The Longest Street-Crossing
Southbound hikers on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail have a ten mile offset crossing Highway 108 after emerging from the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead near Sonora Pass.
The Saint Marys Pass trailhead laying off the North shoulder of Highway 108 requires a ten mile journey West down Highway 108 to where the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail continues South on the other side of the road, the Southern shoulder of Highway 108.
Continuing South on the TYT takes more that a simple walk across Highway 108 from the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead, as does the PCT across Sonora Pass.
Though the Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trailhead enters the Highway 108 corridor at Saint Marys Trailhead just below Sonora Pass along the Sierra Crest, it departs the 108 corridor through Kennedy Meadows Pack Station ten miles down on the Western flank. Kennedy Meadows is located ten very twisty road-miles down 3243 feet of the steepest run of Highway 108 down the Sierra's Western flank.
Do it My Way
We are faced with a nine mile hitch-hike West (info) down Highway 108 to the mile-long road leading out to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. No problem. At Kennedy Meadows Pack Station we will get some food, talk to Matt and the Bloom family and friends who run the operation, and the rest of the excellent folks who live and work up there every Summer.
KM Long Distance Resupply Spot
My plan for Kennedy Meadows is to kick back for a night or two in some kind of pirate campsite (KM Camping) I'll set up, check to make sure the resupply package (KM Resupply) we sent ourselves through UPS to the Kennedy Meadows store is there, and then focus on enjoying the heck out of Kennedy Meadows (all KM services) while resting up to hike the remaining 75 miles of our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail South to Tuolumne Meadows.
Great Utility Kennedy Meadows Pack Station is also an excellent starting point for short local backpacking loops and trailhead to traihead hikes across and around the Emigrant Wilderness as well as being a vital rest and resupply stop during our long distance thru-hikes on both the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail routes.
Tie it All Up These West Flank, Sierra Crestline, and East Flank trailheads into Emigrant Wilderness all access one of the two classic long-distance high altitude Sierra Nevada trail routes tracking across different parts of the Wilderness: either the Tahoe to Yosemite up the West Flank to the Sierra Crest, and/or the Pacific Crest Trail along part of the Sierra Crest and East Flank of the Sierra.
One of my favorite loops across Emigrant Wilderness involves hiking the TYT South from Kennedy Meadows across the width of the Emigrant Wilderness to the PCT in the North Yosemite Backcountry. From there we follow the PCT North most of the way back to Kennedy Meadows. We will have to select the final route of our return from the many ways we can approach getting in and out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
are the bare-bones outlines of just a few of the fantastic Emigrant Wilderness Backpacking Loops we can put together...
into Emigrant Wilderness The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route described on the guide page below passes South through Kennedy Meadows Pack Station for the big 10 mile hike climbing 3360 feet up the Western flank back to the top of the Sierra Crestline following Summit Creek up through its incredible many-charactered canyon to Brown Bear Pass.
The very different route of the Pacific Crest Trail stays up high on the Sierra Crestline crossing Highway 108 at Sonora Pass (PCT Map) following the meandering Emigrant Wilderness boundary South over Leavitt Peak's (PCT Guide) portion of the Sierra Crestline before turning East to descend into the Toiyabe National Forest.
Sonora Pass has no services. Kennedy Meadows has excellent services.
PCT hikers will have to hitch down to Kennedy Meadows and back to the Sonora Pass to resupply, while TYT hikers have to get down to Kennedy Meadows to continue hiking South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
Effective and Enjoyable Hikers on both the PCT and TYT routes will find Kennedy Meadows an effective and enjoyable resupply point. Lots of good folks up there at Kennedy Meadows, both visiting and working. Hikers on local routes will find Kennedy Meadows an excellent launch point for their trips, and a great place to pick up current trail information (command center) as well as last minute supplies, snacks, or an excellent first/last hot meal.
Beginning of the End The following page is the first of the climbing segments of our Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route from Kennedy Meadows. We start with the big climb that brings us back up to the Sierra Crest hiking across the high altitude heart of the Emigrant Wilderness along our way to Yosemite. Kennedy Meadows Pack Station marks the beginning of the end; it begins our last and longest section of trail along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
Our previous challenges along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail have been both physical and navigational. Our navigational skills will no longer be required following the TYT out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. Our challenge now shifts more to strength and endurance over this long and very physically demanding section of trail. The North Yosemite Backcountry is legendary for its degree of difficulty combined with length.
Our TYT route intersects with the PCT coming South from Sonora Pass just inside Yosemites' far Northwestern corner. These two trails, along with the web of trails covering the High Emigrant Basin between them, allows us to craft many, many excellent long and short backpacking loops around Emigrant Wilderness.
As you can see, our backpacking trips into the Emigrant Wilderness are not limited to hiking these classic long distance TYT and PCT routes across the Wilderness. We can actually mix and match our various routes as we hike across Emigrant Wilderness on our Tahoe to Yosemite or Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trips. The Emigrant Wilderness and its extensive webs of Sierra Crest trails paralleled by East and West flank trails deserves some close-in attention from serious long and local backpackers.
We can put ourselves pretty far "out there" in the Emigrant Wilderness.
Local Loops As we hike the TYT South across Emigrant Wilderness it becomes clear that we can plan long distance backpacking trips staying within Emigrant Wilderness that are substantially longer than our 73.8 mile hike down to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite.
As we hike South along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail we observe a web of trails conducive to local loops and trailhead to trailhead hikes are laid out on our route across the high elevation section of the Emigrant Wilderness.
Across Emigrant Wilderness we find two trail junctions along the Sierra Crest with trails to all compass points. Trails East access the adjacent sliver of the Toiyabe National Forest holding the West Walker River drainage. The Western trails move down deeper into Emigrant Wilderness. The trails North and South follow the Sierra Crestline across Emigrant Wilderness along a route neither the PCT nor TYT completely follow, but which weaves together bits of both. There are two such four-way trail junctions along the Sierra Crest across Emigrant Wilderness. These junctions are are vital connection points pulling together all the strands in our web of trails.
Adjust your boots and secure your food, 'cause we're going to rock the Emigrant Wilderness. I mean walk the Emigrant Wilderness. If you believe that walk'n is rock'n we are going to have a real good time together.
Studio of the Mind
No headphones. We're going to pull your head out of society's ass and make you listen to, and engage with life's sound track. This is required for complete engagement, to focus all parts of your mind on your environment in all the ways we are connected to it on the outside as well as the inside.
Music draws the ears, then the mind, and finally the soul far out of the fullness and bounty of Nature's own Reality, and ITS Soundtrack.
Accurate Observers have all senses engaged. Our ears listen to the music of the gods, AKA, "Nature's Soundtrack," to the beat of our own two feet.
The following trail guide pages (INDEX) , the information on the associated maps (INDEX) , miles and elevation pages are all designed to reveal our short, medium, and long distance hiking options in and around and around Emigrant Wilderness as well as exploring the classic Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail routes across their slices of the Emigrant Wilderness.
Love Me Two Times
That's a great plan. We'll do both. First, we will walk both the TYT and PCT along this length of the Sierra Nevada Crest. Let's do the "Tahoe to Whitney" twice, but by substantially different routes. Then we will tie sections of these great trails into big loops around the various High Sierra Wilderness Areas they cross.
This plan works very well to get a good look at the web of trails interconnecting the Emigrant Wilderness.
Then we can follow-up by putting together endless combinations of short, medium, & very long distance backpacking trips staying within the exceptional beauty of Emigrant Wilderness. We will touch the Northern corner of Yosemite and a sliver of the Toiyabe, but we will remain predominantly within the Emigrant Wilderness. These long trips around the high elevation areas of Emigrant Wilderness are well-made by tying together the lengths of these two classic trails into unique configurations exploring Emigrant Wilderness.
Every now and then we will end these Emigrant Wilderness trips through Yosemite by hiking South to Tuolumne Meadows or Hetch Hetchy. Other times we will end our hikes through Leavitt Meadow on the Eastern Flank of the Sierra, when we don't bend our route into a loop back to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station or over Leavitt Peak to Sonora Pass.
We have lots of beautiful hiking options in the Emigrant Wilderness.
The Other Way NORTHBOUND Northbound backpacking options from the upper reaches of Highway 108 at Saint Marys and Sonora Passes follow the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails North into the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness (map). It's the same game up there.
The roughly parallel routes of the diverging Northbound TYT and PCT tracking North into the Carson Iceberg Wilderness are also tied together by a series of longer and longer trails linking them across their expanding divergence. These "connector trails" in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness are shaped more like a "ladder," than the "web" design of trails across Emigrant Wilderness. Nonetheless, this "ladder" of rungs connecting the TYT & PCT across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness opens up scads of short and medium distance backpacking loop trips out of the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead or the series of trailheads along the Clarks Fork Road.
See the Sonora Pass Trailheads and our big hiking map of the Carson Iceberg Wilderness to check out both our North and Southbound trailhead hiking options from the Sonora Pass area.
What did you Say? What did you See?
Your experiences here are important. Your input enriches the trail guide, independent of if you provide trail reports, add some random contemporary or historical information, and especially your questions, updates, and experiences. Everything reveals more information.
Add your two-cents worth about your participation in, or curiosity about, the Emigrant Wilderness Experience to the Backpacker's Forum.
Highway 108 down the "paved" road driving (?) to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station gate: 1 mile.
The gate on the South end of KM walking (!) down the dirt road to the actual federal trailhead: 1 mile.
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station gate hiking South on the TYT to the Trail junction on the SE side of Relief Reservoir: 5.37 miles.
Our miles are all measured from the
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station Gate
The first trail junction along our hike to Relief Reservoir leads East to Kennedy Lake and the PCT beyond.
The second trail junction ends this page of the trail guide page after hiking a short distance South of Relief Reservoir.
This trail-T junction
divides hikers between those turning East with the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail for the climb to Brown Bear Pass from those turning West for the hike over and down into Lower Relief Valley.
Hiking North of
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
The Northbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is located nine miles East of Kennedy Meadows along Highway 108 on the West flank of the Sierra just below Sonora Pass.
