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2016: Courtright to Lake Basin

August 27, 2016

Courtright Reservoir – Horsehead Lake – Devils Punchbowl
(≈40 miles)

Nick, Lori, Steve, (Mark)

August 14-21, 2016

 This trip was a MeetUp hike, organized by Lori.

This was a wonderful route with lots of high Sierra trekking, some trial and a fair amount of cross country routing, a couple of passes, as well as great lakes for swimming and fishing. Mosquitoes were practically non-existent this time of summer, though we  were mildly bothered by yellow jackets throughout.

I left early and drove from Santa Cruz to meet Lori in Fresno to drive together to the trail head. Steve and Mark each came separately and met us at Courtright Reservoir later that evening. Lori fished at the reservoir as we waited, but did not catch anything. Water is not that readily available at the free camping by the trailhead (on the far side of the reservoir), but we went to the paid camping area on the other side, where there is a spigot.

2016 Courtright Topo


8,000′ – 9,000′ – 8,200′ – 11,200 – 8,000′ – 9,000′ – 8,000′

Day 1: Maxsom Trailhead to North Fork Kings River (≈10 miles)
Day 2: North Fork Kings River to Horsehead Lake (≈10 miles).
Day 3: Horsehead Lake to Buck Lake (≈1.5 miles)
Day 4: Side trip to Confusion Lake (≈9 miles)
Day 5: Buck Lake to Devils Punchbowl (≈5 miles)
Day 6: Devils Punchbowl to Hobbler Lake (≈9 miles)
Day 7: Hobbler Lake to Maxsom Trailhead (≈4 miles)

Day 1: Maxsom Trailhead to North Fork Kings River (≈10 miles)

Day1 Profile

8,000′ – 9,000′ – 8,000′

P1060550 dome

Maxson Dome

We drove to the parking area at the end of the road at 7:00am, but by the time we were organized to leave it was about 8:00am. After a little drop, the hike starts along the OHV road for the first mile.

P1060549 copy

Nick Steve Lori at Maxsom trail head

Just as we hit the turn off for the trail, Lori and Steve noticed smoke off the trial. We went to investigate and found an illegal campfire still smoldering. We spent the next hour and a half making sure it was fully out.

P1060551s fire copy

Putting out the illegal fire we found smouldering

The trail is mostly wooded. For the first few miles you climb pretty steadily, then head gradually back down until you hit the river. We got to Post Corral for a break at about 3:00pm. There was some water at Post Coral where the trial crosses the creek. Mark and I did manage a little soak there. The next water is not until the trail meets the Kings River.

P1060561 soak

Nick Soaking at Post Corral

We found good camping by the river, arriving about 5:30pm but in the morning noticed a sign saying “No Camping.” Oops! There is legal camping, though, close by.


Kings Fork

North Fork King’s River

The spot was really nice, with great places to play in the water, falls, small pools.

Day 2: North Fork Kings River to Horsehead Lake (≈10 miles)

Day2 Profile

8’000 – 10,400′

We headed out at about 8:40am. I took a little dip there in the river at around 10am along the way.

Nick Fall Creek

Nick hiking up Fall Creeek

We hiked along the trail until crossing Fall Creek. Just past crossing the creek we headed off-trail following the creek up, meeting up with the trail again where the trail comes back to the creek. This cuts off quite a few miles, and is more fun—though may not actually save time. In parts we made our way through woods, and in the middle, right along flat granite by the creek itself where it cascades down the granite. At this time, compared to when I had been there two years ago in late Spring, there was much less water.


McGuire Lake

There is a climb up switchbacks to McGuire Lakes. We got to McGuire at about 3:00pm having stopped for lunch along the way. Then on to Guest Lake just beyond it. There is a fork where the trail either leads to Guest Lake, or turns left to head up to Horsehead Lake. The trial can be a bit sketchy here, from McGuire on up.

P1060608 tent

Nick tent at Horsehead Lake

We got to Horsehead at about 5:00pm. After first looking at camping just on the knoll to the left side as we arrived at the lake, we then decided to camp a few hundred feet off to the right. It is a little more exposed, but still offered some trees for shade, and great views and access to the lake.

P1060613 sunset

Sunset at Horsehead Lake

Day 3: Horsehead Lake to Buck Lake (≈1.5 miles)

Day3 Profile

10,400′ – 10,700′

As we had a very short day to move camp slightly closer to doing a day trip to Confusion Lake te next day, we spent the morning at Horsehead. Lori and Steve fished. Mark and I took a hike around the lake.

P1060631 Nick Horsehead

Nick above Horsehead lake

Mark decided at this point not to stay with the group, and do his own thing for the rest of the trip as Lori, Steve and I headed on to Buck Lake. We had lunch at the lake and headed on, arriving at Buck Lake about an hour later going cross country. I hung out at the lake and walked around.

