Farewell Gap and vicinity

26-29 Sep 2015 - by Bob Davey

I may have figured out how Farewell Gap got it's name. The notorious winds at this spot will swiftly remove any unsecured items (tents, sleeping bags, clothing, small children) as you stand and watch them fly off. Probably very similar to Kansas during a tornado except the view is nicer. Anything that could catch wind here is gone. Even the rocks lay with their flat sides up.

Geographically set at the crest of 2 major drainages, the East Fork of the Kaweah River to the north, the Little Kern River to the south, it's unique position produces unusually strong winds, even when compared to other high passes in the Sierra's.

So, on the eve of Sept. 26, 2015, I decided to give my tent and sanity the ultimate stress test and dry camped at the crest of Farewell Gap, elev. 10,586 ft.

While planning this trip I thought it would be interesting to spend at least one night here. I was not disappointed. The views all around were awesome. I had plenty of water, 4 liters or so. Note- There are nice little springs at 9600-9900 ft., running well even in late September in a dry year. Don't make the mistake of carrying a ton of water all the way up the trail like I did.)

When I arrived at the gap, after the 7 mile trek up the trail from Mineral King, the wind was minimal, maybe 10-15 mph. Pretty darn nice but that would change later on. I promptly got the tent up, staked and weighted the corners, threw all loose items inside, and then relaxed outdoors while watching the sunset.

Later that night I awoke at 12:10 AM to the familiar sound of tent flapping. It was a fairly warm wind, temps being close to 50 degrees this night. Besides the usual sounds, the higher gusts produced a strange sound on the underside of the tent that would best be described as flatulence. Maybe 55 mph? Don't really know for sure but the tent held up well, not even a bent pole, and by morning the winds were reduced to a periodic 10 mph breeze.

I set off for Vandever about 8 AM and reached the summit in less than 2 hours. Great views, although no register or container was found on the summit at this time.

Looking down at Farewell Gap, and my tent, from the upper slopes of Vandever Mtn.

Florence Peak from Vandever's summit.

Back down to the tent before noon, I packed up and headed down the other side to Upper Bullfrog Lake. It may be of interest to note here that Lower Bullfrog lake is nice, but is lacking in decent tent sites. I found only one site and it was marginal at best. The upper lake is better, having maybe a half dozen possibilities to pitch a tent.

Waterfall below Bullfrog Lakes.

That afternoon, I had plenty of time to study the face of Florence and the standard route looked sandy. The next morning I decided against the standard SW face route and instead climbed to the low point, or saddle, between Florence Peak and Peak 12,323 to the south (class 3). This puts one at the foot of the south ridge of Florence Peak. I then followed the south ridge up to the summit area (Class 2). Near the top, I traversed left to join the west ridge for the final push to the summit. Nothing more than class 3 on this route, the majority of it is class 2. The views from the top were spectacular and after an hour or so, I descended via the standard SW face route and yes, it was as sandy as it appeared to be from below. It's not really a very decent ascent route.

For whatever reason, this route is not listed in Secor's guidebook, nor in any trip reports that I have read.

West ridge approach on left, south ridge on right.
Notice the lack of sand leading up to the foot of the south ridgeline.

Looking down at the Franklin Lakes from the summit of Florence Peak.

I packed out the following day amid numerous rifle shots by hunters and, once back over Farewell Gap which is the national park boundary, noted 6 deer all safely positioned out of their reach. I silently wished them (the deer, not the hunters) the best of luck as I returned to my car and drove home.

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