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Crabtree to Kennedy Meadows

Page history last edited by lmckeega@... 10 years, 1 month ago

Trip Report



For our first six day backpack trip we enjoyed the company of Laura "SoLaura" McKeegan, Cristina "American Princess" Lauck, Kay and Mark Noguchi, and their friend Lawrence Anderson.  We met at the Pleasant Hill Community Center on Sunday, August 22 and headed East, through Manteca, Oakdale and Sonora, to the Forest Service Visitor Center at the Pinecrest junction.  From there we continued East to Kennedy Meadows, where we left Laura's SUV for the end-of-hike shuttle.  After that we backtracked to Cold Springs for a forgettable Mexican dinner at La Morenita Restaurant.  Full of rice, beans and Modelo Especial we headed the eleven miles to the Crabtree trailhead parking lot, where we bivouacked for the night.  For most of the night we were intermittently entertained by the sound of what we thought was the generator of a motor home.
Monday, August 23 - Crabtree - Elevation 7201click to enlargeclick to enlarge

We were up at six am and hurried through breakfast.  As the sun topped the ridge it cast shadowy beams through the smoke from a fire on top of a peak North of Crabtree.  The lightning caused fire had been burning for almost a month and there was a large camp of Forest Service firefighters, just northeast of Crabtree.  As we crossed the bridge at the trailhead we could see upstream to their camp and it turned out that the "generator" we had heard was a pump, operating to serve water to the fire camp.
click to enlargeOur trail turned South and contoured for most of a mile before turning East and climbing to the bench we would follow for two days.  The trail kept to a fairly uniform elevation until just beyond the Bear Lake trail junction, where it dropped 300 feet into Lilly Creek canyon.  After crossing the creek we switchbacked up 500 feet and continued East to an unnamed lake that I've always referred to as Cigar Lake.  We had come 5.5 miles, and had originally planned on hiking another mile or so to Piute Meadow... but everyone was ready to stop, so we did.  Total gain for the day 1300 feet, with a loss of about 700 feet.
Explorations were conducted and we found some old, barely legal, click to enlargecampsites and there was easy access to water, trees for SoLaura's hammock and plenty of shade.  We moved right in.  Tents were erected, hammocks hung, water filtered and then it was time for dinner.  We gathered around the "cooking rock" and soon, stoves were hissing.  There was Raspberry Crumble to share for dessert.  The night was warm and there were only a few mosquitoes.  As the full moon rose we retired to our sleeping bags and for the night.
Tuesday, August 24 - "Cigar" Lake - Elevation 7841click to enlargeclick to enlarge
We rolled out at six am and were on the trail by eight.  (This group of hikers is consistently focused and well organized and I think the longest we've taken to get ready in the morning is about two hours and twenty minutes.  That leaves me no excuse to lollygag and keeps me on my toes.)  We continued East, descending nearly three hundred feet to cross Piute Creek, before climbing 500 feet back to our bench elevation.  We passed Piute Lake before descending again, to cross the West Fork of Cherry Creek (Elevation 7900).  Then it was back up another five hundred feet, passing Gem and Jewelry Lakes, before arriving at Deer Lake, our destination for the day.  We had come 6.5 miles, our longest day for this trip.  Again, our total gain was about 1300 feet, with a total loss about 700 feet.  I was bushed but felt much better that the day before.
click to enlargeLawrence, Mark and Kay had been ahead of us and had explored campsite options.  They found a lovely spot above the West end of the lake with shady, sandy flats, between large granite outcrops.  We chose our spots and set up camp, before Mark helped me fill a water bag and gallon jug, for general in-camp use.  Soon there were sounds of laughter as most everyone tested the water by submerging their bodies.  The granite rocks made a great place to warm up as the sun dried you off.  Lawrence fished the South side of the lake,   Then it was time to eat and we gathered around the cooking rock with stoves hissing and pots bubbling.  The night was warm and I slept with my bag pushed down almost to my waist.  There were a few mosquitoes but not enough to be much of a bother.  Things were looking good and I slept well.
Wednesday, August 25 - Deer Lake - Elevation 8534click to enlargeclick to enlarge

