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Rock Creek

John Muir Wilderness

February 18th, 2010

3.5 miles
430 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:11

Starting elevation
8895 feet
Max elevation
9305 feet

Rating: 6/10

Directions: From Tom's Place on Highway 395, take Rock Creek Road west. Note that the exit from Highway 395 is signed for Rock Creek Lake. Follow the road for about 6 miles as it climbs into the mountains. Park at the end of the road, where it is closed for winter.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

We'd driven on Rock Creek Road the previous summer to hike to Heart Lake in the Little Lakes Valley. Back then, we'd been able to drive the length of the road to the trailhead at Mosquito Lakes. This time, the road was only plowed about 6 miles from Highway 395, and we had to stop there. There's a Sno-Park here; unlike many other Sno-Parks, you can pay the $5 parking fee here (self-registration), but we already had our pass.

The parking area was filled with about a dozen cars. While we saw people in the parking area both before and after our hike, we would not see another soul on the trail. Part of that had to do with the fact that, after briefly walking on the road (groomed for cross-country skiing), we turned left onto a campground road.

The trail was a wide road with packed snow. What few cross-country tracks were visible were mostly already faded. This beginning section of the trail is somewhat open forest with bare aspens visible on the left. We shortly got a nice view of the mountains at the end of the valley.

Rock Creek near the trailhead

View of the mountains to the west

Jared, for whatever reason, was feeling tired, so we decided to opt for lunch soon after starting. After about a half mile we found a picnic table that would work well for lunch. Most were covered with snow, but this one was not. We still hadn't made it out of the campground, and this picnic table was part of one of the sites.

Snow-covered campground

Tree near our lunch table

After lunch, I decided that I would keep going while the others would turn around here. About three-tenths of a mile up the trail, I came across a giant snow fort that someone had made earlier. It was almost an igloo, pretty impressive work (it looked like it had taken someone or some people a lot of work). Shortly after that I crossed a bridge over Rock Creek and continued on the Outhouse Trail.

Snow fort

This must have taken hours to build

Forest near the bridge

View of Rock Creek from the bridge

The Outhouse Trail climbs gradually up, with Rock Creek visible sometimes on the right. I was keenly aware of the fact that I had the entire trail to myself. I don't often hike solo, and winter solo hikes are even rarer for me. I'll admit I looked behind me on more than one occasion.

Shadows and animal tracks in snow

Looking back down the trail

After reaching what looked to be the crest of the trail, I decided to turn around. A little further on is the Rock Creek Lodge, but I didn't have any desire to visit there today; maybe another time. After that steady uphill, I turned around and made good time going back, stopping only to take some photographs of the peaceful winter scenes I passed. All I could hear was the crunching of snow beneath my feet, the occasional wind, and the sound of rushing water in the creek when I was close enough.

Smooth curves of snow

Rock Creek next to the trail

Forest near the bridge

I thought I might beat my family back to the car, since I knew the kids would be playing in the snow before they went back. Alas, they beat me back to the car by about 20 minutes. Next to us were a couple preparing for a 3-night backpacking trip, complete with snowboards. In fact, by the time we left (after sledding) around 5pm, there were still about 10 cars in the lot, and we saw two more come up the road on our way down. Most likely these were people who were staying at Rock Creek Lodge, 2 miles up the road (the lodge transports you there via snowmobile).

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