Author Archives: Dan Allison

About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

Picayune 2018-07

Last week I went in to the Granite Chief Wilderness at Granite Chief Trail, from Squaw Valley, and camped on top of Granite Chief (9018 feet). The wind howled all night, probably 30-40 mph, so I didn’t sleep much, but the stars were brilliant and the sunset and sunrise worthwhile.

Several times in the days leading up to the trip and even on the trip, I changed my plans about where I was going to go. I headed to Whiskey Creek Camp and on towards Picayune Valley, on the Western States Trail. The trail is in general in good condition, though I did brushing of whitethorn on about 30 feet of trail that was brushed in. Whitethorn requires a sacrifice of blood, as the thorn inevitably find their way to bare skin no matter how careful I am.

The section just below PIcayune saddle as the trail drops into the valley, however, is a total mess of downed trees. It took me quite a while to figure out where the trail even went. And below that it is pretty brushy for a ways. And below that, in good condition again. Some group has been doing trail work in the valley, light brushing and some tread work, and that is appreciated.

I camped at my favorite Picayune Valley campsite, right beside the creek on a sandy patch, with all the sky open to stars at night. Though it clouded up and there were fewer stars than the night before. The next day I walked out to the trailhead, so see what trail conditions are. Good. Talked to several day hikers, as this trail gets more day hike use than overnight use. The wilderness boundary sign has been moved to the new location, just east of the Talbot Trailhead. These lands were purchased by the American River Conservancy and have been added to the wilderness, so there is now a mile of additional wilderness trail here. Of course the lands have been logged and it will be years before it looks like wilderness again, but this is the first step to restoration.

While on the dayhike, it occurred to me that maybe now, with relatively cool weather for the summer, and no specific plans, I should hike the ADT-CA-3 section of the American Discovery Trail, which is the extension of the Western States Trail  westward. So I grabbed my pack and hiked out, to Lewis Campground, from which my trip continues at https://allisondan.blog/2018/07/10/adt-ca-3-2018-07/.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157698464067794

 

Powderhorn trail work 2018-06

For my first trip of the season I mostly did trail work on the Powderhorn Trail. Working down from the top, I cleared brush, of which there is not all that much, and cleared or thinned young conifer trees, of which there is an infinite supply. The conifer trees seem nice, but if they are within four feet of the trail, and grow up, their branches always encroach on the trail. When there is dense conifer seedlings on both sides, it often essentially closes the trail. And of course as a natural process of thinning, most of these would eventually die on their own, but that leaves a tearing dead tree that is much harder to cut and remove than it was when it was alive. When it is clear that one tree is growing faster than the others, therefore quicker to reach the point where branches are above trail level, I leave that one and remove all the shorter ones around it.

I completed the work from the top to the postpile meadow, about 1/3 of the 3.5 miles, and did a minor amount of work below that. There are many days of work left to go, so unless a trail crew goes in, it will be several years before the trail is in good condition again. But it is usable, if not for downed trees.

There were eight down trees, six of which an be bypassed easily, and two of which hikers can clambered over or around but horses cannot pass. There is a moderate amount of winter debris, the branches that fall during the winter and can be stepped over, but when removed make a much nicer walk.

On the Five Lakes Trail, there were about five downed trees, none hazardous and all easy to go around.

I walked in from Kaspian Campground on Hwy 89 (a nearby bus stop), up Barker Pass road and then the old jeep trail to Barker Pass (steep but quiet and beautiful), then along Forest Road 3 to Powderhorn trailhead, and in. From Diamond Crossing, the junction of the Powderhorn, Hell Hole, and Five Lakes Creek trails, I walked up Five Lakes Creek trail to Whiskey Camp and then out at Alpine Meadows trailhead and down to River Ranch on Hwy 89 (a nearby bus stop).

There are patches of snow along the ridges, but most snow is gone. Many of the tributary creeks and creeklets are still flowing, but low, and will probably dry by mid-July. The flowers are moderate, in some places it is still early season and flowers have not developed, and in other places they are fading already.

finally!

My latest trip was primarily for trail maintenance on the PCT, and after  11 years, I feel caught up. I removed the last brushed-in section, between what I call Two Towers (Lord of the Rings reference) and Twin Peaks. Of course in order to get done, I had to accept many places that could use brushing, and leave them for the future. In particular, the pine mat manzanita and sagebrush is pushing into the trail and narrowing the tread. It isn’t hard to clear, but is a lot of detailed work that I’ve often put off “for next year.”