You could say there are three Kennedy Meadows trail heads.
This causes some confusion. Let's clarify the situation.
A very short ways South down the old paved road to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station off Highway 108 we see the signs pictured above pointing to our Left to the firstKennedy Meadow Trailhead and Trailhead Parking.
Though this location is signed as the Kennedy Meadow trail head, this is not the location of the Kennedy Meadows Trailhead. This is the free parking for the next two trailheads further down the road. Let's head down the road to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station to check out the second trail head.
Driving about three eights of a mile from the first signed trailhead parking (above) down to the South end of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station we find the second trail head, consisting of the stock gate across the dirt road continuing South into Kennedy Meadows proper past the pack station. Here auto traffic ends, except for PGE workers. This is the second trailhead.
The actual official Federal Kennedy Meadow Trail head is another mile' walk past the gate down this dirt road through the series of Kennedy Meadows to their far South end where the actualNational Forest Trailhead into the Emigrant Wilderness is located.
In total the actual Kennedy Meadow Trailhead is a mile and three eighths South of the location of the trailhead parking up near Highway 108 across from the Deadman Campground.
The marked trailhead and parking is the first of three Kennedy Meadows trail heads. The second trailhead is the Southern gate at the pack station, where we begin hiking, and the third and final trailhead is the actual trailhead at the South end of the southernmost of the series of Kennedy Meadows a mile beyond the stock gate. PG & E own the land from the stock gate to the trailhead as we will see on our hike South.
The Effective Trailhead
Because driving down the dirt road past the stock gate on the South end of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station is prohibited, the gate at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station is our effective trailhead. As parking at the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station is limited and restricted, we will park our car, if we brought one, in the National Forest free trailhead parking up by Highway 108.
Does this make sense now?
To recap, the location across from Deadman Campground is the parking lot for the Kennedy Meadow Trail head, though the official trailhead is actually a mile and 3/8ths to the South of the trail head parking.
Drop Your Load
If you are starting a backpacking trip through the Kennedy Meadow Trailhead I suggest that you drive your pack down to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, lean it against the wall by the office, then drive your car back to the parking lot. This will save you energy you will need later when you are climbing up to Relief Reservoir.
If you have a group of backpackers bring them and their packs down to the parking lot by the stock gate at the South end of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station before driving your car back to park at the "trailhead" parking lot across from Deadman Campground.
Then walk down to Kennedy Meadow's gate where you dropped your people and pack.
Kennedy Meadows Position
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station offers excellent access to the high elevation portions of Emigrant Wilderness for short and medium distance backpackers as well as long hikers.
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station sits along the long distance North to South route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. Hiking South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station entails climbing the Western Sierra flank to the Sierra Crest, and then across the heart of the Emigrant Wilderness via the Emigrant Basin (definition), on our Southeastern vector into the North-westernmost corner of the North Yosemite backcountry via Bond Pass.
This section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hikes a segment of trail along the Sierra Crest where the Pacific Crest Trail detours around the Sierra Crest.
TYT + PCT
The Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails rejoin in the top of Jack Main Canyon just below each of their respective entrances to the canyon, and the North-westernmost corner of Yosemite National Park, through Bond and Dorothy Lake Passes. From this point both trails proceed South together down Jack Main Canyon on their way to Tuolumne Meadows.
Their sole remaining divergence is the TYT's short loop around Tilden Lake where the PCT swings around Wilmer Lake.
Or, we can turn North on the PCT in Jack Main Canyon below Bond Pass to begin turning our grand circle route back towards Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. We can craft some grand loops around the High Elevation areas of the High Emigrant Wilderness.
Great Backpacking loops around the Emigrant Wilderness of various distances can be started from Kennedy Meadows hiking South on the TYT. We can control the length of our loop by turning our route back to Kennedy Meadows through trail junctions situated at various distances South of Kennedy Meadows. Bond Pass is our furthest turnaround point. Check out the maps and following trail guide pages for more information.
Looking for the best Emigrant Wilderness Backpacking trip ideas?
You have to put together
a trip that suites you.
Use these Plans, Reports, and maps above and below to find the best Emigrant Wilderness backing trip for you:
From the stock gate at the South side of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station we follow a dirt road for about a mile South over a low hill and around to the East side of the Southernmost of the series of riverside meadows composing Kennedy Meadows. This mile long dirt road separate the stock gate on the South side of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station from the actual Kennedy Meadows Trailhead at the far South end of this extended set of meadows.
Parking for the trailhead is 3/8 of a mile North up the paved road towards Highway 108 from this stock gate at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. The trailhead parking is located across from the Deadman Campground. Check the map for the location of the free trailhead parking near the Deadman Campground.
You cannot park at the pack station. Well, you can park at the pack station but it will cost you. It's easier and cheaper to park at the free trailhead parking down by Deadman Campground.
Backpackers starting trips through the stock gate on the South side of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station are advised to drive to the gate and drop packs and hikers before turning around to park the car down the road at Deadman.
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
The Gate on the South Side of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station and Resort
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail Southbound through the gate at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. This is the end of the line for auto traffic.
The position of gate has been moved about a hundred yards North, towards our position, from the location pictured above. The hinge end of the gate has been attached to the end of the low wall dividing the mule-loading and rider mounting area, to our Left, from the parking area behind us. This change has no substantial effect on the route of the TYT.
It has given horse and mule traffic a gate between them and the parking lot.
The common problem I see confronting PCT and TYT hikers is how to fit a resupply stop into our hiking plans. This really comes down to what you want from your resupply spot. Are you doing a "Hit and Run," stopping for only enough time to stuff new food into the pack and hit the trail? Or are you planning on a day(s) of rest and recovery?
How your body feels, how drained or properly maintained you feel, should be the concern guiding how you use each of your resupply stops.
How you feelin'?
My Physical and Cultural
I'm looking to pick up my resupply, recharge myself with plenty of good food, rest for one full day, and hang out with the cowboys, horsepackers, locals and whatever hikers are hanging around. And horsemen and fisherfolk and hunters and tourists, and so on...
Approach and Exit
For every type of resupply stop finding the best approach to the resupply spot for your purpose is very important. This issue generally resolves itself into three simple questions: where to camp before, during, and when departing the resupply spot. Campsite selection approaching your resupply determines when you arrive at your resupply spot, and your campsite after you leave determine exactly when you must depart your resupply "vacation" to get there before dark.
I've already decided I'm going to spend two nights at Kennedy Meadows. The real question is, "what are the best places to stage up to easily get off and then back on the trail?" Where we stage up before and after our resupply determines how efficient our resupply stop is and if it keeps us on our schedule while recharging and restoring our packs, our minds, and our bodies.
I want all three topped-off with one simple resupply...
Simple Pacific Crest Trail route hiker's answer: Hunter's Camp is my preferred campsite 6.02 milesNorth of Sonora Pass to stage up for resupply at Kennedy Meadows. South of Sonora Pass I typically stage up at Latopie Lake (guide), located 3.07 miles South of Sonora Pass, or the campsite at the top of Kennedy Canyon (guide), which is a tad further South than the 7.97 miles to the Kennedy Canyon trail junction. The campsite is a ways down into the top of Kennedy Canyon below the junction. These are typically the sites where I camp approaching Sonora Pass.
These are what I consider the best and most suitable campsites North and South of Highway 108 along the PCT and TYT allowing me to stage up to catch the early morning traffic when arriving and departing Kennedy Meadows.
We can get closer to Sonora Pass than Hunter's Camp on the North side of Sonora Pass, but I will not camp near Wolf Creek Lake until late in the Summer when it has dried out completely. Mosquitoes. Many, many mosquitoes. Hunters Camp is a superior campsite in every respect. If you can find it...
There is not a better location than Latopie Lake for staging up a Northbound hiker resupplying out of Kennedy Meadows. Being 3.07 miles North of Sonora Pass allows us to sleep in and still hike to Sonora Pass early enough to pick up the first "traffic" with the coming of the first light of day.
TYT Into Kennedy Meadows
I have decided that my Southbound approach to Saint Marys Pass will be unhurried. This is so I can spend maximum time exploring the Untrailed Upper Headwaters Bowl of the Clarks Fork (guide)
of the Stanislaus River.
This means that I am going to camp at the ideal location on the North end of Clarks Meadow, from where I can easily make the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead for a late lunch at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. But that would defeat my purpose. My goal is exploring and understanding the layout and potentials of this last untrailed portion of our hike down the TYT. Our maps show a variety of potential routes up to Saint Marys Pass from the West.
I very well may set up an additional campsite in the upper bowl above Clarks Meadow to support some extended local explorations. I had a hot time the last time I set up camp in the uppermost part of the headwaters bowl.
Out of Kennedy Meadows
We have the series of campsites (below) spread out at various mileages to our South for every strength and preference of backpacker.
Maximum Experience My hiking plan for stopping at Kennedy Meadows while hiking North or Southbound on the PCT route generally involves putting myself into a location where I can easily reach Sonora Pass as early as possible the next morning when there will be cars to hitch West down Highway 108 to Kennedy Meadows. This is to maximize my day off.
I am really happy if I make the breakfast cutoff time at Kennedy Meadows. They make great breakfasts at Kennedy Meadows, and I'm real hungry and typically low on food when I arrive.
If you work hard to push up to Sonora Pass late in the evening to catch a ride down to Kennedy Meadows you may have wasted some of your time and energy. The sparse traffic on Highway 108 ends quickly at dark and does not even begin to hit 3 cars an hour until after 8 am, though I wake up at first light. And there is no water at Sonora Pass.
Rushing around to reach Sonora Pass may well slow you down.
Therefore we should carefully time our arrival at Highway 108, be we hiking North or South on either the TYT or PCT, to coincide with the beginning of daily traffic and the opening times of the restaurant and store at Kennedy Meadows. That's always the logic of my plan: spending the least energy for the most experience.
Staging for resupply is not as much of a problem for Southbound hikers on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. The TYT route passes by Kennedy Meadows' front door, and unlike Sonora Pass, the Saint Marys Pass trailhead on Highway 108 has a nearby creek, which allows Southbound TYT hikers to camp there.
