The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Thomas Winnett, Trail Master, Author
First published in 1970, The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is one of the earlier publications in a long series of classic High Sierra trail guides pioneered by Thomas Winnett and his hiking and writing associates.
From the late 1960s through the late '80s Winnett and his crew were not only the masters of High Sierra trail guide writing, but the creators of the modern art of trail guide writing. These masterworks were published through the 1990s by Winnett's own Wilderness Press.
Winnett's book is the rock that the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is built upon.
I've bought a fine library of Winnett's texts and maps from the "deals" bins at the old Wilderness Press offices on Bancroft Ave in Berkeley during the early 1990s, when Winnett was retreating from the trails.
I was just approacing the High Trails then. Those days are long gone, as the generations of both hikers and trail guide writers succeed each other into the future. Those books are basic reference High Sierra texts in the "trails" section in any High Sierra hiker's library.
I moved on to planning trips with map, mind, and imagination rather than written guide. Guide writing itself is transitioning from paper to pixels. The days of paper trail guides are coming to a close.
What is not gone are the standards of trail guide scholarship established by Winnett. These have not transitioned. I did not know it then, while I was referencing Winnett to find interesting ways into the High Sierra, that I was actually absorbing an approach to writing trail guides as well as an approach to the trails.
New Era Trail Guide
Tahoe to Whitney aims to evolve Thomas Winnett's standards and approach to trail guide scholarship into the fine-grained descriptions made possible by the digital era, without as much emphsis on describing the minutia of tree transitions. I'll show them to you, while describing the trail.
I see Winnett's focus on tree transitions as his best option to describe the terrain changes within his level of technology. I understand this dilemma today, as words fall short of describing High Sierra experience. Images, videos, and maps fill this void by showing them to you.
Tahoe to Whitney is the modern digital expression of the same motivations which drove Winnett, but with technology that provides unprecentented tools to present the terrain itself in ways unavailable to Winnett. Today, the only thing a digital trail guide lacks are the smells.
The modern digital trail guide is not only a window to the most remote sections of trail, but is also an interactive forum where hikers can update as well as be informed about the range of backpacking conditions possibly encountered on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. It reports on recent status. These functions are executed by the trail guide and forum.
The forum is where you can update or confirm trail conditions, report on changes, add your perspective to the mix, or ask questions about the route. All perspectives are additions to our understanding.
That's the difference between this web trail guide and forum, and the old book guides. This digital guide gives info, the forum absorbes info, while the old guides were static. Today you can observe, contribute, or question. The modern Tahoe to Yosemite Trail Guide also answers questions.
Yesterday this required a stamp, a letter, some licking, and good luck. Today all it takes are are some clicking and an email. And luck... haha.
The Tahoe to Yosemite section of the TW trail guide lays out the TYT from one stable perspective, mine, in an otherwise unstable digital-world of "wiki" guides. TW provides a stable perspective from which you can measure how you experience the trail. You can believe my descriptions are too easy, too hard ,or just right, but you will find my observations are from a consistent perspective in an inconsistent world.
The forum updates, as well as shows us how different types of folks experience and rate each section of the trail against my ratings, and how the trails change over time.
The forum allows you to update the guide. This is important as the TYT contains two sections of unmaintained trail where conditions can change radically over the years and over the course of a season.
UNMAINTAINED TRAIL SECTION UPDATES
Though describing a great route through the Sierras, the real gift of Winnett's fine book is that it, and his long list of High Sierra guides are still stimulating backpackers to explore every trail in the Sierra as well as this nifty alternative to the Pacific Crest Trail route through the North Sierra Nevada.
Be careful: The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is a gateway drug to even greater High Sierra engagement and experiences.
UC Berkeley Library
The Tahoe-Yosemite Trail: a comprehensive guide to the 180 miles of trail between Meeks Bay at Lake... (Wilderness Press, Berkeley Ca, 1970.)
Other Works by Thomas Winnett
RIP, Backpacker Dude
Thanks for the Hikes
Publisher of the Gods*
Guides to the Gods
*By "Gods," I mean the spirit of the terrain. In the sense that the spirit of the terrain is an emergent power of nature within the rock, rivers, critters and plants finding expression between itself and its reflection in the eyes of passing backpackers.
Look and you will see it. What's left...
