Monday, March 28, 2016

Nine Mile Canyon

Map Track Link

Bird List

Nine Mile Canyon
As we wrap up our training hikes in preparation to start the PCT on April 6, we continue to reach into the archives for interesting hikes to occupy our time. Susan had hiked in Nine Mile Canyon many times over the years with a friend, but I had never been hiking in the canyon. 

There is a road up Nine Mile Canyon leading to Kennedy Meadows and the northernmost paved road over the Sierra (Sherman Pass, closed in winter) before the ~200 mile stretch of roadless wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The road itself is carved into the canyon side, many hundreds of feet above the bottom. It started many years ago as single lane dirt, was paved some time later, and finally widened and had guard rails installed in parts in 2011. Even today, for the acrophobic, it is a white knuckle ride. One of the fascinating (in a morbid sort of way) parts of hiking in the canyon bottom is to look at the many wrecked vehicles - at least one dating back to the '50s. For the majority of the drive on the road, the canyon bottom is over 500 feet below you. You wouldn't walk away from that...

We started at the aqueduct climbing over a wilderness boundary fence and dropped into the canyon bottom. There is permanent water in the canyon at the surface or just below. Riparian habitat abounds up through the desert habitat zone and into the Gray Pines and Oaks. Near the top the habitat transitions to pinyon/juniper before summiting at Chimney Meadow (6200 feet elevation). As would be expected when hiking through multiple habitats we had a good diversity of bird species. The highlights were the large group of Lincoln's Sparrows apparently migrating together, two Lark Sparrows singing on territory, our first singing Brewer's Sparrow of the spring, a Golden Eagle soaring above the peaks, and multiple Cactus Wrens and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in the Joshua Tree woodlands. 

There is an old severely overgrown mining road for about three miles at the start, then it is bushwhacking and sand slogging as the canyon closes in. We certainly didn't make great time as we moved up, but enjoyed the birds and incredible flowers at higher elevations. We stopped for lunch just before Susan's favorite vehicle wreck, an ancient D8 Caterpillar tractor. The word on this one is that the road construction worker felt his tractor sliding off the mountain and managed to jump off before the beast plummeted 800 vertical feet to the creek below. After seeing the Cat we kept going, following an obvious bear trail. How did we know it was a bear trail? By the scat seemingly every 20 feet, and some of it was relatively fresh. We never did see Yogi himself, but did find one of his sleeping pits - a round nest in the oak leaves surrounded on one side by mega- piles of bear poop. I guess when you're a bear you can crap in your own nest...  

As the canyon continued to narrow and steepen we strayed a bit from the canyon bottom then finally decided to take the elevator approach to the top. Scrambling, sometimes on all-fours, we made it up the final 400 feet to the road. Looking back down it appeared we might have been able to make it up the canyon bottom to the top, although the bushwhacking may have been epic. 

Climbing the gate

The canyon is part of the Owens Peak Wilderness, created in 1994

Riparian areas below, Sawtooth Peak on the upper left skyline

Riparian trees (cottonwood, willow) fill the bottom of the canyon

After the mining road the canyon bottom narrows

Funnel Spider hole

Joshua Tree woodlands scattered along the lower canyon slopes

Higher in elevation the flowers are still at peak

Grape Soda Lupine

Charlotte's Phacelia

Sand Verbina


Moving up canyon, the first of many car wrecks

A smashed car on the slope above

The engine fell out...

This one came down with a trailer

Car bits

Probably the finest examples of Charlotte's Phacelia and Coreposis we saw all spring

Charlotte's Phacelia - it doesn't get much better than this

What's left of a Ford Ranger

Large fields of Coreopsis above

Into the Gray Pine habitat

Flowers, canyon and Sierra crest

The road high above a flowered hillside


Desert Peach

Step carefully

This one has been there long enough that part of the tree has grown up through

Sand Verbina and Coreopsis

Full-frame iPhone macro of a Horned Lizard

I'm not a car buff, but would guess a '50s vintage Chevy Wagon?

Gray Pines and Coreopsis

Susan stands in Yogi's sleeping pit

D8 Cat

The road at this point is 800 vertical feet above

Flowers and car parts...

Enormous Oak

Never could figure out what this part was...

Standing at the top, nearly "Nine Miles" from our car, we chose to do a little road walking. There was no way we were going back down at that point. Susan knew a good canyon re-entry point a few miles down canyon so we walked the paved road and marginal shoulder. Thankfully the traffic was very light, even for a Easter Sunday afternoon. The road walk was fun, looking down to the canyon bottom below and admiring the fields of flowers on the slopes above. Reaching our entry point we scooted back down to the canyon bottom then retraced our route to the car.  

Climbing up the final stretch to the road

On the road again...

Susan makes the final push up to the road

Road walking

The canyon we walked up far below

The road stretches off into the distance with the canyon below

Looking down slope into the canyon from the road with all the coreopsis flowers

Road and canyon

Hillside above the road

Joshua Trees and flowers above the road

Our opportunity to get off the road and back to the canyon bottom

Near the finish we find our first open cactus flower of the spring
We have been very fortunate this spring to have such great weather overall and outstanding flowers wherever we've gone to hike. We have averaged 5 days per week and put in a lot of hiking miles in preparation for our summer journey. We've written about nearly every one of them and shared the adventures. Thanks for reading and coming along for the ride. It is our hope that this is only the start of the real adventure. 

No comments:

Post a Comment