There are water sources and legal campsites about a half-mile West down Highway 108 from Sonora Pass.
My Resupply Plan is to spend at least one full day doing nothing at each resupply spot. No pack, no hiking, no climbing, no nothing. Sitting. Eating. Drinking. Visiting old friends and meeting new ones. If I hike more than 5 miles on the way in I consider that a "work day," and spend two nights at the resupply spot. My approach requires having a fine place to camp at each resupply spot, as well as well good campsites to the North and South of the resupply spot to stage up my entrance and exit at each resupply location.
My resupply plan is to get in easy, take it easy, and get out easy.
Many hikers show up at resupply spots on the edge of civilization looking like a fish out of water. They hit the highway access after dark, after traffic has declined. If they get a ride down to Kennedy Meadows after dark, they generally arrive after the store and restaurant have closed. Then they worry about where to camp. A little pre-planning will smooth your entry and exit from all of your resupply spots.
Most long-distance hikers have no idea about the camping policies and practices at the resupply spots or the availability and location of places backpackers seeking rest can camp. Trust me, there are free backpacker campsites near all the resupply spots. Not knowing the situation makes backpackers uncertain about how to proceed, which means our time at the resupply spot is not resting and recharging us as much as it should. Let's dispel that uncertainty with solid planning to make sure we get well-recharged at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, and every resupply spot we visit.
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station
First thing the long-distance backpacker arriving at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station has to do, if you are kicking it, is to secure a quiet and restful campsite.
I see four options for kicking back at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. Matt has a bunkhouse in the main building where backpackers can rent a bunk. It's 35 bucks a bunk and the bunkhouse rooms hold five people. If you've got five hikers who all want to chip in you can rent one of the bunkhouse rooms for your group. If not, you will share with other long distance backpackers. Each bunk comes with use of the shower and laundry. Take a shower, do your laundry, eat a great meal, take a nap in a bed, and pet Matt's friendly damn mules.
Matt also has cabins backpackers can rent, but they are mostly pre-reserved during the Summer season, and they sleep six... If you are planning a long hiking trip and you know when you will pass through Kennedy Meadows you can try to reserve a cabin for those dates. But it is hard to keep on schedule on the long trails and it is even harder to reserve a cabin at Kennedy Meadows during the high Summer vacation season. But if you are sure of your dates, and it's mid-week away from a major holiday, you may be able to reserve a cabin.
The Middle fork of the Stanislaus River has fine sandy beaches soft and comfortable across the meadow from the main building at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. Ask Matt about camping there. If you push in late at night the beach will be your target. Random single and small groups of PCT hikers arriving late at night should quietly check out and camp along the beach if they are inclined to spend a night at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
There are fine campsites a mile South down the TYT past the gate scattered all around the National Forest Kennedy Meadows Trailhead, but that's a bit too far away for me to camp at a resupply spot. These are perfect sites for camping the night after a long drive and before hitting the trail.
I've also got a couple of secret self-stash places very close to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, but hey, I've got to have a few secrets... (hint: log crossing...) If you are not a pain in the ass and you camp about near Kennedy Meadows nobody gripes... but if you trash the area or are disruptive you are out of there.
The Party Line
The common answer you will hear in the Kennedy Meadows Office to the question of "where can I camp nearby" is,
"There are campsites in the federal Deadman Campground 3/8ths of a mile North
down the paved road towards Highway 108." Sigh.
I understand that a site at Deadman is 18 bucks, and anyone asking Joan or Mrs. Bloom in the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station office will be informed about Deadman Campground, and that they will tell other hikers asking about camping of your presence at the Deadman Campground if you wish to share a site and its costs.
I also understand that there are more private sites at Deadman Campground behind the trailhead parking. These sites are used as "overflow" sites when the main campground is full. These sites give the camping backpacker(s) a little separation from the car campers.
Camping at Deadman is terribly unsatisfying to me, because, like the campsites a mile South of Kennedy Meadows, I do not want to be so far away from cold beer and hot food during my rest and resupply stop. I don't want to put any miles on my legs during a rest and resupply stop walking back and forth for cold beer and hot food. I want to camp a couple of minutes easy walk from my campsite to the rest and resupply resources I find so enjoyable.
If the beach does not look good, and the car campground sounds as bad to you as it does to me, then hike South towards the gate and look at the river making its ribbon-like bend on the South side of the Pack Station. You will see a rather large tree bridging this bend in the river. It will be swept away sometime in the future by a massive Spring thaw, but it's still there as of 2016. Hike down and cross the river on the tree. You are now in a kind of wasteland under dense forest created by the overflow of the river every Spring.
Look around for a flat soft sandy spot you can shape-up into a place for your sleeping pad, and kick back. This is a no fire at all zone.
Ok, you've made your camp, assured that your resupply bucket is in the store, and eaten a big meal. What now?
Nap-time! Back to the campsite to watch the day pass by on its own as the shifting shadows of the sun through the forest mark the passage of time, to put the feet up, and to soak up experiences from a non-moving perspective.
Our moving meditation has now become delightfully stationary.
Locals work at Kennedy Meadows and at all the pack stations and other resupply points up and down the High Sierra Crest. They have local knowledge, as do the local trail crews. Striking up friendly conversations and picking their brains about the upcoming trails, terrain, and fishing is always a good idea.
Time to Hike the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
South into Emigrant Wilderness
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station to the lowest Footbridge
Emigrant Wilderness Backpacking Video
Kennedy Meadows Pack Station Gate to the Lower Bridge over Summit Creek.
South of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station the one mile-long dirt road from the gate to the actual trailhead climbs a little hill bounding the South end of the Pack Station before dropping into the next Kennedy Meadow & twisting around the East side of the long, rectangular meadows.
I figure the pack station is wedged into the last and smallest of the series of Kennedy Meadows. Kennedy Meadows is also where the run of Summit Creek transforms into the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River where it enters Kennedy Meadows.
Hiking South to the far South end of these meadows brings us to where the dirt road revisits the Middle fork of the Stanislaus River where the official trailhead marks our entrance into the Emigrant Wilderness. Emigrant Wilderness begins a few steps past the trailhead at the lower bridge over Summit Creek.
Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River
The end of the dirt road to the trailhead also marks the point where Summit Creek becomes the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River, and is also where nice shaded campsites suitable for lunch or a base camp while fishing the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River are located on the furthest South end of Kennedy Meadows.
Through the Kennedy Meadows Gate
and Up the Hill
Passing South through the gate we climb a small hill before re-entering the continuing series of Kennedy Meadows, which end where the federal trailhead on the South end of Kennedy Meadows marks the beginning of Emigrant Wilderness.
Campsites on South End of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station
Above: As we hike South past the Kennedy Meadows Gate over the hill we look back over our Right shoulder, Northwest, to see the improved campsite on the South end of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
As I stay two nights at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station I like to find a nice place to set up camp very unobtrusively. Kennedy Meadows does not have actual backpacker camping. The ladies in the office will tell you to hike down three-quarters of a mile to the Deadman Federal Campsite and pay 18 bucks a night to stay there.
That is not a good option for me. I want to remain near Kennedy Meadow's excellent restaurant, store, bar, and folks.
On the Beach
If you talk to Matt or Marty they will likely tell you to camp on the beach. The beach sits along the Stanislaus River about a hundred yards across the meadow in front of Kennedy Meadow's store and office. Soft sand and nice picnic tables down there. Haul out your trash, camp the legal distance from the water, and don't trash the site.
There is another option. Walk South to and through the gate on the South side of Kennedy Meadows. Look off to your Right and you will see paths leading down to the fine improved campsite pictured above. If there is nobody in there, that's where I camp.
I don't mess with the established camp there, just set up my own.
If the folks who set up this site are there, I just hop on the big log across the Stanislaus here to set up in the chaos on the other side of the river.
In recent years Matt's kid has been running a Summer Horse Camp for Kids. I think she is camping the horse camp there in the tent camping spot pictured above. If so, we will be limited to the sites on the beach or the sites across the log. Well, there are not any formal sites on the other side of the river due to seasonal flooding over there. But there are lots of places we can set up a little camp.
So, our pirate camping options at Kennedy Meadows are on the beach, the improved site on the South end of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, and various throwdown spots on the other side of the river across from the improved campsite.
We also have very nice campsites a mile South of the Kennedy Meadows Gate at the federal trailhead on the far South end of Kennedy Meadows meadows, and the federal car camping sites to our North at the Deadman Campground mentioned above.
Dropping down the South side of the hill shortly brings us into the next of the series of Kennedy Meadows.
View South from the North End of Kennedy Meadows
We've hiked South over the hill dividing the first and smallest of Kennedy Meadows where the pack station is located from the next upriver segment of Kennedy Meadows. The dirt road is twisting to our Left around to the East side of this segment of Kennedy Meadows to make its way to the trailhead and Emigrant Wilderness boundary by going around the edge of the meadow. Our third and final trailhead is located at the end of the third nub of Kennedy Meadows just beyond the trees on the far side of the meadow.
Roads and trails always go the long way around areas flooded during Spring, typified by the trail around this segment of Kennedy Meadows in front of us.
Here we get some good visual references for our upcoming route options.
Peak 10530 beyond the South end of Kennedy Meadows
We are looking at Peak 10530 riding the Northwestern end of the massive volcanic ridge in the furthest distance. The line of that ridge runs East up to Relief Peak, Molo Mountain, and finally all the way up to Big Sam on the Sierra Crestline. The valley holding Kennedy Lake lays open on its Left, or down the Northeast facing flank of that vast ridge. Summit Creek runs down the base its Right, or Southwestern facing flank, down the valley below Brown Bear Pass.
Therefore we can "see" the basic outlines of our two potential routes up to the Sierra Crest from here.
Closer to us we can also see a giant granite plug rising out of the middle-foreground of the image, just beyond the end of Kennedy Meadows.
