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John Muir Wilderness – Early Spring

July 3rd, 1995

Just returned from an 8-day Sierra Club National Backpacking Trip into the John Muir Wilderness area of the Sierra National Forest. Our point of entry was the Crown Valley Trailhead above Wishon Reservoir (on the Kings River North Fork). The trailhead elevation is round 7200′ and the area was dry and free of snow. Along the trail, the water in both Little Rancheria Creek and Statham Creek was sufficiently high and the current so swift that we considered ourselves fortunate in locating downed logs which served as convenient bridges for use in making the stream crossings. Several in our 14 member party found the logs a bit unnerving, so others carried their packs across for them.

Snow began to appear on the trail at the 8,000′ level and the amount of brush on the trail due to downed trees made progress a bit slower than expected. Statham Meadow appears to have recently been freed of snow, for much of it is currently a bog. However, there are some dry areas near the old cabin buildings along the stream and along the valley edge. A few mosquitoes were occasionally noticed, though I didn’t need my “bug” juice. However, their population is almost guaranteed to grow (quite swiftly) in the next few weeks. On the brighter side, flowers are starting to appear in the meadow.

Spanish Lake at elevation 8554′ is still covered with ice except for a few small sections, including one near the outlet (which is unmarked on the topo map I have). Lots of water pouring from the lake down its outlet (also not on the topo map) into a tributary of Statham Creek. Anyway, most of the lake openings freeze over each night and then thaw a bit in the sunshine. The area is heavily forested and most of the ground is covered with snow which appears to range from 2 to 8 or 10 feet deep. There is a dry, snow-free ridge just above the lake and that’s where we made our camp for a couple of days. One of our party caught a handful of trout in the lake, though the sizes were probably about 8″ or less in length.

Spanish Mountain is completely snow covered, which makes for several easy options when it comes to summit hiking. The official summit markers on the top at 10,051′ were exposed, however, a twenty foot or so pile of snow to the side made an artificial summit which was probably 15′ higher than the official one.

The route from Spanish Lake to the old Crown Valley Ranger Station is through a forest whose ground is still covered with snow. We rarely saw the actual trail and instead resorted to sending out scouts three or so abreast who searched for Forest Service Trail Blazes on trees.

On our way to our destination, we failed to find blazes at some point and ended up losing the trail completely. The remainder of the route we took was a cross-country one. On Wednesday morning from our unknown location in the forest, the leaders asked me to go out on a scouting trip and try to locate the Crown Valley Ranger Station. It took me three hours, which included time to find a high ridge above the trees from which I could get my bearings, hike to the station and then find a route back to the group at our camp. (On our return from the Ranger Station, we had better luck in finding the blazed trees and managed to stay on the trail for the entire route. Again, though, lots of downed trees and branches served to block both the trails and our cross-country route.)

Though the area near the Crown Valley Ranger Station is forested and the ground still covered with snow, the immediate vicinity was dry. We spent a layover day there and enjoyed the sunshine. Crown Valley (below the station) has very little snow, though the half-mile route down was over snow through the forest along a trail which again had a number of downed trees on it. Away from Crown Valley on the trail to Tehipite Valley, the section up to the Geraldine Lakes junction was dry and free of snow. Before leaving the Ranger Station area, several of us hiked to the top of Crown Rock (well, not quite, for there is a summit block which requires rope and technical skills, so we really didn’t do the summit). Great views and no difficulty in route-finding.

Sad to report that our leaders lacked experience in assessing trip member qualifications for there were several in the party who were physically unable to meet the challenges presented by our original goals. We failed to make it to Tehipite Valley, though we’re probably better off for realizing the group’s limitations and settling for much less. Even so, it was an adequate warmup trip for my next adventure from the Sierra’s East Side, which starts next Sunday.

A final note – the snow is melting fast, so the conditions reported in this summary will quickly become dated