The sun was blazing, the snow was melted, and the trail was mostly missing on our six-day circumnavigation around the Palisades Range in the California Sierra Nevada. Before leaving the city, we took a detour into Chinatown and bought special tea for our trip. We made a video about the heady brew of mountaineering and tea:
Our route started at Big Pine (BP) Creek, west of Big Pine, California. From the BP trailhead, we followed the south fork creek and camped at Elinore Lake. On the second day, we crossed Scimitar Pass (which is not marked on all maps), took a tea break in Palisade Basin, and then crossed Cirque Pass and camped on a shelf below Palisade Lakes. On the third day, we followed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to Grouse Meadows in LeConte Canyon, where we enjoyed more tea took a zero day on the day 4. On the fifth day, we climbed from Grouse Meadows into Dusy Basin and over Bishop Pass. In the burning afternoon, we climbed Jigsaw Pass and camped near the outlet creek to the fifth Big Pine Lake on the north fork. On the sixth day, we cruised downhill and visited the fourth, third, second, and first Big Pine Lakes, and then finally returned to the BP trailhead.
Scimitar Pass and Jigsaw Pass are both class 2-3 passes, and it was difficult to find comprehensive information about their conditions. Some general information about cross-country Sierra passes has been collected here: http://sierrabackpacker.com/sierrapasses-new.htm
For Scimitar Pass, I wrote a detailed description on High Sierra Topix bulletin board: link here.
Most of my research about Scimitar came from Bob Burd’s website. His reports and images were accurate: http://www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_reports/palisade_crest_1.html
Bob traced a blue line on the map linked below. This blue line generally follows a use trail across and around Willow Lake. Once crossing to the north side of the creek (past Willow Lake), the use trail disappears. At this point, boulder-hop along the creek; you may see cairns.
On the approach to Scimitar Pass, Bob’s route goes up the right-hand slot (shown below). However, I climbed the scree to the center-left. I avoided the slot because I couldn’t determine it’s difficulty. http://www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_photos/palisade_crest_1/DSC00013_w5.html
For Jigsaw Pass, I found good pictures at this Webshots collection: http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/186080531DwLfCi
. . .and I also found good data at Bob Burd’s website: http://www.snwburd.com/bob/trip_photos/picture_puzzle_1/index_t.html
In general, when I climbed Jigsaw west-to-east, I chose the right side chute (indicated in this photo). The scree looks crazy from below, but I stuck to the cliff wall and found plenty of hand holds to pull myself up the scree slide. When I reached the thick white mineral band descending from Aperature Peak, the scree ended and the route continued on solid class 2+ rock (like a steep staircase). About halfway up the chute, there are remnants of a rock switchback (once upon a time, there was a trail over Jigsaw Pass). Basically, the top half of Jigsaw’s west side climb is straightforward and safe, although it looks crazy from below. After reaching the pass, the descent down the east side is not difficult, per se, but it does involve seemingly endless boulder-hopping. The best route is to follow the creek — sometimes boulder-hopping above the creek — all the way to the fifth Big Pine Lake. There are cairns along the way, but they’re not really necessary.