Past the upcoming Emigrant Wilderness Trailhead our route hikes up along Summit Creek into the canyon to the Left, or carved into a spiral wrapping up and around the Eastern base of that granite plug formation. That's where Summit Creek comes down the mountain, where Kennedy Creek comes out of its canyon from Kennedy Lake into Summit Creek, and around which we will follow the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail climbing towards either Kennedy Lake (junction below) or Relief Reservoir (below).
We can see and visit both on the properly planned Emigrant Wilderness Backpacking loop.
The old trail route, the route indicated on the USGS map, passes to the Right of the big plug rock, between it and the smaller rock feature to the lower-Right of the plug. The old route is no longer maintained or used.
I'm informed by Marty (map) , one of Matt Bloom's lead riders out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, that, "It's a jumble up there," along the old route.
Check out the map and notice the route I marked South of the trailhead is different from the old route marked on the map.
Check in at the Kennedy Meadows office for fishing reports, all you fisherfolk. I fish (and hunt) with my camera. Unless I'm hungry and desperate. Then it's on. I was real surprised how observable (forum) trout are. About 20 years ago I was quietly approaching a deep pool in the South Sierra. I mis-stepped and made a "thumping" sound, which alerted all the fish I was coming. But they did something unexpected. They all poked their heads out from their rocky lairs to see what made the sound, and I located them all, all at once. I understood then that trout are curious creatures, and I could use that curiosity to my observational advantage.
"Ha! Gotcha fish cold," said I. I had never understood just how carefully trout observe activity out of the water until then. They mostly listen, tracking the "vibes," but trout also watch things that come close to the water.
Since then I have been sneaking up to streams and pools, and if no fish are out "fishing" for insects I make that same odd, hollow thumping sound, (like a heavy mis-step) three times, to use the trout's own curiosity to draw them out.
"What was that?" feels the trout... This approach of using "mystery" sounds (or vibrations) to lure out the local wildlife works well with lots of critters, if you see, or anticipate their presence first. If they see you first they mostly make the decision to hide or take off.
IN any case, triggering motion with sound can reveal a targets's position. And your own.
That's why we get "weird" to draw them out.
Sweet-talking, or disharmonious vibes are my main approaches to drawing out hiding wildlife, but both are secondary to sitting stationary and letting them come on their own.
Sweetness, Stillness, or Curiosity draws out most the players.
Earlier in my hiking life I would just sit there (stillness) and watch trout fish. Fish either hang out with their buddies, rest, or hunt (real "fishing"). Therefore, most of my observations are of trout fishing for insects. Now I take their pictures, film them, and keep an eye on the lives of fish. My observations indicate fish are a lot smarter and more engaged with the environment around them than most people ever give them credit for, even most fisher-folk. Trout even have simple emotions. They fear, are curious, and I've even seen an angry trout. Seriously. That fish was pissed-off... at me!
And I'm not even a fisherman with a pole. Again, my camera...
Trout are mostly, "tough customers," character-wise.
Keep your eyes open when you engage your feet. They will carry you to many amazing sights and tasty delights. Though I don't eat fish, I do see many happy fisherfolk in the Emigrant Wilderness.
Hiker and Fisherman encounters Along the trail in the Southern Kennedy Meadow.
This beautiful place has something that makes everyone smile.
Especially the dogs.
PG & E
Work on Relief Reservoir
PG & E has been upgrading the operations at Relief Reservoir for the past few years. My understanding is that they will finish the work in Spring-Summer of 2013, but I have no official knowledge.
Working on Relief Reservoir requires PG & E set up a beachhead in the Southern Kennedy Meadow from where they ferry in their men, tools, and equipment to the Relief Reservoir Dam via helicopter.
If you see PG & E, they are likely working on the Relief Reservoir Dam.
I've talked to a number of the guys working on the project, some of the security people, and they are all real nice folks. The company has gone off the deep end with crazy greed and irresponsibility, but the people who work for PG & E are good folk.
Some of the last of the American Middle Class still remaining...
Check out the video for a view of the situation during 2012.
Camp PGE in Kennedy Meadow 2012. This is the staging area for work on Relief Reservoir.
PG & E trucks and copter in the Southern Kennedy Meadow
Camp PGE after removing the temp offices and equipment after 2012 work on Relief Reservoir was completed.
View North down the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River
Beginning on the South End of Kennedy Meadows
Sweet Look Downriver Looking North downriver at the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus from near the federal trailhead on the far South end of Kennedy Meadows.
Kennedy Meadows is a narrow wedge of tranquility carved in at the base of the steepest descent of the Western Flank below the Sierra Crestline.
This cut in the mountains continues below Kennedy Meadows for nine miles all the way down to the Clarks Fork Road, where this cut in the mountains joins the even larger canyon of the Clarks Fork coming down from Saint Marys Pass.
Between here and the Clarks Fork the Middle Stanislaus River runs through a series of very tranquil meadows, forests, and "rock gardens" of Idyllic Beauty along a fairly level nine mile run of the river providing a series of unique and beautiful juxtapositions of water, rock, forest, and meadow that sweeten experience itself.
The beauty and bounty of this run along the Middle Stanislaus was likely well-used before Western intervention (history), explains early Western use, and is why it remains popular today. It is a long sweet spot.
A series of Federal Car Campgrounds (index) listed as the "Brightman Recreation Campgrounds," refers to these specific campgrounds along this tranquil run down the nine mile run of uppermost Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River before its confluence with the Clarks Fork.
A bit South of the Stock and Backpacker Information board.
The final, last of the three trailheads we've counted since the sign at the trailhead parking lot across from Deadman Camp and the gate at Kennedy Meadows.
This is the actual Kennedy Meadow Trailhead for Backpackers into Emigrant Wilderness.
Trey Trailhead Review
The first trailhead is near the junction between Highway 108 and the road to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. The second trailhead is the gate located on the South end of the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, and this third trailhead, shown above, is the actual portal for backpacking into the Emigrant Wilderness.
feet of elevation
South of the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station Gate.
South to the Grouse Creek ford at Relief Reservoir.
To Relief Reservoir
The main trail to the Relief Reservoir campsites is located just across Grouse Creek, though we come upon the shortcut on our way down to Grouse Creek as we hike South from the top of the ridge wrapping around Relief Reservoir's Northeast shore.
Rock and Sand Surfaces
Our hike above Kennedy Meadows Pack Station has been hiking up along the edge of the almost flat series of very gently ascending Kennedy Meadows. That changes here at the trailhead. Now we are climbing, gently at first, then through increasing degrees of steepness beyond the lower bridge, up to our final climb over the ridge protecting Relief Reservoir.
Beyond the trailhead we begin by paralleling Summit Creek while steadily climbing up a dusty, rocky, and sandy trail for a couple of hundred yards to reach the lowest of the two footbridges between Kennedy Meadows and Relief Reservoir.
Our hike between the lower and upper footbridges is a run of trail carved right into the side of the bottom of this rocky gorge bringing Summit Creek down to Kennedy Meadows.
There is also a third footbridge located along the trail up Kennedy Creek that hikers up to Kennedy Lake will encounter. We will only cross two bridges on our hike to Relief Reservoir.
From the federal trail head at the South end of Kennedy Meadows up to Relief Reservoir we will be picking our trail through very sandy trails strewn with rocks. We will be looking to pick our path around the sand to maintain traction on the rocky surfaces we can find.
The sides of this wide section of very sandy trail have a better surface than the center of the trail for backpackers. Watch the slippery sand on smooth granite surfaces.
Shade will also be at a premium.
This can be a hot, as well as an exposed hike all the way to Relief Reservoir.
above Kennedy Meadows Trailhead
Sandy Chute up to the Lower Bridge over Summit Creek
Short chute of sandy trail from trailhead to the bridge.
First & Lowest
The cool flow of air running downstream with the creek is always nice on a hot day.
Crossing this bridge marks the beginning of our climb through the lower run of the upcoming narrow rocky canyon. The run of canyon ahead acts as a reflector-oven and heat collector during fine Summer weather.
I like to get through here early in the morning when it's cool, if possible. Especially if we are carrying the heavy pack necessary to get ourselves down to Tuolumne Meadows.
The following section between the lower and upper footbridges has bothered me for a long time. The map and the reality on the ground are different.
That always drives me crazy.
When I sat down to work on the maps for this section it became clear that I would have to collect more information, which meant another trip to inspect this section with map in hand and eyes wide open.
I knew the USGS map is wrong, but I could not define the correct trail route... back to the trail...
My research indicates that my long suspicion of map problems along Summit Creek between the foot bridges were correct. The actual trail route varies significantly from the route on the Dardanelle, Calif, 1979 7.5 minute USGS Topographic Map. The route and the map do not match.
The Dardanelle Map of 1979 indicates that the trail continues West above the lower footbridge to climb the dry canyon West of Summit Creek on the West flank of the plug up to the second footbridge. The trail in fact climbs up to the second footbridge above the Western bank of Summit Creek.
I have marked the TW topo map for this section to indicate the current route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail as carved into the hard rock cliff following Summit Creek to the Upper bridge.
The Trail bends Left following
Summit Creek South of the
Trail sign just a few steps South of lower Summit Creek footbridge. This sign looks to be situated where the old route continued West marking where the current route turns South along Summit Creek through a channel cut through the hard rock of the plug's lower Eastern flank.
Marty, a very experienced horsepacker out of Kennedy Meadows, said of the old trail route, "It's a jumble back there."
Matt, Marty, and Corky represent a lot of backcountry knowledge riding out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
Note how the Map depicts the old abandoned trail as the main route. I have corrected our map with the current route between the lower and upper footbridges.
From above the lower bridge hard granite knobs, slabs, and runs of granite rise up out of this sandy trail, giving us a either a series of tripping points or firm footing in this sea of sandy trail.
If we have the strength to go, "top to top," from each ascending granite knob to the next, we are fine. If not, we are slogging along in the sand.
But, be careful! Sand on granite makes for some slippery stepping. Remember, when on sandy trail or sandy rock surfaces keep your body upright and shorten your steps. Shortening our steps will decrease our tendency to slip when taking steps forward as well as when pushing off against our back foot.
This technic generally helps keep us stable across slippery terrain, be it slick granite, sandy granite, or hard snow and ice.
