Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail

Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca Trail

To say that this hike was challenging would be an understatement. When researching the trail, we decided that it would be doable as a shuttle hike in two days. We’d leave one car at the Piedra Blanca trailhead and another at Reyes Creek trailhead, where we’d start the hike. After reading reviews of the hike, it seemed like hiking from Reyes to Piedra would be “easier” in that it wouldn’t gain 3,000 feet within the first few miles. Most of the online sources we read put the total mileage between 16 and 18 miles. In reality, those were all wrong and the total mileage from start to finish ended up being about 21 miles.

We arrived at the Reyes Creek trailhead around 8:30am ready to do some serious hiking. We were greeted by a sign that said the trail was closed between Upper Reyes Camp to Pine Mountain Lodge Camp. The notice was dated July 2016 so we figured it was old and had read on the forest service website that the trail was open. In the first 2.5 miles, the trail ascended gradually until it reached the top of a saddle. The views from the top were amazing! At this point, the trail went down for about 1/2 a mile into Upper Reyes camp, which was nice and cool under the trees.

The trail had plenty of shady spots, which were much appreciated during water breaks. Being that we both brought our LifeStraw water bottles, we didn’t have to carry much water. There was ample water flowing in the creek and numerous creek crossings to fill up at. Leaving Upper Reyes camp, the trail ascended consistently for 1.5 miles. before descending into Beartrap camp. We decided to stop for lunch in this spacious camp with ample shade.

Beartrap Camp

After refueling, we continued along. Our goal was to make it to Haddock Camp or Three Mile Camp to spend the night. We encountered a forest service volunteer with 3 horses along the way who was clearing brush from parts of the trail. She told us the trail was closed but we showed her the print out from the forest service website showing that it was OPEN. She told us she cleared the rock slide just above Twin Forks camp about a week ago. When we asked about the condition of the rest of the trail, she said she was unsure but we were welcome to proceed at our own risk. We decided to carry on since we had already made it this far and didn’t want to turn back if we didn’t have to. After this point, there was a lot of bushwhacking to be done, which slowed us down a little. Luckily, we were both wearing pants which helped to avoid scratches from the overgrown thorny bushes. The trail was still easily visible to follow despite nature taking over. There were a few downed trees on the trail but still passable. 

The next part was probably one of the most unnerving parts of the hike. There was a portion of the trail covered in snow with a long drop below. We had our trekking poles but crossing this portion had to be done extra carefully to ensure stable footing. The trail was fairly skinny in this stretch as well, which made it even more risky. After making it safely across, we both hoped not to encounter any more segments like this one. The trail went right through the burn area from the Pine Fire last summer. It was such a drastic change from being surrounded by tall, green trees and then suddenly walking through a forest of charred stumps.

Once we rounded the corner to Haddock, we were greeting with more greenery and a large patch of snow on a hill near camp. It was about 8 miles to Haddock and with all the bushwhacking and cautious footing that had to be done, it took us about 8 hours of hiking. 

There were about 4 fire pits and we had our pick of any of the sites since there was no one else around. We chose a spot in the corner since the wind had picked up a little and this sheltered us a little. There was lot of good firewood scattered throughout camp and we had a fire started in no time. There was no trash or evidence of humans anywhere along the trail but there was broken glass and rusty cans in some of the fire pits. Why anyone would haul glass that far back is beyond me.

The temperature dropped into the low 40s at night but we stayed toasty in our sleeping bags. In the morning, there was a light layer of frost on our backpacks. Since it was quite chilly, it took us a little longer than normal to get moving and ready to leave. Before heading out, we discovered the carcass of a young buck. All that remained were bones so we knew it wasn’t eaten super recently. It was still quite the shock to find this since it was about 100 feet from where we had our tent. Along the trail, we had noticed numerous mountain lion tracks. Most of them were heading in the opposite direction but it still made us aware that we were definitely in mountain lion country.

After leaving camp, we encountered a few more sketchy portions of the trail. No more snow to cross but there were slippery leaves and loose rocks. This definitely slowed us down a bit but it’s better to take our time than to fall off a steep ledge. Three mile camp was about 2 miles from Haddock. What it is 3 miles from, no one knows. This was another nicely shaded spot and we crossed paths with a hiker and his dog. About 2 miles past Three Mile Camp is Pine Mountain Lodge Camp, where we stopped for lunch. We saw another hiker’s backpack propped up against a tree but no one in sight.

Tired smiles of accomplishment at Piedra Blanca

From Pine Mountain Lodge, the trail steadily descends all the way back to Piedra Blanca. Some portions were pretty steep so it was important to watch every step. This portion of the hike didn’t have as much shade as the first day, which made the trek seem more drawn out than before. As we got closer, the sight of the Piedra Blanca rock formation came into view. The trail actually goes up and through the rocks at the end. We made it back to the trailhead parking lot around 5:00pm, which meant we had put in another 8 hour day of hiking. All in all, it was a tough hike but we’re both glad that we made it back safely and were able to overcome any obstacles that got in our way.

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