Highland Lakes from Tyron Peak on the Pacific Crest Trail Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney: Your Backpacking Guide to the High Sierras Ebbetts Pass in the afternoon
Boulder Creek drainage off the West Sierra.
Highland Lakes
Boulder Creek drainage off the West flank of the Sierra Crest links the PCT with the TYT.
Ebbetts Pass

 

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Backpacking
Boulder Lake Junction
to the
East Carson River Trail

Hiking
The Pacific Crest Trail
between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass

 

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Guide Index Highway 4
to
Highway 108
North
Murray Canyon
to
Boulder Lake Junction
South
East Carson River
to
Sonora Pass

7.5 Topo Maps Boulder Lake
to
Sonora Pass

30 min Map Ebbetts Pass
to
Sonora Pass
Ebbetts Pass
to
Sonora Pass

MILES
AND
ELEVATIONS
ALL TOPO MAPS
EBBETTS
TO
SONORA

Resupply
North:
Lake Alpine
.
South:
Kennedy Meadows

National Forest:
Toiyabe
&
Stanislaus

All Sierra Weather

Regional Sierra Weather

all maps index

The Boulder Lake Trail Junction
on the
Pacific Crest Trail

Hike West to the TYT:
Boulder Lake Trail on the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River to the PCT

Boulder Lake trail junction decorated by the local Bears.
Boulder Lake trail Junction.

Cranky Bears?

Arriving at the Boulder Lake trail junction puts us over two-thirds of the way South from Ebbetts to Sonora Pass.

The trail pointing West from the Boulder Lake trail junction along the Pacific Crest Trail brings us a short 2.74 miles Southwest to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail along the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus.

This trail could bring us down to the TYT at the point where the Southbound TYT deteriorates as it climbs to approach the Clarks Meadow, then disappears into route status for the final segment of the hike from Clarks Meadow to Saint Marys Pass.

This junction offers fit, strong, and well skilled backpackers hiking South on the Pacific Crest Trail an alternative route over the Tahoe to Yosemite Route to Highway 108 that is much quieter, and much more challenging than the well maintained and heavily used route to Sonora Pass along the PCT.

This TYT alternative route to Highway 108 is only recommended for experienced backpackers in strong physical condition capable of route finding, that is navigating without aid of trail, ducks, or blazes..

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map
Boulder Lake PCT to TYT
15 minute hiking map

Continuing South on the PCT we are three miles from reaching the unmarked trail junction where the unmaintained trail coming up the East fork of the Carson River joins the PCT.

There's a nice campsite a short ways down the unmarked East Carson Trail above the East Carson River, and a nice camp before we drop down there located behind "The Plug."

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Boulder Lake Trail Junction
to the
East Carson River

Basic Facts

Topo Hiking Maps

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map
Boulder Lake PCT to TYT
15 minute hiking map

Miles and Elevations
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
Pacific Crest Trail Miles and Elevations

Boulder Lake junction is 3 miles North of the East Carson River trail on the PCT

 

The Boulder Lake junction is 17.71 miles South of Ebbetts Pass on the PCT

The Boulder Lake junction is 11.73 miles North of Sonora Pass on the PCT

 

The Boulder Lake junction on the TYT is 2.74 miles West of the Boulder Lake Junction
on the PCT

INDEX
On this page

Boulder Lake Trail Junction: Connector to the TYT (below)

 

Boulder Lake Trail Junction: Mapping Notes

 

Dead Pond

 

Behind "the plug"

 

Creek Campsite

Weather
and
Road Information

Point Forecasts

Nat Weather Service
Sonora Pass

Ebbetts Pass

Regional Forecasts

NWS
West Slope

NWS
East Flank

Sonora Pass
Regional Weather Information

Ebbetts Pass
Regional Weather Information

All
High Sierra Weather Resources
Real Time Ground Reporting Stations

Ebbetts Pass
Reporting Station

Stanislaus Meadow
reporting station

Bear Valley
reporting station

Sonora Pass Bridge

Poison Flat
Reporting Station

All Ground Reporting Stations

MesoWest N Calif Stations

Calif Snotel

Road Conditions

Caltrans Highway 108

Caltrans Highway 4

Highway 108 and 4 Roadmaps

Big View
Radar

North California Radar

Big View
Space

Western US Satellite

All
Weather
and Fire Information

All High Sierra Weather Resources

Comprehensive High Sierra Fire and Smoke Information

Switchbacks

 

Video: Down the Switchbacks

 

Landmarks on the East Carson River unmaintained trail

 

Aspens at the bottom

 

East Carson Trail Junction

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Boulder Lake TYT
Forum

Boulder Lake PCT
Forum

Boulder Lake Trail Junction
to the
East Carson River

Basic Facts,
Lay of the Land

Around Boulder Peak
Hiking South from the Southern Sharkfin (peak 9501) on the Southern side of Golden Canyon we push East for a very short distance to get a fine overlook of the East Carson River before turning 180 degrees to the West to begin circling around the South and Southwestern flanks of Boulder Peak.
We making a brief visit to the Western flank of the Sierra around Boulder Peak before we return to hiking along the Eastern edge overlooking the fantastic granite canyon of the East fork of the Carson River.
We're swinging into and climbing out of Western flank of the Sierra around Boulder Peak for the first time on the West flank since our brief descent from Tyron Peak to Wolf Creek, but this time for an even shorter visit. But, crossing Boulder Creek running down the West flank of Boulder Peak provides great shade, great tasty cold fresh water, and a couple of really nice campsites.

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Up and Down the Sierra Crestline
Hiking South from Wolf Creek we have been following along the Eastern side of the massive volcanic ridgeline of the Sierra crestline topped by Arnot and Disaster Peaks. South of Disaster Peak there's a break in the series of massive volcanic mountaintops atop huge volcanic massifs running South.
This break in the crestline is composed of the relatively small bulk of Boulder Peak and two low granite ridges running West off the this short length of "diminished" Sierra Crestline before Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks, running North and South sitting atop a huge shared massif resume the pattern of us hiking along a Sierra Crestline composed of a series of volcanic massifs.