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Meiss Country Roadless Area
Carson Iceberg Wilderness
North Yosemite Backcountry
Lake Tahoe Basin
Highway 88 to 4
Highway 4 to 108
Highway 108 to 120
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
TYT Route Basics
The Meeks Bay trail head is the start point for the classic 181 mile Tahoe to Yosemite Trail backpacking route described in Thomas Winnett's classic 1970 book, The Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. Tuolumne Meadows is the end point.
Between these two points the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail offers a very interesting and much more challenging alternative route to the more popular and much more heavily traveled Pacific Crest Trail between Lake Tahoe and Tuolumne Meadows. How and Why, you ask?
Well, the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route offers an excellent Western alternative to the PCT across the Mokelumne Wilderness, the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, and the Emigrant Wilderness.
The route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail through these wilderness areas is completely different than that of the Pacific Crest Trail.
On the other hand, the route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is exactly the same as the PCT across the Desolation Wilderness, the Meiss Country Roadless Area, and most of the PCT route across the North Yosemite Backcountry.
Click the black-dotted marked routes on the 30 minute maps above for the underlying detailed hiking maps. Click the red dots on all the maps for the trail guide information for that location. Each map links to related miles and elevations information as well as trail guide, map and video information. The videos and images give you lots of on the spot views of the trail and terrain. The vast majority of both the TYT and PCT route between Lake Tahoe and Tuolumne Meadows are online, so you can compare as well as inspect the routes.
East and West Sierra Experiences
The main difference between these two trails across the five wilderness and one roadless area named above are characterized by the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail's great swings down in elevation along the Western flank of the Sierra Nevada. Down elevation across the Mokelumne Wilderness, up through the South end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, and up again across the Emigrant Wilderness.
Our puzzling gap between the climb up to Saint Marys Pass at the South end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness and our climb up to Brown Bear Pass (two climbs in a row?) through the Emigrant Wilderness from Kennedy Meadows is due to the fact that the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is offset 8 miles down the route of Highway 108. Interesting.
From our arrival at Highway 108 we have 8 miles of road descending 3040 feet of elevation between us and resumption of the trail South through Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. I hitch hike rather than hike down this narrow and twisting Sierra road.
The Pacific Crest Trail's route stays up on the far East side of these same wilderness areas, higher up along the Sierra Crest than the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route, mostly staying up in the generally drier and volcanic terrain characterizing the Crest and the Eastern flank of the Northern Sierra Nevada.
The TYT's great swings down and back up the West Flank of the Sierra follow great granite canyons that are truly remarkable. The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail also better follows the seams between volcanic and granite terrain where its route varies from where the PCT crosses volcanic terrain along the Eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada. These differences result in substantially different experiences for backpackers on the Tahoe to Yosemite than hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The different geology of the terrains we experience hiking the Eastern and Western flanks of the Sierra are accentated by substantial environmental differences between the flanks of the Sierra. These geological and environmental differences are linked through the past, into the present, and determine the future.
The Eastern flank of the Sierra drops precipitiously from the crestline, while the Western flank descends gradually through grand granite canyons into extensive foothills. This is due to the nature of the ancient geological uplifting forces. The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is carved out of a vast block of granite uplifted from the depths of the Earth over millions of years. This vast block of granite uplifted (and is uplifiting) sharply along its steep Eastern flank, with its less-uplifted Western flank tilting downward over dozens of miles to be buried under the San Joaquin Valley by the soils worn off it by it's own erosion.
This long tilt, the force of gravity, and tens of thousands of years account for the long granite valleys we find carved down the Western flank of the Sierra Nevada.
The long deep canyons carved down the gradual descent of the Western flank are a result of ancient geological processes still operating today. Today the flow of ancient glaciers is replaced by flowing water. The steady erosion of the Western flank is part of, and the continuing consequence of the different orientation the East and Western flanks of the Sierra have to the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Ocean is the source of moisture for the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the present and the past.
The moisture that carved these great canyons either sits on land, in the seas, or somewhere between. Each time it passes through this cycle it wears the Sierra down a bit more.
