September 7 thru 9
Rested and continued Issy’s meds for 2 days and Emily meet up with me at Valentine’s so we could leave early in the morning.
We were up early, moved my trailer back closer to Hwy 395 and headed to Pickel Meadows Marine Base where I had permission to take the trailer and horses up Wolf Creek Road. I thought this was a better option than going back to Sonora Pass since there was a trail which leads all the way to the PCT and it had been travelled by horsemen several years past. Sam Valentine took Emily’s trailer back to the same ranch where mine was and we rode up the road for about 3 or 4 miles until the road became a trail. The maps showed the trail but it wasn’t used very much and there hadn’t been any trail work done on it. What an adventure! We bush wacked back and forth getting closer to Wolf Creek Lake as we went but the north wall of the canyon enclosing the creek became too steep and rocky. I suggested that we follow the creek since it was fed by Wolf Creek Lake and by staying on the south side of it we were able to get to about 9,000 feet where I decided that the going was too rough, we would be risking our boots on the granite rocks and that it just wasn’t that important. But, Emily wouldn’t give up, she pushed on and finally found the lake and some cairns marking the way. It was certainly worth the effort since the lake was just off the PCT and as scenic as any mountain lake.
There was a horse skull there and I wondered how it had met it’s demise.
The horses were able to be hobbled and graze while we set up our tents.
The camp was windy but the horses had their blankets and we were snug in our tents before the night air set in.
This was to be a rather easy day as far as terrain was concerned, with the elevation not changing too drastically once we left the 10,000' and entered the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
We followed along the East Fork of the Carson River, travelling the length of Murray Canyon and then on up to Boulder Creek. We could see Stanislaus in the distance with Peak 9500 showing it's buff colored volcanic rock.
Nature gave us a chuckle with a tree showing it's fanny!
There was granite rock jetting up from the ground and past the trail to Golden Lake.
The ride with mostly down grades and very little climbing, was great fun covering 16 miles.
We passed a worn out looking hiker who inquired if we had seen any camp sites and we acknowledged that we were also looking. The steepness of the area just wouldn’t be good to pitch a tent.
We continued on until we got to East Fork of Wolf Creek and found a wonderful camp site but no graze. The only issue on the trail we had was that Issy fell to his knees when the trail gave way and I was grateful that he had his weight on his hind end when it happened because he just pulled himself up and continued on. We high lined the horses and made a quick dinner.
Today our goal was to get to Ebbetts Pass where we had stashed several bags of supplies in the vault toilet there. Emily left a note hoping people would realize we and the horses needed the cache; I had my doubts that neither the Forest Service nor the general public would leave it there.
We travelled up and down getting to the crest and then along Noble Canyon and then passing a knob of
granite with views of cliffs and canyons.
We encountered a south bound hiker who stopped to talk and told us about a section of the trail he felt was impassable to horses located below Carson Pass : over the miles I had found information like this from hikers to be of mixed value. Some were right on but others had no idea what horses were capable of still I wanted to know what he felt was the problem and if there was any detours he knew of. He obliged us by pulling out his map and describing the narrow, poor tread and located Forestdale Road to bypass that section. Jim also informed us that our cache was still in the restroom at Ebbetts Pass just a few hours ago when he was there. Emily beamed! Both of us were relieved that we would not have to deal with hungry horses!
Onward we travelled and arrived around 2 at the pass at the same time as a couple of hikers came from the north so we could question them about camping spots past the pass. We gathered up our supplies, repacked and headed out to one of several lakes they recommended. Within a few miles we got to a small lake where there was graze and ample space to highline the horses.
With camp set up we washed clothes and let the horses enjoy the rather course grass which they readily ate.
We were up and ready to ride early, encountering a surreal landscape of granite columnar structures passing the side trail to Kinney Reservoir and the trail to Upper Kinney Lake which was across a granite flat. Seeing this rough, rocky footing made us appreciate our last night’s camp at the small lake. We continued on toward Raymond Canyon and past the trail to Raymond Lake into a forested area traversing up and down with many switch backs. Every time we switched our direction Issy hesitated making me think his boots had accumulated sand or rocks so I stopped and checked but found neither. It became apparent that Issy’s boots were not the problem but the continuous change of direction was what he was objecting to. We passed several dry lakes and finally got to Wet Meadows and a lake hidden from the trail down an old road. This little lake offered privacy and some graze for the horses. Emily quickly set up the high line and went for a swim. I took the horses to a dried lake bed where grass had grown up between some old downed trees. This was a lovely camp site and we were becoming spoiled by our good luck to find such nice camping spots.
We broke camp early allowing the horses to graze as we did. Issy showed his annoyance at having to leave the good grass and Chaco just went with the routine. Up to the Crest and on towards Jeff Davis Peak which guided us for miles, then on to cross Blue Lakes Road where so many suggested we detour and enjoy the lakes. We decided not to pull off the trail and continued on the PCT watching Blue Lakes on our left far below.
