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

 

The Trails

Guide
Maps
Miles/Ele
Permits
Resupply
Forum

 

Current Weather Conditions

Weather Notes
Northern High Sierras
Central High Sierras
Southern High Sierras
 

Gear

Gear List
Gettin Started
Layering
Discussion
 
Testing yourself and your gear
 
Gear Reviews

 

top of page

Backpacking
Boulder Lake Junction
to the
East Carson River Trail

Hiking
The Pacific Crest Trail
between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass

 

Languages

Languages

 

Trail Arts

The art of walking

 

Physical Preperation

 

Trail Skills

The trail
Off the trail
Scrambling
Maps
Navigation
Camp skills
 

Food

Resupply
Food

 

Other

Photo Catagories
 
Trail Stories
 
Trail Culture
 
News and Science
 
Links
 
Groups
 
Books

 

Terms and Conditions of Use

top of page

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 Forests
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.

Map West
Boulder Lake PCT to TYT
15 minute hiking map

Map North
Asa Lake to East Carson River

15 minute Topo Backpacking Map

Map South
Boulder Lake Trail Junction
to
Sonora Pass

15 minute USGS backpacking Map

Regional Overview
Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map

30 minute USGS topo 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."

comments

Boulder Lake Trail Junction
to the
East Carson River

Basic Facts

Topo Hiking Maps

Asa Lake to East Carson River Map
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map
Boulder Lake PCT to TYT Map
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

Information

Lay
of the
Land

Low Western access to Sierra Crest

 

Boulder Lake Trail Junction: Connector to the TYT

 

Backpacking Loops
Hard

Longer and Harder

East Carson Trail Junction

 

Staging Up for Resupply

 

Boulder Lake Trail Junction Mapping Notes

 

Trail

Boulder Lake Trail Junction

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

Dead Pond

 

Behind
"The Plug"

 

Creek
Campsite

 

Switchbacks

 

Video
Down the Switchbacks

 

Landmarks on the East Carson River unmaintained trail

 

The Upper East fork of the Carson River

 

Aspens
at the bottom

 

East Carson River
Trail Junction

> Backpacker's Forums <

POST UP!

All backpackers can post text comments updating us about conditions on the following segment of trail through the comments links on this page. Or your experiences, and suggestions for backpacking trips through here.

Your trail reports will keep us informed.

Registered Members can post up stand alone posts about this segment of trail in the Ebbetts to Sonora Pass Trails Forum, or related backpacking trips in the East Carson Iceberg Backpacking Trails Forum.
Members can post google and image maps, images, and videos along with text in the Trails Forums that supplement this, and every other section of the Trail Guide.

But it's not all about trails. It's about everything else backpacking too...

Thus, it is called
Backpacking Trails and Topics Forums.

There are two types of Forums: First are the backpacking Trails Forums. Every trail covered by the guide has a trail forum where backpackers can respond, add, comment, or dispute. Second are the Backpacking Topics Forums. Here we cover everything from gear, weather, and history to trail culture, backpacking kids and dogs, and including Backpacking Arts & Letters.

Check out the Tahoe to Whitney .org Backpacking Trails and Topics forums

Add to and draw from this deep well of experience.

comments-questions-experiences

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.

comments

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 to South sitting atop a huge shared massif, resume the pattern of 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 in a granite break between huge volcanic 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 volcanic crests of Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks, and their massive girth shaping our trail to the North, when compared to the much smaller size and bulk of Boulder Peak's granite mound to their South.

Boulder Peak is puny in comparison.

Boulder Peak represents the fact that there is a gap in the Sierra Crestline here.

comments

Dynamic Terrain
This low granite gap between Disaster and Stanislaus Peaks along the otherwise volcanic Sierra Crestline running North and South is a nice change. As was our loop, however short it was, around the Western flank of Boulder Peak. Granite terrain and the Western flank have been rare commodities along our hike South from Lake Tahoe.
Though we are again on the East flank of the Sierra hiking South of the Boulder Lake junction, and are deep within granite terrain, each step we take is bringing us deeper under the shadows of the massive volcanic forms of Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks rising to our West-Southwest.

Though sheer walls of fantastic golden red and creme colored granite rise out of the East Carson River Canyon to our East and Southeast, the massive volcanic mountains topping the Western wall of the canyon extend further South than the headwaters of the East Carson River Canyon, and North up to Lake Tahoe.
The short length of granite formations making up this upper section of the East Carson River Canyon appear dynamic, seemingly in the middle of actively breaking out of, and free from their imprisonment under the surrounding massive ancient volcanic flows. Though nothing appears to be moving to the naked eye, we can see everything is moving in our mind's eye.