Past the lower footbridge the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route is carved into the solid granite wall above the West Shore of Summit Creek. This is an impressive segment of trail.
It is also an exposed section of trail with no tree cover surrounded by reflective granite. The tendency of this canyon to hold heat combined with the solar intensity focused here proves the necessity of a good hat and sunscreen.
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail carved out of the solid rock of the canyon wall.
Summit Creek views Open
climb higher above the creek
We parallel and begin climbing higher up the West side of the canyon wall above Summit Creek, moving up and to our Right on a route cut into the rock above Summit Creek from the viewpoint below.
The trail climbs in anticipation of getting around the wishbone cuts of Summit Creek canyon where the branch of canyon bringing Kennedy Creek down from Kennedy Lake cuts into the canyon carrying Summit Creek.
Hiking a bit further South and higher up we come to Kennedy Creek rushing into Summit Creek.
Below we see where Kennedy Creek cascades down into Summit Creek. It is almost like a series of stacked waterfalls.
Summit Creek flows down into the lower Right of the image, Kennedy Creek from the upper center.
We're looking up the canyon Kennedy Creek is flowing down.
We were enjoying the cool air blowing down the canyon, but now that we are climbing higher up the canyon wall from the creek things begin to heat up.
View up Summit Creek. Take a look down at this terrain from the
Trail to Kennedy Lake,
looking down into our canyon from above, from where Kennedy Creek turns to flow down into Summit Creek.
Kennedy Creek Waterfall coming down to feed Summit Creek, a
detail from the image above Right
Kennedy Creek coming out of its stone gorge
Past the lower footbridge we have followed the trail up through a narrow rocky channel cut into the side of the plug feature (above) rising above the West shore of Summit Creek. Approaching the upper footbridge we take note of a substantial creek flowing out of its own rocky gorge down into a segment of Summit Creek Canyon's steepest, deepest, and narrowest runs.
Above we see the top of Kennedy Creek's final run pouring out of its narrow channel beginning its last cascade into Summit Creek to end its Westward flow down from Kennedy Lake (trail guide).
Kennedy Canyon runs down the Eastern Flank below the Kennedy Canyon trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail inside. The creek running East down Kennedy Canyon has no name, as far as I know.
The canyon running Westward below the Kennedy Canyon trail junction has no name, while its main features are Kennedy Creek flowing West out of Kennedy Lake down to Summit Creek.
Kennedy Canyon runs down the East Flank with the PCT while its matching un-named Western canyon holding Kennedy Lake and Kennedy Creek flowing down to the TYT decorates the Western Flank.
Between the trails running up and down these two canyons the Kennedy Canyon trail junction offers a way to connect the routes of the PCT & TYT on the Sierra Crestline.
South of the unique and romanesque upper footbridge the route up to Relief Reservoir splits into two trails.
One route, the main route splits off to the Left, or East, running up a rocky debris cluttered channel up to a flat. We can see that rocky chute above and to the Left of the bridge. That channel runs a several hundred yards up to a short flat.
Our other short alternative route bends Right above the bridge following the longer arc of Summit Creek as it winds its way through a deep channel in cracked granite both sliced, split, and carved through solid rock.
Both trail options rejoin on the narrow flat where we get our last look at Summit Creek before turning away for the ascent to the top of the ridge arm wrapping around the Northeast Shore of Relief Reservoir.
After climbing to the top of that ridgearm we'll get our next look at Summit Creek when we climb into the canyon above Relief Reservoir running East up to Brown Bear Pass.
Say goodbye to Summit Creek for now.
Trail Specs UPPER FOOTBRIDGE
feet of elevation
Kennedy Meadows Gate to upper footbridge.
Elevation: +640 feet.
(KM = 6400)
Rocky surface alternating with sand, exposed.
Above, Down to, and just North
Upper Footbridge Down the Eastern trail
Coming down steep rocky chute/gully above the Upper Footbridge.
Dropping down the Chute to the Upper Bridge over Summit Creek
Location 2.46 miles South of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. 1.57 miles North of ducked trail to Relief Reservoir Campsites and about two miles to the Relief Reservoir campsites themselves.
We have about 480 more feet of elevation to climb (Southbound TYT) to the high point on the ridge above Relief Reservoir before we start descending towards Grouse Creek and the Relief Reservoir campsites.
This particular film was shot returning to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station at the end of a big circle backpacking trip around the High Emigrant Wilderness, thus we are hiking North down to the upper bridge, rather than up to it...
Summit Creek's Chaotic Canyon above the Upper Footbridge
View from the Upper Footbridge
Looking into the rough canyon Summit Creek flows down descending from the Southwest above the Upper Footbridge.
Above the upper footbridge the trail splits into two routes for a short distance before rejoining on the flat about 3/8's of a mile further South. The Western trail goes through this sheer gulch while the Eastern trail follows a steep rocky chute South of the upper footbridge.
We can see the V-of the location of the canyon on the Left side of the ridgeline.
Note the Western trail's route moving through the lower section of the image to bend into this section of canyon.
These Western and Eastern trails rejoin on the flat at the top of the rocky chute to the South of the upper footbridge.
The USGS map does not depict this side trail. It's there, and its nice.
The USGS 7.5 minute Dardanelle, Calif, Topographic Map of 1979's description of the trail and the actual trail route differ between the upper footbridge and the Kennedy Lake trail junction, misrepresenting the trail route's position in relation to the site of the old PG & E Relief Cabin.
The USGS map shows the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail junction intersection with the Eastbound trail to Kennedy Lake being situated South of the PG&E Cabin while the trail junction is presently North of the old PG&E Dam Tender Cabin site. I say "site" because the cabin was removed during the Summer of 2011.
So that removal is another map correction, too.
Hiking South up the steep chute running East above upper footbridge brings us to a short flat where we get clear views of Summit Creek surging down its steep canyon below Relief Reservoir before we again submerge into the terrain for the short hike up to the Kennedy Lake trail junction.
The old site of the PG & E cabin is just a few steps South, and within sight of the location of the Kennedy Lake trail junction.
In any case, our trail to Relief Reservoir first encounters the trail junction to Kennedy Lake North of the flat where the Relief Dam Tender's was located, though the USGS map indicates our trail junction to Kennedy Lake is South of the site of the cabin. Hummm.
I have altered the USGS map used on this site to reflect the reality on the ground as well as I am capable.
Looking North at the Upper Footbridge of Summit Creek &
the Small bit of Shade under its Tree
Sweet footbridge. Viewed from the Eastern trail above the footbridge.
That tree is the only thin shade between the lower and upper bridges, if the angle of the Sun on the canyon is direct. Cool mornings before the Sun rises too high is the best time to climb this canyon.
Falls where the East and West
Spur Trails Rejoin below the Kennedy Lake Trail Junction
As we come around to the top of either the Western or Eastern spur trail above the Upper Footbridge we find a flat perfectly situated for us to observe the dramatic falls located where the two spur trails rejoin.
The Upper Footbridge
View from the Flat Hiking up the steep rocky chute South of the upper footbridge brings us up to a short flat section where we can see Summit Creek running hard down its steep granite gorge below Relief Reservoir.
The East and Western spur trails joined together on the North side of this flat section, to our Right, where we hiked South into this sweet view of the gorge, Summit Creek, and its various surges, cascades, and falls.
From the Sonora Pass Road History we learn that, "In 1861, the U. S. Congress authorized construction of a road to run from the foot of what is now Twain Harte Grade over Sonora Pass. (The previous route reached Sonora Pass via Saint Marys Pass) Credit for the discovery of today’s Sonora Pass route has gone to Andrew Flecher, the superintendent of Columbia and Stanislaus River Water Company, who discovered this route in 1862."
This indicates private interests were looking for stable water sources here in 1861. The historical marker in Sugar Pine notes that part of Sonora Road built as early as 1852 by the Tuolumne County Water Company." The huge increase in population first brought by the gold rush and sustained by the silver boom had driven the expansion in agriculture and ranching that drove the search for reliable water to the Sierra.
"In 1906, the contract for the Relief Dam on the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River resulted in improving the road between Sonora and Kennedy Meadows so heavy equipment could be moved on this route."
I see the June 10, 1880 and Oct. 24, 1899 dates we find cast-into the portable steam winch below comporting with the date of Relief Reservoir's construction, if not earlier operations.
+2560 feet over the 8.39 miles
East from this Kennedy Lake junction along the TYT
to the PCT on the Sierra Crest at the Kennedy Canyon trail junction.
TYT to PCT The 720 feet of climbing over the 2.67 miles up to this Kennedy Lake junction from the Gate on the South end of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station is the first stage of any trip to Kennedy Lake and the PCT beyond.
How many more miles and elevation we hike East from the Kennedy Lake trail junction determines where we are going. Hiking 6.68 miles East brings us to the camp on the West Shore of Kennedy Lake.
Hiking 8.39 miles East from the Kennedy Lake trail junction brings us all the way up to the Kennedy Canyon PCT trail junction on the Sierra Crest.
Kennedy Meadows Gate
Kennedy Meadows Gate
Top of Kennedy Canyon
TYT to PCT
ONE LEG That puts the total miles for the first leg of a potential hike from Kennedy Meadows to the Sierra Crest at 11.06 miles up a total of 3280 of elevation.
The next question would be, "where we gonna go from there?"
I'd suggest hiking South over Big Sam to the TYT at Grizzly Peak.
Trail to Kennedy Lake CHARACTER Steeply climbing exposed rocky surfaces salted liberally with sand switchbacking steeply up into the mouth of the canyon.
We saw Kennedy Creek entering Lower Summit Creek Canyon lower down the canyon, just below the upper bridge. The steepness of climbing into the mouth of the canyon moderates once we climb up to Kennedy Creek and we can see it turning North into its gorge for its final run down to Summit Creek.
Once we get to the top of the switchbacks the course of Kennedy Creek and our route along it both moderate. Climbing along Kennedy Creek moderates further reaching the big central meadow holding Kennedy Lake.
