image copyright Richard Moshier
What: On and off-trail backpacking with 4 summits
Where: Kings Canyon National Park from Road’s End Trailhead
When: October 4-10, 2003 (7 days)
Distance: approximately 63 miles
Highlights: a descent of Muro Blanco canyon; exploring White Canyon; climbing Arrow Peak
The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails by R. J. Secor, 2009. This detailed and authoritative resource is essential for planning off-trail trips in the High Sierra.
Two Harrison maps are required for this route: Kings Canyon High Country Trail Map and Kearsarge Pass Trail Map.
The National Geographic Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks map also covers the route but at a smaller scale.
Why we went
We had passed through the upper end of Muro Blanco on previous trips and wanted to hike the entire canyon. We also wanted to explore White Canyon, a little known area in Kings Canyon National Park.
We did not take a camera on this trip, however Richard Moshier has some nice images of the Muro Blanco at his site. Many thanks to Richard for giving us permission to use one of his photos in this article.
Another five-star trip in the high Sierra. The ridgetop walk west and south from Mount Ickes was stellar; there are few ridges in this part of the range that are so easy to traverse. The White Fork canyon was straight-forward and enjoyable. The descent of Muro Blanco was very beautiful and much more enjoyable than Goddard Creek, which I’ve done twice and each time said “glad I did that once and I don’t need to do that again”.
A terrific experience; I loved every piece of this trip once we left the Bubb’s Creek freeway. Muro Blanco remains one of my favorite places in Kings Canyon National Park.
Notes for Potential Hikers
- Start at Road’s End trailhead in Kings Canyon NP and take the Bubb’s Creek trail to its junction with the JMT.
- North on the JMT over Glen Pass. Just north of the pass, leave the trail and cross Rae Col into the south end of 60 Lakes Basin.
- Cross 60 Lakes Col into Gardiner Basin and follow the west shoreline of the largest Gardiner Lake. Contour northwards to King Col, the low point on the west ridge of Mt. Clarence King.
- Cross the col and drop to the Wood’s Creek Trail. Turn east and follow the trail to the JMT. A bit over a mile later, leave the trail and after a short easy bushwhack head up White Canyon to the ridgeline east of Mt. Ickes.
- Climb Mt. Ickes and follow the ridge west and then south over the next two summits. Descend into the basin southeast of Arrow Peak via the southwest ridge of Peak 3891. Optionally summit Arrow.
- Continue to Bench Lake and follow the use trail back to the JMT. North on the trail until you cross the north branch of the South Fork Kings River. Leave the JMT and head down the Kings River into Muro Blanco. There is a faint and intermittent use trail for the first mile or so.
- Travel down through fabulous Muro Blanco until you reach the Wood’s Creek Trail just upstream of Paradise Valley. Finally, back out on trail to Road’s End.
Disclaimer: Do not rely on our exact tracks for your route; use skill and common sense. Use the stated distances as guidance; various sources of trail distances rarely agree. We strongly recommend that anybody engaged in cross-country travel in the Sierra use RJ Secor’s book for more detailed route descriptions and difficulty levels.
This trip reminded us again just how deserted the Sierra is once you leave the JMT and its feeder trails. We saw nobody while we were off trail. Gardiner Basin is very wild and dramatic with the imposing peaks of Mt. Cotter, Mt. Gardiner, and Clarence King rising steeply above you. White Canyon is remote, untraveled and unlike any place else we had seen in the Sierra. The route is suitable for backpackers with excellent cross-country skills. We do not recommend it for beginners, particularly since the cross-country stretches are long and very remote.
The Muro Blanco itself is one of the finest canyon descents we have done in the Sierra. It is beautiful, remote, empty of people and surprisingly straightforward to travel through. We did this late in the season hoping that the water level in the Kings would be down. Earlier in the year, the water level is likely to be higher and the descent would be more challenging as crossing the river repeatedly helps avoid thick vegetation. Muro Blanco had far fewer brush problems than the Enchanted Gorge/Goddard Creek route down to the Middle Fork Kings.
