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.
- 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/.