HORSETAIL FALLS May 30, 2005
Game for another short hike this holiday weekend, I pondered over what I might do. Leaving home after the noon news, I made up my mind as I pulled out onto the freeway. It was probably a choice of what road I get stuck on, but then, with the warm temperatures in town, already, I thought to go high.
Motoring east on U.S. 50, I knew if I came home later, the traffic might be less. After three days of play, many people choose to return home early.
I haven't done this easy hike for a few years, the last being with the Reno Sierra Club in mid-summer. This hike, in 1971, was my first introduction to local chapter trips. It was easy to see how they lose hikers. No safety policy. A few other hikers have been killed here, with some going over the falls. A slip on angled slabs, with boots or sneakers with poor traction, can happen easily. There are places where you'd slide into the rushing creek. No hope for survival without a rope and a good buddy to use it.
I came to the Pyramid Creek Trailhead after noting some slowdown, westbound, along the canyon highway. I got a spot right away. I paid the $3 parking fee, using the envelopes and the iron ranger, and made ready for this hike. Starting out at 3:15 p.m., I hoped that the afternoon light would be good. The falls faces south, and a high sun illuminates it nicely. If nothing else, I hoped to get some good pictures. I began shooting movie clips (8.3 MB, 2:02, 320 x 240 pixels) of the white water as I came to it. Beautiful! Amidst the torrents, whirling pools of deep green also made for photos.
Years ago, the local REI and the USFS put together a volunteer effort to construct a single trail, out of all the use trails, to the wilderness boundary. We had about 100 people working under ranger supervision to lessen the impact of many a hiker, each going their own way. I failed to remember the route that was chosen, but the way is still not very obvious! Hiking over huge granite slabs, I followed the trail as best as I could remember. I filled out the wilderness permit tag at the self-serve station on the wilderness boundary.
I spoke with a wilderness ranger about certain matters, and asked about summit registers. He wasn't so sure about policy, but finally reiterated that they don't belong in wilderness.
The trail route gets more obscure past the wilderness boundary. The trail route was aflood with water. Two shaky log bridges are crossed in quick succession, then the brush whacking starts. The trail route becomes indistinct, and many would turn back. I have a vague memory of where it goes, and remembered the large boulder that it winds by. Soon, after ascending a rocky and awash gully/trail, I came to the base of the falls. A route exists up through the manzanita, cliffs, and granite slabs, and only hardy hikers, for tourists, would continue all the way up here. I recalled a local chapter youth group stopped below this point, even in good conditions.
I began to snap photos of the falls, up close. I edged up to the gorge to get a better angle, and shot movie clips vigorously. Some hikers asked me to snap their picture with their camera. Obliging them, I continued upward, and found a good vantage point for the main falls. This was about 6,800 feet elevation. Other hikers were descending, and shortly, my thought to go to the top of the falls was met by disappointment. I faintly remembered the class 3 chimney and steep gully, but I wasn't prepared for that right now. I already had many good photos of the falls. The light wasn't so good to make going on worth the effort. There's no better view of the falls, further along. And much of the route seemed overgrown by new, thick, brush.
So, at about 5 p.m., I turned back. Shadows were setting in, and the best light on the falls was gone. I carefully made my way down, seeing a few groups still heading up.
This trail serves to represent the "wilderness" for the thousands who must choose to take a hike here, and then nowhere else. Many must meet similar disappointment. While I like the Desolation Wilderness, most of it is not as poorly maintained, or "rough," as far as trails. To give so many the thick brush, flooded trail route, with few or no signs, may serve to alienate so many hikers who wish to explore, but safely. Such discouragement may keep visitation low, so the numbers of potential wilderness enthusiasts are held in check. I suspect the local chapter has a similar goal.
I found a better way back, but the shaky log bridges still had to be crossed. With that over, I could relax a bit. The angle lessens, then the terrain opens up. It is nice, gentle, glacial terrain, here, with examples of glacial polish, and many erratics--odd rocks that were deposited by the receding ice.
Figuring that the highways were still jammed, I slowed a bit and drank my water. Then other hikers passed me, headed back. I was back to the parking lot by 6:13 p.m., glad I made this effort. Believe it or not, I never got my feet wet--good boots, and careful stepping on rocks around the rivulets and puddles. There was a breeze, so no mosquitoes--yet. Ticks don't live up here. And, I did see a marmot!
Fine in shorts and t-shirt, I carried a smaller pack than usual. One liter of water was fine. Most hikers I saw carried nothing. Plenty of hikers to help in case of an emergency, with even one of the two area rangers nearby.
Motoring off quickly, I saw the traffic was moving well, and stopped for fast food at Pollock Pines. There would be no great sunset, so I motored on home without another stop. The nicely uncrowded freeway was a pleasant surprise.
This hike is about 4 miles and 700' gain, round trip, to the point level with the main falls, with the top being about 500' elevation further than I went. I snapped over 100 images and movie clips. A nice enough afternoon for my $9 worth of fuel!
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