There is no trail through Muro Blanco. At the east end of the canyon, there is a faint use trail that comes and goes and ultimately leads to the old abandoned trail over Cartridge Pass. The original JMT crossed Cartridge Pass prior to being moved to Mather Pass. Below the Cartridge cut-off, the trail disappears. We didn’t see any ducks (cairns, stacks of rock) in Muro Blanco; please don’t despoil the canyon by building any and if you happen upon one, knock it down.
The most difficult section of brush is just prior to reaching the Wood’s Creek Trail. We found that by crossing the river and/or moving upslope we could avoid most brush in the main portion of the route. There are several large boulder fields created by rockslides that have to be crossed. Be careful, as some of the rocks in these obstacles were unstable.
It is unlikely that you will encounter other people in Muro Blanco. However, once you exit the canyon, you will on the very popular Wood’s Creek portion of the Rae Lakes Loop.
A permit is required. Since portions of the route are on the extremely popular Rae Lakes Loop, obtaining the permit could be a little difficult. We got ours by being first in line at the Ranger Station at Road’s End.
Hi Amy and James,
Thank you so much for your trip reports! Last year I took my first venture to the High Sierras in twenty years that was significantly influenced by your trip reports. I put together a Baxter Pass loop that included a trip to Sixty Lakes basin and col, as well as a visit to Window Peak Lake. Unbelievable!
This year I’m aiming to do a portion of the first leg of the Sierra High Route, along with your traverse of Mount Ickes to Arrow Pass followed by a trip down the Muro Blanco. I guess I’m looking for some confirmation on the feasibility of the Ickes to Arrow Pass traverse. It seems very appealing and looks doable on the topo/pictures, and I am encouraged by Amy’s assessment on this post about how enjoyable this ridge walk was. What gives me pause is that I can’t find much else on the internet except for a Bob Burd trip report.
As you look back on this trip, any additional advice on this traverse or unusual features to watch out for? Linked below is my draft route scheduled for late August.
Thank you for the note. We are encouraged that people are finding the information we publish helpful.
As to your proposed route, the segment between Kings Canyon and the old Cartridge Pass Trail is mostly Roper’s Sierra High Route, for which there is a lot of data. We have walked this and found it to be quite straightforward with some fine scenery. Lake Basin itself is a fabulous place we have visited several times. Be sure to leave enough time to enjoy this gem of an area.
The Cartridge Pass Trail is intermittent and it is more present in its upper sections than lower down, but is mostly not difficult to follow. We have done the cross-country route from the JMT up to Crater Pass and found it to be a reasonably solid piece of cross-country talus. The further east you go, the steeper it becomes, so stay quite west. We have not walked the piece of ridge between Crater Pass and Mt. Ickes. In my opinion, following this ridge to Ickes is not likely to be a problem; we have hiked the rest of the ridge, from Ickes counterclockwise over the next couple of summits and it was a really satisfying walk. The section of ridge that we have not hiked looks quite similar on the map and in satellite images so is unlikely to be troublesome.
The rest of the traverse and descent into Bench Lake, was, if I recall correctly, not a problem. The fact that you have not been able to find much information is probably because few people travel in that area. Most people summit Arrow from Bench Lake and because Ickes is not on the SPS list and is really out of the way, I suspect that it is very rarely climbed. Bob Burd is the obvious exception because he summits everything and may well have visited more of the Sierra than almost anyone else; his record is absolutely astonishing.
So to summarize, your route seems quite feasible if you are comfortable with cross-country travel and navigation. I do not recall any significant class 3 sections, although it has been a while since we were last in the area. Your route looks nicely thought out and will take you to some truly remote and outstanding places in the Sierra; please let us know how your trip goes.
Thanks for the detailed comments! Will definitely make some time to explore Lake Basin and take note of staying west up Crater Pass. Keep you posted.