We are looking at the trail junction post at Boulder Creek pointing our way South along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
Our next steps South will have us fording the Boulder Creek tributairy as we continue backpacking the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail up the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River. The trail post below is pointing us South towards our eventual exit out the South end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness through the sheer Headwaters Bowl of the Clarks Fork and over Saint Marys Pass to its namesake trailhead on Highway 108.
Our climbing begins here in earnest, and a substantial portion of our upcoming trail is unmaintained, including a significant segment of our route that the current maps correctly depict as supporting
no trail at all.
Clarks Fork Meadow, named on the post below, is where all sign of trail ends for Southbound backpackers.
This sign post below at Boulder Creek is pointing our way South towards the end of maintained trail beginning at the unmarked Eureka Valley junction. (below) Unmaintained trail from Eureka Valley leads us South up the steepening, climbing upper canyon of the Clarks Fork to the North Edge of Clarks Fork Meadow (next page), where all formal signs of trail ends.
The end of formal trail of either maintained or unmaintaned status will force us to employ self-navigation, route-finding, wild ducks, and bits of use trail to find our way along this route through the Clarks Fork Headwaters to the resumption of maintained trail atop the cliffs wrapping around the headwaters bowl.
We have arrived at the Boulder Lake trail junction after hiking 2.65 miles of well-maintained trail climbing gently to the South from the Clarks Fork trailhead located at the end of Clarks Fork Road. At this trail junction we find our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail sprouting off a trail climbing Northeast up along Boulder Creek to Boulder Lake. An unmaintained segment of trail continues past the lake climbing up to intersect with the route of the Pacific Crest Trail along the Sierra Crestline, which here runs across the top of the peaks wrapping around Boulder Lake's little basin.
Both trails eminating from this junction, the trail up to Boulder Lake and the trail continuing up the Clarks Fork, both increase the steepness of their climb after passing through the Boulder Lake trail junction pictured above. In general terms the trail ratings increase from the Moderate degree of difficulty to Hard.
This trail junction is 8.69 miles North of our destination at the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108, if we are continuing South along the TYT as the post above is pointing us, and is 2.65 miles South of the Clarks Fork Road, as I mentioned above.
I repeat these figures to emphasize that the total length of this last and most difficult segment of our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail across the South end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness is 11.34 miles in length. We are measuring the totality of this segment of the TYT from the trailhead at the end of the Clarks Fork Road South to where we again hit the road at the Saint Marys Pass trailhead on Highway 108.
The trail up Boulder Creek to Boulder Lake, and then to the PCT running along the Sierra Crestline as it wraps around Boulder Lake. This trail linking the TYT to the PCT offers us an alternative route to hiking the difficulties of the unmaintained TYT route from Boulder Creek through Saint Marys Pass. The route of the PCT to Highway 108 is well maintained, if a bit longer than the TYT.
Post Pointing us up to Boulder Lake
It's a total of 14.38 miles (PCT miles) from our position here at the Boulder Lake trail junction to Sonora Pass via the PCT. We'd hike up to the PCT via Boulder Lake (guide), then South on the PCT (guide) along the East Carson River to Sonora Pass. Alternatively, our distance to the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead via the TYT is 8.69 miles from this trail junction at Boulder Creek.
(Click the labels on this map above to see the adjacent maps)
WE'RE ON THE TYT
This trail guide page below and the next two guide pages study our hike South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail over these next 8.69 miles up this potentially very difficult trail to Saint Marys Pass and Highway 108. This complex segment of trail is worthy of extended study.
We find all sorts of stuff along this route both around and inside of ourselves here.
6.24 of these upcoming 8.69 miles are across very difficult terrain on various degrees of less than maintained trails. I rate this whole upcoming segment of trail overall as Hard 1, due to a combination of the physical and navigational difficulties. This segment of trail is the "full package," though short.
Our other option is to hike the trail linking us up to the PCT via Boulder Creek and Lake, to detour around the rough conditions in the Upper Clarks Fork using the PCT South to Sonora Pass. That's an option, possibly a wise option. You must evaluate your skills and fitness properly to determine the proper route that best fits your skills and fitness.
Let's find and take a look at our overall position in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, and ascertain the series of landmarks marking the distances South along our route to Saint Marys Pass and on to Highway 108 on the maps and mileage pages below.
On the Carson Iceberg Map we are located at the Boulder Lake trail junction along the line of the TYT to the Northwest of the position of Saint Marys Pass.
Saint Marys Pass and Sonora Pass are located in the lower-Right corner of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness Map below.
We can see the terrain and our route options clearly on this large scale map. Click the black-dotted routes for detailed maps of the selected areas, and click the red dots to access guide information for those specific locations.
The miles and elevations pages linked to below meters our progress graphically and mathematically along the length of this section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
This is going to be an adventure. We will arm ourselves properly, with information, skills, and fitness to deal with it.
Maintained trail ends 1.31 miles South of this Boulder Lake trail junction at the unmarked Eureka Valley trail junction (below). The remaining 3.47 miles up to the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow from there are across unmaintained trail.
Arriving at the North edge of Clarks Forks Meadow hiking 4.78 miles South of, and 1840 feet above this Boulder Lake trail junction, we find that even the unmaintained trail ends. We are not the first to face this situation. I've reviewed the historical information I could find about this historic route over Saint Marys Pass in the history forum. and reviewed the evolution of the available hiking maps, combing them for route information and insights.
That's why both the history and trail updates forums exist, for you to add what you know and discover.
Ready, Steady, Go Requirements
These difficult terrain features and trail conditions demands we be ready and able to self-navigate unmaintained trails and route-find sufficiently to keep ourselves on the unmaintained TYT route through this difficult segment to Clarks Fork Meadow.
From the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow we must step our game up to the next level. Hiking South around the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow up to and through its surrounding headwaters cliffs requires we are able to self-navigate through terrain that has few or no indications of trail, ducks, blazes, or route for considerable distances.
Well, at least until we can see the maintained trail reaching North from the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead. We will again acquire maintained trail 1.14 miles North of Saint Marys Pass Trailhead, where the maintained trail squeezes through the gap up onto the Clarks Fork Headwaters Bowl. This leaves...
6.24 Miles of Mystery
These distance calculations indicate that we are finding our own way across 6.24 miles of difficult terrain from the Eureka Valley junction to the resumption of trail above Saint Marys Pass Trailhead over unmaintained trails using only the guidance of those "wild ducks" and bits of "use trail" we can find.
The Bottom Line
We must be able to self-navigate the 6.24 miles of difficult unmaintained and untrailed route South of the Eureka Valley trail junction up and out of the Headwaters Bowl of the Clarks Fork through Saint Marys Pass to where we intersect with the maintained trail coming up from the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead. This requires certain competencies.
Physical Fitness and Route-Finding Competencies Required
We have a whole series of challenging segments of trail ahead of us hiking South of the Boulder Lake trail junction. Be ready for them. Backpacking this next segment of trail described on the next two pages below from Boulder Creek to Saint Marys Pass requires reasonably developed physical fitness and route finding competencies best developed through previous backpacking experiences.
Potential Extra Difficulties
This next segment of our trail South climbing out the Southernmost end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness also contains a short bit of potentially serious climbing. The bottom of the "slot" is naturally steep.
The lower segment of the "slot" climbing out the headwaters bowl could be in worse condition than described on this guide. Any parts of this unmaintained route could have degraded or significantly improved subsequent to the descriptions here. I would bet on degradation over improvement... though the current "drought" conditions have significantly truncated the Fall rains, Winter snows, and Spring Thaws that annually attack unmaintained trails.