This canyon is one big piece of "emergent" granite, rising as the forces of erosion scour away its soft volcanic encasement one raindrop, carried on storm-driven gust, at a time.

Despite the exquisite beauty of the granites in the East Carson Canyon we can see that they composes a minority of the terrain, a notable exception, a granite island in a sea of volcanic terrain. The vast majority of terrain from Ebbetts to Sonora Pass is volcanic. The percentage of granite terrain around us will decline as we hike higher up the mountain until it is completely buried under the Eastern flank of Sonora Peak.

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

Boulder Lake Trail Junction
A very short distance South down the PCT along this strip of crestline from Boulder Peak we arrive at the Boulder Lake trail junction. The junction has one trail off the PCT leading West down to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus and the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. The opportunity presented by this low section of the crestline mountains is fulfilled by the trail route linking the trails along the Eastern and Western flanks of the Sierra.

The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is 2.74 miles below us to the Southwest via the Boulder Lake trail. This Boulder lake trail junction offers the shortest length 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 Trail emerging from the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead.

This opens up challenging Loops around the Southern Carson Iceberg Wilderness: below!

South from Sonora 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 to the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station road, and 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 past the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station's South gate.

The Boulder Lake the closest link between the PCT and TYT along the trails from where these routes divided exiting the Lake Tahoe Basin, to where they rejoin below Bond Pass in Jack Main Canyon.

comments

East and West Flanks
The drainage from the East sides of the volcanic masses of Arnot and Disaster Peaks to our North feed the East Carson River. The Western-sides of this line of peaks feeds Disaster and Boulder Creeks, each which contributes to the Westward flow of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus.

To our South the massive Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks rise to divide the Eastern Carson River from the Western Clarks Fork.

This particular little piece of low granite crestline between this two sets of volcanic peaks is special because it is one of the rare places where we can actually stand between these Eastern and Western drainages while hiking the PCT route across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Tyron Peak and Wolf Creek Pass are the other two I can think of along this 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, from the North end of the North Yosemite Backcountry all the way up to Carson Pass can be characterized by its Eastern flank route, and the overwhelming vulcanism of the terrain it crosses, despite the exceptions named above, especially if we compare it to the 100% Western flank route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, and the great sections of granite terrain along the TYT's route.

From Boulder Peak South to the Boulder Lake trail junction the PCT peeks into both the East and West drainages from a short segment of decidedly granite terrain between long stretches of volcanic terrain stretching North and South.

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, and within predominantly volcanic terrain.

South of the Boulder Lake trail junction we will climb over The Plug to plunge deep into the canyon of East Carson River, finally touching its floor.

Continuing South
Us Southbound hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail will remain on the Eastern flank of the Sierra, with a few notable exceptions, until we enter Yosemite National Park through Dorothy Lake Pass. Passing into Yosemite we enter the massive Western watershed of the Tuolumne River, which stretches the whole length of our hike across the North Yosemite Backcountry, and then follows us South until we exit the South end of the park.
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. That is one frigging huge web of tributaries.

Hiking Northbound on the PCT from the Boulder Lake trail junction we too will be hiking the Eastern flank of the Sierra for 99% of the 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.

As I have said, the PCT route between Tahoe and Yosemite is fundamentally an Eastern Sierra route through the expansive volcanic terrain of the Toiyabe National Forest.

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 Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus 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 to Sonora Pass.

comments

Backpacking Loops
This little neck of narrow ridge separating the East Carson River from the Clarks Fork is special because it makes possible the connector trail allowing us to link our Pacific Crest Trail route to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, which opens up the potential for 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. But these are hard high altitude 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 Fork South over Saint Marys Pass to the Clarks Fork Trailhead on Highway 108. Saint Marys Pass Trailhead is about a mile West of Sonora Pass 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 even untrailed.

comments

Headwaters Loop II
Longer and Hard
er

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.
Consider that we can start these backpacking loops around the Southern Carson Iceberg Wilderness from a number of different trailheads. Saint Marys or Sonora Passes would be the most known, the Clarks Fork Trailhead at the end of the Old Clarks Fork Road is a bit more obscure, and starting from Corral Valley Trailhead off of Highway 395 puts us deep into remote territory getting to the trailhead.

