Sunday, October 30, 2016

Back on Track: Down to the Campground at the Cliff Creek Crossing

Flooded meadow near Pinto Lake
 Date: August 4, 2016
Place: Mineral King area, Sequoia National Park, Three Rivers, California,
Length: 3.5
Level: strenuous

This is the continuation the latest post - the second part of our hike from Spring Lake to Cliff Creek Campground, on the forth day of the backpacking trip in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park.
Our hike from Spring Lake to Cliff Creek Campground as captured by my GPS. Established trail part labeled purple. 
We were now on a proper trail. We were going downhill. Our packs were somewhat lighter. For the first time in this trip we were walking fast. Indeed - we were marching.
My friend took the lead. She preferred a continuous stride whereas I would stop briefly to check out one plant or another. Still, I walked more and stopped less than before.
Western Cow Bane, Oxypolis occidentalis
We exited the pine grove and were walking now in a terrain that was very similar to what we've seen just before meeting the trail. That is lots of scree and loose rock, partially covered with vegetation that was dominated by low shrubs. Way below us we saw the glint of a small lake that on my map was labeled Pinto Lake. The map had a mark of a campground there. We agreed to have our next break yonder.
View of Pinto Lake
The way down looked similar to the terrain we've crossed before, but there was another feel to the air. For one thing, it did feel denser. And after the three days of high-altitude acclimation, it felt heavier to breathe. Also, it was murkier. Not as pure as the air high at Spring Lake. I could feel it, and late I would see it as a hazy shroud over my photos.
And then, there was that smell.
It was a strong, overwhelming at times, odor. And it reminded me very much of the male blossom of carob trees, or that of, pardon me, human semen.
Sierra Chinquapin (Chrysolepis sempervirens)
And male indeed it was - the strong odor emanated from the male blossom of chinquapin bushes, that all of a sudden seemed to be the only plant around. Not that they were, but there were lots of them, and all were at peak bloom.
Sierra Chinquapin (Chrysolepis sempervirens)
My friend didn't seem to notice the smell and when I brought it to her attention she had said that she didn't mind it. I too, put the odor out of my mind and turned my attention to other, gentler wildflowers.
Lewis's Flax (Linum lewisii) 
If the chinquapin grabbed my attention with its smell, the fireweed did so by its brilliant color, set against the green and gray backdrop of the granite and the willows. It is a common plant, but that doesn't make it any less striking with its beauty.  
The path became steeper and we had to slow our pace so to to slip on the granite gavel and rocks that made the trail. But we were going down still, not yet thinking to stop.
We did stop, however, to look at a pretty butterfly that fluttered to and fro and then settled on a rock and posing for a photo. My friend had a good eye for them - nearly always she was the first to see the butterflies, and then she would point them out to me.

We were lucky enough that the cooler weather had slowed down the butterflies, enough to allow me to photograph them.
Pale Mountain Monardella (Monardella odorosissima var. pallida) 
We were losing altitude rapidly now. The patch of greenery ahead grew larger and larger, and the lake disappeared in the vegetation. Also, for the first time since we descended from Glacier Pass to Spring Lake we could see other people. Far below we could see small dots of humans on the move near the creek. It was the first sign that we were on our way back to society.
I chose to ignore that sign for the time and focus on the beauty and serenity that surrounded me all around.
Water Cress (Nasturtium officinale) 
Eventually we made it to the bottom of that slope. The trail disappeared into a meadow of knee-high grass-like sedge (photo at the top of the page)
The moment we set foot in that meadow we realized it was flooded. The trail too. We walked slowly, trying to find the balance between not soaking our shoes and not trampling the vegetation. I don't think we were 100% successful on either one.
Clouds in the meadow
We found the Pinto Lake campground after slushing through the meadow and sat down for a well-deserved break. The clouds cover had lifted mostly and we were enjoying some nice, warm sunshine for a change. And also the spectacular view of Mount Eisen towering over to the north.
Mt. Eisen
We were lazying on the warm rocks, not eager to get going again. Other backpackers were walking up and down the trail now, in pairs or small groups, passing us as we were munching on our dried food.
Loud squeaks from a nearby pine grabbed our attention - there was a squirrel up in the canopy. It hopped from branch to branch, emitting loud, shrill cries. I don't know what had upset it. I didn't see any predator near. Eventually the squirrel jumped to a smaller tree, and from there to the ground. Then it run off and disappeared from our view.

