Sierra High Route Day 16 Laurel Lake to Cotton Lake, Will We Need to Change Our Plan?

Day 16
Total Miles: 4.6
Cumulative Miles: 170.2
Elevation Gain: 1683 ft
Elevation Loss: 1387 ft
Camp: Cotton Lake
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Today was a short day. We went into a holding pattern as our plan has us going to Iva Bell Hot Springs but it looks really smoky in that direction. So we stopped early and decide to give it a day to see if it changes down valley. We have time as we have a cabin reserved 3 nights from now at Reds Meadow Resort. We had a few days built in for the side hike to Iva Bell and a scamper day to spend just soaking at the springs.
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Laurel Lake with morning reflections
But despite being a short day we still have two off-trail passes to go over, Bighorn and Shout of Relief. According to Roper in his “Sierra High Route” book we will need to ascend “precipitous grassy slopes” to Bighorn Pass and the routefinding between Bighorn and Shout of Relief Pass “is a bit tricky”. Oh, uh….I hear “precipitous” and “tricky”.
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Ray at the top of Bighorn Pass
So we start up to Laurel Lake and Bighorn Pass which is about 1.5 miles from where we camped on Laurel Creek. Bighorn Pass is 900 feet above Laurel Lake and the ascent is not too difficult. I appreciate the grassy slopes sprinkled with granitic boulders. The “precipitous” isn’t too bad I think.
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The rock fringe (Epiloblum obcordatum) adds a bold splash against a subtler granite background. It’s hardy roots can penetrate deep into cracks and crevices, allowing it to survive in harsh conditions.
The terrain is a little “tricky” between Bighorn Pass and Shout of Relief Pass but we found that if you are willing to drop and lose elevation and come back up (instead of contouring) the going is easier. Just like Tinman told us to do, we dropped down to a little pond above Rosy Finch Lake and then up a granite ramp to the pass.
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Heading up to Shout of Relief Pass with Rosy Finch Lake in the background. Bighorn Pass, which we had just come over, is on the ridge on the left hand side of the photo.
We take a break at the top of Shout of Relief Pass. Roper named many of these passes and this one is partly called Shout of Relief because the terrain gets much easier for the next 25 miles. We celebrate but it is short-lived as we see a thick blanket of smoke off in the distance in the valley we are headed to.
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Ray and I on Shout of Relief Pass

We decide to stop at one of the lakes below and weigh our options. Should we continue on into the Fish Creek drainage where the hot springs are but appears to be smoky? Should we instead cut over to Red’s Meadow where our resupply is and get there early? What about the section after Red’s Meadow which is so obscured by smoke from here you can’t see it? Are we going to need to bail on our hike? Should we flip-flop and do the last section and come back later when this area is less smoky? We are not sure but neither one of us likes to give up…

We get to Cotton Lake and stop around mid-day. I spend some time working on my blog and watching frogs. Ray takes a short hike to look around. We both wonder about the fire and what will happen.
Video Clips of the Day: Shout of Relief Pass and Fire in the Distance

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