Historic cross country adventure

Mountain Secrets

Tony KrizanMarch 7, 2012 

For many years I have hiked the Willow Creek Trail and the Chepo Saddle Road north of Bass Lake. During those hikes I've often said to myself; is there a connecting point between the two major trails?

Trying to solve this question I even phoned two friends of mine, Ralph and Betty Bissett, historians and whose family is one of the original settlers in this area. Ralph mentioned that his older brother Lester Bissett would lead the cattle drive up Chepo Saddle into the high country for summer grazing before and after WWll. Ralph wasn't sure he could help me because those times when he joined the drive, Lester would lead the stock across the saddle, but beyond that point the route would vary from season to season. His information was helpful, but to solve the mystery I'll have to physically attempt to find a route between both trails.

It was Feb. 18 with hiking partner Nancy Morgan, that we started our quest to solve this mystery. It is now 7:30 a.m. and the temperature is a dry 30 degrees. Normally the ground surface would be covered with a light film of frost, but these conditions could change. The weather man predicts a slight chance of rain or snow by late afternoon. Hopefully adventure will take no longer than five hours to complete.

We started from the gate at Chepo Saddle, followed the main dirt road to the first side bar road on the right which my map states as Road "C." After almost a quarter of a mile, with obstacles including boulder hopping across a stream and climbing over fallen trees, we finally arrived at the second stream crossing.

We are in luck -- it looks as if 50 to 70 years ago someone had attempted to cut a road through these canyons. After crossing the second creek this makeshift road now has decades of new growth and surprises like large fallen trees across its confusing pathway.

Along the shaded mountain side are patches of white left over from our last snow storm. From the natural moisture held within these canyons, the bright colored green moss covered each tree and exposed boulders as we forged our way deeper into the remote canyon.

My watch read almost 10 a.m. and we must have hiked another half mile along this pathway before it started to turn west. Now to review my map -- maybe it's time to depart from this old road and go across this small creek to continue our hike up the mountain side. The local residents did manage to leave a game trail to follow. But it soon ended and now I'm on my own to look for that easy route to the summit.

I've always said ... one can trust your map and compass. Once at the top, after forging through the manzanita bushes, in front of us was the fire road shown on my map. It's ironic that a week earlier I had hiked this same road from the bridge at Willow Creek Trailhead to McLeod Flat.

At this point I'm only a short distance from Willow Creek following the road to the left (north). At the creek just cross over on a natural bridge, a fallen pine tree, and this is McLeod Flat.

For the direct route back to the bridge at Willow Creek on Malum Ridge Road, just hike to the right (south). Follow this same dirt road down to the bridge and trailhead at the west side of Willow Creek.

After six years of curiosity, we have solved this mystery. Today was a success. With three to four hours of moderate to strenuous hiking one can complete this connection between the two trailheads.

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