06/01/2021 at 5:00 pm #5290
(Tried to post earlier, so forgive if something similar pops up)
This past weekend, my son and I had planned on going from South Fork trailhead to the White Water Conservancy all the down the North Fork of the White Water. But something came up and mom could not do the shuttle as planned. But we went anyway.
Day 1: We made our way about 2 miles or so below Big Tree area. (For some idea of the difficulty, we left the the trailhead at 9:30 a.m. and had a quick lunch at 1:00 at the spring below Mineshaft Flats. We took no stops after that and reached our camp at 5:00 p.m.) 40 years ago there was a great cedar grove bench above the fish-filled river, perfect for camping. No more. The Lake Fire did some real damage down there. We managed to find the only little piece of flat ground that could sleep two. Base camp.
Day 2: Down river and back. This is as insanely beautiful as it is difficult and slow. Every movement involves a decision: waterfall, deadfall, brush, extremely unstable soil; and constant probing for rattlesnakes. After about 5 hours or so of this, we (think??) we were very close to the point we reached a couple months ago from below–where we made it to the river from the west ridge used to get around the impassable water falls just above the confluence with the Middle Fork. At any event, we were running out of time and could not risk darkness. We reached a water fall that we determined we could probably make it down but perhaps not back up. So we turned around and headed back to base.
Day 3: Early on in our trip back to Big Tree, we made a navigational error and got entirely stuck in buck brush and willows. We were frustrated and over it as this point. So being masochists and perhaps not that bright, we opted for a more vertically oriented form of suffering. We crossed the river and climbed straight up to the Ten Thousand Foot Ridge, which we then followed to Lake Peak for a well-earned cookie break. Down to Fish Creek Saddle and back to the car.
The North Fork is as beautiful as it ever was, but it has also changed a great deal. I looked and looked but the fish that once teemed in it appear to be gone. So are any really good places to camp. But wow, what a place.
One other note: sitting at camp eating dinner, I looked up on a big burnt cedar to see rather prominent claw scratches. Now I’m not going to say they were 10 feet up there, because I know better. But they were 10 feet up there!
06/01/2021 at 7:08 pm #5291
Oh wow. A try at the holy grail of the San Bernardinos. I was pretty excited once I realized what you were going for in the beginning of your post, and it sounds like you guys had a great adventure!
One day, I’m going to try this the other way. I can’t imagine trying to find a way down it, but then, unlike you, I don’t have the memory of having gone down it before to motivate me. How far above the wash were you at your closest, if you had to guess? Did I read correctly that you previously made it down to the whitewater?
Props to you both for your sense of adventure and just going for it. There’s so many great things to see in the local mountains, and so few people with the stones and ambition to get out there and get it.
If you get a chance to share pictures or GPS tracks of where you went, that would be great. Either way, good on you for getting out there!
06/01/2021 at 8:20 pm #5292
At the end of March, we went up from the White Water Conserve and camped at the confluence of the North Fork and Middle Forks. Day two, we went up to the Middle Fork Jump Off – were unable to reach the top. On Day three we tried to get around the corner on the North Fork near the confluence that contains at least one totally impassable falls. We made it up to the west ridge and down to the river, taking it down to the top of the falls and then up for about a half of a mile. But we ran out of time to go any further as we had to make it all the way back out to the car.
On this past Sunday, our best guess (serious guess) is that we were about a half a mile to mile above where we left off two months ago. So the only thing unexplored is that short section (however) long. But we also know that it just doesn’t matter how long that section is since it doesn’t take much to totally block the way.
In general I’m inclined to agree with you that going up is preferable. In fact, it took us significantly less time to go back up to camp than it took to get down to where we turned around. But . . . as I said, our turn around point was marked by the highest waterfall we encountered to that point. And while we seemed pretty sure (without dwelling on it too much) that we could get down (looked like a place to do a sort of friction slide and lower packs down), we couldn’t really see a way back up. Because we had to go back at that point, we certainly didn’t want to tempt it.
I’ll try to post some pics tomorrow. And let us know if you are going, I can give you some specifics, (including that easiest way in might be to ascend from Fish Creek Saddle and then drop in from the Ten Thousand Foot Ridge). Given our experience, your bottom up idea might be the one, since the turnaround point if you get denied makes for a closer retreat. Also, we just might be interested in another shot at completing it if you’re game for company.
06/02/2021 at 7:47 am #5293
06/02/2021 at 7:50 am #5294
06/02/2021 at 7:51 am #5295
06/02/2021 at 7:54 am #5296
06/02/2021 at 7:56 am #5297
06/02/2021 at 7:57 am #5298
06/02/2021 at 7:58 am #5299
06/02/2021 at 8:17 am #5300MikeHParticipant
Great trip report!
06/02/2021 at 8:29 am #5301Ben ParkerParticipant
And beautiful pictures! One question: is there still a clear trail down to Big Tree or is it overgrown and lost in the damage from the Lake Fire? Thanks!