With some reluctance we scrambled to our feet and hoisted our packs. The next part pf the trail was hidden from our view but looking at the map (which I did ever so frequently now, after the embarrassment of getting across the wrong pass), I could tell we had to go down quite a bit still.
Downstream of Pinto Lake Campground
We were back on the trail. Nearly immediately we plunged into a forested section of the creek. Large pine and fir trees shaded the trail intermittently and below them grew a number of shrubs and herbaceous plants. Many of the plants there were familiar to me from the lower elevations. We truly had left the alpine zone behind us.
Western Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
That first forested part of the creek was short and soon we were hiking out in the open once more, treading granite gravel down a steep grade slope.
The creek took the fastest way down and jumped off the cliff in a beautiful cascading waterfall.
Cliff Creek
Again we were crossing tributaries that rushed down the mountain ridge to join the main creek below. Some were narrow enough to hop across. Others we had to ford over strategically placed stones. Each such crossing we got reacquainted with the little riparian wildflowers that thrived on excessive wetness.
Glaucous Willow Herb (Epilobium glaberrimum) 
On one of these crossing I let out an exclamation - I had found an orchid! My trip was now complete, I told my friend. She smiled in appreciation. This little-flowered orchid isn't as big and impressive as its tropical relatives but it is still an orchid - a royalty among wildflowers.
Sierra Bog Orchid (Platanthera dilatata var. leucostachys) 
We were going down and down on a seemingly endless slope that got steeper with every step. We halted for a short break without even taking the packs off, just to rest our knees a little. A small group of backpackers were coming uphill towards us. We exchanged greetings as they passed us and I found it strange to be talking to people other than my friends. When they disappeared somewhere above us we got up again and continued down the trail.
Ranger's Button (Sphenosciadium capitellatum) 
More and more wildflowers were now familiar to me. Many of them I had seen on the first day of our trip, and others from many other places in California as well. I was glad to see them, as greetings from the wider world we were going rejoining after our time in the alpine heaven.
Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja sp. 
The slope became impossibly steep. Accordingly, the trail turned to switchbacking. We were walking down the south-facing slope and the vegetation grew thick again, covering the rocks with broad-leaved shrubs and vines.
Sierra False Bindweed, Calystegia malacophylla
I saw more and more familiar wildflowers. Some, however, I have seen for the first time because the likes of which that I was familiar with were not growing at all in that area. An example would be this penstemon below that is very similar to the scarlet bugler I was familiar with from the coastal region, but is of a different species altogether, one that grows in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Beaked Penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus)
But others were the real thing- the same species I knew from the lower lands, like this black elderberry bush.
Black Elderberry, Sambucus nigra 
Down, down, down, and down a seemingly endless slope we went. My knees began sending me warning messages. My toes hinted of possibly developing blisters. I had to slow down. My friend didn't complain - she was sucking up her own pains and discomforts.
The view down Cliff Creek Canyon
I was glad for all the beauty that surrounded us for getting my mind off the pains.
Harvest Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans
We crossed another tributary that came down like sheets of water spreading over the rock. I could imagine it in winter time - all frozen in sleek beauty. This one wet a wide part of the trail, and eventually our shoes too.

The now familiar smell of the chinquapin bushes filled the air again. Th patches of chinquapin were separated by other shrubs, also growing n their own patches, not mixing as much. For the first time on our way down now, we were seeing manzanita.
Green-leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula
And on the way down we met another shrub that I remembered from our first day ascend:
Broad-leaved Lotus (Hockasia crassifolia)
Finally, after a looooong hike that felt like forever, we struck bottom. we emerged from the vegetation to an open area of the creek bed, found a convenient place to stop, took off our packs and dropped to the ground.
It turns out that Cliff Creek runs in two arms high above where we had descended from, and they drop down the cliff in two cascading waterfalls. We were walking down the northern and narrower one, which was mostly hidden from our view until we were right below it. The south one came rushing down the side canyon wall. We've seen that one continuously throughout the latter half of our descent and now we were sitting right below it, giving some respite to our legs.

