19 July 2015

Coyote Peaks: Coyote Peaks

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

(Day 3 of 3) The rain overnight was not so bad as we feared it might be. It was actually stopping as we set up and cleared off overnight only to cloud up and rain again shortly before morning. None of the rain was particularly hard. It is clearing again as we get up and everything is drying quickly. First, we have to finish what was supposed to happen yesterday, a short jaunt up and over Coyote Lakes Pass. Trail wraps around the edge of the meadow to a well established campsite, then gets headed toward the pass. It seems to make perfectly straight lines as it switchbacks up the last couple hundred feet.

dry meadow
Water can flow here, but currently it is a dry meadow moistened by rain.

Coyote Lakes Pass
Coming up to the north side of Coyote Lakes Pass, which is not so big, especially if starting out at around 10,000 feet.

Coyote Creek headwaters
Looking back over the bowl that is the headwaters of Coyote Creek.

I know my feet will regret it later, but the sky is so clear and it is still early and the peaks were basically my goal for this trip. I ask shall we and Bernard says sure. I drop my overnight stuff and Bernard thinks everything is light enough already until he tries dropping it too. I sidle along the edge of the first peak while he goes over the top. The second peak is really the goal since it is higher. There is one more smaller false peak before the goal is obtained. Down by the lake, there seems to be a party of tree hikers looking around.

Coyote Lakes
Looking down on Coyote Lakes.

generally north out there
The 14ers are all to the north of here with a few quite visible.

one last high outcrop is the peak
Keep on going to the last, high outcrop to get to the high point.

The peak is my last chance to find a benchmark. The station and two reference marks from 1956 are all easy to find. Unless the bolt in the station is the mark shown on the 1905 map, there is no indication of that older mark at all. I sign the register and take in the view, including a Mt. Whitney dancing with some clouds. The vast Kern River Valley drops away to the east and somewhere up the other side are the impressive Volcano Falls. I cannot pick those out, but I am partly preoccupied by the pink peaks. I am wondering what is taking Bernard so long and am about to look for him as he comes into view again. He managed to find a hard way from the false peak that took about five times as long and is on a rant about the insistence of grabbing a few more feet before calling it the correct peak. The view is better from here, and he agrees, but it does not put a dent in the mumbling about peak-baggers and the last few feet. I point out the peak that will be most bagged today, even with the weather moving back in, and then start going through the register. It goes back to 1961, although 1964 is the first year with two entries and people seem to have started to discover the peak around 1971. An entry from the mid 1970s seems to stand out as a caricature of the era. Then the day hikers start up. Bob Burd is not the first, but he is a greater encourager of that madness. As the entries per year get thicker, we read less and finally put it away. There is still a long trek down.

Kern and Olancha
Kern Peak to the right and Olancha to the left as I look over the Kern River Valley.

Whitney and the rest of the distant pink peaks
The smooth slopes of Langley and the teeth of Whitney in the distance. There are quite a few shorter named peaks as well.

We head back, heading around the north side of the nearby false peak where travel is much easier, and up and over the west Coyote Peak. Coming down, there is a succession of things that seem to be almost, but not quite what we passed coming up ending in a saddle with a fallen tree that looks almost, but not quite, like the one with our gear next to it. This saddle is adorned with a completely different collection of signs. It is a quarter mile back up the trail to retrieve our gear from the saddle, then back to the collection of signs on trees. One marks the "hunter's trail" down along Willow Creek, which only shows up on older maps along with a trail along Rifle Creek. One indicates that Lion Meadow is just as far in either of two ways. None quite get us onto the trail we want except a pair of loose signs just marked "32E04" and "32E05" get us close. Bernard is waiting by the "hunter's trail" sign as I wander around the saddle squinting at the map and the area to the south. He seems to think I am just out to find more signs. Eventually I pick out a line heading around the east side of the next bump and get him to follow me up and around. We hit it and it is trail and we enjoy an easy section with expansive views.

Coyote Lakes
One last look back at the Coyote Lakes and the eastern Coyote Peak.

southward ridge
It is a whole new type of landscape up here along this section of the Great Western Divide.

rock outcrop with lodgepole pines
A rock outcrop to the west with lodgepole pines creeping up the side.

clouds over rocks
Clouds echoing the shapes of the rocks.

forested bumps ahead
Ahead to Angora Mountain.

Of course, it cannot last. The trail turns to the east and starts to drop and drop and drop. We lose 1500 feet down a rocky slope as we enter what one of those signs called "Head of Grasshopper". Along the first fork of Grasshopper Creek that we come to, there is some evidence of water, but nothing is available. I am very ready for this downhill to end when we finally level off and start to climb along the other fork of the creek. This one is flowing well. We lose the trail in the meadows and find it again as it hits the trees. At one meadow, I climb to an old blaze and Bernard has already dropped toward the creek to find the current position of the trail. I follow the gentle dip in the pine needles and the blazes through the trees before we meet again in the next section of meadow. There are a couple of large cow camps on the far side if the creek.

