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CITY SLICKERS NEED NOT APPLY ROCK CREEK A QUIET, SNOW-LOVERS GEM.

Byline: BILL BECHER

No cars. No noise, except the wind rustling the snow-flocked treetops and the creek's gentle murmur. Mountain views, starry nights and lots of snow to ski and snowshoe. Fantastic food. Backcountry huts.

The Haute Route in the Alps? Nope, it's Rock Creek Lodge in the Eastern Sierra.

This is not the kind of place you stumble upon. You take Highway 395 through the Owens Valley toward Mammoth Lakes. About 24 miles north of Bishop, you turn off at Tom's Place, then drive 8 miles on the paved road to the parking area at the ``Sno-Park.''

Here you are met by a snowmobile and taken the last 2 miles to the lodge. If you are staying at the dorm or want more exercise, you ski in.

Jan Huffstutler, who manages the lodge year-round, says people come to Rock Creek in winter ``to leave their cars behind and come where there's no city lights and they can breath clean air.''

Huffstutler prepares gourmet meals and fresh-baked bread for guests staying at the lodge and an increasing number of locals who ski in (and out by headlamp) or take the easy way with the snowmobile pickup and return.

One night's menu included butternut squash soup, fresh-baked honey-wheat bread, garden salad, Southern-style barbecue ribs with homemade sauce, roasted potatoes with garlic and apple pie a-la-mode for desert.

Huffstutler, who has been a backcountry cook and mule wrangler, kicked oven in last year's Inyo, Mono and Alpine Tri-County fair, receiving a first place medal for her chili-cheese bread.

The lodge offers ``modern'' cabins with bath, less expensive cabins with a shared central bath, and dorm accommodations for the budget-minded. The hearty breakfasts and dinners are included.

All of the lodge properties are heated by a wood stove. The wood is harvested on site, from trees damaged by bark beetles. It's a big project - about 30 cords of wood a year are used. There's even a wood-fired Finnish sauna, claimed to be the highest in the U.S. We managed to make a sauna out of our cabin by piling on the wood the first night. Just open the door and it cools off fast.

The lodge grooms 15 kilometers of cross-country ski trail. There's no charge to use the trails, even for those not staying at the lodge. The trails include some shorter flat loops and a longer climb to Rock Creek Lake and Mosquito Flats.

We skied the 3 miles (and up about 1,000 feet) to Mosquito Flats trailhead, on the border of the John Muir Wilderness. From here you can ski or snowshoe into the Little Lakes Valley. A backcountry hut is available for rent for those who want to use it as a base to tele or randonee ski the backcountry.

Because the Rock Creek canyon runs north and south, instead of the east- west more normal in the Sierra, snow tends to stick on the north-facing bowls, making this a great place for backcountry ski adventures - just bring an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel if you venture beyond the groomed trails.

And leave your car behind.

IF YOU GO

--Rock Creek Lodge (about a five- or six-hour drive from L.A.) offers 14 different cabins, one dorm-style facility and one backcountry hut for rent by the night. Eight cabins have bathrooms and hot showers ($120 per night). Six cabins ($95 per night) and the dorm ($70 per night) remain rustic - guests use the central shower and restroom building. All have wood stoves for heat and plenty of wood is provided. Rates are per person and include breakfast and dinner, transportation to and from the lodge by snowmobile, trail use and all taxes. Not included are lunches, ski rentals, and Sno-Park permit ($5 per day).

--The Mosquito Flats Hut ($27 per night) is open for self-guided adventurers. Included is wood, fuel, stoves, cooking utensils and chairs. You provide food, padding and sleeping bags.

--Rock Creek Lodge is open all year. For reservations, call (877) 935-4170 or e-mail info(at)rockcreeklodge.com. Call or visit www.rockcreeklodge.com for more information. No pets.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1) no caption (winter lodge covered in snow)

(2) Isolated Rock Creek lodge attracts guests who enjoy leaving city life behind.

(3) no caption (2 people on a snowmobile)

Photos by Bill Becher/Special to the Daily News

Box:

IF YOU GO (see text)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 5, 2004
Words:734
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