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 South to the Boulder Lake junction, we had turned Right (North) at the East Carson River unmaintained trail to find the route along the East fork of the Carson River down to Carson Falls.
At Carson Falls we pick up maintained trail down to Murray Falls, from which we hike back 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 down to the TYT via Boulder Lake. At the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail we turn South to finish our loop through the unmaintained section of the TYT through the upper sections of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus by climbing out of its untrailed headwaters over Saint Marys Pass to finish on Highway 108 at the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead, as we did on the first loop 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. These are the 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 fitness, 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.

Those would be ninety mile backpacking loops.

comments

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 detailed 15 minute backpacking maps. The red dots are linked to the trail guide report for that location.

comments

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 peak.

Passing around the backside of "The Plug" through a channel of forest over 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 East Carson River from the crest line are currently 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...

comments

Once at the bottom of the switchbacks the Pacific Crest Trail becomes a a gentle descent for a short hike through dense swaths of vibrantly spreading (2013) 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 through its unmarked trail junction off of our upstream hike along the PCT. This unmaintained trail follows the East fork of the Carson River downstream to Carson Falls.
Just a bit 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 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 by turning up Golden Canyon before arriving at Carson Falls. Hike down and visit Carson Falls even if your trip's route is up Golden Canyon.

I am one of the people who yearly ducked the PCT-East Carson junction each Spring when I hike the route as the snows recede, and we can find the junction to properly duck it, but I do not duck the E Carson Trail itself. Just its trail junction with the PCT.
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 with or without ducks.

Two Campsites near the Trail Junction
There is an uneven site along the PCT at the East Carson trail junction, and a nearby stream runs past providing it with water, 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 between Ebbetts to Sonora Passes. Hiking either North or South from this point offers significant climbs. North, up the switchbacks to the Sierra Crest line. South, up the steady climb to and through the low gap in the headwaters bowl of the East Carson River that I call the "East Carson Gap," which points us towards the next high Gap between us and Sonora Pass, located on the Southeast corner of Sonora Peak high above Sonora Pass, which I call the "Sonora Gap."
Three things make the East Carson River trail junction a good place to break or camp. First, we end a descent and begin climbing in either direction from the East Carson River trail junction, second, the excellent water and break spot at the junction, and finally, 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 East Carson trail junction we face a 4.65 mile ascent up 2080 feet of elevation to the East Carson Gap at 10,240 feet, our highpoint on this segment of our trail along the East fork of the Carson River.
Now we are taking a very short 1.21 mile hike across the tiny watershed of Wolf Creek, topped by Wolf Creek Lake on the shelf in the mountain below our position in the East Carson Gap.
From the East Carson Gap we have a hike 1.21 mile hike traversing across the East flank of Sonora Peak above Wolf Creek Lake and the canyon Wolf Creek drains from below the lake to the Sonora Gap.
The Sonora Gap is the gap in the ridgeline extending off the Southeastern corner of Sonora Peak our PCT route passes through onto the Western flank of the Sierra.
The Sonora Gap divides the Eastern flank drainage flowing down to Wolf Creek Lake and Wolf Creek and onto the West Walker River from the Western flank's drainage into Deadman Creek, and on down into the Middle Stanislaus River at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.

Another 2.88 miles hiking South from the Sonora Gap brings us first West, traversing the length of the Southern flank of Sonora Peak, before turning South down to Sonora Pass at 9624 feet where Highway 108 crosses the Sierra Crest.
At Sonora Pass we can hitch a ride 9 miles West down Highway 108 to our next resupply spot at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. At Kennedy Meadows Pack Station we will pick up our resupply package for the next section of trail down to Tuolumne Meadows. And we'll eat bunches of fresh food, drink some beer, and talk to anyone not willing to run to get away from us.
And, we can run faster, further, and longer than most.

The cowboys at KM can use horses to get away, but most choose to stay and talk to the crazy "hippy" backpacker. Great dudes, those Kennedy Meadows Horsepackers. And Gina too. She's a darn good cowgirl-horsepacker.

I don't just "scout" the trails, but I engage with the various aspects of trail culture, as any of who have read the guide are aware. And, there is lots of trail culture at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.