The reason I pick this part of the PCT to work on every year is not just that it needs brushing, but that I so love spending time on this ridge. The views east are spectacular, over Lake Tahoe and the weather over the Carson Range, often thunderstorms developing when the main crest is clear. The views west are intriguing, down into the wilderness, where the real wilderness is, and beyond, to the coast ranges. When the valley air is clear, not often, the details of the coast range and Bay Area are clear, and at night the lights in the valley, kind of neat at a distance. Usually thunderstorms develop over Nevada, the Carson Range, and sometimes move west to the crest, but on Wednesday moisture coming from the west developed some thunderheads, thunder, and light rain for a half hour, while the Carson Range was mostly clear. 

When there is snow on the ridge, usually in banks on the east just below the ridge where it gets blown during the winter in strong winds, I can melt snow and stay up here for many days. I use my black Jetboil pot to melt, and I can keep up with my daily use if I stay on top of the melting. 

I went in on the Granite Chief Trail from Squaw Valley, which has a few trees down but easy to get around, then south along the PCT. Granite Chief saddle has a lot of snow on the north side, but the route is not hard to find. People southbound rarely have problems here, but many northbound hikers drop too far down into Shirley Canyon and have a hard time finding the trail again. The trail from the saddle south to the TRT/PCT junction is in good condition, a few tress down but surprisingly few, some trail erosion but not bad. 

I hiked out the TRT to Tahoe City, so don’t have anything to report about the TRT/PCT south to Barker Pass, but I’d guess many snow banks but no big issues. Other than snow banks on the upper portion, the TRT trail down into Ward Creek and Tahoe City is in good condition, having been logged out already by a TRTA trail crew. 

The PCT thru hikers are out in force, but interestingly, about half were going south, having skipped over the high Sierra to Donner or even Ashland and now heading south to pick up the section with somewhat less snow. Looking into the Desolation Wilderness, however, snow there is still deep and must be much deeper at high elevations to the south. Dicks Pass is 9400, but the highest pass on the PCT is 13,143, Forester Pass. There were people who had come through the high Sierra headed north, but I have to say that they all looked beat and not very happy. I think the route flippers were much happier. 

The next big project on my list, for next year, is to work on the Powderhorn Trail. If anyone hikes that and has conditions to report, please do so. I think the middle section is in horrible condition, brushed closed in spots, but I haven’t been there in two years, so I’m guessing. 

Photos on Flickr (more later, these are ones from my iPhone which are easy to upload, but I also used my regular camera)

Granite Chief 2016-08

Note: this trip is LAST year, 2016, which I never got around to finishing, but here it is now. I like to post on every trip, in part so that I myself can keep track of trips and where I went. 

A dry year, dogbane turns color early

I went in at Squaw Valley (bus stop) and up Granite Chief Trail to Granite Chief saddle  where I camped for the night. The next day I walked out the Tevis Cup Trail and what I call the Tevis Cup Connector, one of the old Western States Trail alignments. Tevis Cup is easy to follow and has great views, but the trail itself is unpleasant,  climbing and descending repeatedly for no good reason, and poorly maintained. The end of the trail has been re-aligned off a gravel road onto a trail that goes past old ranch or FS buildings (not sure which), but ends at the same green gate as the old route. The Tevis Cup Connector is faded and jhard to follow in some places, as it descends and crosses the Middle Fork American River and then climbs to join the Tevis Cup. 

I headed south on the PCT, doing some spot brushing along the way, and continued to Barker Pass, to Powderhorn Trail and back into the wilderness. Powderhorn is in decent shape on the upper third and lower third, but almost completely brushed in in the middle third, with whitethorn and doghair fir. I camped at Diamond Crossing, explored Bear Pen trail which I’d not beeen on in several years. It is in decent shape, not too hard to follow, but where it crosses Bear Pen Creek before the meadow, eroded banks make it necessary to climb down and back up, awkward with a pack. 

Some sort of bee or wasp is incredible abundant, everywhere but particularly along the edges of creeks. Yellow and black striped body, but no fuzziness and no constriction between the thorax and abdomen. Not sure what it is. Also saw a lot of grouse on this trip, at least 40. 

I went out Five Lakes Creek Trail, which has received some logging out, perhaps by the horse trip that comes in once a year to a Big Spring meadow, and then out to the Five Lakes trailhead. And back to Truckee by bus and back home on the train. 

Photos on Flickr; Granite Chief collection

First trip, down Five Lakes Creek

For my first trip of the season, July 4-10, much later than recent years, I headed in at the Five Lakes trailhead and went down Five Lakes Creek. There were only snow patches on the trails, and they would be gone by now. There are a few trees down as far as Whiskey Creek Camp, and a moderate amount of winter debris, the branches that come down over the winter and can be throw off if one has the time. From Whiskey Creek Camp southward, there are more trees and more debris, with the biggest issue being young firs bent over the trail. More snow than usual at these middle elevations bent these trees.

