This Memorial Day trip to the western edge of Yosemite was a nice warm-up for the summer and the group enjoyed a beautiful weekend of sunshine, granite and wild water.
The trip turned out to be a merger of Kai Wiedman's Scree-listed trip and Laura Sefchik's private trip. Participants were Laura, her husband Wade, Kai, Gary Aldridge and me.
The gathering place was to be the end of the road that crosses Cherry Creek Dam, which is the Kibbie Ridge trailhead. I came up Friday night and found a "road closed" sign on Cherry Oil Road above the Tuolumne Canyon and for a moment thought I would have to go all the way back to Sonora and come in the other way.
However, the sign said it was open at night and on weekends, so I went ahead--slowly. There was some major construction dealing with a part of the road that had slid out during the winter, but the drive was uneventful and I got to the end of the road about 11 p.m.
Next morning the others arrived and we got on the trail to Kibbie Ridge around 10. Our plan was to follow the ridge to a point where a creek drainage allows access into the canyon and then drop down into the canyon to a place called Flintstone Camp. This avoids the long slog up the canyon starting from near the end of Cherry Lake.
After later experiencing the lower canyon on the way out, this route is definitely the only way to go. At the trail junction for Kibbie Lake, we encountered snow on the ridge and finding the trail became difficult. After a few minutes of wandering around trying to find the trail, we just went for the ridge and followed it on the west side to a lookout point Wade needed as a reference to find the route down into the canyon.
This lookout provided a fine place for lunch and we could see a good portion of the canyon as well as the campsite down on the creek. Heading down the drainage was actually made easier by the snow cover until about halfway down. After that we had to do some minor bushwhacking to get to Cherry Creek and our camp.
At the so-called Flintstone Camp there are rock tables and chairs (hence the name) over in a stand of trees close to the creek. However, we chose a nice flat platform covered with sand and gravel above the creek and with a much better view of the white water coming down the canyon.
No one else was there and we saw no one until we were on the way out on Monday. Cherry Creek was a raging torrent and the right temperature to provide some really cold beer. It was obvious to everyone that if you somehow went into that creek along here your longevity would be measured in minutes if not seconds.
We arrived early enough (which probably disqualifies this as an official PCS trip) for a leisurely dinner and some hiking around the immediate vicinity on nice slabs and domes of granite.
A leisurely start the next morning got us on the way up the canyon to explore further. It was cross-country but easy as it was mostly exposed granite, with a lot of the red/pink tinted granite that supposedly gives the canyon its name.
Some of the gorges showed striking evidence of glacial polishing. We probably got three to four miles up the canyon (just past a major eastward turn in the creek) before snow made further progress treacherous due to postholing down into talus and boulders.
We backtracked to camp, had another nice evening and next morning rose at dawn to get an early start for the hike down the canyon back to the cars. After a false start up a dome that Wade thought we had to go over to get down-canyon, we retreated to the creek and followed it down.
This was all cross-country. We couldn't even find a use trail although we occasionally saw a duck. The route is fairly obvious but you do have to search around often for a way through all the rocks, trees and brush and we did find the maps quite useful in determining our position in the canyon.
Just below our camp we saw people camped on the other side of the creek and wondered how they got there considering the state of the creek and with no official trails or bridges in the canyon. As we moved down canyon and came to a 40- or 50-foot chimney (class 3?) that we had to go down, we noticed a large tree across the creek which provided a very good bridge to the other side and explained the campers over there.
The chimney wasn't difficult and was about the only part of the hike out that required any climbing. Moving further down we encountered more people who had come up the lower canyon and were now leaving. It was now getting pretty hot as we left Cherry Creek just behind the lake and headed up the forested slope back to where the cars were. Here there were many use trails and although none of them seemed to be a preferred route, they all traversed up and to our left toward where the cars should be and in fact we hit the road right at the cars, arriving around two o'clock.
We drove back from Cherry Lake on the road to Sonora and this turned out to be a very nice drive, although probably not as fast as using Cherry Oil road.
Cherry Creek Canyon is a real gem and makes for a great backpack trip. The trip is almost all cross-country and most of it on granite. It was obvious that the most spectacular part of the canyon is upstream from the Flintstone Camp, the lower canyon being unappealing. I would suggest that future trips follow our route or avoid the lower canyon altogether and come out the way we came in.
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