Yosemite trail lost in time

editorial@sierrastar.comFebruary 4, 2014 

Like many of us I enjoy the adventure of visiting and exploring Yosemite National Park. How many times have you driven the winding Wawona Road (Highway 41)? Have you ever asked yourself, what secrets remain hidden within these mature pine, cedar and oak trees?

Most hikers know the location of the Alder Creek Falls Trailhead located on the north side of Wawona Road. What about the Alder Creek Trailhead located on the road's west side? Look closely at the signs identifying each creek while driving toward Yosemite Valley. After passing the Alder Creek sign, look for two bear boxes on the left. This is the overlooked trailhead that leads down to the South Fork of the Merced River.

If you look at the Wawona topo map, you will see that this same trail is an old American Indian trail that follows the Merced River down to Hite's Cove outside of Mariposa.

On a bright January morning, Clem Bingham, Fred Cochran and I decided to start 2014 with a day hike down to the South Fork of the Merced River. January is almost over and here we stand at the Alder Creek Trailhead with no snow at 4,976 feet. Today our elevation will decrease 1,730 feet. Once departing from the trailhead, the only assurance that we are on the correct trail is a sign (which cannot be seen from the road) located 40-plus yards down the mountain.

During our descent on this narrow but slightly used trail, the overgrown bear clover (kit-kit-dizzy) has almost concealed the route. This overgrown plant was used by the American Indians, who boiled the leaves into a tea and used it for medicine.

We hiked almost 200 yards before intersecting a section of the Old Wawona Stage Coach Road. In one of my previous articles, I unveiled the route of this forgotten 137-year-old road and was surprised that somehow I had missed this section. Before continuing on the trail to the Merced River, we became sidetracked.

History states that this road was abandoned in 1933 and today all that remains of this historic creek crossing are the rock walls that supported the wooden timbers and planks for the stagecoaches and automobiles to cross. Alder Creek can be quite violent during a wet season. Time and erosion have exposed and polished the huge boulders deep within the crevices.

Next, we'll double back to the trail to continue our trek two miles down to Bishop Creek and another two miles to the south fork of the Merced River. This trail is a delight to follow as it treks through each wilderness canyon to reveal stands of Ponderosa and Sugar Pine trees. Even the Black Oak and Incense Cedar are visible along the trail. Overhead, a Red Tailed Hawk voices his concerns riding the warm morning thermals looking for his next meal.

Bishop Creek flows year-round and if you decide for a spring adventure, forging this swollen creek should not present a problem. A fallen ancient Cedar has gracefully become a natural bridge. A couple hundred yards before arriving at the Merced River is the junction trail, which follows down-stream more than 10 miles toward Hite's Cove.

Finally, we arrived at the Merced River — a total hiking time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. I was told by a local pioneer and historian, Anita Fulmer, that a cabin was built at this location during the early twentieth century. Anita stated that a water wheel was erected on the river to bring electricity to the cabin. When she was a young teenager, she hiked several times from the Old Wawona Road and Bishop Creek crossing, following the creek descending to this cabin. We found its location. All that remains today are old plumbing pipes, a wood stove water heater, old rusted bed springs and a few strands of electrical wiring. All traces of the cabin and water wheel have disappeared over the years.

Our hiking time back to the trailhead was 3 hours and 45 minutes. Overall time including time spent at the river was 7 ½ hours. This hike is classified as a "reverse hike" and I would rate it as strenuous. I was impressed with the beauty surrounding this adventure.

If you are the type of hiker who enjoys a wilderness trail which has been lost in time, this is your hike.

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