Given that we had been so efficient at getting on the trail, Kay made a request that we sleep in until six-thirty am, and I thought that would work.  In the morning we were up and hiking by eight-thirty.  From Deer Lake we headed North and northwest, climbing along an unnamed creek, and a chain of small lakes, gaining about 500 feet, to cross the ridge, descending past the unseen Starvation Lake, to cross the broad, and beautiful, Spring Meadow.  This is where I found good water and campsites on my solo trip last fall.  We crossed the meadow and, still heading northwest, topped a low ridge, descending to Salt Lick Meadow.  We took a break in the shade at the West edge of the meadow before hoisting our packs and turning North up a broad, heavily wooded canyon.  I was huffing and puffing in the warm sun and dropped behind, as the rest of the group forged ahead.  Near the top of the canyon the rest had stopped in the shade to have a snack and wait for me to catch up.  I was on a roll and kept walking, knowing that I was too tired to stop.  Soon I reached the top of the canyon and dropped into Upper Relief Valley.
click to enlargeUpper Relief Valley is at an elevation of 8800 feet and lies in a southwest to northeast orientation.  It's about a mile in length and a half mile wide.  There are two unnamed lakes, each about a quarter mile long, connected by a winding stream.  The lakes are shallow and, therefore, relatively warm.  The views to the North are of granite and basaltic peaks, in the 10,000 foot range.  It was still spring at 8800 feet and the grasses were green with many wildflowers.  I spotted possible campsites above the West side of the valley and moved off the trail before dropping my pack in the shade, leaving one of my trekking poles across the trail to alert the group when they arrived.  Then I crossed the meadow to investigate the lake; I could see several large granite outcrops at the West side of the upper lake and thought they might provide easy access to the water.  Most of the lakeshore was surrounded by meadow and I hoped we wouldn't have to wade through the mud to get water.  The rest of the group soon arrived and, after dropping their packs, headed across to get water.click to enlarge
When we had all tanked up, but before heading back across the meadow, we witnessed a lone hiker, heading south up the trail.  He was carrying an external frame backpack and had the second largest load I've ever seen on the trail.  He had items lashed above and below the pack, to what was probably an over all height of more than five feet and he was walking - more like plodding - very slowly and deliberately.  The topmost item was blue and somewhat glossy.  I thought it may have been a raft.  For a moment I considered hailing him but then thought better of it.  I think he needed all his concentration to just keep on keeping on.  I wish we could have spoken with him and gotten his story.  He reminded me of the hiker, headed for 10,800 foot, Big Sam, that Lupe and I met near Emigrant Pass a few years ago.  I think that fellow's load was even larger.  I seem to remember he'd been on the trail for something like four days and had come less than 15 miles from Kennedy Meadows.  Up hill the whole way.
click to enlargeAfter walking back to where we had left our packs we chose tent sites and set up camp.  We then retired to the lake for wading, swimming, and general sloth before assembling at the "cooking rock" to prepare our dinners.  The evening was still and warm and there were a few mosquitoes about, but only a few.  Lawrence had collected a stack of "cow pies", left from when grazing was permitted, and determined to show us how the pioneers did it.  We all retired to the wooded flat below camp and finally got some kindling started before piling on the "chips".  Soon the fire was well started and we huddled about the flame, enjoying the, quite smokeless, warmth.  We had walked 5.4 miles that day, with an elevation gain of about 800 feet and a loss of about 300 feet - no more bloody canyons to cross from here on.  As the moon rose, Lawrence declared that nine pm was the backpacker's midnight and we retired for the night.  Tomorrow we begin our descent from the "high" country.  That night there were coyotes calling, and later in the early hours of the morning, hunting.
Thursday, August 26 - Upper Relief Valley - Elevation 8836click to enlargeclick to enlarge