Wear on trail routes, rather than plant growth, has been the predominant influence on unmaintained trails and faint routes since the drought began.
The basic fact is that each upcoming segment of our route South to our resumption of maintained trail gets more physically difficult and puts increasing challenges on our observational, analytical, and decision-making skills. The advanced fact we must keep in mind is that natural conditions are subject to change, and we may find conditions considerably worse than those described here. Or better.
The long term drought has significantly opened up trail routes over the past five years prior to 2015, and the long-term trend of shortening Winters stretches back at least two decades now.
Nonetheless, advanced backpackers anticipate and prep for degraded, as well as optimal conditions.
The assets you personally bring to the trail determine what you experience.
Variable Potential Workload
These workload and route finding demands will be minimized if we stay on the route of the old unmaintained trail, and subsequently keep our Wild Ducks lined up with the remaining bits of use trail to stay on the optimal route through the terrain.
We will work considerably harder if we cannot stay on the unmaintained route and keep the ducks and use trail lined up with our self-selected "optimal" route. In that case we are going to work considerably harder, take considerably longer to finish this segment, and potentially put ourselves on less than optimal or even safe routes through the terrain.
Unless you are a badass. Then you will cruise through. If you are weak and underskilled you will suffer.
My point is that there is an optimal route through the Upper Clarks Fork and its headwaters bowl. We will work less the more we stay on it, and harder the further we stray from it.
A backpacker with excellent skills can get away with less physical fitness, while a very strong hiker with less skills can bull their way through, most times. Life is weird...
I prefer to hike routes repeatedly, learning more each time through, so I relax and take the long view. No need to freak out or break myself on the terrain. I'll scout out unknown terrain until its logic and I come to an understanding. Difficult terrain draws out my best and worse assets.
And I say, "It's good to see you all again!"
We humans span the range from Trail Wizards to Dying on the Trail. Those are the bookends we can experience and still stay alive on the trail, if we stay grounded during the good and bad times that will all eventually happen. Everything will happen on the trail, if we stay on it long enough.
Ha-ha... stay between the lines!
Don't get too cocky or let your trail get too rocky.
A High Level of Standard Difficulties
This is difficult terrain even if we stay on-route. The next 7.55 miles of trail from Boulder Creek to resumption of maintained trail are composed of Hard 1 trail conditions demanding we have the Class 2 skills and fitness necessary to find our own way along a steep climbing route first devoid of maintained trail, then of trail itself. There is even a final segment of Class 3 hiking up the more difficult lower segments of the slot climbing off the floor of the Clarks Fork Headwaters Bowl.
The final short half-mile segment climbing up the bottom-third of the "slot" out of the Clarks Forks Headwaters Bowl to the top of the surrounding cliffs involves a short bit of Class 3 trail.
This level of difficulty will increase if we are unable to stay on-route.
The Progression of Difficulty
The unmaintained section of trail begins 1.31 miles South of the Boulder Lake junction pictured above. Unmaintained is the status of the trail South of where the unmarked Eureka Valley trail junction breaks off the TYT.
The TYT progressively deteriorates as we climb the 3.47 miles hiking South from the Eureka Valley trail junction up to the North edge of the Clarks Fork Meadow.
Even unmaintained trail ends South of the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow.
The 2.77 miles of route up to and over Saint Marys Pass South from the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow to the resumption of maintained trail crosses untrailed terrain marked only by occasional "Wild Ducks" and bits of "Use Trail."
We pick up maintained trail where it reaches 1.14 miles North up to the top of the Clarks Fork Headwaters Bowl coming out of the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead.
Saint Marys Pass Trailhead
The Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108 is 3.91 miles South of the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow. Only the first 2.77 miles South from Clarks Fork Meadow to the top of the headwaters bowl are untrailed. Once we get up on top of the headwaters we'll quickly see, then choose our route to intersect with the well-maintained and heavily-used trail coming up from the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead through the Gap onto the top of the Clarks Fork Headwaters.
Though short, these are a very difficult 2.77 miles from the North edge of the Clarks Meadow to the resumption of maintained trail. Fun, in a challenging and adventerous way. Call it "hard fun" of a high degree.
I don't need no Everest. I was born in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada, and here I stay.
The Saint Marys Pass Trailhead is a total of 8.69 miles of various degrees of hard hiking South of our position here at the Boulder Lake trail junction on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
It seems close, but there's a lot of complex terrain between here and there.
The first 1.31 miles South up to the Eureka Valley junction are an Intermediate 1 or Hard 3 level trail on maintained trail, increasing gradually in difficulty to the Hard 1 level of hiking difficulty as we climb beyond the Eureka Valley higher and further into, and then finally out of, the Clarks Fork Headwaters.
The difficulty shits quickly from physical to route-finding, then back again.
Be physically prepared and sufficiently experienced to deal with these very difficult segments of the
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
NORTH TYT Topping A local trailhead
Iceberg Meadow is 2.56 miles to our North along the TYT, wrapping around the Clarks Fork Trailhead at the end of the Clarks Fork Road. (road map)
Good Stuff in every direction...
Northeast to the PCT
Boulder Lake is a sweet little lake wedged on a tiny flat acting as the focal point, the hub of a series of drainages off the Western Flanks of Boulder Peak and its surrounding terrain along the Sierra Crestline.
Boulder Lake is 1.39 miles Northeast climbing up a cut in the canyon from the trail junction we encouter at Boulder Creek, then it's another 1.35 miles climbing above Boulder Lake to get up to the PCT.
This cut in the canyon, the creek that flows down it, the tiny lake wedged in halfway up to the PCT on the Sierra Crestline, and the quaint granite of Boulder Peak above it on the Sierra Crestline are ignored by through hikers on both the TYT and PCT. Most are not aware of the utility of this little connector trail, and the beauty of the terrain that made, and surrounds it.
The faint trail above Boulder Lake links to the PCT. The 2.74 total miles separating the TYT from the PCT, with Boulder Lake roughly in the middle, makes this the shortest and most direct of the four major trails connecting the TYT and PCT across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
Hummmm. That opens up a wide variety of long distance backpacker route options and local loops. Especially when this route is combined with
one of the other 3 major trails connecting the TYT and PCT across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
This gives us a huge number of route options for Backpacking across, and loops around, the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
We can turn Northeast from this trail junction off the TYT to hike the faded rocky trail alongside Boulder Creek up to the little flat holding tiny Boulder Lake on our way up the PCT.
Web of Trails
Hub of Boulder Lake
Boulder Lake's little flat is wedged under the West side of a twisting segment of the Sierra Crestline wrapping around Boulder Peak. The shape of the Sierra Crest draining the West-facing flanks of Boulder Peak here makes Boulder Lake the hub, the focus point of a series of creeklets stretching their thin fingers up the highest reaches of the Western flank of the Sierra from Boulder Lake's mini-amphitheater wedged under the Western shadow of Boulder Peak's unique granite presense along the predominantly volcanic Sierra Crestline above us.
Hey, I'm no geologist, but I recognize "special" when I see it.
This series of creeks and drainages running down the West flank centered on Boulder Lake are ideal scrambling terrain.
Boulder Lake offers a nifty position from which to scramble and explore the sweet stretch of beautiful granite outcropping of beautiful granite features along the otherwise volcanic terrain along the Crest and Western Flank of the Sierra wrapping around Boulder Peak.
The local ranchers ride up and down these creeklets scouring the ravines for strays every Fall. That and their cows make lots of little trails, along with the plentiful deer I've seen here during some years. Other years, no deer.
