The Mountaineer Trail is located on the western side of the Golden Trout Wilderness. The trail begins at a junction with the Summit Trail at Mowery Meadow and continues downhill along Mountaineer Creek. The trail eventually brings users out to Alpine Creek and eventually the Little Kern River. It is not used very often and hasn’t received maintenance for a few years. The blow down in recent years has created several re-routes. Our plan was to start and end at the Summit Trailhead. We would hike out to Mowery Meadow, then down to where South Mountaineer Creek meets Mountaineer Creek, and finally cross country up South Mountaineer Creek to where we began. Supposedly in the 1990’s a user documented finding the South Mountaineer Trail in several places. We hoped to find it again as well as enjoy our walk through the South Mountaineer Research Natural Area. This is the story.
Full photo album -> Mountaineer Loop
We drove up the highway and into the mountains around 745 AM. We were on the trail around 930 AM. It was a perfect day for hiking. Temperatures would be in the upper 50’s to lower 60’s. Even though water was going to potentially be an issue, we were prepared. Down the trail we went and we soon discovered an unpleasant surprise.
The Golden Trout Wilderness sign was missing. Not aware of anyone needing to take down the sign for maintenance issues, we believe someone stole it. Back in late August the sign was still there and looked perfectly fine. If it was stolen, that is unfortunate. It cost quite a bit of tax payers money to put it up and it will need to be replaced. We took notes and moved on down the trail. I was in a jacket at this point because it was cold. The temperature was in the low 40’s, which was still great to hike in. We made it down to the trail crossing at South Mountaineer Creek. Fletcher went to see if he could find any remnants of the old trail. According to an old map we had, the trail would meet the Summit Trail at this point. Unfortunately no luck in seeing it, so we pressed on towards Mowery Meadow.
One of my favorite stretches along the Summit Trail is shortly after the crossing of South Mountaineer Creek. The trail makes its way up to the Alder Creek Vista Point. During this stretch of trail one is greeted with the lichen hanging on the fir trees. The contrast with the green along the grey bark is beautiful to me.
We made it to the vista point about an hour into the hike. It was a perfect time to cool down from the uphill climbing. We did dry off quickly and took a few photos. The valley was not looking good at this point. A lot of pollution from industry, farming, and what not lay nestled below. The air was crisp and clean from my view and I decided to take enjoy taking in the clean air and blue skies. As soon as we were dry, we proceeded downhill to Jacobsen Meadow.
Along the way we decided to relocated the Jacobsen Trail junction with the Summit Trail. We were successful because of a sign. The sign was an old Golden Trout Wilderness boundary sign. Soon after Fletcher was able to located the old trail tread. One day I hope to see this trail re-opened. It would be a valuable “short cut” into the wilderness. Afterwords, the next stop was at Mowery Meadow where we decided to have some lunch.
We found the Mountaineer Trail junction. The sign needed some work, but no surprise there. The trail was visible and we proceeded down a couple hundred yards to a dispersed recreation site. A small fire ring and table was there. Here is where we stopped for lunch and reminisced about our first trip so many years ago to Maggie Lakes. Our lunch was short, 15 minutes to be exact, and down the trail we went. I told Fletcher that I had walked this trail last year and expected the trail to get bad after the second creek crossing, but that following the third crossing it would be easy. Sure enough, nothing had changed.
Part of the trail were completely rerouted and use was very low. I was thankful for the work done a few years ago. Otherwise there would be no easy way around all the blow down and large fallen trees. We were able to make our way through and note where some serious trail maintenance was needed. Eventually we arrived at the confluence of South Mountaineer and Mountaineer Creeks. Time for another break to enjoy the beautiful view of the channel and fall colors.
The break was nice and the rays of sunlight warmed our skin. We enjoyed the remaining portion of our lunch break at this point before heading up into the “unknown.” We had no idea what we would find, if anything at all. Expecting to do more cross-country travel then staying on a trail, we pushed on up the stream channel. Thankfully it wasn’t too hard of cross-country travel.
Most of the channel is solid rock or bedrock. Long pools and slides of water flowed by as we proceeded onward. We didn’t find that trail at all, but the creek was easy to follow. The area was thick in fallen timber though. We had read the research natural area had not seen fire in about 150 years. The report was written in the 1990’s so it was well over 160 years now, if not pushing 170 years. The area really needed a wildfire to return to the area. A nice late fall storm, to us anyway, seemed to be the best way. Cool temps and higher humidity would promote the fire to creep along and not “rage” through the forest. Anyway, we took several photos and enjoyed our time.
Eventually we decided to ascend uphill and way from South Mountaineer Creek. We didn’t find the trail at all and figured it was long gone. However, we did stumble on a surprise as we traveled uphill for the next 1,000 feet. There was remnants of an even older trail. We realized we had stumbled on a portion of the old “summit trail” from the early 1900’s. The old trail, according to maps from 1909 to 1930’s, had a trail crossing up and down the ridges and drainages. Today that trail has long been abandoned as the Summit Trail is much easier to do. This trail again appeared when we were closer to the top of the mountain and, surprisingly easier to see.
We were happy to see what was left of the old trail and followed it up the mountain. It was very steep, but surprisingly still around. I imagine horse travel was the majority of use, so people wouldn’t be walking it on foot. Going straight up and down doesn’t seem to be the trend anymore unless absolutely necessary. Anyway we followed it for a ways until it vanished. We then turned our attention to the ridge line and proceeded up the mountain until we arrived at our truck.
It was 4 PM when we returned. Water and Gatorade greeted us at the truck before we made our way down the mountain. The trip was a success in that we were able to see the Research Natural Area. We did not find the South Mountaineer Trail, but was surprised to find an even older trail built around 1909. Not bad for a day’s hike (8 miles total = 6.5 on trail, 1.5 cross country travel).