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
Great Granite Gorge of the East Carson River
Highland Lakes
Granite cliffs composing the East flank of the East Carson River's awesome canyon beyond Southern "Shark Fin" from the Pacific Crest Trail
Ebbetts Pass

 

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Backpacking
Murray Canyon
to the
Boulder Lake Trail Junction

Approaching the
East Carson River in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness

Hiking
The Pacific Crest Trail
from Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass

 

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Trail Guide Highway 4
to
Highway 108
North
Tyron Peak
to
Murray Canyon
South
Boulder Lake Junction
to
East Carson River
Topo Map
Asa Lake
to
East Fork of Carson River
30 min Map Ebbetts Pass
to
Sonora Pass
Ebbetts to Sonora Pass MILES
AND
ELEVATIONS
ALL TOPO MAPS EBBETTS
TO
SONORA
Resupply North: Lake Alpine.
South: Kennedy Meadows
National Forests Toiyabe
&
Stanislaus
Weather

all maps index

Forum

Murray Canyon
trail Junction
in the
Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

Murray Canyon Trail Junction along the Pacific Crest Trail.

What's Up Here?

Murray Canyon Trail Junction.

We're a bit more than a third of the way to Sonora Pass from Ebbetts Pass.

Looking East
This trail to the Northeast descends through Murray Canyon to Falls Meadow on the lower East fork of the Carson River.

I say lower because Falls Meadow sits below Carson Falls. Carson Falls is the balance point between the steep mountain terrain above from the flatter mid-elevation meadow terrain below.

Above Carson Falls an unmaintained trail follows the rough terrain along the East fork of the Carson River upriver to end where it intersects with the PCT. Check the Northeast corner of the Carson Iceberg Map to see how this interesting bit of trail and terrain are situated.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

Note that the trail across Poison Flat to the North of Carson Falls leads East to the Corral Valley Trailhead on Rodriguez Flat. Corral Valley is a remote trailhead accessed through Mill Canyon Road, a dirt road leading West off Highway 395 a bit North of the town of Walker, California.

I've written up some notes about accessing the unmaintained trail up the East Carson River from Highway 395. We can craft some fun and challenging routes out of Rodriguez Flat that will approach this Murray Canyon trail junction from the East or North, depending on how we want to hike it.

Southbound
Our route along the Pacific Crest Trail South of the Murray Canyon junction finds its way along the complex Western rim of the East Carson River's fantastic granite canyon. For the next three miles we'll find our way across the upper reaches of the successive Murray and Golden Canyons.
Passing South of the canyons we'll overlook the river now and again as we wind around, through, and across the obstructions put up by this incredibly complex terrain.

Finally, South of Boulder Peak we will pass around the backside of a massive granite feature I call "The Plug," which brings us past the sheer cliffs rising from the East Carson River onto terrain that permits a set of switchbacks to bring us down to river level.
Reaching river level we find the obvious but unmarked junction where the top of the unmaintained trail up the East Carson River from Carson Falls intersects with our PCT route.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map

Though we can't see it from the PCT, there's a fine campsite sitting along the East Carson River a short ways down the East Carson Trail from the PCT. A very nice place to camp.

At this unmarked trail junction at the bottom of the switchbacks we have hiked 9.83 miles of the 18.57 miles South from the Murray Canyon trail junction to Sonora Pass.

We're about two thirds of the way from Ebbetts to Sonora Passes.

Ahead of us to our South, from the unmarked East Carson junction, we have a 4.65 mile climb up from this 8160 foot low point climbing up to and out of the 10, 240 foot headwaters bowl of the East Carson, followed by another 1.21 miles climbing another 296 feet to reach the 10,536 foot high point of our whole Ebbetts to Sonora Pass hike through the Sonora Gap.

Boulder Lake to Sonora Pass
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map

At the Sonora Gap we are 2.88 miles North of, and 293 feet above Sonora Pass.

Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

comments

 

Index

Hiking the PCT South
through the
Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

Murray Canyon Trail Junction

Murray Canyon is 10.87 miles South of Ebbetts Pass

Murray Canyon is 18.57 miles North of Sonora Pass

 

Murray Canyon to Boulder Lake trail junction
6.84 miles South

The Boulder Lake trail junction
is
17.71 miles South of Ebbetts Pass

11.73 miles North of Sonora Pass

 

Murray Canyon to East Carson River Trail
9.83 miles South

Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
Pacific Crest Trail Miles and Elevations

INDEX
On this page

Our Position in the terrain at
Murray Canyon

 

Murray Canyon Junction to East Carson River:
Horse Stories

 

Video
Discussion at Murray Canyon

 

Down to the
East fork of the Carson River

 

Carson Falls

 

East Carson River Hiking Loops

 

Murray Canyon Campsites

 

Landmark North End of Murray Canyon Peak 9362

 

South End of Murray Canyon

 

Video
Hiking Golden and Murray Canyons

 

Stanislaus Peak

 

Golden Canyon

 

Storm Warning!

 

Golden Canyon Junction:
East Carson and Paradise Valley to Disaster Creek

 

Video
Golden Canyon Campsites

 

Weather
and
Road Information

 

Point Forecasts

Nat Weather Service
Ebbetts Pass

Sonora Pass

Regional Forecasts

NWS
West Slope

NWS
East Flank

Ebbetts Pass
Regional Weather Information

Sonora 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 Hwy 4

Caltrans Hwy 108

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

East Carson River Canyon

 

Leavitt Peak to the South

 

Golden Lake

 

Swampy Lake & Shark Fin 9501: marking the end of the canyons

 

Video
Sharkfin 9501 and the Swampy Lake

 

Bear Country

 

Swampy Lake to Boulder Lake Junction: TYT via Boulder Lake

 

View to the
East Carson River headwaters

 

Video
Sharkfin 9501 to the Boulder Lake Trail Junction

 

Around West Flank of Boulder Peak

 

Boulder Creek Campsite

 

Back to East Carson River

 

Another View West

 

Cowboy Steve

 

Boulder Lake Junction

> Forum <

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.

Your trail reports will keep us informed.

Registered Members can post up stand alone posts about this segment of trail with text, images, maps and videos in the Trails Forum that supplements this section of the Trail Guide.

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

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Basic Facts

Topo Hiking Maps

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

Wolf Creek to Swampy Lake
Detailed 15 minute USGS topo map
Swampy Lake to Boulder Lake Junction
Detailed 15 minute USGS topo map

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

Miles and Elevations

Murray Canyon to Boulder Lake trail junction
6.84 miles South

The Boulder Lake trail junction
is
17.71 miles South of Ebbetts Pass

11.73 miles North of Sonora Pass


Northeast
DOWN to the East Carson River
Murray Canyon trail junction to Falls Meadow along the East Fork of the Carson River
2.95 miles

South into Murray Canyon

Murray Canyon and Disaster Peak.

South past the Murray Canyon trail junction we hike South to cross the upper end of Murray Canyon.

Our trail moves to our Right to wrap around the upper perimeter of Murray Canyon.

Disaster Peak rises above the West ends of both Murray and Golden Canyons, though it is lined up behind Golden Canyon.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

comments

Murray Canyon Trail Options

Murray Canyon
to the
East Fork of the Carson River

The Lay of the Land on a Topo Map, Horse Stories, and some Hiking Options...

Murray and Golden Canyons on the Bridgeport 30 min map
Murray and Golden Canyons on the big Ebbetts to Sonora Pass customized version
of the most-excellent USGS Bridgeport 30 min Topo Map.
Download your own collections of hiking maps and powerful map tools
from the USGS.

EXCELLENT
Eastern Sierra Backpacking Option

As the following video describes, Murray Canyon and its trail drain East down into Falls Meadow along the East Fork of the Carson River. I misspoke in the video. Hey, I'm pretty thrashed on the trail... Dumonts Meadow is where the historic Soda Springs Ranger Station is located along the East Carson River. Falls Meadow is situated a couple of miles South of Dumonts Meadow, up and over a ford to the West bank the East Carson. Falls Meadow is where the Murray Canyon Trail from the PCT intersects with the East Fork of the Carson River. Falls Meadow is located just below the Carson Falls.

note: For hikers familiar with accessing the East Carson River from the East, the tree ford that offered easy crossing of the East Carson in Dumonts Meadow is no longer usable. The river has finally separated the root ball from the Eastern shore. Fording Information, 2010. I could jump it during 2007 and 2008, but by '09 it was a jump too far... )

Nevertheless, Murray Canyon remains a hanging canyon cut into the wall of the canyon above Falls Meadow along the East Fork of the Carson River. The East end of Murray Canyon terminates abruptly high above Falls Meadow, leaving the backpacker with a steep set of switchbacks cut into the East Carson River canyon-side from the East edge of Murray Canyon down to Falls Meadow along the East Carson River far below.

Murray Canyon Horse Story
Sharing the trail with our four-legged friends
I once watched two horse ladies ride up the very steepest section of the difficult trail up to the PCT via Murray Canyon from Falls Meadow alongside the East Carson River. They were like athletes on their horses. Their horses were straining, bellies close to the ground, their upper front legs stretched out parallel with the terrain, faces straining, ears pointing forward and down at the ground. Their lower legs digging in at a steep angle to their upper legs, virtually clawing and pulling themselves up the steep terrain. Man, horses are amazing climbers. The muscles on the horses legs were bulging out. They were churning up the mountainside like four-legged tractors.

The girls were moving on those horses like gymnasts on monkey bars, first hanging off one side, then the other, leaning far forward then far back, working in physical unison with their fine mounts as they clawed their way up the steep trail and around the obstacles. And they were big girls, moving so nimbly I can only call them horse ballerinas. It was a fine piece of riding. I was surprised as hell to see them up there.

I had seen them camping in Falls Meadow the evening before, when I hiked in. We mutually waved, and did the polite hand signals across the width of the meadow. They were in the big site overlooking the East Carson just North of where Murray Creek joins the East Carson River. From this site we can watch the beavers working the East Carson River. I could tell they did not want visitors or neighbors, so I headed up to the sites under Murray Falls, which gave us all privacy.

I departed up Murray Canyon long before they woke, and was at the top of the steepest part of the trail when I heard the straining, snorting, and cracking leather of their mounts climbing up the steep trail below me. I was amazed they were taking this route. Bad-assed. Not only was the trail very steep, but it was really suffering from the Spring Thaw, both from the saturation level of the soil, as well as the heavy degradation the thaw had done to the trail itself. Many sections were washed-out, more like covered by great flows of soft soil. Mud. I was climbing over and around boulders strewn along the narrow trail section that were not completely washed out. The snow had moved the rock, the thaw moved the soil. It is really amazing. I was constantly having to climb around these washed out sections, which was hard for me. But my ears do not lie, and I knew that mounted riders would soon be upon me, so I had to act immediately.