ABOVE BOULDER LAKE
Hiking another 1.35 miles East above Boulder Lake following a reasonable-quality, though sometimes faint unmaintained trail route brings us up to the Pacific Crest Trail just South of Boulder Peak.
We can understand how this short 2.74 mile long trail up 1690 feet of elevation connecting the TYT to the PCT can really open up our hiking options around the South end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
If we want to detour around the difficult upcoming unmaintained and route-finding segment of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail South of the Boulder Lake trail junction, this junction is our last, best chance to detour around it.
We've got many alternative routes to the standard PCT and TYT routes across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. These alternative routes depend on the same trail junctions we would use to craft great and small backpacking loops around the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. We further consider our alternative routes and backpacking loop options through the Boulder Lake trail junction in the "Four Backpacking Loops" discussion below.
This trail junction at Boulder Creek along the TYT is an excellent pivot point for a wide range of loops and trailhead to trailhead backpacking trips in the South Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
It's also a critical junction along our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, marking our Southbound entrance into a most difficult and challenging segment of the TYT.
Check out the Carson Iceberg Wilderness map to get an idea of Boulder Creek's location in context of the surrounding trails we can use for potential short backpacking trips and loops, as well as figuring out alternative routes for our TYT and PCT hikes.
Here's an example of one backpacking loop pivoting from Southbound on the
TYT to North on the PCT by turning up Boulder Creek.
All backpackers can post text comments about this challenging segment of trail from the Boulder Lake trail junction through Saint Marys Pass via the comments links all over this guide page.
Agree, disagree, modify, append, correct, or update the trail descriptions.
Everyone's Experience is Unique...
These links are for your comments, questions, updates and hiking reports, for you to add your perspective and experiences on these trails. We're all different and experience things differently. Share your experiences. It informs others who are like you, and those who are different. Contrast is informative.
Registered Members can post up stand alone posts about this section of the trail with images, maps and videos in the Trails Forum for this Lake Alpine to Saint Marys Pass section of the Trail Guide.
These 8.69 miles climbing 3440 feet South from the Boulder Lake trail junction over the 10,400 foot Saint Marys Pass and down to the 9440 feet at the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108 are the last of our 34.28 mile hike on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail across the Western flank of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. This section started at the Silver Trailhead on the East Shore of Lake Alpine.
These last eight miles are some serious miles, both in terms of physical and navigational demands. Be ready for them.
In my opinion this short eight mile segment of trail contains the toughest miles along the whole Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. The TYT through Summit City Creek to Camp Irene is the longest section of difficult navigation, but this short segment of trail contains the hardest miles of challenging hiking combined with navigational difficulty.
Hiking South of the Boulder Creek trail junction the TYT loses maintenance support above the unmarked trail to Eureka Valley. The trail fades out progressively as we climb through the three fords we encounter hiking from the Boulder Creek trail junction into the North edge of the Clarks Fork Meadow.
South of the ford on the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow we enter thel heart of the Clarks Fork Headwaters Bowl on our way to find Saint Marys Pass atop its surrounding cliffs.
Above the lowest ford we have a short section through a spooky forested flat as the unmaintained trail deteriorates further approaching the steep climbing segment that brings up to the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow.
Only faded memories of trail bring us up across this very rough, steep, but short bit of terrain climbing up to the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow. This segment of trail from the lower ford to the Northern edge of Clarks Fork Meadow challenges our ability to find and follow bits of the route up to our next fording point on the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow.
A Nice Local Destination
Climbing to the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow we find a nice campsite looking out over the steep segment we just climbed, surrounded by the beautifully shaped granite formations lining the upper canyon wall. This campsite, its view, and the North edge of the meadow all come together where the flow of the Clarks Fork out of its namesake meadow is funneled by unique granite terrain into and through a narrow rocky channel inset into the terrain.
This pocket in the rock runs the Clarks Fork over a miniature inset waterfall into an area of sweet pooling, then through a "mini-gorge," all inset into the granite channel below us. At the end of the mini-gorge the Clarks Fork begins its chaotic plunge down the steep canyon below the North edge of its namesake Meadow, down to where it calms a bit above the middle ford.
We're at the confluence point of an amazing juxtaposition of different kinds of beauty swirling around us and through the little waterfall at our feet at this
sweet scenic point overlooking the maximal grandeur of the descending valley of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River.
A stunning location.
And, if we are lucky a good breeze out of the Northwest will keep the mosquitoes of Clarks Fork Meadow at bay as we let the beauty and isolation of this special place sink into our soul and revive the spirit within.
I hate it when mosquitoes pump blood out as beauty is trying to sink in.
From the lowest ford our ability to find the best way up to this premium overlook and campsite on the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow determines how "hard" this section will be.
This route is not objectively rateable, as backpackers are likely to wander off the optimal route into difficult terrain, then dispute trail ratings, while it was in fact problems with their ability to find the route that increased the difficulty of their particular experience in the first place.
We can make this segment very difficult.
If we stay on the easiest route between visible indications of the remaining bits of the trail this will be a much easier hike than if we wander off the route of the old trail.
Good route-finding skills through here will save a lot of time and energy if properly deployed, which becomes vitally important when we are carrying the weight of a long distance backpack.
Stubborn as a Bull
Oh, we'll find our way up, even if we wander off the best route, but each of our variations from the optimal route will wring copious amounts of sweat and energy out of us. We're going to waste a lot of energy if we can't find and stay on the best route up this rough unmaintained trail as it degrades into route.
If we cannot stay on the optimal route from the lower ford up to the Clarks Fork Meadow this will indeed be a very very difficult section to hike. Route finding skills are very important along this unmaintained section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail's route.
Harder or Hard
Don't make any mistake about it: even if we do find and follow the optimal route through the terrain the difficulty level from the lowest ford to Saint Marys Pass is still a "Hard 1," which I rate as the hardest level of difficulty of the hardest grade of backpacking. The rating for this segment of trail is earned by both the difficulty of the terrain as well as the level of difficulty its route finding and navigation challenges present.
Hey, I've always said that "strong makes up for stupid," meaning that we can make a lot of errors and do stupid things and still get through if we have the extra strength to spend.
On the other hand, you could be screwed if you don't have that extra energy and make bad decisions. I would not try to backpack through this if I was weak and under-experienced.
I've actually hiked this segment while "broken," but I've done this kind of thing for decades...
Clarks Fork Meadow
END of TRAIL
Climbing to the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow we find some flat terrain, our middle fording point, and the end of the few remaining bits of trail remnants up here at the end of the unmaintained route. The trail South ends here.
South of the North edge of Clarks Meadow there's no trail, and we will encounter no wild ducks, blazes, of bits of trail hiking around the North edge of the middle meadow until we get to the South end of the middle meadow.
There we pick up
a few widely dispersed "wild ducks" and find bits of use trail up to help guide us up around the North edge of the upper meadow tapering into the uppermost ford beyond.
I say "around" the middle portion of Clarks Fork Meadow because that is best route, around its North edge, the Southbound backpacker's Left, hiking South from the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow..
Route, Wild Ducks, and Use Trail
The ducks marking this section of the route up to and then above the middle meadow are what I call "wild ducks." Wild Ducks are mostly located to mark key locations along the route such as fords and bends in a route rather than following and marking the position of a continuing trail.
Wild ducks are located at key positions along a route rather than at regular intervals, if they exist at all. Ducks can be quite transitory.
All the trail conditions described here may have deteriorated significantly. There may be no wild ducks or bits of use trail, yet our route will still carry us through if we stay on it.
One good Winter followed by a powerful and fertile Spring Thaw can change everything.
