Paul VanderVoort shared with me last year a post from his blog, which I’ve linked to here: https://paulvandervoort.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/tevis-cup-trail-to-picayune-valley-x-c-path/. I have not followed this route, so how you use the information is entirely up to you. I have heard for years rumors of both a route, and an actual constructed trail (from long ago, not maintained) between the Tevis Cup Trail at the south-extending point, and a point near the crossing of the Picayune Valley (Western States) Trail and the Middle Fork of the American River, and have looked to see if I could see such, but did not find anything. I’ll try it out next time I have some off-trail yearning.
The Granite Chief Wilderness was expanded in the northwest by a purchase of both logged and unlogged watershed lands by the American River Conservancy. Some of these lands were added to the wilderness, some are undergoing restoration. The wilderness is now about 115 km2 ( about 28,374 acres), an addition of 11 km2 (about 2800 acres) to the original 104 km2 (25,680 acres). These areal measurements are approximate.
The map below shows this new boundary, which can be accessed at https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/area/860a1d85-93c5-4fc9-b2e3-dfd6c82f1a53/. The outline came from an official USDA Forest Service geodatabase. This area and map is part of my long term project of getting all the trails mapped via tracing or tracks, and providing that info to you.
With the deep snows of winter still lingering, I have been spending my backpacking time on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which generally follows the ridge lines around the San Francisco Bay. There are 375 miles completed of an eventual 550 or so, and I’ve done about 64%.
My first trip to the Granite Chief will be July 15, and I’ll have some information on trail conditions at the end of that trip. The best source of trail conditions I could find is the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s Current Trail Conditions page. Though the TRT only edges the Granite Chief Wilderness, the elevations are similar and trail conditions might therefore be similar.
If you, dear readers, have anything to report, please either comment on this post or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Since I’m out backpacking elsewhere, I might not get to posting for you for a few days, so better to comment directly, but whatever works for you works for me.
I have not been on all the trails yet this season, but will report on ones I have been. The PCT is in good condition; the Granite Chief Trail is in good condition; Five Lakes Creek Trail is in decent condition, some down trees but nothing that can’t be bypassed; the Powderhorn Trail is becoming quite brushy and though I did some work here, there are many days left to do, and there is a tangle of down trees about 2/3 of the way from the top that could not be bypassed by horses due to the terrain; Western States Trail is in decent condition from Whiskey Creek Camp to the saddle, with some brushy sections and some down trees, but the section just below the saddle dropping into Picayune Vally is a mess of down trees and the trail hard to follow; the lower section of Western States in Picayune Valley has had some trail maintenance and is in good condition.
Dan McGee commented on the Shanks Cove Trail on the Trails and Maps post. I think I had reported the issues with that trail, but now can’t find it, and it certainly was not on the Trails page. A number of years ago there was a significant downfall of huge red fir trees in the gully just past the small seasonal drainage south of the Western States Trail junction. This has never been cleared, and has gotten worse by the year. As a result, the whole trail is becoming less used, and is brushy and obscure in other places. I don’t have anything to report about the south section of the trail, from Greyhorse Trail down to Five Lakes Creek Trail, but will after my next trip. Unless you are good at route finding and enjoy clambering up and down over huge trees, this is a section to avoid until the Forest Service clears the trail again.
Water is still moderately plentiful at the normal spots in the backcountry, however, the lower elevations are getting really dry and the higher elevations will dry soon. By the end of the season, I’d expect only the largest and most reliable sources to be running.
As always, your trip reports and trail condition comments are welcome. I no longer am able to get in early in the season and review all the trails, so I and others depend on YOU passing along information.
Last week I went in to the Granite Chief Wilderness at Granite Chief Trail, from Squaw Valley, and camped on top of Granite Chief (9018 feet). The wind howled all night, probably 30-40 mph, so I didn’t sleep much, but the stars were brilliant and the sunset and sunrise worthwhile.
Several times in the days leading up to the trip and even on the trip, I changed my plans about where I was going to go. I headed to Whiskey Creek Camp and on towards Picayune Valley, on the Western States Trail. The trail is in general in good condition, though I did brushing of whitethorn on about 30 feet of trail that was brushed in. Whitethorn requires a sacrifice of blood, as the thorn inevitably find their way to bare skin no matter how careful I am.
The section just below PIcayune saddle as the trail drops into the valley, however, is a total mess of downed trees. It took me quite a while to figure out where the trail even went. And below that it is pretty brushy for a ways. And below that, in good condition again. Some group has been doing trail work in the valley, light brushing and some tread work, and that is appreciated.
I camped at my favorite Picayune Valley campsite, right beside the creek on a sandy patch, with all the sky open to stars at night. Though it clouded up and there were fewer stars than the night before. The next day I walked out to the trailhead, so see what trail conditions are. Good. Talked to several day hikers, as this trail gets more day hike use than overnight use. The wilderness boundary sign has been moved to the new location, just east of the Talbot Trailhead. These lands were purchased by the American River Conservancy and have been added to the wilderness, so there is now a mile of additional wilderness trail here. Of course the lands have been logged and it will be years before it looks like wilderness again, but this is the first step to restoration.