This pattern has held true since passing South of Carson Pass. We first crossed The Nipple Massif, then the Raymond and Reynolds Massif, down to the Tyron Peak Massif, and on down to our current position between massifs.

We will cross the last of this series of massive volcanic massifs stretching South from Carson Pass when we cross the Leavitt Massif South of Sonora Pass.

The 9393 foot granite mound of Boulder Peak is incongruous both because of its small size and girth (compared to the volcanic massifs North and South of it) as well as its granite composition when compared to the massive 11,000 foot+ crests of Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks, and their massive girth to our North, as well as the size and bulk of Boulder Peak to its South.

Boulder Peak is puny in comparison.

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Dynamic Terrain
This low granite gap in the volcanic crestline between Disaster and Stanislaus Peaks is a nice change, as was our taking a loop, however short it was, down along the Western Sierra flank around Boulder Peak.
Though we are again on the East flank of the Sierra hiking South of Boulder Peak and the Boulder Lake junction, and are hiking under the shadows of the massive volcanic forms of Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks to our West-Southwest, fantastic golden red hued granite walls are rising out of our East and Southeast making up the sheer walls of the East Carson River Canyon.
These granite formations appear dynamic, seeming to be in the middle of actively breaking out of, and free from their imprisonment under ancient volcanic flows. Though nothing appears to be moving to the naked eye, everything is moving.

This is one big piece of "emergent" granite, rising as the forces of erosion scour away its soft volcanic encasement one raindrop at a time.

Two Rivers, Two Trails
After circling around the West flank of Boulder Peak we find ourselves perched on a narrow sliver of forested granite ridge crest dividing and overlooking both the Eastern and Western drainages off of the Sierra Crest.
This narrow neck divides two great rivers draining the opposite flanks of this section of the Sierra Crest, the East Carson River to the East and the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus to the West. Therefore this ridge also divides the two great trails that follow these rivers, the PCT from the TYT.

A very short distance South down this strip of crestline from Boulder Peak we arrive at the Boulder Lake trail junction leading West down to the Clarks Fork.

The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is 2.74 miles below us to the Southwest via the Boulder Lake trail. This Boulder lake trail junction is the shortest connector trail of the four trails linking the PCT and TYT across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
At Highway 108 the PCT and TYT are a bit closer. The Pacific Crest Trail's North and Southbound Trailheads at Sonora Pass are about a mile East of the Northbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trail Trailhead at Saint Marys Pass.
The Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trailhead is nowhere near Sonora or Saint Marys Pass. The Southbound TYT continues South from a point nine miles West down Highway 108 at the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station road, then a mile down that road to the gate on the South end of the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. The trailhead into the Emigrant Wilderness is about a mile hiking South of the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station's South gate.

Boulder Lake is the closest point between the PCT and TYT along the trails themselves from the Lake Tahoe Basin, where these routes divided, to where their routes rejoin below Bond Pass in Jack Main Canyon.

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East and West Flanks
The drainage from the East sides of Arnot, Disaster and Boulder Peaks feed the East Carson River. The Western-sides of this line of peaks feed Disaster Creek and Boulder Creek, both of which contribute to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus.

This particular little piece of crestline is special because it is one of the rare places where we can actually stand between these Eastern and Western drainages hiking across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Tyron Peak and Wolf Creek Pass are the other two I can think of along the length of the trail between Ebbetts and Sonora Passes.
Hiking the PCT route across the North Sierra can be characterized as hiking the East flank of the Sierra. The Pacific Crest Trail route North from Dorothy Lake Pass to Carson Pass can be characterized by its Eastern flank route, despite the exceptions named above, especially if we compare it to the 100% Western flank route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.

Here at Boulder Peak to the Boulder Lake trail junction the PCT peeks into both the East and West drainages.

Hiking the PCT North or South of this short section from Boulder Peak to the Boulder Lake trail junction we will again be decidedly on the Eastern Flank of the Sierra.

South of the Boulder Lake trail junction we will be deep within the drainage of the East Carson River. Southbound hikers will remain on the Eastern flank of the Sierra, with a few notable exceptions, until we enter Yosemite National Park through Dorothy Lake Pass to enter the massive Western watershed of the Tuolumne River stretching across the whole North Yosemite Backcountry.
We'll be in the watershed of the Tuolumne River from where we enter Yosemite through Dorothy Lake Pass to where we exit its Southern limit through Donohue Pass.

Northbound hikers along the PCT from the Boulder Lake trail junction will also be hiking along the Eastern flank of the Sierra for 99% of our hike up to the Lake Tahoe Basin, again with a couple of notable exceptions (Tyron Peak, The Nipple above Blue Lakes, and the top of the Silver Fork of the American River drainage at Carson Pass), until we enter the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Continuing South from the Boulder Lake trail junction the Pacific Crest Trail brings us around the back side of "The Plug," a massive granite feature on the Western wall of the East Carson Canyon, then switch-backs us down to the East Carson River.
Dropping down to the East Carson river the Sierra crestline dividing us from the Clarks Fork now sits above us to our West, capped by Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks running North to South. To our East is the distinctive great wall of granite making up this section of the Eastern Wall of the East Carson River's Canyon.
Sonora Peak fills a central role in the local terrain. Sonora Peak sits at the top of two mighty drainages.
Sonora Peak's Northeastern flank composes the Southwestern sweep of the East Carson River's headwaters bowl, while Sonora Peak's Western flank makes up the Eastern perimeter of the East Carson River's headwaters bowl.
Climbing out of the East Carson River's headwaters bowl we have to get around Sonora Peak to get to Sonora Pass. We'll traverse up Sonora Peak's Eastern flank to traverse across its Southern flank to finally gain access down to Sonora Pass.

