Hadn’t been up to the Sierras in a while, so over the 4th of July weekend I took a three day backpacking trip to Cottonwood Lakes near Lone Pine, California. Camp was set up between lakes number Two and Three. On the second day I hiked to Long Lake and High Lake before turning around at the base of New Army Pass. The weather was perfect the whole time but the mosquitoes were out in full force. A full set of photos 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.
We left our car parked outside the Mammoth Mountain Inn where we had stayed the night before and boarded the Red’s Meadow shuttle bus. Moments after being dropped off at the Agnew Meadows shuttle stop we were already getting attacked by mosquitoes despite drenching ourselves in DEET.
We set off down the road, pass the pack station, to where the High Trail of the PCT started. There were some short steep switchbacks in the beginning, but after that the trail leveled out and was pretty straight.
Out of all the days we decided to hike this mostly exposed trail, it had to be during a heatwave. To say the least, it was not cool outside as we hiked but the views from the trail were great.
After about 8 miles we came to Thousand Island Lake which was to be the location of our first night’s camp. Due to camping restrictions around the lake we had to hike about another mile further to find a camping spot, however, many people were ignoring the restriction.
We opted to go for the less popular south side and found a somewhat flat spot up on the side of a hill. The mosquitoes were still pretty bad even being up and away from the lake so we retired to the tent and spent most of the day laying in there resting.
The next day we headed south on the John Muir Trail and passed by Emerald Lake and Ruby Lake, finally coming to the large Garnet Lake.
There was a nice footbridge over the large outflow at Garnet Lake where a lot of people were hanging out and getting water. We too stopped here to check out the view and collect water for our hike.
After passing over the footbridge we did a little uphill but then peaked out and started heading downward towards Shadow Lake. For some reason I had in my head that this was what most of the day was going to be like, until we reached the east end of Shadow Lake and I met the switchbacks from hell. I think these may have been the most intense group of switchbacks I have ever gone up. Maybe it was because I had a pack on, or because I was still tired from the hike yesterday, but either way they made me miserable. Alas I knew it was just after these switchbacks and we’d be at Rosalie Lake which was our planned 2nd night camp. And we needed to get there since the weather was starting to turn. Just as we finished setting up our tent it began to rain, but just a little bit. We crawled inside to rest as the skies opened up a little more and the wind got more blustery. I think being in a tent when it’s raining outside is one of my favorite things. We rested in the tent most of the later half of the day until the weather let up and the skies cleared again. I took this opportunity to get out and walk around Rosalie Lake a bit.
I felt like this lake had a lot of good spots for setting up tents, unlike a lot of the other lakes we had passed by earlier on the trip. The mosquitoes were also not as bad here, but they were still enough to be a nuisance. I cooked some soup for dinner on our Esbit stove which I finally started getting a hang of, then crawled back into the tent to eat and call it a night.
Back on the trail in the morning after a quick breakfast of trail bars we quickly passed Glady’s Lake, but didn’t stop long due the barrage of mosquitos.
The trail this day was almost all downhill so it went by quickly. It actually went by a lot more quickly than we anticipated. We were planning on spending our next night around Johnston Lake but we got there so early in the day we decided to just keep going.
Not much further past Johnston Lake we entered into the Devils Postpile Monument.
It was still another mile or so until we came across what actually looked like an established area. Our first sign we were getting back to civilization was the footbridge over the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.
At this point we had to figure out where we were gonna stay for the night. We had a couple options; A: We could catch a shuttle bus from the Devils Postpile back to where we left our car at the Mammoth Mountain Inn and try and find a hotel, or B: See if we could get a campground at Red’s Meadow or the Devils Postpile. We decided to go with the later option and see if we could just find a campsite in the area, that way we could wake up the next morning and check out the postpile before the tourist crowds rolled in. We made our way to the “ranger” station near the Devils Postpile shuttle stop to ask about the campgrounds. The woman working there looked at me as if I was speaking a different language when I asked about the availability of campsites. All she could offer me was, “you can go check.” Last time I checked rangers were supposed to know about these things, but oh well. We walked over to the campground to find that there were a few spots left, but alas, we had no cash with us to pay for a site!
We figured maybe at Red’s Meadow Resort we could get some cash, so we hopped on the valley Shuttle and cruised over there. While there we grabbed some sub-par food at the restaurant, some beer and snacks from the store, which also gave us cash back!
