TR: W Fork Cherry Creek and environs June 14-16

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TR: W Fork Cherry Creek and environs June 14-16

Post by kpeter » Sun Jun 17, 2018 10:07 am

Purpose of the Trip

This was intended to be a short trip to give my friend his 2nd backpacking experience, and we were limited to just a few days in June. It is very difficult to find suitable locations given all our restrictions, and after much advice on this board, I decided to take him into the Emigrant to visit a few of my old haunts. The trailhead is less than four hours from home, no reservations were needed, and I knew there were some nice sights. I hoped that we might be able to find somewhere that would beat out the worst of the mosquitoes, but alas we were a little too late.

What we did

We picked up our permit at Pinecrest and drove to the trailhead at Crabtree. The road was passable in a passenger car but there were so many ruts and potholes that I advise extremely slow driving and careful wheel placement. There were no skeets at the trailhead and we were seldom bothered on the hike in. However, we met numerous groups exiting, all of whom described horrific conditions at Gem Lake and beyond. Upon hearing these stories, we decided to try for the southern trail instead of the high route, and by 4 that afternoon we arrived at the southern crossing of West Fork of Cherry Creek.
This is a spectacular spot when water is flowing, and it was to be our home for the next two nights.
We headed upstream without crossing and found numerous camps close to the granite and within earshot of the roar of the creek. Although the skeets drove us into our tents by early evening, the days were good and allowed us to do some dayhiking.

On our second day we crossed the creek at the main crossing, headed up the trail toward Wood Lake. I wanted to find the old trail that leads south into the Pingree/Big/Rosaco direction. I had entered this region two years ago by climbing the old trail to Rosaco, but wanted to try out this alternative. The trail is unmarked and we missed it at first. After the main trail crosses Buck Meadow Creek it climbs quickly to get above the stream's steep bank, and as soon as it emerges on top the old trail exits to the south. There were a number of places where deadfall and granite caused us to lose the old trail but we generally found our way back onto it. When we got within sight of the saddle to Pingree we didn't bother with trail finding and simply headed up the granite. We easily found Pingree after enjoying its tiny outlet stream on the way up the granite. Pingree has an large camp--probably left from the horsepacking days--on its Northeast side, and has beautiful green meadows, forests, and granite. It seems like a delightful place to camp later in the season when it dries out a little. The air was thick with dragonflies and damselflies. The trail around Pingree is easily discernible--it goes along the northern and eastern shores, then leaves the lake to climb briefly to the south to emerge above Big Lake and one of the biggest expanses of granite there is to be found. There we played on the granite and enjoyed the breeze and the views before returning to basecamp the way we came.
A long dayhike, but worth it for the views and the experience.

On our third day we got up early and explored the cascades above our camp. We followed the creek upstream, pausing often for photos, and appreciating each new fall and waterwheel. Eventually the canyon closed such that our easy stroll would have involved a little climbing, and we elected not to push further. But this stretch of W Fork sliding over granite must be considered one of the more beautiful granite water works in the Sierra.
That afternoon we packed up and hiked out. On the way we took the cutoff from the low trail to the high trail at Groundhog meadow. This cutoff goes through a burn but was very quick and easy--gaining only 80 feet of elevation. This allowed my friend to see parts of the high trail for the first time. The high trail seems to me to generally (though not always) be more scenic, but it is less efficient in energy--gaining and losing more elevation than the low trail. But it was worth it to us to see something different. I think the stretch from Piute Creek up the switchbacks to "Lily Pad Lake" at the top is very well engineered and quite scenic.
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Re: TR: W Fork Cherry Creek and environs June 14-16

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:53 am

I am surprised we did not run into each other!

Any reports of it being difficult above Gem Lake is overblown. It was easy; the trail is just a flooded in a few places. Same for getting to Buck Lake- a few flooded places and a few patches of snow, soon to be melted.

I thought the crossing of Buck Meadow Creek was quite difficult- about my limit. Mainly because it is so swift. Did you cross? What did you think?

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