Black Hawk Mountain
By: Steve Eckert
The Kennedy Meadows parking area is annoyingly far from the trailhead. (This is the KM off 108 by Sonora Pass, not the KM off 395 by Little Lake.) For the first 1.5 miles, there are private users driving all around you, even beyond the sign marked "no cars". Apparently if you stay at the lodge you can drive to the wilderness boundary??? The horse manure is endless, but fortunately the tourists were mostly asleep when I started at 7am. Walk past the cabins, the store, the restaurant, the horse stables, and just keep going down the road marked "guests only". Eventually it starts to look like a trail, but there are NO signs confirming you are in the right place. I really hate it when places like this pretend to own a wilderness trailhead.
The next few hours are not very interesting, as you climb slowly around Relief Reservoir. Take a topo map, and use it, because some of the trail junctions are not marked. There is a sign for Saucer Meadow, however, and from there up you can pretend you're in the Sierra Nevada instead of on a Dude Ranch. I don't know what they're feeding the horses, but they all have loose stools. Splat! OK, here's the good part: A mile or two after Saucer Meadow, the trail turns sharply east in a sandy meadow at 8,800'. Cross the creek on huge slabs, and pick one of the class 2 defects in the imposing cliff band to attain the ridge. You could probably walk on up toward Brown Bear Pass and go around the end of the cliffs, but there's no need to do the extra mileage. Once on the ridge, bear left into the beautiful slab-and-lake bowl (a wonderful and isolated place to camp) and follow the drainage up. No tricks here, just acres of low angle glacier-buffed slabs to walk on. Ferns and wildflowers provide a stunning contrast to the sagebrush over by the trail.
Stay well left to avoid going over the false summit at 10,115', because there is a saddle between there and the REAL peak. At that saddle you say goodbye to the nice slabs and kick up some gravel to the uninspiring summit area. The peak is seldom climbed, but the last few pages of the register were devoted to a family who came up to scatter a relative's ashes.
I spent two full hours on the summit, napping and contemplating the bugs. A grasshopper landed on my leg and enjoyed a salt feast. Butterflies zoomed up to the summit in the wind and then (oddly enough) went straight up out of sight instead of being carried down the other side. No mosquitoes. Flies hovered near me but did not land. What was all THAT about? When I decided it had cooled off below, I started down. (The trailhead is at 6,400', and hot in August.)
Just to make it more interesting, I took a different route down... one that future climbers may choose on the way up to save some miles. I dropped straight down to Black Hawk Lake, then more or less followed the drainage all the way down to hit the trail at 8,600'. This route alternates class 2 slabs and meadows with a few bits of sand. One meadow was carpeted wall-to-wall in Lupine, with blooms from top to bottom of every stalk. The fragrance was overpowering, and I staggered away with visions of Toto dancing in poppy fields. NOTE: Going UP there may be a tendency to drift out of the bowl, since you can't see the peak from the bottom. There are serious cliffs in places, so if it does not stay class 2, you're off route.
Including my 2 hour lunch, it was an 11 hour 20 mile day with maybe 4500' of gain. A full day, but not out of reason. Dinner at Kennedy Meadow was convenient but mediocre - they asked me if I wanted to sit outside! The nearest phone is in Strawberry (west) or Bridgeport (east), if you were wondering.
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