Horse Sense

First, I never want to scare a mount, so I've got to properly position myself before the horse sees me. That's the key to all trail encounters: Observe the situation before it happens. Old-school trail horses are as stable as tractors and rarely freak out, but young mounts are incredibly skittish, and I'm determined not to spook a young mount, especially on dangerous trail. I once watched a Mexican Cowboy ride a young mount that executed a 360 degree panic spin, the horse ass-up and bucking, its front legs locking down and popping out with each buck, describing a very tight circle from buck to buck under the heavy reign of the cowboy, in the high Emigrant Basin.

But the crazy bastard was not just bucking, but was also spinning sideways hard and fast with each buck. It was incredible.

A 40 mph howling wind and the trail's winding route between and around the huge granite boulders and formations rising out of the lush green meadow grasses just to the East of Emigrant Lake in the High Emigrant Basin made it impossible for me or the horseman to see or hear each other before me and the young horse were about eye-to-eye. That horse freaked out and took the cowboy for a spin. Literally.

The cowboy instantly hand-upped, raising one arm high above his head to balance himself in the spin as he stood straight up in the stirrups, heels locked in, reigns in the other hand, and rode that bucking horse all the way around, reigning it's terror first into a tight circle, and then into submission. He laughed and said "howdy, sorry about my horse, she's young," while the horse danced and snorted below him. It was a great piece of riding, and good thing it happened on the flat high-elevation meadow in the Emigrant Basin. I hated to have triggered that horse's panic, though as a result I was privileged to see that fine piece of horsemanship.

I pride myself on not freaking out man or beast, if at all possible. If I freaked out the ladies' horses on this steep trail, things could go way wrong way fast. A wreck here would be disastrous.

Hearing the girls climbing up below, I climbed about ten feet up the steep terrain above the trail, hid my pack so it would not bug the horses, took a low profile position, and started a bit of gentle clicking to reveal my position to both horse and rider just before they could see me. This way both the horse and rider were looking for me, rather than either being surprised to see me. Don't surprise horses on the trail.

The ears of the horses and the eyes of the horsewomen snapped towards me as they came into view up the mountain. The horses lost a little focus as they took me in, but my soft clicking and the reassurances of the riders kept them from losing their pace. I enjoyed watching a great piece of High Sierra riding as these women navigated their mounts up the harsh terrain. Wow.

Always observe the demeanor of the approaching horse, even when you've stashed yourself off trail as they approach. If the horse is skittish, don't even move. Make gentle noises and clicks, but don't move. If you are not sure, talk to the rider. If the horse and rider are chill, the horse may end up laying its head against your shoulder as you chat up the cowboy. I've met some pretty fine horses on the trail, and some tolerable cowboys too... he he. I've eaten filet mignon and drank cold beer and old scotch up and down the Sierra Crest, thanks to the fine cowboys I've met on the trail over the years.

Trail Rules

The "rules" of trail culture demand that the hiker give way to the horseman, and take a lower position on the trail as horses pass, as a lower position is less threatening to a horse than a high position. I modify this rule slightly. I always give way to horsemen, but I take the safest off-trail position to stash myself when I let them pass by, which may or may not be the low position. You will rarely find me near the hooves of a horse, and never find me between a cliff and a horse. I generally go high to let horses pass by.

The incredibly difficult terrain that an experienced trail horse with an experienced trail rider can negotiate never ceases to amaze me. These animals and the people that ride them can be quite amazing.

Horse and Cowboy forum

Down to the East Carson from the PCT via Murray Canyon

From the Pacific Crest Trail the Murray Canyon Trail works its way into the North side of Murray Canyon, then follows Murray Creek until the creek plunges off the edge of its hanging canyon into a steep channel composing a series of falls, which finally crashes into a corner of Falls Meadow through the aptly named Murray Falls. Murray Falls drops into the West side of Falls Meadow just about a mile downstream from the Carson Falls.

Murray Creek emerges from its falls in a narrow and potentially deep channel flowing into the East Carson.

Where the trail finally bottoms out in Falls Meadow we find that we have to cross Murray Creek, a few steps to our left, to the North, to reach either the campsites in Falls Meadow overlooking East Fork of the Carson River (beavers, bears, birds,...) or the campsites nestled in next to Murray Falls. Both sites are on the North side of Murray Creek.

Here in Falls Meadow the East Carson River has ended its steeper cascade down-mountain. The steep parts of the river are above Carson Falls. The river flattens out after passing through the labyrinth of Carson Falls.

To the Left of our Murray Canyon junction with Falls Meadow sits Murray Creek. Cross it to the North, then follow the sound of Murray Falls upstream to a set of nice campsites nestled under the mountain alongside Murray Falls and Creek. But by far the best place to camp and explore around here is at Carson Falls, just about a mile South of where the Murray Canyon trail enters Falls Meadow. Turn Right at the trail junction at the bottom of Murray Canyon to hike South up to Carson Falls. It is Totally worth the hike!

But first cruise up to the Murray Falls Campsite, to check out the Falls. And, wander around Carson Meadow for a while. Hike over to the bank of the East Carson River and check it out. There's a bunch of beavers working up and down the river. All sorts of stuff around.

I've seen mother bears with cubs in the meadow twice, and seen "scruffy," bears, bears that are out of mother's care, but not yet established as adult bears, all around there many times.

Never seen the big girl there. Always ran into her up Silver King Creek. But that's just a matter of timing. I think she's been killed by hunters, but her big golden descendents are all about. Possibly she lives.

Carson Falls

Carson Falls is composed of a massive granite plug stuffed into the transition point between the steeper drop of the East Carson River above the Falls from the (fairly) gentle meadow-side river course below. Well, the East Carson is gentle during mid-Summer and mid-Winter. During Spring and Fall the East Carson River is charged up above and below Carson Falls.

Over the ages the East Fork of the Carson River has cut a serpentine course deeply into the massive block of granite that makes up the Carson Falls, creating a long series of "pocket falls." What I call pocket waterfalls are inset into deeply eroded terrain. We look down at them, as the East Carson flys off the edge, falling deeper into and through this incredible serpentine route winding its way through a labyrinth of deeply cut channels through the rock.

The East Carson has cut a gorge where, over thousands of years, the East Carson River has cut a deeply submerged serpentine river-course through this massive rock formation on its way down to Falls Meadow.

It's pretty and amazing at the same time. Pretty Amazing.

I'll bet that just a brief few thousand years ago the East Carson River emptied out into Falls Meadow over this great granite plug, before the water was able to cut its route deep into the rock. I'll bet that the waterfall flowing off of the edge of this great granite block into Falls Meadow was in the form of a giant curtain waterfall spanning over a quarter of a mile of width, at least during the Spring Thaw.

It must have been a real sight. But now the East Carson River has cut a very deep and very beautiful serpentine route thorough this massive granite plug that is worthy of taking a day or two to explore before we hike up the rough unmaintained East Carson River Trail to join up with the PCT high up the river's course.

We can plan a number of point to point or circle trips through this very special area using Ebbetts Pass from the North, Sonora Pass from the South, Corral Valley from the East, and Disaster Creek from the West. Yeah, that should cover it.

I especially enjoy accessing the East Carson River and the Pacific Crest Trail from the East through the Corral Valley Trailhead. That's the most remote entry. I've entered through there during all four seasons. I've only made it all the way through to Sonora Pass during Spring and Fall snow conditions.

Carson Falls Trail
to the
PCT
Some notes for Cross Country Hikers on the Unmaintained East Carson River Trail

Above Carson Falls a fallen tree fords the East Carson River. The thin end, the tip of this fallen tree is on Southeast side of the ford. This means the tree begins bending downward as we cross Southbound, and is a bit of a chore to drop off of the thin end. This is not a problem over the river, only when we approach the far end of the tree.

Hiking in the Northbound direction we have to to climb up onto the thin end of the tree from the Southeast shore, which is also a bit of a chore. Especially if we are packing heavy...

This is the first of two fords along the unmaintained section. The next ford is at the top of the route, which we cross immediately before intersecting with the Pacific Crest Trail.

This lower ford brings us over to the East shore, where we follow a reasonable faint trail a short distance South to the deep horse ford and campsite marking the bottom of the Golden Canyon trail down from the Pacific Crest Trail.
South of this Golden Canyon Ford the trail goes away. The observant hiker notices the trail bending Southeast, getting fainter as it climbing up the Eastern wall of the canyon.

Our route-finding up and along this unmaintained East Carson River Trail route to the Pacific Crest Trail has begun.

This route remains do-able for experienced backpackers, but it has not been maintained for very many years.

It's a pretty rough go. We really have to keep our eyes open through there. Especially when it's covered with snow. This has been one of my traditional Winter-Spring-Fall and Summer routes since the late 1990s, after I had evolved good Winter travel practices.

Seasonal Options
During Winter the goal is to hike to the Corral Valley Trailhead from Highway 395 to the Marine Base on Highway 108. I've never thought it wise to continue South to Sonora Pass from the Sonora Gap during Wintertime. I hike up there, look at the snow-ice descent, then turn East to exit through the Marine Base.
During Spring the goal is Sonora Pass, at the top of Highway 108. I can get to the Sonora Gap during all four seasons, above Sonora Pass. But being able to get from the Sonora Gap down to Sonora Pass marks the opening of the trail in Spring for Summer backpackers.

These two Winter and Spring scouting trips up the East Carson River establish the trajectory, lay out a baseline for assessing every season in my mind's eye.
After these trips I venture pretty good predictions about the rise and fall of the rivers and increase and decline of the mosquitoes. The trajectory and character of the transition of Winter into Spring determines the basic timing of the moisture decrease over Summer, most important of which are water availability and mosquito population density. It lays out the foundation that the trends of Summer finish.
This involves having an idea of when drying in the upper reaches of the river basins slides the upper reaches of the rivers and creeks down mountain, when the meadows would begin to dry into golden hues, and when the masses of mosquitoes die. Every year's seasonal transitions have different timing of when their specific character expresses itself.

The East fork of the Carson River is a great place to take readings of each year's character.

