Labor Day Weekend was upon us and we were planning on backpacking the North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail around Seven Lakes but could not get walk-in wilderness permits for the weekend. Luckily I had a backup idea, and we resorted to Bishop Pass Trail which started at South Lake. We spent Friday night at a drive-up campground called Horton Creek before we headed up into the mountains. Pictures from this trip can be found here.
We pulled into the “town” of Ballarat around 9:00am on Friday morning and left the traditional beer donation on the porch of the trading post since it was not open yet. After leaving one car in the parking lot of the trading post we headed up Surprise Canyon Road to Novak’s Camp where we parked and got ready for the hike.
The road up to Novak’s Camp was in pretty good shape and I would say a normal car could have made it to the end of the road without much trouble. Novak’s Camp, which is the trailhead for the hike, is also called Chris Wicht Camp. There was another group of guys who had been camping there who were also planning on hiking up to Panamint City that day.
The hike up Surprise Canyon to Panamint City is pretty accurately described, and in length, on many website across the internet so I am not going to go into great detail about it here. I will say though, that even sounding like a short hike, at about 5 1/2 miles, the obstacles, bushwhacking, crawling, and climbing make it a nice long trek (especially with a pack on) up a constant grade. Check here for an in-depth description of the hike. A lot of people suggest taking two pairs of shoes due to the water hiking, but I was able to make due with a good pair of ankle-high waterproof boots. I may have just gotten lucky with the water level, but I’m also not sure how high it gets. One of the highlights of the hike was coming across some of the wild burros that frequent the canyon; however, they did not seem to appreciate our presence.
When you’re on the last leg of the trail and finally see that iconic brick smoke stack in the distance there’s a great feeling of joy and accomplishment. Also, you know you have just a little bit more hiking to do!
Once we arrived in Panamint City we found the other group shacking up in one of the cabins referred to as “The Hilton.” The cabin had a working water faucet in the kitchen and a manual flush system toilet in the bathroom. The floors were pretty torn up and the kitchen was a little messy, but I was still pretty impressed with the condition of the place. We set up our tents not too far away from this cabin so we could have access to the running water when we needed it. Due to the risk of being exposed to Hantavirus we had planned on staying in our tents, not the cabins.
At night we made dinner, ate, and chatted with the other group of fellows who we found out were from the greater San Diego area. They were all eating MRE’s; I’m not sure why I never though of that for camping food before!
Saturday after breakfast some of us decided to hike around the area and explore more of the old structures. We first hiked up Water Canyon to an area called Thomson Camp. Here we found a couple of dilapidated structures and a ’55 Oldsmobile jammed up against a hillside. A little further up the canyon there was a water tank with cold, flowing water.
On our way out of Water Canyon we came across “The Green Tank” which had a trickle of water flowing into it. The wooden top of the tank had broken and fallen into the tank. The water level in the tank was probably less than 8 inches high.
We continued our exploration over to the “Hippy Cabin” which no one had occupied. There was no running water at this location which I could find. The inside was in decent shape but a little dirty and there were definite signs that rodents frequent the place. I hung out here a little while enjoying the view from outside the front door. You get a good vantage point down on the rest of the buildings in Panamint.
As it got later in the day there were more people arriving in the area. Panamint City started to look more like an inhabited village rather than an abandoned ghost town. There was a large group of college students that came in from San Luis Obispo and another smaller group from the Los Angeles County area. Everyone was friendly and it was nice having some other folks to talk to while we were there.
It was our intention to check out “The Castle” cabin in Sourdough Canyon the next day; however, the rain we got throughout the night and into the morning kind of put a damper on that plan. Other folks had visited the cabin on Saturday and it was reported in excellent condition (better than the other two cabins) with running water. In efforts to get out of the rain and try to keep dry we left Panamint City without exploring anything else. The hike back was much easier than the hike in, although it still seemed pretty long.
This was definitely a trip for the books. I would love to come back in the spring, perhaps when the mountains still have a little snow left on them.
A full set of pictures from this trip can be found here.
For reference: This trip took place November 18th-20th, 2016.
Pictures from three days in the Mojave Desert can be found here. We spent most of our time on The Old Mojave Road with stops at an old mining area, a lava tube, and the “Mojave Mailbox.”
Memorial Day Weekend we headed up to the Sequoias. We stopped in Bakersfield for an early lunch at Camino Real which was pretty good and even offered a good selection of vegetarian options, which surprised me for being in Bakersfield. Back on the road, we drove up through Porterville and then East on Highway 190 into the Sequoia National Forest. We were headed for the Quaking Aspen Campground where I had reserved a campsite for one night.