The long length of the Western flank and its nearer orientation to the Pacific Ocean allows it to draw the vast majority of the moisture out of the wet Pacific Ocean air masses as they climb to elevation to cross the Sierra Crest. This moisture was frozen into the great rivers of ice which carved these massive ancient canyons, and this same moisture now condenses into the rivers flowing through the canyons today. This Pacific moisture nouishes the wonderful contemporary stratification of flora and fauna we experience while ascending and descending the Western Sierra flank along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
By the time these once saturated Pacific Ocean clouds cross the Sierra Crest their moisture has been depleated, literally "wrung-out" of the clouds during their long climb up the Western Sierra flank. This accounts for the lack of moisture on the Sierra Crest, the Eastern Sierra flank, and the deserts beyond. Combined with the Eastern flank's many miles of barren high altitude volcanic terrain we hike along the PCT makes about every characteristic of the TYT and PCT very very different. They were made differently by the same forces.
The location of the volcanic interface with High Sierra granites determines the nature of the terrain we cross between Lake Tahoe to Tuolumne Meadows. The majority of volcanic activity is focused along the Sierra Crest and Eastern flank. The majority of the volcanic activity occured after the Sierra rose, meaning that there is submerged granite under most of the volcanic remnants. The volcanic activity flowed over, and capped granite terrain as far as it could flow. Thus there is an interface between granite and volcanic terrain that stretches from far North of our start point in the Lake Tahoe Basin South to Bear Ridge, South of the Silver Divide. This volcanic-granitic interface represents millions of years of volcanic activity at places like the uber-ancient Dardanelles, though much of the High Sierra volcanic material we see was ejected from the bowels of the Earth during a massive eruption that took place in conjunction with the end of the last ice age glaciation about ten thousand years ago.
We will observe where the flows of hot volcanic debris froze in place while engulfing terrain. We will see hard granites being "born again," where they are re-emerging from their soft volcanic tombs as the timeless forces of erosion are slowly but surely unburying them.
This wide range of geological, geographic, and environmental conditions differentiating the PCT and TYT are pretty profound, and very cool. You can decide which set of experiences fit your skills and tastes, and hike that route.
Then you should hike the other route. These radical differences between the trails make both the TYT and PCT required hiking to get to know the amazing range of terrain, trail conditions and environments that compose the Sierra Nevada Mountains between Lake Tahoe and Tuolumne Meadows. One route is not inherently better than the other. That is a judgment dependent upon personal preferences. Both are part of a bigger picture. Each is a different expression of its particular role in the long geological and biological history of the Sierra Nevada.
My favorite route to hike between Tahoe and Yosemite involves segments of both trails.
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail's route also shares a significant distance of the trail South to Tuolumne Meadows with the Pacific Crest Trail route.
These trails share the same route across Desolation Wilderness, Meiss Country Roadless Area, and the North Yosemite Backcountry, excepting where the TYT loops Tilden Lake instead of the PCT's route around Wilmer Lake in the North Yosemite Backcountry, which is the only minor variation in both distance and routing once the routes rejoined in the Northwest corner of Yosemite National Park at the top of Jack Main Canyon.
These two routes share a significant amount of trail and have significant differences. Their very different routes across the Carson Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness are deeply interlinked. In fact I would say that the TYT and PCT are part of the webs of trails covering both these wilderness areas.
This fact offers us the opportunity to stitch together some very interesting alternative routes to either the standard PCT or TYT route as we hike South through these wilderness areas, as well as very interesting ways to explore the Carson Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness Areas on local long distance hiking trips. "How," you ask?
The Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail routes can be tied together by the web of connector trails linking them up across both the Carson Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness Areas to craft grand hiking loops exploring the majority of each of these wilderness areas' terrain. These great loop routes measure out to about 90 miles to circle either of these wilderness areas. Series of smaller loops from 20 to 50 miles tying together lengths of the TYT and PCT can be designed in either wilderness area.
A view of how these trails cross and tie together these wilderness areas opens up many amazing hiking opportunities.
Understanding how these trails tie together and how they deviate allows hikers to deeply explore the wilderness areas they split through local long distance backpacking trips around these wilderness areas. The exception is the Mokelumne Wilderness. Only one trail connects the PCT and TYT across the Mokelumne Wilderness, which makes it impossible to craft a vast PCT-TYT loop around the Mokelumne Wilderness, as we can with the wilderness areas to the South.
The section across the North Yosemite Backcountry is very long (75 miles between the Kennedy Meadows and Tuolumne Meadows resupply points) and very difficult, which means this section of trail does not lend itself to a whole lot of modification or extension as part of a long distance backpacking trip along the TYT or PCT. The North Yosemite Backcountry offers lots of great hiking loops on its own.
