Last week I walked the ridges to the north and south of the Middle Fork American River. I’d looked at these ridges for years, thinking the scenery would be pretty cool, but had never gotten in a trip.
I went in at the Granite Chief TH in Squaw Valley, and walked the Granite Chief Trail and Pacific Crest Trail to the saddle beside Granite Chief. I walked up over the peak and continued west, past Needle Peak, over Lyon Peak, and on out the ridge to the saddle between Talbot Creek and Soda Springs. Though the ridge is not called Foresthill Divide in this section, it is a topographic extension of that feature that separates the North Fork American River from the Middle Fork. There is a clear use trail from Granite Chief to the saddle above Needle Lake, so I assume the destination for many is the lake. Again, there is a prominent use trail, part on old logging roads, from the Foresthill Divide saddle east on the ridge. But in between, the trail is vague, indicating that not many people walk the entire length. Though it is somewhat rough, there is nothing too challenging. I skipped going up Needle Peak due to the wind. The wind was blowing at least 30 mph the entire day, with gusts to 50 mph, and one gust that knocked me to the ground and prevented me from getting back up was at least 60 mph. The south wind, and the cold that came with it, was not in the forecast. It was an intense day, with the constant roar of wind in my ears and the need to re-balance with every step to keep from falling. And it was exhilarating!
I was thinking that this day had been the most wild weather and least forecast weather of any day that I’d ever been in the Granite Chief, but walking out on Wednesday, I passed the trail camp along Granite Chief Trail where I’d spent a very long, uncomfortable night. A thunderstorm started in the afternoon, with no hint in the forecast, and it continued to thunder, lightning and rain all night long. I’d not brought any more than my rain jacket and pack cover, so I huddled all night, not able to sleep, and probably not able to in any case with the continuous flash and rumble. The next day fog filled the valley and lasted until afternoon.
From the Foresthill Divide saddle, I headed south along the old road in the Talbot Creek watershed, and camped near the Talbot Campground. This road is no longer useable by 4WD vehicles, though it is still on the system as Forest Road 51, a designation usually reserved for maintained road. Quad-runners still use it, though, going under or around the gates that have been installed by the private land owner. These lands are the ones that the American River Conservancy (ARC) has proposed for purchase, with some being added to the wilderness. I chose this route in part to take photos that ARC might use to document the area. The Tevis Cup Trail comes out of the wilderness about one mile south of the saddle. It used to head north and then west on the Foresthill Divide, but that route was so trashed by quad-runners that it was not longer safe for horses, so the route now goes south, past Talbot Campground and French Meadows Reservoir, and eventually back onto the divide well to the west.
From Talbot I walked a short ways in, and then headed up to Mildred Ridge. The first mile of land from Talbot to the wilderness boundary is private, again proposed for purchase. The climb is steep and long, 2800 feet, but very beautiful. I was following bear and deer trails for much of the way, though rocky slopes, meadows and forests. The register on “Picayune Peak,” and unofficial name for the peak at the west end of Mildred Ridge, was placed in 1991 and is only half full. Clearly not much use, as compared for example to Granite Chief where the register gets filled up every year. I walked along the ridge, easy going except for Heavens Gate, which is a ridge of volcanic rock with a gap in the middle that someone of my climbing skills can’t tackle. The route down and around to the north at least goes through some beautiful flower gardens, with a mix of Drummond’s Anemone and Western Anemone, both of which are fairly rare most places but very abundant here. I went over Mildred Peak, where I’d been three years ago, and up to connect in with the Shanks Cove Trail.
I went north along this trail, joining the Western States Trail, to a campsite on the ridge above Five Lake Creek. From there I walked to the PCT and north, coming out again at the Granite Chief TH. Breakfast in Truckee at the Squeeze Inn, and then Amtrak back home to Sacramento.
I have been intending to post my maps of where I’d draw the boundaries of an expanded Granite Chief Wilderness, which is particularly relevant to this trip, but I haven’t had the time to finish and polish the maps.
Photos on Flickr.