South of Golden Canyon the visible trail route along the East Fork of the Carson climbs up the mountainside. We follow it up to find the trail disappear into, #1, either a steep gorge jammed with massive boulders, or #2, a seemingly impenetrable wall of brush off to our Right. Those are our first route choices on this challenging unmaintained trail...

Ha ha, push through either and you will pick up trail traces when you emerge above these first obstacles. Now it's ON!

Put on your glasses, turn on your thinking cap, because you are going to need your best observation and decision-making capabilities to easily and smoothly self-navigate yourself through this delightfully complex bit of terrain.

Not for the Faint at Heart
I rate the East Carson River Route between Carson Falls and the Pacific Crest Trail as a Great Three-Season route. But it is not for the faint of heart, the unfit, or inexperienced backpackers at any time, and especially when covered with Winter, Spring, or Fall snows. The "trail" between Carson Falls South to the Pacific Crest Trail along the East Carson River is a route-finding challenge even during the peak of Summertime.

Neither your maps nor your GPS will help you much in this section. Only good old route-finding skills and trail sense will assist your navigation through here. There are three or four points of decision that are below the resolution of the maps that require some interpretation and pondering.

It is at these points of decision where the resolution of human technology still far exceeds that of our electric tools, especially as tools have no interpretive capacity. Maps and GPS are only as beneficial as their application allows you to make correct decisions. The tools do not make decisions. We do. The tools cannot undo decisions. We undo.

The best Mapping and GPS tools are always limited to the effectiveness of the user.

The two maps below depict the unmaintained trail up the East Carson in two resolutions with two scales of regional context.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness
30 minute backpacking Map
Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

All Right, back to the Southbound Pacific Crest Trail at the Murray Canyon Trail junction.

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VIDEO
Discussion
at

Murray Canyon Trail Junction
Campsites 1.5 miles further South.

  Murray Canyon Trail Junction Options  
     

Video
Murray Canyon Trail Junction. Time: 2:26

Thinking about the hiking options at the Murray Canyon trail junction.

Video Playlist
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass

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Hiking Loops
through
Murray and Golden Canyons

Backpacking Loops
from the
Eastern Sierra

The Trail Route Options
hiking
West from the Golden Canyon
trail junction on the

PCT

Big loops using the PCT and TYT through the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness
The Murray Canyon trail heads 2.95 miles East to the East Carson River from the junction, offering no Western trail route over to Disaster Creek. The Golden Canyon trail junction offers trails both East to the East Carson River and West to Disaster Creek.

At Golden Canyon we can hike 3.16 miles West over the Sierra Crest line down through Paradise Valley on the Western flank to connect with Disaster Creek.

Disaster Creek runs North and South from the PCT at Wolf Creek Pass to the TYT at the top of the Clarks Fork Road.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness
30 minute backpacking Map

From Disaster Creek we can head North towards road access at Highland Lakes through the Gardner Meadow Trailhead, or hike South to the Disaster Creek Trailhead along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail at the very end of the paved road up the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River off of Highway 108.

Disaster Creek is one of our four trail options for crafting grand loops of various lengths through the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. Heading South down disaster Creek brings us to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail along the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River.

We have four trails along creeks that connect the PCT and TYT routes between Highways 4 and 108. Highland, Arnot, Disaster, and Boulder Creeks all offer connections from the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail down the length of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.

The Southern Disaster Creek trailhead is located at the end of the old paved road tracing out the original pioneer wagon road that preceded the opening of Highway 108. This old road follows the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River up from Highway 108 to the Arnot, Disaster, and Clarks Fork trailheads along the Clarks Fork, as well as a trailhead leading over The Dardanelles to Sword and Lost Lakes near Spicer Meadow Reservoir.

Using one of these four trails to hike up to the Pacific Crest Trail, and one of the other trails to hike back to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail allows us to craft a great variety of backpacking loops that provide an excellent way to introduce yourself to the remote trails accessing the fine terrain of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.

This big topo hiking map of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness I gussied-up marks these route options. Click the RED DOTS marking trailhead and trail junctions to see that location on the trail guide. Click the black-dotted trail routes for the underlying 15 minute detailed backpacking maps.

Also check out this report of a 50 mile loop around the Carson Iceberg Wilderness using bits of both the PCT and TYT.

On its Northern side the Disaster Creek Trail ends where it connects to the trail between Wolf Creek Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail and the Gardner Meadow trail head near Upper Highland Lake.

Alas, I suspect most readers here are more interested in heading up and down the Pacific Crest Trail past the Murray Canyon trail junction than veering off into the lower reaches of the East Carson River or crafting a grand loop around the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness using Disaster Creek as a leg of the trip.

But you can. Backpacking loops around the Carson Iceberg Wilderness are amazing fun.

If you are looking for a beautifully remote and fairly easy backpacking experience in a most remote area of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, then approaching Carson Falls from the East, from Highway 395, is a trip for you.

The hike West to Carson Falls along the East Carson River is delightful and easy. It only gets harder if you push past the falls up the East Carson.

If you are looking for a challenging place to try out your expert route-finding skills, then by all means push into the segment of trail above Carson Falls up the East Carson River to its junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

Getting to Carson Falls from the East is fairly easy. Getting past it is a different story.

More Information

See
Walker to Sonora Pass
A Great Three Season Backpacking Trip. Marines, Leavitt Peak, and Snow Trips Too!

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comments

 

Back to the
Pacific Crest Trail
at the
Murray Canyon Trail Junction

Continuing our hike South along the Pacific Crest Trail for 9.83 miles from this Murray Canyon trail junction brings us to where the South end of the East Carson River trail's unmarked route joins with the Pacific Crest Trail route at an obvious, but unmarked junction.

I'm the one who's been ducking this junction every Spring for many years until 2010. It's a plainly visible junction to anyone who keeps their eyes open. I'm generally in and out (and have reducked this junction) long before any Pacific Crest or local hikers get into this section of the Carson-Iceberg. Well, I was the one who ducked this junction during the past 20 years...

An injury in early 2011 (jan, frostbite.) made my annual Spring Trip up the East Carson impossible during 2011 and 2012. Heart issues killed 2013, and a broken leg in early 2014 has not improved hiking prospects...

Sigh.

Well, I've more time to write the guide, rather than compile information and experience.

The video below is a reprise of this discussion about the Murray Canyon Trail Junction in proximity to the East Carson River, and also notes the campsites about a mile and a half to the South of the junction.

These sites are in proximity to an upper branch of Murray Creek reaching up across the Pacific Crest Trail. The creek will not reach up to the PCT during these times of dire drought and radical changes in the character of the seasons.
If you really want to stay here after the water has retreated further down into Murray Canyon you will have to follow the streambed down to the main body of Murray Creek.

There are also campsites ahead in Golden Canyon, a beautiful site along the upper reaches of Boulder Creek where we pass around the West flank of Boulder Peak, the expansive site at the PCT-East Carson River Trail, and Hunter's Camp high up in the East Carson River's headwaters bowl.

We are going to check out all these sites as we continue hiking South.

All of these sites are linked to from all the maps and the miles and elevations pages.

Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
Pacific Crest Trail Miles and Elevations

Murray Canyon is
10.87 miles South of Ebbetts Pass.

Murray Canyon is
18.57 miles North of Sonora Pass.

After I lay in the basic guide pages for the main PCT and TYT routes through the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness I will add guide pages for the Highland Creek, Boulder Creek, and East Carson River trails that connect up with the main routes.

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Continuing South
on the
Pacific Crest Trail from Murray Canyon

Murray Canyon Campsites

  Fire ring at campsites South of Murray Canyon trail junction.       Flat with many campsites on the South side of the unmarked stream up the center of Murray Canyon.  
  Campsites 1.5 miles S. Murray Canyon.       Campsites South of Murray Canyon trail junction.  

Keep your eyes open as you cross the center of Murray Canyon.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map

This flat is on the East side of the PCT.  
North View from Murray Canyon

Looking North from a break in the spotty forest cover while crossing the upper reaches of Murray Canyon.

We are looking back at the Northern Shark fin, Peak 9362, which marked our Southbound entrance into Murray Canyon.

9362 from N of Murray Campsites.

Murray Canyon drains East, into the East Fork of the Carson River, to our Right.

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Peak 9362

Peak 9360 in Carson Iceberg Wilderness.

Looking North at Peak 9362 on the North edge of Murray Canyon.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map

Detail of Peak 9362

Peak 9632 Carson Iceberg Wilderness.

Detail of upper South Flank of Peak 9632.

Indications of uniform cooling of large bodies of lava into columns first appeared hiking South from Wolf Creek Pass on and around Arnot Peak.

The Northern and Southern Sharkfins marking the ends of the Murray and Golden Canyons are excellent examples of this type of lava deposition and cooling.

This USGS article explains the mechanism:

Devils Postpile National Park Geologic Story

Though focused on Devils Postpile, this article explains certain elements of the terrain we've passed through.

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Murray Canyon Scenes

  Field of broken volcanic rocks.       Sunburst over the Sierra Crest.  
  Lava rock field.       Sun Streamer above the Sierra Crest.  
A Martian-like scene frozen in time. This area has not changed much for decades, if not centuries!

Sunrays over Murray Canyon. You had to be there... but you get the idea.

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North along the Sierra Crest

Northwest corner of Murray Canyon along the Sierra Crest.

Northwest corner of Murray Canyon along the Sierra Crest.

We've been wrapping around the upper end of Murray Canyon.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map

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Cone along Sierra Crest above Murray Canyon

Cone rising along East Sierra Nevada Crestline.

A great volcanic cone rises off the East flank of the Sierra Nevada above Murray Canyon.

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Flower, Purple, Murray Canyon

Phlox?
Flower, purple, Murray Canyon, Pacific Crest Trail, Carson Iceberg Wilderness

8960 feet, July 2009. Lovely color and shape.

Comments-Precise Identification?

Have any impressive images of High Sierra flora and fauna you'd like to share?

That's why the Backpackers's Trail and Topics Forum has a

Living Things Forum

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Hiking South out of Murray Canyon

Exiting the very top of Murray Canyon, Southbound.
Heading South out of Murry Canyon.

This is the snowberm during July of 2009.

Note the heavy snow berm during October in the video from 2011. The picture above is within "normal" (whatever that is...) seasonal ranges, while the massive snowberm of October 2011 is indicative of the heavy snow pack that kept the high trails covered until mid August of 2011.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

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Video
Murray Canyon and Golden Canyon

BIG ERROR in Video
I call Stanislaus Peak "Disaster Peak"

That's what I get for walking myself stupid... and then Talking!

