..........................................................Arizona Jones Outdoors: Hiking, Backpacking, Mountain Biking, and more!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Backpacking Big Pine Creek, Eastern High Sierra

I know this blog is called Arizona Jones and much of the outdoor stuff is from Arizona. But Arizona Jones is me and not a place so I will give you outdoor adventures that impacted me. Such as the Lake Ediza backpack story. So here is another Eastern Sierra trip that I found to be amazing. It is to The North Fork of Big Pine Creek in the John Muir Wilderness.
This trip is to a valley nestled high in the Eastern Sierras at the base of some of the highest peaks in the entire Sierra Nevada range. These peaks are just shy of the height of Mt. Whitney. The basin contains at least eight lakes and some fantastic scenery and is also the site of the southern most glacier in the United States, the Palisade Glacier. This trip starts at a parking area just 1/2 mile east of Glacier Lodge (a good place to get a shower once you return). The trailhead that you start at is at 7,750 feet and you take the North Fork Trail from there. The trail at first heads west along a south facing ridge with sage brush, and bitter brush with just a few pines. There is heavy exposure to the sun and little shade so get an early start. The climb at first is moderate and the trail is well maintained. As you climb you have great views across the valley to the Middle Palisades (14,040) and the valley of the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. After only a mile the trail turns northwest and you come to a nice sized waterfall called First Falls. At 1.6 miles from the trailhead there is a trail intersection. The right or northeast direction takes you steeply up to Baker Creek, the left trail descends down to a picnic area at the end of the road, and the middle is the North Fork Trail and what you want. Soon after you will pass a second water fall called Second Falls.
The trail does a few switch backs and then parallels the North Fork and you start having more abundant tree cover. This is a welcome relief from the sun exposure. Soon you reach an more lushly vegetated area with some aspens called Cienega Mirth where you will see a stone cabin that was built by the movie star Lon Chaney three miles from the trailhead. You are now at 9,220 ft. elevation and have climbed 1420 feet in three miles. After this the trail climbs some more and First Lake comes into view along with towering and rugged looking Temple Crag. First Lake is around 4.5 miles from the trailhead and is at 9,900 ft elevation. Near here, there is a trail junction and a trail cuts off to the right and steeply climbs switchbacks up an exposed ridge to Black Lake at 10,625 foot elevation. I took this route and returned back down the North Fork Trail making a loop trip. As you climb up the Black Lake trail you have amazing views across the valley at First and Second lakes and the Palisade Crest.
We camped at Black Lake our first night and were pretty happy. We had this lake all to our selves and the view across the lake to the Palisade Crest is great. Trout are abundant in this lake and the water comes alive with jumping fish at twilight. We thought this lake was pretty nice and would have been happy if this was our destination. But the next day we found that this valley has so much more to offer. The next day we headed farther west and climbed over a ridge and after about a mile or so we came to beautiful Fourth Lake (10,750 ft). Fourth Lake has really great views of the very impressive Palisade Crest mountain group of Temple Crag (13,000), Mount Sill (14,162), North Palisade (14,242) Thunderbolt Peak (14,000), Mount Winchell(13,768), and Mount Agassiz (13,891), The lake is a centrally located lake and and there is a four way trail junction near it that leads north to Sixth Lake (11,090 ft.)and Seventh Lake (11,210 ft.) or West to Fifth Lake (10,750 ft.), south back down North Fork Trail to Third Lake (10,400 ft.), Second Lake (10,000 ft.), and First Lake or back east to Black Lake. We took the north pointing trail around the west side of Fourth Lake up to Sixth and Seventh Lakes and explored for the day. Sixth and Seventh Lakes are up high in a bowl at the end of the valley. And the trees are smaller and stunted as you are above 11,000 feet and almost above tree line. and just west of them are some impressive mountains. One is called Cloud Ripper and is 13,501 feet tall. After exploring these two lakes we ending up finding our way back down an unnamed trail to Fifth Lake were we camped for the night. This lake is magnificent with an amazing blue color. This photo below is as we were coming down to Fifth Lake from Sixth Lake
Fifth lake is 6.5 miles from the trailhead if you come directly up North Fork Trail. Seventh Lake is about 8 miles from the trailhead. That evening we saw this amazing spectacle as the sun went down some of the peaks were just glowing. I think the term for this phenomena is "alpenglow". I knew then why Ansel Adams called the Sierra Nevada the "Range of Light".
The next morning we woke early to explore some more and found that on the trail between Fourth Lake and Third Lake (about a half mile above Third Lake) is a trail that takes you south and up steep switchbacks to a meadow called Sam Mack Meadow (seen below). This was amazing place above the tree line where there was only short grass. Here the water was coming right out of snow pack and waterfalls were numerous forming a beautiful blue stream. This trail continues to climb even higher over a bare rock ridge up to the Palisade Glacier. This glacier photo is the only one that I did not take but I felt you should get a good glimpse of it so I tracked this photo down. The Palisade Glacier is at 12,400 feet and is around 9.0 miles from the trail head. I could have spent several more days exploring this valley and not ever tired of the spectacular scenery. On our return we went back by the route of the North Fork Trail and took our time stopping at Third Lake, then Second Lake, and finally First lake as we traveled back down the valley.
Whoever named these lakes was not very creative. These three lakes below the glacier have amazing colored water from the glacier melt and great vistas of rugged Temple Crag and the Palisade Crest. This lake basin is just a great place to explore yet it is relatively easy to get to and a short hike for Sierra Nevada standards with very big payoffs. And if you want more and are an experienced outdoors type there is a faint trail above Seventh Lake that climbs north above the lake to a gap and then drops you down into Thunder and Lightning Lake and you could return by the Baker Creek Trail making a close to 20 mile loop trip. If you like to fish, most of the lakes in this basin have trout and the upper ones are said to have Goldens.
To camp overnight you need to obtain permits that I you can obtain on line from the forest service. Entry to the North Fork of Big Pine Creek is limited to twenty five people per day. Wilderness permits may be reserved or obtained on a walk-in basis also. In most areas, 60% of the space may be reserved in advance; the remaining 40% of space is set aside for visitors who come to the area without reservations. When traveling overnight in the Sierras you should store all your food in bear canisters for safety. I never saw any bears however.
For More Information
White Mountain Ranger Station,
798 N. Main St. Bishop CA, 93514
(760) 873 2400
or go online to:
Big Pine Creek is located near Big Pine, California. To get to the trail headtrailhead you turn off of HWY. 395, west on Crocker Street in Big Pine and continue about 11 miles up into the mountains to the trailhead parking lot on the right. If you get to Glacier Lodge you passed it by a half mile.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