While on the dayhike, it occurred to me that maybe now, with relatively cool weather for the summer, and no specific plans, I should hike the ADT-CA-3 section of the American Discovery Trail, which is the extension of the Western States Trail westward. So I grabbed my pack and hiked out, to Lewis Campground, from which my trip continues at https://allisondan.blog/2018/07/10/adt-ca-3-2018-07/.
Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157698464067794
For my first trip of the season I mostly did trail work on the Powderhorn Trail. Working down from the top, I cleared brush, of which there is not all that much, and cleared or thinned young conifer trees, of which there is an infinite supply. The conifer trees seem nice, but if they are within four feet of the trail, and grow up, their branches always encroach on the trail. When there is dense conifer seedlings on both sides, it often essentially closes the trail. And of course as a natural process of thinning, most of these would eventually die on their own, but that leaves a tearing dead tree that is much harder to cut and remove than it was when it was alive. When it is clear that one tree is growing faster than the others, therefore quicker to reach the point where branches are above trail level, I leave that one and remove all the shorter ones around it.
I completed the work from the top to the postpile meadow, about 1/3 of the 3.5 miles, and did a minor amount of work below that. There are many days of work left to go, so unless a trail crew goes in, it will be several years before the trail is in good condition again. But it is usable, if not for downed trees.
There were eight down trees, six of which an be bypassed easily, and two of which hikers can clambered over or around but horses cannot pass. There is a moderate amount of winter debris, the branches that fall during the winter and can be stepped over, but when removed make a much nicer walk.
On the Five Lakes Trail, there were about five downed trees, none hazardous and all easy to go around.
I walked in from Kaspian Campground on Hwy 89 (a nearby bus stop), up Barker Pass road and then the old jeep trail to Barker Pass (steep but quiet and beautiful), then along Forest Road 3 to Powderhorn trailhead, and in. From Diamond Crossing, the junction of the Powderhorn, Hell Hole, and Five Lakes Creek trails, I walked up Five Lakes Creek trail to Whiskey Camp and then out at Alpine Meadows trailhead and down to River Ranch on Hwy 89 (a nearby bus stop).
There are patches of snow along the ridges, but most snow is gone. Many of the tributary creeks and creeklets are still flowing, but low, and will probably dry by mid-July. The flowers are moderate, in some places it is still early season and flowers have not developed, and in other places they are fading already.
My latest trip was primarily for trail maintenance on the PCT, and after 11 years, I feel caught up. I removed the last brushed-in section, between what I call Two Towers (Lord of the Rings reference) and Twin Peaks. Of course in order to get done, I had to accept many places that could use brushing, and leave them for the future. In particular, the pine mat manzanita and sagebrush is pushing into the trail and narrowing the tread. It isn’t hard to clear, but is a lot of detailed work that I’ve often put off “for next year.”
The reason I pick this part of the PCT to work on every year is not just that it needs brushing, but that I so love spending time on this ridge. The views east are spectacular, over Lake Tahoe and the weather over the Carson Range, often thunderstorms developing when the main crest is clear. The views west are intriguing, down into the wilderness, where the real wilderness is, and beyond, to the coast ranges. When the valley air is clear, not often, the details of the coast range and Bay Area are clear, and at night the lights in the valley, kind of neat at a distance. Usually thunderstorms develop over Nevada, the Carson Range, and sometimes move west to the crest, but on Wednesday moisture coming from the west developed some thunderheads, thunder, and light rain for a half hour, while the Carson Range was mostly clear.
When there is snow on the ridge, usually in banks on the east just below the ridge where it gets blown during the winter in strong winds, I can melt snow and stay up here for many days. I use my black Jetboil pot to melt, and I can keep up with my daily use if I stay on top of the melting.
I went in on the Granite Chief Trail from Squaw Valley, which has a few trees down but easy to get around, then south along the PCT. Granite Chief saddle has a lot of snow on the north side, but the route is not hard to find. People southbound rarely have problems here, but many northbound hikers drop too far down into Shirley Canyon and have a hard time finding the trail again. The trail from the saddle south to the TRT/PCT junction is in good condition, a few tress down but surprisingly few, some trail erosion but not bad.
I hiked out the TRT to Tahoe City, so don’t have anything to report about the TRT/PCT south to Barker Pass, but I’d guess many snow banks but no big issues. Other than snow banks on the upper portion, the TRT trail down into Ward Creek and Tahoe City is in good condition, having been logged out already by a TRTA trail crew.
The PCT thru hikers are out in force, but interestingly, about half were going south, having skipped over the high Sierra to Donner or even Ashland and now heading south to pick up the section with somewhat less snow. Looking into the Desolation Wilderness, however, snow there is still deep and must be much deeper at high elevations to the south. Dicks Pass is 9400, but the highest pass on the PCT is 13,143, Forester Pass. There were people who had come through the high Sierra headed north, but I have to say that they all looked beat and not very happy. I think the route flippers were much happier.
The next big project on my list, for next year, is to work on the Powderhorn Trail. If anyone hikes that and has conditions to report, please do so. I think the middle section is in horrible condition, brushed closed in spots, but I haven’t been there in two years, so I’m guessing.
Photos on Flickr (more later, these are ones from my iPhone which are easy to upload, but I also used my regular camera)