Another Trail Crew trip


Sep 30, 2014
I managed to fit in one last adventure with Chip Morrill in the Mokelumne Wilderness last weekend, this time hiking down the Mokelumne River from Hermit Valley to Deer Creek and beyond. This is a really beautiful area with deep pools in the river, wonderful views, and great campsites.
But this is also very isolated country. In fact, the sign at the trailhead pretty much discourages anyone from hiking down more than a few miles.
On the other hand, the scenery in amazing, and we had a great time trying to make it more accessible to more people. We hiked in on Friday morning, a crew of four volunteer and Chip. We did a bit of lopping and trail work on the way in, and set up camp at the confluence of Deer Creek with the Mokelumne. The trail to this point was not bad...and M and I had hiked it years ago, and we managed to follow it to the cascade at the bottom of Deer Creek. But then came the crossing of Deer Creek. This creek is fed by the outlet from Meadow Creek Reservoir, so it runs all year with a good flow. Our crew spent at least an hour and half just looking for the best possible place to cross: the perfect solution would include a nearby dead tree to drop across the creek to form a bridge. After a lot of bushwhacking and consulting, Chip made the call, and we got to work with the saw. Before you knew it, we had a bridge that would withstand high water and was pretty darn stable. We used it for the rest of the weekend as we worked lower down on the river.
The next day we hiked the trail, lopping bushes where they impeded progress, cutting through logs where they blocked the trail, marking the trail with logs and branches where we could find them, digging out duff through the forest floor, and putting up cairns where the trail went over solid rock. Hard work, but we got a lot done.
Day three began with Chip suggesting that we might want to take a quick one-hour hike up Deer Creek to see the cascades. I think we were all perfectly happy to get to work, but also really appreciated Chip's desire to make sure that we really enjoyed the trip. We happily followed him on a bushwhack up the creek...which turned out to be a two and a half hour adventure up granite, through manzanita, under trees, and over logs. What fun! And the views we attained were really amazing. Once back in camp, we loaded up our tools and headed down the Mokelumne. Another tree sawn through, more work with McCleod and loppers, and we stopped for lunch on the gravel beach of a lovely deep pool. From there the trail became a bit confused, and we finally determine the best route through the last bit of forest...and then it opened up into the granite of the canyon itself. We followed cairns and did some minor work for another stretch of the trail, until it dipped down around a small granite dome. We were done for the day, so hiked up to the top of the dome and took in the view--well worth three days of trail work! The next day we packed up our camp, packed up the tools, and hiked back up to the trailhead, stopping to fix one section of the trail that had really been mixed up, and lopping whenever we got the chance.
By 11 we were back at the cars, and driving off on our separate routes back to civilization. We had seen only a handful of other people over four days.How much fun was this trip? Jan and Vicky, excited about the work, decided they would come back in the near future to finish off the lopping and trail clearance nearer the trailhead. A great way to spend a few extra days in the wilderness, with good people and glorious weather.
The photo album is here:
One more time--and I bailed

It was supposed to be a three day trip, but I bailed. First we were supposed to hike into Scout Carson Lake, where we would set up a spike camp and work on the Horse Canyon Trail. But with the weather report calling for a series of showers, Ranger Chip opted to play it safer and set up camp near Silver Lake. at the Silverado Camp. That's where I met him on Wednesday morning.
My day had started much earlier, when I got up before 5 a.m. (after teaching my class at the college the night before) and drove up to Silver Lake near Carson Pass. When I arrived Chip was just getting ready to hit the trail, so I threw a few things into my day pack and followed him up the trail. The weather was cool (50 degrees) and overcast, but there was no rain, and the showers were only predicted for the afternoon. But hiking uphill at a good pace quickly encouraged us to strip off a couple of layers on the way up.

After about two miles, we met the first group of young workers from the East Sierra Conservation Corps--a great group of young people from all over the US who had spent the summer doing trail work in the Sierra. This was their last week of work, and we were hoping to get most of the Horse Canyon Trail in shape. This is a big project, because the trail is open to mountain bikes and dirt bikes--and those can really tear up a trail that would normally stand up to simple foot traffic. Every section had to be overbuilt to withstand the impact of a dirt biker racing along. During the morning, Chip directed the six members of the ESCC on various projects along the trail, while he and I tackled others. At one point we were carrying large rocks between the two of us so that we could protect the exposed roots of some ancient junipers on the trail. These were large, flat slabs of granite, and I used some muscles that I hadn't used in a while...One rule about rock work--always choose rocks above the trail. It's much easier to roll them downhill than it is to carry or roll them up!

Lunch was chilly, as we sat among the rocks with the ESCC team and chomped down our food. There was just a hint of sunshine from time to time, and the showers we had seen were very light, or headed to the peaks north of us. So far, so good. In the afternoon, Chip suggested that we tackle a series of water bars on a long straight section of trail. (Water bars are angled dams that direct water and erosion off the trail and down the hill.) Again, given that these were going to get hammered by dirt bikes, they had to be built to last.