  Departing Murray Canyon Southbound, Trail Junction Options  
     

Video: Hiking Murray and Golden Canyons. 7:59

Note: Disaster Peak sits to the Southwest of our position hiking South into Murray Canyon, being located at the top of Golden Canyon.

Video Playlist
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass

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Stanislaus Peak
Ari Coming South through the Gap

Ari exits Murray Canyon Northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Ari hiking Northbound out of Golden Canyon into Murray Canyon. Tuesday October 25th, 2011. Clouds thickened and mini-snow flurries swept across the high points of the terrain before the clouds dissipated and clear cold skies brought nighttime temps way down.

I generally hike alone, but am always glad to backpack with my pal Ari. This was my first hike after losing the tip of my toe during the first days of January of 2011. Well, it took months for the tip of the toe to rot off after the initial frostbite injury.

Ari was good to have along on my first trip out.

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Stanislaus Peak

This is the correct identification:

View South of Stanislaus Peak in central foreground and Sonora Peak in the Left background, looking South approaching the divide between Murray and Golden Canyons.

The peak between Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks sits above what I call "The Prominence." The Prominence is a great rock face we will see as we hike up the East Carson River between Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks. The Prominence rises from the West side of the upper East Carson River's upper canyon.

Disaster Peak is to our Right, out of sight at the head of Golden Canyon.

The Southern Sharkfin, Peak 9501, rises in the Left foreground, marking the South edge of Golden Canyon and the location of the Swampy Lake.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

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Stanislaus Peak, Sonora Peak in far background Left
View South between Murray and Golden Canyons.

TWO RIVERS
Stanislaus Peak in distant foreground, Sonora Peak in distant Left background.
The most important feature in the image above is the one we can't see: The two rivers that bracket these Sierra Crest Peaks.

The Stanislaus - Sonora Peak Massif ahead marks the convergence of the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails.

The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail follows the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus up the West flank of the Sierra to Saint Marys Pass wrapping around the Western base of Stanislaus Peak. The Clarks Fork flows West between Stanislaus Peak and the ridgeline we can see in the distance beyond its descending ridge arm.

Our Pacific Crest Trail route up the East fork of the Carson River passes under the Eastern flank of Stanislaus Peak before we traverse the Eastern and Southern flanks of Sonora Peak. Our PCT wraps around the East flank of Sonora Peak to arrive at Sonora Pass, while the TYT wraps around its Western flank. The Saint Marys Trailhead is less than a mile West of Sonora Pass along Highway 108.

The PCT and TYT almost converge on Highway 108.

This line of Sierra Crest mountains divide the beginnings of two these two great North Sierra river systems, as it also brings together the lines of these two great trails together near Sonora Pass.

Knowing this from the trail tells us that we are drawing much closer to our next resupply spot at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. We're a little less than 20 miles North of the Sonora Pass trailhead on Highway 108 from our position here, hiking into the top of Murray Canyon.

We are planning where the best campsite will be to stage up for an early arrival at Kennedy Meadows if we are standing on the North edge of Murray Canyon early in the morning, and we are holding a hiking pace of 15+ miles a day.
In that situation I'm thinking I can hit Hunter's Camp today, which is about 13 miles South of Murray Canyon located on a fine vista overlooking the upper canyon of the East Carson and all the way across to Silver and Highland Peaks, from a super-delightful wooded flat just below the headwaters bowl of the East Carson River.

If it's late in the afternoon I'll be thinking about making it to the Boulder Creek Campsite, and even down to the campsite at the East Carson trail junction if it's a bit earlier in the afternoon. If it is really late in the afternoon or early twilight, we'll likely be pushing hard to see if there's enough water in the tributaries reaching into the upper areas of Murray and Golden Canyons where our PCT route crosses to support a campsite.

The point is to understand that our time at a location has significant meaning for scheduling our upcoming water and food breaks with local resources. We can see 12 miles to the North all the up to the East Carson Gap from the North end of Murray Canyon. It behooves us to look carefully at the upcoming terrain to consider how far we will get during the remaining daylight, and just where we will be when Sun hits the horizon.

I'm going to be somewhere that brings me great joy, if at all possible...

The nearby landmark of the Southern Sharkfin, Peak 9501, is seen marking the South end of Golden Canyon in the Left foreground of the image above.

Boulder Lake to Sonora Pass
15 minute Topo Backpacking Map
Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

Two Sharkfin formations and Two Canyons:

Murray and Golden Canyons Map
Detailed 15 minute Topo Map

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Wide View South down the Pacific Crest Trail

View South of Sharkfin, Stanislaus Peak, Sonora Peak, and the East Carson Gap.

View South of East Carson Gap, The Southern Sharkfin, Sonora Peak, Stanislaus Peak, and the Clarks Fork, from Left to Right from the North edge of Murray Canyon.

Our Upcoming Route South
The Pacific Crest Trail route passes North and South through the East Carson Gap, which we can see split by shadow and light in the distant background on the far Left of the image. That's where our PCT route runs North-South, in our case South to exit the headwaters bowl of the East Fork of the Carson River over to Wolf Creek Lake.

To the Right of the East Carson Gap we see Sonora Peak's great triangular bulk rising up to compose the most distant of the three great peaks filling the center of the image.

Passing South through the East Carson Gap the PCT continues South, gradually climbing the East flank of Sonora Peak before turning West, to the Right, to traverse the South flank of Sonora Peak before finally turning Southeast to drop down to Sonora Pass and Highway 108.
The final stages of our hike to Sonora Pass will wrap around two of Sonora Pass's flanks.

Lay of the Land
Stanislaus Peak
dominates the center of the image. Stanislaus Peak divides the East Fork of the Carson River running along its Left, its East flank from the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus flowing past at the base of its Western flank. The Pacific Crest Trail runs up the East Carson towards Sonora Pass while the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail's route moves to converge with the PCT near Sonora Pass along the Clarks Fork and over Saint Marys Pass, which brings the TYT to Highway 108 a mile West of the PCT at Sonora Pass.

Check out this massive map that tracks the TYT and PCT down to Highway 108 and South to the Yosemite Boundary:

Sonora Pass Region Backpacking Map
USGS 30 minute topo map

The black dotted trail routes link to detailed maps, the red dots link to trail guide information.

The light brown rounded mass rising in the Left foreground is the Southern Sharkfin, Peak 9501. Looked at from most perspectives, the mass of the Southern Sharkfin resembles a sharkfin. The Southern Sharkfin marks our Southbound exit from the Golden Canyon, as the Northern Sharkfin marked our Southbound entrance into Murray Canyon. Both are valuable landmarks.

Hiking South past the Southern Sharkfin we will turn West for a short detour around Boulder Peak onto the Western Flank of the Sierra and the Western drainage of Boulder Creek for a very short distance until we return to hiking along the edge of the top of the Western Wall overlooking the East Carson River's fantastic canyon.

A short distance South past Boulder Peak we arrive at the Boulder Lake trail junction. A faded old trail leads West down to Boulder Lake, where a good trail descends to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail along the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River.

The Boulder Lake trail junction along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail marks where the Southbound route up to Saint Marys Pass begins to degrade into unmaintained status, then into basic route-finding, and finally into a short length of cross country route finding over the final distance from Clarks Meadow to Saint Marys Pass.

The upcoming Boulder Lake trail junction is perfect for us if we are thinking about trading in our difficult, but well-marked route up the East Carson River to Sonora Pass Trailhead on the PCT for the even more difficult, unmaintained and cross country route up the Clarks Fork on the TYT to Saint Marys Pass Trailhead.

We have that option through the Boulder Lake trail junction. Here's a map from the TYT section of the guide laying out the route off the PCT down to the TYT for the Clarks Fork route over Saint Marys Pass:

Arnot Creek to Boulder Lake Junction Map
15 minute USGS topo hiking MAP

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A Different Perspective on Stanislaus Peak

Stanislaus Peak in Fall snow from the East.
Stanislaus in Spring snow.

Looking West across the East Carson River
This view of Stanislaus Peak is from the unmaintained trail on the East side of the East Fork of the Carson River, upstream from Carson Falls, heading up to the Pacific Crest Trail the hard way, having started walking from the Eastern Base of High Sierra Escarpment in Antelope Valley along Highway 395. October 2009.

This perspective is looking West from the East shore of the East Fork of the Carson River through a gap in forest and mountain.

I went in after a Fall storm laid a nice coat of snow onto the terrain.

This USGS topo map shows the unmaintained route up the East Fork of the Carson River. Look for Carson Falls on the far Right or East side of the topo map. The unmaintained route stretches from Carson Falls South to its junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

My access point was from the East, off of Highway 395 between Walker and Coleville.

Walker to Sonora Pass
A Great Three Season Backpacking Trip.
Marines, Leavitt Peak, and Snow Trips Too!

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East Carson Gap

Our visible goal to the South across this section of trail is marked by the East Carson Gap. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses this 10,240 foot low point in the dead center of the East Carson headwaters bowl seen below.

The East Carson Gap sits between the 11,459 feet of Sonora Peak rising to the West, right in the image below and White Peak's 11,324 feet rising to the East.

The gap is just visible from our position between Murray and Golden Canyons in this long telephoto image.

The PCT climbs up to the low point in the gap from the right...

East Carson Gap, our goal to the South.

Beyond the East Carson Gap pretty little Wolf Creek Lake sits on its little shelf nestled-in under the Eastern Flank of Sonora Peak.

As soon as we cross the flat on the gap we will see it.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

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The North side of Golden Canyon to the Southern Sharkfin

The Lay of the Land, Options...

We encounter a volcanic "sharkfin" formation approaching Murray and Golden Canyons from either the North or the South. The video clips in the following film show the sharkfins located on the Northern side of Murray Canyon and the one that marks the Southern side of Golden Canyon.

The Sharkfin on the Northern side of Murray Canyon is noted as Peak 9362 while the one on the Southern end of Golden Canyon is Peak 9501. Murray and Golden Canyons are located in quick succession between these landmarks.

These sharkfin formations are identifiable as volcanic rock similar to the structure at Devils Post Pile. The difference is that these rock piles did not cool at the proper time and temp to produce the perfect octagonal hexagonal columns as the rock at the Postpile did. They are unique.

These sharkfins are composed of uneven columns of rock that are falling apart, falling into the rough outline of sharkfins to the imaginative eye of the distant solo hiker.

Added to the sharktooths formed along the Sierra crestline by erosion of the hard volcanic crestline to our North, I note this section of trail from Wolf Creek Pass to the South end of Golden Canyon "sharkfin and sharktooth territory." These unique features are quite distinctive landmarks.

Check out the following video for a look at this section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Murray & Golden Canyon MAP
Detailed USGS Topo Map
Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
Pacific Crest Trail Miles and Elevations

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Looking North into Golden Canyon

The deeply-cut PCT dropping into the North side of Golden Canyon. Such deeply cut sections of the trail are rare in the North Sierra. This particular example is as much a product of its location and role in the Spring Thaw as it is of backpacker traffic.

A couple of block-rocks properly set will stop the Spring Thaw from continuing to cut a seasonal creek through this section of trail.

This points out a different problem. Park Funding. We are hiking across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness in the Toiyabe National Forest. The Toiyabe is one of the biggest, and financially thinnest stretched, of all the Forests that administer the Tahoe to Whitney Trails.

That's the real reason why the trail along Raymond Peak, the trail below, and the trail across the South flank of Sonora Peak are often in sketchy condition.

We don't spend enough on our National Forest, our National Park, or our CCC trail crews. Don't blame the trail crew.

They only expertly execute their instructions.

Trail South into Golden Canyon.

We can see Boulder Creek's Western drainage behind Golden Canyon's Southern limit.

The PCT bends around to the Right, following the perimeter of Golden Canyon up high enough to keep it above the wetness of the Spring Thaw.

During Summertime you will rightly question this long route around the canyon, while during Spring you will be happy it takes the high route around the floor of the canyon.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

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Disaster Peak

Western Upper Golden Canyon topped by Disaster Peak.
Upper Golden Canyon.

The Pacific Crest Trail heads South tracing the long way around the upper rim of Golden Canyon, around to the Right.

At the head of the canyon sits Disaster Peak.

During Summertime it sometimes seems as if the trail takes the "long way" around rather than across features such as Golden Canyon. True That.

One look at the quagmire conditions that come with the Spring Thaw will show you why the trail route stays high on the mountain around the center of both Murray and Golden Canyons. But the route that makes sense during Spring makes no sense during Summer. Until we wrap our mind around the seasonal cycle here. Then the trail makes perfect sense.

Brush and dense undergrowth make the trail vital during Summer, but once the snows of Winter cover the terrain the best routes open up too.

The trails are intentionally designed to loop around areas of early-season wetness.

Trail routings that make no sense at all during Summertime are the height of Trail Route Logic during the Spring Thaw.

Check the Trail Crew and Trail Work Forum.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

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Valley Heat
and
Moisture Surging
up the
Western Sierra Flank
DANGER COMING

July, Noon: Summer heat carried in clouds of moisture exploding into action blowing up from the Valley over the Western flank of the Sierra.

We are just below the Sierra Crest on the Eastern Flank of the Sierra looking West at the leading edge of a shock wave of heat and moisture concentrating into the potential for violent electrical storms and heavy downpours.

Summer heat clouds coming up from the Valley.

Watch these Bad Boys Carefully!

IT IS ON.

"A freight train is a-coming, packing big heat, sometimes we got to get off the trail, if our maker we don't want to meet."

Heading South on the Pacific Crest Trail from Golden Canyon we will eventually hike to a long exposed crossing up, around, and down Sonora Peak to Sonora Pass. When we climb South out of the East Carson Headwaters we will be climbing out of the last fringes of protective forest onto an exposed traverse over 5 miles of high elevation across the barren flanks of Sonora Peak to reach Sonora Pass.

Very dangerous under strengthening thunderstorms spitting lightening.

Northbound long distance hikers face the exposed crossing of Tyron Peak, if lightening storms are developing.

Other than those two sections we do have exposed crossings, but they are lower down in the terrain, short, and fairly safely passable with common sense. The key is to stay safe under the weather. When lightening fires up I follow the forest line around exposed meadows and other dangerous locations the route of the trail might cross when the lightening is striking. I follow the safest route when possible, and when a safe passage is not possible I hunker down and set up camp in a safe location until I can cross the exposed terrain in safety.

Hiking over Sonora and Tyron Peaks during active storms is stupid; it leave our asses hanging out for lightening to strike.

Crossing these exposed sections is highly unadvisable if these thunder clouds continue to mass up, deepen, and build strength as we approach our high exposed crossings.

Timing is going to be our key to passage across exposed high elevation positions if active weather is brewing.

My observations indicate these dangerous lightening conditions build passively until around 2 pm in the afternoon (different times on different days with differing conditions), when the massing clouds explode into violent thunderstorms packing heavy lightening and downpours, even light snow and hail.
These storm conditions can, and generally do continue until sunset, though they may break up earlier, but once the heat storm pattern has started these daily afternoon storms will run from 2 pm until sunset for as many days as the optimal storm generation conditions continue in The Valley.

Hot temps (100+) in the Valley pushed up the Western flank of the Sierra by an onshore breeze can knock things off the hook. Especially since recent weather changes have moved much more humid masses of air further North.

These conditions require that we continually calculate the time we expect to cross exposed terrain against our observation of the evolution of atmospheric conditions. If afternoon heat condensation storms are brewing up, we must recognize them early, and be able to time our exposed crossings to avoid them.

If these clouds consolidate into a thunder and lightening storm we will make camp in a safe position rather than attempting an exposed crossing through these extremely dangerous lightening conditions.

Anticipate, Observe, Analyze, Act, React.

At the very least, Don't be a Dumbass.
Watch the Environment Carefully

Drawing on our experience is one thing, putting it into a historical context is another. The top two historical causes of death for backcountry travelers are crossing rivers and lightening.

Don't become a statistic. Keep your eyes on the skies and be river-wise.

This means that stopping or turning around are always options.

Mountain Safety Forum

Lightening Prediction Tools

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Golden Canyon & Paradise Valley trail junction on the Pacific Crest Trail

  Golden Canyon to the East.       Paradise Valley to the West.  
  Golden Canyon trail junction on the Pacific Crest Trail. Paradise Valley to the West, Golden Canyon to the East.  
 

The PCT North and South.

Detailed Topo Map --

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Map
30 minute backpacking map

3.16 miles through Paradise Valley sits Disaster Creek.

 

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Golden Canyon trail Junction

Miles

3.76 miles East to the East Fork of the Carson River Trail.

 

Goldern Canyon is 12.73 miles South of Ebbetts Pass

Goldern Canyon is 16.71 miles North of Sonora Pass

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

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Paradise Valley West
to
Disaster Creek

Miles

From the Disaster Creek Trailhead on the Clarks Fork Road to its Northern tee into the trail from Gardner Meadow to Wolf Creek Pass, the length of the Disaster Creek Trail is 7.02 miles.

Hiking West from Golden Canyon around the North side of Disaster Peak through Paradise Valley down to Disaster Creek locates us 4.11 miles South of the trail T between Gardner Meadow and Wolf Creek Pass, and 2.91 miles North of the Disaster Creek Trailhead on Clarks Fork Road.

This connector trail is one of four that makes great loops out of Highland Lakes or the Clark Fork Road between the PCT and TYT possible.

Disaster Creek Trailhead to Lower Gardner Meadow

Disaster Creek Trailhead                               0                                                                               

1st Junction, to PCT S of Boulder Peak        2.83

                                                                      .08

2nd Junction, to PCT @ Golden Canyon       2.91

                                                                     1.27

3rd Junction, spur trail                                 4.18

                                                                        .75

Entering Arnot                                              4.93

                                                                         .72

Arnot Creek ford                                            5.65

                                                                         .52

Junction with Arnot Creek Trail / Upper Gardner Meadow                                                         6.17

                                                                          .85

Junction with Gardner Meadow Trail               7.02

For more information about backpacking loop trips around the Carson Iceberg Wilderness read the trail guide, especially the notes on the top of the Jenkins Canyon guide page and the Jenkins Canyon- Highland Creek Map.

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Golden Canyon Campsites

The Lay of the Land

Just South of the Golden Canyon-Paradise Valley trail junction on the Pacific Crest Trail sits a little city of campsites on a wide forested flat.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness
30 minute backpacking Map
Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

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

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Campsites South of Golden Canyon trail junction

  Campsites South of Golden Canyon Trail Junction  
     

Video: Golden Canyon Campsites, 1:04.

Check the
7.5 USGS Detailed Topo Map

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

Video Playlist
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass

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View to the Southeast hiking across the Center of Golden Canyon

East Carson River Canyon

View Southeast: We are now getting grand views of the upper reaches of the East Carson River Valley.
East Carson River valley beyond S Sharkfin, (Peak 9501)

Golden Canyon drops away to our Left in the foreground, the Southern Sharkin sits middle-left marking the Southern extent of Golden Canyon and the location of the swampy lake, and the great gorge of the East Carson beyond shows us our way South towards its headwaters bowl sitting under the Southwestern flank of White Mountain in the far distant Right of the image above.

Peak 10990 rises in the distance above the top Left of the Southern Sharkfin and Whitecliff Peak is out of view just off the Left edge of the image.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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East Flank above East Carson River

Darkening clouds brings out deep contrasts in the terrain.
East Carson River.

I can't get enough of the East Fork of the Carson River...

The great red peak is Peak 10990 just a bit South of Whitecliff Peak along the top of the Eastern wall of the East Carson River's Canyon.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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  Until I've plainly gotten enough...  
  One beat Al, Headwaters East Carson River, Winter of 1998.  

One beat Al, East Carson River Headwaters during a trip up through the East Carson, Winter of 1998.

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Ancient Rock Star: The Lahar

Detail of great granite formations eroding out of their ancient volcanic jacketing. This "jacket" was applied by the ancient volcanic debris flooding of a massive lahar.
Detail of East Carson River granite.

The hard granite terrain making up the East Fork of the Carson River was first deeply and steeply cut into a narrow North-South valley by glacial ice.

The toughness of the rock and its tight jointing resisted the power of the ice, only allowing a narrow channel to be cut through the rock. The rock did not allow this channel to be cut Eastward, downward with the flow of gravity out of the Sierra, but forced the ice to flow North.

The gorge and its surrounding terrain was subsequently flooded-drowned really-10,000 years ago by ancient flows of volcanic debris from a series of massive eruptions. These flows were thousands of feet deep. Super-Lahars, I would say.

