Pine Creek Canyon is a large valley located on the Sierra Eastside of California, bordered by the spectacular Wheeler Crest to the North and striking Mt. Tom to the South. Easy access from Bishop (20min) and Mammoth Lakes (40min) make it a favorite of locals, but it is overshadowed as a destination by Owens River Gorge just a few miles down the hill. Pine Creek is home to many recreational opportunities, including climbing, hiking, cycling (road), fishing, and horseback riding. It also has a long standing history of mining, although the tungsten mine at the end of the road is currently dormant.
Climbing at Pine Creek dates back to the late 1960’s, although it is quite conceivable that earlier first ascents by notables such as Norman Clyde and Smoke Blanchard may have been done. In recent years there has been a surge of new route development by Eastside locals and others, resulting in the establishment of many fine routes ranging from moderate to hard and short to multi-pitch. The climbing is on granite that varies in quality from excellent to fair and slabby to vertical. There is a good mix of sport and trad routes. Two main areas exist (PSOM/Scheelite and Pratt’s Crack), but numerous other cliffs have been developed (Three Hour Buttress, Crack of Noon Buttress/Fashion Slab, etc.).
A drive to the end of Pine Creek Canyon leads to a dirt parking lot and trail head at the pack station. Skirt around the right side of the pack station to find access to the Pine Creek/Italy Pass trail. The main trail forks after approx. 5.5 miles, leading West to Granite Park/Italy Pass and South to Pine Creek Pass and French Canyon/Humphreys Basin. The first two miles up to Brownstone Wall are rather steep.
An initial, separate side trail leads South to Gable Lakes.
The scenery is magnificent (if one ignores the mine below) and the
hikes are challenging.
A good overview map of all three trails can be found here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5337632.pdf
Following the road past the yellow gate leads North up to Morgan Pass (the hard way).
Pine Creek is a great ride due to low traffic, great scenery, and a relatively moderate grade (5-6%, with a few steeper sections and even a short, shallow downhill). The steepest part is coming up to and past a couple of switchbacks approx 2.5 miles up the hill from the town of Rovana. Slow for these curves on the descent! The ride is featured in the Everest Challenge, a two-day sanctioned stage race that also has a public division for those who’d like to ‘just finish!’
Day rides and pack trips can be arranged through the Pine Creek Pack Station at road's end. Contact: 760-387-2797
From the junction of Hwy. 395/6 on the Northeast end of Bishop, CA drive just shy of 10 miles West/Northwest on Hwy. 395 to the Rovana exit. Turn West (left) and follow Pine Creek Road for 3 miles to Pine Creek Village/Rovana (no services, SLOW - 35mph!). Continue West out of town, cross the creek and pass a couple of switchbacks. A bit further the canyon unfolds in front of you and the climbing becomes visible to the NW (right). For hiking trailheads continue up the canyon and park in a large dirt area on the SW (left) side just shy of road's end (yellow gate at the mine, around 6.5 miles from Rovana).
There are a number of restrictions for overnight trips, including permits, quotas, group size, campfires, etc. Contact: (760) 873-2483 for permit information.
More information can be found here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recreation/recarea/?recid=20370&actid=51
- The SierraEast Side, by Alan Bartlett and Errett Allen, 1988; ISBN 0-934641-11-0; out-of-print, but an excellent resource if you can get your hands on one