06/02/2021 at 8:44 am #5302
The trail down to Big Tree is still there . . . sort of. There are a few spots you have to go through some buck brush. But it’s not too bad. It just abruptly peters out in the meadow and leaves a nice head scratcher as to how to best proceed further. Just going down to the end of the trail though makes for a beautiful and secluded little hike. There are some big boulders in the meadow that make good lunch spots. Below that, it gets tough. The last time we were there a couple of summers ago, the meadow grass was head high and really difficult to get through so we went high to the south and sidehilled. This time it was really short so we just went straight down.
06/02/2021 at 9:24 am #5303shawnsislerParticipant
Great detail of an area that few have travelled. That sounds like it was a really beautiful area and still is in a different way.
The 2018 flooding rain in feb really carved up a lot of river beds in burned areas and down stream. The PCT in Whitewater River was completely washed away in areas, the beginning of South Fork Trail was washed out, Fish Creek got very rutted in places and Santa Ana River near 7 Oaks had many fishing pools and now looks like somebody grounded up gravel that lines the riverbed. The flooding/mudslides can also expose new waterfalls and cover existing ones. Over time nature keeps changing but we only get a glimpse of it.
Thanks again for sharing your trip
06/02/2021 at 9:46 am #5304
I actually have what I think is a fire-related question. A couple miles below the end of the trail, in what seems to have been the most burned area, the rocks in the river are a deep rust red. There is vegetation along the edges, but no moss in the river. After another mile or so the rock color becomes yellowish/orange and then the moss starts to show up. I’ll put in a pic below.
06/02/2021 at 9:49 am #5305
06/02/2021 at 9:50 am #5306
Picture doesn’t show it well, but the rocks were really red.
06/02/2021 at 5:16 pm #5310shawnsislerParticipant
I think the red color is from the iron minerals that have washed into the river from the burned area with all the new exposed soil and runoff. There is also a red lichens that can cover some rocks like they were painted but usually isn’t in water unless the boulder rolled into it.
The Fish Creek along Aspen Creek Trail kind of looks the same.
06/03/2021 at 9:25 am #5312
Thanks Shawn. Iron was my thought.
06/03/2021 at 1:53 pm #5313
i wrote a somewhat long-winded response to this thread last night with a couple of images that seems to have been lost in the ether. I’ll give it a day and see if i can reproduce it if it doesn’t turn up. 🙂
06/03/2021 at 3:24 pm #5311
I’ve looked at maps, potential routes, and scoped the terrain above Whitewater from near Walthier landing with binoculars for some time. Unless I’m mistaken, the biggest challenge in getting from Whitewater to 10k ft ridge will be within the first thousand feet after leaving the stream bed. I have been unable to identify anything down low there that’s “sure to go,” at least not in the zone I’m entertaining going up. Toward figuring it all out, I scouted out a couple of things last year, including a route up a canyon that puts you on 10k ft ridge, gaining the ridge right at the southernmost peak of the ridge. Here’s a track I recorded on that outing. Aside from the detour you can see up the “wrong” canyon near the beginning, the rest of the route was pretty chill and very direct:
I started at the fish creek trail, then left it to go direct to 10k ft ridge, then took the ridge back to the fish creek trail. The way i went up would be a pretty mellow descent for someone accustomed to x-c travel in the san bernardinos.
I also tested a theory that getting to where you leave the whitewater and start up toward 10k ft ridge would be easier from the mission creek preserve than it is from whitewater preserve. Having done both, I can say for sure that it’s easier from mission creek, where you basically follow an old road that used to go to walthier landing. That looks like this:
I have sketched out a few ways that seem “likely” to go that would be irresponsible to share in a public forum, lest someone assume i’d done them and they went. ha! But it would be fun to discuss offline the way you went and where on that big south face might go.
I haven’t done much lately toward figuring this out…my thought is it’d be a three-day thing, going into the start of the climb at the north fork the first day from mission creek preserve, climbing about 3/4 of the way up (I don’t know the water situation) the second day, then up to 10k ft ridge and out to the fish creek TH the third. Could all be fantasy too, but it’s something I’ve thought about for about 15 years. would like to know if it’s doable or not.
06/03/2021 at 4:44 pm #5315
Hmm . . . I’ve been trying to digest your response and am intrigued. Milo and I in early march did a day hike in to Hell for Sure Falls from White Water Preserve. Based on one of Hikin’ Jim’s blog posts, we took PCT past the turn off to Stone House and Mission Creek (we didn’t know about Mission Creek). Then we took the old road to Walthier Landing you mention. We did this to avoid walking in the White Water wash all the way. On the way out, we followed the road again but before a climb back to PCT, we decided to cut through the canyon back to the wash. This turned out be a joke (in a good way). The wash there is like a super highway and goes directly back to Red Dome. Saved us an hour plus on the way back.
So when we went in a couple weeks latter to camp at the confluence of the MF and NF and explore the MFJO and the mouth of the NF, we retraced this route. It’s super easy to get the Walthier Landing this way. But looking now after your post, it may still be a little closer to start at Mission Creek (we were still ignorant of that though).
