Off-trail explorations 2009-07-16

Washington Lily

On a four day backpack from Barker Pass, I did quite a bit of exploring off trail and on old trails. The snow has really disappeared since I was last in the wilderness in June, with just patches on or close to the trail now. And of course there are a lot more flowers now, except on the ridgelines where the flowers were already great.

I explored Grouse Creek from the PCT down to the Five Lakes Trail. In the upper part I stayed as close to the creek as possible, but in the lower canyon it becomes too difficult to do so, and the bear trail led me out onto the ridge to the northwest, with great views back up Grouse Creek and up and down Five Lakes Creek. Washington lilies were poking up through the manzanita thickets on the ridge, and down along the ridge a number of dry rocky plants were blooming.

After a swim in the pools of Five Lakes Creek above Bear Pen Creek, I headed down the Hell Hole Trail to Buckskin Creek. I was very much surprised to see that this section of trail had been logged out, along with quite a bit of tread work and some brushing and water control work. This trail had not been maintained in 10 years or so, and the maintenance changed it from a nearly abandoned trail to a fairly nice trail. I’m guessing the trail crew was Forest Service, probably either stimulus funding or a crew that couldn’t get into the high country some place else.

The Buckskin Trail is shown as a red dashed horse trail on the Trails Illustrated map, looping up Buckskin Creek and down Steamboat Creek. The Forest Service sketch map shows the same route up Buckskin but reaching all the way to road 48-14, and nothing on Steamboat Creek. Though the Buckskin Trail is not marked on either end, it was not too hard to find the trail by looping around the possible location. It shows signs of an old tread that was either well constructed or heavily used, and a few tree blazes, but no sign of maintenance in a long while. The trail leaves the wilderness just below a long dry meadow that heads steeply up the hill, and where the trail disappears. Section 31, just outside the wilderness boundary, has been heavily logged by Sierra Pacific Industries, and whatever trails might have existed there have been erased. I followed the welter of logging roads southwest towards Steamboat Creek, which has a flow of water under one logging road, but I did not find the upper end of the trail up Steamboat Creek. The next morning, I found the Steamboat Creek leg of the trail heading, but it was much harder to find. It leaves the Hell Hole Trail west of Steamboat Creek, has only a vague tread, and rare blazes. I did not follow it out because I wanted to head down the Hell Hole Trail. This trail should be removed from the maps.

Five Lakes Creek Gorge

I dropped down the Hells Hole Trail, and managed to follow more of it than I had been able to last year. The two gullies are crossed pretty high up, and the third not crossed. This trail has a vague junction with the trail heading along above the reservoir shoreline from the “trailhead” west of Grayhorse Creek. I did worse than last year following the very vague trail eastward along Five Lakes Creek to Kada Falls, but once arriving there, all is forgiven. It’s a pretty special place and I enjoyed a brief swim. I then headed upstream along the east side of Five Lake Creek, following the ridges and benches, and of course following bears. The creek pours through a narrow gorge, so the route off-trail route stays up away from the creek for quite a ways. I eventually dropped down when the slope side slope became very steep, followed the creek up and down over huge boulders for a while, and eventually crossed over to the west side as the gradient begins to ease. Where the creek widens and Indian Rhubarb (Peltiphyllum peltatum) becomes common, I headed diagonally up the slope and rejoined the Hell Hole Trail close to Buckskin Creek.

After the off-trail adventuring, I headed back north to Diamond Crossing. I went a ways up the Powderhorn Trail, seeking the place the old topographic maps show a trail heading southwest to Little Powderhorn Creek. I finally found the trail by a tree blaze after trekking up and down through the forest on bear and deer trails. I’ll follow this one some time in the future. I headed up the Five Lake Creek Trail to Whiskey Creek Camp where two groups were camped with large fires going, probably to ward off mosquitos which were thick late in the afternoon and into the evening. Not wanting to be mosquito food, I kept going in the dark up the Whiskey Creek Trail and along the PCT southward. I was glad of the trail work I’d done last year clearing rocks and brush, which made it pretty easy to walk in the dark. When the mosquitos started to fade out, I camped for the night off the trail.

Sunday was a pretty uneventful day, walking south along the PCT back to Barker Pass, but this is one of my favorite pieces of trail anywhere, so it is an immense pleasure just to walk it.

2009-07-16 to 2009-07-19

photos on Flickr

1 thought on “Off-trail explorations 2009-07-16

  1. Pingback: Trip History | Granite Chief Wilderness

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