Once camp was set up we still had some daylight left so we drove down to the Trail of 100 Giants. Parking seemed to be limited when we got there but after waiting a little while we were able to take a spot from a group that was leaving and paid the $5 day use fee. Although I’ve been to the Sequoias before, these large trees never cease to amaze me with their gigantic mass.
On our way back to the campsite we stopped at the Ponderosa Lodge for some extra supplies but also decided to have a few beers out on the patio since it was so nice out. Back at camp we prepared dinner and started our fire.
We played a fun game of Cards Against Humanity until it was pretty cold and late. It got colder than I had anticipated that night in camp and I was somewhat uncomfortable all night and didn’t get much sleep. In the morning we made breakfast and packed up. We were going to drive to the trailhead for the Needles Lookout but while passing by the Ponderosa Lodge again we saw that the chili cook-off was in full swing so had to stop and check it out.
We hung out at the Poderosa Lodge for a while listening to the live music and people watching (probably longer than we should have). We finally hit the road again and headed out to find the trailhead to the Needles Lookout, which was actually very close to Ponderosa. I turned off onto a dirt road which had a sign and an arrow that said “Needles Lookout” so I figured that was the way to go. When trying to drive up the road to the trailhead the road became less and less passable. There were large erosion ruts in the dirt and the road was becoming very narrow as we got further up. There were a lot of cars that just parked off on the sliver of land next to the road but there was really no place for us to park. Eventually, we had to back our way down and turn around on the narrow dirt road and we left. Since that trailhead proved too difficult to get to I figured we’d try something easier and headed for the Dome Rock trailhead. This was much more accessible and the trail to the top of Dome Rock was super short.
On top of Dome Rock we were able to get expansive views of the forest below and distant mountains. It was such a surreal view it almost felt like looking at a large panoramic painting.
When we descended Dome Rock it was about time for lunch so we made some sandwiches before heading out to our next destination.
I wanted to make it to our next camping spot with some daylight left so we headed for a place called Big Meadow, which is where I wanted to stay. We drove south on the Great Western Divide Highway until we hit M-50 at Parker Pass, then made a left towards Johnsondale. We made a quick stop in Johnsondale at the R-Ranch for some last minute snacks. The R-Ranch was situated in a nice area with a lake nearby but kinda had weird compound vibe to it. We had to check in with a guy in a toll booth before driving up to their general store. We parked and got out and walked up the steps to the store, but before entering I caught sight of one of the locals hanging out near the porch.
After patronizing R-Ranch we made our way down Sherman Pass Road until we got to Forest Route 22s12 which would take us to Big Meadow. But before getting to Big Meadow we came across a sign for Horse Meadow Campground, which is an established campground versus the dispersed camping we were heading for. We decided to check it out in hopes we could have a fire there since there was a fire ban in all other surrounding areas. Once we found a spot and parked we were approached by an old Santa Claus looking man who turned out to be the camp host. He told us the temperatures here were dropping to the low 30s at night and asked if we had a bucket and shovel, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be allowed to have a fire. Well we had a bucket but didn’t have a shovel. It almost seemed like the guy was trying to get us to leave as he chuckled about the weather. But even if we could have a fire we weren’t really equipped to sleep out in weather that cold, so we decided to head down the mountain where it would be warmer and see what kind of dispersed camping we could find near the Kern River.
On our way down the M-99 next to the Kern we saw a few promising spots where other people were camping. We made a pit stop at McNally’s for a bathroom break and then headed back up to one of the spots we saw earlier. We found a good location near the river where no one else was camping. There was already a fire ring set up and even a bench someone crafted out of rocks. I think the area was called Roads End; it was just north of McNally’s and the Fairview Campground on the west side of the road.
The next morning we stopped by McNally’s again in hopes of getting breakfast but apparently they are not open for breakfast. We continued down to Kernville where we ate the Cracked Egg Cafe (I didn’t think it was anything special, but then again I’m a vegetarian). In the center of town at Circle Park there was a craft fair going on so we checked that out for a bit. But before it was time to depart Kernville, I had one more stop to make, and that was the Kern River Brewing Company.
I first tried their Sequoia Red, which was alright, but then decided I should just order a flight so I can try all of the beers since we had a limited time here. The beer that surprised me the most was their Just Outstanding IPA. I am not an IPA fan by any measure, but this beer was, well, just outstanding. It didn’t hit you in the face with crazy hoppiness, but still had great flavor, was well balanced, crisp, and smooth going down. I feel like real hopheads would actually denounce it as an IPA, but for me it was great.
