"The Enchanted Gorge is where intimidation and challenge meet head on. This is not a place for the faint-hearted, the poorly conditioned, or the unadventuresome. Here is the proving ground for the Ultimate Sierra backpacker."
--Phil Arnot, blowing smoke out his rear-end in his High Sierra: John Muir's Range of Light
"The only thing "enchanted" about Enchanted Gorge is its name."
--R.J. Secor, telling it like it is, is his must-own The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails
I spent Labor Day Weekend doing an off-trail backpacking trip in Sierra National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park. (Skip the words and look at the pictures.) I read about the Enchanted Gorge in Steve Roper's Sierra High Route guidebook (he calls it "one of the wildest canyons in the range") and I immediately wanted to do it. I started Friday at Florence Lake and hiked maintained trail following the South San Joaquin up Goddard Canyon to Martha Lake. I camped on a bench maybe 200 feet above Martha Lake and had to set up on snow/still-frozen hail--the rain that had been falling lightly during the day must've been coming down frozen at higher altitudes. Saturday I went east over Goddard Creek Pass into the Ionian Basin, down Enchanted Gorge, and maybe 1/3 of the way up Goddard Creek (note that Goddard Creek is not in Goddard Canyon). I ended the day with a 150 foot climb up exposed class 3, maybe 4, next to a waterfall just as it was getting too dark to continue. You know, for kicks.
Sunday I continued up Goddard Creek, then went over Reinstein Pass and back to Martha Lake. Then instead of following the easy trail down Goddard Canyon, I went west over Hell for Sure pass. Mostly because of the name, which it definitely does not deserve. The trail from Goddard Canyon is on a cool bench, and the final approach is all pretty grass. My TI map shows trails going by Reddys Hole through Red Rock Basin to Thompson Pass and down to Florence Lake. Sunday night I could not find the turn-off near Lower Indian Lake, so I cross-countried to the pass near Fleming Mountain and spent the night there. Monday I verified that the Reddys Hole Trail absolutely does not exist, and the Thompson Pass trail only barely exists, in the form of frequent cairns with zero tread. From Fleming Mountain pass to Thompson pass was nice--high enough elevation that the plant growth was never that dense, and there were several pretty meadows. From Thompson Pass down to Florence Lake was hotter with lots of deadfall, so that was less fun.
Overall, it was definitely a good trip. I'd say that Secor is more accurate in his description of Enchanted Gorge than Arnot. It wasn't that pretty, and the dense brush is pretty annoying. Don't get me wrong, it was a fun challenge, but it's not walking-the-divide-in-the-Wind-River-Range/break-into-tears-at-the-majesty-of-it-all awesome, it's more just gnarly in a bushwhacking sense. And Ionian Basin left me a little underwhelmed too. Yes, the lakes are gorgeous and perfect for a near-freezing swim, but you never get a broad view of more than one of them at a time. Goddard Creek, however, was awesome. You get wide views up and down canyon, and the scrambling that you have to do, although sometimes steep, is on solid easily-done cliffs, whereas the slopes of Enchanted Gorge are mixtures of dirt, talus, and stinging nettles, and it's just a test of how well you can walk with your body at a 45-degree sideways angle with one hand on the ground.
Here are a few photos. There are several more on Picasa.
I did a quick job of mapping my route, shown below. Topo! is pretty weak software, but I drew the route on the 1:100K series, then reduced it by 50% to fit it on one page. Solid red line is me on-trail, dashed is off. In the field I used NatGeo TI maps #205 and #809. Mapping it in Topo! and printing out a bunch of 7.5-minute stuff would be nice, but I prefer the ease of pre-printed TI's, and my GPS makes up for the loss of scale. lmportantly, I also xeroxed a few pages from Arnot and Secor, but Arnot is mostly redundant.
On a side note, my camper shell slid halfway off while driving out on Kaiser Pass road (the narrow road that goes to Florence Lake, Lake Edison, and Vermilion Valley Resort). I guess it's time to ditch the c-clamps and open the packaging on that fancy new drill I bought so I can bolt the sucker on.
Also, can everyone please start using the phrase "nar-nar?" A friend introduced me to it this summer, and I'm a fan. It means (obviously?) "really gnarly," thus I suppose it could also be spelled "gnar-gnar," but we'll let the good folks at Webster's worry about that. Example: "Once you go over the pass, you're in the nar-nar for real."