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Backpacking Loops
This little neck of narrow ridge separating the great East Carson and Clarks Fork South of Boulder Peak down to the Boulder Lake trail junction is special because it gives us the trail allowing us to link our Pacific Crest Trail route to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail which opens up great backpacking loops through the magnificent upper reaches of both the East Carson and Clarks Fork rivers.

The Boulder Lake trail linking these Eastern and Western drainages gives us easy access to the stunning high country up to and around the headwaters of both the Clarks Fork and the East Carson Rivers without having to hike too many miles.

Headwaters Loop Hard
A fantastic backpacking loop consists of hiking North from Sonora Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail to turn West at the Boulder Lake trail junction. We hike West past Boulder Lake down to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail along the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus. We hike up the Clarks ForkSouth over Saint Marys Pass to the Clarks Fork Trailhead on Highway 108.
This Pass to Pass hike is 23.52 miles.

That would be a difficult 23 mile backpacking loop because of the typical challenges of altitude and High Sierra terrain, but even more difficult because the segment up the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is unmaintained, and a segment of it is untrailed.

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Headwaters Loop Longer and Harder
We can hike variations of this loop out of the Clarks Fork Road trailheads that pump up the miles by enlarging the loop, and increasing the difficulty by throwing in an additional segment of unmaintained trail.

Imagine hiking North from Sonora Pass on the PCT down to the East Carson River Trail, just as in the first loop described above. But instead of hiking all the way down to the Boulder Lake junction we turn Right at the East Carson River unmaintained trail to find the route down to Carson Falls.
At Carson Falls we pick up maintained trail down to Murray Falls, from where we hike up to the PCT via the Murray Canyon trail.
From Murray Canyon we hike South on the PCT to the Boulder Lake trail junction, then West off the PCT to hike down to the TYT via Boulder Lake, and finish through the unmaintained section of the Clarks Fork over Saint Marys Pass to finish on Highway 108 at the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead as we did on the trip described above.

The first loop trip described above is a tough trip, but the second loop includes two of the toughest segments of unmaintained/untrailed backpacking trails in the North Sierra. The East Carson River Trail and the upper section of the TYT over Saint Marys Pass. These difficult unmaintained trails are not a joke.

These are two serious routes that require excellent fittness, observation, analysis, and route finding skills.

The Carson Iceberg topo hiking map traces out these routes, and is decorated with lots of other intriguing loops, if you use your imagination to see them.
From our position here at the Boulder Lake trail junction we can imagine loops who's Northern hemisphere circles the most challenging trails in the Southern Carson Iceberg Wilderness, while the Southern scope of this backpacking circle can be designed to sweep across the most beautiful high altitude terrain of the Emigrant Wilderness.

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The map below leaves little to the imagination in the Southern Carson Iceberg and Northern High Emigrant Wilderness:

Sonora Pass Region Backpacking Map
30 minute large-scale topo hiking map

The map above depicts a lot of terrain and accesses a lot of backpacking information. Most of the black-dotted trail routes on all the 30 minute hiking maps are linked to the detailed 15 minute backpacking maps of the locatin clicked. The red dots are linked to the trail guide report for the location marked.

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Continuing
our
Hike South on the Pacific Crest Trail

We have one more ridge line and one more drainage to cross South of the Boulder Lake trail junction before we pass around the West side, the backside of "the plug," the massive granite formation making up a section of the Western wall of the canyon big enough to pinch the course of East Carson River around its massive base twelve hundred feet below its crest.

Passing around its backside through a channel of forest to the South end of "the plug" we have a short hike South across exposed terrain before we begin switch-backing down to the East Carson River.
The USGS 7.5 topo map quadrangle appears to be inaccurate here. The switchbacks down to the river from the crest line appear to be situated further South of The Plug, AKA Peak 9065, than indicated on the map.
Unlike the map, the upper switchbacks down to the East Fork of the Carson River are centered on the creek, with the trail switchbacking across the creek multiple times before it runs out down to river level, rather than being composed of a couple of big traverses to the North of the creek as depicted on the USGS Disaster Peak quad.

Currently (2013) the switchbacks are centered on the steep four-season creek tumbling down the canyon-side.

Either the trail or the creek has moved since the maps were drawn. I'd say it was the trail that was repositioned...

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Once at the bottom of the switchbacks the Pacific Crest Trail becomes a a gentle descent for a short hike through dense swaths of spreading Aspens to the unmaintained East Carson Trail junction on the Southbound hiker's Left.

Don't Miss Carson Falls!
Future Trips...
The unmaintained East Carson River Trail turns Northeast off our upstream hike along the PCT following the East fork of the Carson River downstream to Carson Falls. Just South of Carson Falls we will find the Golden Canyon Trail leading West up to the PCT and just a bit North of Carson Falls the Murray Canyon Trail also climbs to the West to join the PCT.
These two junctions bracketing the Carson Falls offer additional options for our hiking loops through here, but I would not miss visiting Carson Falls.

I am one of the people who yearly duck the PCT-East Carson junction when I can first get through the route as the snows recede, and we can find the junction, but I do not duck the E Carson Trail itself.
Injury has knocked me out of the Spring opening of this rough trail in 2011 and likely 2012. Nonetheless this well-worn trail junction is easy to spot.

Two Campsites near the Trail Junction
There is an uneven site along the PCT at the trail junction, and a nearby stream runs past, but there is a much superior campsite overlooking the East Carson River about a hundred yards down the unmarked East Carson River Trail.

East Carson River Trail Junction
At 8160 feet the Pacific Crest Trail junction with the East Carson trail is the lowest point of our hike through the East Carson River drainage. Hiking either North or South from this point offers significant climbs. North up the switchbacks to the Sierra Crest line, and South up the steady climb to and through the low gap in the headwaters bowl of the East Carson I call the "East Carson Gap," to the next high Gap located crossing the Southeast corner of Sonora Peak high above Sonora Pass, which I call the "Sonora Gap."
The climbs in either direction from the East Carson River trail junction, the excellent water and break spot at the junction, and the fine campsite just down the East Carson River Trail from the junction make this an excellent spot to break or camp.

