Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Painted Rock Trail

Below, hiker extraordinaire Julie shares her experiences on the Painted Rock Trail. A few words of introduction: the trail connects Squaw Valley to the Royal Gorge, but the lower several miles have been closed to the public for a few decades now. It remains open from the Soda Springs-Foresthill Road east up the North Fork, on past the Old Soda Springs, and over the crest into Squaw Valley. However, where the trail leaves the road, every possible parking place is marked with "no parking" signs.

I have written extensively about this area in the past. Here I will only remark that one can find parking by driving a quarter-mile past the trail (which is actually, at first, the old wagon road to the Old Soda Springs, and across the bridge spanning the North Fork.

The Old Soda Springs is one of the most beautiful and sacred places in all the North Fork, with its huge petroglyph site, tits meadows and mineral springs, and mountains hovering all around. There was a popular hotel here from 1870 to 1898; and one of the Big Four, Mark Hopkins, built a log cabin there, which stands to this day.

The Cedars is a private club founded about 1903 which owns several thousand acres in the upper North Fork.

A few of us, Kasa , Kathi, and I, have been wanting to visit the Painted Rock Trail for some time. You don't hear about it much, and you can't help but be intrigued because one end of it lands near The Cedars, in The Forbidden Zone, where we are told again and again, there is no parking for hikers. Yes , the trail is a public trail, but no, you may not park near it in order to hike it. Hmmm, what to do... Well, we thought, we could have someone drop us off, but that person would have to be mighty generous with their time to go down the long and rough dirt road, just to drop us off.. All the business about dropping one car off at our destination point, in this case Squaw Valley, was too much to think about. Finally we realized the best plan was to hike in from Squaw Valley on the Granite Chief trail and return the same way. It was my first time into Squaw Valley and I really was surprised at what I saw there, with regards to the very large complex of hotels and condominiums, and sort of a theme park atmosphere. I have to say, I was a little shocked. There are giant trams overhead carrying cars slowly accross the sky to see the views, apparently . The trams and their supporting towers seemed like something from a future, one or another, or from a distant world. Be that as it may, we pulled into a spiff and shiny and mostly empty parking lot and headed out on the Granite Chief Trail. A very well travelled trail with plenty of side spurs to various apartment complexes and whatnot. We passed and were passed by a few folks, jogging, walking their dogs, hiking, and then the populace dwindled away. The thing I liked best about the Granite Chief were the many very large old trees with huge ancient blazes on them. We passed what might be the largest lodgepole pine I have ever seen and quite near it an enormous ponderosa. And these trees looked extremely healthy, just magnificent specimens. With blazes as well. The trail heads up some gentle hills, then crosses some open meadows full of mule's ears, winds up across some mounds of granite and crosses some really lovely creeks for a few miles before joining up with the Pacific Crest Trail. The wildflowers are really at their peak, it seems, right about now. At the PCT we turned right and came out onto an open promentory from which we could see Devil's Peak in the distance, and Needle and Lyon Peak, Granite Chief, and some various others more close by, which Kathi was able to point out and name for us, having climbed most of them at some point.She is an enthusiastic climber of peaks large and small, and can usually name whatever mountains we might be seeing. Below us, we marvelled at the valley which would now be carrying much of what is considered to be the headwaters of the American River. Moving down from the ridge I was aware of the many tiny springs joining themselves to one another, to finally make small streams that bit by bit would add themselves to the river. The springs were always nestled in velvety grassy areas, with fragrant patches of flowers, all sorts of flowers. Considering the almost secret and forbidden nature of the trail as it nears the Soda Springs Road on the other end, I was surprised by how well marked it was off the PCT. Complete with the expected sign warning us to stay on the trail and not to trespass on the property of The Cedars. The top of the trail seemed well used, then less so, then hardly at all. We crossed over some more lovely streams and over smooth granite and brushy ledges, as the trail descended down to the floor of the river valley. In the meadows the path was completely obscured by giant crowds of tall plants and flowers taller then us. From above you would never see the trail, but your feet sort of fall into it and guide you on. Kasa led the way through this jungle-like wonderland, and she seemed to have a good feel for the trail even when it faded into total obscurity a couple of times. Oh, yes, a few people are using it, but the lush plants and large falling trees are easily overwhelming it in places.Following along near the river, it got louder and louder, increasing in flow and even making a couple of small waterfalls. When we came to the crossing we took off our shoes and waded through. It is quite cold up there. Achingly so after about a minute. But so clear and perfect. On the far bank the rocks are pink and blue and gray, and very smooth. A comfortable place to sit for a snack. After this crossing the trail became much more distinct, well travelled, which led us to wonder if the folks from The Cedars like to walk up that far, but not further. And actually, we did meet a group hikers who said they had come from there. They seemed friendly enough, but pointedly, I thought, asked us if someone was picking us up at The Cedars. It turns out they are various family members who get to stay a certain couple of weeks in one of the houses. Other family would have it at particular weeks of the year, and so on.This encounter fueled all kinds of speculation on our part with regards to The Cedars and however it came to be, and whether or not those girls were rich and snooty , or just average folks who were really lucky! ... Soon we started encountering houses off one way and another, and the trail became even more pronounced. We assumed we were in The Cedars, when the trail entered a roadway where we had lunch on a bridge over the river. We returned from this point and when we crossed paths once again with the girls, we learned we had not been to The Cedars. Instead some other names of these clusters of houses were mentioned. Closer examination of maps prooved this to be correct. We had passed the Bailey Place, then entered the Chickering domain, grouped around the Soda Springs. The Cedars, then is further on. That's pretty much the drift of this fascinating hike, except that later in the day, and going the other way, everything looks like a brand new trail. Also, returning to the edge of Squaw Valley and noticing Lake Tahoe on the other side of the ridge, I liked the feeling of imagining the dramatic valley before all this happened to it. It must have been quite a powerful place. Well, that's all, maybe see you on the Painted Rock, Julie

No comments: