The Main Long and Short Backpacking Route Options across and around the Carson Iceberg Wilderness
This topo hiking map depicts the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail as well as the four main trails that connect the TYT to the Pacific Crest Trail through the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. The Carson Iceberg is sandwiched between Highway 4 on its North Side and Highway 108 on the South.
This topo hiking map also depicts most of the Pacific Crest Trail across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, excepting the 7.02 miles from Wolf Creek Pass to Ebbetts Pass. The complete Ebbetts to Sonora Pass Topo map is in the Pacific Crest Trail section of the trail guide covering the PCT between Ebbetts and Sonora Pass. Trail guide pages will eventually be constructed for the Highland and Boulder Lake connector trails between the TYT and the PCT.
The red dots along the marked trail routes are links to that specific location in the trail guide. Specific mileage and elevation information, as well as pictures and written descriptions of these key sections of the trail are available on the trail guide pages.
The Carson Iceberg Wilderness is set up for Big Loops
Though this trail guide is set up for long trips between Tahoe and Whitney, each of the wilderness areas along the way is full of excellent short and medium backpacking opportunities. This is especially true of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
Besides the Highland Creek Trail on the North side of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness and the Boulder Lake Trail on the South side, this topo hiking map shows how the Arnot and Disaster Creek Trails that lay between these two trails also connects the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails.
Thus we have four potential backpacking loops of up to 80 miles in length that we can us craft loops of various distance through the Carson Iceberg Wilderness by weaving together sections of the TYT and the PCT using these connector trails. Or, we can hike the PCT and the TYT between Highway 4 and Highway 108 as "trail sections" of 29.44 and 34.64 miles, respectively.
Check out this report on this quick 50 mile loop around the Carson Iceberg using sections of both the TYT and PCT.
Also note the access that the old paved road that follows the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River off of Highway 108 offers to the Southern Arnot and Disaster Creek Trailheads. The old paved road splits off of Highway 108 a few miles West of where Kennedy Meadows is located. Both the Arnot and Disaster Creek trails offer access North up to the PCT, which you can then hike South down to the Boulder Lake connector trail which will bring you back to the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus where you started.
The Northern access to the Arnot and Disaster Creek Trails is through the PGE dirt access road off of Highway 4 to Highland Lakes a few miles West of Ebbetts Pass. Or you can hike South from Ebbetts Pass and access the Southwestern Carson Iceberg by turning Southwest at the Wolf Creek Pass trail junction.
The East Side of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness
Checking the Northeast side of the map above depicts the East Fork of the Carson River from Carson Falls running South to its junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail is marked by black dots with red centers on the topo map, signifying an unmaintained trail.
Trailhead access to this area from the East comes from outside of the Sierra Nevada, from Highway 395. Though the Western Flank of the Sierra Nevada extends and descends for sixty miles from the Sierra Crest to the Valley, the Eastern Flank of the Sierra Crest drops precipitously down to a 5000 foot high desert valley. A series of long valleys bound the Eastern limit of the Sierra Nevada North and South along the whole length of the Eastern High Sierra. Highway 395 runs North and South through these valleys in the shadow of the Eastern Escarpment of the Sierra Nevada from Reno to South of Lone Pine. This is worth driving just to see the Eastern Escarpment of the Sierra.
When you hike Westward into the Sierra Nevada from Highway 395 you are actually entering the Sierra less than 30 miles from the Sierra Crest. On the West side you enter the Sierra Foothills sixty miles from the Sierra Crest. The last time I walked into the Eastern Sierra from Walker was 2010. I don't plan on walking up from Highway 395 up to the 8000 foot trailhead at Corral Valley on Rodriguez Flat, but it happens...
Our Eastern access point to the upper reaches of the East Carson River to reach the PCT is through the Corral Valley Trailhead, located at 8000 feet of elevation at the end of a 6 mile long dirt road off of Highway 395 just North of the town of Walker. Check out this Google Road Map of the Mill Canyon Road junction with Highway 395. The google map is part of an article exploring the Walker to Sonora Pass backpacking route.
Eastern access to the Carson Falls and the loop routes around the Pacific Crest Trail via the remote beauty of the East Carson River are tough hikes with lots of hard miles and climbs. I've hiked South to Tuolumne and North to Tahoe out of here a few times, and this trailhead is on my annual "circuit" of hikes. Though tough, this is a spectacularly beautiful and exceedingly remote part of the Sierra Nevada.
Eastern Carson Iceberg Route Options
Below the Carson Falls (North of the Falls) we see the trail East through Murray Canyon connecting the PCT with the East Carson River. Above the Falls (South of the Falls) we see the PCT and East Carson River connect through Golden Canyon. Both of these trail are difficult climbs ascending the steep wall making up the West side of the East Carson River's canyon.
Continuing South past both of these trail junctions to follow the East Carson River upriver to its unmarked junction with the Pacific Crest Trail is the most difficult route of all. The route up the East Carson River from the Carson Falls to the PCT is an unmaintained route through difficult terrain. This section is physically challenging, will challenge your route-finding skills, and is across a very isolated and lightly traveled route.
Arriving at the trail junction of the East Carson River route and the Pacific Crest Trail puts you 7.97 and 9.83 miles South of the Golden and Murray Canyon trail junctions, respectively, and 8.74 miles North of Sonora Pass. You could turn North to loop back to your Corral Valley Trailhead through either Golden or Murray Canyons, or continue South to Sonora Pass on Highway 108, and hitch-hike back to your Corral Valley Trailhead.
The Carson Iceberg: Difficulty of Access
The difficulty of these Eastern Carson Iceberg trailheads is partially the difficulty of access. Heck, all of the trailheads along the Sierra Crest on Highway 4 and Highway 108 are at the end of long and twisting Sierra roads. Take your travel time to the trailhead into consideration when planning your trips.
Free Car Camping
Both Highway 4 and 108 have many nice high-altitude free car camping spots in the National Forest Lands along or right off of the highway. Sonora Pass has many well established sites both East and West of the Crestline, while most of the car camping sites on Highway 4 are located East of Ebbetts Pass.
Take your time driving up, then set up a nice car campsite and enjoy your first evening acclimating to elevation in leisure.
Full Carson Iceberg Wilderness Backpacking Map