I had a great six day trip through the Granite Chief Wilderness, plus some additional country to the north. I went in at Alpine Meadows Trailhead, and out at Squaw Valley Trailhead, with at least 67 miles in between.
Since some people read this blog for trail conditions: Five Lakes Creek cannot be crossed anywhere downstream of the PCT trail crossing, except on logs. The Middle Fork of the American River cannot be crossed at the Picayune Valley trail crossing, but can on a log downstream. The Five Lakes Creek Trail is mostly clear of snow. Upper Grayhorse Trail, upper Picayune Valley Trail, and upper Granite Chief Trail are largely under snow, but the trails can be followed with attention.
From the Alpine Meadows Trailhead, I went over the saddle at Five Lakes and down the trail, but headed off on the old trail down Five Lakes Creek, both because I wanted to see if I could follow it, and because I suspected it would not be easy to cross Whiskey Creek at the regular trail crossing. I was able to follow the trail about half the way, crossed Five Lakes Creek on a log just above Whiskey Creek. I picked up the old trail again and followed it to Big Spring Meadow, which it enters from the north side. I continued on the regular trail down to Bear Pen Creek. I went over to look at the gorge, which was quite impressive, the creek wall to wall where I’d jumped across in other years. I used a log just above Bear Pen to cross Five Lakes Creek, which is probably not crossable in any other way, and continued south, picking up the Hell Hole Trail. I went all the way to Kada Falls, again, to see what it looks like in flood. Impressive!
I then returned to my pack at Steamboat Creek, trying to follow the old trail up the creek, which I found at times. The trail meets a logging road, and I followed the series of logging roads up over the ridge and to the Grayhorse Valley trailhead. I then headed up and camped below the ridge. The next day I walked the ridge up to Mount Mildred, and then dropped into the Middle Fork watershed and eventually found the Picayune Valley Trail. I hung out at the water slide above the waterfall until the road drove me crazy, then headed down trail. The Middle Fork was in flood and impossible to cross at the trail crossing, but the log about 200 meters downstream works, other than having to fight the brush to get to it. I walked out to the trailhead, leaving the wilderness, then up the road to the saddle on Foresthill Ridge between the Middle Fork and North Fork.
Next day, I walked down the roads looking for the old trail into the Royal Gorge, which I eventually found though it is no longer signed. The trail is no longer maintained, and I discovered why – there is a huge landslide that breaks the trail. Ropes lead down on side and up the other. I continued down to the bridge (the “new” bridge, as Tisha says) and up the somewhat better trail along Palisade Creek. I camped on the ridge above Long Lake.
Friday I spend time at Camp Winthers, an environmental education summer camp where I used to work, 1993-1997. I talked with Bill and Tisha Rugg, family members, and others, and just enjoyed being there. In the afternoon I continued east towards the PCT. I went cross-country, and enjoyed it, but it took much longer than if I’d followed the Royal Gorge Ski Area paths. I discovered what the ski area calls Mariah Point, probably the best view anywhere of the Royal Gorge. I camped at Rowton Peak.
From there I headed up the ridge towards Mt Lincoln. The ridge is much more up-and-down and rugged than I realized, so it went slowly, but I finally picked up the PCT. I walked south as far at the Granite Chief Trail, then headed out to Squaw Valley and the bus back home.
On this trip, I did not use the switchbacks on the PCT south from Five Lake Creek, nor the north-facing slope of PCT north of Granite Chief, so I don’t have anything to report about those two potential trouble spots. Next trip!