Tag Archives: McKinstry Trail

more Hell Hole area trail work

My July 18-24 backpack was into the Hell Hole area of the wilderness, mostly for trail work.

I went in at Granite Chief trailhead in Squaw Valley, and up to the PCT. I camped along the ridge with a view west and particularly northwest, but there was a band of clouds in that direction and I did not see the comet. From there I headed south on the PCT, turned to Whiskey Creek Camp, and south along the Five Lakes Creek Trail. From Diamond Crossing I went down the Hell Hole Trail, doing some light trail work along the way, and down to the junction near the reservoir with what I call the Hell Hole Connector Trail, which goes to the road into lower Greyhorse Creek, and the McKinstry ‘trail’ route down from south of the Rubicon.

I manage to follow the Hell Hole Trail all of the time from Diamond Crossing to Steamboat Creek now, with the trail definition I’ve done, but I sometimes still lose the trail for a while from Steamboat Creek down to the bottom. The problem is that there have been many trails, many of them marked with rock ducks and cairns, so if I get off the main trail, I find other trails and it takes me a while to realize. Nevertheless, it is now much easier to find your way than it used to be. Someone has marked parts with orange flagging, and there was only one place the orange flagging was in the wrong place, and I removed it.

From the junction near the reservoir, I went upstream to where the ‘trail’ route crosses Five Lakes Creek, and camped near there. My time down in the canyon was split between exploring to find trails and doing trail work. I walked about half way out to dam along the trail 14E02. I had thought this trail did not exist, but it does, and it is actually in pretty good condition. From the Upper Hell Hole Campground, there is a clear trail to the upper campground area, and then a vague short trail connecting to this trail, and that is how I accessed it. Coming back, I followed it eastward. Though the trail becomes vague, and then mostly disappears when it drops into a forested flat, it does seem to go all the way to the Rubicon River, very near where a waterfall area forces the route from Five Lake Creek area up and over a bench. The official maps show this, more or less, though I did not really believe them. I also explored the many routes between the trail at Five Lakes Creek and the Rubicon River. There are several routes in places, only one in other places. Where the seemingly main route comes down to the Rubicon River, there is a campsite with a heart shaped rock wired to a tree, not far from a pond on the divide between the creek and river. Just upstream along the river is a thicket of huckleberries, which are rare in this area and at this elevation.

My main objective was to further locate and define the trail between the Hell Hole junction and Five Lakes Creek. I partly found the trail, though across the manzanita flat I could not really tell where the trail had been because the manzanita had grown so thick over the years. I cleared a new or old trail through the manzanita, so that there is now a visible trail for about half the distance. I also think that I have located the traces of trail to link together to complete the other half, but there will be at least one more trail work trip to make that visible. And, then, there is the whole question of the McKinstry Trail which crosses the river and climbs south to a road. I don’t know whether it exists anymore. I’ve heard various and conflicting information. That will probably have to wait for next year, as it will take this year to clear the trail to get to the Rubicon.

I have a GPS track for the section of the McKinstry Trail I’ve made visible, but it needs some editing, so is not posted the my GaiaGPS maps yet.

All of the creeks are now rock-hopable. Some of the smaller creeks and the ones which are seasonal every year have dried. Steamboat Creek was still flowing at the time of my trip, but was dropping, and I very much doubt that it still flows, at least at the trail crossing.

I went back out via the PCT and Five Lakes Trail, to catch the bus at River Ranch.

Trail conditions:

  • Granite Chief Trail: good condition, some brushy areas but no problems
  • PCT, Granite Chief Trail to Whiskey Creek Camp Trail: good condition with a few downed trees and a few brushy areas
  • Whiskey Creek Camp Trail: good condition, one downed tree
  • Five Lakes Creek Trail, Whiskey Creek Camp to Diamond Crossing: many downed trees so that it is becoming unpleasant and slow to walk; this trail has not been logged out in many years; severe tread erosion in may places
  • Hell Hole Trail, Diamond Crossing to junction with McKinstry Trail: hard to follow from Diamond Crossing down to Five Lakes Creek, easy to follow to Steamboat Creek, challenging to follow from Steamboat Creek to junction, but mostly visible and marked with rock ducks; many downed trees but with ways around or over all of them
  • McKinstry Trail: no longer a trail, but a route that can be followed with close attention to maps/GPS tracks and visible remnants and rock ducks; unknown condition past the crossing of the Rubicon River
  • PCT, Whiskey Creek Camp Trail to Squaw Saddle Trail: good condition, some brush
  • Squaw Saddle Trail: good condition
  • Five Lakes Creek Trail, to Alpine Meadows Trailhead: good condition

