An easy, uncrowded route near Sherwin Creek shows off the best of the Mammoth Basin

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Story and photos by Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

Sherwin Creek Road lies just to the southeast of town and once the road closes for the winter, as it is now, the road turns into a great early season ski, or as of this week, snowy but beautiful walk, that showcases the best of the Mammoth Basin. It’s also a mostly uncrowded route with most skiers and snowshoers (in early season) and walkers and hikers preferring the more crowded and machine-groomed ski trails near Shady Rest and the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center and walkers headed for paved trails.

The route follows the Sherwin Creek Road all the way down to U.S 395. Hikers can go as far as they wish; either all the way to the highway where they can pick up a shuttle car parked the Sherwin Creek turnoff or return back to the trailhead, or if they prefer to just go a mile or so before returning back to the trailhead.

The route shows off what makes the Mammoth Basin so spectacular; a combination of wide-open vistas reaching all the way to the Minarets and east to the White Mountains – and creek and meadow and deep forest sections as well.

The route is made sweet with the sound of birdsong and scent of juniper and pine and Red fir and it packs more variety into four miles than most routes would in an entire day.

During your walk, you can move through open country with sweeping views, descend into deep forest, ski past wide-open sunlit meadows, glide over Sherwin Creek, and eventually, ski past some old, sienna and burnt umber wood cabins nestled against the mountains.

The route: The walk starts at the trailhead to the Sherwins, where the big propane tanks are located (see directions below). Leave the vast majority of the bustle and noise behind at the trailhead, but be prepared for some snowmobile activity on this route. We have found the mechanized traffic to be very minimal, even during busy weekends.

Head southeast on the old Sherwin Creek Road, still visible through the snow if you watch carefully and head slightly downhill, aiming for a patch of Jeffrey pines about a half mile from the trailhead. As you close in on the pines, the road steepens and drops down into a small ravine where the woods are locked in a deep winter silence.

At about one mile, the Jeffrey pines begin to overshadow the road. In another hundred feet or so, aspens and water birch appear, a sure sign in the Sierra of water.

Little Sherwin Creek drains the Sherwin crest towering to the southeast above Mammoth, crashing down from the stark, steep, unnamed granite peaks above Valentine Lake, then down to Mammoth Creek.

Cross Sherwin Creek at about 1.3 miles and keep heading southeast, through the sweet, open Jeffrey pine forest.

The road winds and meanders a bit, passing by aspen groves protecting Sherwin Creek Campground to your left.

The silence here, on a calm and windless day, is perfect. The views though the sparse forest to the south show the big bulk of Bloody and Laurel mountains far above you.

Keep skiing through the trees for another mile or so, passing the sign to Valentine Lake and the private camp for children near the trailhead to Valentine. You are now about two miles from the trailhead back near the propane tanks.

Ahead of you, the forest slowly begins to thin and open on the right, or south, where the base of Laurel Mountain dominates.

Keep an eye out on the right for the beginning of an extensive sage and meadow flat, hugging the base of Laurel Mountain. Keep skiing or walking until the forest gives way abruptly to sun-drenched open country. Far to the east, the White Mountains located all the way across Long Valley look suddenly close enough to touch.

To your right, Laurel’s head is out of sight and lower ridges dominate the skyline, cresting up to meet the sky.

To your left and directly behind you, the view stretches back to Mammoth Mountain and the very tips of the Minaret range.

Keep skiing, heading for the long run of white road and meadow leading to U.S. 395, which here is still far out of sight and sound.

At about three miles, a small cabin surrounded by aspens catches your eye at the base of Laurel. Set against the banks of a small stream cascading down the mountain, the cabin belongs to some lucky being, a small piece of heaven surrounded by paradise. It’s private property, but it’s fun to dream!

Keep skiing east as the little creek parallels, then crosses under, the road, keeping you company as you glide. When the creek crosses the road again, you have reached the open country just east and north of Laurel ponds and about a half mile from the highway.

This is a good place to turn around and return to the trailhead as you will soon hear and see the highway. Or, if you left another car down the road where the Sherwin Creek road hits the highway, pick up your shuttle car there.

Getting there: Take Old Mammoth Road south toward The Stove and Mammoth Creek. As soon as you cross the creek, take a sharp left on Sherwin Creek Road. Follow it about one third of a mile to the parking area near the propane storage tanks. Head roughly southeast past the big propane tank gated entry, following the traces of the road over a berm of snow that normally stops vehicles. Then, follow the road all the way to U.S. 395 or as far as you wish to go.

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