Courtright Reservoir to Cedar Grove
by Bill Finch

Craig Poole and I hit the trail at the Courtright Rervervoir trailhead at 8:20, on August 6, 1989. We saw lots of people on the trail, including a ranger that asked to see our wilderness permit. By 4 pm we had reached our campsite at Dale Lake in the Red Mountain Basin. Craig took a nap and I worked hard to catch two nine inch Brook trout. A nearby forest fire provided the haze to make a lovely sunset.

The next morning, Craig and I were on the trail at about 7:20. We made Hell for Sure Pass at around 10 and dropped down into Goddard Canyon. On our way to Martha Lake, we ran into two of Craig's friends and visited with them for a while. We passed Martha Lake at around three that afternoon and made the pass into the Goddard Creek drainage at five. We hiked down Goddard Creek, stopping now and then to look back toward the pass we had just crossed. We reached the lowest lake on the creek at about eight that evening.

On day three, we continued down the valley, staying near the creek which disappears and reappears. Rain fell intermitently. The valley became a steep walled gorge. We made it about half way down it before we realized that our way was blocked by an impassable water fall. We had to climb back up the gorge and go around it on its west side. At around 1:30, we had returned to the creek bottom at an alder grove. We stayed close to the creek until we reached the dark mouth of the Enchanted Gorge, reputedly the remotest canyon in the entire Sierra Nevada range. We fought our way through brush most of the way to the final drop into the Middle Fork of the Kings River. Fortunately, a fire had cleared some of it out. We had done enough bushwacking to last us for a lifetime. After fording the Kings at about seven that evening, we camped on a comfy sand bar on the river's south bank.

Both of us were happy to be back on trail for a while as we made our way up the abondoned trail which leads up Cartridge Creek. The trail comes and goes. It was originally part of the John Muir Trail before the Golden Staircase and trail over Mather Pass were completed. We had some more bushwacking to do before we got to Triple Falls. The switchbacks near the falls, however, looked like the day they were built. More cross country travel, including some more bushwacking, brought us by Red Point, an old snag, and into Lake Basin. The hikers we met in Lake Basin had come in over Cartridge Pass or Frozen Lake Pass. It appeared that we were the first hikers that had used the route between the Middle Fork and the basin that year.

Day five began with a climb out of the basin and up to Cartridge Pass which we reached at about 9:20. Then we descended into the valley of the South Fork of the Kings River and hiked up stream to the John Muir Trail (JMT). We could see the Cartridge Pass area over our shoulders as we hiked by the Marjorie Lakes. We made it up and over Pinchot Pass and camped at Twin Lakes. Craig and I must have caught and released 50 to 100 small golden trought that night.

The next day, we dropped down to Woods Creek Crossing and crossed the new suspension bridge that had just been completed. We continued our hike on JMT until we left it in the magnificent Rae Lakes Basin. The steep trail brought us into the Sixty Lakes Basin and we left trail and proceede cross country into the Gardiner Basin. We made camp near the outlet of the largest lake in the basin where we enjoyed another lovely sunset.

The last day, day seven, we hiked down Gardiner Creek. In the morning, we did a little catch and release fishing but decided we had better get on our way if we were to make Cedar Grove that evening. As we got lower on the creek, brush again became a problem until we reached the wall of the South Fork of the Kings. We lowered ourselves and our packs down the steep wall and then made a dangerous crossing of the river above Mist Falls. We would have been a lot better off to have crossed below Mist Falls. The remaining four miles of the trip was a sprint back to civilization and our loved ones who met us at the trailhead. We spent the night at one of the Cedar Grove campgrounds.

If you like low elevation bushwacking, this is the trip for you. I'm glad I will never feel compelled to hike some of these canyons again, including the lower reaches of Gardiner and Goddard Creeks. On the bright side, this hike inspired many other trips. I have revisited Goddard Creek Valley and Gardiner Basin several times since and they continue to rank highly among my favorite areas.

15 Nov1997