Sierra High Route Day 3: Upper Glacier Lake to Marion – Is that Blue for Real?

Day 3
Total Miles: 12
Cumulative Miles: 45.4
Elevation Gain: 2828 ft
Elevation Loss: 3150 ft
Camp: On creek above Marion Lake
Sierra High Route Day 3: hiking from Upper Glacier Lake, over three passes (Gray Pass, White Pass, and Red Pass) to just past Marion Lake in Kings Canyon Sequoia National Park
Daily Neet Beat
We woke up with damp dewy moisture over everything in our tent. We did not put the fly on the tent last night, choosing to watch the stars through the see-through mesh of our tent.
Drying our down quilts at Upper Glacier Lake

Not sure if this was a good idea. Would we have had the dewy moisture  stuck on the fly instead of our sleeping bags and other items of we had put the fly on the tent? I don’t really know.

We are using down quilts instead of mummy sleeping bags this trip. Quilts are popular among thru-hikers and fast packers as they weigh less. The idea is the r-value of your pad is what is important for warmth underneath you as the down gets compressed anyways. The R-value, which is the measure of thermal resistance, measures how well a pad will insulate you from the cold. For this trip, I have a NeoAir XTherm which has an r-value of 5.7.  
Our camp at Upper Glacier Lake. Ray’s sleeping pad is a  Big Agnes with a temperature rating down to 15F . My sleeping pad is a NeoAir XTherm with an r-value of 5.7. We stayed plenty toasty in our quilts and on our pads at Upper Glacier Lake at 10,650 feet. I’m guessing the temperature was in the low 30’s.

This is a high value and is usually considered warm enough for winter conditions. It may be overkill (the pad I most frequently use has been the NeoAir Xlite with an r-value of 3.8) but I am a little leery of going to a quilt. The NeoAir XTherm weighs 2 oz more (15 oz) than the NeoAir XLite. Because of warmth of the pad, I don’t need to have a zipper and can clip the quilt right to my pad. This clipping right to the pad saves weight which is one of the benefits of a quilt. Also, quilts do not have the mummy hood which also saves weight. I have the Enlightened Equipment Enigma rated to 10F which weighs 21 ozs. My mummy bag, which is a Western Mountaineering Versalite, weighs 30 oz. So even with the extra 2 ozs for the sleeping pad, I am still saving 7 oz’s of weight. Ok, I admit it, I am turning into a gram-weenie!

After stuffing our slightly wet sleeping bags in our packs, we get moving in the morning, dropping down into Glacier Valley and then we are on and off a trail as we go by State and Horseshoe Lakes.
The gray patches in the granite are known as “Xenoliths”. These xenoliths, shoebox in size, were formed before the lighter, granitic melt enveloped them. They are gabbroic meaning they are magnesium-rich which give them the darker color.

Near Horseshoe Lake, we meet Robert who is also doing the Sierra High Route. He is a guy in his 20s who is wearing a ball cap with ear flaps and a partial face mask which covers the lower part of his face. He is also wearing long sleeves and stretchy pants with shorts over them. He does not have to use sunscreen with the way he is covered up!

Robert and I discussing the Sierra High Route

Robert and I talk for a few minutes. He will be resupplying at North Lake where he will meet a friend that has been climbing. Robert is only the second person we have seen hiking the Sierra High Route.  I was guessing that only about 20 people had hiked the Hayduke when we did it this spring. Even less people, it seems, hike the Sierra High Route each year.

Our plan is to cover three passes today. I am getting used to measuring progress by the number and difficulty of the passes we cover each day. The three passes we will be climbing are Gray Pass, White Pass and Red Pass. Roper, in his book, Sierra High Route, does not describe these passes as being particularly difficult but does say that the east (or downside for us) side of White Pass is “rugged”. I will not read this as easy this time! They are all off-trail so we will be scrambling for sure.
Up we climb over Gray Pass. We come in a little higher than planned but it is easy enough to get to the saddle. We drop down into the upper part of South Cartridge Creek and then up we go to White Pass.
Ray heading up to White Pass

White Pass and Red Pass are fairly close together and we work our way up and down the ledges towards Red Pass. On top of Red Pass, Ray and I marvel at the geology. A large fault smashes Paleozoic red slates up against the granitic gray rocks. It is a dramatic display of forces, the story of the mountains for all to read.

Ray and I on top of Red Pass. Look at the dramatic fault behind us – altered red igneous rocks on the right smashed up against the gray granitic rocks on the left! Wow!

After Red Pass, we drop about 1200 feet toward Marion Lake through a crack that draws us into the azure blue lake. I can’t believe the color of this lake is real. We stop just past the lake for the night. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Ray dropping down the route into Marion Lake
Marion Lake – the bluest lake I have ever seen.


  1. Huh. It seemed like such a happy lake. But you were there so it was blue if you say so.
    Please keep the geology lessons and photos coming. They are GREAT!!

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