map says there is a footbridge, but….  not so much.

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Tully Hole
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The “footbridge”
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PCT!

The next 6 miles went pretty quickly as I was on an international superhighway.  I saw 20 people — more in 3 hours than I had the whole trip!

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Tully Hole from the PCT
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Looking back
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Virginia Lake
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Virginia Lake from its inlet
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Superhighway
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Purple Lake
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Purple Lake
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Purple Lake
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View to the southwest

I was really bonking this afternoon, so I was very glad to finally arrive at the turnoff for Duck Lake.  I found a fantastic small spring nearby and collected water for the evening.  Then I climbed my last 300 feet up to camp at Duck Lake.

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Yay!
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Home on Duck Lake
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My campsite view

Surprisingly, there were still quite a few mosquitoes flitting about in the leeward side of the trees, but a light wind kept them at bay.  I did my chores and then retired to my tent, where I listened to ducks splash landing in the lake.  Their muted quacks were the perfect soundtrack for a dimming sky.  The only other humans for miles were far across the lake, too far to hear but close enough to see the occasional glimmer of a headlamp.  I felt both alone and at one with the universe.

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