Hockett Trail: Cottonwood Creek Revisited

Old trail accounts from the Sierra Club Bulletin appear to indicate that the old Hockett Trail may have followed Little Cottonwood Creek.

Back in January 2009, I posted a brief discussion on a letter or note in Volume III of the Sierra Club Bulletin, dated 1899–1900. I think a passage from that letter calls for some reconsideration:

From Round Valley down to where it leaves the Little Cottonwood the old Hockett Trail is almost untraveled. The shorter route now in use leaves the valley at the lower end, drops over the Big Cottonwood, descends this past an old sawmill, and crosses to the Little Cottonwood, which it reaches about fifty yards below where it rejoins the old trail, at the foot of the Devil’s Ladder.

E. B. C., Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. III., No. 2, May 1900

This apparent “letter to the editor” describes a new trail, more commonly traveled than the “old Hockett Trail.” The letter implies that the old trail went from Round Valley (below Trail Pass) to Little Cottonwood Creek, followed and then left the Little Cottonwood, perhaps, not far from where Horseshoe Meadows Road crosses the Little Cottonwood today.

The new trail described by the correspondent appears to follow a similar route, but perhaps a bit lower. The old Stevens sawmill (AKA Cottonwood Sawmill) was located where the Cottonwood Canyon trail meets Horseshoe Meadows Road today. This appears to indicate that Horseshoe Meadows Road follows the new trail along Cottonwood Creek to the sawmill site and continues to follow the new trail across the mountainside to Little Cottonwood Creek, where it climbed 50 yards to the old Hockett Trail.

The new and old trails could not have been far apart. “E.B.C.” may be implying that the old trail proceeded north from Round Valley, followed a course upstream similar to today’s Cottonwood Lakes Trail, cut eastward across the creek, and then followed a course similar to the Little Cottonwood Creek Trail. It might be that such a relatively indirect route could have been laid out to avoid the rugged terrain of Cottonwood Canyon.

E.B.C.’s account appears to have been corroborated by Hubert Dyer’s 1893 account in the Sierra Club Bulletin, which he described with a westward orientation from the Little Cottonwood Creek crossing:

The one following up the east bank of the stream [Little Cottonwood] leads over a low divide between Little and Big Cottonwood, and brings one finally to the last named.

Sierra Club Bulletin, vol. 1 (1893–96), pg. 3

East of the Little Cottonwood, E.B.C. mentions “the foot of the Devil’s Ladder.” This is odd language, considering that the new trail likely met the old trail near the Little Cottonwood at an elevation of about 9,400 feet. How could one be at the “foot” of anything there? E.B.C. must have used the word foot to mean the beginning of the great descent, AKA “Hockett Hill.”

For more on the Hockett Trail, please see my book, The Hockett Trail: 1863 to Present.

©2022 Kaweah (Dan Jensen)

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