I’m off for a trip in the Mokelumne Wilderness, and then back to the Granite Chief for my next trip in September. For my readers and backpackers, enjoy your travels, and let me know of your experiences.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157715387628207; Collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157637640215275/.

trail work

My trip July 2-9 was mostly into the Hell Hole Trail area. I went in at Alpine Meadows trailhead, down Five Lakes Creek, to Hell Hole Trail and McKinstry Trail, and then back out via Powderhorn Trail, north along the PCT, and out at Alpine Meadows ski area.

The Five Lakes Creek Trail is in gradually deteriorating condition, with more down trees added to the existing ones, and more issues with tread erosion. The Hell Hole Trail is in decent shape though there are downed trees that have now been there for years, and a few more are added every year. I have been working on defining the tread, so the trail is becoming somewhat easier to follow, though some sections still have a lot of winter debris accumulation. The trail from Diamond Crossing down disappears as it approaches Five Lakes Creek, due to thick willows and downfall, but it is not too hard to find a way through. The trail from there to below Steamboat Creek (which was still flowing well) is in decent condition, though it requires close attention to follow. There are a large number of oak trees down over the trail switchbacks about 2/3 of the way down the hill to the lower end of the trail, but you can bypass them by paying close attention.

I did some more work on what I’ll call the McKinstry Trail, from the junction at the bottom of the Hell Hole Trail, so it is now defined from the point near Five Lakes Creek crossing to about a third the distance back to the junction. But the 2/3 closer to the junction is very hard to find, and I have not yet identified what the best route is. I’m sure the original trail just headed across the forested flats, but the helicopter logging that left all the debris, and a weakened forest generating downfall, has completely obscured these sections. Eventually I’ll figure and and define the best route, but for now, one just has to head in the right directly and hope to pick up the trail again.

After crossing lower Five Lakes Creek, the route again is lost in the forested flats. It shows up again where it climbs up on the ridge separating Five Lakes Creek drainage from the Rubicon River, and is marked with rock ducks to where it comes back down to the river. I have not been past the crossing of the Rubicon in years, so the condition of the rest of the McKinstry Trail is unknown to me. There are also use trails that follow the ridge between the two drainages down towards the reservoir, but I haven’t been on those in years either.

Heading back out, I took the Powderhorn Trail, which has more downed trees but is not in bad condition, walked the road to Barker Pass, and headed back north on the PCT. The PCT is in good condition from Barker to the PCT/TRT junction. After all these years, it seems the the Tahoe Rim Trail Association has finally reached the desired state of good repair: no downed trees, no brushy sections, tread in good condition. Thank you! North of that junction there are a few downed trees, and some areas needing brushing (which apparently only I do, but I haven’t done in about three years). I intended to go out through Five Lakes back to the trailhead, but realized there were going to be hundreds of people on that trail, so I went out through the Alpine Meadows ski area, which is no shorter than the trail, but I only saw one person.

Rubicon River near McKinstry Trail

I’m just about to head back into the same area, to do a little more trail work and a little more exploring.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157715140370061

Hell Hole part 2

As is not unusual, I forgot to complete my post on the final trip of the 2019 season. I only had two trips in 2019 because deep snow kept me out of the mountains until mid-July, so instead I backpacked parts of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. And was back at work in mid-August, with my long weekends otherwise occupied.

This was another trip into the Hell Hole Trail for maintenance and trail finding. I have tried many times over the years to create a single track for the Hell Hole Trail from Steamboat Creek down to the intersection with the McKinstry Trail, but failed. This time I finally succeeded, but it took two days of walking up and down, and some editing of the resulting GPS track when I got off track despite all my prior explorations. The trail is now available on GaiaGPS in my Granite Chief folder, labeled as ‘Granite Chief HellHoleTrail lower’. I spent some time working on the least obvious spots, but the trail is still hard to follow and I’d not be surprised if others lost the trail. The gully section is marked with cairns (rock piles of three or more large rocks), but unfortunately so are many of the less than desirable routes. In 2020 I hope go back and define the trail better. I cleared and defined the trail from Steamboat Creek to where it first comes into the gully, which stays higher on the slope than many of the other routes. I think this may actually be a bear trail rather than the official route, but it works better than the others, so it is the one I’ve used. I’ve changed the track color to yellow, which means a route rather than a trail, since much of it is still hard to follow. This trail is not safe for horses. Most of it is, but there are three cruxes where the trail has slipped away and the tread is too precarious. Though, long ago, this was definitely a horse trail. I’ve wondered if the gully was similar when the horse trail was still usable, or if it developed afterwards and is why it is no longer horse-usable. Don’t know.