The Bensen Lake Loop, the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne running down to Hetch Hetchy draining the series of great granite canyons crossed higher up by our TYT/PCT route offer a huge number of local long-distance loops around the North Yosemite Backcountry.
The hike South from Sonora Pass or Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows is a great backpacking trip on its own. So too the Carson Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness sections of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail are medium distance hiking trips in themselves, or can be crafted into parts of grand loops when combined with the PCT route through their respective wilderness areas.
If your hike across either the Tahoe to Yosemite or Pacific Crest trails brings understanding of the broader nature of the terrain you are hiking through you will see a lifetime of amazing hiking opportunities laid out at your feet.
Check out the differences and shared portions of the routes of the TYT and PCT on the maps below covering each or both of these routes.
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The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
The goal of these efforts
The goal of this section of the Tahoe to Whitney Trail Guide is to bring you the whole Tahoe to Yosemite Trail in images, videos, maps, miles, elevations and words.
My method is an attempt to use the digital power of the internet to tie together trail resources in a way well beyond the scope and capability of previous generations of conventional trail guide books, and with a degree of completeness missing from contemporary digital trail guide efforts.
This guide allows you to click from the marked black dotted routes on the large scale 30 minute maps to the detailed underlying 7.5 minute maps of any segment of trail, to click the red dots on any of these maps to view that specific location's images, videos, and trail guide information.
From any trail guide page you can move up or down that section's trail guide pages, to the detailed map, or the section map. From the section maps you can click to all the trail guide pages in that section, and move North or South to the next section map. The goal is to allow you to quickly click yourself up and down the trails with ease.
This gives hikers the capability of moving rapidly South or North through the Tahoe to Yosemite trail maps of various scales with a simple clicks of the mouse. The same flexibility applies to the miles and elevations pages, as well as the trail guide pages. All of these different types of resources are interlinked and indexed to help you figure out and get a clear picture of all aspects of the trail and terrain.
Once you figure out my system, and once I get it perfected and smoothed out, you will be able to get a look at any part of the trail at various degrees of resolution, from the grand overview of a wilderness area on a regional map down to on the spot pictures, film, and trail guide information for specific locations up and down the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. And the Pacific Crest Trail. And the John Muir Trail. Soon we will cover the main routes between Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney.
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is the tip of an iceberg. A huge iceberg.
The result is designed to give you the most comprehensive view possible of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail and the requirements necessary to hike it, then continue South from Tuolumne Meadows to finish hiking the length of the Sierra Crest along the routes of your choice to Mount Whitney.
The power of the internet and contemporary digital technology has finally allowed us to present an enhanced version of classic paper trail guides with the modern addition of a massive number of quality maps, images, and videos that was impossible for previous generations of paper trail guide writers.
Trail Guide chocolate has run into mapping, miles, and video peanut butter, making our generation the lucky recipients of the fruits of the expansion of technology into the art of trail guide writing. Right when the ancient beauty of our planet has all but dissappeared... how ironic.
Finally a good use of this damn technology.
Add to these presentation advances the capacity of all Sierra Hikers to add their experiences to the guide via the Forums, and we have the potential to store and share a vast amount of trail information.
That's addin up to a pretty deep view of the trails and terrain.
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The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
As of November 2013 I have all types of information completed from Meeks Bay along the West Shore of Lake Tahoe South down to Glen Aulin in the North Yosemite Backcountry, about 6.8 miles North of Tuolumne Meadows, covering about 174 of the 181 total miles of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. So too is the Pacific Crest Trail complete to Glen Aulin. With all the side trips and connector trails this guide has covered about 400 miles of Sierra trails.
The large and small map series are complete down to Tuolumne Meadows, but the routes and links to the trail guide pages are not yet laid onto all the 7.5 minute North Yosemite Backcountry maps.
In addition, you can likely see that this guide also covers the Pacific Crest Trail and the potential connector trails that tie these two routes together across the Carson Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness Areas. This information will assist those of us who decide to bypass the hard navigation and terrain across the unmaintained sections of the TYT in the Southern sections of both the Mokelumne Wilderness and the Carson Iceberg Wilderness in favor of the PCT route around these hard sections of the TYT.
One of my goals is to give you a clear understanding of just what you're getting yourself into before you jump from the frying pan of High Sierra backpacking into the fire of High Sierra cross country travel across the unmaintained sections of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. That's why we give ourselves the chance to plot our route around these untrailed segments of trail.
Or through them. It's up to you.
