On the Trail: The Undiscovered Country

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 – now expected at any time – the road turns into a smooth easy cross country ski route that has a wild and lovely feel. It is a great, easy ski close to town, one that few people seem to use, preferring the more crowded, groomed ski trails near Shady Rest and Tamarack.

All we can say about that is – it’s their loss!

Lined with deep forest for part of its four-mile length and with open meadows the rest
of the way, the route is made sweet with the sound of bird- song and the scent of juniper and pine and Red fir.

In just a few, short, easy miles, you can ski through deep forest, then round the bend into wide-open sunlit meadows where you can see across the meadows to a couple of old, sienna and burnt umber-colored wood cabins nestled against the mountains.

This ski is made even better because it could also be a one- way, four-mile ski to another shuttle car parked on U.S. 395 at the junction of Sherwin Creek Road and U.S. 395, should you so choose.

So, let’s get started.

The ski starts at the trail- head parking lot to the Sherwins, where the big propane tanks are located.

Leave the vast majority of the bustle and noise behind at the trailhead, but be prepared for some snowmobile activity on this route even when it is closed to cars. We have found the traffic to be minimal, even in busy seasons.

Head southeast on the old Sherwin Creek Road, still visible through the snow (until the snow gets above five feet deep) 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.

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 Sherwin Lakes, then crashing down to Mammoth Creek.

Cross little Sherwin Creek on the road’s bridge 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 southeast, 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 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 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 Park West. 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 large parking area on the left, near the huge propane storage tanks. Head away from the snowmobilers and south, following the dim traces of
the road east and south, over what can be a large berm of snow once the road is closed to vehicles.