Today I started reviewing a few of my past Sierra Nevada hikes and one exciting adventure from a decade ago caught my attention. This was my four-day stay at Junction Butte's.
The scenic byway out of North Fork even today will dazzle you with its natural rock formations and ancient stands of pine trees. Eagles Nest, Squaw Dome, Balloon Dome and Mammoth Pool Reservoir are just a few high points to attract your attention while driving to the trailhead.
Turn right toward the Clover Meadow Ranger Station and continue driving through the Granite Creek campground to the trailhead at 7,800 feet. This trail will descend past Soldier Meadow which got its name from the US Army who used this area as a patrol camp during the administrative time of Yosemite National Park.
Next is Indian Meadow, another large grassy area, origin unknown but must have an association with our American Indians.
While descending along this wilderness trail, overhead a red-tailed hawk was lazily soaring on the morning thermals in search of his next meal. If you look closely, concealed within the meadow the native deer are scurrying for shelter within the surrounding pine trees.
Next I passed through the famous area called Sheep's Crossing. Centuries before the sheep herders entered this area the American Indians used this crossing for a major stopping or resting area before continuing their travels over the mountains to trade with other native tribes.
Sheep's Crossing is recognized by its two year-round creeks, ideal tree cover and an abundance of local game. From this point I will start descending almost two miles before arriving at the junction of the North Fork and Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.
Looking south through this old growth forest, Balloon Dome came into view with its bare granite surface protruding above the landscape at an elevation of 6,881 feet. As I dropped in elevation on this hot day, concealed by ground cover, a natural spring was flowing from the steep forested mountain side.
The cool water was refreshing but I had to share with one of the local residents. From the opposite side of this pool, almost concealed in the shadows, he introduced himself by his unmistakable rattling sound. The three feet of muscle was also escaping the afternoon heat. I focused one eye on the intruder and the other on filling my water bottle before descending into the canyon below.
Finally at an elevation of 6,352 feet the junction of the North Fork and Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River came into view. This area was to be my base camp for the next four days.
Overwhelming desire to explore
After setting up my camp, I had an overwhelming desire to explore this remote area. I entered a small clearing and to my surprise the framing of a man-made structure stood before me.
Tools, utensils, pots, pans and within the structure a fire pit for warmth and cooking. In the corner was a padded area for sleeping, with small log rounds for sitting. The structure dimensions were around eight feet wide and twenty feet long. It had two living areas. Possibly to keep the heat confined to one area during the winter months. Hanging from a tall pine tree was the bundled canvas to cover the frame to seal it from the elements.
After returning to Oakhurst my research revealed this structure could have been built by a mountain man who was called Buck Tyree. He lived and survived during the 1980s within this area of the wilderness.
The following day while hiking along the tall canyon walls, well above the swift flowing waters of the San Joaquin River, I noticed within the fine decomposed granite the impressions of many paw prints of an adult cougar. This shy and evasive cat is very difficult to spot within the confines of his natural habitat. Throughout the morning I kept a sharp lookout for any activity within these rocks. No sightings. He must have been passing through the area. Maybe now I could focus my attention on fishing and photography.
On my return there were bear tracks all around my campsite. Nothing was disturbed. Maybe my early return scared him off. Lucky for me the bear must have lost interest in my campsite because he never returned.
The following morning I hiked down stream to look for the old trail that crossed the river and continues east toward Hitez Meadow. I could not find that abandoned trail and even if I did the river is much too deep and swift this spring for a safe crossing.
The forth morning arrived much sooner than expected. Now to pack up my gear and start the climb back to the trailhead, taking with me only the memories and pictures of the last four days. I'll have to make a stop at the spring to replenish my water bottles and hopefully the rattlesnake will have departed from the area. Lucky again -- No rattlesnake at the water hole. With my water bottles full, now to start my five hour climb back to the Clover Meadow Trailhead.
One day I'll have to return and attempt to complete the lower trail toward Heitz Meadow.