I think about the timing of the last massive volcanic eruptions that rocked the Sierra as I observe the remnants of the ancient ferocity of their Lahar flows. The remnants of these flows stretch down the Sierra Crestline from Lake Tahoe to South of Reds Meadow creating a convoluted interface between granite, volcanic, and metamorphic rock with small bits of Super-Ancient pre-Sierra uplift rock thrown in for good measure.

I imagine massive volcanic eruptions from Lake Tahoe down to Mammoth Mountain exploding out from under and around deep granite valleys already buried under thousands of feet of glacial ice. What a mess that made.

Judging by the scope of these ancient lahar flows, which were big enough to literally bury tall mountains and drown deep valleys under thousands of feet of flowing liquid volcanic debris, many of these granite valleys quickly transformed their massive loads of ice into massive lahar flows.

For thousands of years since then some of the granite peaks of these submerged mountains stuck out through their surrounding ocean of volcanic debris. Runoff water cut rivers into the volcanic debris filling granite valleys buried below. For thousands of years granite islands were the only sign of the existence of the grand granite terrain buried far below.

Today the ancient granites of the East Carson River are emerging from their volcanic grave. The terrain is losing its volcanic jacket.

Thousands of years of water, ice, wind, tectonic uplift, and chemical breakdown have scoured some of the soft but persistent volcanic remnants off of the underlying granites along the East Fork of the Carson River, revealing the grandeur of the ancient granites below.

The Pacific Crest Trail winds around and through many of these granite islands floating in this slowly diminishing high tide of volcanic debris as we hike through the East Carson River drainage.

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Whitecliff Peak to the East

Whitecliff Peak, peeking out over the top of the great rock formation in the foreground, which divides two great hanging valleys on the East side of the East Carson River gorge.

In the foreground we are looking over the South end of Golden Canyon.

Whitecliff Peak above East shore of East Carson River.

Each of these two successive hanging canyons along the West wall of the East Carson River Canyon has a major creek running out of it. I've long looked at both of these remote canyons as potential places to explore. I'll bet that both these valleys are full of bear, deer, and trout.

I've hiked through Murray Canyon a couple of times during Spring, but it was so full of mosquitoes and soft terrain that I never tarried.

Silver King Creek sits on the backside, the East side of Whitecliff Peak and its hanging canyons. It is incredibly quiet back there along the Silver King Creek.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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View South-Southwest

In the distant South we can see Leavitt Peak.
Looking SW we can see the ridge dividing Clarks Fork from Sonora Pass Road.

I'm always trying to figure out distant mountains to better understand where I am in the grand context of the Sierra.

Long views Southwest begin to open up as we hike around the upper Western edge of Golden Canyon approaching Golden and Swampy Lakes.

We are again getting a look across the Western flank of the Sierra Nevada, the first since hiking from Tyron Peak to Wolf Creek.
The drainage below the South and Southwes flanks of Disaster and Boulder Peaks flow down the West flank of the Sierra to Boulder Lake, which feeds the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus which the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is following up to Saint Marys Pass.

We are looking across the upper reaches of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus at the high point of the great Sierra Massif rising to the South of Sonora Pass capped by Leavitt Peak. Leavitt Peak is the snow-stripped peak on the Left of the image.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map
Sonora Pass Region Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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Leavitt Peak to the South

Same Range July 2009.
Fierce ridgcrest on the Western Sierra flank below Saint Marys Pass.

The upper image was taken in October of 2011 and reflects the snow cover that remained on the mountains through the shortened Summer backpacking season.

Local MAP

Regional MAP

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Rock-Bound Creek on the South Side of Golden Canyon

As we gently climb South out of Golden Canyon we encounter this rock-bound creek and feeble pool I have always identified as Golden Lake. Some of the rocks are granite, some volcanic...
Creek on North side of Golden Canyon.

No shade, but fresh cold water.

A short ways South of here we exit Golden Canyon approaching the Swampy Lake and Sharkfin 9501.

Neither Golden Lake or the Swampy Lake are great places to camp, though Golden Lake's active stream offers water.

It's much harder to get water out of the Swampy Lake because there is no distinct shoreline, only a transition from soggy soil to deeper soggy soil. By the time we are far enough out to get water we are up to our ankles.

Combined with the heavy mosquito population fed by the widespread moisture of the Swampy Lake, this is not a great place to camp.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

Wolf Creek to Swampy Lake
Detailed 15 minute USGS topo map

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South Sharkfin & The Swampy Lake

The Lay of the Land

Swampy Lake on Disaster Peak topo map.

Check your map USGS Disaster Peak 7.5 quadrangle against your hiking map. Your hiking map should depict this lake as swampy... If not, your map is wrong.

Ebbetts Pass to Wolf Creek Pass
15 minute backpacking MAP
Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

Wolf Creek to Swampy Lake
Detailed 15 minute USGS topo map

Unmaintained Trail Section

Note that there is a trail junction at the lowest left corner of the map. This unmarked and unmaintained trail runs down to Disaster Creek. I've never hiked down it, but tracks I've observed here indicate that this trail is used heavily by horses in Fall.

I've always entertained an unspoken assumption that the cowboys who come up here for Fall Roundup have a campsite down there. That's what the tracks indicated during a couple of Fall trips through here, and it accounts for my observations. This area has long been under grazing leases.

The cowboys are all over the mountains during late September and early October. They use these faint trails to chase their cows around when they round them up in October.

This rough cross-country trail twists its way Northeast down to a junction on the Disaster Creek Trail 2.83 miles North of the Disaster Creek Trailhead at the top of the Clarks Ford Road. If we head North up Disaster Creek instead of South we will have a 4.19 mile hike up to the junction with the trail between Gardner Meadow and Wolf Creek Pass.

I have a picture of this faint trail off of the Pacific Crest Trail, but I can't find it...

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Mole Casings on the Trail:
Unique for October on the Pacific Crest Trail

Mole Casing decorating the center of the Pacific Crest Trail, October 2011.
Mole casing on Pacific Crest Trail in late October 2011.

See Fall Report: Carson-Iceberg Oct 2011 for a discussion of trail conditions and the message mole casings on the trail in October is sending.

Both the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail routes were littered with mole casings during October of 2011, signs of the very short Summer of 2011.

Mole casings are remnants of the moles cleaning out their underground passages when the surface is covered with many feet of snow.

The moles make tunnels in the snow above the ground, which they fill with the soils they dig out of their underground burrows as they cut new tunnels and clean up the old.

When the snow melts during Spring we begin to see these tubes of soil emerge from snowbanks, until the disappearance of the snow leaves long lines of tubular soil across the terrain and trail.

During a normal hiking year these fragile tubes are quickly trodden into dust during early Spring. But we will still see these remnants of last Winter's underground activities when the snow sticks to the mountains deep into Summer. Summer snow discourages Summer backpackers, which leaves these mole casings undisturbed, and still visible in October.

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Team Opus at the Swampy Lake

Opus hiking Team Carson Iceberg Wilderness.

Dudes at Swampy Lake.

These are two of the four members of Team Opus, who we also encounter to our North at Wolf Creek Pass.

They were not real happy with Swampy Lake. Their planning assumed it was a reasonable campsite, but they had a hard time getting water out of the long interface between swampy shore and water deep enough to draw from.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

Wolf Creek to Swampy Lake
Detailed 15 minute USGS topo map

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The Swampy Lake

The Swampy Lake sits directly West of Peak 9501.
Swampy Lake by Peak 9051.

Camping here after it dries out and the mosquitoes diminish would not be so bad. Though it would be yet harder to get water from the Swampy Lake, but we can rely on the pool and stream from Golden Lake, which is not much of a lake but is generally a good water source.

Here at the Swampy Lake we have shade but no easy to access water.

If I need to camp around here I push on to the West flank of Boulder Peak, where the Boulder Creek runs through a shady forested slot in the terrain under Boulder Peak.

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Sharkfin 9501

The Pacific Crest Trail bends South around the the East shore of the Swampy Lake to pass between the lake and the breaking-down hulk of Peak 9501.
Southern Sharkin South of Golden Canyon, Peak 9501.

Peak 9501 is composed of a great mass of volcanic terrain that cooled into rough columns.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

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Base of the Southern Sharkfin

Neat boundary between rock and grass.
Sharkfin 9501 detail.

The uniform nature of this volcanic rock's formation causes a uniform breakdown of the feature over time.

Two Sharkfin formations and Two Canyons:

Murray and Golden Canyons Map
Detailed 15 minute Topo Map

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Swampy Lake Browning Up

Looking Southwest towards where the Swampy Lake and its accompanying marshy area drain into the Boulder Creek watershed.
swampy lake South of Golden Canyon.

Swampy Lake's wet meadow in Fall.

Swampy Lake in Early Summer

Swampy Lake displaying Spring Conditions during July.
Swampy Lake during July.

Can you hear the mosquitoes buzzing? I can.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

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Video
Sharkfin 9501 and the Swampy Lake

  South of Golden Canyon  
     

Video: South Sharkfin and Swampy Lake. 3:37

Video Playlist
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass


Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

Two Sharkfin formations and Two Canyons:

Murray and Golden Canyons Map
Detailed 15 minute Topo Map

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The bears are active-if unseen

Old Bear Tracks near Swampy Lake.
Old bear tracks.

Note how the toe prints share footprints... the arc of the toes give it away. The upper bear print overlaps the lower, with the toes centering both.

The last wet soil conditions here sufficient for these prints was 10 days prior.

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Bear Country

Bear Forum

This is Bear Country. Lots of bears have been prospering in these mountains for centuries. There is a big rectangle of terrain on the Southeast side of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness filled with remote untrailed mountains and valleys that has provided excellent almost-undisturbed bear habitat for a very very long time.

These are not the human acclimated fat bears you see in Yosemite Valley, though there have been some disturbing behavior changes during the last decade. These bears still sleep at night, still fear people, and generally only tap humans for food in quick twilight "hit and runs," when they try to snatch up goodies as they bolt across your camp when you step out of camp.

A fat, fully Human-acclimated Yosemite Bear sneers at such haste and discretion. Acclimated bears just walk right into camp with me standing right there, peruse my food defenses at their leisure, while I beat a retreat and commence bouncing rocks off bear's head. The bear says, "Ho-Hum, rocks are below my notice," and continues to nonchalantly scout out my resources.

Partially acclimated bears are very nervous approaching humans. "Nervous" around humans is the status of the most aggressive bears along this section of the trail, by my observations. They're very nervous, and scare off easily.

