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Found it!

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Found it!
April 10, 2017 07:40PM
Saturday morning was a bit chilly in Three Rivers, but the weekend forecast was for spring-like conditions. As we drove towards the trailhead, we still hadn't quite decided what the trailhead would be: Wolverton or Hospital Rock. We needed to stop at Hospital Rock to leave one of the cars, and we decided that it was time to start walking.

Since the road to Buckeye Flat and the Middle Fork trailhead was still gated closed, our hike started with a nice road walk, where we had views of Paradise Creek, which we had visited a few months ago.

Towards the east were the high peaks of the Great Western Divide, some under many feet of snow, and others covered with a light dusting from the previous day.

One concern we had had with starting at Wolverton is that we could conceivably end up on the wrong side of several deep stream crossings. Heading the other way, the theory was that if we could cross it heading east, we could cross it again on the return trip. The first such crossing, Moro Creek, was chilly but only maybe mid-calf deep.

This was the final low-elevation SEKI TrailQuest section for JKW and the Great Pink One. I had hiked this trail many years ago, but had mostly fond memories of it and looked forward to the repeat. The trail passed through mostly low-elevation chaparral as it slowly climbed and approached the white peaks in the distance.

On a high ridge across the river from us we could see the tops of some sequoias in the remote Castle Creek grove.

Most of the first part of our hike could have been in the coastal mountains, but a few places revealed the granite that the Sierra Nevada is famous for.

To the south, we could see that we were gradually making it past the Castle Rocks.

As we neared Panther Creek, we passed a few backpackers--the first we had seen on a trail in months. The good news: Panther Creek was crossable--provided that you didn't slip and drop a shoe in the water. After a final drop we were at the Panther Creek crossing, just above the all-but-impossible-to-see waterfall.

The water here was deeper than Moro Creek, and a bit colder, but the crossing was otherwise uneventful. Just across the creek a group had hauled in, and set up, a large car-camping tent.

The temperature was quite warm as we headed to the next crossing: Mehrten Creek. Along the way, we had encountered numerous branches and trees that had fallen across the trail, a combination of wet soil, high wind, and (for the pines) death from several years of drought.

Before crossing this creek, we stopped at a place with a nice view to have lunch.

When the air was calm it was very warm, but occasionally a cool breeze would hit us. In the distance, we could see it blowing snow off the high peaks.

At one point we passed by a small rock in the trail that somewhat resembled a famous large rock to the north.

The Mehrten crossing was no worse than Panther; in fact the water may have been a bit warmer.

Just past this crossing, a large rock had very recently broken loose from the hillside above the trail, and came to rest precariously just below it.

Our next interim destination was Buck Creek, which fortunately would be bridged. We could also just make out where Redwood Meadow grove was.

A large granite wall marked Buck Creek, and eventually the trail dropped below it.

There is a well-developed trail-side campsite just past the Buck Creek bridge, but we still had a few hours of daylight, and we didn't want to be in a canyon where the sun would set early and rise late and the air would be cool, so we pressed on.

Perhaps because there were no sequoias to "boop" and very few trail signs, it had become a thing to call "Found it!" every time we could see Moro Rock--which was basically every time we turned around and looked behind us.

We eventually decided it was time to start looking for a campsite, and the map suggested a nearby ridge might have promise. At higher elevations this would almost always have been true, but in mid-elevation chaparral, well, we were lucky to find a small break in the manzanita and oak to set up our tent.

On the plus side, we would get as much sun as the day had to offer, we'd be among the first to experience the morning's rays, and Moro Rock was visible in the distance.

After a mild night's rest, a warm sunny morning, and a good breakfast, we headed out for a day hike. We almost immediately entered a more heavily wooded area that had a lot of deadfall.

We shortly reached the Bearpaw/Redwood Meadow trail junction and starting the climb towards the former. The trail soon topped out on a ridge with nice views of the now much-closer Great Western Divide. The cool breeze from the previous day was all but gone, and the climb was quite warm.

There were patches of snow, but what slowed us down were all the limbs and logs that had fallen across the trail.

Just below Little Bearpaw Meadow, we put on our snowshoes for the first time. All it took was maybe 100' of snow to go from thin and patchy conditions to several feet of 100% coverage..

We checked out Little Bearpaw itself, but decided to defer the climb to (Big?) Bearpaw for another day. The snow was sufficiently deep that we would have had a hard time proving, at least to the satisfaction of the TrailQuest judges, that we were actually following the trail.

Instead, we followed the faint tracks of a recent party, and the less-faint tracks of a more-recent party, down to the Middle Fork.

We were now much closer to the snow-capped peaks of the Great Western Divide, but there were enough trees that views were only occasional. One of them provided glimpses towards Valhalla, Angels Wings, and the Hamilton Lake area.

On the floor of the valley we passed by the stump of an old post--perhaps a marker for an old junction with a trail that some old maps indicated may have existed...?

