20 September 2014

Golden Trout Wilderness tour: Little Kern River

Sequoia National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6 | DAY 7 | DAY 8

(Day 1 of 8) I got it into my head to do a good look around of the Golden Trout Wilderness. I have made my way through a corner of if and looked down on its expanse from there, but never come down into its expansive meadows and plateaus. A basic loop for such a journey can be found here. Adding on things like the Coyote Peaks is tempting, but the report that Deep Creek, the major water source on the way, is dry somehow dampens that idea. A climb up Kern Peak seems necessary. Blackrock Trailhead on the Inyo side actually makes a bit more sense, but is a fair bit longer drive. Jerky Meadow is another popular trailhead with similar access to Lewis Camp. Signs could be better for getting to Lewis Camp. I turn at the big advertisement sign for the Golden Trout Packtrain at the end of highway 190 because that is in the same direction, and found confirmation that I was going the right direction up the road rather than the more usual method of having a sign to point out the turn. Ignoring the small roads and taking a right at the Y as the pavement ends gets one to a large loop for trailer parking and second parking area among picnic tables. Both have trailheads at the end, the one by the tables including a map with a couple out of date details that once held a register. Below, there are many ways down, but a general downhill movement will not result in getting lost.

granite dome near the start of the trail
A small granite dome a short way to the north as the trail starts the descent to the Little Kern River.

The pack is loaded with eight nights of food, one day extra for the trip planned. The first few days have a low chance of thunder storms and the sky looks like it will not do anything, after that it should be clear. Unlike the last trip, this does not mean I can chuck the rain gear. I trust the Sierras to rain on me at least once in a week. The first big viewpoint shows the apparently gentle southwest slope of far off Mt. Langley peeking out over closer peaks. An old sign and a new sign mark the edge of the wilderness as the trail drops. Trails drop off to Grey Meadow to the north, usually with a sign, and one comes in from Jerkey Meadows to the south but is not well signed.

two Golden Trout Wilderness signs
An old wood sign and a new plastic sign mark the entry into Golden Trout Wilderness. Behind them stands a huge cedar tree rather than the forest namesake redwood.

Langley in the distance
Distant peaks including the bald Langley to the right.

turnoff to Grey Meadow
One of many turnoffs to go down to Grey Meadow.

The views are quickly reduced as the trail descends into thicker trees. Off to the right, an area of willows and small meadow hints at water and may be where Jug Spring is. Many small trails head into the drainage on that side.

a peek at a peak through the trees
Descending through the trees quickly reduces the view.

The trail splits mysteriously and without a sign, but one side is simply the older route. Not too much further, there are hints of a granite gorge through the trees and I eventually come out upon the Little Kern River. It has a little different character here than what I remember to the south.

a look at granite walls through the trees
The granite walls of the Little Kern River through the trees.

granite gorge downstream
The granite gorge of the Little Kern River downstream of my location.

Eventually, I can see the suspension bridge that has been advertised in the signs pointing my way. The bridge predates the wilderness. Below, the water looks easy enough to cross on large rocks, but the water is probably lower than usual. It is not "barely flowing" as the water report I read said. Beautiful swimming holes south of the bridge are being refreshed with fresh water quite enthusiastically.

Little Kern River Bridge
Coming to the bridge over the Little Kern River.

looking up the Little Kern River
A glance up the Little Kern River from the bridge.

looking down the Little Kern River from the bridge
Looking down the Little Kern River over a few nice little swimming holes.

The river has a couple camping spots and the next camping with water is another four miles along. Since I had the poor sense to run out of gas for the first time on the way in, it is a bit later than planned. The description of the camping spots seem like something someone could walk past in the dark if unfamiliar with the area, so I decide not to chance it. Instead, I will sketch a little and put up camp and make up the miles in the next couple days. The threatening clouds get up enough potential to drop a few raindrops, just enough to get me to put up the roof, then fizzle out for the night. Although the night sky above me is mostly clear, lights play on the rock walls all night from Horseshoe Meadows getting walloped. It is spooky to see the lights flashing all night but hear none of the thunder.

Continue reading: day 2

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 30 September 2014