If you don’t like heights or walking on a narrow metal grid on top of a flume as it crosses over deep draws, this hike probably is not for you.
Where: Sierra National Forest, Brown’s Ditch is owned and operated by PG&E
Distance: 4.89 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 3,439′ – 3,780′
Date: December 29, 2016
Maps: Ahwahnee & Little Shuteye Topographic Quad Maps
Dog Hike? Probably not, but there is a possibility if your dog is a good fit
I headed up Hwy 41, right on the Bass Lake Road/Road 222, then headed up the left fork as it reach Bass Lake up Malum Ridge Road/Road 274 to Central Camp Road. We parked at the wide dirt pullout on the right side and across the street from Central Camp Road, then started walking up Central Camp Road. We had a nice view looking out toward the valley.
At about .9 miles, we followed the gated dirt road that took off to the right. The dead bug trees in this area had been cut and spur roads took off of it several times but we stayed on this “main” road.
We spotted something down by the creek and walked down, then along a grid walkway to a monitoring station.
Steve spotted one of the down logs that had really good growth at the beginning of its life.
We continued walking down the road, crossing the Browns Ditch a couple of times.
This is probably a good time to share a little about the history of Bass Lake. BassLakeCa.com has the following short history on their website.
A hundred years ago Bass Lake was not a lake at all, but a lush meadow surrounded by pine tree covered hills and mountains. Chuckchansi Indians have inhabited the area for Thousands of years. The Mono Indians came to the area about 200 years ago. A detachment of the Mariposa Battalion came across the valley in 1851 shortly after their discovery of Yosemite Valley. After observing flocks of what they thought were Sandhill Cranes, they decided to name the large meadow area Crane Valley. The large grey-blue birds were actually Great Blue Herons which still populate the area. Through Crane Valley flowed Willow Creek, a tributary of the San Joaquin River. In 1895, a plan was devised to use the waters of Willow Creek to generate hydroelectric power for residents of the great San Joaquin Valley.
The San Joaquin Electric Company was formed and the first earthen dam was built in Crane Valley in 1901. Mule-drawn freight wagons carried machinery and supplies up the mountain and went down loaded with timber that had been cleared from the reservoir site.
In 1902 the San Joaquin Light & Power Corporation was formed to purchase the electric company and later the electric operations of the rival gas company. The dam was enlarged in 1905 and the present Dam was built in 1910 (145 feet high).
The lake was called Crane Valley Reservoir for many years but the name was eventually changed when a small Bass Lake lumber operation polluted the lake, killing all the fish that were in it. The lumber company was ordered by the government to replace all the fish that were lost. The chosen fish was Bass, hence the new name – Bass Lake.
Bass Lake is now owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the waters of the lake are still used today to generate electricity, irrigate farmland in the Central Valley and for numerous recreational activities. The lake is considered a “warm water” lake with water temperatures reaching near 80 degrees during the summer months. (written by USFS)
Bass Lake was completed in 1910 to protect property down stream. Now it generates 27 megawatts of power through 5 downstream power houses and is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric. It has developed into major resort and recreation facility. This lake features year round full contact with boating, personal water craft, fishing & water sports.
At about 2.3 miles, we reached the location where the water is diverted out of the creek to Browns Ditch. Looking very closely at the map and I mean real close, I am not sure whether to say this point is Browns Creek or the South Fork of Willow Creek. About .8 miles above this point, Browns Creek and Sand Creek meet and the lower portion below the intake is clearly marked as the South Fork of Willow Creek, but when I reviewed older Topog Maps, this stretch starts to deviate from either being called Sand Creek or left with no name in that stretch until after the 1953 Topog Map when it is starting to show up with the name of South Fork of Willow Creek.
We reached the point where the water is diverted out of the creek into Brown’s Ditch but the water was not diverted on this day and those waters continued into the South Fork of Willow Creek, into Willow Creek then into the San Joaquin River.
Browns Ditch has been in use many years and I located some historical documents related to it. One reference said that it was added when the Bass Lake Dam was enlarged in 1910 but here are a few more tidbits:
March 1913: The Brown Creek flume leading into the Crane Valley reservoir from Brown Creek has just been rebuilt under the supervision of Engineer Emil Newman. Mr. Newman and his men are now repairing conduit No. 1 by raising the core wall and cleaning out the ditch. The Midway flume is to be raised to a 2 per cent grade and a new concrete dam is to be built at its intake to Power House No. 1.
The middle of the month Miller, Newman and Elmer Sales left for Camp Whiskers on a bear hunt, to be gone until the first of the year, and all of the boys in this part of the country are anxiously awaiting to find out what the hunt will bring forth. The boys took along a complete camp outfit together with traps for coyotes and foxes, and they expect to bring home some bear skins if any of the rovers can be discovered in that part of the country. Reports of bear and big game in the vicinity of Camp Whiskers had reached them, which fact was responsible for the excursion and the boys in the power houses are living in anticipation of many thrilling tales to be heard while pipes are burning during leisure hours. (San Joaquin Power Magazine: Volume 1)
May 19, 1920: Brown’s Creek Ditch will be built, diverting 14 square miles of watershed into Crane Valley. (Journal of Electricity, May 19, 1920)
February 8, 1921: With the rebuilding of Brown’s Creek Flume, which was burned out a number of years ago, the South Fork will be diverted into the Crane Valley reservoir where it will be more valuable, being available through three more plants than at present. (Power: Power Generation, Transmission, Application and Their, Volume 58 No. 6)
We started along Browns Ditch, an elevated flume with a narrow metal grid in the spots where you had to walk on top of the flume. I wasn’t real wild about walking on top if I didn’t have to. If you don’t like walking on a foot wide meal grate on top of the flume, elevated at many times as it crosses draws, you can walk along side or under the flume for most of the way. It won’t be an easy feat though. I tried but a few places I just had to walk the grate because it was too steep to go down in the gully. Doing this pushed my comfort level but I survived.
The last stretch of our hike led us through an old burn.
The final stretch of the flume on the way back to our car.
Brown’s Ditch is owned by PG&E and you will see No Trespassing signs at the diversion point. Didn’t want you to be surprised if you get to that point and see those signs. If you don’t have good balance, don’t like heights, or don’t like the uneven grate in places, this is not the hike for you. If you do this one, also watch out for bolts in the grate that are higher or exposed every once in a while. If you don’t pay attention to these, you could trip on them.
Dog Hike? I would not take Sally on this hike. There are many places that you would have to walk your dog on the metal grate and most dogs would not like this. If I had my dog on leash, I wouldn’t want her to pull me as I walked the grate because there are no guardrails to hang onto and you would probably fall, which could be real bad. There are places where you could let your dog off leash and they could run down the gulches and get back with you. There are a couple of tough spots where this would not be a good idea for most dogs though. In warm weather, there are also rattlesnakes in the area. Saying all of this, we met a man walking his dog on the grate as we reached the end and his dog seemed to be doing just fine. I would not take Sally on the flume in a million years, just saying.
Map and Profile:
San Joaquin Power Magazine: Volume 1, March 1913
Journal of Electricity, May 19, 1920
Power: Power Generation, Transmission, Application and Their, Volume 58 No. 6, February 8, 1921, P211
Prior Blogs in the Area: