Little Kern River Loop

A three day and two night stay in the Golden Trout Wilderness. The trip started and ended at the Clicks Creek Trailhead. Total miles are approximately 16. I completed most of this trip in a day last year, but it was nice to take it slower and have company this time around.

Day 1 – August 22

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Drive time took awhile, but we arrived at the trail around 1 PM. It was our first backpacking trip together and for work too! Thunder roared in the sky above us as we took out our backpacks. Lightning flashed to the north and east of the trailhead. No sooner than we put on our bags to get going the clouds opened up and rain fell down. We quickly grabbed out our jacket and poncho as we descended down the trail. I was excited to finally try out my jacket in the rain.

We chatted the whole time and enjoyed the cooler temperatures. The rain was on and off for about 30 minutes. Soon we took off our rain gear and proceeded further down the trail. We crossed Clicks Creek and were soon greeted by new wilderness signs! It was very exciting to see the  new signs up after all those years. We were going in the direction of the Little Kern River, so we took a left and continued onward.

The thunder was not and prominant in the distance anymore. Flashes of lightning had stopped too, but the temperatures were great for hiking. Above half way to the Little Kern River we stumbled upon a tossed tent and sleeping bag. They were soaked and nobody was around. They looked like they had been there for some time as the tent bag was torn. I hung them in a tree to dry out and continued.

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It was Andy’s first time hiking in the Little Kern River basin of the Golden Trout Wilderness. As we chatted the timed passed and we were soon at the Little Kern River. Through the burnt trees I pointed my trekking pole stating “there is the river and the floodplain.” We stopped at a camp site for a quick break and snack. Out destination was further along so we quickly continued to hike as it was now 3 PM.

We crossed Alpine Creek and followed it along the northern side. We were soon in the Cabin Fire area of 2015. It seemed like a nice underburn. The trail had been improved, which was nice. Before the fire you could easily lose the trail by taking a cow trail. The cow trail ended up in a meadow. This time rocks were stacked indicating the right direction and the tread was more defined. Soon we were at a trail junction and took a right heading north.

Once more we were in the Cabin Fire and the previous Lion Fire. The wilderness looked “cleaned up” in most places. Small trees were down along the trail, but the tread was easy to fine. Definitely receives less use compared to the trail we would be on tomorrow.

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We had made our last climb up before descending down to our location for the night; Soda Springs Creek. The vista was a lot more open due to the fire from last year. The clouds were still there, but no rain drops, lightning, or thunder. In fact, to the west sun was starting to break through in patches. We were happy about that because we were wanting it to be cooler and to see the stars.

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Soon we were at Soda Springs Creek near the old Nelson Cabin site. The sound of the creek was nice. However, the cow pies were not so pleasant. The rain soaked the area and the cow droppings. You could smell it, so it took several minutes to find a place flat and cow manure free. Once we did, camp was set up and dinner was cooking. Mary Jane’s Bare Burritos was for dinner and they were delicious.

Day 2 – August 23

We awoke at 530 AM to begin our “long day.” Being later in August it was not quite as “bright” around 530 AM. However, you could still accomplish a lot without a head lamp. I began to get the water boiling for our instant oatmeal and morning coffee. We enjoyed the sunrise, took down camp, and was on the trail about 7 AM.

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Our first part of the trip was heading east towards Lions Meadow. The trail was still there, but down trees and small parts were creating their usual problems (i.e. reroutes and trail tread disappearing). We crossed over the Little Kern River and without having to take our boots off (yay!). As we entered into the lower portions of Lions Meadow, there were some old springs that have deposed a calcium carbonate in the soil. Andy scoped it before we met up with the Lion Meadow Trail or part of the old Hockett Trail. Pyle’s Boys camp was beyond the barbed fence. Here we turned north and continued our hiking.

We only had to walk another 0.5 miles to our first destination. I told Andy it was going to be a uphill climb. In fact there were 2 “false summits” to the climb up. This time around, thanks to yesterday’s storm, the trail was packed down and not dusty. Usually this whole stretch of trail is sandy, dusty, and the UV reflects of the white decomposing granite. I have seen people get sun burned chins and so forth. Anyway the climb was steady and good. We quickly descended on the other side and stopped at Sheep Creek.