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 we should consider how to best stage up to best accomplish our resupply goals. This starts with controlling our approach. 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 tomorrow morning, and before the steady trickle of Summertime traffic begins to flow over Sonora Pass. I consider it the finest place to camp between the East Carson trail junction and Sonora Pass. It's preferable, if it fits into your daily mileage in relation to your location on the trail and the time of day.
Thus I like to "stage up," so that my approach to trailheads coordinates with the best campsites North and South of every resupply stop. I don't just hike blindly forward, but adjust my pace and timing to put myself in the best campsites and most scenic campsites along the trail.
We'll post up for the hitch down to Kennedy Meadows on Highway 108 as daylight brings traffic across Sonora Pass, if we time this out properly...

We have a very practical goal. We'll be getting to the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station before they stop serving breakfast. They have excellent breakfasts at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.

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 OFF without wearing a pack or doing any substantial walking. Shock and Strain free. I want to fully rest.
This is not unreasonable. We're at a hundred miles South of Lake Tahoe when we hit Sonora Pass from Meeks Bay, and we've been on the trail a total of 10 to 14 days, depending on just where we started from in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
I take a full day off after five days of hiking when I reach Lake Alpine hiking South from Lake Tahoe. I'm doing the same at Tuolumne Meadows and then again at Vermilion Valley Resort. I am taking one full day off the trail for every five days hiking. I plan my approach and departure to optimize each arrival and departure with nearby premium campsites and make the most out of each rest and resupply spot between Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney.
After spending the first night at Kennedy Meadows I will spend a full second day doing absolutely nothing except sitting, eating, drinking, talking to cowboys, Joan and Mrs Bloom, Kennedy Meadows guests, various riders horse and iron horse, Cheryl and the ladies, and all the backpackers I see, of course.

Let's see if we can find Matt Bloom, and see what's going on in his cowboy/horsepacker brain...

Kennedy Meadows is a trail hub for all sorts of backpackers, hikers, hunters, horsemen, fisherfolk, families, and so on. Half of Oakdale's ranchers and such folks show up every Summer, and a selection of Valley horsemen and hunters, later in Fall.
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 then two at KM!

Time to "get on down the trail!"

comments

MAP ISSUES
Boulder Lake trail junction
with the
Pacific Crest Trail

Boulder Lake Trail Junction

Map Anomaly
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 my old 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 maintenance 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 a more accurate use of "map arts" 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

Affect
Trail segment between Boulder Lake and PCT omitted.

Boulder Lake Junctions
and
Trails omitted

The 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.

This junction still exists on the ground along the Pacific Crest Trail as of my last observation in October of 2011. Post up to inform if this junction has been removed.

comments

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.

Money Well Spent
The source for all National Forest maps, and all public and private map services is the USGS. The USGS sells paper maps and map information, but all of their classic USGS topo maps are available online and downloadable for FREE.

This is one of a very short list of taxpayer expenditures that I am very proud of, along with our friends at the National Weather Service.

Your downloaded maps can be expertly viewed and manipulated using the Free Adobe Reader, and further geospacial tools employed by downloading the Free Terrago Toolbar into Adobe Reader.
The USGS presents us with a treasure trove of mapping information, while Adobe and Terrago give us the tools to understand and use it. All are available for download from the USGS Map Locator and Downloader

Load these maps up into Photoshop, and you can easily create your own customized set of hiking maps for any trip imaginable in the Sierra Nevada, if you have a capable printer. Or hiking maps for anywhere in the US of A, for that matter.

Last Contact
I last hiked this segment of trail from Boulder Creek on the TYT to the Boulder Lake trail junction on the PCT 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 up to where the junction with the PCT is located.

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

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

Keep it between the ridge arms and keep it pointed East and we will hit the PCT, if we pointed ourselves in the correct direction from Boulder Lake.

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

Thus my email is at the bottom of each page...

Second Southern Route
between
Boulder Lake and the PCT

There is a second unmarked junction from the PCT to Boulder Lake located a short distance South of the marked Boulder Lake trail junction. Hiking South from the marked Boulder Lake junction along the Pacific Crest Trail 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 the Southern trail junction down to Boulder Lake is located. It is not.
I've never seen junction nor 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. Or not. Rather than a "trail," one may well be confronted with a "route."
This Southern route to Boulder Lake is also omitted from the 2008 and 2009 USDA Forest Service Maps, but is 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 and following it down to Boulder Lake 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 may very well require that the hiker 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.

I know Steve the Cowboy, his rancher brothers and dad, and some crazy local hikers know the current status of this Southern "route" between the PCT and Boulder Lake, as well as following general conditions in the surrounding terrain.