But soon we felt large droplets splattering on us and the rocks we were sitting on. At first, with some denial, I think, we thought it might be the spray of the waterfall. But we weren't sitting all that close to it. A few more seconds later we could no longer deny it - the rain has returned. We quickly packed our stuff, got our rain cover out and headed down the trail to the nearest grove of trees.
That rain was the last goodby of the overcast morning we've had and was short-lived. Soon we were walking in sunshine again. The trail now was narrow, almost overgrown in parts with lush vegetation. We were now completely out of the alpine zone.
I lost another line on my camera battery indicator. Realizing I had less than 30% battery life left I tried hard to contain myself, self-imposing a limit of a single shot each time. I also held back now from photographing already familiar species.
But then again, I was seeing new plants around every curve of the trail.
Richardson's Geranium (Geranium richardsonii)
We were going down the final stretch of our day's hike. The groves of trees were now connected together into a large forest that covered the surrounding slopes. We were walking in a mixed conifer forest, and none of the trees were the foxtail pine.
We came across more backpacks that were making their way up the trail. Most of them were aiming to get to Pinto Lake campground. I held my tongue and avoided telling them about he bitch of a climb that they still had before them. I'm sure they knew already that they had more uphill to go and I remembered how upset I was with the depressing daunting description I got from a downhill hiker when climbing up the Sawtooth Pass Trail on our second day. I figure it would be better to hold my tongue on that slope so I just wished them a good trek.

For some time we were walking close to the creek again. My friend wanted to stop and rest, and to wash her face in the water. I felt hot and wished to find a good shade to sit under so I urged her on. But after a short distance the creek suddenly dropped in altitude, probably by a waterfall that was hidden from our sight. The trail, however, remained high above the water. We were going down alright, but always remaining far from the creek. We did have a stop in the shade, but it was a dry stop. My friend had to wait until the very end before she had had the chance to freshen up in tn the creek water. (Sorry, Y!)

There was a sole woman making her way up the trail towards us. She was a park ranger - the first one we've seen on our trip since we set out from Mineral King. She stopped we met, and we had a nice chat at the end of which she asked me to pull out our permit and show her that we were there legally. She informed us that we had only a short distance more to go. I was a bit skeptical - a short distance might mean a different thing to a top-shape park ranger than to us. The ranger, however, was right- a few hundred yards later we came down a steep dusty slope that brought us into a small clearing right above creek. There was a bear box there, and a fire ring and a place to pitch tents. And there was a tent already there - a couple of backpackers had made it there first and had pitched their tent in the prime location of the campground.
Wilderness etiquette dictates that when a camping place is occupied one should look for another one and not crowd other solitude-seekers. But Cliff Creek Campground is the only suitable campsite in that area. Plus, it was already late and we were too worn out to get any further. Perhaps it would have been polite to ask if we could share the space, but since there was no option for us of accepting a 'no' answer, I did not ask for permission. I simply went there, introduced myself and my friend, and said plainly that we'll be neighbors for the night. They smiled and nodded and I was relieved. We pitched our tent in a small flat area at a respectable distance from theirs and used a tree stump as our table for making dinner. My friend, who had carried a thin plastic tarp all the way had pulled it put in triumph and spread it on the dusty ground.
The sun set unceremoniously, hidden behind the trees. As we were getting ready to get in the sac more people came down the trail. They, too, had nowhere else to go that night. Before nightfall there were five tents crammed in that small campsite, and a hammock was hanging between two trees. Only the minimally-necessary words were exchanged - everyone was dead beat. A short time after nightfall we were all fast asleep.

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!

A link to the post of the fifth and last day of this trip.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Getting Back on Track: Finding the Way from Spring Lake to Cliff Creek Trail

Date: August 4, 2016
Place: Mineral King, Sequoia National Park, Three Rivers, California
Coordinates: 36.470975, -118.554916
Length: 1.7 miles of no trail cross country path-finding
Level: Strenuous

