On the rugged bushwack down Tenaya Canyon last fall, Kai Wiedman waxed poetic about the beauty of nearby Cherry Creek Canyon. Figuring the trip would be worthwhile even if it was half as scenic as Kai described, I eagerly signed up for his trip. The participants were fearless leader Kai Wiedman, Cecil Ann, Jim Ramaker, Jeff West, and your loyal scribe David Harris.
The trip had a wet start Friday night as a lone cloud hung over the Cherry Lake region about midnight and sprinkled on us. Evidently the cloud was periodically relieved as intermittent sprinkles continued through the night, but Saturday morning we awoke to clear blue sky.
We met at the parking lot for the Kibbie Ridge trailhead at 8 am Saturday morning. The lot can be reached by taking 120 toward Yosemite. A few miles before entering the park, take a left at the sign for Cherry Lake and San Jose Camp. Curve down the road for about 24 miles, then continue across the dam on Cherry Lake. Shortly after the dam, make a left at the sign for Trailhead Parking. The Kibbie Ridge trailhead is about four miles down the road and the ranger had assured Kai that the road was open, but we discovered the road blocked off at a parking lot only a mile from Cherry Lake. We had to hike the next three miles up the road to the proper trailhead. The only damage on the road were two rutted areas that most vehicles could handle and a ten foot section more severly washed out. It looked like the road could be repaired in a short time with a bulldozer; we wondered if the Forest Service just had too many other washed out roads in the repair queue or if they intended to cut access to the region.
After reaching the trailhead, we had an eleven mile walk along the Emigrant / Yosemite border through pleasant but unremarkable terrain to Lord Meadow. The bugs were moderately bad, but were beaten into submission by an afternoon shower. As the trail turned down into the meadow, we got a grand view of the granite ampitheater through which the creek flowed. I'd never seen such a large expanse of rounded, glacially polished granite studded with domes everywhere I looked.
We descended to the creek and turned downstream, traversing an exciting sloping slab hideously exposed above the roaring water. Worried about finding good camping further down the canyon, we stopped in a scenic spot about a mile from Lord Meadow about 5:00 just before the rain resumed. When the rain stopped, we enjoyed dinner as clouds swirled among the domes and the sun peeped through once again. The highlight of dinner was when Jeff suprised us with a strawberry shortcake, complete with fresh strawberries and whip cream!
Sunday began at 6:30 with a marvellous ten mile cross-country descent of Cherry Creek Canyon, at least three quarters as beautiful as Kai had promised. The stream roared along beside us, dropping down countless cascades, and appeared uncrossable in almost all sections. Each bend we turned brought new domes into sight. The route is conveniently marked on the Wilderness Press Emigrant Wilderness map. Evidently it can be difficult to find and very tedious when lost, but we managed to pick a good path the entire way, staying very close to the stream the entire way except when forced away by a narrow gorge and near the very end when we turned up toward the trailhead. The upper part of the canyon is consistently beautiful, with reddish granite in many places and excellent walking. Our concerns about good camping were unfounded; in every mile there was at least one excellent spot. The lower half of the canyon got brushier and required climbing up and around numerous rock obstacles with occasional third class moves, but still had copious wildflowers and excellent views from time to time. In the lower portion, I nearly stepped on a large rattlesnake coiled sleeping on my path and Cecil stepped over a baby rattlesnake without even noticing. We also saw a large black bear laying on its side dead in Cherry Creek. Perhaps it slipped into the rapids and was carried downstream.
The route leaves the creek about a mile before Cherry Lake and climbs a thousand feet through dense forest back to the road. We took a bearing on a shoulder of the canyon at 140 degrees and fortunately found a series of rocks, animal paths, and clearnings which reached the shoulder with a minimum of the terrible bushwacking Kai had done on a previous trip when staying too close to the cliffs on the left. We amazingly came out right at the switchback in the road and concluded the trip with a boring and buggy walk back to the cars. Just as we hit the cars at 4:00 a fierce downpour cut loose.
Overall, Cherry Creek Canyon was a very interesting lesser-known cross-country route. Most PCS groups will find it a solid but reasonable two-day trip covering 28 miles (if the road is still closed) and only modest elevation gain. Three days gives more time to loiter in the canyon and take in each cascade.