This hike turned out to be kind of an exploration of the portion of the Pioneer Trail from Bowman Lake Road to the equestrian staging area near Washington Overlook. The Pioneer Trail runs for 25 miles, mostly along CA 20 from Harmony Ridge Road, a few miles east of Nevada City, to Bowman Lake Road and then north along Bowman Lake Road to Spaulding Lake. There are several hiking trails as well as biking and other OHV trails in the area and, although there are quite a few trail markings, it turned out to be challenging to faithfully follow the intended trail. I was hiking with other members of the Tahoe Donner Hiking Club, so we were able to do a car drop and hike point-to-point.
We started where the trail crosses Bowman Lake Road near the group campground just north of CA 20. Shortly thereafter we crossed the Bear River, which had a lot of water due to the tremendous snowpack that was resulting in spectacular snowmelt for all local streams and rivers.
After crossing CA 20 to the south side, the trail continues along the north side of the Bear Valley. The valley itself was lush, with snow-capped Sierras as a backdrop.
The real adventure started somewhat later, when we encountered a section of trail covered by snow. After realizing that we were off the trail entirely, we noticed a road and consulted our maps to try to determine exactly where we were. Our maps showed the Pioneer Trail north of CA 20 so we used that information to determine which way to proceed on the road, even though we didn’t know how we’d gotten back across CA 20 to the north side. After about a half mile we found an actual street address on a mailbox and realized that we were actually south of CA 20 and definitely going in the wrong direction. We were certainly confused – it’s quite startling to realize that you’re some distance from where you thought you were. We must have missed a trail marking that would have sent us across CA 20 again. The track of our adventure is clearly visible as a stub on the GPS track of the hike.
We were able to make our way to CA 20 along the road we had found. However, by then we surmised that there was probably more snow on the trail. We decided to walk along the shoulder of CA 20 for a couple of miles to a lower elevation and to where the Pioneer Trail had again crossed to the south side of CA 20. In this area (between the Omega Rest Area and Skillman Campground) there are numerous other hiking and biking trails. It was difficult to keep track of which trail we were actually on. And by this time we were more concerned about staying on a marked trail than whether it was the Pioneer Trail or one of the alternatives. I was surprised to find a Stop Ahead sign approaching a road crossing.
(Yes, this was followed by a Stop sign.) I am not sure, but I think this indicates that we were on one of the alternative trails at this point. It is interesting to note that there are so many different trails that the trail markers are color coded. In fact, one informal trail map of the area has at least five differently colored trails. This is mainly a challenge for a purist who wants to hike from one place to another on a specific trail. Taking into account our off-trail adventure it was still a nice hike and we definitely had a good time. But we’ll probably return on another (snow-free) occasion to see if we can find the originally intended route.