Memorial Day Massacre 2016: Durrwood Rincon Edition

  • Updated: May 30, 2016
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

May 28th to 30th, 2016
Mount Durrwood (5,851')

Memorial Day is the first long weekend of the year where it's reasonable for me to get into the Sierra.  And as it's also soon after the end of the amazingly fun yet exhausting Wilderness Travel Course and Advanced Mountaineering Program courses I volunteer for I always look forward to doing something big.  A combination of aggressive plans and early season weather challenges have led to some...memorable trips over the years hence the name the Memorial Day Massacre.

This year my recovery from the microfracture surgery I had on my right knee in November kept me from making any big plans and in the end I decided it was better to stick to the three days I had off work vs trying to pull off the usual 4 or 5 day epic.

We did do one of those also this year but not until the 4th of July when we redid the weather aborted 2015 Massacre.

For this weekend we were looking at more snow up high than we'd seen the last few years so we decided to stick to the south.  After some casting about we settled on a a route a bit north of Kernville that was low enough to be snow free, contained an interesting looking cable crossing of the Kern, had a wild cave, and even allowed campfires.
We had a few peaks we wanted to aim at but considering my recovery most were bonus objectives with the crossing and the cave being the big draws.

Durrwood Cable Crossing appears on the topo maps and is cart running along a metal cable stretching across the Kern.  Considering the Kern is a beast to cross this early in the season it seemed both functional and somewhat unique since it didn't seem to be near anything.  Also it would give me a chance to see the Rincon Trail which was one of those things I'd seen on the map but never hiked.

We drove up Friday night heading over the Grapevine and coming in from the west.

All the campgrounds were packed which wasn't a huge shock considering it was Memorial Day.  after driving back and forth a few times we located a dirt road paralleling the 99 south of Fairview and found a small turnout with a fire pit to sleep for a few hours.

Day 1: A sick redhead, porta potty trespassing (ish), and lots and lots of foxtails

9.3 miles, 1800 ft

We woke up the next morning and relocated back down to Highway 99 to scout the southern trailhead in preparation for the car shuttle.  Our plan was to leave the car here and start the loop from the north.

Jen volunteered to drop off the vehicle at the southern trailhead while Kristen and I kicked back at the side of the road.  She was back in a surprisingly short time after having been picked up by the first vehicle that passed when she reached the road.  And we were off.

The dirt road we started opn wasn't something we could have made in Kristen's Subaru but starting at the pavement only cost us a short distance as it ends at a small turnaround.  After a short search we found where a trail of sorts continues north paralleling the Kern.

Theoretically we were on a trail the entire day practically we were climbing through brush and did extended periods where we couldn't find any sign of travel.

Oh, and there were snakes.  This was the first of 6 we saw across the three days.

We lost the nominal trail completely somewhere around Sand Hill ridge and started a slightly brutal bushwhack.  Kristen wasn't feeling well and increasingly wasn't a happy camper.

This got better when we reached the saddle and descended towards what was marked as Peppermint Camp.  We could see roads and buildings as we got closer.

The stream required us to take off our boots which our feet appreciated.

Unfortunately at this point I was hit by some intestinal distress that had me desperately looking around for someplace to dig a cathole.  On this side of the creek my options were a little limited since we were hedged in by a road, the creek, and some buildings.  Seeing a porta potty up the hill I made a rather motivated beeliner.

Being in a somewhat urgent situation I had already locked myself inside and was taking advantage of the facilities when I heard something outside.  Freezing I listened as a vehicle approached and someone got out.

I waited, silently as I could manage, expecting any moment someone to start banging on the door.  While I worked on my response I listed to what sounded like a helicopter landing at the pad and doors start to slam.

After several tense minutes it was quiet again and I finished up my business before gingerly peeping out the door.  Seeing no one in the immediate vicinity I hightailed it away to where the girls were waiting.

With that behind us we skulked through the bushes and found the trail the map showed leading down to Durrwood Crossing.  And the weather was starting to look interesting.

Again the trail existed though it was overgrown heavily with foxtails and the occasional downed vegetation.

I really dislike foxtails now
It really wasn't bad except for the endless foxtails.  Without any sort of gaiters we were suffering from endless pokes through the socks that were just about impossible to clean out.  I ended up throwing out two pairs of socks after this trip.

The weather continued to build we started to get some rain.  It came down hard enough we stopped to pull out pack covers and jackets.  Which of course meant it stopped after a few minutes.

Kristen also disapproves of the weather
Matt does not disapprove of the weather

We descended down to the Kern through the aforementioned but now wet mass of foxtails which really didn't hel the situation.  Once we reached the Kern we headed north a short distance and found the cable crossing.

A steel cable was stretched across the kern with a metal cart attached via two pulleys.  The extra ropes you see everywhere were the remains of retrieval most of which looked like they had broken, been retied, broke again, were replace, ect..

The most worrying part of the entire setup was the wood structure located on our side.  It's there to lift the cable high enough above the water and a catastrophic failure during the crossing would basically dump you into the Kern rapids.  The ladder flexes so badly we had to avoid a few of the steps and it's not much better once you're up top.

