First, this map features links to both the trail guide pages and detailed maps of the Pacific Crest Trail across the Mokelumne Wilderness. Lead your cursor across the black-dot marked route to find the links to the detailed maps of that segment of the trail. Each of the red dots along the PCT route are linked to that position on the trail guide.
Since beginning this Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trip South we have been within the forests and mountains of the Western Lake Tahoe Basin.
Now we have departed the Tahoe Basin through the Carson Gap and have hiked through Carson Pass on Highway 88 to follow the Pacific Crest Trail South along the extreme Eastern flank of the High Sierras down to Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4. The environment and terrain will change significantly from granites of Desolation Wilderness and the relatively moist forests we experienced in the Meiss Roadless Area before exiting the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The Pacific Crest Trail route between Carson and Ebbetts Passes traces the Eastern flank of the Sierras, which is much more arid than the Western Tahoe Basin we just exited. South from the Carson Pass tree cover dissappears for a few exposed miles over to the Forestdale Divide, and when we again hike into some forest approaching Lost Lakes, we will notice it is a thinner forest than in the Tahoe Basin. We again exit forest to cross The Nipple above Blue Lakes.
The Pacific Crest Trail route through this part of the Sierras traces the very Eastern edge of the range where it gets much less moisture than trails further West. Green fingers of forest do push themselves up the creek beds, interlacing themselves within barren patches of eroding mineral painted fingers off the ancient arid lava mountains that characterize the greatest lengths of the Pacific Crest Trail between Carson Pass and Ebbetts Pass.
Great exposed sections of brightly-colored minerals are eroding out of mountainsides like great geological wounds, looking like mineral wounds bleeding out of the wounded mountains all around us, occassionally lighting-up the mountainsides with bright sections of mineral colors emphasizing the beautiful harshness within these long sections of almost barren terrain.
Rather than experiencing the grand granites that the Sierras are famous for, this section features eerie reddish-to-purple volcanic spires with finger-like formations cut from vertical channels eroded down the mountain sides. These shapes are the stubborn remnants of ancient hard lava flows reflecting thousands of years of sculpting by the relentless hand of nature, revealing the naked power of sun, wind, ice, snow, and water. On the other side of the volcanic equation we also cross vast piles of fine granular material that has already eroded off the volcanic mountains is is now moving a bit further down-mountain every season.
Between the barreness of The Nipple and Raymond Peak we cross a delightful forested section filled with a series of pretty lakes. Tamarack, Lilly Pad, and Upper & Lower Sunset Lakes are separated by a dotting of unnamed lakes. Local trails weave in and out of our main PCT route.
If you wanted to stay in the granite, you should have followed the Tahoe to Yosemite route through Summit City Creek between Carson Pass and Lake Alpine. The Summit City Creek canyon is a granite safe protecting the isolation of the much less traveled TYT route. As does the rough unmaintained section between Summit City Creek and Camp Irene, which requires a bit more attention than the PCT route.
But fear not. The Pacific Crest Trail will again encounter a brief section of granitic terrain South of Ebbetts Pass, where the trail follows the along the top of the Western wall of the golden granite canyon holding the East Fork of the Carson River.
But that's much further South down the trail. After wrapping Southward around the Eastern side of Reynolds Peak you can begin to spy the thickening forests around Ebbetts Pass a bit further to your South. From Ebbetts Pass Southbound, the Sierra Crestline bends further West, putting a few more ridges and valleys between the Sierra Crest and the extreme Eastern edge of the Sierras. This has the effect of pushing the Sierra Crestline further West, and a little bit deeper into the rain zone. From the South Side of Raymond Peak increasing bits of forest cover will again begin to shade parts of your journey between the mountain tops and passes, until you again emerge from the forested sections when you climb up the headwaters bowl of the East Fork of the Carson River.
What this arid section between Carson Pass and Ebbetts Pass means for your water needs is generally determined by the time of the season you pass through. By late Summer of a "normal" year (whatever that is...) you will find that most, if not all of the streams and tributaries feeding the main drainages have dried out. Many of the smaller lakes will be reduced to black ponds, or dried out completely.
In the center of the drainage valleys the main drainages will still be flowing, but their flow may no longer reach up to the higher altitudes. Most tributaries that you will cross coming down to the main drainages will be dry in late Summer. So, late Summer and Fall backpackers hiking this section should only plan on watering up at the main drainages and bigger lakes between Carson and Ebbetts Pass.
Above: Awesome volcanic terrain on the South side of Raymond Peak
top of page