click to enlargeWe were now rising at six thirty am.  The sun was still behind 10,300 foot Granite Dome, when I climbed out of my tent.  Folks were already stirring and I fired up my stove and put the kettle on.  After breakfast we topped off our water and hoisted our packs.  Today we would be descending 1500 feet from Upper Relief Valley, through Lower Relief Valley, to Relief Reservoir, where we would take a zero day tomorrow.  We started off across the meadow and soon dropped steeply, winding down the wooded, rocky canyon.  Near the bottom, just before the switchbacks down to the  Summit Creek crossing, we made our way to an open spur ridge that gave us dramatic views of the South end of the reservoir.  After taking some photos we crossed the creek and wound our way up to the junction with the Huckleberry Trail, turning North to just short of the Grouse Creek crossing, where I wandered about trying to remember how to get to the wonderful campsites overlooking the lake.  I was able to spot the trail and we worked our way down to the place that Lupe and I had been shown a few years ago.
click to enlargeThere are several very nice campsites on a promontory on a bench above the East shore of the lake.  One, that I refer to as the "Bridal Suite", is an open flat, high above the lakeshore, with easy access to a sandy beach.  Mark and Kay claimed the BS for theirs and the rest of us headed down to a larger flat, where we spread out and set up camp.  Then it was time to filter water and I assisted Lawrence in filling various water bottles and my Dromolite bladder.  With our camp chores completed we retired to the beach and waded, swam and lolled in the bright sun.  The wind had come up and there were whitecaps and foam streaks on the lake.  The cooling breeze kept us from overheating as we worked on our tans.
click to enlargeLawrence had taken his pole and gone off to hunt the wily Relief Reservoir trout and we all anticipated a nice fish course at dinner.  Alas, the fish hadn't been properly coached and the largest fish caught were below the minimum, six inch, length.  Lawrence was determined, and promised to keep trying.  Later, with the sun beginning its slide below the ridge, we gathered at the cooking rock and prepared our dinners.  The wind hadn't abated and the temperature had been dropping.  A backpacker we had passed, who was headed for the high country near Granite Dome, had said there was a storm due in on Sunday and we thought we could feel it in the wind.  It was approaching "backpackers eleven pm" and we climbed into our sleeping bags.  It was a drafty night and I tucked spare clothes and backpack cylinders into the screened vents of my tent. 
Friday, August 27 - Relief Reservoir - Elevation 7273 - Zero Dayclick to enlargeclick to enlarge

Today was our lay day and we slept in until almost seven-thirty.  We dawdled over breakfast and camp chores before Kay, Mark, American Princess and SoLaura decided to take a hike, East, up toward Lunch Meadow.  We discussed their proposed itinerary and they packed food and other essential gear before heading out.  Lawrence went fishing and I explored the lake shore South of our camp before settling into my Sling-Light, and enjoying the lovely view, while eating today's and tomorrow's lunches.  Cotto salami and cheese.  All washed down with delicious, cold, crystal clear, Relief Reservoir, water.  click to enlargeYum!
The four explorers were back in about three hours, having hiked up to the vicinity of Saucer Meadow.  We then retired to the beach for more lolling in the sun, before it was time to start dinner.  Lawrence had tried his luck again, but as before, the only fish biting were too small.  We enjoyed our freeze dried dinners non the less.  The wind was even chillier than the evening before and none of us stayed up very late.  Again I blocked my tents vents as best I could and was in my sleeping bag by eight-thirty.
Saturday, August 28 - Relief Reservoir to Kennedy Meadow - Elevation 6301click to enlargeclick to enlarge

click to enlargeWe arose to cloudy skies and hurried through breakfast, before packing up and heading out.  It was 5.1 miles to the end of our hike, at Kennedy Meadows, and we all were anxious to get to the restaurant at the lodge and have some real food.  We didn't meet many hikers until we got to the Summit Creek bridge, below the Relief Reservoir dam.  There we "dialoged" with a strange group of armed hikers.  One single-shot shotgun, one B-B gun and two toy assault rifles.  Mark said the told him the guns were for "protection".  I think it's likely they had other weapons.  Got to keep them pesky Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels in their place.  We hiked on, talking to various groups of hikers enjoying the cool, cloudy skies, as they faced a serious uphill trek.
Topping the last hill we waited for the group to bunch up, so as to present a united front to the "tourists" at the lodge.  We dropped our packs on the porch and, after making use of the piped running water, gathered in the dining room for salad, burgers and fries.  On the porch we had been eyeing a horse-drawn wagon advertizing "Free Rides", considering the possibility of a wagon ride to SoLaura's SUV, a half mile beyond the lodge.  Unfortunately for us the "skinners" were having their lunch and we'd have to wait a half-hour for them to finish their meal.  We decided to tough it out and walk.  I mean, what the heck, we'd had a few days practice.  SoLaura and American Princess were in the lead, and so eager to get to the car, they walked fifty yards past the parking lot entrance.  We whistled them back and were soon cramming six packs and six hikers into a five-seater.  No worries, it's only twenty-eight miles to the Pinecrest Ranger Station.  SoLaura drove and I was honored with the shotgun seat.  The four in the rear seat sat on various laps and not a discouraging word was heard.  We dropped Kay and Lawrence at the Visitor Center before bumping and thumping the eleven miles to Crabtree to pick up Hellin, and Marks 'onda.  Then it was back to Highway 108, where Mark turned right, to pick up Kay and Lawrence, while SoLaura and I turned left and wound our way down the mountain, and headed home.  I stopped in Vallejo for ice cream and was still home by seven pm.
It was one of the best six day trips we've had in years and I wish more of you had been able to join us. 