West Clear Creek Wilderness, AZ

I started this blog with a small piece about a backpack trip into West Clear Creek Wilderness in Arizona. But that is just a small part of what there is to see in this remarkable place. West Clear Creek Wilderness Area is a deep entrenched canyon with a year round stream flowing through it. This canyon runs east to west from near Happy Jack up on the Mogollon Rim down to near Camp Verde. It is very remote and wild with deep pools of water and red sandstone cliffs. The traveling in this canyon is rugged and difficult with few trails and much of the time you are in the water wading or swimming and the rest of the time boulder hopping. Travel in this canyon should be done with care because there is no easy way to get help. The monsoon season should be avoided due to flash flood danger and the winter it is too cold to swim. The Canyon is more than thirty miles long and some sources say as much as forty.
The canyon has four parts divided by upper, bottom half of the upper, middle and lower.
Upper: The upper part of West Clear Creek is a wide canyon, and very beautiful. There are not the significant narrow parts, but the upper part has large Coconino Sandstone cliffs with a nice forest of large trees.
The pools are often large but not as deep as in the middle section and you can navigate with just getting your feet wet in most cases. Expect to do a little wading in this part of the canyon, but no real swimming is required. There are several access points to the upper section.
You can access from the north side of the canyon at both Maxwell Trail and Tramway Trail that are the ends of FR 81E that forks near the end. These trails switch back down into the canyon from the rim and are steep but are well maintained Forest Service trails. You can also enter from the south at FR 142E which is a little steeper and more rugged trail. There are some pictographs on the north side of the canyon just downstream from the Maxwell trail that are interesting to visit.
This upper part of the canyon is a great day hike destination to get a feel for what this place is like. The travel in this upper section is much easier than the the middle section of the canyon
The bottom half of the upper canyon: This part is accessed by two trails from the south side of the canyon. One is the Calloway Trail at the end of FR 142B and the other is an unnamed trail at the end of FR 142A. the Calloway Trail is a steep switch back decent from the rim down into the canyon but the trail is maintained and well built. The trail at the end of FR 142A is more of a scramble in places and pretty steep. This bottom half of the upper canyon is more difficult to travel. In the canyon between these two entrances are some places you will have to swim to get past. In one place there are two large deep pools right under some power lines that cross over the canyon. These pools have steep white cliffs on both sides.
This is a great place to go for a day hike and swim on a hot day to get a feel for what West Clear Creek is all about.