And then you have me. If you find you have questions, if the guide does not quite tell you all of what you need to know, or you just want someone to bounce your ideas and plans off of, you can always hit me up and I will give you my best answer.
This is the only trail guide that has legs. I mean really has legs. Mine. I've walked all the routes depicted in the guide more times than I can count. I've walked them slow, I've walked them fast, I've walked them in rain, heat, and some of them in snow. I've walked them early in Spring and late in Fall, I've walked them all. And it could have your legs too.
I can't cover everything. I don't see eveything, despite my best efforts. Therefore we have the resources of the membership. It looks like the members of Tahoe to Whitney have thousands of years of High Sierra and general backpacking experience among us.
The trails I have not walked have likely been hiked by one of the members, or you. They've hundreds of legs that are walking now and have walked centuries of miles on and off the trails.
When I confront an issue I cannot unwind myself I call upon the collective experience of the members.
So give me a call if you believe as I do, that between all of us we can know it all.
Call it the Endless Quest.
Contact: Alex Wierbinski
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The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
This guide is under construction and in Draft form.
Construction of this massive project happens in layers.
This page will be finished in conjunction with finishing the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail section of the Guide, which should be happening in late 2013.
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Down or Around
Unmaintained Segments of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
The Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Trail may be more challenging today than when the book of the same name was written in 1970. The reason is that the Tahoe-Yosemite trail looks like it has not been maintained between its junction along Summit City Creek below Fourth of July Lake South down to Camp Irene on the Mokleumne River, since 1970.
The other "umaintained" section of trail on the North side of Saint Marys Pas is not really an unmaintained trail because there has not been an official trail through there as long as I've hiked it and consulted maps. The TYT is a route from the North side of Clarks Meadow through Saint Marys Pass. From Saint Marys Pass we can see the trail down to the Saint Marys Trailhead on Highway 108 resumes along a ridge to our East.
Few hikers venture the whole Tahoe to Yosemite Trail every year, and these two unmaintained sections of the trail are actually remote and degraded. Though some backpackers may find this troubling, others find these obstacles and conditions challenging, and find the isolation of finding and following routes, rather than hiking "trails" along the unmaintained sections are the most rewarding backpacking of all, next to actually route-finding on cross country and snow trips.
I take it like I find it. With trail or without, with people or without. Rain, snow, sleet, and Sun, it's all fun.
If you find the possibility of challenging trails degrading into difficult routes (there is a route if not a trail) within your capabilities and within your definition of fun, the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is the trail for you.
The section along Summit City Creek and the North Fork of the Mokelumne involves 9.52 miles of route-finding across the Western Mokelumne Wilderness. The trail section from the Eureka Valley trail junction to Saint Marys Pass contains 7.39 miles of unmaintained trail that degrades into a long section of basic route-finding from the North end of Clarks Meadow, along the Western Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
These are both very special segments of trail that maintain primitive conditions. Want to get a taste of what the original inhabitants and the first Western explorers experienced? Here we find two small slices of primitive conditions.
For less aggressive, less fit, or less skilled backpackers, these two unmaintained sections are not a problem for us to complete the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, with the addition of a few route modifications. Instead of hiking the untrailed sections, we will find a different way through, while following most of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route. We are nothing if not flexible.
Up North, we will just go around Summit City Creek by taking the PCT route through the Eastern Mokelumne Wilderness hiking to Ebbetts Pass, rather than the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail across the Western Mokelumne to Lake Alpine. Problem solved.
From Ebbetts Pass we will hitch-hike down to the Lake Alpine Lodge to pick up our free resupply, then resume our hike South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail from its Southbound trailhead on the East side of Lake Alpine through the Silver Trailhead.
Hiking South from Lake Alpine gives us three reasonable routes where we can hike through exceptional terrain up to the PCT, navigating our way around the unmaintained section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail that crosses the upper reaches of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River over Saint Marys Pass.
Though the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail's routes differ significantly, by fifteen miles, where they enter the Carson Iceberg Wilderness on its North end, their routes draw together over the length of the wilderness. Their respective trailheads where they exit the Southern end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, on Highway 108, are less than a mile apart.
Dropping down into Sonora Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail does not preclude continuing South along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
All Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hikers are required to hitch-hike West down Highway 108 from their Saint Marys Pass trailhead to resume their Southbound route into the Emigrant Wilderness through Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
I really don't suggest walking down Highway 108... At Kennedy Meadows Pack Station we will pick up the next resupply package we sent to ourselves, and enjoy some good food and rest up for the long hike down to Tuolumne Meadows.