It was still dark when I woke up in the morning of the forth day of our trip.I would have liked to stay in the sack some more but I had to answer nature's call. The air was quite chilly and dark clouds covered most of the sky. The clouds in the east just began to light up when the sky started dripping large, sporadic raindrops.
"Is it raining?" My friend's voice sounded muffled from inside the tent. I nodded. Then I remembered that she cannot head my nodding so I told her it was just light sprinkling.
"But it's likely to get more intense," I added.
My friend exited the tend. If I was chilly, she was downright cold. Shivering, she wend down to the water while I started heating up water for the morning tea and watched the morning getting brighter.
The rain didn't intensify. The cloud squeezed out a few more drops and then ceased altogether, and let through some patches clear blue sky.
It didn't take long for the blue patches to again disappear behind the cloud cover. By the time tea was ready it was all gray once more.
But then, all of a sudden, a rainbow appeared on the west. A beautiful rainbow shaft reaching from the clouds to the mountain ridge. We sipped out tea and enjoyed this wonderful treat until it slowly faded.
Somewhere over the rainbow ... here I am! 
We had our tend next to a small Sierra foxtail pine with a canopy so low that it touched the ground. Despite its small size the tree was healthy and bore many cones on its branches. My friend, seeing that I was interested in this trees had suggested that I'd try to capture all the female cone stages in one photo. She reminded me of that on the morning of our departure and I gave it the best shot I could, keeping in mind the relative darkness and the draining camera battery. In the upper left quarter of the photo there is a first year cone - the year of fertilization. It is small and dark, and not quite in focus. Slightly behind it and even more blurry is a branch bearing male cones. These only last for the couple of months it takes to mature and produce copious amounts of pollen. By the time we were fertilization was over and there was no more pollen left to shed. In the upper right quarter of the photo there is a second year female cone. It is light green and its scales are tight-shut. It wasn't covered with resin like similar stage cones I've seen of its close relative, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine. If this species does resin their female cones, it didn't show on the one that I photographed. 
At the middle bottom of the photo there is an older cone, one that already opened and released the seeds - the pine nuts. Below the tree and outside of this photo the ground was covered with old female cones at various stages of slowly turning into mulch and compost. 
3 stages of female cones. Sierra Foxtail Pine (Pius balfouriana)
We managed to pack everything before the rain started again. Foreseeing that the rain will get stronger we covered ourselves with rain gear. It wasn't cold (at least, not in my opinion) and my concern was mainly to protect my camera. 
My camera - after the disaster of losing my primary battery to carelessness on our first night, was now working on my backup battery, which I had to somehow make sufficient for the rest of our trip. On the morning of our 4th day it was at half strength and I was optimistic. I didn't expect to photograph as much that day. For one, it was raining now in earnest and I don't like to take my camera out in the rain. And then, how could that day possibly surpass the splendor of yesterday's paradise? 
As it turned out as was very wrong, and happily so. The hike from Spring Lake to Cliff Creek campground was entirely amazing and was also the richest in sights as well as in botanical pleasures of our trip. After long considerations and harsh slashing I ended up with over 80 photos for that trail, and I don't want to cut down any more. So to keep the post in readable length I decided to split it into two posts. Here I share about our pathfinding hike from Spring Lake to the Black Rock Pass Trail and in the following post I'll continue about our hike down the trail all the way to Cliff Creek campground.
Our hike from Spring Lake to Cliff Creek Campground as captured by my GPS. The no-trail part highlighted in purple.
There is also a geophysical logic to splitting the post at that place, because it was also about the transition point between the alpine terrain and its ethereal beauty to the lower, woodsier levels, that had very different looks and feel to it. It was like transitioning between two different worlds, and each deserves a full account. 

I wasn't thinking about any of that at the time we were ready to leave Spring Lake. The rain had stopped again but ahead we could see the curtains of downpour awaiting us. I welcomed the rain. It had made it mentally easier for me to leave paradise behind.  
Rain Ahead
We remained to the north of Cliff Creek, which was the side where we would eventually meet with the established trail. We found a relatively easy place to go down the rock ledge that was the base of Spring Lake basin and started making our way along Cliff Creek. 

Pathfinding is a slow business. The terrain didn't look all too challenging when we looked on it from above and by expert standards it probably wasn't. Still, we had to push through thick vegetation, balance on sharp, unsteady boulders across fields of scree, hop across tributaries and rivulets, some with steep and muddy banks, scramble down high rock ledges, and do all that in constant drizzle. 
Cliff Creek spilling out of Spring Lake. In the back - the huge granite peak we camped under. 
We were also concerned about treading as light as we could, for we didn't wand to damage the local vegetation any more than was necessary. 