Then there's the cart itself.  The frame and the pulley is metal and looked fine but the wood you're sitting on is slightly split and sagging.  Hence the fact you can see all of us sitting as much on the frame as we can.

But you know, besides that it's not that bad...

It took a little time to get the rope coming from the river untangled.  It had broken, fallen into the river, and was now caught up in the vegetation on our side of the river.  Eventually we had a functional cart.

(We were fortunate the cart had been left on this side as I've seen reports by others they had to swim the Kern to retrieve it from the far side)

Kristen watched this process safely from the ground with obvious skepticism.  Just as I was about to make the call that we'd cross and camp at the old cabin I could see just a short ways upstream we saw a small group of men on the far side wearing shorts and flipflops.

I went across and had a chat with them.  They were guides from Whitewater Voyages according to their boats and said they had a fair sized group up at the cabins.  They were really friendly and invited us to join them but we weren't really in the mood for crowds and a boombox.

One claimed to have a lot of information on the local trails and told us we wouldn't see any water along the Rincon Trail once we left Durrwood Creek.  He also claimed the trail we'd be taking to climb up to Rincon was in a lot worse shape than the trail we'd taken down from Peppermint since it didn't see near the amount of traffic.  Considering it was a warm weekend and the trail we'd taken hadn't seemed to have much traffic at all both were a concern.  He also warned we'd likely see a large amount of dirt bikes on the trail.

I thanked them for the information and hopped back on the cart.  After a discussion with the girls we decided we'd camp on our side of the river near where the trail had reached the shore where we'd seen a really nice campsite.

We had a pleasant night camped beside the Kern.  We could occasionally hear a bit of noise in the distance but it was mostly lost in the sound of the water.

After some red wine and a polenta veggie dish Jen made we passed out with 2/3 of us looking forward to the crossing the next day.

Day 2: Durrwood cable crossing, Mount Durrwood, and another nice camp

6.6 mile, 1750 ft

We kept expecting to see the rafters come by as we were getting ready but we had our bit of the river to ourselves as we made coffee and set about packing up.

It really was a nice camp.  A little more exposed that I normally prefer but fine since we had it to ourselves.

Kristen was feeling a bit better this morning though she was expressing extreme doubt about the cable crossing.  Something about the iffy wood structure, iffy cart, and rapids.  Fortunately Jen and I had enthusiasm to spare.

I went across first without my pack since we weren't 100% confident on the weight capacity considering the split wooden floor of the cart.  Then Jen ferried my pack and went back allowing a slightly less than enthusiastic Kristen to cross before Jen crossed again with her pack.

Kristen made it across with a reaction closer to terror than fun and states she was very happy to never have to do that again.  I put her to work running the rope on the far side and Jen ferried the last pack before I took one last run halfway across the river for a photo op.

We had no choice but to leave the cart tied up on the eastern shore.  Hopefully the next group will be coming from that side because otherwise it'll be an adventurous swim to retrieve the cart.

While we were getting sorted on the far side the rafters we'd met the night before launched and sailed past us.  We even saw someone almost go overboard.

We decided to check out Durrwood Camp since it was unoccupied.

The buildings I'd been able to see from the far side looked to have burned down at some point.

There were artifacts scattered all over which made me think this cabin was fairly heavily used before it burned.

Continuing on we found there were more cabins.  This was clearly where the river party had camped.

The main cabin was had seen better days.

The camp did have a very nice view downstream towards the cable crossing.

We followed an overgrown footpath towards where our maps showed the trail starting up the hill.  There were signs of improvements (small retaining walls and such) all the way along to Durrwood Creek making me wonder what all had been here back when this was in active use.

Considering our modified plans (the original plan to grab two peaks as a part of a big loop would have required we made it over the next set of hills the night before) we decided to swim in the river before continuing on.

We found a nice spot where the stream came in and jumped in.

The water was a bit too cold to be comfortable but it felt quite nice once you were out sitting in the sun.

After that we started back up the trail.  It followed the creek a short distance and then started climbing.  Steeply.

Sometimes we were obviously on a trail and others we were just climbing through whatever worked.

And of course there were foxtails.  So many foxtails.

The weather blew in again and for a while we were listening to thunder in the distance waiting to see if we were going to get wet.  The storm soon cleared leaving us to sweat our way over the top of what we called Mount Durrwood.

The trail theoretically swings around south of Mount Durrwood but we'd lost that by the time we decided to just climb up and over.  Shortcut and all of that.

Summit of Mount Durrwood

The route generally went with a moderate amount of bushwhacking and the occasional rattlesnake.  Kristen elected to sit below the summit and try and recover some strength while Jen and I tagged the high point.

Descending down the far side was a little harder since there was denser vegetation.  There were easier slopes to the east we could have taken from the summit but we'd left an unhappy Kristen below at 56,00 and so we made due dropping down the northeastern slopes.

After collecting a not insignificant amount of scratches from smashing through dense brush we reached Durrwood Creek once more.  I'm honestly curious if we could have just climbed the creek rather than do our little detour but hey, we got a peak!