Continuing East beyond Kennedy Lake kicks the climbing back up to the highest of the moderate degrees of difficulty. Physical difficulty is enhanced by the significant segments of trail composed of gravel and/or loose rock, and the other segments lost through erosion, under use, and lack of maintenance.
No big deal. Follow Kennedy Creek all the way up to its headwaters flowing out a fold in the Big Sam Massif under the Northeast Flank of Big Sam. Well, we can follow it up except for the couple of times we have to hike further North to get around steep runs of the creek coming down the center of the upper canyon. We have to go wide in some places.
I'd call the trail above Kennedy Lake up to the PCT on the Crestline "unmaintained." There is a faint trail most of the way with a clear route the rest.
Bloom and his horsemen ride through there, so it is not bad enough to prohibit horses. But, conditions change rapidly in the Sierra. We may find a range of different conditions here over time ranging from OK to bad. Use at your own risk. Expect the best, be ready for the rest.
More Information Kennedy LakeandCreek Trail Guide Page EAST It is 8.39 miles East from the Kennedy Lake trail junction on the TYT to the Kennedy Canyon trail junction on the PCT along the Sierra Crestline.
The Kennedy Canyon trail junction on the PCT is located
on the Sierra Crestline at the top of Kennedy Canyon, which is where the Southbound PCT turns East down Kennedy Canyon to detour around the Sierra Crestline. The Sierra Crestline continues quietly South over Big Sam to cross Emigrant Basin (definition).
The top of Kennedy Canyon running down the Eastern flank sits top to top with the West Flank canyon we climbed via Kennedy Creek and Lake.
Kennedy Canyon Trail Junction
The Kennedy Canyon trail junction sits on a low point of the Sierra Crestline dividing these two canyons running East and West off the Sierra Crest, while being wedged between two great Sierra Crestline mountain massifs. The two canyons running East and West with Leavitt Massif rising to the North and Big Sam to the South along the Sierra Crestline makes the Kennedy Canyon trail junction a key junction for many Emigrant Wilderness backpacking trips.
It is a magnificent place, full of hiking potential.
Looking down on the Kennedy Canyon trail junction from Southeast end of Leavitt Massif:
across Emigrant Wilderness I typically hike through the Emigrant Wilderness on longer backpacking trips. I've tried to hike different routes through each time, eventually making my sections along the "long trails" through Emigrant Wilderness longer and longer!
This elongation of my long distance trips (chasing the beauty within Emigrant Wilderness) on my way South has caused me to return repeatedly to hike nice loops with more leisure to explore and scramble than possible on long backpacking trips.
Below I look at the how the terrain and trails across Emigrant Wilderness, and the associated "proto" Hoover Wilderness Area in the Toiyabe NF to our East, and the Northwest corner of Yosemite bracketed by Bond and Dorothy Lake Passes all work together creating a fine web of trails that makes exploring the Emigrant Wilderness a real joy, something akin to prying open every part of Nature's Treasure Chest one step at a time.
Kennedy Lake Trail Junction Hiking Route Possibilities
Loops and Trailhead to Trailhead
via Kennedy Lake
Kennedy Lake is situated on an expansive meadowed flat (image from above on Big Sam) wedged high up into the West flank of the Sierra between the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails. Kennedy Lake sits about three miles West of, and 1879 feet below the Kennedy Canyon Trail Junction on the Pacific Crest Trail. That trail junction is located 7.97 miles South of Sonora Pass along the route of the PCT.
A few hundred yards before linking up with the PCT our trail East up from Kennedy Lake intersects with the Southbound shortcut trail up to the Tungsten Road (guide info) over Big Sam into the Emigrant Basin.
Once we hike the Tungsten Road over Big Sam it first links us up with the the trail Northeast through Emigrant Pass down to the PCT at the West West Walker Bridge. This junction Northeast through Emigrant Pass is just a few feet North of where the Tungsten Road next intersects with the TYT under the West flank of Grizzly Peak. These two very closely spaced trail junctions along the Tungsten Road opens up loops reaching into the East and West flank trails as well as trips continuing North and South along the Sierra Crest.
Kennedy Canyon Trail Junction
The Kennedy Canyon (guide) trail junction on the PCT lays along the North-South line of the Sierra Crest between Leavitt Peak to the North and Big Sam to the South. Thus the 4-way Kennedy Canyon trail junction at the head of Kennedy Lake's valley offers access North to Sonora Pass via the Northbound PCT, Southbound access to the TYT into the High Emigrant Basin (define) via the Tungsten Road over Big Sam, as well as the option of following the Southbound PCT East down Kennedy Canyon. From the bottom of Kennedy Canyon we can either lengthen our loop by steps further Southwest through Emigrant Pass or Southeast into the Northwest corner of Yosemite. We also have the option of turning Northeast to hike out through the Leavitt Meadow Trailhead.
This pattern of interconnected trails laid out over the Emigrant Wilderness gives us some interesting backpacking route options from the Kennedy Canyon (guide page) trail junction
on the PCT:
Sonora Pass Trailhead
North on the PCT.
Leavitt Meadow Trailhead
Northeast on a combination of the PCT and local trails.
Grizzly Peak Trail Junction
Hiking 6.17 miles South
South on the Tungsten Road from the Kennedy Canyon trail junction
brings us to the TYT at Grizzly Peak
in the heart of the Emigrant Basin.
NEXT JUNCTION SOUTH The
Grizzly Peak Trail Junction
From our position on the Sierra Crestline at the Grizzly Peak trail junction we can turn to our Northeast via Emigrant Pass or Northwest on the TYT as part of a larger loop or hiking back towards our ending trailhead.
We can continue South to turn our loop back around via Snow Lake, or push on to our furthest potential Emigrant Loop turnaround point by "threading the needle" through the Northwest corner of Yosemite, changing the direction of our loop by hiking through both Bond and Dorothy Lake Passes. We really can "tune" the length of our Emigrant Wilderness backpacking loops by selecting various combinations of trails through the Kennedy Canyon and Grizzly Peak trail junctions, independent of which trailhead we started out of, or which we plan to finish through.
Our Present Location
From this Kennedy Lake trail junction along the TYT we can now see how "easily" we can access (with lots of hard work) Sonora Pass, Leavitt Lake, and Leavitt Meadow trailheads along Highway 108 as endpoints of fine local trips starting out of Kennedy Meadows and turning up to the PCT via Kennedy Lake.
From the Kennedy Canyon trail junction on the PCT we can turn North, South, East or West to return to Kennedy Meadows by a wide variety of routes, or exit through our other Highway 108 corridor trailheads. We have many trail options hiking across and around the High Emigrant Wilderness.
To better clarify our options I sketched out the schematic trail map below. This map lays out the distances and relationships of our various backpacking route and loop options to, from, and hiking through the trailheads along the Highway 108 Corridor.
Which one applies depends on how we are approaching them. For me this map was constructed to work out variations to the routes of the PCT & TYT we can put together while hiking across Emigrant Wilderness for points much further South, then to plan Emigrant Wilderness backpacking loops upon my return.
Our current location at the Kennedy Lake trail junction along the TYT is marked by the point 2.67 miles South of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station on the map's furthest Lower-Right, or Northwestern-most edge.
High Emigrant Wilderness
Schematic Trail Map
Emigrant Wilderness Backpacking Loops
Southbound entry into the High Emigrant Basin (definition) is made hiking South over Big Sam (map) from the Kennedy Canyon trail junction. Hiking South over Big Sam gives us the option of returning to this Kennedy Lake trail junction here along Summit Creek via a big loop over Big Sam to Brown Bear Pass & then North down Summit Creek along the TYT back to our present position at the Kennedy Lake trail junction.
My map above cites this as a 31.06 mile hike, beginning and ending at Kennedy Meadows. We can easily push this distance up by extending the diameter of our loop. We can "double-down" continuing South into Yosemite to Hetch Hetchy (guide) or Tuolumne Meadows.
Or we can hike out to Relief Reservoir, camp for a couple of nights, and hike back.
Many Emigrant Wilderness
From the Kennedy Canyon trail junction on the PCT (Guide) we have four options. We can hike East down Kennedy Canyon along the Southbound PCT towards Yosemite, but turn Northeast at the West West Walker Bridge to bail out through Leavitt Meadow on Highway 108. Leavitt Meadow is located at the base of the steepest rise of the Eastern High Sierra along Highway 108.
Or we can turn Right from the West West Walker Bridge continuing Southbound along the PCT route into the top of Jack Main Canyon. A short ways down Jack Main Canyon we find the long-way option to loop back to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station hiking the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route through Bond Pass Northwest across the High Emigrant Basin.
From the top of Jack Main Canyon have the option of hiking North back to Kennedy Meadows along the TYT via Bond and Brown Bear Pass from the Northwestern corner of Yosemite. Or we can explore the scattering of lakes in granite and forest by exploring the cross-country trail from Snow Lake to the bottom of Horse Meadow. From there a short hike brings us to Maxwell, then Blackbird Lake to Emigrant Lake along a line of trail paralleling the TYT below the route of the TYT. That would be the trail from Snow to Emigrant Lakes on the map above.
We can turn some sweet backpacking loops in the Emigrant Wilderness, its tab of Toiyabe Forest along the East flank of the Sierra, and the TYT and PCT trails running into and out of the Northwestern corner of Yosemite National Park.
Check out this Map to trace out our potential routes past Kennedy Lake, and the maps below to explore all our Highway 108 Corridor access points bracketing the Sierra Crestline.
HIGH EMIGRANT WILDERNESS
TOPO TRAIL MAPS
How to get to Kennedy Lake
As you can see there are many big and small loop trips possible around and across the amazingly beautiful terrain of the High Elevation portions of Emigrant Wilderness (the "High Emigrant Wilderness") once we hike up to the trail junction on the PCT between Kennedy Canyon and Kennedy Lake. Where we turn from there determines the nature and length of our trip. I've found it easy to craft big backpacking loops around the Emigrant Wilderness.
Here at our current position at the Kennedy Lake trail junction on the TYT we are about 8.4 miles West of the four-way junction sitting on the Sierra Crestline between Kennedy Lake and Kennedy Canyon.