We rode back to the campground on the shuttle, nabbed a spot, paid for it, and then basked in our accomplishments of the day.
The next morning we got up as planned to go check out the Devils Postpile which was very close to our campsite. Just a short walk and we were among the first people there that day.
We took the trail to the top of the postpile as well. It was nice being able to check out the whole area with almost no one else around.
We had a little more time left before we had to be out of our campsite so we headed on over to Rainbow Falls. We took the shuttle to the trailhead and did the short hike, but we only had enough time to check it out from above and had to head back to pack up our camp.
We took the shuttle back to camp, packed up, then took the shuttle back out to Mammoth Mountain Inn where we had left our car. Below is a map of our route.
More pictures from this tip can be found here.
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.
The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend we set out for Kennedy Meadows near the Kern River (not to be mistaken for the other Kennedy Meadows near Sonora Pass) for some backpacking. On our way to Kennedy Meadows we ended up taking a slight detour through The Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway that ended up being pretty cool. We took a left on Canebrake Road from the 178 just east of Lake Isabella and drove up the winding dirt road and passed by a cool looking campsite on the way.
I was a little worried about taking my 2WD wagon onto this dirt road which I knew nothing about, but the road ended up being pretty well maintained and well graded.
It was nice coming down off the dirt road to meet back up with actual pavement. We turned onto Kennedy Meadows Road and took it all the way to the campground at the end of the road where the PCT passes through. There was a parking area in the campground near the trailhead where we were able to park for free.
Not too long after we hit the trail we crossed the boundary into the South Sierra Wilderness.
At 2 miles from the trailhead we came to a wooden footbridge which extends over the Kern River. Before this bridge was built, hikers had to forge the river here.
There were a group of people camping right past the bridge which I thought was weird, but maybe it was a good camping spot. We continued on the trail which kept gradually gaining elevation and at about 4 miles in we entered an area of the forest which had suffered some fire damage.
At 4.5 miles we came out of the burnt zone and then started getting nice views of Clover Meadow. This was the area in which we were planning to camp.
We headed north on the trail and kept an eye out for good places to set up camp. We eventually settled on a spot near Crag Creek that overlooked the south part of Clover Meadow.
The weather was perfect out and there were not many bugs at all. There was also very few people out in the area considering it was a holiday weekend. Later in the evening it started getting chilly so we started a small fire and enjoyed watching the stars come out.
The next morning we made a quick breakfast and packed out. When we left our camp we took a different trail that followed Crag Creek, but we ended up losing the trail and had to cross-country back to the PCT.
This little stretch of the PCT in the South Sierras is quite nice, and the fact that we didn’t need a wilderness permit for this area made it even better. I’d also definitely recommend the campground in Kennedy Meadows for a good drive up camping spot. The hike out from Kennedy Meadows to Clover Meadow is about 5.4 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Headed out for another weekend of camping Saturday morning. A small group and I were off to Valley Forge Trail Camp. I had never been here before and I believe it was closed for a while due to the Station Fire closure. I had been wanting to check this place out ever since I heard this part of the Angeles National Forest was reopened. The trailhead we started at was called Red Box which is right across the way from the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center which, naturally, we had to check out.
They had a cool primitive fire starter on display as well as some other artifacts and items for sale. I never even knew this place even existed so that was a neat surprise to start the trip off with.
Next it was onto the trail. The trailhead is clearly marked with a wooden sign and the trail starts right next to it and descends down some stone steps.
The first quarter mile or so of the trail descends quickly and then kind of levels out in a wooded gully. It was not long on the trail until we came across some old machinery of some sort buried in some foliage. It looked kinda cool.
A little further in we came across clusters of ladybugs on a plant near a creek crossing.
The trail we were on was part of the Gabrielino National Recreation Trail and was already proving to be a beautiful hike. After a little less than mile we came across a sign which told us we were only 1.5 miles away from the camp.
We kept hiking and enjoying the scenery. Parts of the trail followed near a creak bed which was dry in some locations. This made us wonder if we’d find water near camp.
I’d say about after 2 miles on the trail we came to a cabin site where there were ruins of an old cabin but also an new and nicely maintained cabin. There was also an old propane tank, water well, and storage shed.
Not sure what the place was called but we checked it out and then continued on towards camp.
When we got to the campsite we found the creek running strong and no one else around. It was a fairly large campsite so we explored all the areas to find the best place to set up camp. There was even a bridge towards the back of the camp you could cross to get to more campsites, however these sites we in a bit of disrepair.