We knew that at least two people had passed that way before us earlier that week, and that they did it twice - going to and from Spring Lake along Cliff Creek. Soon we had found their tracks. It was sad to see how much an effect a single foot print can make on the fragile wetland vegetation. It was even sadder to think that we were most likely having the very same effect on the vegetation as we walked. We didn't have a choice - we arrived Spring Lake by mistake and we had to get out. We made the best effort to tread in the footsteps of those who walked before us and avoid making any new trails.  
It also serves as an excellent reminder of why one should stay on the trail (whenever there is one) and not cut corners or get into the vegetation without a sound reason. I just hope the downtrodden plants will bounce back next spring. 
Footprint Damage
Like going down huge steps the creek flows from one rocky ledge to another. Down the rock it goes in a small series of cascades and then it settles into a flatter  area and widens out into a beautiful wetland, thickly grown with lush and vibrant vegetation. 
Sierra Penstemon (Penstemon heterodoxus)
We heard bird songs in the bushes too, but the singers remained hidden, from us or from the rain, or both. 
We made slow progress, keeping along the main creek whenever we could. We had a brief refreshment break near one of the slow creek ponds but quickly moved on when the rain got stronger. 
Pacific Mountain Onion (Allium validum)
We didn't have a distinct sunrise that morning because of the cloud cover. The few blue patches of sky that hovered above Spring Lake had remained there, and we were walking under a completely gray and dripping blanket of clouds. It felt very dark, and for Bay Area residents - it felt like winter. The wetness, the grayness, the intense greenness of the vegetation - all a natural part of the alpine summer. Winter there, of course, looks much different. 
Like the paradise photos of my previous post, I did very little in altering these photos - left dark on purpose, I hope to retain that rainy feeling of that hike. 
Looking back upstream
The creek veered to the left while the path of least resistance pulled us to the right. In that place there was actually visible trail, made by people treading this way earlier in summer. We followed that trail and it took us across a mild slope of old scree that was now overgrown with vegetation, the plants on that slope seemed to be all in bloom, presenting a wonderful display of colors. 

The rain had stopped. We took off our backpacks and explored the blooming field. Some of the wildflowers looked very familiar, although I could not tell whether they are the same species I know from the lower lands. 
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja sp.)
Others were unique to that exclusive mountain community. The lily in the photo below is a species that's unique to that region of the Sierra Nevada. 
Kelley's Lily (Lilium kelleyanum) 
We went down to the creek to look at the cascade. On he other side of the water there were cushions of yellow-blooming composites. 

It was one of those times I regretted not having the big zoom lens with me. I wasn't willing to carry it with me, however, so I had to settle for the maximum zoom my general lens had. 
Clasping Arnica (Arnica lanceolata)
We were walking for two hours now but looking back I could still see the large monolith that's towering over Spring Lake. Our progress was very slow indeed. 

Every now and then we had to cross a tributary that flowed down from the Eisen Range to join Cliff Creek. On each such crossing we had to find our way through a dense thicket. Sometimes we had to backtrack and look for another way. I kept looking for paths made by previous hikers. I became very good at tracking human travelers in that wilderness. 
And on one of these tributary crossing I found a little surprise :-)
Sierra Tree Frog 
Each time we crossed a tributary we were immersed again in the wetland-riparian plant communities and the wonderful wildflowers that were blooming there at the time. 
Marsh Checker Mallow (Sidalcea ranunculacea)
We were thoroughly enjoying the color splendor of the alpine summer at the High Sierra. The fresh air, the amazing bloom, the quiet solitude, and the wholesomeness of the place. We walked downstream slowly, loath of leaving it all behind. 
Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus)
It was no longer raining but the sky was still overcast. Usually after crossing a tributary we had to also go down some rock ledges and had to look for a safe path down. Sometimes my friend and I would split - each checking out a different route. Most of the times we needn't have to backtrack, but would reconvene at the bottom of the ledge. 
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolim)
With each step more of the downstream view of Cliff Creek valley would open before us. We started speculating at the point at which we would connect with the Black Rock Pass Trail. Following the trajectory of the lowest trail switchback that was visible to us I guessed that it would be at that grove of pines ahead.
We still had quite a way to get there without a trail. 
The ranges that closed on Cliff Creek were also quite fascinating. Sheer, almost completely bare, jagged rock ridges towering over the narrow vale that we were walking through. At one place I noticed a large crack running down the southern ridge. I wondered what had caused it and if there was any water flowing inside. When we were level with that crack I photographed it with my biggest magnification but couldn't see inside. Maybe it was dry. Maybe t was just too deep. Maybe it's home for mountain trolls. 
Anybody in there?
As we ere getting closer to that pine grove my friend and I renewed our speculations about the established trail. She was doubtful but I maintained positive attitude. Should we have to continue pathfinding much longer we may need to camp closer than I had planned to. 