It's only 2.71 miles from the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow to where we finally join the maintained trail to Saint Marys Pass Trailhead. There's a lot of experiences packed into this small space. Across this distance we'll be following wild ducks, when they're available, but will mostly be relying on our own estimation of the best route based our our observations and assessments.
The guide below follows the wild ducks and use trail marking the current location of the route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
These 2.71 miles can seem, and be a lot longer if we are unable to stay on-route.
South on the TYT from Saint Marys Pass
We hike through the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead exiting the South end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness onto Highway 108.
The Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trailhead into the next wilderness to our South, Emigrant Wilderness, is offset nine milesWest down Highway 108 from the Saint Marys Trailhead.
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail continues South through Kennedy Meadows Pack Station to the Kennedy Meadow Trailhead.
Conveniently, the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station and Resort is also our next Resupply spot, where we will pick up the Resupply Bucket we sent to ourselves via Kennedy Meadows to provision our next and last section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, the 72 mile section from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows.
I really enjoy Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, its people, its services and food, and the people who pass through there. That means I will likely spend two nights somewhere near the Pack Station to enjoy all of these qualities.
Down to KM
I strongly suggest hitch-hiking rather than hiking down Highway 108 to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, mainly to avoid getting run over by tourists on this narrow twisting road. You are better off in the passenger seat than on the fender. I meet the nicest people hitching the mountain roads, and especially along Highway 108. There is no public transportation anywhere near here.
I am trying to talk Bloom into running a daily shuttle to and from Sonora Pass to Kennedy Meadows, and into opening a small, free campground for PCT and other through hikers on the beach at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. He has not yet instituted these policies (2015), but will allow employees to run hikers to and from the pass, and let through hikers camp on the beach if they keep quiet and clean up.
Through hikers can ask Bloom if they can stay on the beach. Don't ask Joan. Ask Matt.
Hike to Kennedy Meadows
If we really want to hike to Kennedy Meadows we can take the trail. We'll hike .75 of a mile East up Highway 108 from the Saint Marys Pass to Sonora Pass on the Sierra Crestline, then turn South over Leavitt Peak on the PCT. Hiking 7.97 miles South on the PCT brings us over Leavitt Peak to the trail junction at the top of Kennedy Canyon at the base Leavitt's South Flank.
Rather than turning East here down Kennedy Canyon following the route of the Southbound PCT we turn West to hike 8.39 miles past Kennedy Lake to the TYT at Summit Creek (map), which is located 2.67 miles South of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station along the route of the TYT.
The Sonora Pass Trailheads Map below lays out this alternative hiking route to KM, gives us some context on the 9 mile offset separating the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead at the end of our Carson Iceberg Wilderness section from the resumption of the Southbound TYT through Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, and shows us the wide variety of routes we can explore crossing the High Emigrant Wilderness before they all come together in the top of Jack Main Canyon.
Click the black-dotted trail routes for detailed hiking maps, and the red dots for guide information on the map above, and on all the large-scale 30 minute maps.
Clarks Fork Road
Degrees of Pedesterian Isolation
Hitch-hiking into and out of the Clarks Fork Trailhead at the end of the Clarks Fork Road is only a task for the patient. It's a few miles walk down from the Clarks Fork Trailhead to the much busier car campgrounds at Sand Flat and the nearby trailhead on Arnot Creek, where we are much more likely to get a ride out to Highway 108. If we stay at the Clarks Fork Trailhead we may end up waiting a long time for a ride out of there, and especially so during the off-season.
The end of the Clarks Fork Road draws lots of fishermen, and lots of folks from the many surrounding federal car campgrounds during the Summer high tourist season. There are always some cool folks out there then. I find it desolate and empty as the Summer comes to a close.
It is easier to hitch into and out of Saint Marys and Sonora Pass Trailheads located at the top of Highway 108. We have much better access to through-traffic than at limited traffic heading out to the isolated end of the Clarks Fork Road.
I've hitched out of the Clarks Fork Trailhead at the end of the road a few times over the last twenty years. It is a task for the patient during the off-season. The last time I was there during the height of Summer one fisherman handed me a cold beer, and two others offered me a ride out to Highway 108, all within six minutes of exiting the trailhead.
Yes! I was at Kennedy Meadows within an hour and a half, maybe two. Met a bunch of cool fisher-folks, too! Other times we must wait patiently.
The Bottom Line
The car campers along the Clarks Fork are very much the same folks from the Valley that drove past and sneered or flipped us off when we were hitch-hiking East across The Big Valley to get into the mountains.
Thank god a few of them loosen up a bit up in the mountains, and that there are mountain folk up here who pick up hitch-hikers. If not, I'd still be standing somewhere alongside the Clarks Fork Road looking for a ride home...
Both hiking and hitch-hiking these roads have inherent dangers that you must measure, balance and choose based on your own comfort zone.
Read the Disclaimer.
Life is dangerous, and life on the edge of civilization is...
Trail Miles Recap
8.69 tough miles South upriver from the Boulder Lake junction to Saint Marys Pass on Highway 108.
2.56 easy miles North from the Boulder Lake junction downriver to the Clarks Fork Trailhead at the end of Clarks Fork Road.
11.25 miles upriver from the End of the Clarks Fork Road to Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108.
The campsite at the Boulder Lake trail junction is a good short-destination trip on its own for beginning backpackers. Nice day hikes into challenging terrain surround it, and it's easy to get to. Heck, push your short backpacking trip up to Boulder Lake with the goal being to scramble the upper West Flank of the Sierra from Boulder Lake up to the PCT and all around Boulder Peak.
I took hiking trips specifically designed to carefully explore this difficult segment of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route between the Boulder Creek trail junction and Saint Marys Pass on July 11 and 12 of 2012 and between July 9 and 15 of 2015 to collect current information on the routes's status.
Prior to beginning the trail guide I'd had an informal policy of not taking pictures when I was worried or having a hard time over the years, so I'd leave the camera in the buttpack while navigating or crossing challenging terrain. I always considered the camera a distraction, if not an irritation.
I resisted carrying what I called "electrics" out into the wilderness.
Thus I had few images of this segment of the TYT. I have always been too busy looking for and figuring out the route to photograph it, even after I started carrying cameras.
My original policy was, "Hike it if you want to see it." My priority had been focused on experiencing, rather than sharing. I would tell you how to get into the mountains so you could experience it yourself.
The key is to experience it yourself.
My original policy has radically and formally changed with the publication of Tahoe to Whitney. Now the descriptions of how to get into the mountains have merged with the best presentation of the beauty and experience of High Sierra Backpacking that I can weave together.
I'm still left with some thin areas of photographic coverage of my favorite trails due to my stubborn nature. I was resistant to taking pictures or writing about the High Sierra experience for many years.
Direction of Travel
I almost always hike from North to South. Tahoe to Yosemite, Tahoe to Whitney, Meeks Bay to Kennedy Meadows, and so on. I've hiked most routes South to North at least once, to get that "Northbound" perspective, against walking all the trails Southbound at least five times.
Because this 10 day trail guide scouting trip was designed and routed to fill in missing pieces of videos and images for the guide across the South Carson Iceberg Wilderness as well as incorporating a big loop around the High Emigrant Wilderness to verify and expand my coverage of the links between the TYT and PCT as they cross that fine wilderness, I was forced by circumstances to hike Northbound from Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108 down to the Boulder Creek trail junction.
My normal direction of hiking and the polarity of this guide is Southbound.
Hiking the wrong direction and taking pictures?
Alex has gone crazy!
Such are the lengths I'll go to finish this trail guide project, once begun.
