Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lower Rocky Gorge Loop - 9/21/16

Rocky Gorge

Mummy Mountain from Ridge

Lower Elevations from High Point

The Hiker Line
 Eight hikers came out for a fun hike on the lower portion of the Rocky Gorge Loop off of Lee Canyon Road in the lower elevations of the Spring Mountains. The entire loop trail is 8 miles but the shorter version that we did today is only 6 miles. We started at the Blue Tree Campground road that drops off to the right of Lee Canyon Road at around 10.5 miles up. There are a lot of logs that have been dumped here by the BLM and Forestry Service.

Small Wash Trail
 The weather was delightfully cool and there were low hanging clouds all around. However, there were no clouds over our hiking area for most of the morning.

Following Wash Trail
 We hiked the loop in a counter-clockwise direction today. It is possible that the clockwise direction would be preferable for the short version of this loop because of the deep gravel/sand that is in Rocky Gorge wash.

Starting Up Long Switchback

Climbing the Switchback
 So, we started down the trail that lies in and around the small wash that flows down from the parking lot. Recently, a horse and rider had taken this trail and the hoof prints were clearly showing us the way even though the trail is pretty good. The trail left the small wash at around 0.8 miles and led over to the embankment on the left. Here, the old trail had been replaced by a very long switchback that took us up to the top of the ridge.

Mummy from Top of Switchback
 Views from this switchback were the best views of the hike. Mummy Mountain was especially prominent.

Burros among the Joshuas
 When we turned to follow the trail down from the top of the switchback, we spied three burros. They didn't let us get very close at all so there were no great photos. But, zooming in on them when they felt safe from a nearby ridge resulted in the photo below.

The Triangle Lookout Method

Crossing over to the Rocky Gorge Wash
 The trail drops down a small ridge and curves around toward Rocky Gorge wash. As we have done before, we lost the trail just before it began its descent into the wash. A little bushwhacking found the trail and we were good. Maybe someday, we'll figure out why we keep doing it wrong. Anyway, in the wash, we started up the deep gravel/sand. Soon, we were heading into Rocky Gorge.

Starting Up Rocky Gorge Wash
 Rocky Gorge is a narrow canyon with relatively short walls of limestone. It is clearly evident that the burros use this canyon as a safe haven perhaps at night.

Hiking through Rocky Gorge
 We climbed up through the canyon and decided to take our snack break in the shade provided on the other end of the rock walls. Afterwards, we continued following the trail up the wash.

Trail Continues up Wash

Abundant Juniper Berries
 The trail continued up wash but provided short up and arounds when necessary. Since this is primarily an equestrian trail, there has to be a way that a horse and rider can make their way through the trees. The gravel/sand wash bottom was replaced by harder surfaces and the climb was made easier. Eventually, we passed an obvious trail that headed up the hill on the right. This is where hikers need to turn if they are going to do the entire 8 mile loop.

Bushwhacking up the Ridge
 We continued straight up the wash. Not long after that, we climbed the hill on the right just to get to an easier route with less obstacles. This is the bushwhacking stage of the hike.

High Point
 The top of the small ridge was easily navigated. It is important to keep going up here. The small ridge and the high point of the hike at No Mads Trail Road junction very near each other.

Dropping down No Mads Trail Road

Trail above Blue Tree Campground
 At the dirt road, we turned to the left and went up and over the hike high point. A steep descent took us to the Wiggles (Blue) Trail where we turned left again. Following this trail, we forked up then forked down to follow an old forest road. The route continues following this road all the way back to the trailhead. The coolness and the clouds made this a beautiful morning to be in the mountains.

6 miles; 1000 feet elevation gain; 3 hours.

Water Break at very tall Joshua Tree

Wash Crossing

Almost There!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sawmill Wiggles Loop - 9/19/16

Equestrian Section of Sawmill Trailhead

Sawmill Wiggles Trail

Mummy's Nose from Trailhead

Gentle Ascent on Cardamine Road
The Sawmill Wiggles Loop is an easy moderate hike that begins about 11.5 miles up Lee Canyon Road in the Spring Mountains. The trailhead is located on the right side where there are two dirt roads that come together at the paved road. This is immediately following yet another dirt road that intersects with the paved road on the right. The dirt road at the trailhead that is veering off to the right going up into the mountains is Cardamine Road. It is not easily traveled with any type of vehicle besides a bicycle.

Mummy's Nose from Cardamine Road
 The road seems to ascend straight into Mummy's Nose Peak. Eleven hikers started out slow this morning as we climbed the gentle slope.