We stopped for lunch just before the Middle Fork crossing. The present-day ford was near an old abutment that was the only sign of a former bridge. Fortunately, in this area the flow split into a few different channels, and none looked too swift or deep. After we were finished with our chicken* and mashed potatoes, we crossed the river.

Past--and perhaps recent--floods had caused the river to cut a deep channel in the otherwise flat valley floor, in one place leaving a tree's thick root hanging many feet over the river below it.

After a nice, mostly level stroll, we eventually reached the junction with a "bypass" trail, one I had taken on my trip to Redwood Meadow. Back then, the trail sign had almost been demolished by a large tree that had just fallen; since then someone had relocated it.

Despite this year having record snowfall, I had encountered more snow in this area when I had been here previously. No complaints, and after the short Eagle Creek crossing, we were soon at the Granite Creek bridge.

Past this bridge, the snow-covered trail traversed high above Granite Creek.

In not too much time we left this snow behind and were soon booping sequoias.

Redwood Meadow grove is much smaller than Redwood Mountain, Garfield, or the Giant Forest, but it does have several large sequoias.

We took a short side trip to check out the closed ranger station and corrals.

We unfortunately still had more TrailQuest mileage to check off, so we couldn't linger in the grove for too long, but we did pass a few large trees on the way out.

Although there was a bridge at the upper crossing of Granite Creek, the one at the lower crossing had washed out years ago and hadn't been replaced. When I was last here a log provided an alternative to fording the creek, but that log was nowhere to be seen, so we had to wade across its deep, swift waters.

Whatever had caused the old bridge to wash away had raised the creek many feet; the old abutments were high above the water.

Before returning to our tent, there was one more section of trail we (well, they) needed to do, so we climbed back up to the junction we had passed a few hours earlier, then retraced our steps back, before continuing across the Middle Fork. The Middle Fork bridge had also seen some damage, but was still in service.

We had one final climb on our way back to the tent, but the views provided sufficient distraction.

We eventually reached the Bearpaw/Redwood Meadow junction and were officially done with all the TrailQuest in this area--although we will still have to return to Redwood and Bearpaw Meadows from other directions to finish more trails.

We got to our tent with just enough light to unpack and get in before it was dark.

We also located Moro Rock one last time for the day.

The night had been even more mild and the morning was downright warm. After breakfast, we packed up our camp and began our hike back to the trailhead. It would be much easier to "find" Moro Rock hiking in this direction.

The snow on the high peaks behind us glistened under the sun that was getting warmer and warmer.

Although the endless snow and rain made it seem like winter would never end, to some flowers along the trail it was already spring.

As we descended, we were glad that we were not attempting this route in late spring or summer.

A bit before Panther Creek, JKW found a sleeping bag in its stuffsack with no owner nearby. Fortunately, we ran into said owner at Panther and were able to return the misplaced item.

Eventually we were looking straight across at Castle Rock; our trailhead was nearby.

As we neared Moro Creek we could see that the parking lot was empty; the Buckeye Flat road was still closed.

We had changed into water-crossing shoes at all wet crossings, but as Moro Creek was our final crossing, we kept our winter boots/shoes on, hoping that the 2 mile road walk would give them a chance to dry out a bit.

At the trailhead we stopped for a snack and looked back at where we had been.

Our shoes were still squishy wet when we got to Hospital Rock, but we didn't care. It had been a great trip, and we had knocked off some hard-to-reach TrailQuest segments.

* Don't worry, no stuffed chickens were harmed in the making of this meal.
Re: Found it!
April 11, 2017 06:57AM
I can't help but wonder what forces did all that damage
to that bridge, but lacked the horsepower to bring it
clear down. Interesting.
Re: Found it!
April 11, 2017 09:51AM
Some Thoughts.

  • Deadfall and debris - As we expected, there was a lot of deadfall to work around. Reports given to the wilderness office and to us directly from those we met fresh off the trail or heading out on it... no one mentioned the deadfall, they all fussed about the water crossings...
  • Water Crossing tips - The water crossings were my biggest concern going into the trip. I've gone through some nasty crossings where if you go down, it's over. None of these had the same immediate intensity, though all had the potential for big bad. The biggest concern was Panther Creek as every other major crossing was NOT necessary. Reports had made it sound pretty bad. Especially for a shorter person like me. Could be timing, but when we actually did hit it, it was a very standard crossing. No issues at all. And as Basilbop mentioned, we met a couple hiking out as we were going in. The guy had lost his shoe crossing Panther. He was holding his shoes which were apparently not tied together since he was wearing one of them. He stumbled and dropped one and it went over the fall. We tied our shoes together securely and then secured them to our packs up on crossing. We three used hiking poles in each hand during every crossing.

