Horsethief Canyon is a good conditioning hike with a view
Nevada Appeal News Service
This is an excellent conditioning hike with possibilities for off-trail excursions or point-to-point travel. Nice rock formations, old growth conifers and occasional displays of wildflowers make for an interesting outing.
Begin by driving west on Highway 88 from Woodfords. In 3.5 miles reach a marked trailhead on the right at an elevation of 6,600 feet. Switchback up the steep north face of Woodfords Canyon, stair-stepping up and around granitic boulders as necessary. Enjoy cross canyon views of the rocky north slopes of Hawkins Peak.
This canyon was named for horse thieves who purportedly stole emigrant’s horses in Woodfords Canyon, drove them up to the high meadows to rest, and then took them down to the Carson Valley to be sold to other emigrants.
The trail levels briefly as it enters Horsethief Canyon then begins a moderate climb north paralleling a tumbling stream. Switchback through a deadfall, step lightly through an alder seep and continue climbing. As you climb notice the volcanic cliff formations on the right and contrast them with the granitic rock nearby. Consider that the large volcanic rocks in the streambed were part of the same formation and may be remnants left in place by erosion or could have tumbled down from above.
The old Jeffrey pines, white and red fir in this area, are there because this section of the canyon was too steep to log back in the day when much of eastern Alpine County’s timber was cut for mining ventures. Juniper, lodgepole pine and mountain mahogany are common here as well as aspen further up.
A good side trip to the flat top of the largest volcanic buttress can be made by crossing the creek and picking your way carefully up steep loose slopes just to its north and scrambling to the top. Good views west to the Sierra crest and a great lunch stop can be had or just explore the park-like forest to the east.
Back on the trail, continue climbing, round an open area above the stream and breathe easier as the trail levels, enters mixed conifer and aspen forest, passes through a seasonal cattle gate and undulates above meadows on the right.
At about two miles and 1,200 feet up from the trailhead cross Forest Road 025. This closed road is how the cows get here. A six-mile leg west (left) on this road will bring you out on Highway 89 in Hope Valley roughly one-half mile north of Pickett’s Junction.
To climb Cary Peak (elevation 8,726) make a slow arc to the right to avoid descending into Hidden Canyon and, in two miles, ascend the steep rocky north slope of the peak to an airy perch 3,000 feet above Woodfords with good views to the south and east. This side trek is all off trail so be confident of your route finding ability and wear clothing appropriate for encounters with brush.
Continuing on the Horsethief trail, cross meadows and seeps with wildflowers and arc gently northeast. Now on the right side of the creek on mostly open slopes, the trail gets faint, and in just under two miles reaches a saddle. The first drainage to the east is Fredericksburg Canyon. Cross, continuing northeast, several descending tributaries and in about two miles reach a ridge at 8,400 feet that overlooks Faye-Luther Canyon. Switchback, as necessary, down very steep slopes at the head of this canyon and find the Faye-Luther trail that terminates on Foothill Road in Douglas County. This through hike is a strenuous, off-trail bushwack that from start to finish will take most of the day. Route finding skills, map use and a compass are necessary and a GPS can simplify this trek.
If all that sounds like too much, simply turn around at any point and return to the trailhead. The steep descent can make your legs feel rubbery but it’s a good workout.
Don’t forget the essentials, especially lots of water, check the weather at the NOAA Web site and have a good hike.