The lakes looked low and uninviting from our vantage point but our attention was pulled toward an easily recognizable landmark called “The Nipple.”
We followed on the Sierra crest on which I routinely lead Issy since I hadn’t been able to enjoy the scenery riding him on the narrow tread with tremendous fall on both sides of the trail. This began second time we entered the Mokelumne Wilderness.
We passed up Forestdale Road which was the detour we were considering and I decided that we could always come back if the trail was indeed too difficult for the horses. The trail ran alongside of the road for a good ways and then pulled off following a small ridge along the Elephant’s Back and then I saw what hiker Jim was talking about….a thread of trail hung along the far wall of the sandstone like mountain. This was my worst fear and one that I had wrestled with on several occasions in southern California. I hated to take Issy on a trail which didn’t have adequate footing or underpinning and where one wrong step could cause him serious injury or death. I shared my apprehension with Emily and told her to give me plenty of room in case I had to halt Issy or even turn him around. But, when Issy and I got to the actual part which appeared so deadly it was not at all what I had expected. The footing was okay, the trail was sufficiently wide and only had one slide which was repaired with piled high trail matter and Issy just passed right over it never even hesitating. This seemed to be the norm for the PCT in this area. Difficult terrain was maintained in top form and I credit the tremendous efforts by the volunteer trail crews. I watched as Chaco followed and he was a steadfast trouper carrying Emily with no qualms. The trail came to a very popular lake with many hikers resting so we just watered the horses and gave them a quick snack.
We followed the trail on to Carson Pass at Hwy 88 stopping in at the visitor’s station and found out that the PCT continued down the highway a ¼ mile west at a larger parking lot. We crossed the highway onto an old road and settled in at the large parking lot.
At the parking lot a ranger was taking a survey and was really impressed that we had come from Ebbets Pass.
We had arranged for the campground host Ron and Janice of High Sierra Pack Station to bring us our resupply and after looking at the next section Emily decided to take a resupply to Echo Lake and try to stash it in the vault toilets once again. I had reservations but we were lucky once at Ebbetts Pass, so why not! Ron and I set up camp after a ranger gave us the okay to stay just off the parking lot but dark had engulfed us before Emily got back so we eagerly ate, saw Ron and Janice off and got into our tents.
Echo Lake was our intended destination with about 15 miles to cover. Since Emily cached our supplies in the Echo Lake restrooms we were traveling rather light.
We headed out passing solitary juniper trees and taking switchbacks towards the Upper Truckee River valley.
We rode past two cabins, one with a corral and lots of graze for a mile or two.
The footing was sandy and lovely crossing the Truckee several more times although it was blessed with only a small amount of water. We joined the Tahoe Rim Trail following a meadow, then on to Showers Lake, gave the horses a drink but continued on past Sayles Canyon where there was a good known horse camp and past Bryan Meadow which also went to the newly reworked horse camp. Still riding with the Tahoe Rim Trail/Tahoe Yosemite Trail we passed Benwood Meadow to a ski slope where the trail stopped and we followed a bike trail paralleling Hwy 50 but pulling away towards a granite cliff on what appeared to be a restricted bike trail. Soon we reached Hwy 50 again crossing after we snaked around a closed barrier onto the highway. We followed the trail to an artificial creek which was flowing so rapidly that Issy refused to cross. Chaco waded right on and I thought Issy would follow; but no, he was extremely concerned with the foam, froth and whirl of the creek. I ultimately got off and basically lunged Issy into the creek with me getting soaked and filling my boots. For a second I realized I was in a very bad position with Issy upstream from me and if he fell he would have no choice but be on top of me. Luckily, he went on and I squished my way up the bank. We arrived at Echo Lake Resort and Emily immediately went to the rest room to locate our resupply, which was safely huddled close to the vault commode! Finding a camp site could have been a real issue but we were able to stealth camp behind a boat repair shop just down from the dam so I got my boots off and set them in the sun for a few hours to dry. The temperature was around 50 and being wet from the knees down was enough to make me shiver.
I did try to call home to give Burton an update and I had little interest in eating but we rehydrated and heated our food then set up our tents before the sun set.
The lake enriched Desolation Wilderness was only marred by the easy access for hikers and we encountered more along this stretch than on any other section of the PCT.
The glacier formed lakes nestled in granite made the scenery worth the constant human interruption and seem trivial but occasionally a notable group of hikers would pull our attention.
Three charming young girls, hand in hand with their fathers came up and we all enjoyed our interaction. The girls couldn’t be more than 5 years old but were marching on as if they were in a town mall. Too cute!
