The route across Big Sam from the Kennedy Canyon trail junction to Grizzly Peak/Emigrant Pass splits the difference between the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to our West and the Pacific Crest Trail swinging around to our East.
We depart the PCT route to hike our asses South over Big Sam into the Emigrant Basin, which is composed of Grizzly, Emigrant, and Summit Meadows.
At the Grizzly Meadow trail junction our trail over Big Sam intersects with the route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
In other words, hiking the miles listed above requires that we first get to the Kennedy Canyon trail junction, and it is most likely we walked South from Sonora Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail to get here. But maybe not. Leavitt Meadow and Kennedy Meadows are good ways in too.
It is possible we hiked here from Kennedy Meadows via Kennedy Lake, or from Leavitt Meadow via Kennedy Canyon. Regardless of how we got here we now have the option of hiking South over Big Sam.
I Like It All, but...
I can make any excuse at all to hike one route over another, but the fact is that I eventually try to hike every route possible. First the one, then the other, then any ways of adding on alternative routes.
This route over Big Sam is a great route, but so are the PCT and TYT routes.
So, I can say that the Southbound PCT backpacks down the Eastern flank and off the Crestline of the Sierra around Emigrant Wilderness, (the down and around route...) while the TYT climbs the Western Flank of the Sierra across the high elevation heart of the Emigrant Wilderness through stunning granite and volcanic transitions and interfaces.
The list of the miles above lays out a route that actually follows the Sierra Crestline across the Emigrant Wilderness, while the PCT and TYT split to the East and West around the crest respectively.
If I'm being a backpacking "snob," I'd say that the TYT route across Emigrant Wilderness from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station to Bond Pass via Grizzly Peak crosses the best terrain, crosses more of it, and crosses an amazingly wider diversity of terrain that its parallel segment of the PCT circling around to the East of the Emigrant Wilderness through the Toiyabe National Forest, and the route straight South from Sonora Pass.
But, the alluring quiet of Walker Meadows and the climb back to the Sierra Crest through the eerie quiet of the West Walker drainage into Yosemite is not to be diminished or downgraded. All three routes are beautiful, but in different ways. This is one of the of the amazing things about this place, being the close proximity of radically different terrains and experiences.
The route over Big Sam splits the difference between the PCT and the TYT Routes
The Big Sam route avoids the big climb up the West flank of the Sierra that the TYT makes out of Kennedy Meadows, joining the TYT at the top of its climb. But we still cross the High Emigrant Basin, which is the high point of the whole Emigrant Wilderness, what I call "the High Heart of the Emigrant Wilderness."
The Emigrant is full of beauty from top to bottom, but this high section is a real jewel. And we get the best and highest views of it from the top of Big Sam.
If we don't hike through Emigrant Basin as part of a longer trip hiking along the Sierra Nevada Crestline, then it requires we come back (repeatedly) and hike the various ways into and out of it on the merits of their own beauty.
Kick back a bit and explore, deflecting the powers of long distance backpacking into deeper local explorations, to get to more intimately explore shorter loops and segments of this stunning wilderness than the constraints of the long trails permit.
Once you get your basic long distance skills together you have the luxury of going deep rather than long...
Grizzly Peak Trail Junction
At this TYT junction in Grizzly Meadow we are offered another set of Emigrant Wilderness Backpacking Loop options. From Grizzly Peak we can turn our backpacking loops North to Highway 108 via routes to the North, Northwest and Northeast.
(Below I put together this rather crude schematic of potential backpacking loops around the High Emigrant Wilderness.)
West West Walker River Bridge to Emigrant Pass/Grizzly Peak trail junction: 3.84 miles.
We can hike Northwest from Grizzly Peak on the TYT down to the Kennedy Lake trail junction by turning East through Kennedy Lake, or we can continue North on the TYT down to the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
We can hike Northeast from Grizzly Peak through Emigrant Pass to the West West Walker Bridge, where we can turn West up the Northbound PCT to the Kennedy Canyon trail junction, or we can continue Northeast down the West Walker River to Leavitt Meadow Trailhead.
These trail junctions and the trails between them can be crafted into nice big circle routes hiking around the high altitude elements of the Emigrant Wilderness and adjacent trails along the Eastern Sierra flank.
Just a few paces North of the Tahoe to Yosemite trail junction in Grizzly Meadow sits the not-very-low point of Emigrant Pass. It is a pass, but the crestline is so flat along this section of the crest that it's the flattest pass I've ever seen. Even flatter than Dorothy Lake Pass.
We got options, Dude.
The Kennedy Canyon trail junction and the TYT trail junction in Grizzly Meadow are key junctions for those of us planning medium and long distance backpacking loops around Emigrant Wilderness by splicing together pieces of the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails on the Eastern and Western flanks of the Sierra with the Tungsten Road over Big Sam route right down the middle.
Let Me Explain...
By long distance backpacking loops I mean 50 to 90 miles. By medium distance I mean 20 to 50 miles. By Hikers on the Crest I mean backpackers who are more into exploring the terrain that walking a particular route through the terrain.
Got that? If not email me, and I will explain slowly.
If some of the lugs fell off your boots I will help you find them.
They're Out There.
top of page