Hiking South on the PCT from the trail junction we face a 5.86 mile ascent up 2376 feet of elevation to the Sonora Gap at 10,500 feet, our highpoint on this section of the trail.
Another 2.88 miles South from the Sonora Gap brings us down into Sonora Pass at 9624 feet and to road access on Highway 108 where we can hitch a ride down to our next resupply spot at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station we will pick up our resupply package for the next section of trail down to Tuolumne Meadows.

The East Carson River trail junction to Sonora Pass: 8.74 miles

Staging Up for Resupply and Days Off
Since we will be hiking out to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station tomorrow I'd like to camp as close to Sonora Pass as possible to get to Kennedy Meadows as early as possible.
This means that I'm going to try to push South for another 2.63 miles climbing 1080 feet to the hidden campsite situated on the top of the last climb before entering the headwaters bowl, an excellent campsite I call "Hunters Camp."

Hunters Camp is 6.11 miles North of Sonora Pass, a distance we will cross before the Sun is far above the Eastern horizon, and before the steady trickle of Summertime traffic begins to flow over Sonora Pass.

We'll be getting to the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station before they stop serving breakfast.

Rest and Resupply Plan
I am going to take two days off at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. The first day is when I arrive, which will actually be a little more than a half-day off. But that's not enough. I want a full day without wearing a pack or doing any substantial walking. Shock and Strain free. I want to fully rest. I will spend a full second day doing absouletly nothing except sitting, eating, drinking, talking to cowboys, Joan and Mrs Bloom, Kennedy Meadows guests, various riders horse and iron horse, Sheryl and the ladies, and all the backpackers I see, of course.

Kennedy Meadows is a trail hub for all sorts of backpackers, hikers, hunters, horsemen, fisherfolk, families, and so on. I soak up the various aspects of trail culture on display at Kennedy Meadows, and share mine.

OK, you staged up?

I'm ready for a night at Hunters Camp and two at KM!

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MAP ISSUES
Boulder Lake trail junction
with the
Pacific Crest Trail

Boulder Lake Trail Junction

Map Anomoly
The upper segment of trail between Boulder Lake and the Boulder Lake trail junction on the Pacific Crest Trail was removed from Forest Service maps sometime between 1979, when this segment of trail was depicted on the Carson Iceberg Wilderness Forest Service Map, and the 2008 and 2009 maps, when it was not.

What It Means
Dropping a trail route off a map is generally indicative of the trail dropping off the the National Forest's maintainence schedule.
But it is unusual for a trail to be removed from maps without trace, as was this trail segment from Boulder Lake to the PCT. It would be more accurate to leave the marked trail route on the map, but change the route marking from those designating "Trail" to route markings designating "unmaintained Trail."
An example of this type of redesignation is visible on the 1988 Forest Service Mokelumne Wilderness Map. This map has the unmaintained segments of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail designated in black ink, rather than the red ink used for Maintained Trails.

Topo Maps Affected
2008 USDA Forest Service Map Stanislaus National Forest
2009 USDA Forest Service Map Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

Boulder Lake Junctions
and
Trails omitted

The posted trail junction pictured above at the East end of the trail connecting Boulder Lake to the Pacific Crest Trail has been omitted on the 2009 USDA Forest Service Map of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.
My 1987 version of this USDA Forest Service map and the 1979 USGS Disaster Peak 7.5 quadrangle both depict this trail.

Consulting Paper Maps Online's 2008 Stanislaus National Forest Map revealed the same status as on the 2009 Forest Service Map, that the upper length of trail from Boulder Lake East to the Boulder Lake trail junction on the PCT had been removed from both maps.

I hiked this segment of trail last during late October of 2011. Good trailbed moved East up the ravine from Boulder Lake between the low granite ridge arms radiating West from the low point in the Sierra Crestline where the junction is located on the PCT.

These low granite ridges on either side of us running West off of a low granite segment of the Sierra Crestline between and below the massive line of volcanic massifs running North and South of our position gives us a great access route onto the Sierra Crestline from the West.
Our trail East from Boulder Lake gradually transitions from quality long-term trailbed into faint trail the further away we hike from the lake, and dissapates for short distances across unstable terrain, mostly unstable from meadow growth and Spring Thaw damage. We easily find the route through these minor disruptions.

As we take our last steps approaching the PCT the trailbed has about dissapated into the forest floor among an outburst of growing young pines, lodgepoles I believe. This short segment of trail between Boulder Lake and the Boulder Lake junction on the PCT does not need a trail to be easily passable by anyone with the most fundamental hiking skills.

Keep it between the ridge arms and keep it pointed East and we will hit the PCT.

All we have to do is stay in the gully running up from Boulder Lake to the Sierra Crestline. You would have to work to get lost here, but I am sure somebody could make it happen...

Second Southern Route
between
Boulder Lake and the PCT

There is a second unmarked route from Boulder Lake to the PCT located a short distance South of the marked Boulder Lake trail junction. Hiking South from the Boulder Lake junction we make a low climb then descend West down to a stagnant black pond.
This pond is not marked on any of the maps, but has been there since the early 1990s. This pond is located where the maps indicate a trail junction is located for a Southern trail down to Boulder Lake.
Since I've never seen junction or trail at that location I interpret the difference between the map and the situation on the ground indicates that an unmaintained route down to Boulder Lake will be found on the West side of the pond.
This Southern route to Boulder Lake is also omitted from the 2008 and 2009 USDA Forest Service Maps, and also included on the 1979 USGS Disaster Peak 7.5 quadrangle.

