Crossing the Great Western Divide and the Kerns-King Divide

Notes by piero scaruffi | Travel resources | Other California destinations | California hikes

A loop from Roads End to Avalanche Pass, Cold Canyon, Midway Mountain, Milestone Mountain, Milly's Pass and Reflection Lake back to Roads End

This loop starts at Sphinx Camp, reached in two hours from Roads End. From Sphinx camp very steep switchbacks take you to the crossing of the Sphinx Creek and then more switchbacks take you to Avalanche Pass. The elevation gain in these first four hours is about 1,500 meters. The trail then descends rapidly towards a ranger station located at Scaffold Meadows. You can bypass it and save quite a bit of time if you keep heading south (or, better, southeast) when the trail bends west after contouring a small peak. After crossing a creek, climbing a ridge and then climbing a second (much smaller) ridge, you emerge on top of the the bank of the Roaring River: the trail is just north of that river (down below your ridge). Depending where you are on the ridge, it might be confusing which is the Cloud Canyon. Just head down the ridge as southeast as possible and you'll hit the trail, which will solve all doubts. After crossing the small creek that comes down from Mt Brewer (from the east), the Roaring River bends south and carves the Cloud Canyon. The trail coasts the river all the way to some giant meadows.

You can continue south to Colby Pass, cross the pass, continue east on the trail and then north on the Kern River trail. Or at the northern tip of Colby Lake you can ascend the ridge that comes down from Midway Mountain and climb Midway. See this description. Then descend the eastern ridge of the mountains to the Kern river (see the eastern approach.

Follow the Kern River north. The trail crosses over to the eastern side of the river and ascends to two lakes. At the second lake the trail bends northeast to go to Lake South America. Here you have several choices:

  • Milly's Pass: leave the trail after the second lake and head straight north coasting a lake whose shape on the map looks like a ghost (hence Ghost Lake). Milly's Pass is fairly easy to recognize ( Milly's Pass from Lucy's Pass). On the other side this is class-3 and almost always full of snow/ice. Milly's Pass takes you to the southern tip of Reflection Lake.
  • Lucy's Pass: follow the trail furthern northeast until past three lakes, where it bends sharply east. Lucy's Pass is in the norther corner in front of you, to the left of Mt Ericsson. It is steeper than Milly's Pass and it also has some snow/ice. Lucy's Pass takes you to two lakes and then eventually to the northern tip of Reflection Lake on the trail to East Lake. See this page.
  • Between the two passes there is a class-2 chute (i call it Weyman's chute) that is the easiest way to descend to Reflection Lake. Connect Lucy's Pass to Milly's Pass. Imagine that to be the hypotenuse of a right triangle and head for the right angle. It is relatively easy to locate it if you just head up from the last lake before Lucy's Pass: the main chute heads in that direction (while Lucy's Pass is way to the right against the wall of Ericsson). In 2010 there were two cairns to mark the entrance to the chute (i built one).

    Top of the chute:

    Top of the chute:

    The chute from the bottom:

    If you are going up from the lake:
  • Harrison Pass: follow the trail all the way to its dead end at Lake South America. A use trail continues north to Harrison Pass. While there is a trail and therefore this is the most trafficked way, Harrison Pass too is quite steep on the northern side and always has some snow/ice. The (very rough) use trail continues west to a point between Reflection Lake and East Lake. Note that (2008) the sign indicating this trail has been removed (presumably by the rangers), evidence that the trail is not maintained anymore (no matter what your map says).

Note that the southern side of the Kings-Kern Divide is rarely visited. You're on your own between Midway/Milestone Mountain and whichever pass you decide to take over the KK Divide.

Whichever way you went, now that you are on the north (Kings) side of the KK Divide, continue north to East Lake and then down to Junction Meadow. This involves wading the Bubbs Creek (water up to your chest in late spring). On the other side of the Bubbs Creek you will find the trail that coasts the creek west (downhill) to Charlotte Camp and then to Sphinx Camp. See this page for details.

Pictures of this hike
(Click on the names to see the topomap)
  • Roads End (1534m)
  • Sphinx Camp: 6.5km (1914m) 2h
  • First creek crossing 2h
  • Sphinx creek crossing 30'
  • Avalanche Pass: +8km (3060m) 1h15'
  • Leave the trail when it bends west 1h
  • Roaring River (bypassed by shortcut) in theory +9km but -4 for shortcut
  • Crossing Brewer creek 1.5h ,Li>Gate 30'
  • Cunningham Creek 45'
  • Gate 15'
  • Crossing the Kings River 45'
  • Double creek crossing to the east side and steep switchbacks 15'
  • Canyon of Colby Lake 30'
  • "No fires" sign 1h
  • Colby Lake: +15km (3650) 1h
  • Lake 3502m +1km 1h
  • Milestone Mountain: +1km (4158) 2h (37 km so far)
  • Kern River trail: +5km (3200m) 2h
  • Pass to three lakes 1.5h
  • Kern-Kings Pass +4km (3800m) 3h
  • Lake Reflection: +3km (3059m) 2h
  • East Lake: 3kms (2886m) 1h
  • Junction Meadow: 3km (2490m) 1h
  • Charlotte Creek: 5km (2200m) 1.5h
  • Sphinx Camp: 5.5km (1914m) 2h
  • Roads End: 6.5km (1534m) 1.5h
Total: 70 kms.