I’ve heard so much about the West Fork area off the 39 (towards Crystal Lake) but honestly I had never been up there. Some people remarked at its beauty (“amazing wildflowers!” “so peacefull!”) and others jaunted about its negatives (“its beautiful if you like graffiti and gang signs”). I decided to see this jewel up close for myself.
We parked at the West Fork parking lot, which is marked clearly on the west side of 39. There is a paved trail, about 10 feet wide, that comes out from the parking lot and is about 6 miles long or so. However, we decided to follow a use trail on the other side of the river. This use trail made things a bit tougher, involving a bit of scrambling and footwork, but nothing was impossible. Victor and I traveled across tiny waterfall after tiny waterfall and even had to do a little bouldering until finally, after almost a mile, we reached a place where the the trail ended and we would have to cross the river to continue on. The river in this spot (see pictures) is between 4 and 8 feet deep right now, but its only 30 feet wide or so. We each forded the river with our trekking poles carefully but with ease.
After crossing the 50 degree water of the West Fork, we found ourselves on the aforementioned paved trail. We walked down that a few tenths of a mile to a bridge, which is where the Bear Creek trail begins (again see picture, its easy to miss this trail). The temperature was noticeably much warmer going along north/south Bear Creek, probably reaching into the 80’s by now. However, this trail ended up having 8 or 10 creek crossings one way, up to our goal of the unnamed wilderness campsite, and the crossings cooled us off. Poison oak was every and anywhere. If you are doing this hike soon, beware of that. Also Bear Creek is absolutely chugging right now. I’m 6’4 and had a couple spots where I had to be a bit careful. Overall, though, this trail is in pretty good condition albeit it requires a little route finding from time to time. Definitely don’t do this one alone, but don’t expect anything that will necessarily prepare you for Mount Whitney unless you want to travel the whole loop up to Smith Saddle. Certainly a fun summer hike, though.
Total Distance: <5 miles
Elevation Gain: 617 feet
Temperature: low 80’s pretty much the whole way but felt warmer in exposed areas.
Terrain: You’re gonna get wet! But don’t get poison oak!
Calories burned: 1,501
Backpack: Flash 30 (take a dry sack with!!!!)
Shoes: Keen mid Voyageurs (NO GORETEX!), REI Merino wool (drys quick!)
Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Contour Elliptical
Water consumed: 1 liter
Electrolyte beverage consumed: 5 oz of Hammer Heed/Perpetuem/Crystal Lite
Food consumed: 3 Hammer Gels
Estimate of calories consumed: 500