Rubicon & Desolation 2014-08

Big Meadow

Big Meadow

I missed posting about a trip last summer, so here it is. I did not notice until I was catching up on posting photos to my Flickr site that I had an entire trip not yet labeled and uploaded. I must have been waiting until the photos were up before I wrote a post, and then forgot about both.

I went in at Alpine Meadows trailhead, walking up from the TART bus on the highway. There had been thunderstorms during the day, but nothing by the time I got in. There were footprints and a few people between the trailhead and Whiskey Creek Camp, but nothing and no one past there. I camped the first night at Big Meadow, always a favorite campsite.

Lunch at Diamond Crossing, were I saw a day hiker, much to my surprise. Five Lakes Creek was flowing, which I’d guess it would not be in a drought year because I’ve seen it dry before. I camped on the ridge just before the Hell Hole Trail descends into the Rubicon, and where it breaks into several routes, each of which is hard to follow. Some showers touched me throughout the day, but it was very dark back up Five Lakes Creek and up the Rubicon River, so probably a lot more precipitation up in the high country.

Rubicon River pool and boulders

Rubicon River pool and boulders

I spent some time at Kada Falls, watching ducks paddle around, and then headed the Rubicon River on a day hike. I went to the fan-shaped columns where I’d stopped and camped in 2010 (Down in the Rubicon), and then beyond. The river level was low enough that I was able to skirt around all of the pools without climbing way up and out of the canyon as I’d had to do before. The river is a series of pools and boulder piles, very pretty. There are several waterfalls where the river takes a sharp bend to the southwest, but I was able to climb up the side. Above this bend the canyon opens out into a broader valley. I think it may narrow again above, but for a while at least the river is wide and slow, and trees line the edges.

I left the river to go over the ridge to Barker Creek, which was quite a bit harder than I’d anticipated, with steep side slopes, loose scree, thick brush, and a lot of small cliffs to negotiate. I went over a saddle and dropped into Barker Creek, which is a pretty little creek, and followed it back to the river, then back to the “trail” out of the Rubicon and up Five Lakes Creek.

I have been trying for years to identify the single best route of the Hell Hole “trail” from the river back up to Steamboat Creek, particularly where it crosses the steep gully coming down from Steamboat Mountain, and more recently have been trying to create a GPS track for this section. And I have yet to successfully follow the same route twice. I was above the best route going down, and below the best route coming back up. Maybe someday. The trail along the river up to Kada Falls is equally obscure, but in easier terrain. I’ve done a little brushing here to define it a bit where it seems to disappear in the thick brush. But the trail has not been maintained in more than 40 years, and it would be a major project to renew it.

After camp near Buckskin Creek I walked out Powderhorn Trail and to Barker Pass. The trail has been scoured by thunderstorms, and it is starting to brush closed in a few spots, but the Five Lakes Creek Trail and the Powderhorn Trail have both been logged out this year. I saw four day hikers on the Powderhorn, a first for me.

pond reflection along the Bayview Trail

pond reflection along the Bayview Trail

From Barker I headed south and camped near Phipps Creek in the Desolation Wilderness. Normally this is a place I’d never camp, or even stop for long, due to the mosquitos, but they were not bad. The surge seems to be over, earlier this year than most because it was so dry in the early summer before the thunderstorms.

Next day I walked to Fontanillis Lake along the PCT, another favorite spot, the best lake in the Desolation. And then out the Bayview Trail to Highway 89 and the bus to South Lake Tahoe, and the Amtrak bus home. The west shore bus was not running this year, so there was a gap between TART stopping at Meeks Bay on the north and the tourist shuttle stopping at Eagle Falls on the south. I hope that the Forest Service and partners get it going again next year, because it makes backpacking around public transportation much easier.

Flickr: Granite Chief 2014-08-06

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