Tag Archives: Powderhorn Trail

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.

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

report from Daniel Nasaw

Daniel Nasaw sent this brief post-trip update back in July:

Our trip was really fantastic, despite some early trouble.  We lost the Powderhorn trail almost right away and ended up bushwhacking down the west-facing slope almost a quarter mile to the west of the Powderhorn Creek.  When we got to the bottom of the ravine we whacked north-eastward and eventually found the trail right where it comes down out of the woods and into that small meadow before it crosses the creek.

We now think what happened is we followed the logging road, just as you warned not to, instead of the trail.  We think this happened right toward the beginning where there’s that large clearing with a huge stump right in the middle and the old sawn logs off to the right of the trail.  The logging road continues up to the left, while the trail continues directly ahead.  So we probably lost about an hour and missed out on a lot of beautiful views — and I got plenty spooked that first night.

But after that, we had no trouble at all, and followed the trails all the way north to Whiskey Creek and back the following day, and took the Powderhorn trail back up to the trailhead and our vehicle the day after that.

An amazing trip!  Thanks so much for your help!