Kern River Valley
Dropping down into the Kern River Valley and feeling like we are about to find the picnic tables along the trail near the bottom in Grasshopper Flat.

stalk and stems of closely held green flowers
Blooms in the high meadows.

rocky cliff almost hidden by trees
Walking down near a rocky cliff we cannot quite see.

The climb back up the the Great Western Divide is not so bad, but it is only about 500 feet. The rain is starting up again as we wind our way down. This part is just as steep as the drop on the other side, but wanders through soft dirt. Unofficial trail maintenance seems to have kept the fallen trees in line. We hit a saddle with a single cryptic sign for "32E06" leaning against a tree. Here, we can drop down Deep Creek or Lion Creek to the sign we saw on the first day. Deep Creek means less repeat of our incoming route, so I go that way.

just a sign
None of my maps show the trail designations, so this is as meaningful as saying "trail" to me.

Finding the trail down Deep Creek can be difficult. We have to hit a second saddle and go down correctly from it. The bump of White Mountain is a good landmark for navigation. It should be to the west. The rain is already over as we start down it. We lose the trail in the saddle and find it again, only to loose it in a meadow. That is certainly common enough, but finding the trail at the far side proves difficult and we navigate down some tough spots without it before finally bumping into it. It never stays. Meanwhile, I am watching the mileage on the GPS as we go. How much further? We should be there already. We both start getting frustrated. The trail gets easier to follow as we get lower down. We start hitting campsites and the creek is flowing nicely.

Castle Rock
Looking ahead to Castle Rock from Deep Creek, which sits directly east of the trailhead.

At some point we hit the main trail and loop around the triangle that seems to form around all the junctions the long way to be going toward the bridge instead of Grey Meadow, or so I think. Our route at the bottom does not resemble the route on the map and we never see a sign or even anything that looks like a junction. Whatever, we are definitely on the trail to Trout Meadow. This is fine by me since I know it will get to a spot with a sign and familiar trail, although it does do it in quite a long way. We are officially tired of trying to find our own way. After five minutes on the trail feeling like we are going in entirely the wrong direction, we get tired of that, too, and take off down a deer trail in a way more directly toward the bridge. Some people cannot be pleased by anything. Travel is equally hard, but it is freeing to know there is no trail to find. We worry at a cliff and try to find a way down before it and then take the deer trails near the bottom. This is the hardest part, and unnecessary since continuing along the top would get to an easier slope to navigate. Eventually, things "look right" and in another tenth of a mile, we are on the trail again, less than a quarter mile from the bridge.

Little Kern River
The Little Kern River below the bridge.

I am exhausted and there are still 4.5 miles to the end, but I know these miles and they really are as advertised. The estimate of total miles for the day seemed to just get longer and longer as we came down. The last shortcut was kind of a little victory since it made the total miles estimate shorten again. This is the last water and Bernard wants some. I just lean back on the cold concrete block that anchors the bridge and watch the light fade. The cold would be uncomfortable if I had more energy to devote being such. Two part chemical water treatments seem to take forever, too, sometimes. I see how many coconut toffee peanuts I can make vanish, then we start up again. In the light a few months before, there were all sorts of choices for this route. This trail seems to have no junctions in the dark. Halfway up, the rain starts again. It is solid and soaking. Lightning dances on the distant ridges. Half the time, we can see it without hearing any thunder. How does that work? The total miles for the day tick past 20 and there is still 1.5 to go, and then there is the parking lot. I have hit the stock trail for the exit again. With my first 20 mile backpacking day behind me, I just have to drive 5 hours home before I sleep.

(Summation: Taking on very nearly 50 miles for a three day trip was a bit of a planning fail, but amazing once accomplished.)

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 7 Sep 2015


James Brian said...

VALERIE, EXCELLENT summary of your ambitious expedition! Your descriptions, photos, and notes about the trails, and lack thereof, were well done and educational. I am planning to go over Coyote Pass this summer (2017) with a buddy, starting at Mineral King valley and looping counterclockwise north along the Kern River and over Franklin Pass to the Valley again. As U know, this is the last part of the old Theodore Solomons Trail that starts in Yosemite Valley ends in Horseshoe Meadow and nicely parallels the JMT. I am a little concerned about finding the trail along this last stretch around Coyote Pass because I understand it is very poorly maintained/traveled, and because I do not have the navigational skills that U do! Again, THANKS for sharing your terrific journey! Jim F

Valerie Norton said...

That sounds like an excellent loop. You should be intersecting my path above the parts that involved climbing over really big trees and wandering the wrong way into ceanothus patches. It's not so bad there. My expectation for getting down to the ranger station is that it wouldn't be so bad, but could get faint. It looked like it got some use at the other end.

It sounds like at some point, you'll be just down the river from Kern Hot Springs. That sort of thing can be a very nice stop along the way.