This Guide is Under Construction...more coming...
This trail trail guide almost covers the complete Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail between Lake Tahoe and Tuolumne Meadows, and will soon cover the PCT and John Muir Trail and their variations South of Tuolumne Meadows down to Mount Whitney.
On this date, November 26, 2013, this Tahoe to Whitney trail guide is complete (in draft form) from Lake Tahoe to Glen Aulin in the North Yosemite Backcountry, covering both the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail routes.
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Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Status Report & Notes on what you should expect...
UNMAINTAINED TRAIL SECTION UPDATES
Did a quick run through of the unmaintained section of trail between Eureka Valley trail junction and Saint Marys Pass trailhead located in the Southernmost section of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
This update is incorporated into that section of the trail guide. Quick recap: There is no trail from the Northwest edge of the Clarks Fork Meadow to Saint Marys Pass. From the pass a decent trail runs you over to the trail from the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead to Stanislaus Peak, or you can cross country it over to that trail rather than taking the long way around...
As of my passage through the Tahoe to Yosemite trail section between Round Top Lake and Lake Alpine in July of 2009, there is only one section of the Lake Tahoe to Yosemite through here that is problamatic.
This section begins when you drop down from 4th of July Lake into the great granite valley that bounds Summit City Creek. When you reach the bottom of the valley below 4th of July Lake you encounter a trail junction and turn right. From this point to Camp Irene the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is not maintained.
Important Note: Although much of the old trail bed is discernable, or findable for experienced backpackers of intermediate to expert skill levels between 4th of July Lake and Camp Irene, the section following the 2nd ford of Summit City Creek has a section that is very difficult in terms of both navigation and physical obstacles.
The important long term difference is that the unmaintained trail section has expanded up to the Summit City Junction from where it previously began at Telephone Gulch. The good news is that the cross-country route is expanding. The bad news is that unmaintained trails are expanding everywhere.
Have you recent info on The Tahoe Yosemite Trail? Have you ever backpacked this route? Insights, experiences, or comments to share? Post your experiences, question, or comments on
TahoetoWhitney.Org, the Backpacker's Forum.
As the trail guide covers the TYT minutely with maps, miles, elevations, trail guide text, images, and videos I'm just going to hit the high and hard parts of the TYT route that are important for backpackers below. For specific details read the trail guide.
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Summit City Creek
The Hard Part
2009 report-see above for links to 2013 updates
Most of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is not unlike any other High Sierra Trail. But one section differs significantly. The 9.52 miles between the Summit City trail junction below Fourth of July Lake to Camp Irene are unmaintained. I discuss this section at length in that part of the trail guide. There you will find miles, elevations, images, maps, and a written description.
Below I restrict my analysis to the problems each section of the route between the Summit City trail junction and Camp Irene presents to the backpacker.
Summit City junction to Telephone Gulch
The Tahoe to Yosemite trail section from the Summit City Creek trail junction (below 4th of July Lake) to Telephone Gultch was unmaintained, with fallen trees and moderate obstacles, but the remnants of the trail bed can be discerned. This is an addition to the length of the unmaintained section. The trail has traditionally been maintained to Telephone Gulch. See the guide and forum links above for updates, or to add updates...
Telephone Gulch to Upper Ford
From Telephone Gulch down to where the open rock section begins the trail bed gets much fainter, and was lost at least three times in dense forests of ferns, big sections of downed trees, and washouts that completely obscured the trail bed and block your route. Very difficult. This section has historically been moderately difficult with observable fait trail bed. The signs of trail through this section have devolved into little more than occasional reassurances that you are following along the old trail route, which is mostly the best route through the terrain.
From the second open rock section to the upper ford of Summit City Creek the rock section is well ducked. Beauitiful. Easy to follow down to the upper ford. See the guide for current details.
Upper Ford to Granite Flat
From the upper ford there was weak ducking up to the top of the rising bluffs, which I fixed. I secured the main ducks in a stable manner that should survive snow and thaw. Look carefully and you will pick them out of the terrain.
Yet these ducks, and all ducks may or may not survive the snow and thaw each Winter and Spring. Ducks get knocked down by heavy Winter snow. Or a purist backpacker may knock them all down. Or insecure backpackers may duck every ten feet of their route. Each season brings different conditions, or sometimes no change at all. Be ready for everything. Or nothing.
