Are you tired of those winter hikes that restrict you to the lower elevations of the San Joaquin Valley? Before our snow level descends below 4,000 feet, let’s take a drive to Mariposa and head north to Jerseydale. From the Forestry Fire Station take the two-mile drive to the forestry security gate. This will be the trailhead and the old mining road originally built by the Chinese miners in the early 20th century. This old dirt and rock road will drop 2,400 feet to the Merced River. If the river is below normal one may take advantage of this opportunity and wade across to explore the Hites Cove mining area.
This steep dirt road was designed to transport the heavy machinery and supplies to the Hites Cove gold miners. This was not a small mining area. It boosted a hotel and many stone and wooden structures. Stated by the late Professor Edwin Gudde, a University of California historian; Hite’s Cove was discovered in 1862 when a Native American woman led John R. Hite up the canyon to the place where she had seen a promising quartz outcrop. That quartz vein located on Pinochet Ridge was around 12 feet thick and produced and estimated gold production of 3 million dollars. Sad to say in 1924 a forest fire destroyed this mining town.
During the descent I could appreciate the craftsmanship of those early road builders. I know their objective was the easiest route to the Merced River, but forging out a passable road on this steep mountain side was a work of art for the early 20th century. There are sections with only the width of a wagon (8 feet) hugging the side of this mountain and with a drop-off of over 2,000 feet to the river below. On a positive note; the views of the canyon displaying the Merced River is an excellent photo opportunity.
From one of my previous articles I spoke about trying to locate the Sims Cove Trail which was on the opposite side of the mining area and river of Hites Cove. Today I’m descending on that opposite side and discovered the trail intersecting point. This trail follows north or upstream along the river. This is a multiple night hike that crosses the river (not advisable during the spring run-off). This ancient Indian trail ends at the Wawona Road (Hwy. 41) in Yosemite National Park. By looking at the trail it is overgrown with poison oak which means be prepared for trail blazing on this future hike.
Almost two hours passed before I felt the coolness of the Merced River. I welcomed the shade from the oak and Pine trees and the added luxury of the cool breeze blowing from the river.
At the river’s edge were the remains of the rusted cables and stone bridge supports. During the booming gold era of Hites Cove this was the only year-round crossing. During late fall through early spring the river could be forged on foot. Scattered along the riverbank are the remains of the iron forgings from those prosperous mining days.
Earlier today I descended “down” to the river on this classified reverse hike. Now it is time to start the 2,400 feet back to the trailhead. During the second hour of climbing, from overhead I heard the shriek of a Red Tailed Hawk. Looking up he was lazily circling looking for his next meal. I envied his easy form of travel and sure wish I had wings today! All along the trail the local butterflies are crowding the pathway, perhaps seeking mineral nourishment from the damp trail surface. Then for a little excitement a local rattlesnake scurried off the pathway seeking shelter from this strange intruder.
As I was climbing this old forgotten road I tried to picture in my mind what this area was like more than a century ago. Sometimes just letting your mind wonder as you gaze out over the landscape makes you realize how fortunate we are today. We can hike into these areas and not experience the hardships those early miners experienced. Make time in your winter schedule and set this hiking experience as a must see in your future adventures.