Category Archives: Trip Reports

Hell Hole Trail

I spent the second half of my recent backpack trip working on the Hell Hole Trail, specifically the upper part between Diamond Crossing (junction with Five Lakes Creek Trail and Powderhorn Trail) and Steamboat Creek.

Over the last few years, there has been more and more down trees on the trail, but by far the worst part was a ways past Buckeye Creek where there is a tangle of down trees in an Incense Cedar forest. This had gotten so bad that the bears had stopped using it and made their own way, with trails above it and below it, and the trail itself had essentially disappeared. The issue with the bear trails is that, though they eventually reconnect, it is quite some distance before they do, and a hiker is likely to notice there is no people maintenance and no people marking, and figure they are ‘lost’. Happened to me twice, and once was quite a long detour. So, I spent some while finding the trail again, and defining it well enough that it can be followed. I only take light trail tools, including a folding Fiskars saw, so can’t do anything about most of the down trees, but most of them are easy to step over or climb over, so defining the trail well enough to follow, keeps hikers on track.

There is also a lot of winter debris (that is what I call the branch litter that covers the trail after the snow melts, though any wind storm contributes to the debris). This can also make the trail quite hard to follow, so in confusing spots, I cleared the debris, perhaps a quarter of the total. There are a number of leaning trees, young white firs mostly but other species as well, that make the trail hard to use, and I was able to cut many but not all of those.

The section from Diamond Crossing junction down to the crossing of Five Lake Creek is partly marked with small rock ducks. There is a defined trail in places, but trees keep falling on the trail at the lower end, and when I’ve made bypasses, trees have fallen on those as well. Coming from Diamond Crossing, if you just keep heading downhill along the drainage, you will hit Five Lake Creek close enough to the crossing. Going up hill, it is easier to lose the trail, but you will eventually hit either the Five Lakes Creek Trail or Powderhorn Trail, and get back on track.

So, the status is that anyone who has a careful eye out for the trail should be able to use the trail again. However, beyond Steamboat Creek, you are on your own. I have neither walked nor maintained any of the lower trail in the last two years, and even that was minimal.

Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia) at Steamboat Creek

At the time of my trip, 2019-07-21/25, Five Lakes Creek was a calf-deep wade across a wide bar in the river. I always stay clear of the down tree tangle downstream, far more dangerous than anything in the creek. Both forks of Buckeye Creek were flowing, and I believe at least the eastern fork is year-round. Steamboat Creek was flowing well, however, it dries up at the trail crossing at some point during the summer, and I’m sure it will this summer. I have in other years found water upstream and downstream of the trail crossing, but there are no guarantees. If you are going, stock up on water at Buckeye Creek, as it is a long ways to Five Lakes Creek below, or the reservoir shoreline, if Steamboat is dry.

I followed the lower Hell Hole Trail a ways from the Steamboat Creek crossing. This section used to be obvious, but it is getting harder and harder to follow, and I lost it before getting to the gully. The bears have abandoned this trail, seeming to go above across the slope, but there may be other bear trails I did not find or notice. Coming up the gully, one apparent trail leads into a pretty valley between two ridges, but so far I’ve not found a route out of that valley and back to the main trail, so this may be a red herring. If the bears have their doubts, then I have my doubts, and I am not sure that the old trail alignment is the best route anymore. My next trip will be in part to determine what the best route is. I know that the bears are still going between lower Five Lakes Creek and middle Five Lakes Creek, but I don’t know what they have decided is the best route.

A little tidbit. Steamboat Creek is NOT where it is shown on the maps. The USGS map, and every map based on it, which is probably every map including GaiaGPS and the Forest Service base maps, has it to the east of its actual location. It is not that far off, only about 300 meters, but it is off.

GaiaGPS now offers the Forest Service base maps (USFS 2016 CalTopo), and it is interesting to see what the Forest Service shows for trail locations as opposed to other maps such as GaiaGPS, USGS, and Trails Illustrated. I am not sure which maps are available to which membership levels in GaiaGPS, so you will have to explore that on your own. GaiaGPS now offers scanned 1930 maps, and the trail locations definitely vary, however, these maps have much less accurate topography, at least in rough country such as the Granite Chief, so the trails may be less accurate as well.

I noticed a trail sign on the ground that I had not seen before, below. I’m wondering if it is at one of the original locations of the west leg of the Buckskin Trail, so I will explore that on the next trip. I know that there is a vague old trail leaving the Hell Hole Trail just past Steamboat Creek, which is at least one alignment of that old trail, but there may be more than one, and some maps indicate that the trail takes off east of Steamboat Creek. I enjoy looking for and locating old trails which have not been maintained in decades, but at the same time, I want to do trail work on existing trails so that they don’t meet the same fate!

Photos on Flickr (this includes the entire 10 day trip, not just the Hell Hole portion): https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157710021027427.

Tevis & Talbot Trails

The American River Conservancy purchased about 10,000 acres of private land in 2015, and some of these lands were added to the Granite Chief Wilderness. As a stewardship project before the lands were turned over to the Forest Service, old logging roads in the new area were put to sleep or rehabilitated. Drainage and creek crossings were returned to their natural contours, and the road edge was removed in many places, leaving only space for a trail.

