Sunday, June 24, 2018

South Sister Saddle via Pine Cone Canyon - 6/23/18

Charleston Peak from Bonanza Trail

South Sister from Bonanza Trail

Flowers & Deadwood on South Sister Saddle Ridge

Starting up Lower Bristlecone Trail
There are a few different ways to get up to the Bonanza Trail in the Spring Mountains NRA. The route we climbed today is a short cut trail that takes hikers from the lower portion of the Lower Bristlecone Trail up to the main Spring Mountain Divide Trail called Bonanza. The small canyon trail is steep. We started using this trail a few years ago as a shorter way to accomplish the loop around to the South Sister Ridge. The route is filled with pine cones and we dubbed it Pine Cone Canyon. Eight hikers showed up for the workout climb.

Taking the Right Turn at the Hairpin
We parked at the Lower Bristlecone Trailhead and hiked up to the first forest road "switchback" or hairpin turn to the left. At the turn, there is a trail that turns off into the woods to the right.

Passing a Weather Anemometer
Just before the hairpin, we passed the junction of the Old Mill Trail. Don't confuse this trail with Pine Cone Canyon.

The Nitty Gritty of Pine Cone Canyon

Approximate Slope of Pine Cone Canyon
We followed the trail up veering to the right then the left passing the weather anemometer to our right. A single track trail takes over the small canyon wash and up we went. We spread out almost immediately as we climbed. Finally, nearing the junction with Bonanza, the route escapes the wash and climbs up the steep hillside. At the top, everyone took a rest on the rocks. That was the hardest part of the day and we were glad we did it. If Pine Cone Canyon is the hard part, the remaining 3 miles of the loop is the gorgeous and much easier part!

Bonanza Trail / Pine Cone Canyon Junction
Bonanza Trail is one of the most beautiful (... okay, there are a lot of most beautiful) trails in the Spring Mountains. The entire trail runs from the Upper Bristlecone Trail to Cold Creek, Nevada for ~13 miles.

Heading North on the Bonanza Trail
After our breathing returned to normal, we turned to the right and headed north on the Bonanza Trail.

South Sister from Bonanza Trail

The Back Country Horsemen of Nevada works on the Trail.
The trail follows the ridge passing small peaks on either the right or left. McFarland Peak rises prominently to the north. Behind us, to the southwest, we had several views of the backside of Charleston Peak. (There are still a few patches of snow back there.) To the southeast, the different outcrops of the whole of Mummy Mountain seem intimidatingly bold. And, to the east, South Sister stands like a beacon beckoning us to its saddle. All in due time as we happily strolled along the 1.25 miles between junctions.

McFarland Peak in View Ahead
There was evidence that the Back Country Horsemen of Nevada (BCHNV) were back at work on those little switchbacks up to one of the small peaks. Thanks guys! The horses and hikers appreciate your work.

Nearing the Ridge Junction
We replaced the rock on the left side stump that marks the South Sister Ridge junction and turned right. Just over the top of the ridge (small rise), a trail appears that zigzags down.

Starting down the Ridge toward the Saddle

Flowers & Roots
From here the sometimes trail stays atop the wide descending ridge. There are wildflowers and views out the wazoo. Wild horses visit this area at times. About half way down the ridge, there is a great snack place on three large logs in the shade. We stopped here for our break. No one was in much of a hurry and the ridge is such a pretty place to be! A slight breeze came around once in a while and we wished we could just stay there all day. But, alas, we had to continue on so we followed the semi-trail down the top of the wide ridge to the familiar saddle that we reach when climbing South Sister.

Descending the Ridge
Just before reaching the saddle, we passed another small group of hikers that were doing their ascent via the ridge we were just on for our descent.

Ridge leading to South Sister Saddle
A small gathering at the saddle sent us on our way again. Down the South Sister Trail to the right of the saddle.

Charleston Peak from the Ridge

Snack Spot on the Ridge
We descended this very familiar trail talking the whole way. After the first 50 feet of loose steepness, the trail is an extremely pleasant hike through the woods. At the bottom, it junctions with the rock-lined Old Mill Trail. We turned left and followed this trail down toward the Old Mill Picnic Area. Nearing the top of the picnic area, we looked to our right and spotted three burros (2 adults and a baby). There are several young burros and horses in Lee Canyon at this time. So so cute. But, be careful with them. Mothers are mothers. (We saw families taking selfies sitting beside the young'uns in the Meadow on our way down. Hmmm.) Anyway, we hiked through the top of the picnic area and climbed the hill to the Lower Bristlecone Trail to get back to our cars. Great day, nice people everywhere!

5.5 miles; 1750 feet elevation gain; 3.5 hours

Hiking through the Bushy Phlox

Saddle Junction - Right Turn

Baby Burro above Picnic Area

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