But, bears are also very hungry, and if they have been previously successful at obtaining food from humans their hunger will control their fear, and bear will try again. It is your job to reward the bear by making it regret ever approaching humans.

Don't ever hurt the bear, but thankfully instilling fear does not require pain. Hurt the bear's feelings. The slow but sure trend of increasing bear contact through here is likely to decline. Bear hunting has started up earnestly in these mountains again, out of the Little Antelope Pack Station.

This will certainly reverse the recent slow trend of bears becoming more aggressive in this area. Once they figure out that people are shooting them they will stay as far away from us humans as they can.

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Bears in the Eastern Carson Iceberg Wilderness

Trail Comments

Old bear turds by the old bear tracks.

I looked at these a long time before deciding, no, not coyote turds, These are hungry bear turds. Too big for coyote, though you may not pick up the scale from the image.

 

Recent bear track, just a bit further South down the trail from the Swampy Lake.
Newer bear tracks.

I put the prints at 3 days +, though the nearby turds appeared older.

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Near the track above: a more recent bear turd.
Newer bear turd.

There's lots of bears in the East Carson River Valley and its associated remote Eastern drainages including the Silver King Creek and Fish Valley.

The bears here have long been scared of humans, but during the last ten years they have been getting acclimated to people, and getting more "aggressive." Prior to this trend they were opportunistic.

Little Antelope Pack Station has begun active operations again, which includes bear hunting. This appears to have put the fear of humans back into the bears of the East Carson River and its associated drainages.

Bears in the Eastern Carson Iceberg Wilderness

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Swampy Lake
to
Boulder Lake Trail Junction

The Lay of the Land

The trail undulates up and down between Sharkfin 9501 to the Boulder Lake junction as it snakes around the Sierra crest line peaks.

Down the West side of Boulder Peak: Nice campsites!

Ebbetts Pass to Wolf Creek Pass
15 minute backpacking MAP
Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

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

We get our first full look at the grandeur of the East Carson River Canyon's amazing granite walls as the trail works its way South out of Golden Canyon. A grand view up the East Carson River opens up as we swing East to a fine overlook after passing South between the Sharkfin and the Swampy Lake.

Continuing South the trail executes a ninety-degree turn West to begin dropping down to cross the highest reach of Boulder Creek on the West side of Boulder Peak. After crossing tiny Boulder Creek the trail bends Southward to almost parallel the creek South. Fifty feet South of Boulder Creek there are fine camps on both sides of the trail.

After climbing South past the creek and the campsites the trail turns directly East to climb up through a beautiful granite and forest channel back up to the very edge of a cliff overlooking the East Carson River's gorge on the South side of Boulder Peak. Here again we get an excellent view of our upcoming terrain South, or back at the terrain we just crossed if we are hiking North. Always turn around!

Sometimes the best views are behind us!

Keep your head on a swivel.

We continue the moderate climb South that began when we crossed Boulder Creek, but now the trail South is tracing the arcing top edge of a steep tributary chute plunging down to the East Carson River far below. We work our way up and over a ridge arm descending off the Sierra crest down the Western Sierra flank. This ridge arm divides two of the Westward draining canyons that feed Boulder Lake and Creek. We just camped along the Northern drainage holding Boulder Creek, now we are crossing into the unnamed drainage running down to Boulder Creek, along with the trail down to the TYT via Boulder Lake and Creek.

Everything to our East of where we are standing drains into the East Carson River, and flows East into the desert. Everything West of where we are standing eventually drains into the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River, and ends up in the Pacific Ocean.

Or a faucet in L.A...

After topping this nicely forested Sierra ridgecrest we have a short walk down to the Boulder Lake Trail Junction.

The Boulder Lake Trail junction is 17.71 miles South of Ebbetts Pass.

The Boulder Lake Trail junction is 11.73 miles North of Sonora Pass.

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To overlook the East Carson River

Ari hiking in forest above East Carson River.

The trail turns East from the Southern Sharkfin and Swampy Lake through the light forest behind Ari to a fantastic overlook of the great gorge of the East Fork of the Carson River.

We can see the mountains on the East side of the East Carson River Canyon behind Ari to the Right. We're hiking South to overlook the upper section of the canyon.

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Hiking East to Overlook the East Carson River

Hiking East to East Carson River overlook.

Hiking East to East Carson River overlook.

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The Upper reaches of the East Fork of the Carson River

The final Southern extent of the East Carson River is visible from the Southside of Peak 9501.
The length of the E Carson River to Headwaters bowl and E Carson Gap.

Between Peak 9501 and the switchbacks down to (near) the East Carson River the PCT is constantly moving East and West and Up and Down following its convoluted route right along the actual crest line dividing the Eastern and Western drainages off of the Sierra Crest, while enjoying the amazing views in all directions this convoluted route provides through holes in the forest cover and high spots.

This section does not look like much on the map, but it will work you hard for the views.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map
Sonora Pass Region Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

You should be ready for this difficult terrain by now.

Pacific Crest Trail Hiker Note

IF you are coming North through here on the Pacific Crest Trail you have just ended the very difficult 75 mile long "Five Canyons" section between Tuolumne Meadows and Sonora Pass. This current section of trail between Sonora and Ebbetts Pass will be a cakewalk compared to the previous section of the trail, but it is likely that you will underestimate the challenge that the Sonora to Ebbetts Pass section presents. You will pick up speed on this section, but not as much as you thought.

I watch you guys every year. I watch the Spring Thaw carefully to inform you of its particulars, and I almost always plan a long trip South down the PCT at just the right time of Summer so I can get a good sample of the character of each year's crop of Pacific Crest Trail hikers. (2010 PCT & Hiker Sample-this guide contains all prior PCT hikers encountered and photographed...) And I report what I see. I've seen PCT hikers expect that crossing this section between Sonora and Ebbetts Passes would be easier than it is.

Southbound Tahoe to Whitney Hikers

Reaching Sonora Pass will put the Southbound hiker coming out of Meeks Bay at around a hundred miles of hiking, give or take a few odd miles. The PCT route South from Lake Tahoe gets gradually harder as you head further South through each section of the trail, and this section between Ebbetts and Sonora Passes is the most difficult yet. The next section between Sonora Pass and Tuolumne Meadows is harder, higher, and twice the distance.

As with the Northbound PCT hiker, you too have gradually become hardened by your previous sections and should be ready for the toughest section yet. Or not. The section between Ebbetts and Sonora Pass is your first section of sustained high elevation travel.

All Hikers

You have to judge your physical condition and make good decisions as you proceed down the trail. If you need a day off or two to rest and feed up before crossing the Carson-Iceberg Southbound, then hitch down to Lake Alpine, set up a nice pirate campsite in the National Forest lands, head over to the Lake Alpine Lodge or Bear Valley, and kick back to eat and rest for a full day.

The same opportunity exists at Kennedy Meadows on the South side of the Carson-Iceberg.

Northbound hikers have just resupplied, rested, and fed up at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station and should be well fueled and rested for this, their last section of difficult high elevation trail. Trail difficulty moderates on each of the next two trail sections heading North into the Lake Tahoe Basin.

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Eastern Wall of the East Carson Canyon

Detail of rock formations above Eastern side of the East Carson. Peak 10440 with Whitecliff Peak rising in the background.
Detail of East Carson River granite formation.

This section is full of fine terrain that I strongly suggest you take the time to observe... Too many PCT hikers run through here with their eyes glued to the trail, seeing nothing of the environment they are passing through.

I see new things every time I hike the same trail.

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Video
Along the Sierra Crest

  South Side of Sharkfin 9501 to the Boulder Lake Trail Junction  
     

Video: The PCT between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass. 5:48

Video Playlist
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass


Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map
Sonora Pass Region Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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Around Boulder Peak

Passing a jumble of exposed granite dropping down Southbound towards Boulder Creek.
Granite along trail South to Boulder Creek.

Located between the Swampy Lake and Boulder Creek.

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Down the West Flank

The top of Boulder Creek.

Looking West down Boulder Creek as we begin to follow it West around Boulder Peak.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

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Granite Features

Northwest flank of Boulder Peak.

We're looking Southeast over our Left shoulder up at the Northwest flank of Boulder Peak as we walk Southwest, to our Right along Boulder Creek down around Boulder Peak into sweet quiet forest.

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Deer on Boulder Peak

Winding South around granite and down through forest toward Boulder Creek this fawn and I noted each other's presence.
Doe at Boulder Creek.

She was a bit skittish and inclined to split.

Deer Forum

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But a little sweet talking brought her out.
Doe at Boulder Creek decides to check me out.

Hey Baby! How's Life? She was fat, strong, and looking sharp.

She was thinner than the stout girl at Round Lake and certainly not as crazy as the deer running around Fourth of July Lake.

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Boulder Creek

Up at the top of Boulder Creek in July.
Boulder Creek.

The quiet sound of tinkling water, the refreshing moist air in the little concentration of forest within the fold of the mountain here, and the relaxing forms of the granite made me look for the nice campsite I knew would be nearby.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

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

 

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Boulder Creek Campsite

A few feet South of crossing Boulder Creek on the West side of Boulder Peak we find nice campsites on both sides of the trail.
Boulder Creek Campsite.

An early stop along the trail, fine weather, and easy access to water makes this laundry day.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

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  Laundry Time.  
  Laundry time at Boulder Creek. The dryer.  

The Dry Cycle.

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Hiking Down around Boulder Peak

Turning East back up to the Sierra Crestline.

At the bottom of our Westward turn down Boulder Creek we turn East, bending up to our Left back up to the Sierra Crestline.

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Southwest Flank of Boulder Peak

hiking around the Southwest flank of Boulder Peak.

Looking Northeast up towards the crest of Boulder Peak while working our way around its Southwest flank.

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Hollow Lodgepole landmark.

Hollow.

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View North

Southwest flank of Boulder Peak.

Southwest flank of Boulder Peak.

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View East Hiking East

East Carson River from South flank of Boulder Peak.

As we finish our loop around the West flank of Boulder Peak we climb East up a channel on the South flank of Boulder Peak up until we get a glimpse over the treetops across the gorge of the East Carson River at the mountain rising from its Eastern Shore.

East Carson River from South flank of Boulder Peak.

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Trail and View Turn South
Stanislaus Peak

Stanislaus Peak.

Stanislaus Peak comes back into view, seeming to tower higer above us as we hike closer.

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Stanislaus Peak

Stanislaus Peak comes back into view.

Note how Stanislaus Peak's volcanic bulk did not quite cover this exposed patch of granite on its Eastern Flank.