The personal is public, the polarity of travel reversed!
Thus the flow of the video segments for this particular section of the guide below are from South to North rather than my normal North to South direction of hiking. This presented some organization problems fitting into the North to South order of the trail guide.
I solved this problem by placing each video in its proper place in the sequence along our North to South direction of travel, though the content of each video walks through its specific section against the trail guide's normal direction of travel.
Each video below covers the specified segment of the trail, but by hiking in the opposite direction as the rest of this North to South trail guide.
Sigh. I'm hoping to get out soon to rectify this. A series of injuries and physical disasters has switched emphasis from collection of information to presentation, as possible within the requirements of recovery.
Life is like backpacking the Sierra. We hike way down into a hole, then we hike out again, up and down, over and over again. The good thing is that each up and every down along the trail are unique experiences providing updated insights into the changing nature of the environment around us as well as a clear reflection of our own status within it.
Backpacking the Sierra can induce elevated states of consciousness. It also has the capacity to crush us physically and psychologically. Take care!
Life is a two-way street!
Trail Segment Notes
It was a heck of a lot of fun locating the tricky Northbound route into the Headwaters Bowl of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River, and exploring the route down to the resumption of maintained trails at the Eureka Valley trail junction. What a gas.
Pack Weight and Trail Difficulty
Though a heck of a lot of fun, this section is seriously difficult in terms of navigation and physical demands. Especially as I carry a heavy backpack as a matter of policy and necessity. One of my tools is a day pack.
I have been taking my day pack along on my backpacking trips to better explore the key points along this route to better find, understand, explain and describe this subtle route, find it's character, explore it options, and avoid potential pitfalls.
The tripod, cameras, batteries, charger, journal and notebooks of a trail guide writer are all added to camp shoes, full first aid kit, and "luxuries"extended time in the backcountry requires. Oh, and my aforementioned day pack. Empty pack weight of the Summer Pack is 35lbs without food or water.
Pack weight should be considered as a factor in rating trail difficulty, balanced against objective fitness level. The whole trail getting up the Clarks Fork is the most difficult degree of backpacking difficulty I cite, "Hard 1," and the last "crux" segment of this trail is a small bit of "class 3" hiking, in that we are using hands and feet while finding route.
Carrying heavy weight on "Hard 1" maintained trails significantly increases danger as well as difficulty. Bringing a heavy pack onto unmaintained and cross country routes exponentially increases our dangers.
Local and Long Distance Hikes
Backpacking Loops around the South Carson Iceberg Wilderness
Start with a Scouting Trip
A good way to explore the Southern Carson Iceberg Wilderness is to hike in through Clarks Fork Trailhead to the campsite at Boulder Creek.
From Boulder Creek we we easily day hike as far as we are comfortable South up the deteriorating TYT route upstream along the Clarks Fork, or we can hike East up to the PCT via Boulder Lake. Both trails are unmaintained beyond a certain point as of 2015, and conditions will change with the seasons over time.
This Southern end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness also offers some nice backpacking loop possibilities.
Local Backpacking Loops
Hiking the TYT South from the trailhead at the top end of the Clarks Fork Road offers limited but interesting backpacking loop options to the South.
Hiking South is s not our only option. We can hike either Southern or Northern loops out of the South end of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
The principal we employ here to create loops around the Carson Iceberg Wilderness is simple: We hike the TYT in one direction of the loop, and the PCT in the other. Which two of the four major trails connecting the TYT and PCT across the Carson Iceberg we select on the in-and-out legs of our trip determines both the length and the character of our backpacking trip.
Where we start is almost irrelevant, as long as our start point is an accessible trailhead along the PCT or TYT. From our current location at Boulder Creek the nearest trailheads are at the end of the Clarks Fork Road and Saint Marys/Sonora Passes on Highway 108.
The Southbound Loop
We basically have one possible Southbound loop out of the Clarks Fork Trailhead. But it's a good one. We hike South up the Clarks Fork to "thread the needle" by looping through both the Saint Marys and Sonora Pass Trailheads.
We hike South from Clarks Fork Trailhead through Saint Marys Pass to connect up with the Northbound PCT at Sonora Pass. From Sonora Pass we hike North on the PCT to the Boulder Lake trail junction and back down to the TYT and the Clarks Fork Trailhead.
That is our shortest Southern Carson Iceberg backpacking loop.
This high and hard Saint Marys Pass to Sonora Pass loop is 23 miles long. We can start it from the Clarks Fork Road Trailhead at the end of the Clarks Fork Road. Or from the Saint Marys or Sonora Pass trailheads on Highway 108, depending on which direction we hike it.
We have a variety of Northbound loops out of the Clarks Fork and Highway 108 Trailheads. We can hike four basic loops. This is because there are four main trails connecting the TYT and PCT across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
We can hike from the Clarks Fork up to the PCT via Boulder Lake and turn North to return through one of the three main trails connecting the PCT to the TYT to our North. All of the trails running down Disaster*, Arnot, and Highland Creeks connect the PCT and TYT North of Boulder Lake. Looking at the Carson Iceberg Wilderness Map above makes me think it was designed to be explored and enjoyed by backpackers.
Continuing North on the PCT past the Disaster Creek trail brings us to Wolf Creek Pass, where we can access the very top ends of both Disaster and Arnot Creek trails, as well as the Gardner Meadow Trailhead off the Highland Lakes Road, which leads us over to the Highland Lakes and trail down Highland Canyon to the TYT at Spicer Meadow Reservoir.
Here at Highland Lakes we also find the relitively passive Headwaters of the mighty North Fork of the Mokelumne River flowing Northwest out of Highland Lake bending its course into the Mokelumne Wilderness.
Us Southbound hikers on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail already forded the North Mokelumne River at the end of the exciting segment of the unmaintained TYT across the Mokelumne Wilderness to our North.
Nonetheless, we can continue North on the PCT past the series of Disaster Creek trail junctions to circle back around to the TYT through trails further to the North, such as the Disaster, Arnot, and Highland Creek trails.
Craft Your Custom Route
Which combination of the four trails connecting the TYT and PCT across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness we pick to hike to and from our starting Clarks Fork Road Trailhead determines the nature and length of our custom backpacking loops around the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
The Carson Iceberg Wilderness really is covered by an amazing web of trails offering a wide range of backpacking experiences for a wide range of backpacking skill and fitness levels.
*There are actually three main trails connecting the PCT to Disaster Creek. The first and Southernmost is an unmarked and unmaintained trail off the Southwest corner of Golden Canyon, then we come to the formal Disaster Creek trail junction along the PCT, and finally we can hike down the whole length of Disaster Creek via the Wolf Creek Pass trail junction.
We can increase the lengths of our loops through Disaster Creek back to our starting trailhead on Clarks Fork Road by using this succession of trail junctions to Disaster Creek along the PCT.
We've lots of backpacking route options in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
Loopy with Maps
These two maps below lay out both the classic Saint Marys Pass to Sonora Pass Loop as well as our basic options turning North on the PCT through Boulder Lake and coming back through Disaster or Arnot Creeks:
My observations and notes about this section of the TYT between Lake Alpine and Saint Marys Pass, on this segment of trail at and above Boulder Creek, and observations about specific spots along this trail guide must be supplemented by observant backpackers via the backpacker's forum to keep each section of trail guide as accurate and up to date as possible.
Post up your observations and experiences along the Clarks Fork to keep us all informed, and up to date about conditons along these challenging routes, and show us how various types of backpackers experience them:
A Remote Route
The Devolution of Trail through the Upper Clarks Fork
Six Distinct Segments
The upcoming 8.69 mile segment of the TYT ending at the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108 is composed of trail, unmaintained trail, and cross-country travel. It can be divided into six distinct segments.
