Tony Krizan

Yosemite Trail: Lost in Time

Like many of us, I enjoy the adventure of visiting and exploring areas concealed within Yosemite National Park. While driving that winding road leading into the valley, I sometimes wonder what secrets are concealed behind those towering pine and cedar trees.

Most hikers know the location of the Alder Creek Fall trailhead along the north side of Wawona Road. A few hundred yards on the opposite side is another trailhead leading down to a section of the Old Wawona Stagecoach Road. It also shares an old Indian trail that follows down to the south fork of the Merced River. The Wowana Topo map reveals this trail ends at the Savage Trading Post on Highway 140.

With my two hiking buddies, Fred Cochran and Clem Bingham, and a clear sunny morning, standing at the north side trailhead, we started our adventure. The trailhead elevation is 4,976 feet with its trail dropping 1,730 feet at the Merced River. This slightly used trail is very narrow with overgrown Bear Clover (kit-kit-dazzy) plants. The leaves from this plant were used by our American Indians to be boiled into tea and used as a medicine.

After only 200 yards, we intersected the historic Old Wawona Stagecoach Road. Instead of following this road and trail west, we hiked south toward Alder Creek. I was curious whether the old bridge still crossed over the creek. It’s been almost 90 years (1933) since this forgotten road was abandoned. The stone foundation was intact, but the wooden timbers and planks supporting stagecoaches and early automobiles have disappeared with time. Alder Creek can be quite violent during the spring run-off.

Now to double back to the trail and continue our trek two miles to Bishop Creek and another two miles to our final destination, the Merced River. It was a delight to follow this ancient trail as it dropped in elevation through remote canyons revealing stands of Ponderosa and Sugar Pine trees. Incense Cedar and Black Oak trees filled in the open spaces to help establish their natural canapé. Interesting how the local residents adapt to this thick tree cover. 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 may be a problem. Thankfully, a fallen cedar tree gracefully volunteered to become a bridge that made for our dry crossing. Less than a quarter mile later, we arrived at a trail junction. Keep hiking forward as the trail drops in elevation. Do not follow to the right, the trail will lead down river away from the cabin area. Then after 10 miles and crossing the river three times you’ll arrive at Hite’s Cove seven miles from Highway 140. Finally, we arrived at the Merced River with a total hiking time of two hours and 45 minutes.

Today the cabin does not exist, only old plumbing pipes, the leftover metal pieces from a wood stove and old electrical wiring. At first, I had a difficult time researching the history of this remote cabin. After I returned from this hike I met two area historians. One local historian, Mrs. Anita Fulmer from Raymond stated when she was a teenager she visited this structure with her parents sometime during the 1930s. She stated this cabin had its own power source, a metal water wheel (pelton wheel) at Bishop Creek. The waterwheel was removed sometime in the late 1950s.

The second historian is Forrest Wass from Mariposa. He stated in a letter sent to me that a Mr. Peabody had a mining claim on this location. Then around 1926, Mr. Ray Kistler, a doctor from San Francisco, purchased the cabin and claim. He and his friends built a lodge and several small sleeping cabins. At some point, the Forrest Service contested the validity of his mining claim and he lost. But since he made many improvements to the property; they gave him a special use permit. It expired upon his death. At that point, the Forest Service tore down the buildings (liability reasons).

I always wondered how Bishop Creek got its name. If one could locate a copy of Robert Eccleston’s diary, the Indian War of 1850-1851 there was a man named Bishop in Major Savage’s party. This trail was the same route the Mariposa Battalion took to Yosemite in 1851. It sounds logical that this may be a possible answer.

Add another 4.5 hours returning on this reverse hike. A reverse hike is decreasing in elevation at the start and the returning trek is increasing in elevation. Overall time including time spent at the river was 7.5 hours. I would rate this trek as strenuous. This hike was taken before the Ferguson Fire last summer. The trail should be much easier to follow this coming spring.