Trailhead to Trailhead
We can start trips out of Leavitt Meadow, Leavitt Lake, Sonora Pass, or Kennedy Meadows Pack Station and hike to any of these other Highway 108 trailheads once we hike up to the Kennedy Canyon trail junction on the PCT.
Big Loops. Little Loops, Long trail sections, and many cool trailhead to trailhead backpacking trips are possible out of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, Sonora Pass, Leavitt Lake and Leavitt Meadow.
Hiking South into the Emigrant Wilderness or Toiyabe National Forest on either flank of the High Sierra South of Highway 108 opens up dozens of miles of beautiful trails that stay within the Emigrant Wilderness on the Western flank and that little tab of the Toiyabe National Forest wedged-in on the Eastern flank between the Hoover and Emigrant Wilderness Areas.
This guide concentrates and is centered on the high altitude trails along the Sierra Crest, along with associated trails and trailheads. The great slab of granite running Southwest of Emigrant Wilderness down to Cherry and Pinecrest Lakes below these PCT and TYT routes is magnificent, and should not be neglected by discerning backpackers looking for remote, beautiful, and very under-used wilderness areas.
TOPO MAP Trails North and South of Highway 108 The Big Boy
Depicting the Trails North and South of Highway 108
along the Sierra Crest.
This map is high resolution and stands up to magnification. Click the red dots for trail guide page references and the trail routes for detailed maps.
SOUTH ON THE TYT PG & E
Relief Dam Tender's Cabin Removed during the Summer of 2011
A few feet through a roller-coaster twist in the trail South of the Kennedy Lake trail junction on the way towards Relief Reservoir we encounter the empty flat that once held the Dam Tender's Cabin.
Relief Reservoir control building.
I believe the cabin housed the dam operator who took water level readings and adjusted flows against external demand and internal capacity until automatic reporting and adjustment made that job unnecessary. Thereafter operators only needed to come out to make sure remotely sensed readings reflected dam reality, to fine-tune the system.
Apparently the latest upgrades allow for remote control of both the flood gates as well as the collection of data necessary to tune the system. These upgrades negated any need for a dam tender or cabin to house them, and the cabin was removed during 2011.
Last Climb to Abovethe Northeastern Shore of
Trail climbing above old boiler. We are coming to the end of this section of climbing. At the very top of this climb we reach and cross over the top of this ridge-arm onto the Northeast flank of the valley constraining Relief Reservoir. From the top of the ridge we begin the gradual traverse down to the Southeastern corner of Relief Reservoir.
Immediately ahead we are coming to a flat decorated by an old boiler featuring the main trail to the Relief Reservoir Dam on the North end of the reservoir. Before we get there we come to a small segment where the trail spreads across a rocky eroded surface. We find our options funneling to a low gap rising to the boiler flat.
Top of Page
High Pressure Cast Iron Cylinder
Old Industrial Remnant
Looks like the remains of an old boiler. Note the heavy gage cast iron secured by heavy riveting. The top plate with all the holes would align pipes bringing water to be heated to steam temps during its trip through this cylinder.
Again, I figure that this is the "portable" field-version power plant of its era. Did it come East and down into the San Joaquin Valley by rail, or was the plate cast and formed in California? Wagons took over transportation where rails ended, bringing to mind thoughts of the roads, wagons, horses and men of the late 19th century who ferried these bits of industrial history to a place too expensive to haul them out and melt them down at the ends of their useful lives. Thus this lost boiler survived through isolation and obscurity.
I figure this is the boiler that powered the steam pump tasked with dragging heavy gear up the slope past the steel frame bridge. If so, there should be some signs of the high pressure steam pipes connecting the system together somewhere around here. Unless everything but the heaviest bits were hauled out as they became superfluous.
This may be the chamber where small diameter water pipes were heated to produce steam power. If so this was that day's version of a portable generator, as long as fuel was available.
The size tells me it was not fueled by wood, but by a fuel capable of generating heat much more "compactly," such as a fuel oil. Using fuel oil allowed them to get away with a much smaller fire box for their boiler than wood allowed.
In other words, this open bottom-end likely had some kind of fuel-oil powered burners that fit in there. The top end had long tubes bent into a long U with water entering one end and exiting as steam through the other. That steam was then metered and piped to the various engines in operation, such as the steam winch we saw further down the mountain.
So, that's likely why that cylinder is so skinny. It's portable!
Looking Northwest down Summit Creek. The canyon cutting in from the distant Right is Deadman Creek running down from Sonora Pass to join the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
Climbing higher up Summit Creek's drainage brings us above the treetops and terrain obstructions to get an overall view of the terrain, specifically looking North out the bottom of the canyon Summit Canyon flows down where it become the Middle Stanislaus River flowing into Kennedy Meadows.
The Ground Game
The main deal here has two dimensions. At our feet we have our view looking down the canyon transporting the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River down to its junction with the even larger canyon holding the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River. From our position here we can see Sun gently highlighting the flank of the canyon Deadman Creek flows down into the Middle Fork. That's about four miles North.
Then we have crest of the the distant ridge running up to the Sierra Crest.
Bald Peak's sun-splashed summit is glowing on the distant middle-Left of ridgeline in the distance, with Red Peak's darkened summit to its Right.
Bald and Red Peaks are at the top of the massive ridge dividing the Clarks fork of the Stanislaus River on its far side from the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus running down the valley below us. Since everything North of Highway 108 is in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness we will consult that map to locate Bald and Red Peaks.
As I mentioned above, the sun-splashed V-cut canyon entering the East side of valley wall at our feet, the Right side a few miles below our position locates Deadman Creek flowing into the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus just North of Kennedy Meadow Pack Station. The Clarks Fork on the Far side of that massive distant ridge and the Deadman Creek on this side define our main hiking lines of access up to the Sierra Crest on both sides of the massive mountain ridge capped by Bald and Red Peaks.
Each of these river canyons has been used as the "main" route over the Sierra Crest, as was as Emigrant Pass to our South. Emigrant Pass is speculated to be the first Western route, Sonora-Saint Marys Passes the second, and Deadman Creek the third and current route.
Clarks and Middle Forks
The Middle fork of the Stanislaus continues North from its birth point in Kennedy Meadows through the gentle almost-flat nine mile long section of river containing the delightful Eureka Valley, Dardanelle, and a long series of "flats" and federal car campgrounds down to where the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus merges into the Middle Fork.
The Middle Forks of the Stanislaus River converges with the Clarks at the South end of this delightful valley. Highway 108 runs West through this narrow valley along the Middle Fork for about 8.82 miles West of the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. This nifty run of river, road and forest ends where the Middle Fork enters the much larger canyon of the Clarks Fork at the Clarks Fork Road junction. From that point our route West on Highway 108 is along the flank of the massive canyon of the Middle Forks of the Stanislaus.
Though the Clarks Forks Canyon is much bigger than that of the Middle Fork, and that this vast canyon running down from Saint Marys Pass was cut by the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus, the river and its canyon from where the Middle Fork enters the Clarks Fork Canyon takes the name of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus.
The Clarks Fork Road (map) offers deep access into the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route passing through the Carson Iceberg Wilderness North of Highway 108.
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Heavy Trail to the
Relief Reservoir Dam
Trail to dam South of Boiler.
The perceptive difference between the two images above is real and representative of the stark difference in perspectives we can experience in the same places at different times. Everything can reflect and focus the unremitting brightness of a harsh frequency off every dried-out glazed surface during periods of high solar intensity.
Other times the fine details, colors and contrasts of the exact same location come out as the Sun drops lower in the Southern Skies, or a bit of atmospheric moisture diffuses the overwhelming power of the Sun.
The many faces of Nature are the ever-changing icing on the cake of life.
Day Hiker Heaven
Hiking South up to cross the ridge arm above Relief Reservoir we hear sounds of life behind. Looking back we see a family unit making the day hike South out of Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir.
This is a popular hike for a wide range of folks.
We find a good number of day hikers making the 4 mile one-way hike out to Relief Reservoir during morning, enjoying a day exploring the camping area, fishing, and kicking back, then hiking back down to Kennedy Meadows in the afternoon.
The intrepid car-camper/day hiker has a lot of day hiking options in the Highway 108 corridor and its immediate East and West flanks. The trails accessing Emigrant Wilderness through Leavitt Meadow and Leavitt Lake trail heads on the East flank are well complimented by the network of trails running off the Clarks Fork Road and through Kennedy Meadows on the West Flank.
Leavitt Peak lays South of Sonora Pass along the Sierra Crest while Stanislaus Peak, Sonora Peak, and Wolf Creek Lake all lay just North of Sonora Pass along the Sierra Crest.
The areas North and South of the 108 corridor contains a vast amount of fine terrain.
Whichever way you begin scouting out the Highway 108 corridor, day hiking or backpacking, make sure you bring plenty of food, water, a good shell, DEET, suntan lotion, and a hat.
Camping out for a few nights here is always a good idea, even if we are stationary, based out of one of the nice free National Forest car camping sites up along the Sierra Crest.
After passing the trail off to our Right to the Relief Reservoir Dam we continue climbing up and around a rocky turn out into the expanse of brushy dry meadow above, where we can see the top of the 7440 foot ridge that is both separating us from, and overlooking Relief Reservoir. Relief Reservoir's 7226 foot surface fills the bottom of the canyon on the other side of that low ridge ahead.
The low ridge running across the middle of the image above is what divides us from Relief Reservoir. The rising mountain flank on the far Left we can see beyond the ridge makes up the Eastern wall of the canyon holding Relief Reservoir at its foot. This ridge arm ahead is what wraps around the Northeast end of the reservoir to pinch the bottom end of the canyon to make damming-up Relief Reservoir practical.
Our trail is pointing to the junction between the low granite mound on the Right and the descending mountainside on the Left. That is where the trail gets onto the flank of that descending mountain and begins traversing down that mountain's flank, down to the cool tab of granite and forest sticking out on Southeast shore of Relief Reservoir. That's where the Relief Reservoir campsites are located.
We'll get a better look at the upcoming trail from the top.