Route Finding
This Southern trail to Boulder Lake is only indicated on old maps, and I have never seen a trail junction or trail at the location indicated on the old maps. To me this means that there is certainly a followable route down to Boulder Lake, but finding it may completely depend on your route-finding skills without the aid of trail, duck, or blaze.

This Southern route to Boulder Lake is longer, over more complex terrain, and requires we find the position to begin our traverse over to Boulder Lake. It is much more complex than the straight shot down to Boulder Lake from the Northern marked trail junction.

In Conclusion...
The 2008 and 2009 maps should have depicted both of these routes as unmaintained, rather than omitting them completely, or presenting them as maintained trails.

The Boulder Lake Trail from the marked trail junction along the PCT goes faint a few times on its way down to Boulder Lake, but it is a very easily follow-able route even when the trail diminishes.
The trail down to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail from Boulder Lake is well-trod. The Southern unmarked route down to Boulder Lake is invisible, and likely presents a moderate route-finding challenge.

Share your experiences here:

Boulder Lake TYT Forum
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The Boulder Lake Trail Junction

Break-time at Boulder Lake Trail Junction along the Pacific Crest Trail South of Boulder Peak.
Break at the Boulder Lake trail junction along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Another Sweet Spot along the Trail
At left my pack is resting on the Boulder Lake trail junction post. The Pacific Crest Trail runs North-South between our packs. Our view is looking South down the PCT. The trail West down to Boulder Lake proceeds out of the Right edge of the image.
The steep and deep canyon of the East Carson River is out of the Left edge of the image. Well, it is tapered at a moderate angle for a short distance before the edge of the cliff.

Boulder Lake PCT to TYT
15 minute hiking map
Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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Look West, High Sierra Hikers!

Boulder Creek trail West from the Pacific Crest Trail.
Boulder Creek trail West from the Pacific Crest Trail.

This is the forest around the unmaintained trail West from the marked Boulder Lake junction down to Boulder Lake.

It is not a difficult route to follow, and most of the trail down to Boulder Lake is visible.

From Boulder Lake a well maintained trail runs Southwest down to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail at Boulder Creek, which is upriver from the Clarks Fork Trailhead at the end of Clarks Fork Road. That would be about the easiest route I could think of to get us to the heart of the Sierra.

Call it 5.3 miles from the Clarks Fork Trailhead to the Boulder Lake trail junction on the PCT.

From Boulder Lake we follow Boulder Creek down the base of a ridge Southwest to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River. We can see that ridge through the canopy in the center of the image.

That ridge lays beyond Boulder Lake, and our route West to Boulder Lake will bend Southwest with that ridge down to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus.

Boulder Lake PCT to TYT
15 minute hiking map
Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

Trail Guide Page West
TYT to PCT Through Boulder Lake

Trail Guide Page

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Westward Ho!
View Down to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail

The view of the Boulder Creek drainage from a bit further North down the PCT, just before we hike South to the Boulder Lake trail junction, gives us an overview of the Boulder Creek/Boulder Lake drainage down to the Southwest that can help us discern the shape of the forest and the location of our trail to the TYT.

We're looking at the seams in the terrain that Boulder Creek traces out on its way down the West flank of the Sierra from our position on the Pacific Crest Trail down to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River.

The view above is looking down this canyon from ground-level at the trail junction on the Pacific Crest Trail. The picture below gives us an overview of this cool route connecting the PCT and the TYT from a bit North of the Boulder Lake trail junction.

The Trail from the PCT to the TYT follows the Logic of the Terrain

We are looking at the terrain the trail West from the Boulder Lake trail junction on the PCT crosses on its way down to Boulder Lake, and on to the Clarks fork of the Stanislaus River.

The trail from the PCT to Boulder Lake lays in the bottom of the ravine immediately below us, out of sight below the bottom edge of this image, descending from Left to Right, being East to West, across the whole width of this image.

Boulder Lake is located out of sight off the Lower-Right corner of the image above.

We cannot see where the trail from Boulder Lake continues on its way down to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus from Boulder Lake because Boulder Lake is hidden from our view out of the Lower Right corner of the image.

But we can see the rocky ridge extending halfway across the image from the middle Right edge of the image, descending Left to the center of the image. The trail from Boulder Lake down to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River runs along the base of that ridge.

Line up the image with the map to get a better overall context on the trail in the terrain:

Boulder Lake PCT to TYT
15 minute hiking map

The trail Southwest from Boulder Lake intersects with the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River at the base of the huge shadowed ridge descending from Left to Right, its base descending across the middle of the image.

The Clarks fork of the Stanislaus River flows West along the foot of that massive shaded ridge.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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South
on the
PCT
from the

Boulder Lake Trail Junction

The Lay of the Land

Around "The Plug"

We've got two more little climbs South of the Boulder Lake trail junction over the next granite ridge to our South before the Pacific Crest Trail flattens out passing behind "The Plug," and then switchbacks down to the East Fork of the Carson River just a short ways South of "The Plug."

From the Boulder Lake trail junction we have a short trail straight up the next Southern ridge, then the trail bends West off this ridgecrest traversing down its Southern flank to a dead pond.

At the dead pond we again turn South to make a gentle climb up to backpack around the backside of "The Plug," one of the dominant features that landmark this section of the trail.

"The Plug" is noted as Peak 8990 on the USGS 7.5 topo map.

I've called it "The Plug" since identifying this as an important local landmark while hiking up the unmaintained East Carson River Trail.
Identifying "The Plug," along with tracking our relationship to a set of unique ridgetop feature helps hikers on the unmaintained East Carson River Trail identify when they are approaching the ford over to the PCT.

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Granite

Hiking South on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Boulder Lake trail junction we turn around to look North.

The gully with the trail West down to Boulder Lake runs across the terrain between us and the low granite ridgeline running up to become part of the low granite Sierra Crest along this segment of trail.

Looking North across gully and trail down to Boulder Lake.