If you go farther down stream toward FR 142 A there is a place that was hard to get past with another large pool where I just jumped into the water instead of trying to climb around it. Some people make a long loop by going down Calloway trail at FR 142B and then go down the canyon and come out at FR 142A. this could be an overnight trip or a very very long day.
The middle: this part of the canyon is from FR 142A down to where trail #17 comes down off the rim. To my knowledge there are no access point in this whole section (unless you rock climb). For me this is what West Clear Creek is all about. Remote solitude, with deep still pools reflecting canyon walls. This part of the canyon the travel is rugged and difficult and will test even the most fit outdoor enthusiast.

To travel into this part of the canyon it is pretty much an overnight affair. It took me three long days to get from FR 142A down to Bull Pen Ranch. And in this middle section you are going to get wet. There are many places where you have to swim to get past the large pools where sandstone cliffs come directly out of the water on both sides.

So to do this you must have all your stuff in dry bags and float your pack. From the trail at FR 142A you head down stream and right away you encounter a deep slot with large white cliffs on both sides with the water going from cliff to cliff. This is called The White Box. You must swim this to get further and its a good swim of 40 yards or more. When I did it there were large tree trunks stuck between the cliffs 15 to 20 feet above the water. This tells you of the danger of flash floods in this canyon.
After you negotiate the White Box the canyon opens up again and travel is boulder hopping along the creek. The next major landmark in the middle section is a hanging spring. This is one of the most beautiful spots in the canyon. A spring coming out of the south wall of the canyon drops water like a shower right into the middle of the stream. Often this spring is covered with yellow columbine flowers to add to the effect. There are some good camping sites that can be found near this spring.
Farther down stream the canyon narrows again and this time the cliffs are red and there is a series of tight slots with big pools of water you must swim. This is called the Red Box.
The Red box has more pools than the White Box and is a longer section but none of it's pools are as big or as long as the one big one in the White Box.
This red Box section has beautiful red cliffs and pool after pool of still water. There are pretty much no safe camp sites in this area where you can get up above the creek in case of floods
So camp before this section if you get to it late in the day or you will have to rush through one of the best parts of the canyon in order to set up a safe camp while there is still day light. After the Red Box again the canyon opens up and you are back to boulder hopping and fighting through brush. By now you will be a pro at this type of travel. Then again the canyon closes back in for some more swimming. You will find hopping from boulder to boulder with wet feet and a water logged pack (heavy) will wear you out. and you will sleep well each night from sheer exhaustion.
The next major feature or landmark is the water fall. This is my favorite spot in the whole canyon. It has a big pool at the base of the falls to swim in and it is a great place to stay the night. We camped here on our second night coming down the canyon from FR 142A.
To get past this obstacle (waterfall) you need to climb up and around on the south side. This place has some flat rock benches or ledges up above the creek that are good campsites. I have come in from the rim on trail #17 and stayed here overnight several times now. Often staying two nights just to enjoy this spot and explore and swim for the day without the weight of a pack. Oh and did I tell you this creek is full of trout and many of the pools in the middle section are rarely fished. After a day of fun and rest at the falls I then head back out. Once you are at the falls you can get out in one day. Down stream from the falls there are at least two or three more swims and then the canyon opens back up the rest of the way down to Bull Pen Ranch.
The Lower: This part of the canyon is a wide canyon with a well traveled trail (Trail #17) coming up from Bull Pen Ranch. This is the most visited part of the canyon and also the hottest and most uninteresting in my view. In many cases the trail takes you away from the creek and it only crosses four or five times in five miles.
Items that I feel are essential for completing a backpack of the middle section:
Walking stick - for keeping balance during the frequent stream crossings over slippery rocks
Air mattress or pool float toy - for ferrying your pack through the many deep pools that require swimming. Dry bags - to keep your sleeping bag and other things dry. Very sturdy shoes - don't think some water sandals will cut it. If you bring a tent a free standing type is a must because often you will camp on flat rock.
Some use a wet suit because the water is cool. I never have. I usually go when it's hot so the cold water feels good. Oh yea, you need to be able to swim. And bring some endurance and a high tolerance for pain.
Camp sites are just here and there through this backpack trip, in some places there just aren't any. The two areas with very few spots to pitch a tent are: directly below the entrance point at FR 142A and the section below the first stretch of red sandstone narrows. don't start looking for a camp sight as it gets dark, give yourself time. Oh, and try to camp up away from the creek. A flash flood in this canyon can raise the water level 15 to 20 feet.
To find trail heads I recommend the National Forest Service map of the Coconino National Forest. This map has has served me well.
Here is some more on this great canyon if this was not enough for you.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mountain Bike the Rainbow Rim Trail