All of you with information should share your experience and insights through the forum.

comments

In Conclusion...
The 2008 and 2009 Forest Service 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
comments

top of page

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

comments

top of page

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

comments

top of page

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

top of page

 

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.

comments

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 trail 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.

comments

top of page

 

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 proximity and interweaving within the surrounding granite terrain makes this are unique.

top of page

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.

See any interesting geology and terrain?

Geology and Terrain Forum

geology comments

trail comments

top of page

 

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."

geology comments

top of page

 

An inclusion in the original granite pluton exposed by glacial carving?

An inclusion exposed by thousands of years of weathering?

Both?

rock formation laid on carved granite.

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

It's a puzzle.

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.

Geology and Terrain Forum

geology comments

trail comments             top of page

Dead Pond & Southern Route down to Boulder Lake

Traversing Westward down the South flank of Peak 8722 we see a black pond (Vernal Pond) through the forest. We continue dropping down to the the pond, where the Pacific Crest 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.

The terrain between the black pond and Boulder Lake is complex. The route follows a ravine down mountain to a point where the hiker must turn Northwest to traverse out of the gully to Boulder Lake. If this point is not marked the cross country hiker will have to determine the turning point based on observation and analysis.

Have you hiked this unmaintained route? Relate your experiences here.

comments

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, ""Black," or Vernal 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.

comments            top of page

Hiking around The Plug
encountering
Pacific Crest Trail Hikers

Hiking South past the black pond we climb up a short chute to access the backside, the West side of "The Plug."

The terrain behind this massive piece of granite is of less angle that the surrounding terrain, with shelves of almost flat nicely forested ground quite suitable for camping. It is suitable for camping because of the small four season stream draining the backside of The Plug. Check out the map to note the location of the stream.

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

Trail Culture
Chugging up this chute on my 2009 Tahoe to Whitney Trip I met a whole series of Northbound Pacific Crest Trail hikers and various other long-distance and section backpackers. Most were finding shaded rest spots for a break after climbing up the switchbacks on the North side of The Plug from the bottom of the East Carson River Canyon.
We'll drop down those switchbacks once we hike North of The Plug.

We're going to note the local and long distance hikers we encounter. This is not to specifically identify folks, but to reflect the wide range of folks who make up trail culture.

Trail encounters are a rich aspect of trail culture. Thus we note trail encounters not only with backpackers, but with day hikers, with the fisherfolks, horse and llama packers, rangers, scientists, resupply staff and even the "wilderness tourists" we meet on the edge of wilderness while crossing trailheads and at Yosemite.

These are all members of an extended family held together by our common connection with the wilderness, if they know it or not.

Trail Culture Forum

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.

comments

  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.

Two nights on the trail, 30 miles, and that's their weekend.

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.

You can be one of these folks.

comments

top of page

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. A bit faded

Sierra Dogs Forum

 

comments

top of page

 

Trail Encounter

Doggy Treats for the Solo Backpacker

I pride myself on moving effectively across terrain generating minimal extraneous movement, sounds, or disturbance. This is executed while observing the surrounding environment as deeply as possible for the level of attention the trail itself demands.

I was climbing above the dead pond rapidly and silently around a bend that brought four long-haired dreddy* hippies with their two dogs into view. I saw them before I came fully into their view.
The hippies were sitting in a small circle on a tiny flat elevated above the surrounding terrain. Two dogs were laid out flat, their bodies flat on the ground, with their heads drooped over the edge of the elevated flat, where they could observe the most terrain from the flattest position they could possibly take. The dogs were laid out, but watching. I stopped. I was below their position and still partially covered by the bending terrain.

Both dogs eyes' shot to me, four ears perked and pointed at me. They were laid out in such a way they could observe the corner I was coming around. They were deciding whether to move more than eyes and ears, measuring the need to get up and bark, to check me out. "Was I a threat?," I watched the dogs think as they watched and listened to me without moving a muscle.

To assure them that I was not, I smiled a big smile, pretend-patted my thighs vigorously, and shook my head like I wanted them to come and play, while hunching down. Looking "playful" while climbing with a heavy pack is not easy. Both dogs lazily wagged tail, but neither moved naught except eye and ear muscles during our whole encounter, except their lazy wags of acceptance. I apparently speak dog "sign language."
Their preservation of energy and motion indicated that these were master trail dogs. They would not spend even one extra calorie, unless necessary. Unless I was a threat.

