Tag Archives: trail maintenance

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.

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)

PCT trail maintenance trips

I’ve had two backpacks this year doing trail maintenance on the Pacific Crest Trail through the Granite Chief Wilderness. Since almost all my time was up on the PCT, I don’t have anything to report about the rest of the wildneress, but since I have two more backpack trips coming up, will have a report on much if not all of the trail system.

I brushed from Granite Chief trail on the north to Five Lakes Creek in the middle, and the trail is in good condition except for a short 0.1 mile part between Whiskey Creek Camp trail and Five Lakes trail that I didn’t get done, though it is not bad. I also did the Whiskey Creek Camp trail since it was getting a bit brushy. While in this area I spent some time exploring around Five Lakes Creek and Whiskey Creek, looking for the old trails that were there before the new PCT alignment was completed. In some places these old trails are easy to follow, but no always. I still think there is a trail on the south side of Five Lakes Creek to Big Spring Meadow, but so far I haven’t located it.

On the second trip I focused on the PCT north from the PCT/TRT trail junction near Twin Peaks. There are several sections here that are very brushy, and a few that are essentially closed in. I got all but one of these opened up again, to a point where they should be OK for about five years. But there is one very brushy section that I did not get to, and will be very bad by next year. It is about 0.2 miles. I did spot brushing on the remainder, and it is in decent shape but could use work. I think this year I accomplished what I have not in several years, keeping up with the rate of brush growth, though not gaining on it, which is why there are some badly brushed-in sections left. Next year perhaps I’ll get those last very brushy parts done, and be “caught up” at least for a couple of years.

PCT trail before

PCT trail before brushing, overgrown with tobacco brush

PCT trail after

PCT trail after brushing, cleared to five-year width

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

brushing and strange weather 2014-06

I spent two days last week brushing part of the Pacific Crest Trail that runs through Granite Chief Wilderness. This section, north of the PCT-Tahoe Rim Trail junction by Twin Peaks, is one that I started working on in 2006, when I discovered that that trail was brushed closed and people were getting lost. The part I just did was nearly but not quite brushed closed again. Brushing by myself goes very slowly, particularly when I come to an area that has a lot of small stems instead of a few big ones. I finished about 200 feet of trail. There is about a half mile of trail remaining to do. Some plants get bushy when trimmed back, others grow again in the same pattern of a few large stems that can be pretty easily cut. I realized last year that unless I spent much more of my summers brushing than I wanted, I was not going to keep up with this brushy section. Nevertheless, I like doing the work and will continue to do some every summer.

PCT before brushing

PCT after brushing PCT before and after brushing

Continue reading