We hiked around the top of that ridge before dropping down to the Boulder Lake tral junction.

Granite again dominates the terrain. Passing South of the Southern Sharkfin granite began to emerge out of the red soils of volcanic terrain and has grown to dominate the terrain as we hike South.

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Looking North across the drainage holding the unmaintained trail down to Boulder Lake we take note of the South side of the ridge to the North between us and Boulder Peak.
South of the Boulder Lake junction, Pacific Crest Trail.

We are not only passing into granite terrain from the volcanic, but the unique colors, shapes, and jointing of the granite along the East Fork of the Carson River is amazing. It's proxitimy and interweaving within the surrounding granite terrain makes this are unique.

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Curious Rock Formation
Inclusions

Unique rock formation lays like a ribbon across granite, South of the Boulder Lake trail junction.
Excellent metamorphic rock combination.

A curious formation.

There's a similar formation of inclusions on the other side of the mountain on the TYT route along the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River.

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A closer look reveals a string of blocks sitting atop glacial carved granite.
Blocks on rock detail.

These rocks are different than the granite they sit upon, yet appear "original."

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An inclusion in the original granite pluton accessed by glacial carving, then exposed by thousands of years of weathering?
rock formation laid on carved granite.

Has subsequent erosion worked to separate and highlight this geologically exposed vein of included rock?

Check out the interesting inclusions I spotted along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail along the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River on the West side of Stanislaus Peak.

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Dead Pond & Southern Route down to Boulder Lake

Dropping Westward down the South side of Peak 8722 we come to a black pond. We continue dropping down to the the pond, where the trail again turns South to make the gentle climb around the backside of "the plug," Peak 8990.

Both the 1985 30 minute and 1977 7.5 maps show a trail junction at this position heading West down to Boulder Lake. There is no marked junction here, though it looks like a valid route either down to Boulder Lake or the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus could be found through the terrain beyond the pond.

I'll scout it out next time through this section.

Dead pond marks your turning point.

The black pond is not marked on the Disaster Peak USGS topo map. "Dead" or "Black" ponds are not fed by active streams. Thus they hold the runoff from the Spring Thaw until they finally dry out.

Have you hiked this route down to Boulder Lake from the PCT? Post up your experiences and impressions.

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Pacific Crest Trail Hikers

Hiking South past the black pond we climb up a short chute to access the backside of "The Plug." Chugging up this chute on my 2009 Tahoe to Whitney Trip I started to meet various Pacific Crest Trail hikers and other various long-distance and section backpackers heading North.

I ran into Becky, Kent, Radar, and Carly as they were coming down the chute and I was climbing up. We met where a little flat extended the trail, a convenient place to stop and chat for a moment.

  Becky and Kent.  
  Kent and Becky south of Boulder Lake Junction.  

Doing a quick weekend Sonora to Ebbetts Pass hike with their fine trail dogs.

Check out more local and PCT hiker contacts along this section of trail during a 2010 hike to check out the character of a big sample that year's PCT and local hikers.

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High Sierra Hiking Dogs

Good Dogs!

  Radar.       Carley.  
  Radar and Carley: Good trail dogs. Radar and Carley like to meet cool hikers.  
 

Trail dog watching nature while hanging out with the new guy.

Note my backpack. I have learned to take it off when I chat up hikers.

During 2000 I figured I should build this guide, and I began picking the brains of backpackers I meet along the trail. I started carrying a camera, and going off-trail for better shots...

Carley was more worked by the trail than radar.

 

Sierra Dogs Forum

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South of the Dead Pond.

Pacific Crest Trail hiker encounters, 2009, below.

Pacific Crest Trail hiker encounters, 2010.

Continuing South past Becky and Kent I encountered Riff-Raff and Ben & Jerry totally kicked back in a fine shady flat spot alongside the trail.

They were recharging their batteries, which had been severely tested by the 1000+ miles they had already hiked, including the last very difficult section between Tuolumne Meadows and Sonora Pass.

Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.

Riff-Raff and Ben & Jerry.
Riff-Raff and Ben & Jerry, Pacific Crest Trail.

Out of Ohio.

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Backside of The Plug

Passing around the backside of "The Plug' we encounter a fine campsite with great views and easy water.

MAP

Campsite near the top of the last rise behind "the plug."
Campsite South of Boulde rLake junction.

This campsite is located by the stream running North and Sough along the backside of "The Plug," AKA Peak 8990.

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Creek South of Campsite.
Water Source.

This is the upper section of the creek that drains of the West side of Peak 8990 where the PCT crosses.

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Views, Break Spots, and Backpackers on the backside of the The Plug

View Northeast through the trees.
View of East Carson River rock from Campsite South of Boulder Lake trail junction.

The East Carson River Gorge is more that the Eastern backdrop of this section of trail. It is the dominating feature.

We'll get another longer view of this whole face as we continue South and lose elevation.

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Road Dawg, Buffy, and Bill taking a break on the nice shaded flat behind The Plug.
Road Dawgs, Buffy, and Bill.

On a Sonora Pass to Ebbetts Pass trip. Note the fine campsite beyond.

Hikers out of the East Bay Area.

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Hiking South approaching the Switchbacks down to the East Carson River

Coming out from behind the plug we get a front view of the exotic rock formations on the South side of Peak 10440, on East side of the East Fork of the Carson River.
Majestic East Carson River granite formations.

The ridgeline in the background is rising towards Whitecliff Peak.

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View across and down East Carson River.
View across and down East Carson River.

This is the same structure we looked at across the canyon from the South side of Boulder Peak.

I really love the dynamic views of the rock here as our route rotates our views.

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Looking North down the East side of the East Carson River.
East Carson River granite beauty.

This is the head of the formation below Peak 10440.

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Carson Gap at the Head of the Canyon

To the South: Our Goal, The E Carson Gap.
The gap to Wolf Creek Lake in the distance.

