Six miles past Wishon Reservoir there is a trail that climbs into the John Muir Wilderness. It’s past the end of the paved road and then on some dirt and about as far east as you can drive in this area. I visited Rancheria Trail a few years ago, and it was dusty and hot. I didn’t get that far on that visit and had not planned on coming back. Recently my roommate told me that the trail was gorgeous, so I thought I’d give it another shot.
Just a few weeks before (June 21) it was impassable due to snow. The trail head is at 7500 and it was a good snow year. But by my visit on July 9 there were only patches of sheltered snow. After climbing the first 500 feet the trail opens up into a field of ferns. This creates a very enchanting environment, the ferns were green, buckbrush was blooming, and creeks were babbling. I took a hundred pictures here, and made a recording of bird song. Listen/Download here: http://surlypeach.posterous.com/john-muir-wilderness-bird-song
After a mile or so, the trees close in and the ferns thin out, the trail approaches Little Rancheria Creek and the grade increases. The hardwood forest is less spectacular than the fern forest, but the creek is pretty and there are some High Sierra wildflowers to add a little spice.
At 2+ miles is the “John Muir Wilderness” sign. Presumably if I was backpacking, I would have needed a pass – this trail is patrolled. My goal was to check out Finger Rock, which was near the next trail intersection and nothing more than a little circle on the map. I took pictures from a distance and someday I’d like to hike to the base and circumnavigate it. The view of the High Sierra is reported to be excellent from that vantage.
Ultimately, I decided to push a little further and make a destination out of Duck Lake, about 6 miles in. This is a peaceful moraine basin lake, ringed with huge white granite boulders, sitting at about 9000 feet. It has fish – but no ducks during my visit. I suppose the mosquitoes could substitute for ducks here but they weren’t that numerous either. This would be a good place to camp, with flat spots, a fire ring with make shift benches, and it’s off the main track. It was also as far as I wanted to go in a day, so at this point I began my descent back to the trailhead.
Additional pictures from my trip are located here: http://picasaweb.google.com/surlypeach/BeyondShaverLakeJuly2010#