Category Archives: Hiking

A perfect slice of hiking heaven

Last week, driving out on the Scenic Loop, the orangey-yellow aspen leaves shone like neon in the sun, heightened all the more by the contrast with the dark green of the pines. A favorite hiking trail now passes through a curtain of aspen trees, leaves strewn all over the trail.

Back in July, one Monday the sun gleamed promising on the morning. It looked like a standard-fare summer day. A bowl of blue sky soaring over the pines, sparkling clear waters in the lakes, the sound of streams gurgling from the ever-present snow runoff.

But it went beyond normal. On a hike up to the Inyo Craters, the sage smelled sweet, Brewer’s lupines radiated a heavenly purple scent, the aroma of pine needles on the forest floor lifted upward in the sunshine, and a soft breeze blew the heat away.

One of those times when it all mingles to cause a feeling of “all’s right with the world.” When you feel so thoroughly glad to be right where you are.

The Inyo Craters hike is short, less than an hour up and back. It starts out as a single track foot path. No motorized vehicles allowed, so a good place to walk with my dog.

It takes off through a grove of aspens, up and down a small hill, curving through a stand of pines. The path opens into meadow and trees then saunters variously through sunshine and woods. At one point, what I call trail art is displayed just off the trail; it’s a long-ago fallen tree, all that’s left of which is a tangle of roots. It looks as though someone set it there, just where the morning sun lights it up. Could easily be the makings for a driftwood coffee table.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, the trail crosses a dirt road and heads sharply uphill to land in the parking area for the Craters. Cross that road and the next half-mile wanders through heavier woods on a well-tromped trail up to the Craters.

Although hiking a loop can generally be more satisfying, this trail looks different on the way back. There are a few different routes down from the Craters (one of them passes Jeffrey pines of huge girth). Past the Craters parking area, that steep hill becomes a downhill paved in soft seasons of pine needles.

My dog loves running for all she’s worth down this hill. Back across the dirt road the scenery changes and the single-track leads back to the trailhead.

At the end of the trail, walking through that grove of aspens (a rich green in summer and a blaze of golden yellow in the fall) a breeze is shuffling through the leaves as if to say farewell, come back soon.

Back at the trailhead, five salt and pepper-haired men are offloading dirt bikes, getting ready to take a morning ride in the network of dirt roads that spiderweb through the Scenic Loop.

Through a glass (creek) brightly

First times are always special.

Glass Creek Meadow is a memorable hike. For anyone. It’s been on my list for years and finally I made it last Wednesday with Sally Miller and Danna Stroud.

The turnoff to the west on the Obsidian Dome road from U.S. 395 follows about a three-mile dirt road to the trailhead. The road passes the fork to Hartley Springs Campground, which, unfortunately, is closed.

We parked, strapped on packs and water, and took off through the forest toward the sound of Glass Creek. A momentous sign declared that we were entering the Owens River Headwaters Wilderness. That alone is huge. For those who live in the fast-paced, smog-filled outer world, here is a sweet-smelling protected place, yet one that is easily accessible.

My awe was cut short as our trail wandering narrowed and steepened impressively along and up Glass Creek, its tumbling waters rushing louder and louder, until we reached Glass Creek Falls.

Above the falls the trail gentled and moved into sage, then an exposed, sandy stretch. Downhill to our left, Glass Creek wandered through a verdant riparian ribbon of green. Almost out of the creek rose White Wing, a cinder-colored round peak that looked like it would be fun to ski.

Gradually, after a mile or so, we caught sight of the meadow, mirage-like in the distance, beneath San Joaquin Ridge, reaching up to nearly 12,000 feet. On the other side, June Mountain.

Onward into the huge Glass Creek Meadow, some two miles in length, with its riot of wildflowers. On this particular August day, purple was the dominant hue, with white and yellow accents, and an occasional splash of Indian paintbrush.

The list of flowers Sally identified for us was fascinating. It wasn’t until after the hike, when I started naming them, that I realized what a wealth of flora we actually saw.

Monkeyflowers, buttercups, lupine, even some white lupine, corn lilies, larkspur, yampa, wild onions, Indian paintbrush, iris, showy daisies, cinquefoil, clover, clown clover, buckwheat, forget-me-nots, elephanthead, penstemon, ranger buttons.

We stumbled on seeps and sudden springs in the meadow and saw a treefrog (Pacific chorus frog), a couple of Yosemite toads and several different butterflies, from the orange-tipped Lorquin’s Admiral to a leopard-looking butterfly and a silvery blue.

There in the meadow the realization staggered that we were at the headwaters of the Upper Owens River. From these springs, a creek begins to wend its way downhill, thundering through a ravine and eventually flows into Crowley Lake.

As more and more people populate our world, wild places are increasingly critical, places of silence, respite from the grinding of engines that tear up the land, where the aromas of myriad wildflowers and pine are as pure as can be and not polluted by gasoline fumes.

“It’s a privilege to hike in wilderness in part because we the people made it happen. Wilderness becomes so only when you have committed citizens that bring the idea to protect a special place forward and help move it through the process. Wilderness may be created by Congress but never without the idea first being born in the hearts and minds of local citizens,” says wilderness advocate Sally Miller.

On our way back down the creek trail, we encountered several families of hikers who appreciated the fact that they were hiking in the wilderness. They were all from Southern California. Some of them, second generation Eastern Sierra hikers, were introducing their children and a third generation to the special qualities of wilderness hiking. Near the falls we ran into Devils Postpile’s Deanna Dulen and her husband Wangdowa, in training for their imminent trip to Nepal.

This hike into Glass Creek Meadow did seem like such a privilege, as it is, thanks to the 2009 wilderness bill that also provided protection for the White Mountains, San Joaquin Ridge, Hoover Wilderness areas, Granite Mountain and John Muir Wilderness, and thanks to the myriad grass roots people who worked hard to create these pockets of wilderness.

In the heat of the afternoon we reached the falls a second time, noticed the wild onions and monkeyflowers growing in the mist, felt the quenching coolness emanating from the water, and couldn’t resist splashing that coolness on our faces.

For more information on this hike, see “Exploring Eastern Sierra Canyons” by Sharon Giacomazzi. For more information on wilderness, visit the Wilderness Society at wilderness.org.