I looked cool. I wanted to play.

I know their type. No extra running up and down the trail. Nope. They hit belly the moment hiking stops, finding every instant of rest possible. They always position themselves for the best observations. They only pay attention to the important or very interesting smells hiking down the trail, they did not stop to smell every bush, and run to catch up. That's for puppies, politicians, and fools.
These guys were masters of energy control on the trail. They got the biggest bang possible for their calorie buck. Their demeanor and behavior upon encounter instantly told me who they were. They were Good Trail Dogs, mature and very experienced.

We came to the same conclusions about each other, from our different perspectives.

The hippies were obviously PCT hikers who had just passed the 1000 mile mark across Sonora Pass. They were grizzled. I prefer my hippies grizzled, rather than fried.

Once trail dogs identified me as a non-threat, I observed their hippy masters without worrying about dogs exposing my position. Each hippy was intent on some task they were concentrating on, working on something each was grasping with one hand and manipulating with their other, something in each of their laps.

After a short while my curiosity got the best of me. I didn't want to scare or startle them, so I gently coughed, which still startled them as it broke their intense concentration. "What the HELL man?, was the startled reply of a tall thin dreadlocked kid as he jumped up at my cough, pretty much to no one at all. Then he looked at me, then turned to the dogs, and repeated, "What the hell, man?"

I stepped in and said, "don't blame the dogs...," but could not exactly explain why not, so I segued into, "...hey, I'm Al, and what the heck are you guys all doing?," as the dogs, who had risen in the commotion, circled around to sniff me up close and get some love. It seemed like we already knew each other, and just formalized it with some sniffing and petting. They were Good Dogs.

The humans quickly caught up with their dogs' evaluation. They were three hippy dudes and a chick, and they said, sadly and in unison, "We're all scraping our pipes. We're out of smoke." Poor hippies! And so far from Lake Tahoe, the next congregation point for their type...

So, I,... well I,...

I, "Stoner."

I revealed my trail name to them, and take the Fifth on the rest of the story. But, you can rest assured that this story ended with happy hippies, and everyone lived happily ever after, as happens in all good hippy tales.

I mean trail tails. Well, let's just say everyone's tails were wagging when we hiked in opposite directions.

"Kibbies for my doggies, whiskey for the horses, tape up those boots, and stone them damn hippies, Full Speed Ahead..."
(Battle Cry of the Al, prepping for the final hike into the sky...)

This "Good Dog" encounter was during the 2002 Tahoe to Yosemite hike, when "the trail" had baptized me with the trail name, "Stoner." Folks called me "Wizard" in 2000, and around 2004 I picked up "Nails."

When folks ask me my "trail name," I can honesty answer, "Stoner," the "Wizard" who is hard as "Nails."

Or I can shrug, say, "You tell me," and get another.

Ask me your trail name with caution.

I will tell you what I see and know.

I know Good Dogs when I see them.

* Dreddy, Attributive adjective.

1. Adj. One who wears dreadlocks.

2. Adj. An attitude, psychological, or philosophical perspective derived from a Jamaican movement popularized during the 1970s by Peter Tosh and Bob Marley.

Trail Culture

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 found Riff-Raff and Ben & Jerry totally kicked back in a fine shady flat spot alongside the trail. They were taking a much needed rest.

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.

That's a rough section.

Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.

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

PCT hikers out of Ohio.

We are hiking through backpacking representatives from around the nation, and meeting backpacking folks from all over California and around the world when we hike against the South-to-North annual flow of the main body of Pacific Crest Trail hikers as they surge North through the Sierra Nevada.

Timing out just when this will happen each year, which varies with the size of the Winter snowpack and the development of Spring weather conditions, allows me to plan an annual trip South through the main body of PCT hikers.

I'm not alone with my curiosity and support. I know a guy who put up a table and stove at Sonora Pass for a couple of days during the peaks of the PCT flow for a couple of seasons, and cooked pancakes for all PCT hikers who came through.

I unload all extra food to passing PCTers as I approach each resupply spot. It is not unusual for PCT hikers to be somewhat, if not very short of food. So I ask them. I provide first aid to those if I see them limping or otherwise hurting.

Hiking through the PCTers gives us an idea about the character and condition of each year's crop. I find every aspect of PCT hikers interesting. I'm a Sierra dude, and see little need to hike the PCT, but I fully support PCT hikers. I find the teams, the solo hikers, the distribution of male to female, of national origin, and of age and experience are fascinating.