    • Thin neoprene booties - Chick-on had suggested these long before, and I'd finally bought a pair a year ago, but we really didn't have any creek crossings of note last year. None that were cold, at any rate. So this trip was my first time trying them out. Loved them. They did two things - keep me from getting that initial gut-clench from super cold water. (I'm used to putting my feet into ice water, but it takes a lot of mental energy to do this without screaming - at least for me - and it was nice to be able to have that extra mental energy to focus on the footing and actual moving.) Second benefit - the little gritty/pokey bits that can wash into my Crocs under my feet - they no longer hurt, so again, more ability to concentrate on the walking.
    • Crocs - I've used Crocs for water crossing for years now. Always barefoot in the crocs before. They provide protection from the rocks and other debris in the creek beds and give me really good grip. We saw one guy fall because his bare foot slipped on a rock. The barefoot-crossers were treating their accumulated nicks and cuts and abrasions last we saw them at Panther. As Basilbop mentioned, we just walked through Moro on the way out and lived with wet shoes. This is not ideal with water proof shoes which do not drain and dry out as nicely as our summer shoes do, but none of us suffered. In summer, I generally don't stop and walk right through the creeks without fiddling with gear. We figure this saves about 6 minutes per change. 12-15 minutes per crossing. Adds up if you are doing a lot of crossings. Not recommended with waterproof shoes, nor in full winter when you can't expect to warm your feet up properly. Though.. I did do this once this winter - had to keep moving the entire rest of the day to the car!

      Chick-on decided to carry his summer shoes and used they neoprene socks with them. The advantage was he could walk normally between close creek crossings, whereas Basilbop and I had to change back to hiking shoes every time. But our options were easier to carry when wet.

      Basilbop used a different type of shoe and no neoprene socks. My crocs do not give as much protection as real trail shoes and socks do... but that's offset with how quickly they dry off and the cush underfoot! Pick a system that works for you, but barefoot? good luck unless you are well-conditioned. Odds are not in our favor with the number of creek crossings we generally do.
    • Patience - Take the time to scope out the crossing, figure out where the shallowest areas should be. Widest areas generally best. There is plenty written out there on how to choose, how to do. Given the nutty reports we heard about the crossings, all we could figure is that people took some really bad routes and hit deeper or faster water than necessary. And some reports were just too close to the last storm...when runoff is higher.
      We also saw one young guy rock hop and then use a wet log. Good for him. Too risky for me. I took the time to change into the water shoes and walk across without any drama.
    • Crab walk - I use hiking poles. I keep three points planted in fast moving water at all times. Only one point moves at a time. I had one moment in one crossing, the lower Granite Creek crossing where I got pushed a little off balance, but I shifted my weight back more over my poles and other leg, caught my breath and kept working it. I'm shorter than the guys and I was definitely getting pushed around a bit more on that crossing. It was over mid-thigh and I got splashed higher up.

  • New REI Quarter Dome 3 - We had the relatively newly redesigned REI Quarter Dome 3 the last couple of years and loved it. We bought and used the Big Agnes Slater UL3+ for this recent winter - much warmer, nice to have a big vestibule... But we were going to move back into the lighter QD3... and... REI releases a newer version! I spent a couple of hours with it in the store and though it had some drawbacks, I figured the big sell would be the extra interior space - headroom and width of usable space in the tent. A little heavier in the pole system, but worth it to have the seriously expanded space. We fell in love immediately with it this trip. Very happy. Good for REI for making decent livable yet light backpacking tents!

    And yes, I was a fan of bivy sacks and simple shelters as needed before.. But with three of us, the tent is way more convenient and warm and comfortable for meals, bugs, warmth, TV time, you name it! And with the bigger 3 person tents, I'm not suffering from the claustrophobia I've experienced in our older much smaller 2 person tents. YMMV, but the key point - never say never - keep an open mind - be willing to change.
avatar Re: Found it!
April 11, 2017 10:21AM
Good stuff! I bet that would be a real scorcher in summer.
avatar Re: Found it!
April 11, 2017 06:33PM
Great to get a glimpse over towards Hamilton Lakes. Great views of Castle Rocks. Thanks for the post.
avatar Re: Found it!
April 12, 2017 07:43AM
Great TR. Thanks for posting.

I'll only add one of mine ... the lighting wasn't great but imo it is stellar in 3D...

Overall awesome decisions, route, campsite, and boop!

Old Dood should recognize that big Sequoia! He was there... like in 2003 or something.
smiling smiley

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Found it!
April 12, 2017 08:11AM
I truly enjoyed the trip... and marking off the various loops we did on my TQ map! So much still to do though.. shucky darn! winking smiley
avatar Re: Found it!
April 12, 2017 04:36PM
Very nice 3-D shot! And would OD have recognized that big Sequioa from way back in 2003? It was probably tiny back then...
avatar Re: Found it!
April 13, 2017 06:27PM
Very nice 3-D shot! And would OD have recognized that big Sequioa from way back in 2003? It was probably tiny back then...

You might not recognize OD!
smiling smiley

Chick-on is looking at you!
avatar Re: Found it!
April 13, 2017 08:02PM
Not so OD?
Re: Found it!
April 12, 2017 06:04PM
Thanks for the great trip report and pictures.
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