Ken, Mark, Debbie, Michelle and I left Big Pine Friday morning in three vehicles to explore the conditions of the roads in the valley. This is the report of what we found. For my own convenience, I've broken it up into three separate reports. This one covers the North Pass Road.
At the intersection of 168 and Death Valley Road, we encountered the first “Road Closed” sign. That sign was not there when we did this trip last month.
Ironically, there was a guy in a Subaru Outback approaching from behind that sign when we arrived. So much for our "Trailblazer" Merit Badges!
At the top of the hill, where we turned onto the Saline Valley Road, we found more signs. Inyo County has been busy! This sign is blocking the paved road leading down to Eureka Valley. We didn't explore that one any further.
A closer look would seem to indicate that we're not the only ones that don't really believe these signs!
You might remember that last month we had no trouble whatsoever getting all the way to the bottom of the Three Mile Grade. That's no longer the case. Only about three miles in, we encountered a series of three washouts big enough to make us stop and creep through very slowly.
The second one was the biggest of the three.
Fortunately, we weren't the first ones to find this. Some other visitor had spent quite a bit of time dropping rocks in the ditch just off the high side of the road, making a nice usable bypass route.
The third washout was smaller than the others, so we had no problem there. Once we got into Marble Canyon, to a spot that had been under standing water, we could see that we were following someone else's tire tracks. We never encountered another vehicle, and it's possible that the two tracks were left by a single vehicle entering and exiting the valley. Since Ken is the only member of our group who actually was in the Boy Scouts, we had him examine the tracks.
After careful analysis of all the data available, Ken determined that these tracks were probably made by a Prius or similar vehicle.
Continuing on our way, we found Whippoorwhill Canyon and Three Mile Grade largely unchanged. At the bottom of the grade we started to encounter the same multitude of large washouts we found last month. Mixed in among them, however were literally dozens of small, narrow ruts across the road. These are the kind that "sneak up on you" when you're driving along looking out for big washouts. They're just big enough to take out a tire, or at least bounce your head off the roof if you hit one too fast! Here, Michelle, Debbie and Mark check one of them out. Someone had laid a couple pieces of lumber in the bottom to try and lessen the impact.
Even the big washouts we had to deal with last month are now deeper and wider in most cases.
Better stay left here. Coming off to far right could be a rude awakening!
When we finally got to Willow Creek, we thought we had it beat! The last storms had cut a lot more material out of the gully, but we were still able to make it across. All you have to do is get across the creek, then drive up this little wall...
..then drive off this little wall...
...then climb out of the gully and you're home free!
We all made it without any undue trouble. We gathered for a group photo on the downstream side of Willow Creek, thinking we had smooth sailing the rest of the way to the Springs.
(Ken, Mark, Michelle, Bob. Photo by Debbie)
Not more than three hundred yards from where that picture was taken, we encountered this little jewel!
That's six feet deep, with straight walls, and about 20 feet across! And it wasn't there a month ago! This was not in the program.
After a bunch of hiking around, we finally spotted a route we thought we could make. It involved driving through a boulder field, but since we'd come this far, we gave it a try.
...picking the way through...
Incidentally, the picture above shows what the Saline Valley Road looks like most of the way from Willow Creek to the turn off.
Mark and Ken got through as well.
Ken has driven that stock Toyota a lot of places that I didn't think one could go, and this was one of them!
With that mess behind us, we just cruised down the crappy road the rest of the way to the (former) Bat Rock Turnoff.
I think you can tell, the North Pass is not really a viable route by which to access the Springs. If you just want an adventure, and you are fully prepared, that's a different story. It actually is a lot of fun, but it took 5 1/2 hours to get from Big Pine to Lower warm Spring. If I just wanted to relax at the Springs for a couple days, the North Pass wouldn't be worth it. Try another route.