Onion Springs to Rock Creek

Mountain Secrets

Tony KrizanJuly 5, 2012 

Today I'll be introducing you to another area of our Sierra Nevada Mountains -- the area west of Edison Lake within the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

First locate the old four-wheel drive road that leads to the Onion Springs trailhead. Be extremely careful driving this weathered road which hasn't been maintained for decades. Besides forging across two active streams, the ruts and boulders will test your driving skills. I've driven this road a few times in the last 15 years and each trip I worry about having enough ground clearance with my Jeep to complete the trip. Time and erosion has exposed those small rocks on the road's surface into huge boulders.

With less precipitation this year, forging across the streams was not difficult. Early spring is not the time to attempt these crossings during the mountain snow run-off.

Park at the trailhead but continue following the road west to the forestry gate. This may sound silly but it sure felt great to put on my backpack again. Maybe the anticipation of adventure gets my adrenalin flowing. Keep following the road as it drops from 8,700 feet to 6,500 feet. While descending keep a sharp eye on the road surface for broken pieces of quartz. Roughly half way on this descent, on the right, hidden by the trees on the hillside, is an old abandoned gold mining claim.

Continue following the road and on the left will be a large meadow with a trail. If you arrive at Rock Creek crossing, you have traveled too far and will have to double back and locate the trail. This path will travel south (downstream) following Rock Creek.

Since my last adventure through this area many huge pine trees have fallen across the trail. Five years of heavy winter snow fall uprooted many ancient trees which has increased the difficulty of following this trail. Walking around those 100 foot long trees, takes extra time and energy.

After almost two hours into my hike, following this main trail there are many references to century old American Indian activity. Along the creek large flat rocks displayed grinding holes for preparing acorns. This must have been an ideal area for the American Indians to escape the extreme summer heat of the San Joaquin Valley. I made a quick pass through this ancient area and continued toward my destination.

When I arrived at the large meadow boarding Rock Creek, I changed my heading to the southeast. Soon I'll arrive at the area to set up my base camp. I thought I had a problem with fallen trees on the major trail. This section should be classified as cross country hiking. The foliage was much thicker with twice as many trees lying on the ground. Twenty minutes later I crossed the creek to the area where I'll set up my base camp.

The landscaping is very remote and beautiful with the tall trees and rock cropping accenting the area. One of the major trees along the meadow perimeter had fallen during spring. As I passed the fallen tree, alongside the exposed roots on the freshly turned earth was an arrowhead. Maybe this is a sign that the Indian spirits are welcoming me back to their camp again.

After setting up my campsite, I spent the remainder of the day exploring the surrounding area. Interesting how many native creatures inhabit this location. Game trails revealed deer hoof prints of various sizes, followed by cougar, bob cat and bear prints. Do you think I'll sleep with one eye open tonight?

Evening came quickly, and supper over an open camp fire was sounds of the wind blowing through the trees, water cascading over the rocks and off in the distance you can hear an owl hoot or a coyote barking. This is all part of what makes the wilderness so enchanting. It's late and time to slip into my sleeping bag and dream of tomorrows wilderness adventures.

I had an interrupted sleep last night with a few coyotes barking, waking me up at 11:30 p.m. and 4 a.m. There was a full moon last night, which aluminates the area and makes their hunting much easier. I awoke around 6:30 a.m. to a bright sun rise. The temperature last night dipped to 48 degrees. The afternoon temperatures should hover around 85 degrees.

This morning I'm off to the San Joaquin River by way of the ancient Indian trail that my hiking buddy Greg Winslow and I located a few years ago while looking for a route down to the San Joaquin River. Our markers will make this ancient trail easy to follow. Once again I found an obsidian tool on our marked trail. Now I'm positive American Indians hiked this trail centuries before us.

Upon arriving at the river I went directly to the cave where years before we stashed fishing gear. My fishing pole was outside the cave snapped in half with teeth marks that pierced the cork handle to the aluminum shaft. Maybe the bear didn't have good luck fishing with a pole.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon photographing the steep canyon walls that border the San Joaquin River. The shadows created interesting formations as the sun traveled overhead dancing across their faces.

Now down to the river for a swim. Through the summer the water flow reseeds and the temperature increases, although now the water was cold, but refreshing. Next I'll gather up my gear and start my climb back to the base camp at Rock Creek.

There was one canyon on my return that is confusing. If I miss this slot I'll increase my climbing time almost 30 minutes. I almost made the same mistake again, but by placing a marker at the slot entrance, problem solved. I arrived safely back at base camp later that afternoon.

Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part series.

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series.

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