Powderhorn to Shanks Cove 2008-08-31

columnar lava “postpile” in Powderhorn Canyon

I had an enjoyable four day backpack from Powderhorn Trailhead, through Powderhorn Valley, to Shanks Cove and Grayhorse Valley to Whiskey Creek Camp and return. I was planning on getting into Picayune Valley, where I’ve not been yet, but lost a day off the trip and couldn’t fit it in. Next time!

Powderhorn Valley offers huge red firs, once you cross out of the logging area into the wilderness, and impressive steep volcanic cliffs that form the valley and shed avalanches into the valley. A horse group has been in this summer – I’m guessing the same group comes in every summer, but I’ve never been there at the same time, so am not sure. They do some trailwork on their way, which has kept this trail open, including cutting logs and cutting back the alder thicket below the “postpile” area. So far as I know, the Forest Service has not done any trailwork in the wilderness in quite some time, so what get done is done by volunteers. Thanks!

Camping near Diamond Crossing, I hear two or more Great Horned Owls calling, contesting territory I guess. Though their calls are similar, they are also individual. I wandered down to Five Lakes Creek along the Hell Hole “Trail,” and despite having walked it many times, lost it coming back up. There are at least two other vague routes down to the creek, one in the forest west of the meadow route and another west of Powderhorn Creek, but none are obvious. I strongly feel that this “trail” should be taken off the system – not lost, because it will still be on the USGS topgraphic maps (paper and electronic), but not on the recreation maps.

Five Lakes Gorge

Heading north from Diamond Crossing, I went over to the gorge of Five Lake Creek, as recommended by Schaffer in The Tahoe Sierra, and he’s right! The gorge in metamorphic rock is spectacular, but for the rock and for the waterfalls created.

I then picked up the trail again and turned west to Shanks Cove. This area is not much used up to the “cove” and even less used above that. I suspect that many of these trails were originally cattle driveways and cowboy trails, but with grazing having been gone from the area since 1984 (I think – since these were private lands before, there were no Forest Service grazing permits to grandfather in), it is not so evident. The cove has only a tiny meadow and is mostly forested. An old trail heads south from the creek crossing, which I’ll explore some day. I then continued up to the ridge where the Grayhorse Valley trail comes in from the west, and walked that out to the trailhead so I could take a picture and record the signs for my website. I then went off on a wild goose chase to see if I could find the Buckskin Trailhead which is shown on some maps including the FS sketch map. After walking miles of logging roads through areas owned by and recently logged by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), I gave up, though I did see one promising road coming out. There are certainly no signs on these roads. I was surprised how far these logging operations when down into the Five Lakes Creek drainage in Steamboat and Buckskin Creeks. Maybe these areas can be protected and restored, and eventually included back into the wilderness to which they belong, in a hundred years.

Back on the Shanks Cove Trail, I headed east toward Picayune Valley. Some maps show this trail staying on the ridge all the way, but one look at the cliffs west of the Picayune saddle brings that back to reality. The trail drops across steep and loose volcanic slopes, a bit scary, and below the cliffs where there is a forest of huge red fir with the average snow level marked by Staghorn Lichen way up the trees. From this low pint, the trail climbs to a junction with Picayune Valley Trail, northwest of the saddle above Picayune Valley unlike shown on many maps. From there, I followed the trail down into Whiskey Creek Camp.

Big Spring Meadow

Then south on Five Lakes Creek Trail to Big Spring Meadow where I camped for the night. Two more Great Horned Owls! I love this meadow – it seems like what this area would look like if the Forest Service didn’t exclude fire, large meadows surrounded by large trees. I enjoy just sitting at the edge and letting time pass, nothing needing doing. Big Spring at the south side of the meadow is protected by thickets of alder, and is not obvious from the trail as the trail crosses above the spring where the creek bed is dry except in the spring. Listen for the spring if you can’t see it.

From there I headed out the same way I came in, down Five Lakes Creek Trail and out Powerhorn Trail. I was surprised to see two dayhikers just north of Bear Pen Creek, and they were surprised to see me. This area is just not much used.

2008-08-08 to 2008-08-12

photos on Flickr

1 thought on “Powderhorn to Shanks Cove 2008-08-31

  1. Pingback: Trip History | Granite Chief Wilderness

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