Just then the terrain became even more rough and challenging. We moved gingerly from one rock ledge to another, stopping frequently to assess our choices.
Naturally we paid a very close attention to the rocks we were stepping on, and not only to assess if they were stable enough to hold our weight - many had some pretty lichen growing on them.
It was fairly easy to tell the relative age of different scree fields by the vegetation over they had. The freshest rock slide areas were completely bare, while others already were filled with topsoil and had plants growing in between the rocks.

As we progressed we were also losing altitude, and with the change in elevation came a change in the plant communities. Some of the species I've seen on Glacier Pass and in the Spring Lake area I wasn't seeing anymore. That upper Cliff Creek area was the last place I've seen the march larkspur on this trip.
Mountain Marsh Larkspur (Delphinium polycladon)

In place of the high-altitude flowers I left behind I now saw many other species of wildflowers, and in general they were bigger and more conspicuous than Spring Lake's lofty miniatures. Some of the wildflowers I've seen there were downright flashy, like that big, yellow sneezeweed below.

The sneezeweed intensely yellow blossom was brighter than anything else that was blooming on that slope. Perhaps in compensation of the cloud-obscured sun.
Bigelow's Sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovi) 
Another familiar plant I started noticing in large numbers was the California corn lily, but only a few individuals were blooming at the time.
California Corn Lily (Veratrum californicum var. californicum) 
We were walking in a relatively flat area again. The main creek was on the south side of the valley and we were finding a path through the knee-, sometimes thigh-high vegetation on the north side. I wasn't stopping as often to take photos now - my camera battery has dropped below 40%.
Corn Lily, Groundsel and friends.
But then we were on a rock ledge again, and a high one. Getting down from there would take more effort than the previous ledges we had  passed. We decided it was a good time to stop for lunch and to get some rest.
That ledge was already dry. Not so many plants were growing on it and what did was very small. I was impressed by the red color of the stonecrop plants that grew in the crack lines of the rock.

This red color, so pretty to the eye, indicates that these plants were quite stressed.
Shortage of water, most likely.
Ledge Stonecrop (Rhodiola integrifolia) 
After our break we had to find a way down. My friend and I had different ideas on how to do this. I thought I spotted the marks of previous hikers and wanted to follow them. My friend thought it might be easier to stay on the north side of the canyon and climb down behind the scree slope. We discussed the choices back and forth and eventually went down with my choice although my friend still thought that hers might have been better. Next time we'll have to try that path.

I had a very good omen on the path I chose - a blooming crimson columbine!
A sure sign that we were headed the right way - downward.
Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) 
The path I chose was passable, but not easily. At the bottom we had to sit down again and recuperate. I turned back and looked in the direction of Spring Lake. It wasn't even two miles but already it seemed like worlds away.
Upper Cluff Creek
I caught a movement in the bushes on the other side of the creek - a deer! A buck this time. He was all by himself. He regarded us from afar, and didn't come close.
Black-tailed Deer, male
That big ledge was the last one we had to find our way down of. Again of relatively level ground, I led the way directly to the grove of pines that we saw from above when we had just started our journey. I was convinced that it was there where we would find the trail.

I wasn't worried that we wouldn't find the trail. As long as we were going down the north side of Cliff Creek we were bound to find it at some point. Besides, we were walking through such a lovely field of wildflowers. Worry wasn't on my mind at all.

That wildflower field held a not so pleasant surprise for us in the shape of numerous little, nasty thorny seeds that got caught in our clothes and itched where we weren't clothed.
Thorny seeds, however, are a small price to pay for the beauty we beheld.
Fleabane (Erigeron sp.), and Bigelow's Sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovi)
I thought I noticed a slight anomaly in the plant field and I headed directly there. Voila! There was the trail. Narrow and unassuming it was, but a trail. A real trail. The one we were seeking.
Cliff Creek-Black Rock Pass Trail
We didn't stop to celebrate. Not for more time than it took to remove all the thorns from our clothes. We stepped onto the trail and started marching down in, reveling in how fast we could finally walk. And we had to walk fast, for it was already afternoon and we had over three miles between us and the Cliff Creek campground where we had planned to camp for the night.
And about those three miles I will post separately, soon.

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!

A link to the second part of the forth day of this trip.