We settled on a spot with a good fire pit, nicely arranged sittin’ logs, and flat grassy areas for our tents. Before setting up we busted out some celebratory beers.
It wasn’t long after we got to camp when the weather took a nasty little turn. We got some strong gusts of cold wind and a little bit of rain thrown on us. We took that as a motivator to get our tents set up ASAP. As we were setting everything up it started raining on us quite regularly but we were able to get everything set up and out of the rain. To pass the time we took cover under one of the bathroom’s porches, had a beer, and waited for the rain to pass.
We probably had to wait about 45 minutes until the rain finally stopped. We decided to quickly start gathering fire wood in case the rain decided to come back. Luckily we were able to find a good amount of wood that was still dry and before long we had a nice fire going.
After the rain had passed the skies turned clear again and the threat of rain quickly disappeared. This made me happy since we were able to actually hang out and enjoy our campsite and not hide out in our tents or on the bathroom patio.
The skies stayed clear into the night and we had a nice time hanging out around our campfire. The temperature dropped down enough while we were sleeping to freeze some of the condensation on our tents, however it didn’t feel that cold to me. When we awoke and finally crawled out of our tents it was your typical cold and crisp forest morning.
The hike out was quite pleasant with everything still wet with the shower from the day before.
The trail back had a gradual elevation gain since we were climbing slowly out of a canyon, but nothing too bad. The last 1/4 mile started ascending more steeply and was a little more difficult but not very long. We finally were back at the steps that led up to the parking lot.
The entire trip was about 5.5 miles roundtrip making the hike to and from the campsite about only 2.25 miles. I really enjoyed this trail and the camp; I’d love to come back with a bigger group of people someday.
A buddy of mine asked me if I wanted to go camping soon, and of course I was game. I looked up some trail camps in the local mountains that looked like they might be good for a short backpacking trip and finally decided on Cooper Canyon Trail Camp off the PCT. We drove out on Saturday morning, met up with some people in LA and drove up the 2 to Cloudburst Summit. The camp is about a 2.5 mile hike from the highway but we decided to take the trail up to Winston Peak first for a small detour.
It was a bit of a workout hiking straight up that small peak with our packs on, and coming down it wasn’t all that easier either. The other side of the peak descended sharply and had lots of lose gravel and rocks.
We started hitting our first large patches of snow here.
After coming down from Winston Peak we met up with the PCT trail and had a quick snack break.
After meeting up with the PCT the trail descended down into the canyon. This area was a beautiful place to hike through. I wanted to take like a million pictures.
It didn’t take long to eventually arrive at the trail camp. We were happy to find that the stream nearby was still running enough that we could use it as a water source.
We were also happy to see that no one else was occupying the campsite so we had it all to ourselves! What, no one else wants to camp in the mountains in the middle of January??
After a quick lunch at the campsite we decided to take a day hike down to the nearby falls before it got too late in the day. We took the PCT/Silver Mocassin Trail from camp down about a mile where we spotted the top of the falls.
It took us a second look to figure out how to get down to the falls but we eventually found a trail that led down to a spot where someone had installed a convenient rope (that was actually in good condition).
There was a good amount of water still coming down the falls, but I’m sure it was nothing compared to what it would look like in springtime.
After hanging around the falls a while we decided we should head back to camp to set up our tents before it started to get dark. I took my time getting back to camp taking a bunch of pictures on the way; I really loved this area.
By the time we got back to camp it had already started to get chilly so we started a small fire in one of the stone stoves. It was nice to have something to warm your hands over.
Before the sun went down we had camp set up pretty well. The sky during sunset was awesome looking from camp.
As night rolled around it started getting quite cold, but of course by this time we already had a nice campfire roaring to keep us warm as we stayed up into the night.
The moon and stars were everything I would expect from a crisp, clear mountain night.
In the morning we restarted the fire for some warmth. We could tell the temperatures dropped below freezing as some of our water that was left out froze over night.
The morning sun peaked through the trees as we readied breakfast and coffee.
After downing our hot coffee and getting down on some excellent breakfast we packed up and headed out. We decided to take a cross-country route up out of the canyon.
It was a little strenuous but we eventually met up with a forest service road which took us back to the trailhead at Cloudburst Summit. Below is the GPS track to the camp, the falls, and back to the trailhead.