Down to the Lower Ford
The route down to the lower ford tracks through a maze of manzanita where ducks are not suitable. Moderate to difficult. Don't freak out, just follow the best animal/human paths through the manzanita. They all roughly follow the edge of the gorge holding Summit City Creek down to the second, lower ford. Don't follow the animal tracks too far to your left, East.
Lower Ford to Black Pond
Past the second, lower ford of Summit City Creek a well ducked trail section brings you up and through a rocky section to a forest entry, just past a black pond, where the trail dissappears for about the next 3 miles of difficult navigation.
Black Pond to Munson Meadow Junction
Very difficult, but very short. Know how to navigate within a deep forest surrounded by rock bowls without trails, ducks, or blazes. A map and a compass are very helpful, but a clear head is your best tool.
I passed through this section last year without a map, but I'm an idiot sometimes. But I've crossed this terrain at least ten times without a map. What an idiot says I, as I write a trail guide that needs good map knowledge of the terrain...
The trail into this section disappears at the black pond. My route through here takes you to your left, where you drop down through a strange dark quiet uber-dense forest past large rock outcroppings on your left, dense forest on your Right, until you reach the last of a set of small drainages that leads you into a forest filled rock bowl along the West shore of the North Fork of the Molkelumne River. This is a remote and very beautiful location.
Along the river (which you cannot see from here) there are fine white sand beaches that see few visitors. Huge trees grow right up to the bank of the river through these crystal white sands. Across the river an almost vertical granite wall strains my neck looking for its crest.
It is stunning.
Needing to exit this forest filled bowl to continue our hike forces us to locate the low point, the crack in the rock wall circling this forested bowl. Examination shows this whole bowl is surrounded by a rock wall, and filled with very dense forest. This is the area shaped like a boot on the map.
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route exits the bowl through a crack in its Southwest corner where a small creek cuts through on its way to feed the N. Mokelumne River. Finding this little creek will lead us to crack in the wall where we instantly see an easy to follow well ducked section begins along this unmaintained route. Ah, relief.
You will literally climb through a crack in the wall surrounding this Enchanted Forest to make your exit.
Munson Junction to Camp Irene
Once we find our way to this channel into the rock on the Southwest side of this dense unblazed forest bowl, we will find and follow a fairly well ducked section of The Tahoe to Yosemite trail to Serene Camp Irene (yep, that was me who fixed the ducks, 2009) on the Mokelumne River.
Amazingly, parts of the trail are easy to follow because a period of very high traffic actually burnished a section of the trail into the rock. I figure the miner's traffic to nearby silver prospects and explorations must have polished these sections of trail into the rock.
Camp Irene to Mount Reba
After fording the Mokelumne River at Camp Irene you will find a confusing section. Scout about to your right, downriver, and you will find the trail along the side of the river. The trail roughly parallels the river for about a quarter of a mile before it takes a twisting path to our Left, up mountain, to begin our long set of climbs and traverses working our way over to Mount Reba and then to the top of Reba.
Once you re-find the Southbound trail out of Camp Irene, there is readable maintained trail to the top of Mount Reba, though the manzinita is very dense in sections. Moderate difficulty, though the 5.24 mile climb up Reba from Camp Irene is moderate/+ in difficulty.
The sections preceeding and folloing this difficult unmaintained section between Summit City Creek to Camp Irene on the Molkelumne River are all reasonably maintained trails in good shape for a well maintained backpacker in good shape. I have focused on the hardest part of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail here so you know what you are getting into on this section of the trail. Updates and more detailed information about these sections and the rest of the TYT are in the trail guide.
I have been linking this page up to the maps, milesges, and Guide pages of the section between Summit City Creek and Camp Irene as I get them finished.
For more information on the Tahoe to Yosemite Route see the Maps, Mileages, and Trail Guide indexes on the Tahoe to Whitney Trail Guide.
Below are Maps that link to the underlying trail guide pages.
TYT Mokelumne Wilderness
TYT Carson Iceberg Wilderness
TYT Emigrant Wilderness
Jack Main to Tuolumne Meadows
The completed maps (down to Tuolumne Meadows) link to miles, elevations, maps and unfinished trail guide pages.