The first 1.31 mile segment consists of well maintained trail climbing up to the unmarked Eureka Valley trail junction from the Boulder Creek-Lake trail junction.
The second 2.78 mile-long segment South of the Eureka Valley trail junction up to the first ford is composed of steadily deteriorating unmaintained trail.
The short .66 of a mile third segment beyond the first ford quickly deteriorates into a route climbing steeply up to the North edge of Clarks Fork Meadow. This segment really begins to test our ability to follow optimal route through terrain.
The fourth segment consists of the .42 of a mile from the North edge of the Clarks Fork Meadow
to the upper ford of the Clarks Fork.
The fifth segment brings us 1.14 miles from the upper ford to and up through the slot in the cliffs to the top of the Clarks Fork Headwaters Bowl.
The final segment brings us 2.35 miles around the top of the headwaters bowl over to the maintained trail and down to the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108.
The Way Out
The goal of our whole seies of decisions leading us up along this segment of unmaintained trail are to put ourselves under the slot in the cliffs bringing us from the floor of the upper headwaters bowl to the top of the surrounding cliffs.
The slot is a valid passable route up to and then off the floor of the upper headwaters bowl to the top of the cliffs. Finding it is critical. Iif we cannot find and stay on the route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to the slot we will be forced to create our own alternative route each step of the way.
That makes it terribly difficult. Or an even greater adventure.
Which experience you have depends on you, and your perspective.
Once we get above the Upper Clarks Fork Meadow we must find the seasonal creek running through the channel in the South wall of cliffs leading out of the headwaters bowl. If we cannot find it we will either be forced back and out, or we will craft an alternative route out.
My second choice, after the standard route of the TYT, would be to follow the Clarks Fork up to the center of the headwaters bowl. I will check out that potential route my next time out there. I did it about 18 years ago, which is too long ago to remember precise details. I do clearly recollect that it was a rough go picking my way through dense and steep terrain.
That's about the time when I started taking detailed notes and keeping backpacking records.
STANDARD TYT ROUTE
At the Top
Before we climb out of the Clarks Fork Headwaters Bowl following this little tributary creek through the surrounding cliffs, we find the time to carefully take in the surrounding terrain to find ourselves sitting under a pretty dramatic scene.
Above us towers the horseshoe shaped granite cliffs wrapping around the headwaters bowl of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River. After climbing out of the Clarks Fork Headwaters through the narrow channel on its South side between sheer granite cliffs, we are faced with the fourth segment of our hike to Saint Marys Pass, a fairly easy 1.21 mile cross-country hike East around the top of the headwaters bowl and over to the maintained trail coming up from the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead. This is where we hike through Saint Marys Pass.
The fifth segment of our hike between the Boulder Lake trail junction and Saint Marys Pass is the easiest part of this whole section. From where we hook up with Saint Marys Pass Trail we have a 1.14 mile hike South down this very well used trail (by day hikers) to the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead, which is situated a mile West of Sonora Pass on Highway 108.
Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108
Here at the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead we find water and nice backpacker and car campsites awaiting late-arriving long-distance backpackers, to rest them up for an early start to hitch-hike down to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station to rest and resupply.
We'll need it!
We'll resume our Southbound hike on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail through Kennedy Meadows across the Emigrant Wilderness into the North Yosemite Backcountry. This next section of our hike is the longest and hardest section of maintained trail along the whole length of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, being over twice the length of our previous sections of trail.
Two Ways South
Long distance backpackers have two Southbound hiking options from Saint Marys Pass Trailhead. The first is switching over to the Southbound PCT, as I discussed above, located a mile to our West crossing Sonora Pass. Our second option is our standard Southbound TYT out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, which continues South nine miles down Highway 108 to our West.
Local backpackers hiking South through the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead can bend the return leg of their hiking loop out of Sonora Pass on the Northbound PCT to complete hiking loops started out of, and returning to the Clarks Fork Trailhead at the end of Clarks Fork Road.
Our options are only limited by our strength and skills, then our imagination, time, and money.
Eureka Valley Trail Junction
Boulder Creek Trail Junction
1.31 miles of maintained trail
Approaching Boulder Creek hiking Southbound on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route we come upon the trail leading 1.39 miles to our Left, Northeast up to Boulder Lake.
Check out how this canyon appears in the terrain from further up the Clarks Fork.
Another 1.35 miles of good condition unmaintained trail East past Boulder Lake brings us to the Pacific Crest Trail above the East fork of the Carson River. Check out the topo hiking map segment depicting this route.
Boulder Creek trail junction to PCT
2.74 miles up 1690 feet.
Fewer and fewer foot and hoof prints decorate our trail as we proceed South from the Boulder Lake trail junction until footprints and recent signs of humans end as the trail merges into the terrain.
I note the location, extent, and age of tracks across the terrain to better understand the frequency and range of travelers across less-traveled trails.
Hell, we engage and observe everywhere...
As of July 2012 no recent horse traffic had passed South of the unmarked Eureka Valley trail junction, and footprints only extended a short distance South of this trail junction. This is typical for this location.
2015; Indications of informal trail work above the Eureka Valley unmarked trail junction. It looks like the ranchers have opened up the trail to allow them to ride up to a point approaching, but not quite reaching, the lower ford.
It was "informal" trail work because the width of the trail cleared was too narrow for National Forest Trail Crews.
We hear the falls before we see them. This is the lower of two falls between the unmarked Eureka Valley Trail junction and Boulder Creek.
The lower falls has two sections, the upper section of which is composed of many small falls with the Clarks Fork unwinding into many small streams finding their way through a matrix of granite, pictured below.
Note the section of stream cutting through the facing rock before tumbling out of the rock as a mini-waterfall in the lower-middle foreground.
A series of falls above the main waterfall. Water falls through all the channels through the rock. This is a section of "braided waterfalls."
Rather than the typical behavior of a stream braiding into a series of channels through soft terrain, the Clarks Fork has braided a series of channels and waterfalls cutting through solid granite along this section of jumbled granite.
This guy would not sit long enough to let me get an image. I tried. This guy ran me ragged, but I could not get a clear shot. The little bugger was intent on tormenting me, and I intent on capturing its beauty.
This is it, which only reflects a small amount of this elusive creature's beauty and the great energy I spent chasing this one. Little bugger!
Eureka Valley Trail Junction
1.31 miles South of the Boulder Lake trail junction we encounter the unmarked trail Southwest over the mountain ridge separating the valley holding the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River from valley of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River.
This trail potentially links the old Clarks Fork Road with the route of the Sonora Pass Road, Highway 108.
All the maps below show the South end of this trail coming down Douglas Creek on the South flank of the ridge to the Seven Pines Trailhead on Highway 108.
The South Pines Trailhead is
located between the Dardanelle Store and the turnoff for Kennedy Meadows on all the maps used below;
The 1988 National Forest Carson-Iceberg Wilderness Map show this path as a complete maintained trail from Eureka Valley to the Seven Pines Trailhead on Highway 108.
The 2009 National Forest Carson-Iceberg Wilderness Map (pdf) show this path as a maintained trail South to the top of the ridge from the Seven Pines Trailhead on Highway 108, but shows no trail up the North Flank of the ridge from the Eureka Valley trail junction along the Clarks Fork.
In contrast to that, the 1979 USGS 7.5 Maps of Dardanelle, Sonora Pass, and Disaster Creek (three maps cover the trail, linked below), show a gap between maintained trails coming North from Eureka Valley on Highway 108 and South from the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus.