The variety of experiences each person undergoes, and how they take it gives us a look at a unique spectrum of human experience fallen off the edge of civilization into nature, which is where meaning is squeezed out of life.

Some PCT hikers are squeezing, some are being squeezed by the experience, then we switch. All grow.

If the boot hurts, don't worry too much. It'll soon be on the other foot!

comments             top of page

Backside of The Plug

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

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

Campsite near the top of the last rise behind "The Plug."

"Plugsites?"

Campsite South of Boulde rLake junction.

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

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

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

comments             top of page

Creek Behind The Plug

Creek South of Campsite.
Water Source.

This is the upper section of the creek that runs East along the West side of The Plug, before it plummets down into the East Carson River. Our PCT route crosses the upper section of the creek as we pass around the backside of The Plug.

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

The map reveals the gently graded well-watered terrain on the backside of The Plug, which translates into good campsites that can support exploration of the complex terrain on and around The Plug.

comments

top of page

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 longer views of this whole face as we continue South and lose elevation.

comments

top of page

Local Backpackers

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.

These guys are hiking a quick weekend section of the PCT, like Becky and Kent above.

comments

top of page

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.

Ka-Ching!
If rock is money we are the rich.

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

The rocky red volcanic ridgeline in the background Right is rising to Whitecliff Peak.

comments

top of page

Great Granite Wall

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 perspective we have of the rock here as route progress rotates our views.

top of page

Thrones of the Rock Gods

Looking North down the East flank of the East Carson River Canyon.
East Carson River granite beauty.

This is the head of the formation below Peak 10440.

This feature looks like some kind of Valhalla for Climbers, a kind of rocky heaven where good climbers go when they die, to climb the thrones of the rock gods.

Great spirits climb these mountains, intermingling with their rocky roots.

comments

top of page

East 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 and Sonora Peaks.

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

top of page

Sweetness at our Feet

Flower, red, Indian Paintbrush.
Paintbrush.

Flower Forum

top of page

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 below.
East Carson River granite formations.

If you plan on ever hiking in from the East and then turning South up the unmaintained East Carson River Trail, getting to this stretch of canyon wall indicates it is time to pay close attention to the details of the features along this section of the East Carson River.

The layout of these features will guide you to the upper ford when the unmaintained trail along the East Carson River fails.

Above is the feature I call the Castle, below the Cup.

comments

top of page

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 through these fingers of the East Carson's gorge's rocky grip.

comments

top of page

East Wall of the East Carson Canyon

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.

We were looking across the canyon at this feature as we hiked South from Boulder Peak and around the backside of The Plug.

top of page

Switchback Creek

The switchbacks down to the East Carson center on this creek running almost straight down the Eastern wall of the canyon down to the East fork of the Carson River.

Thus we will hike by a series of gentle relaxing waterfalls pushing a column of cool air down the mountain along with water, as our switchbacking trail repeatedly crosses this creek on its way down to the East Fork of the Carson River.

comments

top of page

 

Descent to the East Carson River

The Lay of the Land

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

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 of the breeze brought along by the falling water.

We reach 8880 feet of elevation hiking behind "The Plug," just a bit North of where we begin our 720 foot descent down these switchbacks to the 8160 foot 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, 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 this section of switchbacks down to the East Carson River.

Map Anomaly
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 recent route modifications, damages, and repairs.
The switchbacks begin further South of The Plug than indicated by the map, have more turns than the map depicts, all of which makes this segment of trail 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.

top of page             comments

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.

Video Playlist
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass


Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map
Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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

comments

top of page

Headwaters of the East Fork of the Carson River

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 winding course of the East fork of the Carson River up to the gap, beginning from where our trail finally touches down in the bottom of the canyon.

That point where our trail touches down in the bottom of the canyon is roughly where the nose of the granite ridge descending down to the forest from the lower Left (East) edge the image reaches river level. That point in the bottom of the canyon is directly lined up with the small tree in the middle foreground of the image.

That's pretty precisely where the East Carson River trail junction is located, and where our climb up to the East Carson Gap begins.

comments

top of page

Switchback Creek

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

Sweet Sounding Cool Water

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

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

"Switchback Creek."

top of page

East Carson River Headwaters

The upper East Carson ford is hidden behind the tree in the foreground middle-left of the image.
Headwaters of the East Fork of the Carson River.

