Trip Report – 3 Day Loop on the Inyo NF Side

A user, jimmeans, from the forums on High Sierra Topix, submitted a trail report regarding his adventure into the Inyo National Forest’s side of the Golden Trout Wilderness. His trip generally followed the Groundhog Meadow Loop. Here is what he had to report.

Note: All photos below were provided courtesy of jimmeans and displayed below with his permission. Click the images for a bigger view.

My first hike of the season was a 3-day, 2-night solo outing into the Golden Trout Wilderness. I started at the Horseshoe Meadow trailhead traveling south over Trail Pass and then down into Mulkey Meadows.

View towards Olancha Peak while descending from Trail Pass.

View towards Olancha Peak while descending from Trail Pass.

From Mulkey Meadows I followed the trail east through Bullfrog Meadow toward the Tunnel Meadow.

Mulkey Meadows, left to Templeton, right to Tunnel

Mulkey Meadows, left to Templeton, right to Tunnel

Just before reaching the South Fork Kern River is a small spring-fed creek, and that was the first water that I encountered since the creek in Horseshoe Meadow. The South Fork Kern River had a nice flow of water, and there were a lot of golden trout being trout.

Golden Trout in South Fork Kern River

Golden Trout in South Fork Kern River

I continued on to Tunnel Meadow and followed the trail along the north side of the meadow. I found the old camp that was part of the old air service camp into Tunnel Meadow, and then a bit further I found the remnants of the tunnel that is the meadow’s namesake.

Site of the "tunnel" in Tunnel Meadow

Site of the “tunnel” in Tunnel Meadow

On the other side of this chasm I explored the old ranger station site. The old water tower supports are still there although the water tank itself is gone.

Remains of water tower

Remains of water tower

At this point I was looking for a campsite. In the immediate area of the ranger station South Fork Kern River and Golden Trout Creek are very close, but to be more than 100 feet away meant having a little climb to/from water. I continued and followed the trail branch that follows Golden Trout Creek, and a short distance away I found several good campsites with easy access to the creek.

The next morning I continued west on the trail following Golden Trout Creek.

Mt Langley from Golden Trout Creek trail

Mt Langley from Golden Trout Creek trail

The view changes quite a bit when you reach the lava flow area.

Lava flow near Golden Trout Creek

Lava flow near Golden Trout Creek

When I reach Little Whitney Meadow I left the Golden Trout Creek trail and turned north onto the trail that follows Johnson Creek. At the point where I started this segment Johnson Creek had a good flow in it, but that proved to be deceiving. This trail was a little difficult to find at first, but I walked to the old cow camp buildings in the distance and was able to find the trail wrapping around the backside of these buildings.

Little Whitney cow camp

Little Whitney cow camp

This trail did not seem to have had a lot of recent use, but I was able to stay on track. When I reached Salt Lick Meadow the two small creeks draining it also had a good water flow and a lot of trout.

Salt Lick Meadow

Salt Lick Meadow

Not far from here the trail returned to Johnson Creek, and here the water flow was very low. It was obvious that the stronger flow that I had seen lower was from Salt Lick Meadow and not the main trunk of Johnson Creek. I refilled my canteen and continued. I reached the top of the Johnson Creek drainage and started down toward Barigan Stringer which drains Rocky Basin Lakes. When I reached Barigan Stringer I found it dry. Fortunately I had been going easy on the water, but I had to alter my plan since I originally planned on camping nearby. I decided to continue to Big Whitney Meadow, and I was relieved to find that the creek draining from Siberian Pass had ample water. There was a nice bluff nearby, so I camped there.

Towards Siberian Pass from campsite at Big Whitney Meadow

Towards Siberian Pass from campsite at Big Whitney Meadow

The next morning I packed up and headed for Cottonwood Pass. I found that Golden Trout Creek had a good flow through Big Whitney Meadow, but the other smaller creeks/stringers in Big Whitney were dry. As I climbed the small canyon towards the pass Stokes Stringer had water in it for a stretch, but there was nothing in it towards the top of the climb. After a couple of hours I finally reached the point where the trail to Cottonwood Pass levels out for the last short climb.

Cottonwood Pass in sight

Cottonwood Pass in sight

Looking back to Great Western Divide

Looking back to Great Western Divide

After another 1 1/2 hours I had finished my 33 mile hike and was back in my car heading for the Frosty Chalet in Lone Pine.

The weather overall was good. Each day was similar. Very clear in the morning with clouds building through the afternoon. The clouds helped to moderate the temperature. Late in the afternoons I experienced light rain/hail, but it was never hard enough to get me into my raingear. It got very cold both nights, and when I awoke in Big Whitney Meadow on Wednesday there was a frost layer everywhere. There were no flying bugs to speak of during the entire trip.

A couple of lessons learned. The first is to be more careful packing. I had carried my Tenkara fishing rod, but I had forgot my small bag with the lines and flies which made the rod useless (but fortunately still light). The second is that for this season I’m going to load more water when I find it.

Thanks for the report jimmeans!

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