From Diamond Crossing south to Steamboat Creek, there are a lot of trees down, and a lot of winter debris. In fact, this trail segment has become quite difficult to follow. When you leave the trail to go above or below a fallen tree, it is very challenging to see the trail and get back on it, being so covered with debris that it looks just like the rest of the forest floor. If this trail doesn’t receive some maintenance within a couple of years, it is done for. Bears provide a lot of the trail maintenance on these lesser-used trails, and there is evidence that the bears are starting to prefer other, easier routes over the old trail, and if so, that is the beginning of the end. 

All of the named creek crossings were wet ones. Some are probably rock jumps now, but some may still be wet. The snow melt has created tread erosion in a number of places. No surprise. When you combine an almost complete lack of water control structures on the trails with a wetter winter, erosion is the result. 

I spent two days doing maintenance on the lower third of the Powderhorn Trail. The doghair fir is pushing into the trail, so the hiker has to push through it. I cut those back, so the trail is in good condition, with a bypass around one down tree. However, another down tree that can be bypassed by hikers may well be a barrier for equestrians since it is on a steep side slope in a dense forest. The real issues on the Powderhorn are in the middle third section, where doghair fir and whitethorn brush have essentially closed the trail. Though the alder section below the postpile formation has been an issue in the past, I’m guessing that it is still passable. I did not have time to work on the middle third, so good luck if you go there. 

I met a Forest Service wilderness ranger, Nathaniel, on the Five Lakes trail. This is the first time in many years that the Granite Chief has had dedicated staff, so I’m looking forward to more attention being paid. 

The flower show is just developing, with pentstemons, mules ears,and a few others. 

I did not go north or south on the PCT, nor any of the other trails in the wilderness, so have nothing to report on them. As always, I welcome comments from others on trail conditions, creek crossings, and water sources. 

Photos on Flickr

Snow?

People have been asking me about snow conditions in the Granite Chief, and I’m sorry to say I don’t have any information for you. I will be going in on a backpack trip Monday, July 3, and may have a chance to post briefly while I’m on that trip (there is some cell reception from the crest, though none in the rest of the wilderness), but if not, then at the end of the trip about July 11.

If you have information, or trip reports, please share them by replying to this post. If you had an approved comment in the past, your comment will go up immediately, if not, I have to approve it, but again, may be able to do that when I’m on the crest. If there is still a lot of snow up high, I’ll head down into the Five Lakes Creek basin, where the bears have never heard of cell phones.

I went backpacking this last week along two sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, in part because I figured there was still a lot of snow in the Granite Chief. But a week of very warm weather may have opened up some of the trails, and I’m anxious to get into the high country.

PCT trail maintenance trips

I’ve had two backpacks this year doing trail maintenance on the Pacific Crest Trail through the Granite Chief Wilderness. Since almost all my time was up on the PCT, I don’t have anything to report about the rest of the wildneress, but since I have two more backpack trips coming up, will have a report on much if not all of the trail system.

I brushed from Granite Chief trail on the north to Five Lakes Creek in the middle, and the trail is in good condition except for a short 0.1 mile part between Whiskey Creek Camp trail and Five Lakes trail that I didn’t get done, though it is not bad. I also did the Whiskey Creek Camp trail since it was getting a bit brushy. While in this area I spent some time exploring around Five Lakes Creek and Whiskey Creek, looking for the old trails that were there before the new PCT alignment was completed. In some places these old trails are easy to follow, but no always. I still think there is a trail on the south side of Five Lakes Creek to Big Spring Meadow, but so far I haven’t located it.

On the second trip I focused on the PCT north from the PCT/TRT trail junction near Twin Peaks. There are several sections here that are very brushy, and a few that are essentially closed in. I got all but one of these opened up again, to a point where they should be OK for about five years. But there is one very brushy section that I did not get to, and will be very bad by next year. It is about 0.2 miles. I did spot brushing on the remainder, and it is in decent shape but could use work. I think this year I accomplished what I have not in several years, keeping up with the rate of brush growth, though not gaining on it, which is why there are some badly brushed-in sections left. Next year perhaps I’ll get those last very brushy parts done, and be “caught up” at least for a couple of years.

PCT trail before

PCT trail before brushing, overgrown with tobacco brush

PCT trail after

PCT trail after brushing, cleared to five-year width

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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