Our favorite hike around Pinecrest Lake passes the trail junction to a very famous swimming hole on the Stanislaus River, Cleo's Bath. The summer before last I tried to find it, but the river was a raging torrent and I figured I missed Cleo's because it was under 10-20 feet of water. Well, no. Here's the rest of the story.....
After an early stop at Andy's in Miwok to fortify ourselves with Cinnamon Rolls for the day ahead, we (Super Nephews S and G and me) arrived at Pinecrest. It was a lovely morning hike around the lake to the trail junction to Cleo's bath. Not far along we met a group of backpackers heading up the trail. Like a complete dummy I told them I had missed Cleo's on my hike the summer before. They said, no, the trail ENDS at Cleo's.
That should have been my first clue, but we continued happily on our way. Intrepid explorers!
The river is barely running now, waiting for winter to be replenished. G led the way around many wind falls. The trail is mostly a gradual climb. Ummm, I remember all of this, but where is Cleo's? Not far ahead the river flows over a steep mountain. When it's really roaring the water falls are visible way down the trail. I said to S, Cleo's can't be up there, I'm not climbing that mountain!
The trail guides warn to expect some boulder hopping. I assumed that meant 'horizonal' boulder hopping, as in from the trail over to the river. No problem! What soon became clear even to me was the the boulder hopping would be VERTICAL!
This was fast becoming a great adventure to S and G; not so much for me, but there was no turning back. G scrambled ahead and then waited to help me up the many crevices that passed for a trail.
Lucky for us there were strategically placed ducks (piles of rocks) to mark the way; along with some faded green spray painted arrows on the granite. (I know, it's bad to spray paint granite; still I was grateful!). We climbed for what seemed like an hour, but in hind sight was probably only 15 or 20 minutes to a table with a great view back to Pinecrest. (It's that tiny blue dot in the middle of the pic!)
Finally there was the trail to the river. As expected, it was very low with virtually no flow. The green arrow (only appropriate!) marks what appears to be the normal water line. It was clear this would be a spectacular swimming hole earlier in the season. (That's Pinecrest again in the distance).
We weren't disappointed; it was fun to see the granite formations that would normally be under water. Looking up stream across the pool the water backs up into a narrow canyon.
Above the little canyon, the water falls steeply creating 'holes' in the granite as it swirls through. Most rivers in the high Sierra have these same holes and are the best fun to sit in on a hot day! And we even found a tiny trickle of water.
After some more exploring and a near miss with my walking stick (and G!) sliding off the slick rock, it was time to test the water. S sat on a rock dangling his feet, while G dived right into the pool. It was cold!
I'm wondering what the water temps are earlier in the season. It's down in the 30s at night now, so am guessing that's why the water in these small pools is so cold.
The hike up had taken longer than we expected and it was pushing lunch so we headed back down the trail. Surely it would be easier than the climb up! As S walked under a very cool balanced rock, it sorta looks like a dinosaur peaking over the mountain.
Climbing back down the steep section, G and S were a great team. Two rocks created a squeeze too narrow to pass wearing a pack, so G passed them down to S. And then waited to help me down too!
This was really the hardest climbing I have done for a long, long time. Lots of lifting with arms and long reaches with legs. It's not for a solo hiker. Or for dogs. The depth perception is lost in the pics; just try to imagine a 8 - 10 foot drop here.
It was 1 pm by the time we hit the junction at the lake trail. G decided to run back. S stuck with me for awhile but then took off too. Couldn't blame them, Grandma and Auntie were waiting at the picnic area with sandwiches, chips and cookies!
And that's the rest of the story.