Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Carson Iceberg Wilderness - May 2015

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"Smell them?" the Lady asked as I raced to roll down my window. Lupine in full bloom lined both sides of the road and their fragrant smell quickly filled our truck. It was a beautiful late afternoon, warm with thunderheads building over the Sierra Crest to the south of us. We wondered if we'd get hit as we were going high. 

We had a quick dinner at Walker Burger in, of course, Walker, now open again for the summer season. Local kids were manning the window so we didn't get to ask the owners how they enjoyed the winter in the south of France, an ongoing joke we share with them.

We reached the Corral Valley Trailhead before dark.


The road in is wide dirt and graded smooth but it is a bit deceiving because it is steep, steeper than you think as it climbs the escarpment above Antelope Valley and Little Antelope Valley. After set up chores, we walked the area and enjoyed the fading light. The wind from the building thunderheads was dying down with the night. If you are familiar with Highway 4 over Ebbetts Pass, to the northwest in the photo below are Highland and Silver peaks.

We enjoyed the same view at dawn on Saturday morning.

One of the reasons we chose to return here was trout.

The Paiute Cutthroat Trout has an evolutionary history similar to the Golden Trout. Blocked off from its ancestors, the Pacific Basin's Rainbow Trout, by the creation of waterfalls, the high mountain Goldens slowly evolved into a distinct sub species. The Paiute Cutthroat became separated from their Lahontan Cutthroat (a Great Basin native trout) ancestors in a small creek in Alpine County when uplift and erosion created a natural fish barrier. It's home waters were Silver King Creek above Snodgrass Creek and below Llewellyn Falls. Were, you ask? The unintended consequences of non-native trout stocking in the early 1900's, through competition and hybridization, was the loss of Paiute Cutthroats in their birthplace. The Paiute's salvation was also unintended. Earlier, sheep herders had moved Paiute Trout into the fishless reaches of Silver King Creek above Llewellyn Falls  and also into two adjacent tiny drainages - Corral Valley and Coyote Valley, also above natural fish barriers. These trout became the only remaining Paiute Cutthroats.

It took many many years of planning and environmental review and addressing court challenges but the Paiute Cutthroat are now being restored to their ancestral home in Silver King Creek.

The Corral Valley Trail climbs up onto an open sage covered bench. The Sierra Crest looms above in the distance.

The trail then gently drops into Corral Valley.

The Lady stepped softly and watched the tiny creek for trout.

This was the first weekend in May and to reach here, our skis should have been required. The impacts of our fourth year of severe drought are all around. Honestly, this entire area looks like late fall with little stream flow and dry ground, especially in the meadows and wetlands. This should still be covered in a dense blanket of snow and also entering the peak of water runoff.

Our next stop was the high point between Corral Valley and Coyote Valley.

This area has incredible majestic Western Junipers

We stopped in Coyote Valley.

I quietly looked for trout and I found the Lady busy with our USGS quads, Lost Cannon Peak for this area.


She loves maps, continues to hone her skills, and practices "staying found."

We climbed the divide between Coyote Valley and Upper Fish Valley on Silver King Creek. We continued to be amazed at the large junipers, many heavy with orange pollen.

We topped out on the broad saddle. It is almost impossible to imagine, but we were looking at a 9% of normal snowpack on the mountains.

Upper Fish Valley on Silver King Creek is above Llewellyn Falls.

It's meandering meadow creek is edged with willows just starting to bud out.

This beautiful place was well worth a long and relaxing break. The Lady could not resist taking her boots off.

The willows

I'm sorry to keep coming back to this, but it was a shock how dry it is. Yes, there are green shoots coming up under this growth, but this should be completely saturated soil.

We dropped down stream and out of Upper Fish Valley to Llewellyn Falls, a defining feature of the Paiute Cutthroat's past and future.

The geology of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness alternates between volcanics and granites. Along Llewellyn Falls were interesting eroding granite columns.

Lower Fish Valley is another beautiful mountain valley dotted with a few beaver dams.

We continued down along Silver King Creek on the Silver King Trail. The last meadow area before the stream enters a gorge section is Long Valley.

This was our third visit to this area. In July of 2009 we backpacked in and spent several days exploring the area from the crest down to the East Fork of the Carson River. One of the last hurdles to overcome before the go-ahead for the Paiute Cutthroat Trout restoration plan was a permit from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.  I felt so strongly about the project that I traveled to the public meeting and made comments as a private citizen in support. And so this hike and visit was filled with emotion for me and it was also filled with hope. Will this impossibly rare trout survive and once again swim, live, and flourish it its ancestral home? Can we, as man, do this little bit for another inhabitant of our earth?

We traveled downstream until reaching the confluence with tiny Corral Creek. Here we headed up to intersect with our route in and complete about a fourteen mile loop.

The air was clean and beautiful. There was the start of cloud build to the east. We came upon the fresh tracks of a large bear and wondered if it had just stepped off the trail in response to our approach.

A large cairn stands on the bench just before the trail drops back down to the trailhead.

This reminded us of the large cairns we found on Colorado's Flat Tops erected by shepherds. And, it also brought to mind the shepherd that carried small Paiute Cutthroat Trout up country and quite possibly saved them.

We headed down to camp with an afternoon storm building to the east.

We had been alone all day. We were still the only vehicle at the trailhead. My track traps revealed that no one had driven in during the day. We warmed water and cleaned up and each found a tick to remove. It is spring time. We walked after dinner. We always do. The Lady with her master's degree in physical education says we have to, "To keep the joints oiled and to keep from taking a set!"

After the wonderful day of hiking and the splendid solitude, we were rewarded with beautiful evening light, a rising full moon over camp, and wondrous colors at sunset.  

We awoke the next morning at dawn with the songs of coyotes.


  1. Excellent photos -- I could almost smell the sagebrush and hear the wind.

  2. Beautiful pictures as always - I don't think I have ever seen cairns built that large before.....


  3. Perhaps you know this but those big cairns were built by bored Basque shepherds and are called "harrimutilaks" or stone boys. Found your blog through WTW.