Tag Archives: Granite Chief Trail

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

 

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

jetstream clouds at sunset

I did my first trip through the wilderness June 24-27. How much difference a year makes! Last year, a month later, I was crossing regular patches of snow on the trail, and sometimes walking on snow for long distances, but this year I only crossed a couple of patches. Last year the creeks were so high that they were difficult or impossible to cross, this year all were easily crossed.

I went in at Granite Chief Trail, and did an afternoon’s work brushing the trail, and then much of the next day. I’ve completed the portion to about half way up where the trail crosses a creek near a mules ears meadow. Probably another day’s work yet to do to finish it off to the top. Huckleberry oak, white thorn, and pine mat manzanita have died back in a number of places along the trail. Is it from too much snow last year, or too little this year, or some other reason? I camped out on a granite ledge that hangs over Squaw Creek canyon, but slept very little with the wind howling all night.

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Through the watersheds

Drummond’s Anemone, near Little Needle Peak

I had a great six day trip through the Granite Chief Wilderness, plus some additional country to the north. I went in at Alpine Meadows Trailhead, and out at Squaw Valley Trailhead, with at least 67 miles in between.

Since some people read this blog for trail conditions: Five Lakes Creek cannot be crossed anywhere downstream of the PCT trail crossing, except on logs. The Middle Fork of the American River cannot be crossed at the Picayune Valley trail crossing, but can on a log downstream. The Five Lakes Creek Trail is mostly clear of snow. Upper Grayhorse Trail, upper Picayune Valley Trail, and upper Granite Chief Trail are largely under snow, but the trails can be followed with attention.

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Down in the Rubicon

ridge south of Little Needle Peak

Had another wonderful five day backpack in the Granite Chief last week. A lot of the trip was just re-visiting places I’d been before, some of them not in several years though.

As a new trip I went to Little Needle Lake which I’d heard other people mention but not been to. It is a shallow, alder and willow bordered lake in the volcanic rock below Little Needle Peak. It is a pretty setting, with soggy wet meadows surrounding the lake and a spectacular cliff above. The route is is a vague trail, and there are some seldom used campsites at the lake. To avoid the thick mosquitos at the lake, I camped to the north on a granite bench, where there were some really cool trees and a great view of the end of the day down the Middle Fork American River canyon. The next day I headed up onto the ridge and south, following the divide between Picayune Valley and Five Lake Creek, eventually reconnecting to the Picayune Valley trail a little east of where it climbs out of Picayune Valley. The ridge does not have a trail, but the going was pretty easy, with great views and a different perspective than I’ve gotten elsewhere.

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Granite Chief Trail 2008-08-24

Squaw Creek meadow and Granite Chief

For the first time, I hiked up the Granite Chief Trail which links Squaw Valley with the Pacific Crest Trail just north of the wilderness. I went on to the top of Granite Chief at 9006 feet, with a clear view in all directions.

The trail starts literally at the right side of the main fire station in Squaw Valley, which is just north of where the main road turns left towards The Village. There is a traditional Granite Chief Wilderness information sign, and a Granite Chief Trail sign, but no destination or mileage sign. The trail climbs past a ropes course and then steeply through private property below houses to a dirt road leading left to a large water tank, then becomes a trail again. The trail alternates steep rocky eroded sections with gentle smooth grades, all the way to the crest. I few seeps and creeklets are still flowing in the lower half of the trail. There are two major side trails, unsigned, that take off the trail in the lower half, not that noticeable going up but quite noticeable and confusing coming down. At the first split coming down, the right fork connects to the Squaw Creek – Shirley Lake trail, so take the left to stay on the main trail. At the second split coming down, I didn’t follow out the left fork, but the right is the main trail. When coming down past the water tank, the trail is not marked but leaves the road to the right not far down.

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