Saturday, May 27, 2017

South Sister Saddle Loop (via Lower Bristlecone) - 5/27/17

Charleston Peak from Ridge above South Sister Saddle

Bonanza Trail & McFarland Peak

Mack's Canyon from Ridge above South Sister Saddle

Starting up Lower Bristlecone Trail
 There is a saddle on a ridge that is a popular rest stop on the way up to South Sister Peak above Lee Canyon in the Spring Mountains NRA. A few years ago, the club developed a hike that connected this saddle with the Bonanza Trail that travels along the Spring Mountain Divide. The hybrid route utilizes the Lower Bristlecone, Bonanza, the connector ridge and the South Sister Trails for an 8 mile loop. Today, thirteen hikers drove up Lee Canyon Road and parked at the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead. When we exited the cars, the air temperature was 48 degrees.

Lower Bristlecone Trail
 The coordinator gave us the go ahead to hike up the 3 miles of Lower Bristlecone Trail at our own speed. We were required to stop and wait at the Bristlecone / Bonanza Trails junction.

The Next Group Arrives
 The group separated into three subgroups and arrived at the meeting place pretty close together. A strong group.

Bristlecone / Bonanza Trails Junction

Fun on the Switchbacks
 Next, we headed up the switchbacks of the Bonanza Trail. There were only 4 of them but they were pretty long. Along the way, we saw a lot of snowdrifts on the hill but there were only two drifts that covered the trail for around 10 feet each. Most of us had hiking sticks so the snow didn't cause us any problems ... well, almost! Anyway, we plodded along at an even pace and arrived at our next meeting place, the Bonanza / No Name Trails junction. Still going strong, we knew that we were almost finished climbing ... temporarily.

Snowdrifts on the Switchbacks

A Peek at the Peaks

The Group at the Bonanza / No Name Trails Junction

Pretty Yellow Flower (or PYF)
 The steps of the Bonanza Trail would be the next climb and up we went. The view behind us of Charleston Peak created a beautiful backdrop. At the top of the hill, there is a fork in the trail. The right fork takes hikers up to the ridge. If you follow the ridge, you will eventually drop off some rocks back onto the trail. The easier way is to take the left fork and the trail gently takes hikers around the small peak / ridge section. There is a snowdrift right at the ridge / trail junction and we had to skirt around it since the terrain is pretty steep here.

Climbing the Steps of the Bonanza Trail
 But, this was the last of the snow on the part of the Bonanza Trail we would travel today. Clear sailing.

Skirting around a Snowdrift on the Trail
 We passed Pine Cone Canyon junction making sure we were all doing well.

Canyon to West of Bonanza Trail

Back Side of Charleston Peak
 We moved on to the small switchbacks that lead up and over a small peak on the trail. Last year, these switchbacks were rebuilt by the Back Country Horsemen of Nevada. They are still in fine condition. A great view of the back side of Charleston Peak can be seen from here. After the up and over, we continued along the ridge on the other side. This section of the Bonanza Trail accentuates the limestone terrain with McFarland Peak in the background and old bristlecone trees all around.

Little Switchbacks up to a High Point

Bonanza Trail

Taking our Break on Ridge at Junction

Marker for Bonanza / South Sister Saddle Trails Junction
Finally, we arrived at the junction marker seen in the photo to the left. This indicates the right turn for the ridge route to South Sister Saddle. We decided to stop here for our snack break. It was an absolutely beautiful day and the cool temperatures were staved off by sunny skies. Soon, we left the Bonanza ridge and started down the South Sister Saddle ridge. The first part was steep but there is a trail here now.

Dropping down Ridge with South Sister in Background
Some hikers continue straight down the high point of the ridge meaning that they have to do a little mild scrambling.

Hiking through the "Picnic Area"
 We followed a faint trail that dips down to the right. We reconnected with the ridge at the "picnic area," a group of logs that is often used for the snack break.

Following the Ridge

Starting drop to South Sister Saddle
 Past this, we followed the top of a gentle ridge. Wild horses are often seen here but not today. Straight in front of us was South Sister. To the left was Mack's Peak and to the right is Charleston Peak and the North Loop ridge. In the spring, there are many wildflowers growing on the ridge. We followed the faint trail staying on or near the top of the ridge and eventually dropped down to a saddle area. THIS is South Sister Saddle.

Beginning Descent from South Sister Saddle
 Without even waiting for the remaining part of the group to arrive, we turned down to our right and started the initial steep and slippery descent on the South Sister Trail.

Steep Trail from Saddle
 This trail has a few places where it is difficult to follow so we made sure everyone was collected as we descended. The lower you get, the more beautiful the trail becomes.

South Sister Trail

Old Mill Trail
 Finally, we regathered again at the bottom of the hill where the trail connects with the Old Mill Trail. Here, we turned left onto a rock lined path. As the path veered to the left, we dropped off the trail to the right and made a bushwhack beeline over to the other side of the ravine. A small trail can be found here that climbs on a traverse along the hillside. Slowly, elevation is gained then a clear path is seen up to the right to the forest road of Lower Bristelcone Trail. When each of us made it up to the road, we exclaimed with relief from the steep climb! All that was left was a left turn on the road and down to the cars. Air temperature was now 63 degrees. A fantastic day in the mountains!

7.5 miles; 1600 feet elevation gain; 3.75 hours

Connector Trail from Old Mill to Lower Bristlecone

Approaching Lower Bristlecone

Cool Down on Lower Bristlecone Trail

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