Hutchinson Meadow

tonykrizan@hotmail.comOctober 15, 2013 

During this five-day hike, I'll be traveling through Piaute Canyon which starts along the John Muir Trail at Piaute Bridge and continues to North Lake. My goal is to set up a base camp at Hutchinson Meadow and day hike the surrounding mountains.

On Aug. 4, I was driving mountain road No. 168 to Florence Lake to catch the ferry to its east shore. Next to this wilderness road were two stranded hikers setting on their backpacks. I stopped and after a brief conversation, Florence Lake was our similar destination. During our short drive, we spoke about our future adventures.

Phil S. and Carl C. were school teachers from Southern California and had been planning their hike for six months. Their hike would lead them through Evolution Valley and beyond.

We arrived at the East Shore of Florence Lake around 11:00 a.m. I was surprised when this unique trail intersected and followed part of the 4x4 road which leads to the Muir Trail Ranch. If you are searching for that first time wilderness experience with an atmosphere of going back in time with modern accommodations, this is your vacation.

The ferry boat and helicopter are the only routes to this privately owned rustic resort located inside the wilderness.

After four miles I passed through Blayney Meadows. This beautiful large grassy area is surrounded by pine and cedar trees. Its southern border follows the San Joaquin River toward Evolution Valley. Next to the Ranch is the famous natural hot springs located on the opposite side of the San Joaquin River. The natural warm mineral water is a welcome relief to soak a tired body after a full day on the trail.

Around 4 p.m. that afternoon I met up with Phil and Carl and we continued hiking to the Piaute Canyon Bridge at 8,000 feet. At this crossroads, we parted company and I hiked up the Piaute Canyon Trail and they continued to Evolution Valley.

Before arriving at the bridge, the gray clouds overhead offered a few sprinkles. As time passed, those clouds became darker in color. Fortunately I found a great campsite close to Piaute Creek and set up my tent. Ten minutes after setting up, the clouds released their moisture and it rained until 8 p.m. Before the light disappeared that evening, I witnessed one of nature's forgotten spectacles, a beautiful rainbow extending over the distant canyon. My camera captured that moment for my future memories.

The following morning, I had to wait until the sun peaked over the distant mountains to dry out my tent for traveling. Twenty minutes into the hike, lying across the trail was a huge eight foot diameter pine tree that extended over one hundred feet in length. This wilderness giant was a victim to last night's mountain storm.

The Piaute Canyon Trail skirts its way along the mountain side on the narrow but well placed trail. Below me is the picturesque creek tumbling over the rocks winding its way through the canyon. Still lingering in the shadows are patches of snow on the west slope from the previous winter. Most streams are still being fed by the winter snow run-off. Sometimes I would venture up or down stream looking for boulders to cross to continue following the trail.

Later that afternoon, I arrived at Hutchinson Meadow at an elevation of 9,290 feet; I set up my base camp for the next three days. This beautiful forested meadow is at least two miles long with Piaute Creek flowing through its interior. To the east is Pilot Knob at 12,245 feet. To the north the canyon wall extends upward to 11,600 feet. Finally to the south the southern wall pushes upward to 10,800 feet.

During my three day stay, I found evidence of American Indian activity from centuries ago. Obsidian scatter and grinding holes identify these Indian summer camps along this ancient trail.

My daily activity consisted of hiking up Piaute Creek, French Canyon and the 12,245 foot, Pilot Knob to the east. My final morning has arrived and I can't wait until the sun rises around 7:15 a.m. Until that time the temperature will be in the low 30s.

Watching the sun rise over Pilot Peak and looking at all the wild flowers each morning will be deeply missed. I'll be returning by the same trail that winds its way down this rugged and deep canyon. A small stream originating from a hidden snow pack offers another memory of the natural beauty of Piaute Canyon.

Upon arrival at Piaute Bridge, I was greeted by a lone hiker who spent 15 days hiking the Muir Trail. He was excited because he only had 15 more days before arriving at his final destination, Mount Whitney.

Should I try and soak in the relaxing hot pools at the Muir Trail Ranch. The storm a few days ago caused the river to rise and was flowing so fast and deep for the crossing that I decided to keep hiking to Blayney Meadows to set up my camp for the final night.

I broke camp early the following morning to meet the 9 a.m. ferry at Florence Lake. After five days of hiking with a heavy backpack, it sure feels great to ride this boat across the lake to the Florence Lake Resort.

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