22 September 2014

Golden Trout Wilderness tour: Volcano Falls

Sequoia National Forest

Inyo National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

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

(Day 3 of 8) The deep canyon of the Kern River stays in shadow a long time. While eating breakfast, I realize that one of the trees beside me with bark like a redwood actually has pine needles as well. The other trees are more cedars, but I have finally found a redwood among them. It is a little one that would only require a couple people to give it a hug. Hiking out, it continues to be a gentle slope up the river, but the river returns to an obviously churning and roaring thing as things get rocky again. I can see a large break in the canyon ahead on the east side which will be my leaving point. There is a bypass trail for "visitors with pets and weapons" or just no need to go to the national park, so I take that.

Kern River with Golden Trout in the background
Sun coming through the break in the canyon for Golden Trout Creek to come down into the Kern River.

It is with apprehension that I approach the river crossing in the still cold morning air. No one mentioned a bridge up ahead. Crossing one last creek and coming around the corner, my fears are laid to rest. There is a bridge looking much like the one over the Little Kern, only appropriately larger to traverse the larger river.

bridge across the Kern River
Another blue suspension bridge to cross the Kern River. Sign boards hanging from it mark the crossing of the boundary between Sequoia and Inyo National Forests.

The trail climbs shortly, then progresses along a sandy flat. The sand slows movement, but is left behind as it starts to climb again. Big switchbacks narrow down as it works its way up between a granite cliff and lava of the same sort that makes up Devil's Postpile to the north.

Kern Canyon
One last look up the Kern Canyon for a while.

broken off pieces of hexagonal rocks
Hexagonal rocks that have broken off from the local postpile.

chaotic posts
The postpile above where the rocks came from.

Above the postpile, I can hear a new roar almost entirely muted by the rocks around it. Moving off trail toward the cliffs, I am greeted with a view of a huge waterfall. At first, my attention is grabbed by a huge cascade of white water halfway down the steeply dropping canyon. Gradually, I start to see more and more of this expanse of water including a vertical drop high up the canyon. The trail soon comes to its own viewpoint of the falls, but rocks on this side of the canyon obscure more and more of it as one travels east. I decide I want to spend a little more time with the waterfall and get out the art supplies.

more visible section of Volcano Falls
The whitewater cascade that takes my attention first as I try to take in Volcano Falls from my first viewpoint.

Volcano Falls
From a second viewpoint a little to the west, the falls are not quite as obscured by the rocks on my side of the canyon.

waterfall top
The top tier of Volcano Falls, probably the part that is considered the actual waterfall.

waterfall as it sits in its environment
What it looks like around where the waterfall comes down.

Once near the waterfall, the trail does not climb so steeply. I find myself wandering through forest over lava rocks or through meadows with deer. Although Golden Trout Creek is still inaccessible, there are three streams along the way with plenty of water to supply the needy traveler. Eventually, I get to the second natural feature of the area so striking that it even appears on the old 30' quad: the natural bridge.

Coyote Peaks
The Coyote Peaks rising above what is still visible of Kern Canyon.

doe and faun in the forest
A doe and one of two fauns look on alertly before trotting off without much hurry near one stream.

lava rocks supporting the forst
The trail winds through lava rocks in the forest and over this natural bridge.

I am never sure what to expect of a natural bridge. The one above Arcadia is rather disappointing. This one is a consequence of the lava flow which probably left some holes as it covered the land. There are actually two natural bridges in the area, but no more are apparent further along the creek well fed by springs.

natural bridge
Looking at the bridge from below, a little daylight can be seen through the opening the creek is using.

natural bridge with tree
The second natural bridge is a little smaller and has a tree growing on it.

More gentle climbing through lava and meadows eventually gets me to a signed junction to Volcano Meadow and to Little Whitney Meadow. I can see the gentle southwest slope of Mt. Langley again in the distance. There is another sign as the trail passes along the south side of the meadow for destinations to the north, but no trail apparent to go with the new sign. More signs out in the meadow likely lead the way to where the trail is visible. A large house sits on the other side of the meadow as well, probably another inholding.

another stream flowing through lush grass
Another spring fed stream flowing through lush grasses on one small meadow.

a yellow flower and a purple flower
Only a few flowers still remain.

