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TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Fri Aug 23, 2019 12:18 pm
by hurricaniac
I swore I'd never go back to this place since last visiting there in 1987, but with snow still covering many of the high passes and river crossings too scary, we decided to go low elevation and avoid the obstacles. The price to pay would be the dreaded switchbacks down from Crown Valley and the heat/yucca/rattlesnakes at the bottom. But it is one glorious place that we were likely to have all to ourselves with some good fishing if the MF Kings was not raging.

All of this proved true.

We hiked in 11 mi. from Rancheria Ck. past Crown Valley the first day past several beautiful meadows with large mats of cyclamens. All of the small creeks were running and there was plenty of water.
The amount of downed trees across the trail made it about 30% tougher walking than if it had been a clear route. The big fire that raged thru this area 7-8 yrs ago is still taking its toll on trail maintenance. We even heard one large tree go down in the distance one morning, very spooky since it was difficult to find campsites away from standing dead trees that are still threatening.
The trail through all those miles of hill and dale walking finally rewarded us with a view of the the dome and valley. It truly is a stunning scene.
The immense walls rival Yosemite and although the waterfalls aren't as numerous or spectacular, the narrowness of the gorge and remoteness make it just as dramatic.
The pain starts immediately afterwards as we started the descent. These switchbacks are known as the "Mini-B*tch" and while not quite co-equal to the one upstream out of Simpson Meadow, they are knee-cartilage destroyers. Steep, relentless, slippery, full of downed trees, loose rock, blow-outs, and finally poison oak brushing against you as you reach the 5k' level. The only redeeming quality is the sound of the river getting louder, plenty of shady spots and an occasional breeze to distract from the ordeal. Plus the killer view all the way down.
It took us 3 hrs to finally reach the bottom from the top of valley rim. What greeted us at the bottom was more pain. The valley floor had been scoured by a major flood event several yrs ago and huge amounts of debris had been deposited at the pinch point between Little Tehipite Valley and the bottom of the switchbacks. It used to be open, sandy and brush free when we had camped there back in the 70s and 80s. Now, the river channel has changed and it is brush-choked with lots of downed trees across the trail and almost unpassable. Bushwhacking, log-hopping and swamp-wading thru this area is a real PITA.
But finally after 1/4 mi., the trail breaks out into the open and the jaw-dropping look up at the dome makes it worth it. We gladly camped there!
We fished Crown Creek and the eddies along the MF with wet flies and caught some nice 12-13" rainbows. These were healthy, strong fish that had been working out hanging on to their spots in the big runoff this yr. They fought like ones twice their size.

Silver Spray Falls is a weird sight when you are standing in a desert environment looking up at an alpine phenomena. It's pretty cool to have such a nice water feature right next to the dome.
I think the Gorge of Despair on the south wall is just as spectacular as the dome. It had a good flow of water through it and a couple falls visible from the valley floor. I read an online account of some canyoneering folks descending it, what an amazing experience that must have been!
An added thrill was stumbling on the pictographs. I've never heard what these symbols represent, maybe someone here has an insight?
IMG_2607 (1).jpg
Fishing in this place was challenging. Even tho the water was high and the bites infrequent, we were always distracted by looking up at the huge walls and watching out for snakes. The two rattlers we saw were in the shade along Crown Ck, and retreated quickly when we crossed their paths.
After 2 nights, we had to face the grunt getting out of there and did the whole thing in reverse. Luckily the weather was not too hot and getting an early start helped on the bottom third of the switchbacks. Camping at Rodgers Ck. that nite was a good halfway resting place, followed by a the slog out to the car the next day.

In all, it was a tough trip for 4 nights/5 days. Staying an extra couple of nights in the valley would have let us lick our wounds, fish more and soak in the awesome scenery. And it would have been a much easier hike if the downfall had been cleared. We met a trail crew working between Crown Valley and the top of the switchbacks, but they have many more months of it to do and fresh stuff coming down all the time.

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23

Posted: Fri Aug 23, 2019 1:15 pm
by rightstar76
Hurricaniac, thank you for sharing your adventure and incredible pictures. That trail needs work almost every summer to be useable. In 2017, a trail crew spent three weeks cleaning up the switchbacks. A couple of years later and the trail is being reclaimed by nature. Good to hear there was another trail crew working on it during your trip.

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Fri Aug 23, 2019 2:25 pm
by ryanerb
Thanks for this TR. This is one of the more remote and amazing areas of the Sierras, I drool over every TR. Amazing valley, comes at a brutal price!

Any fish or snake pics?!

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Fri Aug 23, 2019 11:20 pm
by hurricaniac
Sorry no pix of the critters, we released them all! Plus we wanted to handle them as little as possible ;-)

The trail crew was carrying (on foot) a 7' long whip saw --Very cool. I had no idea those things still existed let alone be used for modern trail work.

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Sat Aug 24, 2019 7:16 am
by balzaccom
We use those every time we work on the trails in a wilderness area in the El Dorado NF. I assume other crews do the same. No chain saws.

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Sat Aug 24, 2019 11:21 am
by Jimr
Several years ago, someone here described it as a lot of hell for a little bit of heaven.

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Sat Aug 24, 2019 11:30 am
by hurricaniac
Well put, it's kinda like two purgatories with paradise in between.

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2019 3:25 pm
by limpingcrab
Thanks for the TR, it's one of my favorite places on earth and I'm always happy to see pics!

Nice job finding the rock paintings. I've been there three times and never found them, although I wasn't able to spend much time looking. I read that they are similar to the ones at Hospital Rock in Sequoia in that they were painted by the people here before the Yokuts, Mono and other nearby tribes so modern Native Americans aren't even sure what they mean.

You should definitely take pictures of the fish next time, even in a net while they're still wet if necessary, for the rest of us suckers that weren't there :)

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2019 11:18 am
by tie
We camped there as scouts. I remember so many rattlesnakes. On the way back, when we got to the top, one of the dads realized that he'd left his wallet at the campsite. He had to go back down for it. :)

Thanks for the TR.

Re: TR: Tehipite Valley July 18-23, 2019

Posted: Sun Sep 08, 2019 8:10 pm
by hurricaniac
Ok, here's the requisite critter pic from a slim guy/gal along Crown Creek. Typical Pacific Rattler who only wanted to get away from us and get back to the squirrel hunt.
Screen Shot 2019-09-08 at 8.05.33 PM.jpg