END OF STATUS REPORT
I'm planning a mid-Summer of 2012 Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trip which will pass through this part of the TYT. Stay Tuned!
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The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Some basic facts
This interesting and difficult unmaintained sections of The Tahoe to Yosemite trail should not disqualify Meeks Bay as the start point for your backpacking trip to Mount Whitney. You can easily bypass the difficult section further down the trail by hiking through Carson Pass down to Ebbetts Pass along the PCT route, hitch down to Lake Alpine on Highway 4, and resume your Southbound hike on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
You can hike your own custom route sections tying together sections of both the PCT and TYT South to Toulumne Meadows. You can hike the TYT route independent of if you swing through the unmaintained sections of the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail, or go around them via Pacific Crest Trail detours.
We have one way to get around Summit City Creek's unmaintained section and many options to detour around the unmaintained/route section over Saint Marys Pass.
My point is to encourage you to craft your own unique route across the Northern Sierras to Yosemite that suits you, your fitness, your gear, and your experience. Read on, then drop me an email, and I'll consult.
Feel free to drop me an email on me, or address any issues that concern you on TahoetoWhitney.Org, the backpacker's forum that backs up the trail guide. The guide, forum, and I are all here to share information, experience, and the pleasure of hiking the High Sierras by providing a place to share information and experience about this little bit of heaven and hell, AKA as the trails between Tahoe and Whitney.
There are two distinct advantages to starting your backpacking trip at Meeks Bay that are striking. First, it offers a gently rising entry into High Sierra backpacking through a short, gentle rise in elevation to the first set of lakes, and the subsequent passes are a moderate introduction and transition to the continuous difficult high altitude backpacking you will be experiencing on your way South to Yosemite.
This gentle entry reduces the shock put on your body from a heavy backpack, from unaccoustomed altitude, and from hiking uphill for the first few days of your trip. Plus, you have been jogging and working out to get ready for this trip.
The Second Advantage to Meeks Bay is that it starts your trip in the Desolation Wilderness, a most beauitiful place as you will see on the next few pages, despite its heavy over use.
The Different Characters of the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails
When the TYT and PCT exit the Tahoe Basin together, about 44 miles South of Meeks Bay, they only then reveal the basis of their differing characters. The PCT swings onto the Eastern Flank of the Sierra and follows the Eastern flank along the Sierra Crest most of the way down to Yosemite.
The TYT, on the other hand, swings West after exiting the Tahoe Basin and stays rather low on the Western Flank of the Sierra pretty much all the way down to Yosemite. The TYT only actually reaches the Sierra Crest at two points between Tahoe and Yosemite when it is not co-habitating the route with the PCT. First at Saint Marys Pass and subsequently in the High Emigrant Basin after passing through Brown Bear Pass.
The Rough Section & Hiking your own route between Tahoe and Yosemite
I far prefer the rough sections of unmaintained trail along the TYT route from Carson Pass to Lake Alpine than the PCT route between Carson Pass to Ebbetts Pass. South of Lake Alpine I like to hike an alternative route off of the TYT to the PCT and then down to Sonora Pass. In recent years I have again begun to route through Saint Marys Pass.
The PCT and TYT take very different routes from Highway 108 to their reunification in Jack Main Canyon. Both routes travel through exceptional terrain roughly equal in beauty.
From Highway 108 across the Emigrant Wilderness to the Yosemite National Park boundary we have three potential routes. The two standard routes are the classic PCT South from Sonora Pass and the TYT South out of Kennedy Meadows. The third route follows the PCT South from Sonora Pass and splits off the PCT at the top of Kennedy Canyon to hike over Big Sam to intercept the TYT near Grizley Peak Lake.
Our third option draws on both trails to cross the Emigrant Wilderness to Yosemite.
The Real Deal
Both the Tahoe to Yosemite and the Pacific Crest Trail routes between Lake Tahoe to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite are each worth hiking on their own merits.
Ok, let's get started...
Guide: Finding Meeks Bay Trailhead
7.5 Big Map: Meeks Bay to Dicks Lake Map: Lake Genevieve to Phipps Pass
Miles and Elevations
more on Meeks Bay
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This guide is under construction and in Draft form.
Construction of this massive project happens in layers.
This page is being edited up in conjunction with finishing the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail section of the Guide, which should finally be happening in late 2013 or early 2014.
Last page: finding meeks bay trail head Next page: meeks bay trailhead resources
Contact: Alex Wierbinski
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