Fall hike provides breathtaking view of Hope Valley
Hope Valley is well known for the view offered when the autumn colors turn in September and October, and that’s as true today as it was when John Muir passed through the area 128 years ago.
Obviously, there are more signs of civilization, obviously, but even so, one of the rituals I’ve followed every year at this time is to take a trek up the Indian Head Trail that begins off Highway 89 next to Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley.
I’ve taken my children for walks there, and even friends to run the same trail, and last week I was joined by long-time Associated Press reporter Martin Griffith for the estimated 10-mile hike on a loop that extends from the Indian Head Trail and comes back down Burnside Lake Road.
The fall colors were clearly visible as we embarked from Pickett’s Junction, where highways 88 and 89 intersect, and walked through the meadow toward Sorensen’s.
That was the easy part.
The start of the Indian Head Trail is a good climb that can take your breath away. For one, you’re at an elevation of 7,000 feet, and for another, the climb can be described as moderately steep.
The good news is that there are rewards for your effort as the trail winds through a grove of Aspens.
The view is breathtaking and it only got better from there.
About 4 1/2 miles up, in an area where the trail levels off, there is a path that leads off to the right (marked by a white streamer and a trail cairn on the right) and leads to the top of a series of cliffs.
From here, you have an incredible view and not only of Hope Valley and its sea of yellow and orange-colored Aspens. Looking west, you can see Luther Pass and even Pyramid Peak farther to the west. Directly to the north, you have Freel Peak and backside of Job’s Peak. Looking up behind us, we can see Pickett’s Peak.
Making this trip unique from my perspective, Martin had brought along a copy of a sketch John Muir made when he passed along the West Fork Carson River Canyon in September, 1876. The sketch was titled “Lava filled pre-glacial valley West Carson (Canyon)” and Muir wrote the following description:
“Carson Canon a glacial eroded gorge with Yosemite scenery. Some polished rocks near head. Near the middle on the north side there is a very interesting section of a pre-glacial valley filled with lava and running apparently at right angles to the present canon.”
The question of the day: Where is this gorge located? After looking at the sketch from several different points, our best guess is Horse Thief Canyon. If only John Muir were here to tell us.
Martin, who has retraced the routes of John Muir and the Donner Party in recent years, also pointed out that after the Donner Party met with tragedy during the winter of 1846, more than 50,000 immigrants chose a route to the south through Carson City and the Carson Valley and through Hope Valley en route to California in 1850 alone.
Just for some background here, Muir was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite as a National Park in 1872, he founded the Sierra Club in 1892 and lobbied to establish protection of the forests and parks and hiking routes.
“If people in general could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish” he has been quoted.
So much for history.
Getting to the top of the cliffs has been a climb of about 600 vertical feet, at best guess. The good news is that the trail is mostly downhill the rest of the way as we loop around to the west – offering more views of Hope Valley toward Carson Pass – and hooks up with Burnside Lake Road, less than three miles away from the car we left parked at Pickett’s Junction.
Alltold, with time spent for sightseeing and occasional stops for water (even in this dry year, running water can still be found at various points along the trail), the trek took around 3 1/2 hours.
It was just an outstanding way to get in a workout and to do some sightseeing on a Wednesday morning in October.
Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call 881-1220.
2004/05 FALL/WINTER CALENDAR
Oct. 18 – Emigrant Trail tour
Oct. 30 – Star-gazing event