Passing through Sawmill Trailhead
 There are a few choices to make since the road tends to divide and circle around but the best strategy is to stay more or less parallel to Lee Canyon Road on your left.

Starting Up Red & Yellow Trail

Yellow Trail
 In around 1.5 to 1.7 miles, Cardamine Road brought us to the Sawmill Trailhead where there are some pit toilets and picnic tables. Although we really didn't need a snack break, the toilets were useful. We were going to sit at a table for a few minutes but, today, the picnic area was over run by bees. They were everywhere and they wouldn't leave anyone alone when we moved somewhere else. One hiker got stung. So, we quickly decided to keep going and dropped down the Sawmill Trail that is labeled Red & Yellow.

Blue Trail
 We gently climbed up to the Red / Yellow Trail fork and took a right. The Yellow Trail took us down to another junction where we turned left onto the Blue / Red Trail.

Angel Peak from Blue Trail
 We climbed a little then junctioned with the Red Trail and Orange Trail. Our Blue Trail continued across. This is the beginning of what we affectionately call the Sawmill Wiggles.

Blue Trail

First View of Cars at Trailhead
The Wiggles led us in a very winding fashion down to cross the No Mads Trail and on down to the Blue Tree Campground not far below where our cars were parked. We took a forest road up the hill to our cars. This was a short but good hike. Our pace for the last half of the hike was up to speed and we all felt we had had a short workout.

5 miles; 750 feet elevation gain; 2 hours

Blue Trail

Blue Trail

Forest Road to Cars & Trailhead

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Saddlerock Lake (11,044') - John Muir Wilderness (Eastern Sierras) - 9/17/16

Saddlerock Lake on Bishop Pass Trail

Long Lake & Hurd Peak

Long Lake

Harvest Moon Setting
 Friday morning, six club members drove from Las Vegas to Bishop, CA in caravan up I-95, across on 168 and up 395. We arrived in the early afternoon and had the remaining part of the day to rest, see the town and two club members went for a stroll on the Little Lakes Valley Trail about 30 miles from town. The remaining four met for dinner at Schat's Roadhouse Restaurant since the Schat's sandwich shop & bakery closed at 4pm.

Afternoon in Bishop, CA
 Schat is a local family that owns many businesses in this and nearby areas.

Dennis leaves the Bishop Pass Trailhead
 Susan and Donette reported that the Little Lakes Valley Trail is a family-type beautiful trail along a valley out from Rock Creek Road.

Hurd Peak & South Lake near Trailhead

Dennis & Pack
 Saturday morning, we met up for a caravan up 168 to South Lake Road and on to South Lake where we parked at the Bishop Pass Trailhead. Dennis was officially delivered for his hike in to meet up with Tim on the John Muir Trail. We started up the trail that began with about a half mile (it seemed) of rock steps; a tough go for someone with a 40 lb. pack on his back. The rest of us had no problem as we hiked up the steps and began a rather loud conversation. We were very aware that we were now in bear country.

Signs along the Bishop Pass Trail
 After the trail hiked up next to South Lake for a short distance, it dove into the forest of trees and granite rocks. We began passing a few backpackers that were already coming down from the other side of the pass.

Trail through Forest
 Laughing, we were calling anything that moved (including backpackers) bears. So, as we neared one of those "bears," we were caught totally off guard when we realized that he was David, Tim's hiking partner for the last two weeks.

Chocolate Peak from Trail

Kay at Long Lake
 David had traveled a much longer distance than planned the night before and was already less than a mile out of the Bishop Pass Trailhead. (We were so flummoxed that the writer forgot to take his photo.) We had planned to meet David at Bishop Lake just below the pass! Anyway, we gave him the key to the car and continued up the trail through the woods. There were a few signs posted for spur trails leading to nearby lakes.

Long Lake Panorama
 Leaving the cover of the woods, we met a few small easy switchbacks and dropped over a small hill. We passed a few more backpackers and sang a few songs to scare the bears away. Then, let the beauty begin!

Ground Squirrel preparing for Winter
 We came to the lower end of Long Lake and the morning light was absolutely perfect for amazingly clear mirror images in the water. We were all in awe!

Long Lake Continued

Rock Crossing
 Working our way up the side of Long Lake, we took photo after photo. Probably spent around twenty extra minutes for this. Although we were aware of a few campers in the corners of the lake, we felt alone and expressed our delight without qualms! This lake, alone, made the whole trip worth it! Right weather, right time of day, right time of year. There were many points of view that we came to that were worth a few pixels.