Lori and Steve fished. The fish were really biting easily and they caught 10-inchers there for a lovely dinner of fish.

Day 4: Side trip to Confusion Lake (≈9 miles)


Day4 Profile

10,700′ – 11,800′ – 11,400′ – 11,800′ – 10,700′

P1060659 buck reflection

Buck Lake

We took a side trip to go over Gunsight pass and down to Confusion Lake for the day. We got a good start at 8:00am. After going over the knoll, we dropped down to Schoolmarm Lake and then went around the right side of it and the next few lakes. Then from Bullet Lake I think we stayed to the left shore.

P1060706 gunsight pass

Nick at Gunsight Pass


As we got to the final ascent, Lori decided to stay and fish at the lakes rather than doing the pass. Steve and I first went up left from the outlet side of the lake, then hugged the left edge of the talus, often finding green or sandy patches, but also doing some talus hopping as well. From reading a guide later it seems we could have stayed high and crossed on granite, but was hard to tell if we would get cliffed out from looking from below.

At the top there is a tarn that sill had some snow and ice on it. We then descended about 400 feet vertical to get down to Confusion Lake. Steve wanted to go to the far side so he could say he had been in Blackcap Basin, so we made our way around to the left. We got there at about 12:00.

On that side we met a couple from Quebec that were in the middle of a two week hike.

Steve tried fishing, but no bites at all. I took a quick jump in the freezing water.

P1060708 steve descent

Steve descending Gunsight Pass


On the way back Steve fished a little in each lake. Mostly he caught (and released) 6-inchers, even finding some Golden or Golden-Rainbow hybrids, as well as brook trout.

We met up with Lori at Schoolmarm Lake and headed back to camp, where they again caught some 10-inchers (and one 12-incher) for dinner.

P1060717 steve fish


Day 5: Buck Lake to Devils Punchbowl (≈5 miles)


Day5 Profile

10,700′ – 11,200′ – 10,100′

P1060720 lake

Buck Lake

We got an 8:00am start on this cross-country day. We first headed down to Crab Lake , going around the left side. (It turns out we might have been better off going over to Schoolmarm and through that way—less dropping down and back up).

P1060722 crab

Crab Lake


We meandered through a woodsy area, staying to the right side of the knoll. We had to head down and around a knoll to get to the approach to the pass.

P1060725 to pass

View of the Pass


We stayed to the left of the green patch in the middle to get to the pass off to the left.

P1060744pan pass


To get down we had to scramble down the talus, boulder hopping.

P1060766 talus


We stayed to the right side of Big Shot and Little Shot Lakes to come down to Devil’s Punchbowl.

P1060772 lakes


We arrived at about 1:30. We camped on the North side of Punchbowl at a nice developed site. The lake was very refreshing. Steve fished most of the afternoon, while I explored and Lori did some laundry and washing up. Exploring the trail west gives amazing views down to both Punchbowl and Jigger Lakes.

P1060781p devil jigger

Devil’s Punchbowl and Jigger lakes



Day 6: Devils Punchbowl to Hobbler Lake (≈9 miles)


Day6 Profile

10,100′ – 8,200′ – 9,000′

In the morning I took another extremely exhilarating and refreshing swim in the lake.

P1060796 reflection

Devil’s Punchbowl

We start hiking at about 8:30am. We took the trail down until we crossed Fleming Creek. From there we left the trail to cross country directly to hit the Hell-for-Sure trail.

This entailed following, more or less, Fleming Creek down until getting to where we could head over to meet the trail. At about 9,300’, getting past the knoll on the right, we headed away from the river. At one point, checking the GPS we thought we might have passed the trail without noticing, but then rechecked and decided we had not, which turned out to be correct as we soon came upon it after a little further hiking.

P1060799 flowers



The hike down the Hell-for-Sure trail is a long downhill slot (at least it was down!).

P1060805 nick


Arrived at Post Corral at about 12:30 here we took a leisurely lunch  break and let our feet soak.

We headed off for the last 4 ½ miles on trail to Hobbler. The trail soon heads back up, then levels off, before the turn to Hobbler lake, which is about a mile from the junction.

Hobbler Lake is fairly shallow with green algae and weeds, so turned out not to be good for fish. Not much for swimming either with a muddy bottom.

P1060817 hobbler

Hobbler Lake


The clouds built up and soon with had on-and-off light rain, and even a bit of hail. It cleared up in the night.

Day 7: Hobbler Lake to Maxsom Trailhead (≈4 miles)


9’000 – 8’000


P1060824 copy

We got started out at about 8:30am and were back to the cars by 10:00am, back the way we came. We did stop to check on the illegal fire we had put out, which it appeared had not been checked out by the rangers despite our having notified them.

To see more of my photos from this trip click here

For Lori’s Photo blog of the trip click here

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