Saturday, July 25, 2009

Snow Creek Cabin

I had heard of it before. Sue has talked about it on occasion but wasn’t sure what had become of it over the years. It’s always interesting to hear her stories, but I didn’t know what to expect when Sue and her brother Leonard decided that they wanted to revisit the place called Snow Creek Cabin. I had been thinking about this trip for weeks and had a whole lot of other ideas about hikes I wanted to do, so this sounded a little obscure. I thought about doing some other hike on my own. Sue and the rest were open to that, but somehow I was curious and decided to go with them after all. Leonard's wife Sharon made four of us. We studied a whole assortment of maps in order to refresh memories of the lay of the land. There is no distinct trail that can bring you there. There are a few trails near the area, and there are markers for cross country skiing, but that’s about it. It’s officially closed, so there isn’t really any reason for wanting to go there. Unless you have some really great old memories of past times, including some rather lurid stories about past adventures that took place around here. But I found that this little trek was full of surprises.

We began by driving down Tioga Road to a little visited turnout near a trailhead beyond Olmstead Point. The other end of the trail would take you up to the May Lake area. The way we were going would take you down toward a junction with Snow Creek Trail and on to Yosemite Valley by way of Mirror Lake. After about 1.5 miles, we headed off trail, going cross country navigating by dead reckoning based on Sue’s and Leonard’s memories of the terrain. Leonard is a retired forestry surveyor of 30+ years and has fairly extraordinary navigation and orienteering skills. Both Leonard and I had GPS devices with us, but we were not using them for navigation. If you get out into the open this area has enough recognizable terrain features to prevent you from becoming completely lost. We hiked through thick forests of pine and fir, and down through some grassy meadows while being regaled with stories about Sue’s days as a volunteer ranger when she lived at Snow Creek Cabin, and times past when Leonard was doing a lot of adventuring in the area as well. There was one particularly hair-razing story that involved the two of them getting stuck in a white-out blizzard for two full days, enduring 4 feet of fresh powder, huddling together contemplating death. It was almost like having some adventure book coming to life. Some of this stuff was new to me and may never have come up except for this hike.

As we passed along an elongated little stream-fed marshy meadow, thick with corn lilies, and awash in shooting stars, Sue recognized this feature which showed us that we were headed in the right direction. Soon we emerged from the woods onto barren rock, still descending with parts of Tenaya Canyon and Yosemite Valley coming into view. The sea of rock is dotted by tortured pine trees that somehow reach down through the cracks and crevasses to find water and nutrients in the soil somewhere below. Assorted sizes and shapes of boulders are scattered around like a toddler’s discarded toys. Under the clear skies the sun’s warmth is reflected from the grayscale granite to wrap your whole body like a huge tanning spa. With Sue feeling playful, and taking time to fully appreciate the views and unique topography, we gradually worked our way down to an interesting terrain feature called Pumpkin Rock. Not shown on any maps, Pumpkin Rock does have evidence of visitation. People have even established semi-permanent campsites around the area; Leave no Trace ethics annoyingly ignored. Having spotted that rock Sue had smiled and remembered the exact route to get below to Snow Creek Cabin. Climbing down cautiously amongst the rocks and vegetation, we entered into the woods again. Moving along a little stream, soon we came upon a large marshy area with the cabin just visible through the trees. This very moist meadow was worth the trip by itself as it hosted many wild flowers, corn lilies, and interesting plant life. I spotted some Rein Orchid and Small Leopard Lilies among the offerings. Upon wading through the mire, the ground all around the cabin site was covered by Pretty Face and Pussypaws. A nearly idyllic site.

This quaint little cabin was built in 1929, and after being very run-down over the years was partially restored in 2006. At one time it was used all year round, but now only serves as a shelter during the cross country skiing season. It is now boarded up and closed. Sue spent several summers living here as a volunteer years ago. I could tell that she was having a great time with her memories flooding back, and I was glad I decided to share it with her instead of being Mr Loner hiking by myself. The stories alone were seemingly worthy of a Wilderness Press publication. After checking out the cabin and having lunch, we hiked out to "the point"; a nearby spot where there is another open rocky view point out to Yosemite Valley. This area has also been used as a helicopter landing point before, but I'll skip that story for now. We thought about hiking up nearby Mt Watkins, but decided not to expend the energy in the heat. We filtered some nice cool water from a nearby creek and headed back toward Tioga Road, climbing up a more westerly route that was mostly solid rock. This route offered better footing than trudging through the thick woods, making it easier to get our elevation back despite being mostly exposed. On the way back we visited the site of the old quarry that was used to extract the rock for building the bridges, embankments, walls, and other structures in Yosemite Valley during the 1930s. Most of the rock was hand fitted without mortar and many of the structures are still in use today.

Click here to see more photos from this hike


Jesus and Marys Slave- John Prietto said...

I was wandering if the cabin was still open. i hear that it still is?. im a paramedic heading out there was hoping it was

Waypoints said...

Snow Creek Cabin is closed up during the summer and fall. Today it is mainly used in winter as a cross country skiing shelter.

Catholic4areason said...

Hello waypoints well seeing that this year has been the biggest snow pack for yosemite recorded i thought we might head out to the cabin but was wandering if you or sue think its safe. also i was hoping if you could help me out with better directions sice theres so much snow and were on foot.

Im asuming its still open due to the weatehr.

thanks again and take care


John Prietto

God Bless

Waypoints said...


I'm sure the snow is still on the gound there. You could use trails with the right gear. You could make use of snowshoes if necessary, or some kind of shoe cover like Yak Traks, waterproof gaiters etc. There are also cross country ski routes nearby. I don't have directions to the cabin, and I don't know if its open. We got there by hiking cross country from memory.