My late October to early November trip into the Granite Chief included the Shanks Cove and Greyhorse trails, which I’d not been on this year, the Hell Hole trail and explorations around there, and a off-trail hike up the Rubicon River and then out Barker Creek to Barker Pass.
On my trip up to the area, I slept out near Truckee, and it was very, very cold, well below freezing, so I guess I can call summer over. After tea and breakfast to warm up, I headed into the wilderness at Alpine Meadows TH, thence to Whiskey Creek Camp. I explored around Five Lakes lake, the largest one, which is the only one with significant water late in the year, which I’d not done in years. I generally avoid this most popular destination for day hikers, but it was early and on a weekday, so I figured correctly there would be few people. It is a beautiful lake, the only really alpine looking lake in the Granite Chief.
From Whiskey Creek Camp I followed the Western States (Picayune Valley) trail to the junction with Shanks Cove trail, and thence up to the ridge where I camped for the night. It was much warmer up there than it had been in Truckee, though I was 650 meters higher, since cold air drains away from the ridges and towards the valleys. In the morning I walked out the Greyhorse trail to the trailhead, which is no longer marked by anything, then back to the ridge and down Shanks Cove trail to the Five Lakes Creek trail. The Shanks Cove and Greyhorse trails have not been maintained in a long while, and there are many trees down, most easy to bypass but a few not. The winter debris (which this year came mostly from high winds in the fall) is thick in many places. And brush is encroaching on the trail in many spots. On the plus side, there were small flows of water in some of the little creeks that I was sure would be dry in this dry year.
I camped near Diamond Crossing and spent time just watching the creek and seeking out the brightest fall color trees. Then down the Hell Hole trail. The two forks of Buckskin Creek were flowing a little, but Steamboat Creek was completely dry. I explored downstream, where I have found water in the past, and did not find any, but I didn’t check upstream. Steamboat is always one of the earliest creeks to dry. Down the the bottom, where there is a vague junction with the trail coming from the 4WD road at Greyhorse Creek, with the route up canyon parallel to Five Lakes Creek. I have found and maintained about half this trail, but the other half is still uncertain, just wandering through forests and finding vague traces of trail here and there.
I continued my exploration of trails and routes in the Hell Hole and Rubicon River area, trying to make sense of how they fit together. I made some progress. I walked out the official 14E02 Hell Hole Trail to the dam and across. It is not marked in any way at the trailhead, but if going in that way, one would park at the boat trailer parking lot, walk down the steps, across the dam, and to the beginning of the trail on the south side. The dam is not open to vehicles but there is a hiker gate. This trail is not much used, but is surprisingly pleasant given how close it is to the reservoir, and is decently maintained. At a point just above the Upper Hell Hole Campground, which gets very heavy use by boat-in campers when the reservoir is up and the weather nice, a connector trail goes down through the old upper campground and to the east end of the lower campground. Continuing on the main trail, it gets harder and harder to follow, but traces of it exist and seem to lead to the Rubicon River just where it narrows in its first canyon. From the eastern-most campsite, a route marked with rock ducks heads along the ridge, then down to a crossing of the Rubicon at what I call huckleberry camp (there are more red huckleberry bushes in this area than one would expect at this elevation), then back up onto the ridge between the Rubicon and Five Lakes Creek, connecting with the route from Five Lakes Creek end of the Hell Hole trail and the route that goes down to the Rubicon at the same canyon point as the possible trail. With a better understanding of how the trails and route fit together, I have updated my tracks on GaiaGPS.
I then spent half a day trying to figure out where the McKinstry trail goes, but at this I failed completely. There are little fragments of trail along the Rubicon River, but they don’t seem to connect. I know that when I walked the McKinstry trail years ago, it was not that hard to follow though not maintained, but now I can’t even seem to find the place where it climbs up out of the Rubicon Canyon. So, that remains for another trip, and I still don’t know what the condition of the McKinstry trail is.
Leaving the trail finding project behind, I ventured out on a no-trail trip up the Rubicon River and then Barker Creek. The river canyon was dark and cold, probably never getting direct sunlight at this time of year, so I decided against continuing up canyon, which is beautiful, and only possible in low fall water. Instead I headed up Barker Creek, which is incredibly beautiful. There are here and there traces of a route marked by rock ducks, but it pretty much is just walking up the bottom of the canyon, walking around pools and jumping the small creek. The canyon eventually gets too rough to follow and I climbed out alongside the canyon to the more gentle terrain above. From there cross-country, and along some of the OHV trails (fortunately empty on this day), and then the PCT/TRT up to Barker Pass. And then down to Blackwood campground for the night, and out to catch the TART bus in the morning to Tahoe City.
I bought some gloves from Alpenglow, which I had most unfortunately forgotten on this trip, and have only some heavy waterproof gloves at home, and spent the rest of the day just enjoying Tahoe City. The following morning to Truckee, and caught the Amtrak California Zephyr home to Sacramento.
This will be my last long backpack trip (nine days) and my last mountain backpack trip of the year, but I’ll continue shorter backpack trips in the Sierra foothills and the bay area throughout the winter and spring, until next summer backpack season in the Granite Chief.
Photos on Flick: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716780807318; Granite Chief collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157637640215275/.