While sitting out on the outside deck enjoying the beer and scenery, the bartender came out and asked if I wanted to try their 7th Anniversary Imperial Coffee Stout, well that was a no brainer. She brought it out to me in a flight glass free of charge and it was hands down the winner of the day. I really wish I could’ve spent some more time there and tried some of their food since the place seemed to be a great establishment. Next time I’m in Kernville it is on my list for sure.
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While looking at various maps of Joshua Tree National Park, I noticed a little place called “Pine Spring” which wasn’t too far away from a place called Pine City which I had been before. I figured it might be worth checking out since a spring in the desert might be an interesting thing to see. Friday night we cruised into the dirt parking lot at the Pine City Backcountry registration board and hiked out into the night and camped.
In the morning we made breakfast and headed out in the direction I thought the spring was. I ended up taking us in the wrong direction at first but was able to get us back on track using the GPS app (EveryTrail) on my iPhone. There was no trail to follow so we were just using our best judgement based on a printed topo map and the GPS app to guide us to where the spring was.
After climbing up a small hill we found a large rock formation at the top that had a cave in it. It was a nice spot to take a break and enjoy the view.
We descended from this point and came down to an area which had a man-made rock pile. We thought this was strange because there was no trail or any other markings around leading to this spot. Not sure who made it or for what reason. At least we could use it as a marker if we decided to come back this way.
We climbed up from where the strange marker was to the top of another hill. From there it seemed like we just had to go straight down a small rocky gulch. We negotiated our way past boulders and desert shrubs, slowly scaling our way down the gulch, which was somewhat steep in some places. As we came down the gulch we could see some sort of structure in the distance below and figured it must have something to do with the spring since we knew we were getting close.
The gulch finally bottomed out into a wash and we walked a little further to where the structure was. As we got closer we could see the structure was just a large sloped plane of corrugated steel. There was also a large steel holding tank half buried in the ground. It turns out that the structure was a rain catch which directed water into the holding tank; a little less spectacular than finding a spring but still kind of interesting. The reason for this being at this particular location still remains a mystery to me. My best guess is that it is used to supply water to wildlife somehow.
We took a break at the “spring” and had a snack. It seemed that there was another trail that lead here from the oposite direction from which we came. Not sure where it started from. We were able to find a much shorter route back to camp which followed part of the Pine City Trail.
Back at camp we hung out, drank beer, ate snacks, and waited for more of our friends to show up. That night for dinner I made something I had been wanting to try and make in the backcountry for a while: PIZZA! After a while of eating the same stuff you start wanting to get creative with your camp meals. I bought a pack of pre-made pizza crusts, some pesto which I put in a plastic bag, mozzarella cheese slices, a can of sliced black olives, diced green pepper, and a pack of sun dried tomatoes. We heated the crust up on our camp pan, put all the toppings on, then covered the pan with foil. The pizza didn’t get thoroughly cooked but it still tasted great anyway. I mean, how often do you get to have pizza when you’re in the backcountry?
When we were driving out of the park from the trailhead the car decided to break down on the dirt road, but that’s another story. I think we ended up making it back home to Orange County at around 10pm at night.
More pictures from this trip can be found here.
Friday night a small posse and I headed out to the desert for some long awaited camping. It had been a while since I had been out camping in the desert and was really looking forward to it. I wasn’t exactly sure where we were going to actually camp but I had somewhat of and idea. We parked around 10:00pm, grab our packs, and set off into the night.
We wondered down a familiar trail for about a mile, and then hung a right down a sandy wash for another half mile and started looking for a place that looked suitable for a campsite. Eventually we came across an outcropping of boulders and figured we might as well check it out since the large rocks could shelter us from the wind. To our surprise these rocks had formed a large cave which we could fit two tents in easily. With little discussion we quickly decided this is where we’d make camp.
There was even enough room for us to build a small stone table which we could all sit around and hang out.
In the morning Nader cooked up some mean breakfast and then Stu and Brian rolled in with some supplies for morning mimosas.
I’m not sure if a crisp desert morning could get any better.
It was an awesome day out but we spent most of it just hanging around camp, eating, drinking, and talking. After all, we did sleep in until almost 11:00am since our cave was so dark and cozy.
Later in the day we climbed up some of the rock formations around us to get some good views of the surrounding area.
As the sun started going down we decided we better find a good spot to watch it set.