Cherry Creek Canyon

9 Oct 1999 - by Kelly Maas

On the weekend of October 9-10, Kai Wiedman led a merry little band of hikers on a fantastic non-climb near Yosemite. The destination was the not-so-well known Cherry Creek Canyon, a place I had partially visited six years ago. On that spring trip, a small group of us hiked, scrambled and bushwhacked half way up the canyon before exiting via a snow-covered slope. The creek was more like a river. We kept a respectful distance from it, not wanting to get pinched between it and some unpassable granite slopes. Unfortunately we had missed out on the most spectacular upper half of the canyon, which we could see was a delectable granite playground.

It was therefore an easy decision to join Kai's autumn outing. Our group of six assembled at the designated time, but not at the trailhead. A locked gate left us nearly 5 miles short of the trailhead, almost stopping the trip right there. (The gate is open during the summer - they apparently closed it in late September or October.) Bob Suzuki was quick to extol the virtues of a restful weekend at home, and Kai had serious doubts, but Joan Marshall was willing, and Chris Kerr, Hal Tompkins and myself were eager to continue as planned.

The first day was spent hiking from Cherry Lake Reservoir up the Kibbie Ridge trail to Styx Pass, paralleling the canyon on the east. Once at the pass, we dropped down into the canyon and descended the first mile or so to a great camp on sand and flat rock which earlier in the season is part of the riverbed. In October, however, the creeks flow had slowed to that of a garden hose. As the low sun sank lower, we compared cooking styles, drank wine and generally had a great time talking about nothing. Having just experienced our first bit of the fabled Cherry Creek Canyon granite, we looked forward to seeing the rest of the canyon the next day - but I wondered how we could do it all in one day.

Kai led us onward once we had eaten breakfast and packed. His rule, he explained, was to stay as close to the creek as possible. This would minimize bushwhacking and maximize the fun. Indeed, we had already crossed the creek multiple times the previous evening - something that is absolutely out of the question in the spring. I don't think any of us will forget the wonderland of granite, pools and minor waterfalls water that we experiences the next few miles. Often the waterway was wide and easy to navigate. Most of us were able to keep our feet dry the whole way. At other times, the rock rose nearly straight up on one side or both. We often did not know if we could continue along the streambed until we tried it - but usually it went. Only a couple of times were we forced to climb up and around a particularly daunting pool or gorge. Every turn of the creek held something new, and we all grinned from ear to ear. Hal said it compared favorably to some of the better canyons of Utah.

As the miles passed, however, the raw glacier carved bedrock gradually gave way to dirt and vegetation, so that finally it resembled any ordinary low Sierra canyon. It was an unusually warm October day. We wanted to stop for dips in the enticingly cool pools, but we didn't have the time. We continued to descend a few more miles until we reached a key landmark and began our gradual hike up and out of the canyon. Even though there were generally no trails, Kai took us directly to the trailhead. From there it was another 4.5 miles along a gravel road to the cars.

We were all exhausted at the end of a very long weekend, but it was well worth it. A third day, would make the trip more relaxing and would allow time to take a dip in the pools. The terrain in the canyon varied from class 2 to class 4, and we sometimes had to climb or descend steep granite slabs, similar to Tuolumne. In the spring, rushing water would cover much of the rock that we had walked on. We saw a few other hikers on the Kibbie Ridge trail, but no one along the creek. The Emigrant Wilderness guidebook describes this "hike." I'll be back.

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