Friday, June 24, 2016

South Sister Saddle Loop - 6/24/16

Charleston Peak from Bonanza Trail

Bonanza Trail

South Sister Saddle Ridge Trail

Starting Up Lower Bristlecone Trail
 It was going to be a very warm day in the valley but fifteen hikers decided to beat the heat by driving up Lee Canyon Road in the Spring Mountains NRA to the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead. Along the way, we passed a large group of burros (complete with a baby burro) ... and then ... we passed a large group of wild horses (with another one or two babies)! The morning had started off right as all the wild horses and burros appeared healthy.

Nearing the Bonanza Trail Junction
 Today's hike was listed as moderate but we had several stronger hikers attending. We hiked the first 3 miles of the Lower Bristlecone Trail at as fast a pace as we could individually manage since it was all in the sun.

Hiking the Bonanza Trail Switchbacks
 The easy 3 miles were completed in one hour and we felt like we were warmed up! We gathered in the shade of the Bonanza Trail junction.

No Name / Bonanza Trail Junction

Steep Climb on Bonanza Trail
 Next, we tackled the Bonanza Trail switchbacks. Now, in the trees with partial shade, we slowed our pace down as we climbed the steeper terrain. At the No Name / Bonanza Trail junction, we rewarded ourselves with the first of two longer breaks. It was still early but we were already 3.70 miles into a 7.5 mile hike and most of the climbing was behind us. After the break, we took off again. The Bonanza Trail begins a steep climb at this point as we gained the ridge of the Spring Mountain Divide.

Bonanza Trail
 Bonanza is a beautiful trail laid out up among the old bristlecones. We had begun on the southern end of this point to point route that can be hiked 15 miles to Cold Creek, NV.

Bristlecone Cones
 We passed Pine Cone Canyon and reached the little Bonanza switchbacks that lead up to an intermittent peak of the ridge.

Climbing the Little Bonanza Switchbacks

Junction Stump with Rock
 After a small dip in elevation, we returned up to the high point of today's hike. McFarland Peak rises in the near distance and provides a nice backdrop to many photo ops. Then, as we rounded a curve, we saw the junction stump on the left side of the trail. Usually, there is also a rock or two placed on the stump. The stump indicates that the South Sister Saddle Ridge Trail turns here to the right. After gathering the troops again, we stepped over the ridge and began dropping steeply on a small trail.

Descending the Ridge Trail
 This trail has become much more clear in the last 2 years. Even if it disappears under your feet, the route simply follows the top of the ridge down.

Another Break in the Shade
 We stopped at the shaded log seating for our second break. It was nice to get out of the sun. There were many wildflowers all around but most were past their prime.

South Sister from the Ridge Trail

Desert Paintbrush
 After the break, we continued following the ridge until we dropped down to the South Sister Saddle, a saddle we pass when climbing South Sister. From there, we dropped down the steep section of the South Sister Trail until we reached the much more pleasant woodland section. A couple more rotted trees have fallen since we were last here 3 weeks ago. Finally, we hiked along the back side of the Old Mill Picnic Area and found the last hill to climb up to the manhole cover junction with Lower Bristlecone Trail. Great workout today. The moderate hikers really stepped up! (More horses on the way home!)

8 miles; 1700 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Gathering at the South Sister Saddle

Steep Descent from the Saddle

Last Hill to Lower Bristlecone Trail (at the Manhole Cover)

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