Picayune Valley

Dried Wooley Mules Ears at head of Picayune Valley

I finally got to Picayune Valley, which rounds out my effort to see all the trails of Granite Chief. I came in from Alpine Meadows trailhead, which is the fastest way into the wilderness, went through Whiskey Creek Camp, and camped at the saddle above Picayune Valley.

Late in the day as it was getting dark, the shadows beneath the red firs were deep but the meadows still light.

Approaching dark
Trail through red firs
Darkness between the trunks
Thick and soft

Then out into the meadow
Wooley mules ears
Radiate the warm yellow sunlight
They’ve captured during the day


All of the maps are wrong about where the trail descends into the valley, and where the Shanks Cove and Picayune Valley trails meet. The trail descends from the lowest saddle, which is just north of the prominent volcanic cliffs. No trail comes down these cliffs! The junction with the Shanks Cove trail is about a half mile northeast of this point, on the slope of the valley of Shanks Cove.

bedrock pools on Picayune Creek

My favorite part of Picayune is the upper glacial bench where the creek slides down a series of bedrock pools across the metamorphic bedrock, then over a 40 foot waterfall. The creek follows a bright white granitic dike through the metamorphic bench, perhaps because it is softer or perhaps just chance, but the effect is striking. A little campsite beside the creek provided a sky full of stars and the gentle sound of the creek, though in this deep valley the sun sets early and rises late.

Watching the creek throughout the day, I noticed the diurnal variation. In the late afternoon the creek was tiny, sliding over the rocks and through pools, dawdling as it went. The next morning the flow was doubled and the water had an urgency to its movement. During the day more of the water evaporates, during the night less and so the flow increases. This diurnal effect is most prominent in late spring when warm days rapidly melt the snow, but during most of the year I don’t notice it. I’ve seen creeks in other places which only flow in the morning, and some creeks in the Granite Chief may well reach that point this fall.

metamorphosed conglomerate

The metamorphic rocks are interesting and beautiful. It is often hard for me to tell whether the features of the rock are remnants of the original sediments, or a result of the heat and pressure. One band of rock is clearly a conglomerate, with flattened and distorted pebbles still visible. Other rocks have bands of reddish color which may indicate bedding. Pockmarks that follow the same trend might be vesicles in volcanic rock (could bubbles survive the metamorphosis?) or softer minerals. Not being a geologist, I can only guess whether the rocks are sediments or volcanics or a mix of the two. Schaffer suggests that these rocks in Picayune Valley are “volcanic sediments, coral reefs, and submarine lavas, which formed on the ocean floor 350-400 millions years ago”.

Walking down through the meadows and forests of Picayune Valley, I’m reminded again how much this wilderness needs fire. Some meadows have filled in completely with even-aged stands of lodgepole pine and white fir, with just a few large old trees sticking up through the young trees. In the forests, the debris of fallen trees and branches is so thick one can’t even walk through. This is not natural! Even worse, if allowed to continue, the old trees will eventually all die of old age, or be consumed on conflagrations, and there may never again be these grand old trees. Certainly not in out lifetime. I’m uncertain whether the absence of fire is due solely to fire suppression by the Forest Service, or whether there has been a lack of starts, but in either case, fire is needed. Yes, the initial fires will be large and hot, and leave the area looking pretty bad, but if they don’t happen, the forest dies, just as surely and in a much less natural manner.

down Picayune Valley late in the day

I walked all the way out to the trailhead, which is next to Talbot Campground. The trail first enters a logged area, which I believe is private land that was not included in the wilderness, then becomes a rocky logging road for about a mile, and ends at the campground entrance. That day I saw two dayhikers – this trail is not much used but certainly more used than some in the wilderness – and several bears. They scampered away. The bears.

2008-09-10 to 2008-09-12

photos on Flickr

One thought on “Picayune Valley

  1. Pingback: Trip History | Granite Chief Wilderness

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