It is typical to see the type of map anomaly depicting maintained trails on earlier maps that are omitted on later maps. This indicates the possibility that either an unmaintained trail or a viable route exists along the abandoned sections of maintained trails previously depicted on the older maps that is omitted on the new maps.
It is rarer to see abandoned trails fixed, extended, and
connected, so I'd set my expectations for this "trail" to be mainly composed of a faint route with at least one segment of no trail across Northeast flank, and possibly also stretching across the middle of the route over the top of the massive ridge dividing the Clarks from the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River.
This is no lightweight ridge. It is a massive Sierra ridge.
Don't throw away your old maps! Comparing the old with the new reveals much about the devolution and evolution of unmaintained trail routes and the location of abandoned trails. These abandoned trails may have deteriorated into challenging bits of route where we are required to find and follow the remaining faint signs of trail, or the even suss out the natural route the original trail followed through the terrain to find our way through.
When old trail has completely dissolved into the terrain it may still offer a viable cross-country route that can be navigated between known sections of maintained trail. Or not.
When approaching anyunknown situations such as presented by this potential route to the Middle Fork via the Eureka Valley junction, as well as our current route Southbound up the TYT through the untrailed section of the Upper Clarks Fork, we must be prepped to both succeed by getting across the unknown section between known trails as well as being ready to fail and be forced to hike back out the way we came in if the trails do not connect, or we cannot connect them.
Backpacking requires we account and plan for all possible outcomes of our more aggressive and uninformed explorations. We must have backup plans for our trips across unmaintained routes.
I've never walked this Eureka Valley trail over to the Seven Pines Trailhead, so I cannot attest to its status. A group of Boy Scouts reportedly crossed this trail during July of 2012. A report on the status of this connector trail and updates would be appreciated.
I was told they found unmaintained conditions across the majority of the route, but I got second-hand information.
Our second example along this section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. The dookie higher up the trail was even older than this example, which still contained a bit of moisture.
I figure the bear dropped this 5 days earlier. The bear may have been drawn by the smell of the supplies carried by the rider of the horse that left the scuff and dung at about the same time.
In any case, indications are of regular bear patrol through the Upper Clarks Fork. I have never found any lack of bears or bear sign in the Southern Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Lots of bears here, as a matter of fact.
Lots of blooming wildflowers up here all Summer long.
Hiking Back to the Sierra Crestline
The Clarks Fork Canyon began a ninety degree turn South at Boulder Creek from its previous alignment to the Northeast, and its channel narrowed while its climb steepened after the turn South.
This closeness, the squeezing together of the canyon walls imparts a psychological effect of pushing everything, the flowers, trees, river and rocks all closer together within a narrowing horizontal space.
The canyon walls seem to, and do grow higher around us with each step. We are going deeper into the canyon. The "pressure" of the air changes in these kinds of close spaces, which can be felt.
This ninety degree turn South-Southeast by the Clarks Fork Canyon does not just mark our approach to the upper end of the river.
This is also where our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route is finally returning to the main line of the Sierra Crest.
The Sierra Crest is atop the ridgeline to our Left, our Northeast, once we turned South-Southeast upriver past the Boulder Lake trail junction.
The canyon of the Clarks Fork bends South to run under and drain the highest Western flank of the Sierra crestline from Boulder Creek South to Saint Marys Pass. We can see this on the maps.
Back to the Crest
We've finally returned to the Sierra Crest. We moved to the West off the Sierra Crestline where we turned Southwest over Round Top after exiting the Tahoe Basin through the Carson Gap. Since then I figure that our average position hiking the next 46.49 South along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to Clarks Fork Road has been about 15 miles West of the Sierra Crestline.
Dropping down to and following the Clarks Fork upriver finally brings the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail up to the top of the Western flank of the Sierra. Well, we are now under it, approaching the position of Stanislaus Peak sitting between the East Carson River and the Clarks Fork.
Turning South in the Clarks Fork Canyon brings us parallel with the PCT running North-South along the East Carson River's canyon on the other side of this massive ridge making up the Eastern wall of the Clarks Fork Canyon rising above us.
We're never really going to make it to the Sierra Crest on the TYT. Saint Marys Pass is situated on a spur off the Western edge of the Sierra Crestline Northwest of Sonora Pass.
Saint Marys Pass divides one Western watershed from another, not the Western flank of the Sierra from the Eastern. The Saint Marys Pass Trailhead is about a mile Northwest of, and 200 feet below where Sonora Pass defines the local low spot between the Sierra's Eastern and Western flanks.
The rocky channel of the Clarks Fork forces our Southbound route up around a jumbled section of the river below.
Up the Rock Channel
We turn up an avenue lined by rocky giants before we rejoin the course of the Clarks Fork above the jumble.
View Northwest down the Clarks Fork
The Lay of the Land
Below we see the cut in the mountain where Boulder Creek feeds into the Clarks Fork from the Northeast, cutting in from the Right side of this image. That would be our route up to the Pacific Crest Trail via Boulder Creek and Lake for local backpacking loops or as part of an alternative long distance route.
On the Right side of the image we can see what I call the Southern Sharkfin sticking up over the Sierra Crestline marking a specific point on the Pacific Crest Trail route. See that "peaklet" sticking up like a sore thumb along the otherwise smooth Right side of the most distant ridgeline below?
That feature is what I call "The Southern Sharkfin," and it marks the South end of Golden Canyon hiking South on the PCT. The PCT passes between it and the Swampy Lake laying under its Southwestern flank, the flank facing us.
Here, looking behind us to the North we can see how these two very divergent routes, the TYT and PCT, are drawing towards convergence as they move to their respective trailheads on Highway 108.
This convergence of these classic trails is clarified on the maps below.
But yes, we are looking over the Sierra Crest at the South Sharkfin, and can just make out the crest of Disaster Peak dividing the East and West flanks of this section of the Sierra Crestline on the upper far Left corner of the image below.
The map on the Left below shows the position of the Southern Sharkfin, marked on the map as Peak 9501. This map also shows the two trails running over the Sierra Crest to the PCT bracketing Disaster Peak, one just a bit to the North and the other a bit South of Disaster Peak's crest, both coming up from almost the same place along the Disaster Creek Trail.
Remember that we hiked past the Disaster Creek Trailhead approaching the end of the Clarks Fork Road, and that the top end of the trail is accessible through the Gardner Meadow Trailhead near Highland Lakes and off the PCT through Wolf Creek Pass.
This terrain to our North that we are looking at could easily make up a substantial part of a backpacking loop crafted around the central Carson Iceberg Wilderness out of the Disaster Creek or Gardner Meadow Trailheads.
Looking Northwest down the Clarks Fork Canyon to where Boulder Creek feeds the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River from the North, down from the Right in the image above.
Disaster Peak rises on the Sierra Crestline on the Left of the image, and rising like a terrestrial sharkfin on the Right we can see the feature I call the "Southern Sharkfin." That pile of shattered metamorphic rock is located on the South edge of Golden Canyon along the route of the Pacific Crest Trail.
I consider the Boulder Lake trail junction the point where our climb South up the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to Saint Marys Pass begins in earnest, transitioning from the intermediate to Hard level of difficulty.
As our passage progresses upward on the thinning route we find ourselves passing through a great variety of environments.
Across tiny bits of meadow, under great rising rock formations, past stunning waterfalls, and through dense forest, all while climbing pretty steeply at times.
This route is like a roller coaster running up a staircase. We have a set of steep ascents broken up by a series of flat and even short downhill traverses and across little bits of almost-level meadow.