A great place to mountain bike in Arizona is the Rainbow Rim Trail. This trail is located along the edge of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Unlike the south rim the north rim has areas along the rim that are not in the National Park. And unlike the south rim the north rim is not very crowded with tour buses and tourists. There are areas on the south rim where you can park right at the rim and throw out a tent and set up camp.
Anyway back to the mountain bike trail. This trail is eighteen miles of fine single track running along the rim of the Grand Canyon. Along this eighteen miles are five points that stick out into the canyon. The trail follows the rim and then goes in away from the rim to negotiate around drainages or washes to eliminate large elevation changes and then returns to the rim and then out to the next point or (view point).
I have heard that the trail was made with mountain biking in mind, and as you ride it it feels that way. The climbs are not too difficult and the path is smooth and not too technical. And of course the views are world class. Don't get to involved in looking at the views while riding because if you go off the edge it's a long way down.

The trail runs between Timp Point in the south to Parissawampitts Point in the north. And the trail can be accessed from roads at any of the other three points along the way (North Timp Point, Locust Point, and Fence Point). The terrain is a most beautiful forest filled with an assortment of pines and aspen trees. This is high elevation country and the the trail is between 7500 ft. and 8000 ft. in elevation. In summer the temperatures are nice. But this area is closed in the winter due to deep snow. So the area opens May 15th and closes around October 15th.
Camping at any of the points is free. There are no facilities and it is about 43 miles back to Jacob Lake so bring plenty of food and water. You should bring rain gear because there is often rain during summer monsoon season. Here is a trail map I found at Epicenter's Singletrack.us.
AZ67 is an asphalt road but the rest are all dirt but not bad and in many cases good with gravel. Most can be driven with a regular 2 wheel drive car. To get there from Jacob Lake at the intersection of Highway 89A and AZ67 you take AZ67 south about 26.5 miles from the Kaibab Plateau Visitor
Center. About 0.7 miles past the entrance to the DeMotte Campground entrance you turn right or west on Forest Road (FR) 422. You takes this about 2 miles and then turn south or left on FR270. After about a mile you turn west or right on FR222 and take this for 5 miles to FR206 where you go only a quarter mile and then take FR271. You follow FR271 for 8 miles to Timp Point. While you are on the north rim be sure to go to the Lodge at the National Park, because it's not too crowded and real nice! There is also some great single track riding along the Arizona Trail running north from the National Park toward Jacob Lake. If you go to the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center they can give you more information.
While you are on the North Rim there is also a great section of the Arizon Trail that you can ride. I had my wife drop me off and I rode a section and she picked me up latter in the day at a pre-determined location farther south on the trail. Here is a good map (again from singletrack.us) for a nice part of that trail.