A Vast Mountain Meadow Surrounded by Snow Capped Peaks
This was the 3rd time I had ventured up Big Meadow on the Buckeye Creek Trail.
The first time we attempted the trail was in July of 2008. My brother George and I had been looking for prospective trails on a map of the Twin Lakes area.
We both spotted the Buckeye Creek Trail and decided to check it out. We had to hike (instead of bike) due to the fact that I had a broken neck and was unable to ride (see Crash for a more detailed description of that mishap). George, Nicole (my oldest daughter), and I made it 3-miles up the trail before my halo started working loose from my head and we had to turn back.
I could have kept going if only we had the correct tool (a small hex wrench) to tighten the screws (later in the trip I had to have Cindy tighten the screws after already having the doctor in mammoth do it). If I had been riding I would have had my multi-tool! Advice to all halo Hikers … always carry a multi-tool, you never know when it might come in handy!
In July of 2009 George and I decided we would bike Big Meadow. We set a goal to make it to:
- A place on the map called the “Roughs”
- The trail junction and Miner’s Cabin
- Some Indian Ruins near the cabin
The ride was going to be 9.5 miles up and the same distance back. We traveled 7-miles up the Buckeye Creek Trail that year, but were forced to turn back because our prearranged ride (Cindy) was waiting and worrying at the Buckeye Creek Trailhead (no cell phone service up there).
2011 marked the 3rd venture up Big Meadow… and here is my story. I was going to be riding the Buckeye Creek Trail alone. The previous day George, Jeremiah (Alissa’s Husband) and I had done a grueling hike to the top of a peak overlooking Mono Village Campground, where we were camping.On the way down George had twisted his knee and had to finish the hike using two hiking sticks and being very careful about his footing. He was not ready to take on a 19-mile bike/hike. No one else would be able to do it either.
The Buckeye Creek Trailhead looked just like it had the previous years. There was only one car there when I arrived in my truck. The sun was shining bright but the air was crisp. It was only 8:00 a.m. so I figured it would warm up real quick.
I loaded up all my stuff, backpack, GPS, still camera, video camera, water bottles, etc. and headed to the trail sign. Once again I found a Wilderness sign. The rules for a Wilderness (In California) prohibit possessing or riding a bicycle.
When I looked closely at their map, I could see that the Wilderness actually didn’t start until somewhere near the end of Big Meadow. Once again I asked myself,
“Why was this wilderness sign here when the wilderness didn’t start for 10 more miles?” I still don’t know the answer to that question.
Just up the road from the start of the Buckeye Creek Trail was a huge green metal gate. Shortly after passing that one I came upon another one. I had to lift my bike between the boulders set out there to discourage motorized vehicles from passing. Less than a mile later I came to a third gate. Later… more than 4 miles up Big Meadow there is a fourth gate. Yes… no less than 4 gates to get up this trail.
This first part of the Buckeye Creek Trail is actually a dirt road used for hauling cattle in and out. It was mostly real soft sand… but not quite as soft as when George and I rode through there in 2009.
A little before the half-mile mark I passed the turn-off for the Eagle Creek Trail… that heads southwest of the Buckeye Creek Trail. That trail also starts as a road… then turns into some real tight and often rocky singletrack.
Last summer George and I rode/hiked up there far enough to overlook our campground at Mono Village.
After about 3-miles on the Buckeye Creek Trail I came to this huge meadow. Fifty yards to the left I noticed a small herd of cattle, all members laying down and chewing. To my immediate right I spotted a 40-yard long piece of coiled wire strung on posts and trees with insulators.
The Buckeye Creek Trail began to disappear… the meadow grass was now about knee high and thick… but I continued riding, straining as if I was riding uphill. As I got closer to the creek I started to hear this sloshing sound and soon realized not only was I riding in knee high grass… I was also pedaling through 2-inches of water… and certainly didn’t want to stop and put a foot down!
When it got to the point where I couldn’t keep moving forward I put my feet down. They quickly sunk lower than the water level.
- They must have just wanted to get a closer look at a human riding on a strange contraption
- They thought I was the lead cow… and they were going to follow me across the creek. I’ve heard cattle are like sheep or bison… they will follow a leader regardless of the possible outcome… even over a cliff!
I sloshed my way over to the creek, and began to chuckle as I thought back on the time George and I had tried to ride across Buckeye Creek. Back in the summer of 2009…
…There had been a lot less snow that year, so the creek was only 20-feet wide and maybe 18-inches deep. George said he was going to “tight-rope” across and started looking for some downed trees that spanned the creek. He finally found a suitable log and started crossing (carrying his bike). As soon as he was over the water I heard the log crack… then I saw George (and his bike) drop straight down into Buckeye Creek! Once I made sure he was okay we had a great laugh.
After wiping the tears from my eyes (laughing does this to me) I got the idea that I could ride through the creek. I backed up about 20 yards, got everything all balanced, and rode as fast as I could toward the water. As soon as my front wheel hit the creek my bike began to slow. Less than a third of the way across I could no longer pedal and slowly tipped over into the drink. I was glad the rushing water was only 18-inches deep or I would have drowned from laughing so hard! I figured I was already soaked so I just pulled my bike across and looked around for George. I located him about 50-yards up the meadow… away from the creek.
He jumped on his bike and pedaled “Hell-Bent-For-Leather” toward Buckeye Creek. He must have been doing 20-mph when he hit the water. His bike seemed to slow at a faster rate than mine… but his body did not. He somersaulted from his bike at a strange angle but still landed ahead of his front tire… about halfway across the creek. It was one of the most comical things I had ever seen in my life. I fell to my knees… I could hardly breathe… and water once again poured from my eyes. I think the fall (or the cold water) shocked George for a couple seconds, but soon he was also rolling with laughter.
I think our stomachs were sore the next day, but not from riding! (When we returned later that afternoon we looked harder for a spanning tree and crossed it without incident!)
This year (2011) there were four large channels to Buckeye Creek (due to the largest snowpack in recorded history). From my previous experience I knew to look for downed trees. After walking up and down I found and crossed three channels using three logs. I hiked up… and hiked down… then up a little farther… then back down. I could find no tree to cross the fourth channel. I finally got tired of looking and found a good place to wade over. My bike shoes, which had been pretty wet before from the sloshy meadow, were now drenched through and through (and would pretty much remain that way for the entire day.
For the remainder of this ride please click Buckeye Creek Trail (page 2)