Little Hunter Canyon
By: Steve Smith
Little Hunter Canyon is inside the recently designated Inyo Mountains Wilderness and is shown on the Craig Canyon 7.5 map. It is located immediately south of Hunter Canyon and is a relatively minor canyon compared to the other eastside Inyo Canyons. Its drainage starts at about 5,000' along the eastern side of the Inyo Mountains below New York Butte and drops steeply down to 1,600' where it ends at the western edge of Saline Valley.
A fairly good dirt road extends about one mile up to mouth of Little Hunter Canyon from the Saline Valley County Road. This roadhead is the starting point of the historic Hunter Canyon Trail which is also the initial six mile segment of the 40 mile Lonesome Miner Trail.
Friends of the Inyo Wilderness volunteers Tom Budlong, Wendell Moyer and Shane Smith joined with me for a two day backpack to descend Little Hunter to inventory its resource values. Since the Hunter Canyon Trail crosses the top of Little Hunter, we had a short first day backpacking up the trail and used the second day to descend the canyon. Starting from the roadhead at 1,600', the trail route goes along the south side of the canyon bottom for about .25 mile. At this point, it leaves the canyon by switchbacking up 400' to get on top of the ridge running along the south side of the canyon.
We followed the trail up to the tent platforms at 3,900' which was our campsite. This is an exceptional site for camping where miners built a 20'x 80' level rock ledge which offers a panoramic 180 degree view of Saline Valley. There are three historic 10'x10' wood flooring tent platforms which provide a unique surface for campers. We carried a register box to this point for hikers using the trail to sign in and help us document area use. A future project is needed to stabilize the wooden flooring which is starting to come apart. A little work now to assure they are all nailed down and replace the few missing floor boards would help assure this interesting historic feature remains.
On the second day, we backpacked up the trail to where it crosses the upper Little Hunter Canyon drainage at 4,800' and began our descent. The canyon is steep with loose rock most of the way. There were no sections we could not downclimb in getting back down to where we intersected the trail in the lower canyon bottom.
There was no surface water or indications of any historic activities in the canyon. At 2,800' we encountered a nice 100' vertical waterfall. Since we had our rock climbing gear, we rappelled it for practice but there was a bypass scree slope around the south side.
Getting back to the roadhead at 1,600', we spent several hours doing maintenance work on the first .25 mile of trail. There is thick brush at the start which we cut back so that hikers can now easily follow the proper route. We put in several trail direction signs including one at .25 miles where the trail leaves the canyon bottom. At the start, the trail crosses about 75' of wet surface and a good future project would be to build a wooden walkway to keep hikers from breaking up the soft surface.
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