And as we worked on the first water bar, the rain showers became slightly more frequent, and heavier. By the second one, it was a steady cold rain, with temperatures in the low forties, and gusty winds--since we were working at about 8500 feet near the top of the ridge. Over the course of the next two hours. we watched the rain get more consistent, and the peaks above us disappear into the clouds, until we, too were enveloped in the mist and gusty winds. What fun! And it didn't get any warmer, either. At 3:30 Chip suggested that we begin to pack up and head down the hill. back to camp Most of the tools were left on the job site, carefully tucked into the shelter of some dense juniper trees, and we struck off down the hill at a brisk pace for what was now nearly a three-mile hike in the rain and wind. By the time we got down to Silverado Camp at 4:30, it was still raining, the temperatures were dropping, and I was soaked to the skin from the waist down. (Note to self: water resistant pants are not water proof. In fact, they are simply pants.)

I thought about what I had in the van. My hiking boots were soaked. I had clean, warm sock and undies, and I had brought along a nice warm sleeping bag. I had food and a stove. But the thought of spending a night in the van, hoping some of my gear would dry out, and then doing it all over again, had me thinking hard--especially because the weather report called for more showers the following day--and lower temperatures.

And so I bailed. I thanked Chip for a fun day on the trail, and he laughed. I congratulated the kids of the ESCC for being better people than I am. They were. And I got in the van and drove home, with the heater and defroster on high. I drove through another 25 miles of cold, miserable weather before I got down below the cloud cover. By the time I got to Sacramento, it was almost sunny, and I was toasty warm.

And today I read the weather report: Partly cloudy in the morning then becoming mostly cloudy. At lower elevations, a slight chance of rain showers. At higher elevations, a slight chance of rain showers in the morning, then a chance of rain and snow showers in the afternoon. Highs 43 to 58 higher elevations...57 to 67 lower elevations. Snow level 7500 feet increasing to above 8000 feet in the afternoon. Prevailing southeast winds up to 10 mph shifting to the west in the afternoon.
That sounds like really hard weather to be outside in. I hate it when the temperature is right on the edge of freezing, you just get cold rain with the potential of freezing to death. No fun at all :)

thanks for all the trail work you do
It was a great way to spend a couple of days near Yosemite. The volunteers out of Mariposa have been working on the trails in that area for a number of years. And Bill King, the man behind all this work, is a fountain of knowledge about the trails, artifacts, and history of the area. Every time I work on a trail crew with Bill, I learn more about the history of the early miners, and the Native Americans that were here before that.

This crew went into the Hite Cove area to try and repair some of the trail that was so badly damaged between the massive fires and a flash flood that hit the following winter. The fires burnt off the vegetation, and the water from the flash flood eroded away huge gashes in the trail...and in the landscape.

But Bill and his friends have been working on this area for some time, and they have been making progress. The trail is still closed to the public, but as trail crew volunteers with hard hats, picks and shovels, we were allowed past those signs to get to work.

After the morning's hike into the camping area, we immediately began to burn off massive piles of slash that had been cut by previous crews. There was no end to this work, and even with four of us working hard, we didn't get it all done. As our five huge piles slowly burned down (thankfully, everything was dripping wet throughout the area, so fire danger was essentially nil!) Bill and I took off to tackle one of the erosion problems between our campsite and Hite Cove. We built the lower part of the rockwork necessary to cross the ravine, pulled a few buckbrush sprouts from the side of the trail, and got back to camp in time to eat an early dinner. Then the four of us stood around the last of the burn piles and told stories while we added more branches and slash to the fire.

It was a really damp night. All four of us, each with a different make and kind of tent, fought a huge amount of condensation by the early hours of the morning. We woke up wet. That was no fun.

But before the sun hit our campsite, we were further up the canyon. Dave and Marty finishing up the work Bill and I had started the afternoon before, while Bill and I tackled the next stretch of erosion damage. Mid-morning, we took a brief break to explore Hite Cove itself, working our way around the massively eroded gorge there that had demolished the trail. that's a project for another day, and another crew.

By late morning we were back at camp to eat lunch. And while we were there the sun finally hit the bottom of the canyon and our camp. Each of us took our turn hanging our sleeping bags and gear out in the sun to dry it out.

We started another burn pile upriver from the camp, and that kept us busy until mid-afternoon. At that point I took my leave, heading back to the trailhead and Le Vin Blanc. I had a meeting the next day I could not miss. And I left Bill, Marty, and Dave planning that afternoon's work, probably up by the eroded gorge.

It was hard work. It was a great group of guys, and we made a real difference in the conditions on the trail. And I can hardly wait for the next one of these.

The rest of the photos are here;
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