This trail guide, like the High Sierras, divides itself into ups and downs. Our miles are generally done either going up to the top of the mountain, or we are coming down from the mountaintop into the valley that separates us from the next mountaintop.
This means that the mileages and elevations between the peaks and valleys on any given day is going to be important in determining how many miles we can reasonably expect to cover that day. This will be instrumental in planning where we are going to camp every night, and ultimately all of this information will be necessary for us to determine how many days it will take you to cover a given distance. This in turn establishes our proper food load.
There are 29.44 miles between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail. Ebbetts Pass is 911 feet lower than the Sonora Pass. But we will descend and climb countless times between Ebbetts and Sonora Pass as our path steadily increases in elevation.
This gradual increase in elevation hiking South continues for the whole length of our hike down to Mount Whitney. As we continue South the average elevation of the trail constantly and steadily increases, along with the elevation of the mountains and the mountain passes that transect them.
Yet these gross elevation and mileage figures do not accurately describe rigors of the constant ups and downs that characterize life on the High Sierra Trails. Not at all.
The Changing Nature of the Terrain between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass
From Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass the terrain cannot be easily categorized. This segment of our trail passes through many different types of, and interfaces between different types of terrain. The Red Volcanic Geology that has characterized the environment from the Carson Pass through Ebbetts Pass, and South across Tyron Peak begins to transition into amazing Shark-Fin formations of metamorphic rock South of Wolf Creek Pass, then into granite emerging from ancient volcanic encasement.
As we continue South and approach Murray Canyon, we are are departing the Volcanic Terrain Zone, actually entering an interface zone where a great rift of golden granite terrain partially encased by vast oceans of surrounding red volcanic terrain is emerging in the high erosion zone of the upper reaches of the East Fork of the Carson River.
The Great Red Masses of Volcanic remnants that composes Sonora and Stanislaus Peaks look down on granite gashes that are wasing the rapidly eroding volcanic materia down both their Eastern (PCT-East Carson River) and Western (TYT-Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus) flanks.
As we approch the top of the East Carson's headwaters bowl we can look back to the North, behind us, and make out elements of the interface line between the granitic and volcanic terrain that we just climbed through on our hike South from Ebbetts Pass.
In terms of hiking difficulty, the ups and downs between Ebbetts Pass and our descent into the East Carson River Valley can be characterized as one long moderate+ difficulty traverse across the Sierra Crest. We are constantly dipping down into and up out of every drainage coming off the Sierra Crest. It's a moderate+ difficulty roller coaster ride.
Until we are around 17 miles South of Ebbetts Pass, where we finally get a long view of the East Carson Valley winding its way up to its headwaters bowl, which almost overlooks Sonora Pass.
The only problem is that we have to drop down into the floor of the Valley of the East Carson River, and then make the long, difficult climb paralleling the East Carson River up to where we exit the river's headwaters bowl through a gap in the ridge arm descending off of the Northeastern Flank of Sonora Peak that makes up the headwaters bowl of the East Carson River.
After cresting the East Carson River headwaters bowl we are not done climbing. After easily flanking the Western Shore of Wolf Creek Lake, which sits in a small shelf on Sonora Peak's Eastern Flank, we have a hard climb up the East flank of Sonora Peak to the Sonora Gap.
We are overlooking Sonora Pass and its Western Meadows from the Sonora Gap, but the Big View is that of the Leavitte Peak Massif rising on the South side of Sonora Pass.
The Sonora Gap, from where we observe all of this fine terrain is the 10536 foot elevation gap in the high ridge arm descending off Sonora Peak's Southeastern Flank.
From the Sonora Gap we don't just have a splendid view of Leavitt Peak and Sonora Pass's 9,600 foot gap in the crestline, but we also command an overpowering view of precipitious descent of the Eastern Sierras down into the thin strip of high altitude desert which separates the Sierras from the even more ancient mountains to our East.
In any case, High Sierra backpackpacking requires that anyone who enters the be prepared to be constantly ascending and descending. This is especially required for your hike between the Ebbetts and Sonora Passes.
Always remember this important rule:
Every descent route holds many mini-ascents, and every ascent has many mini-descents hidden within its course.
The mileage we hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains will never be flat, at least not for very long at all. And the terrain we pass over will very rarely go straight up, or straight down. For the majority of your hike we are going to find ourselves going endlessly up and down.