We pass out of the East Carson River headwaters over to Wolf Creek Lake through this low point in the terrain linking Whitecliff Peak and Sonora Pass.

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Sweetness at our Feet

Flower, red, Indian Paintbrush.
Paintbrush.

Flower Forum

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Grandeur across the Canyon

Switch-backing down to the East Carson River we start to observe key landmarks for hikers on the unmaintained East Carson River Trail.
East Carson River granite formations.

If you plan on ever hiking in from the East and then South up the unmaintained East Carson River Trail it is time to pay close attention to the features along this section of the East Carson River.

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East Carson River Rock Formations

Arches of the Rock Gods

Looking North down the gorge protecting the upper reaches of the East Carson River.

Rock formations East Carson River.

The arc of this groove once held the bottom-edge of the glacier that slid down the East Carson's gorge, in its rocky grip.

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The arc of the groove sits atop a massive vertical granite formation.
Great granite formation, East Carson River.

The trail between Carson Falls and the PCT traces its route thousands of feet below these sheer walls.

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Switchback Creek

The switchbacks down to the East Carson center on this creek.

Thus we will hike by a series of gentle relaxing waterfalls on our way down to the East Fork of the Carson River.

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Descent to the East Carson River

The Lay of the Land

Switchbacks. Long twisting trail laid like a piece of twisting ribbon down the mountainside. The switchbacks are centered on a stream tumbling down the steep flank of the mountain.

Each time the trail crosses the stream the ears are delighted by the tinkling sounds of falling water, the eye by the shimmering cascade down the mountain, and the skin by the coolness brought along by the falling water.

We cross 8880 feet of elevation hiking behind "The Plug," just North of where we begin our 720 foot descent down the switchbacks to the 8160 feet of elevation at the Pacific Crest Trail junction with the East Carson River Trail.

The trail surface of the switchbacks is fairly soft, much of the trail is shaded by forest clinging to the mountainside, and the switchbacks are well graded.

Miles and Elevations

2.99 miles total distance from the Boulder Lake junction hiking South to East Carson River trail junction, including the section of switchbacks down to the East Carson River.

The switchbacks have been remodeled and rerouted by trail crews over the decades since the 1979 USGS Disaster Peak Map was laid out. Note that all of the mapping services rely on the USGS data. Tahoe to Whitney is where all of the mapping data depicting the main trails are checked out against reality. Thus I built the comments-forum feature so recent hikers can report route modifications. The switchbacks begin further South of The Plug than indicated by the map, have more turns than the map depicts making this segment a bit longer than indicated by the maps.

11.73 miles from the Boulder Lake junction South to Sonora Pass.

17.71 miles from the Boulder Lake junction North to Ebbetts Pass.

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Video: Down the Switchbacks

  Boulder Lake Trail Junction to East Carson River unmarked trail junction.  
     

Video: East Fork of the Carson River on the Pacific Crest Trail. 3:55.

MAP

Been here? Done That? Add your hiking perspective and experiences to enrich ours:

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Upper section of the East Carson River from the switchbacks down to the East Carson. This is beautiful country.

We are headed down into the forests.

Last Southern view, East Carson Gap.

The PCT roughly parallels the East Carson River up to the gap from the point where the ridgeline descending from the Left (East) of the image reaches River level.

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We cross this creek many times hiking down the switchbacks. Check out the video above for some shots of this creek.
Switchback Creek at the top.
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Creek centering switchbacks down to East Fork of the Carson River.

Creek centering switchbacks down to East Fork of the Carson River,

"Switchback Creek."

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East Carson River Headwaters

The upper East Carson ford is hidden behind the little tree in the foreground middle of the image.
 

Check this view while coming down the switchbacks looking South up to the East Carson Gap against the 30 minute topo map of this section.

The view above depicts the section of the PCT from the junction with the East Carson Trail up to gap in the headwaters bowl.

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Another Perspective: Critical Landmark for hikers coming up the East Carson River Trail

Landmark wall above upper East Fork of the Carson River.

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View East of the East side of the East Carson River as we descend the switchbacks South down to river level.
East Carson River trail Lankdmark.

The highest point of the formation on the Right along the crestline of the image above is the "Castle" landmark. If you are following the unmaintained trail up the East Carson River from Carson Falls this formation informs you of the location of the upper ford.

You will begin looking for the ford over to the PCT after passing this formation Southbound along the unmaintained trail.

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Views North from the lower section of the Switchbacks

View North, downstream through the great canyon holding the East Fork of the Carson River.
View downriver East Carson from Switchbacks.

Down the East Carson River.

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Where Are We?

We are in an Exceptional short section of Granite Terrain between vast stretches of Volcanic Terrain

Detail of landmark formation above.
Landmark rock for crossing the East Carson River from the unmaintained trail.

I call this formation The Castle. It looks like a castle when you are looking almost straight up at it from the East Carson River Trail. It is a noticeable feature viewed from its base, looming up out of the forest at the top of a vast wall.

After spotting this formation from the East Carson Trail you start bending Southwest to find the upper ford over the East Carson River which is very close to the East Carson River trail junction on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Detail: Grand Granite Formation rising from the East Bank of the East Carson River

We are looking East at the granite wall rising from the East Shore of the East Carson River across the river from our position on the switchbacks on the Western side of the canyon.

The ford separating the East Carson River Trail from the Pacific Crest Trail is just South (Right) of where the near granite ridge arm, descending laterally to the lower-Right corner of this image, reaches river level.

Yup, the ford's rigggght down there. Really.

This "castle" landmark keeps you squared-away in relation to the location of the upper ford of the East Carson River for hikers coming up the East Fork of the Carson River's unmaintained trail from Carson Falls.

My trail song is,"Castle, meadow, cut right, and the ford comes into sight, all after you pass that old campsite...," and so on. Sing me a song. With your feet beating the rhythm.

Check out the far East side of the Carson-Iceberg regional topo map to review the unmaintained East Carson River route up from Carson Falls.