I’m still trying to figure out your proposed trip. It seems that following the NF for it’s entire length is not what you are thinking. And as far as getting to the 10k ridge from down near the confluence with MF, I really have no clue. We never looked for a route up that side of the NF from down low in the canyon, looking was only to go “boy that looks nasty.” I know I have some video I took from the ridge to the west of the NF from which we were trying find a way down (and ultimately did) to river above the first falls. I’ll look back at that. That section of NF canyon does some crazy fast twists and in places is probably less that 20 feet wide. A couple places the only through was to walk in the river because the rock canyon walls go straight into the water.
My 10k ridge experience is limited. Many, many years ago I went with my dad to the crash site (Sinatra’s mother’s plane) a year or so after the crash. I was very young so don’t remember much about getting there. Other than starting from Fish Creek Saddle.
Looking more closely, when I said that Milo and I scrambled up to the 10k ridge from the NF below Big Tree, it looks like that is not quite true. We came up to a saddle and big flat area to the west of the ridge. To our east we could see what appeared to be the high point of the ridge probably a 20 minute – half an hour scramble above where we were. We went the other way, west to Lake Peak and down to FC Saddle.
06/04/2021 at 7:30 pm #5318
Brian, you’re correct. the routes I’ve been looking at don’t use the north fork of the whitewater. instead, each I’ve been looking at is some combination of all-ridge and ridge-and-valley scrambles around hell for sure canyon. My assumption was always that sticking to the ridges for the most part would avoid the falls-bypasses, blow down, and boulders and junk that tumble to the bottom of the steep in those canyons. I have not been below big tree on the north fork, nor have i been up the north fork beyond its confluence with the middle fork from the whitewater preserve.
Perhaps what i’ve envisioned isn’t possible, or safe. The most likely routes I’ve seen are a combination of the ridges west of hell for sure and a little time in the canyon bottom, and the ridge east of hell for sure, in each case, starting up the ridge from that spot marked “camp 1” on my second image. What i really need to do is go in there and camp at walthier, spending a day exploring the lowest parts of the ridges. They look like a real mess, but they don’t look impossible, and from the end of 10k ft ridge, I can see that each of the ridges will go for a long way, with not much more work that, say, the south ridge of Dobbs.
The fact that you were able to almost connect your trips up and down the north fork make me wonder if that’s a better idea. To me, the “holy grail” is any thru-trip from whitewater to highway 38 or vice-versa. I only know a couple of people who have ever done it.
Getting to walthier landing from mission creek preserve is probably a mile or more longer than getting there from whitewater preserve, assuming you leave the PCT at red dome and just bomb up the wash to walthier. It is, however, way, way more casual, being a trail the entire way. In all of my trips up there from Whitewater, it’s been a hell of a trip up, and an easy trip back. Something about those old dry meanders makes them super easy to find the “best way” from above, but vex me on the way up. ha!
06/07/2021 at 8:20 am #5323
You are right about your Holy Grail point. Despite that we had a ton of fun on our down and back trip, both Milo and I felt a tinge sad that we weren’t able to walk out at the White Water Preserve a couple days after leaving the South Fork trailhead. Next time!
06/07/2021 at 6:27 pm #5328
What day better spent than a day in the mountain wilds? Achieving a goal there is just icing on the cake. Good luck on your next attempt! If you’re looking for someone to tag along and break things, let me know when you guys are headed out and i’ll do the same! I can’t see any way to direct message folks from this forum, so drop me a note at the following email address and I’ll write you back from my good email. cjdiersenAyahoocom, replacing the “A” with an “@” and adding the dot before com. 🙂
06/13/2021 at 9:53 pm #5367HtRK_AnglerParticipant
Fantastic report, super inspiring of a not-well-traveled-place — and intriguing too!
I noticed your comment about the lack of piscatorial creatures in the watershed. I have long had an interest in this region but lacked the timing to get an overnight trip in for properly exploring a bit of the area. Spoke with the Whitewater rangers in the past about it, and they thought I would be better off spending the same amount of time driving up to the Eastern Sierras :)–I like hiking, I prefer it over driving!
Did you drop a line without success, or only not see any swimming while hiking by?
Also, have you tried your luck on the other forks for the same targets?
Thanks! Happy to chat privately too.
06/14/2021 at 8:17 am #5370
We didn’t fish at all. My inspection was just visual. But we traveled much of the creek through various zones. The zone where we camped, and I where I had fished when I was a kid, was heavily damaged by the fire. As I noted, there was little to no moss, and no signs of water bugs at all. When we left camp to hike out on Monday morning, there was some sort of hatch that appeared to be happening, but it didn’t seem to come from the creek. Nonetheless despite that swarm, I saw nothing rise.
When I was a kid, the North Fork was one of two fishable creeks in SG. The other was Falls Creek below Dobbs Cabin. That was always a favorite spot for us because we could carry less food and just eat fresh fish. I have seen fish in that area recently. But not many. I don’t know it’s ever fished any more.
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