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060 Good, Bad, and Ugly 2009-03-23

small waterfall passed on the trail

Our recent trip to Big South Fork was the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Before making the trip we consulted with two friends both had been there more recently than us. Both tried not to discourage us but were only lukewarm to our adventure. We went on our trip to Big South Fork anyway.

Our plans were to do a grand loop following trails, horse trails, and gravel roads. We parked at the Bandy Creek Visitor Area and planned a circuit to bring us back to our car.

The Fall Branch Trail from Bandy Creek to the John Muir Trail (JMT) was fabulous. It followed a creek, with good scenery and geological sights. The trail was graded evenly and had been cleared recently of debris. It was a very good trail. After intersecting with the JMT and heading north, the path was still good but not used as often as the Fall Branch Trail.

The trail intersected and ran in conjunction with horse trails at the lower end of Camp Station Creek. We were still hiking the JMT but now we were in mud and muck that was at least a foot deep and stretched across all possible hiking areas. It was the pits. The horses or their owners didn’t want them to wade through the mud and therefore kept expanding the trail and mud way beyond each side of the trail. Traveling through the area brought our progress to a screeching halt. We had a bad time.

After miles of muck the lower horse/hiking trails intersected with a section of the JMT which was for hiking only, and the goodness returned. We were out of the muck and walking on a good trail through a very scenic area (Burkes Knob). After crossing the drainage we arrived at the No Business Creek area and were once again greeted to the mud of the combined horse/hiking trails. The area was not as bad as the Camp Station Creek lowers but it was still very muddy.

The JMT left the horses for good after fording Tackett Creek. A graded climb led to the John Muir Overlook. The mud was no longer a problem, but downed wood was and it was ugly. The trail did not seem to be regularly traveled by anyone. Though not really hard to follow, the trail had a good personality, it was just ugly. The basic problem was that the poor trail had not seen any love it quite a while. On the bright side there were a few interesting geological formations, creeks and overlooks. Being on a hiking only trail - even with downed obstacles - was still much better than the overused mucky horse trails.

On returning I talked to both of my friends and they were not surprised by my accounts. The trails close to civilization were good, the unmaintained trails were ugly, and those (add a mild expletive) horse trails were BAD, bad to the bone.

So if you decide to go, my advise to you is: bring your horse. Big South Fork is a horse park not a hiking park.

Happy horse trails. YeeHaa!


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