Packsaddle Cave Trail, Fairview, CA.
May 14, 2016
Rocket gives perpective to size of cave. It was surprisingly large.
Many beautiful flowers along the way. Trail has minimum switch backs so it is steep in places.
Watch your head!
looking out from cave entrance.
– This was a fair weather fun hike with great views of the north fork of the kern river, the greenhorn mountains, and the granite peaks of the dome wilderness area, and at the turn-around point, a cave to explore. This is the perfect time to hike this trail – flowers in bloom, water in the creek, moderate temperature, and blue sky.
– Physically, the trail challenges as desired – the hike can be done leisurely or you can run it, and the trail continues beyond the cave for those looking for more miles.
– This is a good hike to test your endurance and get a sense for what the Southern Sierra’s are about.
– As with any hike, be weather wise and be prepared.
– This area is beautiful and has recovered nicely from one of the largest forest fire in California, the McNally fire. Expect 3 to 4 hours of trail time (R/T) including frequent breaks to enjoy the vastness of the surrounding mountains, the golden chaparral, all the flowers and bush, and the ever present scent from the pine forests in the distance.
– The trailhead is located 25km north of Kernville on mountain hwy. 99 just past McNally’s on the east side of the road. A large parking lot is located across the road from the trailhead. The trailhead is marked with a USFS brown painted wood sign.
– The trail begins as a service road before veering right (two rocks mark the trails path). If you miss the trail, you’ll end at a water tank where you can scramble up a short trail behind the tank up to join the trail above.
– The trail is well marked, maintained, and easy to follow. As are most trails in the Sierras, this trail is made of a mix of DG, small rocks, and mud at the water crossings. The trail has minimum switch-backs making the hike moderately steep in a few places.
– The trail ascends 270 meters in 1.5km, traverses a saddle and then drops 200 meters in 1km to the first creek crossing. The creek is shaded with trees and tall bush. There’s water in the creek and the first crossing is the perfect place to rest. The creek is easily crossed without getting wet. The trail continues up along the creek for another 1km to an obvious campsite. Looking north and up on side of the mountain, you can spot the cave entrance. Continue 0.5km on the steep trail from the campsite to the cave entrance. Please note trail distances and altitude numbers are rough estimates.
To begin, caves creep me out. OK, the cave has a large entrance and is walkable for first 50 meters, then requires the spelunker to crawl. Not sure of cave length (never made it to end). It’s a perfect 15c inside. The cave has many stacked conical calcium carbonate seeps. The cave looks like a good place for natives to sleep, or for a visiting Sadhu to contemplate life. At minimum, the cave is the perfect place to rest before returning.
– Flora. Flowers are in full bloom including lumpines, mustard, fiddle neck, cresol, poppy’s, and many others. Flower colors include yellows, reds, purples, whites.
– Fauna. Few birds and fewer squirrels. No snakes spotted but they’re certainly in the area (diamond back rattler, garter, gofers). No fish – the creek typically is dry by summer. Bugs – not many – a few nat’s and mosquitos. For the few bugs I encountered, repellent would have been overkill.
Other things to Consider
– Hike specific Hazards – Loose rocks under foot, bush sticking out into the trail. Bashing head on cave ceilings, getting lost in cave (if your light goes out, your screwed).
– Dogs. I brought mine. Rocket, a blue Queensland, loved the hike too! Dog has been given rattlesnake serum. I brought water for the dog, however, with the water in the creek, the water was not needed.
– Trekking Poles. I recommend using Trekking Poles on this hike. Because this trail is 99% up or down and rocky, the poles are very helpful. The poles transfer some of the load to the arms from the legs when climbing uphill and help keep the toes from getting crunched inside your shoes on the decent. I particularly enjoyed using the polls to steady myself to avoid slipping, tripping, and falling as I walked freely, and my eyes wondered the county side.
– Pack. I used a large black diamond fanny pack. I like keeping the pack weight on my hips if possible. I didn’t bring much – One liter of water, 2 bananas, 1 grapefruit. Oh yes, also brought moleskin and toilet paper in a Baggie.
– Other people – I saw 6 other hikers in 2 groups.
– Things that go on your feet. Sandals, Running Shoes or Hiking Boots? For this hike, boots are clearly the best choice. Boots are a much better for stability and comfort on the rocky, moderately steep in places, trail. That’s said, I hiked in running shoes (New Balance 997). With the assist from the trekking poles, the running shoes worked OK. Next time I would bring boots. Of course you’ll need excellent socks (so importanta!) and mole skin just in case of blisters. And sandals? Bad idea to hike in, however, excellent to have to change into after the hike.
– What else to wear in fair weather
Hat/visor – protection from sun.
Sweat Band – keeps the salty sweat out of my eyes
Sunglasses – it’s California!
Sunscreen – yep.
Light weight long or short sleeve shirt and shorts or pants. If you don’t mind a few nature scratches, there wasn’t much bush on the trail so shorts worked well for me.
– Places to spend money. Few. Nearby, there’s a small c-store and burgers spot (really good!) McNally’s restaurant is one of the best steak places in the county – a must try. And of course there’s one of the best breweries on the planet in Kernville 30km away.
– Other. Closest cell service is on the main road south 20km. Gas is 25km south.
All n all, we had a fine invigorating hike with plenty to see and the bonus of a real creepy cave to explore.