The Tevis Trail (also called the Tevis Cup Trail, and incorrectly, the Western States Trail – though the Western States trail run occurs on this trail, it never was the historic Western States Trail, which went through Picayune Valley) was realigned in the western portion, removing it from the heavily eroded logging roads to create an actual trail. The logging road from the Forest Hill Divide saddle to the trail (where the green gate used to be, if you remember) was turned into a trail. The trailhead for this trail is now the saddle, where a road comes up from the Soda Springs side of the divide, the North Fork of the American River. I created a track for the new trail alignment, available at http://bit.ly/GCW_TevisTrail. The old alignment is shown on a jpeg map.

I’m disappointed at the design of the new trail that is not on the old logging road alignment. There are lazy looping switchbacks, at many of which the trail actually descends into the turn and then descends out of it (from the perspective of going up hill). See the diagram below, from my journal. Each of these locations will end up as a user cut-across of the switchback. Switchbacks should have climbing turns, where the trail is at no point closer to the other trail leg than at the turn. In addition, several stretches of trail are completely flat, which is remarkable given the elevation the trail must gain. I don’t know who is responsible for the trail design, but it was not done correctly. I was a trail crew foreman and trail construction instructor for the Forest Service for a number of years, and I know my trail construction techniques. Ah well, it will get corrected some day, and in the meanwhile it is much better than it was before, which was steep, eroded, rocky logging roads.

The new Talbot Trail mostly follows the alignment of the old logging road that used to connect the saddle to Talbot Campground area. Again, the roadbed was rehabilitated to a trail. Unfortunately, a lower segment that was pulled off the logging road has the same issue of lazy looping switchbacks that the Tevis Trail has. The trail comes out onto Forest Road 51 in a still open but very rough road section, where there is a Granite Chief Wilderness sign but no trail sign, then goes to the still maintained part of FR 51, which connects with the French Meadows Road going to Talbot Campground. It is unfortunate that trail energy was expended on the switchbacks when it could have been expended getting the trail closer to Talbot Campground. Again, someday, the trail will get to the campground without having to walk on hot ugly roads. The Talbot Trail track is available at http://bit.ly/GCW_TalbotTrail. This includes the portion on FR 51, which starts about where the last crossing of Talbot Creek is shown.

The cabin that used to be along the Tevis Trail is gone, with almost no trace of it remaining. I wasn’t even sure I was looking at the right place before I was able to compare photos after the trip. I understand why the Forest Service would want it gone, as it is an attractive nuisance and fire hazard, but it is still sad to see old cabins go, and the history they represent along with it. I do not know how old the cabin was.

I am making progress on my project to put all the trails, trailheads, and junctions into GaiaGPS for easier use, but it won’t be until after the summer backpacking season that I finish that and post on it.

Photos on Flickr (includes the entire 10 day backpack, not just the Tevis and Talbot trails): https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157710021027427.

Tevis to Picayune

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.

Picayune 2018-07

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

 

Powderhorn trail work 2018-06

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.

finally!

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)

Granite Chief 2016-08

Note: this trip is LAST year, 2016, which I never got around to finishing, but here it is now. I like to post on every trip, in part so that I myself can keep track of trips and where I went. 

A dry year, dogbane turns color early

I went in at Squaw Valley (bus stop) and up Granite Chief Trail to Granite Chief saddle  where I camped for the night. The next day I walked out the Tevis Cup Trail and what I call the Tevis Cup Connector, one of the old Western States Trail alignments. Tevis Cup is easy to follow and has great views, but the trail itself is unpleasant,  climbing and descending repeatedly for no good reason, and poorly maintained. The end of the trail has been re-aligned off a gravel road onto a trail that goes past old ranch or FS buildings (not sure which), but ends at the same green gate as the old route. The Tevis Cup Connector is faded and jhard to follow in some places, as it descends and crosses the Middle Fork American River and then climbs to join the Tevis Cup. 

I headed south on the PCT, doing some spot brushing along the way, and continued to Barker Pass, to Powderhorn Trail and back into the wilderness. Powderhorn is in decent shape on the upper third and lower third, but almost completely brushed in in the middle third, with whitethorn and doghair fir. I camped at Diamond Crossing, explored Bear Pen trail which I’d not beeen on in several years. It is in decent shape, not too hard to follow, but where it crosses Bear Pen Creek before the meadow, eroded banks make it necessary to climb down and back up, awkward with a pack. 

Some sort of bee or wasp is incredible abundant, everywhere but particularly along the edges of creeks. Yellow and black striped body, but no fuzziness and no constriction between the thorax and abdomen. Not sure what it is. Also saw a lot of grouse on this trip, at least 40. 

I went out Five Lakes Creek Trail, which has received some logging out, perhaps by the horse trip that comes in once a year to a Big Spring meadow, and then out to the Five Lakes trailhead. And back to Truckee by bus and back home on the train. 

Photos on Flickr; Granite Chief collection