We followed the creek looking for a place to camp.  The creek had cut a deep groove so we we were walking maybe 40 ft above the water and camp spots were proving to be sparse.  We found one only to find it had been claimed by another backpacker who had a teepee and a pair of badly hung bear bags.

We continued on a little further reaching the Rincon trail when we found a much nicer place to camp that was right off the river.

It had furniture and a fire pit.  I was sold.

It had the look of a hunting / fishing camp from the large number of antlers piled up under one of the tables.

The creek was a welcome chance to clean up and as the sun went down we had another nice fire.

Day 3: Rincon, Dirt Bikers, Cows, and Packsaddle Cave

16.5 miles, 4000 ft

For the last day we were going to need to cover the same amount of gain and distance we'd done in the previous two days combined but on the plus side we were expecting to have a decent trail since we would be taking the Rincon back to where we left the vehicle.

Jen toasting bagels over the stove for breakfast
I really liked the camp and would have given a lot to be able to just relax there a few days.  But we had hiking to do!

Trail at long bloody last

It was going to be a very warm day so I was reassured when we found some running water sources.  We were all carrying 3 or 4 liters so we could make the guaranteed water at Brush Creek (or our hitchhiking bailout of there wasn't water) but it was nice to have options.

It was also damn buggy.  But beyond that the trail was largely uneventful

Until we reached Brush Creek that is where Kristen found the next thing she strongly dissaproved of.

Cows near Brush Creek

Kristen enjoys steaks but disapproves of cows apparently.  And there were a fair number including some bulls and babies.  And it took some encouragement to get them to clear enough we could get through.

Yesterday we'd briefly debated hiking out to this to camp but I'm glad we didn't.  There was water and plenty of fire pits but it was right by the road and suffered from a constant stream of traffic noise.  Also there were cows everywhere to the point we decided to pull out the water filter for the first time when we filled up.

We drank as much as we could and got moving.  It was warm.

We ran into our only dirt bikers climbing out of Brush Creek.  We heard their obnoxiously loud bikes from quite a ways off but the sight of us when they came around the corner seemed to startle them.

From Brush Creek we were climbing again.  We had something fun to look forward to since this was the area where Packsaddle Cave was marked on the map.

It was signed at the junction and a 1/4 mile detour to the west brought us to a cairn and a trail snaking up the hillside to a visible cave.

I love caves.  Always have.  Mines too.  Nothing is more exciting than exploring a big unknown hole in the ground and once the knee is fully recovered I'm hoping to do a lot more.

Packsaddle wasn't locked so we were expecting the usual graffiti and idiots having set fire to things.  Sadly we weren't disappointed.

Fortunately it was still rather impressive and had several branches which eventually lead to small crawl spaces.  We started on the one to the left and were impressed by how much was back there.

After that we went back to the main chamber and continued straight in.

And that's when I heard a growl.  Coming from deeper in the cave.  

I turned to look at the girls and motioned for them to back out of the cave and started yelling at whatever was in there.  At which point I heard someone call out from deeper in the cave telling us not to worry.

The growl had come from a dog and the dog belonged to a nice armed gentleman who just so happened to be searching the cave for murder gold.  He was looking here because an old neighbor who had been involved in a murder syndicate took a liking to him and confessed to the general location of their stash before dying of a heart attack while visiting this very cave with him.  Or he was a really great liar!  But either way!

Later we looked into the details he told us but all we could find was this

He was perfectly friendly and seemed grateful to have someone to talk to for a bit.  He' apparently been watching from the back of the cave since we came in and had successfully hidden from more than one group during his stay.

We visited for a while but had a rather long hike still ahead of us so we left him to his searching and returned to the Rincon.

Looking west from Packsaddle Cave

The next section of the Rincon heading south was the most beautiful area of the entire trip.  Which we enjoyed though we were all tired and hurting at this point.

Salmon Falls

If you're interested in Packsaddle I'd recommend coming at it from the south just to enjoy the scenery.

We reached the dirt road a bit after the sun had gone down.  Signs on this side listed the falls, Packsaddle, and Brush Creek though the milage didn't really match with what my GPS has recorded.  We probably could have gotten the Subaru to the top in hindsight but then Jen would have had a longer hike down to the road to be able to hitch back to us so it worked out.

We had a little trouble following the roads to get out in the dark and we were tired enough we really didn't want to do another involved bushwhack.  We did however find this.

From the sign I expected to find a mine entrance but instead we could hear rushing water smashing against the rather permanent if leaky looking cement closure.  There was a ladder up the side and a small opening in the top but that was locked.  I'd love to find out what this was if anyone reading this knows.

Another inadvertent detour where ended at a rather creepy looking dam like structure that was echoing with what sounded like movie skeleton sound effects.

We eventually reached the car around 10 pm to our great relief.  3 days, 32 miles, and 6,600 ft of gain later which wasn't bad for a recovering gimp.  Sadly our food options ended up being the Adelanto Del Taco sometime after midnight.

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