28 February 2012

hope: Indian Creek Trail

The trails of the front country can be veritable highways where you seem to pass another person every 10 or 15 minutes, at least for the first couple miles.  Even as the people thin further away from the trailhead, the trail itself is often a wide track with a deep groove from the heavy traffic.  Heading into the backcountry, the trails are still well established though generally narrow tracks.  The bushes are kept at bay and the track is fixed if there is a slide.  But keep going, to the trails that spend some time behind seasonally locked gates and plunge into the deep backcountry (and often have attractions like hot springs near the start to draw off some of the crowd) and the trails start getting hard to follow.  They're easy enough for the first mile or two, but keep going and there's parts that vanish.  A few tree falls and the trail might be lost altogether.  It becomes a challenge to follow these trails.

It looks like Indian Creek is a good introduction to this sort of trail.  Starting near Mono Campground, follow Romero Camuesa along the creek for about a mile from the first locked gate to the trail just before a second gate.  The road continues along Camuesa Creek while the trail stays with Indian Creek headed north.  After about four miles and a few intersections, the trail crosses a 4WD route where Buckhorn joins.  Following Buckhorn leads to a campground in a half mile with a short route back to Indian Creek, if that is desired.  Otherwise, the trail can be followed along Indian Creek in a similar distance to the meeting of the trails.  After another 2.5 miles or so, the trail ends at Indian Creek campground.  Or at least that is what is indicated on the 7.5" Little Pine Mountain 1995 quad.

What is really there may not be what is indicated on the map.  The various trails intersecting the desired trail may no longer be visible, so should not be relied upon as waypoints.  Even the route marked 4WD might be overgrown and washed out at the intersection, leaving it indistinguishable.  My reading indicates that the route does have some traffic on it, maybe more than the average trail in the area.  The trail gets harder to follow as it goes along.  There is also a Meadow Camp that has been missed by the USGS some 3.5 miles below the final campground with a sign indicating that trail continues another mile after the campground before stopping.  Trail upstream (hard to pass along) also follows the creek until a campground there and while no one claims there is trail all the way between the two, people do connect the two.  This allows for a possible continuation of the trip and allows a return via Mono-Alamar for a loop.

There seems to be agreement that however far you get up the canyon, it is consistently prettier as you go.  Also, there's a lot of poison oak.  I also saw a note that there is no crawling along this trail, indicating that this may not totally introduce someone to all that is following the more distant backcountry trails.  Still, it does some in a mode that gradually becomes harder.  When (if) the campground is achieved, it should be a nice spot of solitude before heading back.

Follow the trail back down the creek, keeping to the creek when the opportunity to go to Buckhorn presents itself.  Turn along Pie Canyon trail for a new experience.  This will join back up with the route marked 4WD, which seems to be Pie Canyon rerouted to avoid the Dick Smith Wilderness where machines are prohibited, after a mile. A quarter mile later, it joins another 4WD route.  After a half mile more, there is a three mile trail back to an early point on the Indian Creek trail about a mile up as one option to return to the beginning.  Otherwise, continue down Pie Canyon 2.5 miles joining the Mono-Alamar trail just two miles from the original gate.  A short half mile spur leads to Little Caliente Spring, which may be less used as the road to it has severe storm damage a quarter mile down.

This could be a nice little weekend trip with a hot spring finish, provided all the trails are there and can be followed by the traveler.  All contingent, of course, on the road being open.  At the moment, it was closed yesterday in anticipation of the coming moisture (referred to as a "storm") predicted for that day and probably won't open for at least a week since there actually was some rain.  So currently, getting to Mono actually requires an extra five mile hike in from Cold Spring Saddle, which probably makes it a little long for an uncertain backcountry weekend.

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