Carson Falls is an excellent destination all by itself, but is most easily accessed through the remote Eastern Escarpment of the Sierra from Highway 395.

Access through Rodriguez Flat and the Corral Valley Trailhead.

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The next three images depict the terrain where the unmaintained route coming up the East Fork of the Carson River meets the route of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The great wall on the East flank of the East Carson River's canyon.

The great granite ridge capped by the Castle shows us the end of the unmaintained trail is near.

In the Right foreground a great ridge arm is dropping down off the end of the Castle Ridge to mark the point where the unmaintained route fords the East Carson River.

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View Southeast. We are looking at the bottom of the granite ridge arm dropping from "The Castle" formation pictured above.

The unmaintained East Carson River Trail's ford is just out of the right side of this image where the end of the granite ridge arm enters the forest on the canyon floor.

Switchback view upriver, East Carson River, Pacific Crest Trail.

I know this because I have carefully observed the various landmarks that inform and guide hikers finding their way up the East Carson River on this unmaintained route.

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The East Carson River Trail Upper Ford and Junction

Junction of East Carson River trail and PCT trails.

The upper ford of the East Carson River trail is located in the forest near the end of the descending grantie ridge, and it's junction with the PCT is just to the Right of there, off of the Right edge of the image.

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View up the East Carson River

Upper section of the East Fork of the Carson River.
Upper section of the East Fork of the Carson River.

Almost down to River Level
We can see the foot of the end of the ridge coming off from the sheer flank topped by the Castle formation entering the forest on the near far-left of the image.

The ford point of the unmaintained trail up the East Carson River to the PCT is located just to the Right of the end of that ridge arm. The PCT route is just to the Right of the ford.

We are one switchback from entering the canyon floor and the gradual descent to the unmarked trail junction with the unmaintained trail down the Canyon of the East Carson River.

There's one real nice campsite and one marginal campsite there.

We can see the Carson Gap marking our exit from the headwaters of the East Fork of the Carson River in the far distance at the head of the canyon.

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Detail

A closer look. We can see the East Carson winding upriver beyond the descending granite ridge arm.
View up East Carson River to headwaters from switchbacks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Our Southbound Pacific Crest Trail route down the switchbacks is bringing us down into this forest alongside the East Carson River.

Once we get to the base of these switchbacks it is a short hike South to the East Carson River Trail junction, where we are going to take a break before beginning the long climb up to the Sonora Gap through the E Carson Gap.

We're going to eat some food, drink some water, and rest for a while.

Once we get under the forest it will get harder to see the surrounding terrain.

The Pacific Crest Trail passes to the right of the massive granite ridge beyond the forest in the image above. The East Carson runs through the forest, closer to our side than the granite ridge.

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Aspens at the bottom of the switchbacks

  The last cascade of the creek that accompanied us down the Switchbacks.   Fat Aspens greet us at the bottom of the Switchbacks.  
  Cascading water down switchback creek, East Carson River.   Aspens greet the end of your descent to the East Carson River.  
   
A thick green canopy of Aspens shade us as we cross a small creek before reaching the East Carson River Trail.  
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River Bottom Aspens

Bright Green of Aspen suckers breaking towards sunlight.
Aspens bursting out just North of the East Carson River ford on the Pacific Crest Trail.

We are now just a short distance North of the East Carson River Trail with the Pacific Crest Trail.

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East Carson River Trail Junction

miles and elevations

Elevation: 8160 feet

20.7 miles South of Ebbetts Pass

8.74 miles North of Sonora Pass

The section of trail between this junction North along the East Carson River down to Carson Falls is unmaintained and unmarked. Not many trail markings through here, and the ducks and the blazes there are older and grumpier than I.

During decades hiking this difficult route I have only encountered other backpackers here once. I was heading upriver when I heard them breaking through to my South, so I stopped and sat quietly to watch their approach.

They were two couples in their late '50. That was surprising, but they looked very fit. They were working very hard to pass over the rough terrain and were not observing past their current obstacles, so I remained unobserved.

As their route was going to bring them directly to my position, and I figured that walking up to me would scare the shit out of them in this remote location, I gently coughed to reveal my position without shocking them too badly.

All four of their heads shot up from their down-ward gazes as if a bomb had gone off when I coughed. This made me laugh, as I never hike with my head down... for long... I want to be and see the surprises, and never-ever be surprised.

We exchanged brief greetings, and I continued South to the PCT, and they resumed their head-down trudge North to the beauties of Carson Falls.

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East Fork of the Carson River
The Unmaintained Trail North to Carson Falls

My custom pedestal ducks.
Pacific Crest Trail junction with the East Carson River trail.

No, these ducks are not setup to survive the Winter Snows. I plan on putting them up again next Spring when I can break through...

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After I finish the Main Guide I will depict this amazing section of trail down to Carson Falls.

In the meantime here's a report on the

Un maintained Trail up the East Carson River.

Backpacking Trail Guide

North PCT

Murray Canyon
to
Boulder Lake Junction

West to the TYT

Boulder Lake Trail
to
Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus

 

Backpacking Trail Guide

South PCT

East Carson River
to
Sonora Pass

East Fork of the Carson River

Backpacking Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass

H

7.5 Map
Boulder Lake to Sonora Pass

30 min Map
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass

Miles and Elevations

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Next page South
Boulder Lake to East Carson River

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If you have experiences, comments, questions, or pictures and videos of the Pacific Crest Trail between Ebbetts and Sonora Passes, Post up here:
Forum Section
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
Forum Segment
Boulder Lake Junction to East Carson River

North: Murray Canyon to Boulder Lake Junction                                                 South: East Carson River to Sonora Pass

Trailhead
Contact
Alex Wierbinski

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Backpacking Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney:

Your Guide to the High Sierra Crest, including the Tahoe to Yosemite, Pacific Crest, and John Muir Trails

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