Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lower Mud Springs Loop CW - 5/28/17

Mud Springs

Indian Springs in Distance

The Sisters and Macks Peak (Macks Canyon Below)

Willow Peak from Red Trail
 Between the Cold Creek and Lee Canyon foothills, there is a lot of real estate in the Springs Mountains NRA and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest! And, right in the middle of this vast amount of land is Mud Springs; a place where a lot of wildlife, including elk, come to quench their thirst. Getting to the springs requires hiking for at least 3.5 miles if you start from the trailhead that 9 hikers used today. A rough and tough high clearance 4WD vehicle might negotiate the Mud Springs Road from Cold Creek but ... why?

Hiking the Red Trail
 We drove out Macks Canyon Road from Lee Canyon and encountered a whole lot of people camping in the primitive campsites along the road. (Memorial Day Weekend) The road is in fairly good condition but it still has its bumps.

Shade on the Red Trail
 Just as you drop into Macks Canyon proper and veer around to the left, there is a small brushy turnabout on the right side of the road. This is the trailhead for the Approach Trail to the Mud Springs Trail, aka the Red Trail.

Wooded Red Trail

Staying High on the Red Trail
 We passed the trailhead without seeing it but turned around and found it from the other direction. When ready, we hiked down the approach trail and turned to the left at the cross trail junction. This was the Red Trail. It travels by traversing the contours high above the washes, canyons and ridges to the right. An old trail runs parallel to it and we saw it a few times. The new trail is nicer. It was clear that the Red Trail is used often by horses and riders. But, as we continued along, we began to see a lot of elk prints on the trail, too.

Elk Print, Pontoon at Mud Springs, Animal Condo, & Locoweed
 The trail went up and down then way up and down then way down as it curved in and out of the washes.

Burnt Area above Mud Springs
 When we dropped into the Mud Springs Canyon, we came upon a trail junction in the middle of an area that appeared to have burned recently.

Water in all the Mud Springs

Fence around Mud Springs (Tread lightly within its bounds.)
At the junction, we followed the trail that curved to the right going down the hill. This trail has been covered with sticks and logs but it is, in fact, the trail of old that leads to the fence around Mud Springs. At the fence, we followed the trail around to the left and arrived at a portion of the fence that has been trodden down, presumably, by horses. We entered into the springs area being very careful not to disturb anything. The springs meadow was growing high grass and very green.

Mud Springs Sign at end of Mud Springs Road

Crossover Bushwhack
 In the years that the writer has visited the springs, this is only the second time she has seen any water. It was the first time that she saw "pools" of water at each spring site. The water was clear and running. We left the meadow as quickly as we had arrived ... after a few photos. Back across the fence that lay on the ground, we continued down the trail. It was a pretty cool morning and we thought that the lower half of the loop would stay cool enough for us to complete the loop. So we hiked along the fence and found Mud Springs Road.

Junction at the Green Trail (Anybody got some green tape?)
 The top part of the road was no longer drivable. We found a small trail that paralleled the road up on the right side. It was more fun to use the trail than the road below.

Particularly tough Hill
 When we reached the end of the drivable part of the road, we stopped for our snack break at the Mud Springs sign. However, the sign seems to be in the process of being redone.

Mummy's Nose rising above Trees

Another shot of Indian Springs & Creech AFB
 After the break, we tried returning to the small trail above but it was not as clear now. Our choice was to go back down toward the road on the left or just go on up to our right and begin a ridge crossover. What the heck? It was a great group of hikers today and all seemed to enjoy the prospect of a little bushwhacking. So, we headed over the hill on a diagonal looking for the Mud Springs Spur Road. We found it but it would really be nice if someone made a trail that crossed over that ridge ending right at the Green Trail junction without having to use either dirt road for very long.

Getting close to the Connector Wash
 Down the Spur Road, junction with the Green Trail, and begin undulating across the base of the foothills. Up, down, around, in, out, big up, and finally we came to Macks Canyon Wash. Very large and deep.

Starting to cross Macks Canyon Wash
 There was just a little more (seemed like much more) and we were dropping into the Connector Wash. The Green Trail continued across the wash and we turned to the right in the wash.

Dropping down to Connector Wash

Trudging up the Connector Wash
 Now, at the end of an already long hike, we had to ascend a sandy gravel wash for around 3/4 of a mile. A few of us were feeling the pain of the trudge. Several stops had to be made in the shade even though the weather still wasn't too warm. It was the hard work that was breaking us down! A big "hooray" was heard when we finally reached the climb out of the wash and dropped down into Macks Canyon Wash one more time to junction with our Approach Trail. Long hike. CW and CCW directions both seem to be equally tough. But, we all agreed that it was a beautiful area that is worth the trouble.

9 miles; 1800 feet elevation gain; 4.75 hours

Using the Shade in Connector Wash

Finally dropping back into Macks Canyon Wash

Turning onto the Approach Trail (Yea!)

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