Little Whitney Meadow
Entering into Little Whitney Meadow.

There is a cow camp just before leaving the meadow again. The trail crosses Golden Trout Creek and climbs up into more sandy stuff. Granite outcrops are on my left and a dark lava flow is on my right. When views open up, little cinder cones are visible in all directions.

dark lava rocks
More recent lava leavings than what I have been walking over.

granite outcrop
Small granite peaks keep popping up.

black wide cinder cone
A wide black cinder cone to the south with Kern Peak behind it.

funny plant
An oddity flowering in the sands.

There is another junction with another trail leading to Volcano Meadow, then another meadow. The trail seems to multiply as it gets closer to the various junctions at the south end of Tunnel Meadow. I cross back over Golden Trout Creek and find myself a camping spot for the night. I have now made up all the miles I needed to make up. Just over a small rise, there is another group with support also settling down for the night.

another cinder cone
Another cinder cone near the south end of Tunnel Meadow.

I still have an hour at least of time to explore and there is another of those benchmarks marked on the 1905 Olancha quad in the area. This one is also not one I planned on looking for because it is simply along a ridge, not at a peak. It does have an elevation and is probably on some minor peak along the way, so I go for it. First I want to head north toward the old guard station and "The Tunnel", whatever that might be, then start up the ridge trying to miss the many false peaks before the one I want. I have to cross the South Fork of the Kern River to get to the ridge and find that is is much smaller here than the creek it shares a canyon with briefly. The views are good from up on the ridge east of the guard station, but I do not seem to be missing the false peaks for the most part, but am missing them just enough that if they turn out to be the right one, I will miss the monument, if it exists. Realizing I also left anything warm for my arms at my campsite, I decide this is a foolish climb and head back down into Tunnel Meadow.

Tunnel Meadow
Looking down on Tunnel Meadow from up on the ridge. Mt. Langley is visible in the distance again.

Ramshaw Meadows
Looking down on Ramshaw Meadows from up on the ridge.

It is easy to cross Tunnel Meadow to the area of the trail, especially since the fences have been dropped for the winter. The south fork is just a hop when I come to it. I end up on a secondary trail that follows the inside of the fence rather than the official trail, but eventually climb up to it just before the area of the Tunnel Guard Station. Besides the old mule barn now being used as the station after it burned, there is the remnant of a water tower and a remote weather station. The door contains the obligatory "turn off the gas!" note, but no one is home today.

mule barn, now ranger station
The old mule barn being used as the Tunnel Ranger Station now.

While I did not find the benchmark, I did determine exactly which trail I need to head out on tomorrow, which I did not know for certain in the maze of trails and extra trails. Chatting with my neighbors turns out to be quite helpful in finding out what exactly is "The Tunnel" marked on my old map. It seems it is all about water. Two creeks pass by and, as I observed, one is much smaller than the other. It seems the people with the rights to the south fork dug a tunnel to even things out a little. This was not looked upon kindly by those with rights to Golden Trout, who blew up the tunnel. It was dug and destroyed at least once more. It really is very curious how these two waterways come so close and do not join although the separation is soft and easy to dig through.

Continue reading: day 4

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 2 October 2014


Valerie Norton said...

Well, I am a silly goose. Sequoias, and all redwoods, are not pine trees. They are cypress trees just like cedars. Any pine needles I may have seen were snuck in by some ponderosa or something next to it. I shall have to pursue better, more subtle distinguishing characteristics.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I was a bit surprised to read that you had a Sequoia in Kern Canyon though I didn't doubt you entirely as you did say it was young one,, so I figured its possible. As far as I know the only redwoods growing east of the Western Divide are in the Freeman Grove which is an anomaly as not only are they far more east than their brethren but it is a fairly large grove as well.

The Freeman Grove contains the George Bush Sr. Tree approximately a mile up Freeman Creek from the paved Lloyd Meadows Road. Strange that he would have a tree named for himself and take the trouble to attend the ceremony to do it and yet fail to do any sort of executive action to protect the grove his tree is within. But that is politics which is controversial and therefore to be avoided.


Unknown said...

Great pictures!