A Carson Iceberg Wilderness Adventure
Have you ever had those adventures that sit on your list to do’s, but for whatever reason, they never get done? Bagley Valley in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness is becoming such an adventure for me. Not a very well know recreation area, the Carson Iceberg Wilderness and Bagley Valley has no effortless access. Every trail takes distance and steps to achieve, which in my mind, makes it a destination that just needs to be seen and experienced.
Yet here I was again this weekend with all the intention to hike the 6 miles in – 6 miles out roadway into Bagley Valley from Heenan Lake off Monitor Pass, only to be foiled again by lack of proper planning and one ill-fated decision that cost me hours, and motivation.
The Bagely Valley
In 2018 By Judy Warren-Wickwire wrote this record of the Bagley Valley for the Friends of Hope Valley.
Bagley Valley was included in the land purchase when Hope Valley was acquired in 1983 through the efforts of The Friends of Hope Valley. This little-traveled dirt road into Vaquero Cow Camp in Silver King Valley is rich in historical value for Native Americans and Anglos. 10,000 years of Native American camping and trade routes with the eastern side during the summer make this area a significant part of Alpine County history. The old freight wagon road went through this area to Antelope Valley and Bodie during the 1860s. Monitor Pass did not exist until the 1940s. The Dangberg Land and Cattle Company took over the area in the early 1900s and started to develop the meadows into pastures for their cattle and sheep. These summer ranges were a vital part of the Dangberg organization. Heenan Lake Dam was improved several times. A siphon was piped over the hill into Bagley Valley to augment the springs and clever ditch system George McAllister, range manager, developed over 40 years. His crew built 3 log cabins near the old Koenig bunkhouse at Vaquero Camp. They also built the red brick line cabin just down the hill from Heenan Lake. The years have not been easy on the old bunkhouse, and several supporting fixes have been made to ensure the building withstood the winters.
Access to the Bagley Valley
You can reach the Bagley Valley via three access points. The most common is the 6-mile hike from Heenan Lake via the road to Vaquero Camp. The Shortest route is parking at the High Route trailhead in Wolf Creek and hiking into Grays Crossing. For backpackers, the best route might be coming in from the Walker California side Snodgress Creek Trail into the Silver King Creek and following Silver King Creek into Vaquero Camp on into Bagley Valley.
Heenan Lake Access
Today road access is blocked off at Heenan Lake, and a parking area for recreationists to hike and mountain bike into the Valley from Heenan Lake is maintained.
In the Valley, visitors will find the joining of two rivers, the Silver King River and the East Fork of the Carson River, coming from their headwaters deep in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
My first glimpse of Bagley Valley and Vaquero Camp was back in 2019 when my friend and I hiked the Carson Iceberg Wilderness High Route and looped along the river in a very long day hike. The Valley stood out against the dry and baron high desert landscape, and I found myself drawn to it at various points on our trip, wondering what secrets it might hold.
Several springs feed the Valley seasonally, creating a green landscape inviting to all sorts of wildlife at the base of the surrounding peaks. The Carson River and Silver King Creek provide visitors with water and fishing habitat. The Silver King Creek corridor is a native home of the Cutthroat trout. Bear and Mountain lions roam these parts, and the fields are full of deer and various other food sources.
Continuation of my weekend trip
So here I was Monday with a full day of plans to experience this valley hike. Showing up at Heenan Lake, I suspected I could easily cross over the dam after learning the roadway into the trailhead had been washed out by the winter runoff. However, the lake level is also high enough that the spillway was active, and crossing it with our dog and party seemed ill-advised at the time. So we made a choice to walk the Eastern road around the lake in hopes of finding an easy trail across the back of the lake to the road into Bagley Valley.
This road is a great little day hike that leads you around the east side of the lake into an open range stable at the base of an excellent aspen grove with running water all year round from off monitor pass. I traditionally go here for a fall hike to see and experience the colors in the Valley. But until today, I had never tried to cross the back side of the lake over to the West side road.
You might think that a trail around this popular fishing lake would be expected, but not only could we not locate a route, but the runoff from the snowpack made for a sloppy muddy path through a very thick half mile of sagebrush-covered ground. I have done a lot of off-trail hiking, but I can tell you this little trip was a chore, and with our party, it was predominantly a mental challenge as we ran into very fresh bear scat, found multiple ticks on our persons and dogs and found ourselves in mud-soaked shoes most of the trek.
Once we reached the other side, the party was over for the group, and I could only venture a short distance down the road to once again peak into the Bagley Valley from afar, knowing that I would have to plan better next time to accomplish this trek.
Looking back on it today, I guess we didn’t make a wrong decision. The circumstances and planning of our trip could have been better. Ultimately we choose safety in our first decision and adventure for our second. We still spent a day together exploring the sierra, which is always beautiful.
Photo Credits: Hero Image : Brandon Pankey all other images by Charlie Pankey