This characterizes much of the charm of this area, where granite is bursting out of ancient volcanic encasements in a geological scale slow motion movie as the soft volcanic terrain melts away over time.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

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East Wall of the East Carson River Canyon

East side of the East Carson River Canyon.

Looking across the East Carson River at the great canyon cut into the East flank of the East Carson River's Canyon.

I've had aspirations to explore it, but have not yet found the oppertunity.

Carson Iceberg Wilderness Hiking Map
30 minute USGS topo map

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View to the Southwest
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail

Boulder Creek Draining
into the
Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus

Crisp late-October Morning: Looking SW from the Southern flank of Boulder Peak we can see the Boulder Creek drainage and its little canyon rising above the Clarks Fork of the Stanilus and the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail running alongside it.
Looking SW we can see the Boulder Creek drainage down to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus.

The Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River with the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail running alongside it are sitting at the base of the massive mountain mass dominating the center-left of the image above.

The Boulder Lake Trail runs down the obvious angle below us in the image above, connecting the Pacific Crest Trail with the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

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East Carson River Headwaters Bowl
"The Plug"

Getting closer to the East Carson River Headwaters Bowl and the Gap over it.

We have a clear view of the massive granite feature rising out of the West shore of the East Carson River ahead, the Right side, which I call "The Plug."

The Plug is the pyramidal-shaped chunk of granite rock in the lower-middle of the far-right side of the image below.

East Carson Headwaters: Much closer now!

Our Southbound trail goes around the backside of that feature.

I call this huge granite dome feature "the plug," because of its role in affecting the route of the unmaintained trail coming up the East Carson River as well as our PCT route down to the East Carson.

The Plug does the same thing to both Southbound trails; it forces them to go around it before being able to gain the Sierra Crest.
Southbound hikers on the PCT hike around the backside of The Plug to the switchbacks beyond its far side. These switchbacks take us down to the floor of the East Carson River Canyon, where we will find the trailhead marking the top of the East Carson River Trail.

For Northbound hikers on the PCT The Plug is what greets us after descending from the headwaters bowl to our lowest point in the canyon. From there we climb back up to the Sierra Crest on the South side of The Plug. Northbound hikers climb the switchbacks on the South side of The Plug to gain access to the Sierra Crestline.

From our position in the picture above our Southbound PCT route circles around the backside of The Plug before switch-backing down to the East fork of the Carson River.

The unmaintained trail coming up the East Carson River, along its Eastern shore far below us, has to get past the plug before fording the East Carson and joining up with the Pacific Crest Trail.

The East Carson Trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail is a short distance upriver from the base of The Plug.

South of the plug our Pacific Crest Trail route parallels the East Carson River up to the headwaters. North of the plug the Pacific Crest Trail follows the Sierra crest line along the West Rim of the East Carson River Canyon.

Boulder Lake junction to Sonora Pass Map
15 minute USGS backpacking Map
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
PCT Miles and Elevations

Asa Lake to East Carson River
15 minute backpacking MAP

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Cowboy Encounter

Cowboy Steve.
Cowboy Steve.

I met Steve's three stock-seeking dogs before I met Steve. Funny Story. I call it...

The Great Al Roundup, or "I'm not a cow."

The dogs thought I was a cow, and I thought the dogs were wild. When they came through the underbrush to "round me up" I was ready to do battle with dogs.

Listening to three animals approaching and flanking me was disquieting. Bears do not travel in packs, neither do coyotes, so I guessed wild dogs were on my trail. They were intentionally tracking and flanking me.

I charged the dog on the left as they broke through the underbrush in unison. I saw what I instantly thought were three crazy dogs who had somehow packed-up in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The dogs instantly knew they had met a frkn crazy backpacker. As far as I was concerned it was on. The dogs would die and I would live.

The dogs, on their part of the deal, were quite surprised that I was not a cow, and were even more shocked that someone was charging them with threats of mayhem, death and a big stick.

The dogs made themselves scarce quick. I instantly noted their puzzled looks and the fear in their eyes sparked by my aggression. This instantly informed me that they were not lost or wild dogs. I said, "good dogs," and all three wagged their tails in unison from their safe observation spots, as I expected they were. They were a team of working dogs. Then I heard the mounted rider coming hard and fast up the mountain.

Steve rode hard up the mountain when he heard my battle-cry, knowing his dogs had not found the cow they were tracking. Steve rode up apologizing profusely. I assured him that all was well that ended well. The dogs returned and we had a formal introduction. They were not getting anywhere near me until Steve called them in.

Steve's dogs were tracking a stubborn stray up Boulder Creek's drainage. His dogs had the wind to their backs and picked me up with their ears, so their noses had not rejected me as a bovine target.

The dogs came in and nosed my hand, and let me give them a quick pat, but they were more concerned with finding the cow they were chasing than hanging out with me. They were good working dogs who liked their job as much as Steve.

Steve's family has had a stock lease up here for generations. They come out in late September and early October to start rounding up their grazing stock and comb the deep valleys for strays and stubborn cows.

Steve was as nice a guy as his picture indicates. We spoke for a while and went on with our different tasks through the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.

Down the trail his dad and brother rode by fast a couple of times trying to box-in the stubborn stray. The stray was doing everything in his power to avoid capture. The cowboys were chasing the cow through the mountainside ravines, then cutting up to the PCT to ride fast and hard to get in front of the stray's maneuvers, then cut off the trail back down the mountain to force the stray back down the drainage.

Just another day in the Sierra.

Late Sept 2009.

Horse and Cowboy Forum

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Two Views from the South Side of Boulder Peak

Boulder Creek Drainage South West to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River

Looking down two of the drainages feeding Boulder Creek on its way down to the Clarks Fork via Boulder Lake.
East Carson downriver view.

On the Left of this image there is a low ridge of brighter green trees descending SW in front of the higher ridge behind. The larger second ridge is capped with a granite crown coming down from the far Left of the image.

Out of view to our left between these two ridges is where the trail route down from the Pacific Crest Trail to Boulder Lake heads West off the Sierra Crest. Directly in front of us is another drainage down to Boulder Lake, though un-trailed. A spider-web of trails run down across the central flat holding Boulder Lake before joining Boulder Creek on its way down to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River.

The Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus runs Westward in front of the mountain mass in the middle-distant center of the image, which is exactly where Boulder Creek joins the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River at the bottom of this Boulder Creek-Boulder Lake drainage we are overlooking.

Crossing the low ridge on the left, to our South, will bring us to the Boulder Lake trail junction on the other side.

Map

Miles and Elevations

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Southeastern View of "The Plug," Peak 8990

From the South Side of Boulder Peak we can view details of "The Plug," Peak 8990 to our South, while overlooking the steepening upper reaches of the East Fork of the Carson River's canyon.

We will pass around the backside, the West or Right side of The Plug to the switchbacks down to the East Carson River beyond.

"The Plug," Peak 8990 in the East Carson River Valley.

Above: "The Plug," a feature on the East Shore of the East Carson River. Note Sonora Peak in far distant right under tree branch.

From our position here on the South side of Boulder Peak we have a brief climb before the PCT drops down to meet the Boulder Lake Trail. There is another set of two short climbs South of the Boulder Lake trail junction that bring us around the backside of "The Plug."

The next ridgecrest we climb is visible to our South above the exposed rock we can see poking through the trees between our position and The Plug.

Crossing over that ridge the Southbound trail then turns West to traverse down the ridge's far side to a black pond before climbing Southeast to pass behind "The Plug." The location of the Black Pond is where another unmaintained route comes up to the PCT from Boulder Lake.

I can simplify this: From here hiking South we go up & down, then up & down again. Then up one more time to behind "The Plug." On the other side of The Plug we have a short walk to the switchbacks down to the East Carson River.

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Check the 7.5 USGS Topo Map

Boulder Lake Trail Junction

Hike
West to the TYT:
Boulder Lake Trail to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
along the
Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus

2011. Looking North, Boulder Lake to the West, our Left.
Boulder Lake trail junction, Pacific Crest Trail.

The Boulder Lake Trail Junction well decorated by the local bears.

The trail from this junction heads almost directly West off our high position on the Sierra Crestline.

Trail Guide Page:
Hiking Boulder Creek on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
to the
Pacific Crest Trail above the East Carson River
.

This trail connects our position on the Pacific Crest Trail with the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail via Boulder Lake.

Map:
TYT to PCT via Boulder Lake

Turing South from Boulder Lake junction on the South end of this trail follows the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River upstream on the TYT through some rough unmaintained trail and cross country hiking conditions to Saint Marys Pass.

Saint Marys Pass is about a mile West of Sonora Pass along Highway 108.

This connector trail can be used to craft great local loops around the Carson Iceberg Wilderness using both the PCT and TYT routes.

This connector trail also offers a way for Southound hikers on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to bypass the difficult segment of unmaintained trail up the Clarks Fork over Saint Marys Pass by detouring around it on the PCT.

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Boulder Lake trail junction freshly slashed in 2009.
Boulder Lake trail junction freshly slashed in 2009

Cranky Bears?

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Hey. What's Up? I hope you are enjoying the trail as much as I.
Your host at the Boulder Lake Trail Junction, 2009.

The 1000 yard Solo Hiker Stare.

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North: Tyron Peak to Murray Canyon           West: Boulder Creek to the PCT           South: Boulder Lake Junction to East Carson River

Hiking
the
Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail.

 

  MAP CREDIT  

U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior

The USGS

Download Free USGS Maps:

USGS MAP LOCATOR

Move the Map to the Sierras. Select size of Maps you wish to locate. Click "Mark Point" on map to see the USGS map grid of the selected map scale.

Select your quadrangle, then click the marker. Select your map size, and click "download."

USGS Topographic
Map Information

7.5 Map North
Wolf Creek to Swampy Lake

7.5 Map South
Swampy Lake to Boulder Lake junction

30 min Map
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass

Miles and Elevations

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Next page South
Boulder Lake Junction to East Carson River

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Backpacking Trail Guide

North
PCT

Tyron Peak
to
Murray Canyon

West
to the
TYT

Boulder Lake Trail
to
Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus

 

Backpacking Trail Guide

South
PCT

Boulder Lake Junction
to
East Carson River

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Forum Section
Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass
Forum Segment
Murray Canyon to Boulder Lake Junction

North: Tyron Peak to Murray Canyon        West: Boulder Creek to the PCT     South: Boulder Lake Junction to East Carson River

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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