Trip Information

Our first six day backpack will be a 27 mile trip in the western portion of the Emigrant Wilderness.  We will begin our hike at Crabtree trailhead.  From there we will proceed easterly past Camp Lake, Piute Meadow, Piute lake, Gem Lake, Jewelry Lake and Deer Lake, before turning North.  We will ascend North, along Deer Creek, crossing northwest, into Post Corral Canyon.  In Salt Lick Meadow we will turn North and travel through the Upper and Lower Relief Valleys, before heading down Summit Creek canyon to Kennedy Meadows.  There is an excellent restaurant at the Kennedy Meadows Lodge, where we may have lunch before shuttling back to Crabtree.  This hike is rated easy to strenuous.  About like the 4th of July Lake hike.
We will rendezvous on Sunday, August 22, in the parking lot of the Pleasant Hill Community Center, 320 Civic Drive, Pleasant Hill.  From I-680 take the Willow Pass exit.  Turn West on Sunvalley Blvd. to Contra Costa Blvd..  Continue straight ahead on Taylor Blvd. to Civic Drive, on your right.  Hellin and I will be behind the Community Center, parked in the shade.  Be there and ready to leave by Noon.  From Pleasant Hill we will follow I-680 to I-580, I-205, I-5 and Hwy 120, through Manteca.  We continue East on Hwy 120, to Oakdale.  From Oakdale we continue East on 120/108 and Hwy 49, to Sonora.  From Sonora we follow Hwy 108 to Pinecrest, where we will pick up our wilderness permit.  In the Pinecrest area there are restaurants at Cold Spring and Strawberry where we may stop for dinner.
After dinner we will continue East, on Hwy 108, to Kennedy Meadows, where we will leave cars for the end-of-hike shuttle.  From Kennedy Meadows we will backtrack, West on Hwy 108, to the Pinecrest area where we will take Forest Roads 4N25 and 4N26 to Crabtree, where we will bivouac for the night.  There is no piped water at the trailhead.  You should carry enough for Sunday night, Monday breakfast, and water for your "canteen".
1.    Your Emigrant Wilderness Map.
2.    Your compass, ruler and pencil.  Set declination to 13° 55' East (Say 14°E).
3.    Your tent
4.    Your sleeping bag and pad.
5.    First-Aid kit.
6.    Canteen or bladder, and water treatment system.
7.    Flashlight  (fresh batteries this time).
8.    Pot, cup and utensils.
9.    Stove and fuel for at least 12 meals.
10.  Clothing suitable for expected conditions.  You should carry rain gear for this trip.  The current weather forecast at Pinecrest, through Friday, August 20, is for sunny days in the high 60s to low 70s with mostly clear nights in the low 50s.  I will keep checking the weather through next week, and will keep you all informed of changing conditions.  You should have a sun-stopping hat and sun glasses.  You should also carry a warm "wooly" hat.  Though rain is not predicted, you should carry your rain gear
6 Breakfasts
6 Lunches
6 Dinners
The extra lunch and dinner are for emergency rations.
Don't forget trail snacks and please consider an electrolyte supplement for your water.


Everyone: Please contact me and let me know you're coming.  I need to get a nose count for the wilderness permit reservation.  Phone: 707-338-6955, email: redleader429@comcast.net.
To date I've had a confirmation from Kay and Mark Noguchi, who have invited a friend. 
Red Leader

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