We travelled along the east shore of Lower Echo Lake passing many summer cabins which had the lake and the lake taxi as the only means to get to them. The footing was difficult and very rocky but with only a few switchbacks until we climbed to over 8,300’ and then to Lake Aloha. The footing then became extremely difficult for the horses but was wide and safe otherwise. Lake Aloha was hundreds of yards from the trail but the horses needed water so we pulled off, tied the horses and hauled buckets back and forth until Chaco and Issy drank their fill. As we travelled we watched many day hikers enjoying the lake along with occasional nude bathers who always seemed surprised that we could see them. I guess sitting on the horses gave us the vantage point. I couldn’t help noticing all the young, fit bodies and realized that the scenery might be marred by anyone like me over 60!
We travelled along the east shore of Susie Lake and headed up to Dicks Pass which my research told me was an easy pass. It proved to be easy but only in the sense that it was very safe.
With the elevation gain around 1,600’ in a very few miles, climbing stairs made for erosion control, switch backing upwards through pines and finally arriving exhausted at Dick’s Pass which is a relatively flat ridge we were treated to views of the Desolation Wilderness. Looking back to the lake region and then northward towards Dick’s Lake we were speechless until a couple of resting hikers offered to take our pictures.
We continued on heading to Upper Velma Lake where Emily had ridden a week or so ago and knew of a nice campsite where there was graze for the horses.
Although the graze area was small the lake offered the perfect setting to have our camp. We hobbled the horses and went about our nightly duties. Emily cooked some kind of corn stew which really hit the spot and I just watched the horses as I tried to reach Burton with my satellite phone. The relaxed life in camp is enviable and I always feel privileged so I try to share those feelings with him but, the spirit of camp can’t be given justice over the phone.
Barker Pass was our destination with 16 miles guessed as the distance. We let the horses graze again as we broke camp and then saddled up and headed back to the PCT. The Tahoe-Yosemite Trail diverged from the PCT and we found the terrain undulating, gaining several hundred feet only to loose it again. My research told me that Miller Meadows would have grazing so we started to look for grass when we dropped down the mountain. There was grass but it wasn’t a very good place to camp since the creek went right through the meadow and the sides of the creek were too steep to leave the horses hobbled.
Emily took a quick nap and I watched as the horses worked to eat the poor quality grass.
I was looking forward to meeting Ron and Janice who were bringing our resupply along with water for all of us and hopefully a pizza! We mounted up and covered the last few miles and indeed Ron and Janice were there taking our picture as we rode up to the pass. They did bring Pizza….yum!
At Barker Pass we were able to camp just off the parking area in some trees where there was a small amount of graze. We did find graze along the trail out from camp just a few hundred feet so the horses grazed while we waited for Ron and Janice to come back with Issy’s food I forgot to pull out of their truck the night before. Leaving camp we had some pretty good climbs and soon we were riding the PCT Crest.
I rode for a while but dismounted so I could enjoy the vast views in every direction. The footing was fine and except for the drop off the trail was wonderful and scenic.
We switched backed too many times to count and finally got to Five Lakes Creek.
Passing a couple of trails we got to the Tevis Cup trail where it joined the PCT and rode through the middle fork of the American River.
In the distance we saw Tinker Knob
and that stayed in view as we rode the Crest once again. Much of the trail was now in or close to the Granite Chief Wilderness.
I rode up to a couple of surveyors who told me of a few good grazing spots ahead so I continued on with Emily following a good ways back. We were looking for a camping area with water and graze and found the best camp of the entire trip.
It was a lovely shallow lake hidden off the trail down an old road. The lush graze and remote setting was idyllic and knowing this was our last night out made it even more special. This mountain lake was the essence of the PCT for horsemen and part of my heart stayed right there among the tall trees and serene lake. Even as I write this I can close my eyes and Zen myself there and feel the calm float over me! The tranquil setting will forever be my armor against the stress of civilized living.
This was our last day of riding and although the ride was wonderful, sadness invoked a kind of depression I hadn’t expected. I started to give some consideration to go to Washington State to ride the parts I skipped but I knew Burton would be sorely disappointed if I elected to be on the trail for 2 or 3 more weeks. I refocused my attention on the impressive views and soon our Crest ride telescoped our views to Mount Lincoln and then on to Donner Lake. It’s hard to stay glum when the scenery is as magnificent as this. We started to get close to the famous skiing area of Sugar Bowl and a junction of the Mt. Judah Loop trail. Here at Roller Pass we found a sign stating that the Donner Party had hoisted their wagons up the granite cliff with oxen.
Then we started down with the rocks being the worst we had seen.
Huge boulders were part of the trail footing and the horses really worked for the last few miles.
As I was walking I became resigned to the fact that my knee would not hold up to another few weeks of trail without a week or longer rest, so this was to be the final chapter for the year and we closed in on Old Hwy 40 where Ron and Janice were to pick us up.
See you in 2013 either on the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide with the weather making our decision!