Nearing End of Long Lake
 After balancing across some large rocks placed in shallow water, we finally made it to the upper end of Long Lake.

Still Nearing End of Long Lake!
 On this end, there is a small island in the lake. Still no sign of bears.

Island in Long Lake

Leaving Long Lake
 As the trail led away from Long Lake, it crossed over a hill but stayed in the floor of the glacial valley. Mt. Goode (13,085') was our constant guard on the ridge ahead of us. We were almost past Hurd Peak on the right. We had already passed Chocolate Peak on the left and before long Mt. Agassiz (13,892') appeared ahead on the left. Mt. Agassiz rises to the south of Bishop Pass along the ridge.

Awestruck Group of Five
The trail is in very good condition. It is a stock pack trail so the inclines are not too steep. There is no trash that we saw and this encourages more people to be clean wilderness hikers.

Color in the Rock & Mt. Goode (13,085')
 The only thing we noticed that was against the rules is one fairly deep cut trail of a switchback shortcut. We did not use this unreasonable eroding shortcut.

Nearing Spearhead Lake

Spearhead Lake
 The next lake we came to was Spearhead Lake. This lake also provided us with unbelievably gorgeous views and mirrors. The trail hiked alongside the shoreline among the rocks. At the end of this smaller lake, we crossed a bridge over the stream that fed the lake. The sound of the flowing water was music to a desert dweller's ears. The trail soon crossed back across the water.

From Top of Spearhead Lake
 Now, the trail started ascending the side of the valley. The valley below was grassy marshland. Still no bears.

Climbing in Up the Rocky Trail
 We stopped for a moment and surveyed what we thought was the last half mile before Bishop Lake, our original destination.

Leaving the Lower Lakes

Donette taking in Timberline Tarn
 There was another set of gentle switchbacks then we reached the Timberline Tarns. There is a rock walkway out into the tarn next to the trail and three of us took our turns out where the views were complete. Next, we climbed a short hill up next to the stream and a nice waterfall seen in a photo below. We had passed several hikers during the morning but most of the time, we felt alone.

Timberline Tarn
 At the top of the water area, we came to the next lake. We thought that this was Bishop Lake at 4 miles in and 11,044 feet in elevation.

Waterfall below Saddlerock Lake
 We decided to stop for our snack break. It was a beautiful view as seen below. Bishop Pass was up ahead and Mt. Agassiz rose pointedly.

Saddlerock Lake toward Bishop Pass & Mt. Agassiz (13,892')

Resting at Saddlerock Lake
 Alas, when we returned, we saw that we had only reached Saddlerock Lake, a forgotten lake half a mile before Bishop Lake. Nevertheless, the hike had been amazing and there were no regrets for not reaching the terminus of the scheduled hike. After the break, two hikers decided to climb all the way to the pass then, on their return, they planned to take in Chocolate Peak, a hike mentioned in Richard Natale's book.

Susan & Donette leaving to Climb Pass
 A short text later that evening, verified that the two hikers had completed their journey.

Rock Crossing above Spearhead Lake
 The remaining three hikers started down the trail. The late morning light made everything appear different and some of the same photos were taken.

Switchbacks down to Spearhead Lake

Trail at side of Spearhead Lake
 We passed a lot more hikers on the way down than when we were on our way up. Many of them were fishing the lakes. Fishing seems to be a popular activity in the Bishop area. South Lake even has many docked fishing boats that we saw on the way in. There is also a lodge at South Lake with cabins called Bishop Creek Lodge. Our hike down went smoothly and we only stopped for the occasional photo.

Hiking back to Long Lake
 As we reached the top end of Long Lake, a pack team of one horse and two mules ambled by. The wrangler was courteous as we were by stepping five to ten feet off the trail.

Stock Packing Resupplies over Pass
 When we reached the bottom end of Long Lake, we noted a few fishermen working their lines.

Mid-Day View of Long Lake

View Back to Mt. Agassiz (13,892')
 The hike back through the forest seemed like the longest part of the hike. Still no bears and none would ever come around. It seems that the hard work that the rangers and hikers have done on the bear issue has paid off. Good job! Finally, we saw South Lake through the trees. David sat patiently waiting at the car and we all returned to Bishop for a sandwich at Schat's. One of the best trails that the five of us have hiked.

8 miles; 1500 feet elevation gain; 4.75 hours

Hiking back through the Forest

Fall Color at South Lake

South Lake & Hurd Peak nearing Trailhead