The segment of our route South climbing of the Eureka Valley ford brings us through all the above, and now we descend a bit into and through a pocket of dense forest.
As we climb further into this mysterious environment and the trail thins out beneath our feet we notice an increasing number of blazes on the wide variety of trees. Apparently this elevation is a sweet spot shared by many species.
From Left to Right we have blazes on White Pine, Lodgepole, and Juniper trees.
I figure Hemlock and Cedars are around here somewhere...
These blazes mark a certain psychological location along the trail, typical of where maintained trails transition into unmaintained route.
Hikers venturing beyond the limit of the last blazes marking the easy to follow trails tend to make lots of blazes and ducks when the trail fades and they get a bit nervous.
Thus we end up with transition areas between maintained and non-maintained trails being littered with many blazes and ducks, such as this transition zone.
A series of blazes above the Eureka Valley trail ford. It is typical to see lots of blazes where a maintained trail fades into unmaintained.
The trail bed fades, dissipates, and dissolves into meadows hiking South of the forest of blazes.
Faint but good use trail through a brief flatter section before the climb gets serious again.
We've climbed to cut around the river and have dropped back down to it through the forest of blazes into a series of little climbing meadows strung like green pearls along the line of the narrowing river up to the lowest ford.
Sections of trail across meadows are vulnerable to rapid degradation. Degradation of trail by the saturation of meadow soils during Fall Storms (yeah, sure...), is dwarfed by the power of the Spring Thaw to tear up trails, which is nothing compared to the power of the bursting out of meadow life during the growth phase of the Spring Thaw.
Meadows eat trails.
This seasonal dynamic condemns trails crossing meadows to a short life without constant care and upkeep, and therefore rare along unmaintained trails.
Meadows respond very differently to heavy hiker traffic as they do to light traffic. Meadows are delicate things.
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail climbs us up around the route of the river where the canyon walls pinch in.
Though still hiking through dense forest and sections of meadow, the rising walls around us remind us the trail is getting, and gets even steeper.
Ancient granite is bursting out, eroding out from under this volcanic cap on both flanks of the Sierra Crest under Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks.
The courses of the Clarks Fork River along the West Flank and East Carson River to our East have scoured much of the ancient volcanic covering off the granite along their majestic canyons, leaving only volcanic crowns capping the re-emergent granite canyons.
The granite wall to our Northeast tapers down to a nice presentation, or rises up to majestic proportions, depending on our perspective.
Narrowing Canyon - Rising Walls
Steep terrain climbing South above the Eureka Valley trail junction.
Looking across the Clarks Fork at the granite terrain rising on the Southwest wall of our canyon.
Hikers on the PCT route on the other side of this great section of High Sierra Crestline who are hiking below the Eastern Flanks of Stanislaus and Sonora Peaks are also hiking into granite terrain.
The great masses of Stanislaus and Sonora Peak are great scoops of volcanic terrain sitting atop these exposed granite flanks.
Well, they are once they hike South of The South Sharkfin (on the PCT), which is where Southbound PCT hikers come to overlook, and then enter, the magnificent golden granite making up the walls of the middle canyon of the East Carson River.
This is interesting. The top of the Sierra Crestline is drowned under, and capped by the remnants of ancient volcanic eruptions piled up on top of great granite terrain exposed on the lower flanks.
The power of erosion through the river valleys on both sides of the crestline has cut deep through the soft volcanic material that long ago filled these ancient granite canyons draining the Sierra Crest and its flanks under hundreds, if not thousands of feet of volcanic debris.
The power of erosion through the Clarks Fork on the West Flank and the East Carson on the East flank has cut through thousands of feet of volcanic debris to expose the even more ancient granite foundations of the Sierra Nevada buried underneath.
Time is washing the softer volcanic material away.
The buried granite remained sealed for thousands of years, and is steadily reemerging on the wings of the timeless power of nature, even after being buried under thousands of feet of volcanic debris for thousands of years.
It's buried treasure emerging from the sands of time that buried it.
South of the "No" blaze we encounter increasing obstacles across a steadily degrading trail bed. It really does not matter if you hear a tree fall in the forest when you have to hike over it.
Backpackers don't play with reality, they deal with it.
Though decent trail bed marks the way South up to the lowest ford there are many segments devoid of any indication of trail while the obvious segments of remaining use trail are crossed by many fallen trees.
Add to these obstacles the constantly rising terrain and we have ourselves a trail section that is significantly more difficult than regular maintained trail. And we are just approaching the most difficult sections laying to our South.
I think there's no better way to get a look at what's behind the maps and miles figures than taking a look at a hiker on the terrain, and seeing how they look and how they're feeling. We also get a good look at the external terrain too!
I seem pretty calm here, discussing a series of scouting trips during 2012.
Near point 8271: Obstacles thicken as we climb South up the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus.
Obstacles and lack of trail noticeably increases our workload.
Life of a Rock
Sierra granites are the product of ancient plutons. Plutons are massive subterranean bodies of melted minerals which were created, cooled, and have been forced up to the surface by millions of years of plate tectonics.
These ancient deeply buried granite plutons were baked up and forced to the surface by the Western movement of the North American continent.
As our continent moved West it pushes the Pacific Plate under it. The heat and pressure of this motion generated the Sierra Plutons, and today does things like blow up Mount Saint Helens, and cause massive earthquakes up North in Cascadia.
The N American and Pacific Plates are currently slipping along each other's edges, rather than one pushing the other underneath.
The power of continental plates conflicting with Pacific Ocean plates has earned the shoreline around the whole perimeter of the Pacific Ocean the nickname of
"The Ring of Fire"
Every now and again something big blows up, or the Earth shakes like you've never seen it shake, around This Ring of Fire.
We are not just part of this action, the Sierra Nevada is a product of it.
Many of these plutons are composed of a consistent granite material, others are streaked with veins of quartz and differing compositions of various minerals. Those inclusions containing gold and silver generated enough naked greed to warp the very fabric of human history.
That is what I believe we are observing below, the interface between differing compositions of granite materials baked up within this ancient pluton. How this got here is mind boggling.
This inclusion likely consolidated into a discrete band in an otherwise uniform mass of molten minerals after thousands and thousands of years of cooling. It then underwent hundreds thousands of years of slow uplifting, of granite being surfaced, cracked open and weathered down as the Sierra pushed up out of the Earth.
The power of Mother Nature pushing up while simultaneously eroding down the Sierra ground through thousands of feet of granite, the tailings of which now fill the valleys on both sides of the Sierra.
This uplift and
erosion ground the Sierra down closer and closer to this inclusion encased within.
Then the freezer turned on, and so began thousands of years of the unimaginable forces of glaciation finally cutting down to, but not grinding this fragile inclusion into gravel.
At the end of the last Ice Age volcanic eruptions covered much of the Sierra Crest and its East flank with great rivers and lakes of fire and mud, composed of monumental mountains of freshly ejected volcanic debris.
Fragile little inclusion managed not to get melted down or buried.
The life history of this little inclusion
reflects almost unimaginable spans of time and scales of energy in comparison with the span and scale of all our human lives. That it survived to be exposed before disappearing again is amazing.
This bear post is much more active than the bear-decorated tree we encounter lower down the Clarks Fork.
Well decorated bear sign post.
The meadows around here are wetter, and likely more productive of the grubs and insects bears seek than those lower down the Clarks Fork. Thus bears might spend more time here than down there.
The next segment of trail South to the lower ford is through a bit flatter terrain, with even more and soggier stretches of river and meadow wedged in between narrowing canyon walls, though still climbing.
Our route skirts around the North side of the river, trying to stay as high above the wetness as possible.