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Sheep creek was also a snack break. I enjoyed a Clif Bar and Andy scarfed down his dried and season seaweed along with beef jerky. About 30 minutes went by and we were off to the next creek. We were hiking through the Lion Fire in 2011 and the land was recovering. Among the blacked trees there was vibrant yellow flowering brush. Another reminder that new life comes thanks to wildfires.

Another half of a mile and we stopped again to collected what we were after. I think the rains following the fire unearthed some old trash piles. We found an old 7-Up can. We took a photo of it, put it back down where we found it, and continued on for another mile. This hike wasn’t that bad at all. It was starting to get warm, but the slight breeze and occasional shade kept us cool.

We arrived at Tamarack Creek and public pasture. There were improvements to the campsite there from last year. Once again we spent another 30 minutes tops and gathered information. We grabbed a quick snack again and turned back south. We had 6 miles to go to get to the Little Kern River for our second day destination. Once we would arrive, it would be a 8.5 mile day.

We were in need of some water, so I knew a place along the trail near Lions Meadow. After hiking another two miles from Tamarack, we arrived at our water filtering destination. I put the filter on the other side of the fence and began to filter water. It was a nice break from the packs too. Once the task was completed, I put on my sun gloves now and we proceeded south to our destination. We would have to make two quick and steep uphill climbs, but most of the trail was at a downhill grade. The uphill was a nice break.

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The Lion Fire in 2011 burned part of this trail and the Cabin Fire again in 2015. I thought it looked good regarding the understory. I snapped a photo to the west of the trail. There were some dead trees and likely drought killed trees. It reminded me of the beetle attacked trees I saw at Clicks Creek crossing yesterday. Anyway, we kept a steady pace and found the Sagebrush Gulch Trail. It is a nice short cut to our destination and was only 0.75 miles long. It was at this point the sand had dried out really well. Andy commented that it was “bright” and wanted his sunglasses. I said this is closer to what I always remembered this part of the Little Kern River to be like.

We finally arrived at the Little Kern River. Now we had to cross the Little Kern River and Alpine Creek to make it to our campsite on the other side. Our feet welcomed the cold and refreshing water crossings as we made our way. In fact, Andy stood in it a bit while I shifted out of my boots to my sandals. It was indeed very refreshing.

Camp was built on the south side of the river. Here was a well used and developed dispersed camping area. It was in the trees and on the edges of the old floodplain. We hung up our gear to dry as all the moisture from the day before made our tents damp with water. The afternoon breeze and sunshine quickly dried it out. I hung some clothes to dry out as well. Being quite warm, we took a dip in the Little Kern too. A wise choice as I believed I slept better because of it.

Following dinner we saw one other gentlemen walking through. He seemed to be going on a similar route we did the day before. His bag was twice our size, so I am not sure how long he planned on staying out. We said hello as he passed and never saw him again. We decided to tune into the radio to hear the latest about the Cedar Fire. To our surprise we found there were several  more fires going on due to the lightning. My dad also contacted me on my radio stating we had a fire in the Tule River canyon and the road was closed. It sounded like tomorrow was going to be an interesting day.

Day 3 – August 24

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Once again at 530 AM it was time to get up. We both deflated our mattresses and stuffed our sleeping bags away. We were a lot more efficient as we wanted to hike again when it was cool. It was all uphill ahead of us.

Unfortunately Andy did not sleep as well as he did the first night. He had a couple cups of coffee to help him as did I. I gave him a third cup to go on which we both at this point seemed ready to take on the mountain haha. Around 730 AM we were on our way back up to the trucks.

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We were about half way to the Clicks Creek crossing and we found the sleeping bag and tent still there. Upon closer examination the tent had a hole in it, so it was a good thing to have hiked it out of there. It was as we suspected. Someone tossed the gear before making the final climb uphill. There were no new foot tracks, so I packed it out. It added about 8 pounds to my bag.

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The sun was now clearly up and warming the trek uphill. Once across Clicks Creek we had about 2.2 miles to go. The first half a mile was the hardest and steepest. After we finished it and grabbed a snack, the remaining portion of the trip was a steady climb. We chatted all the way up to the trucks.

We recovered the items we were looking for and I felt good about that. So many times there is one missing or something is damaged for one reason or another. This time all were accounted for. Mission completed and another trip into the Golden Trout Wilderness complete.

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