The East Carson Gap where we exit the headwaters bowl of the East Fork of the Carson River is visible as the low point on the most distant ridgeline.

Compare our view up to the East Carson Gap hiking down the lower end of the switchbacks shown above against the 30 minute topo map of this section. Above we can look across all the terrain between the unmarked East Carson trail junction and the East Carson Gap as depicted on the map.

The view above depicts the section of the PCT from it's junction with the East Carson Trail up to gap in the headwaters bowl. We're actually up on the second switchback above hitting the canyon floor.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map
Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

comments

top of page

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

Landmark wall above upper East Fork of the Carson River.

Looking East across the East Carson Canyon at the great wall rising opposite The Plug.

I refer to the block feature along its crestline as "The Castle." This landmark tells hikers on the East Carson River trail that they are approaching the upper ford of the East Carson River and joining up with the Pacific Crest Trail.

The upper ford is located where the Southern end of this great ridge drops down to the canyon floor.

comments

top of page

The Cup and The Castle

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 us we are approaching of the location of the upper ford.

Hiking coming up the East Carson River from Carson Falls will begin looking for the end of this ridge and the nearby ford over to the PCT as we pass this formation Southbound along the unmaintained trail.

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

comments

top of page

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.

View North down the East Carson River Canyon.

top of page

Where Are We?

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

Detail of landmark "Castle" 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 hikers looking for the PCT will think about starting to bend Southwest to find the upper ford over the East Carson River as we reach the end of this ridge.

The upper East Carson River ford is very close to the East Carson River trail junction on the Pacific Crest Trail, and has a nice trail connecting the ford and the campsite just above the ford with the PCT.

comments

top of page

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 us 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,"Cup to Castle, end of ridge, meadow, cut right, and the ford comes into sight, all after you pass that nice old campsite...," and so on. Sing me a trail 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. I have not put up any trail guide pages for that unique route, but I'm sure I will once I finish the main body of the guide between Tahoe and Whitney.

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 Old Mill Road to Rodriguez Flat and the Corral Valley Trailhead.

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

comments

top of page

Ridgeline Dropping Down to Upper Ford

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.

Hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail will hike past the unmarked East Carson Junction and the ford to the unmaintained trail down the East Carson River beyond the ford.

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.

top of page

 

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

After a few times through I should be able to eliminate all guess work, and plot a memory + visual landmarks route through this difficult terrain.

So should you, as your backpacking skills progress to route finding and navigation capabilities.

comments

top of page

The East Carson River Trail Upper Ford and Junction

Junction of East Carson River trail and PCT trails.

Coming down to forest top level gives us a good view of the terrain.

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

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

top of page

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
The foot of the end of the ridge in the middle-Right foreground of the image is the South end of the "castle" ridge where it enters the forest.

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

We are one more switchback above the canyon floor and the gradual short straight 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 at the East Carson trail junction.

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, which I put at about five miles.

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map

comments

top of page

East Carson River Canyon Floor Detail

A closer look. We can see the route of 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 4.65 mile 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 at the trail junction.

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 granite ridge on the far side of the forest in the image above. The East Carson runs through the forest, closer to our side of the canyon than the granite ridge.

comments

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 feeding the East Carson before reaching the East Carson River Trail junction.  
  Yeah! Hiking down steep descents, even switchbacked ones, is hard on the knees.   top of page  

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 very short distance North of the East Carson River Trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Aspens are all one unit, one tree that clones itself to spread a network of root suckers into amenable terrain.

Calflora
Populus Tremuloides
Wikipedia
Aspen

comments

top of page

 

East Carson River Trail Junction

Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
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.

comments

top of page

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...

Beyond these duck a fine trail leads us a tenth of a mile down to a fine expansive campsite.

The upper ford over the East Carson River is just beyond the campsite. Crossing over the ford brings us North along the East fork of the Carson River through 6.06 miles of challenging unmarked and unmaintained trail to Carson Falls.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

comments

top of page

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

comments

Next page South
Boulder Lake to East Carson River

top of page

 

Backpacker Forums

Have a great Sierra Nevada trip or story to relate? A fine piece of gear? Or gear that failed?

Post it on
TahoetoWhitney.Org

Become a Member

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

top of page

Frosted Backpack

Backpacking Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney:

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

Snug tent after Snow Storm
©Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney: Crown Jewel of the Pacific Crest Trail