I also worked the trail section from the jeep road to Grayhorse Creek to the junction with the lower trail (above) and the route that heads up Five Lakes Creek and sort of connects to the McKinstry Trail. This 4WD, high clearance most of the way until it starts dropping into Grayhorse Creek, take off from FR 24 near the Hell Hole Guard Station (not in use). The part from the trailhead, which is unmarked, to Grayhorse Creek was well overgrown in many places, but is now followable. If you are coming down the jeep road, the trail starts at a little grassy bench just before the last very steep road down to the reservoir. Early in the season, Grayhorse Creek roars down its gorge and may be impossible to cross at the trail. I did some work on the remainder from the creek to the trail junction, but it is not as clear and may be hard to follow in places. If the reservoir is down, you can also follow the shoreline from the base of the 4WD road and informal camping area, to the old mining road, and thence up to the trail crossing. The junction with the Hell Hole Trail lower is not obvious, but is on top of a ridge just beyond a bouldery dry creek. This section is available in GaiaGPS as ‘Granite Chief HellHole connector’, orange on the map. Note that this is the same Grayhorse Creek that the Grayhorse Trail follows, but the two sections are about four miles from each other.

Grayhorse Creek at trail crossing

I’ve done a little bit of work on the trail section east of the junction, but can pretty much guarantee you won’t be able to follow it. In fact, there are several vague routes, which don’t always connect with each other. It will be many days work to find, and then make obvious, that trail. Nevertheless, there are many wonderful things to be seen along lower Five Lakes Creek and the Rubicon River, so if you are adventurous, don’t let the lack of a trail keep you out. You might even run into the fragments of trail I have worked.

While doing trail work, I camped on the granite ridge which overlooks the Rubicon canyon, just south of Steamboat Creek. It is a great place to watch sunrises and sunsets, and the stars through the night. As I’ve stated elsewhere, Steamboat Creek is seasonal at the trail crossing, but it was still flowing for this trip. If it is dry at the crossing, either explore up or down the creek to find water, or just pick up water at Buckeye Creek on your way there. If you are coming up from the bottom, carry enough water to make Buckeye Creek in case Steamboat is dry. There are some small seeps in the gully, but I think they are seasonal as well.

sunset from camping spot

In my previous Hell Hole Trail post, I had noted an old trail sign and wondered if it marked the old Buckeye Trail (no longer a trail) junction, and yes, it does. I followed the trail for a half mile, and it is clear that it was at one time, long ago, constructed, though I don’t know whether it an be followed further. Another exploration for another trip!

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157710205332747

Trails on GaiaGPS: https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/folder/5b4e23c555d0dc5fd992f16948fb09de/

Hell Hole & Bear Pen 2008-08-08

Rubicon watershed

Rubicon watershed

I had an interesting trip through the Granite Chief and surrounding areas last week, starting at Barker Pass and coming back to it after some wild times through the Rubicon River drainage, Hell Hole Trail, and Bear Pen.

I started at Barker Pass, walked south along the PCT/TRT to Miller Creek, and then headed west on the Rubicon “trail” which is an OHV trail. I’d heard about this trail for years, but had avoided it, and certainly never driven it since I have only a passenger car. I actually enjoyed the people I talked to along the way. Hiking up out of the Rubicon River, the OHV trail gets worse and worse, but the traffic seems to stay low and the people friendly and responsible. From Buck Island Lake north, closer to “civilization,” however, the people get worse and worse. More trash, more blaring music, more frowns, more toilet paper everywhere, more transmission fluid on the ground, fewer Jeeps and more breakdowns. I was glad to leave the OHV trail and head north along a logging road. Of course on that road there where whining crotch rockets, zooming up and down, for entertainment value. It is interesting to see when things cross over from people who use their vehicles, of whatever sort, to access nature, and when they use them simply for entertainment and could care less about nature.

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