Reaching the top of the ridge arm we get our first view of Relief Reservoir. Though we climb up higher than the level of Relief Reservoir we do not get sight of the reservoir through the lay of the land and forest cover until we have hiked well South of the dam, up over the ridge and out from under the forest cover.
We can see how this descending ridge pinches off the canyon making an ideal location for the dam.
We've hiked to the top of the ridge arm making up the Southeastern shore of Relief Reservoir to our first good view of its North shore and dam. In the middle-Right we can see the forest cover that blocked our view of Relief Reservoir as we climbed higher up the ridge, even after we had hiked South past the dam. Above that the terrain masked our view up to our present position.
We've another fine view of Deadman Creek's canyon dropping into that of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus, and a good look down that canyon too.
feet of elevation
South of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station gate.
.87 of a mile
North of Grouse Creek ford/ formal junction to Relief Reservoir campsites.
Relief Reservoir Dam and Floodgate. It appears to me there is an interesting history of dam operators and operations here beyond, or below the grand picture of infrastructural expansion. An "individual" history. The Relief Reservoir Cabin appears to have had live-in dam operators for a long period of its history.
The Dam Tender's Cabin was removed in 2011. It was automated to a high degree prior to removal, and run by an operator prior to that.
It may be that dam operations and operators have a similar history to that of telegraph operators and stagecoach drivers, of lighthouse keepers and Longshoremen, of being rendered useless by technology. And truck drivers next?
I'm thinking about inventing the, "AutoHiker X," a robot that replaces the need for humans to hike... oh wait...
Does the robot exist if it can't hear a tree fall in the forest?
The Winter of 2011-2012 brought very little snow to the Sierra, leading to early opening of the trails, early termination of the thaw, early drying out of meadows, and low water levels in creeks and lakes up and down the Sierra Crest.
The dam is located on the far-Right, the Northern end of the shoreline. Reaching Relief Reservoir begins bringing the grand granite features into view that will highlight our Emigrant Wilderness backpacking trip.
Our trail descending above the East Shore traverses down towards the point extending out into the reservoir on the upper Left shore of Relief Reservoir in the image above. The trail is mostly exposed across sandy soil on and between sweet granite outcroppings.
Beyond the South end of Relief Reservoir the trail South climbing over into Lower Relief Valley passes around the Left, or East side of the pointy low granite rise on the Left side of the image. East Flange Rock is the great feature rising on the distant Right, to the more-distant Southwest.
We'll be turning East, Left at the far end of Relief Reservoir to follow Summit Creek up to Brown Bear Pass following the Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.
Looking to our Southwest
The first breeze of morning scuffs the Southern surface of Relief Reservoir as the last bits of morning's fragile clarity scatter under the touch of the first warm breaths of the rising Sun.
The Stanislaus National Forest
Backcountry Trail Crew
Hiking across the broken-down sandy trail through the exposed terrain paralleling the East shore of Relief Reservoir makes for hard hiking even though the descent is fairly easy. The alternating sandy and slippery granite surfaces themselves suck extra energy out of us with every step.
These sandy sections break down quickly during Spring Thaw's raging runoff. Without some shovel-love these sandy sections of trail wash away in a few short years.
The Stanislaus National Forest Backcountry Trail Crew is on it. "Stanislaus Trails" are sometimes supplemented by crews from other organizations. Below as we see a California Conservation Corps backcountry crew working the trails in Emigrant Wilderness during 2010.
Every Summer the CCC typically has crews working in the High Sierra backcountry, One is generally somewhere in Northern California between Tahoe and Yosemite, another in Yosemite, and a third down in Sequoia Kings Canyon.
Tahoe to Whitney hikers appreciate the work of the federal forest and park trail crews, as well as the other public and private sponsored crews.
Support You Local Trail Crew
Support your National Forests and Parks, but most especially the folks who do the grunt work keeping our trails open.
Stanislaus CCC backcountry Trail Crew
Dimes, Heather and Zack
July 26, 2010.
Stanislaus Backcountry CCC Trail Crew: Dimes, Heather and Zack. Thanks you guys.
I always make a point of telling Trail Crew, "Thanks!," for working so hard to keep our trails open. Hard work is actually a stated requirement of the job, but the altitudes and environmental harshness can make this one of the hardest jobs.
Experienced trail crew are easily among the strongest hikers on High Sierra trails. CCC is typically the first step into the world of trail crew. Successful participants in a Summer of CCC "fun" can typically get recommendations onto National Forest and sometimes even National Park Crews for the next season.
Rock & Sand
& Trail Crew Steps
Hiking South along the Tahoe to Yosemite trail above the East Shore of Relief Reservoir descending towards lake level and the bevy of campsites located on the spur of land we see ahead sticking out of the Southeastern end of Relief Reservoir.
Spur of Granite and Forest on the
Southeast Shore of Relief Reservoir
That's Just a Nifty Feature.
A closer look at the location of a matrix of many excellent trails to campsites along the Southeast-most shore of Relief Reservoir. That point is covered with a web of old trails linking bunches of campsites to lots of fishing spots.
It is nice in there. That just a small introductory sampling of the upcoming scrambling opportunities as we hike under the North Flanks of Granite Dome and Black Hawk Mountain following the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail up to Brown Bear Pass.
Granite Dome and the associated Black Hawk Mountain are premium terrain for cross country backpackers and scramblers. The Emigrant Wilderness Map from Wilderness Press that was published with their Emigrant Wilderness Hiking guide below depicts cross-country routes into Granite Dome and Black Hawk Mountain.
The Wilderness Press Yosemite and Vicinity Map contains an "inset" attaching the PCT route across Emigrant Wilderness from Sonora Pass to the main body of the map covering Yosemite, but it does not include the majority of our TYT route across Emigrant into Yosemite.
As the trail descends towards Relief Reservoir we will begin to intersect with, sometimes, a number of trails funneling down to the main line of the informal shortcut trail down to the campsites area on the Southeast shore of Relief Reservoir.
Here it is now:
The Main Shortcut Down to the Relief Reservoir Campsites
Ducks mark the shortcut trail down through some manzanita to campsites along Southeast shore of Relief Reservoir.
Well, sometime there are ducks, sometimes there are not.
feet of elevation
South of Kennedy Meadows Pack Station Gate.
.14 of a miles South to Grouse Creek Ford/trail to
Relief Reservoir campsites continuing down the trail, if we don't follow the shortcut.
Just past the double Grouse Creek ford just up ahead of us on the trail we will find another faint trail, the main trail down to the campsites along the Southeastern Shore of Relief Reservoir.
Along the position of the duck above there are sometimes a series of little trails breaking through manzanita that mostly funnel together into the route down to a little jumble of fallen timber in heavy undergrowth where we ford Grouse Creek right before it empties into Relief Reservoir.
A bunch of timber was swept into Grouse Creek a number of years ago, and seems to be working its way slowly down to the reservoir.
This location makes this the worse fording point early in the season during high runoff. In that case we appreciate the way Grouse Creek is broken into two branches where the formal route of the trail fords.
Looking Back, North, at the
Trail along Southeast Shore of Relief Reservoir
Nice Deck of Clouds spread out on the Table...
KEY VIEW Looking North on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail towards Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. We can see Relief Reservoir's dam, but the most important feature of this image is how it shows the division between Emigrant and Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
In the image above we can see the canyons of both the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus running down from our position and the very bottom of Deadman Creek's Canyon, which Highway 108 followed down from Sonora Pass.
Above the dam, and the dome rising just beyond the dam, the great feature we see is the Deadman Creek Canyon descending from the Right, the East, down into the Canyon of the Middle Fork of the Mokelumne River, which runs out the Left edge of the image.
The top of the dome just beyond the dam almost exactly marks the location where these two canyons meet, and the great exposed triangular shape rising above the dome is the canyon wall marking their junction point.
That's freeking huge. The route of Highway 108 runs through both canyons on its way climbing over the second highest pass of Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Middle Fork of the Stanislaus
& Highway 108
The run of the Middle Fork to the Left of the dome consists of the fairly level seven mile run of the river through a series of meadows, fantastic rock, and bits of forest. This sweet section of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus running between granite mountains through these forests and meadows contains a series of car campgrounds and the Dardanelles Resort.
This section of the Middle Fork between Deadman Creek and the Clarks Fork is a real sweet section of this river. Not as nice as the uppermost segment of the Middle Fork where it breaks off Highway 108 to run up to its inception point entering Kennedy Meadows, but much nicer than after it joins the massive canyon the Clarks Fork carves on its way down the mountain.
Run of Car Campgrounds
This run of sweet campgrounds are the Brightman Flat, Dardanelle, Pigeon Flat, and Eureka Campgrounds. These car campgrounds are located along Highway 108 spread out along the floor of the canyon we see running out the Left edge of the image above, starting from the junction with Deadman Canyon all the way down to the Clarks Fork Road.
This series of car campgrounds are all located South of the the road to Kennedy Canyon and North of the Clarks Fork Road along Highway 108.
This series of car campgrounds in the canyon above, and their reservation, fees, and rules, are described on the Brightman Recreation Campgrounds section of the Stanislaus National Forest website.
That Cool Canyon
That run of the Middle Fork in its sweet compact canyon ends where it intersects with the huge canyon of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus, maybe nine miles Northwest of where Deadman Creek runs down into the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus.
It Climbs Fiercely
Deadman Canyon rising out of the Right edge of the image, though somewhat masked by the interceding ridgeline, is where the route of Highway 108 begins climbing steeply towards Sonora Pass on the Sierra Crest.
Junction with History
That junction between Deadman and the Middle Fork's canyons is a key position in the local terrain. I imagine the first few groups of Western dudes who begin probing up Deadman Creek in the 1850s. They'd have to have been well-prepped, properly geared, and with deep experience living in a lost world.
I figure the Indians came over via the Clarks Fork, and really enjoyed Saint Marys Pass and the upper meadow. It is a natural highway much superior that the route via Deadman Canyon for walking. The main difference is how each canyon could hold a Western-style road. Though a gentler grade, the Upper Clarks Fork's softer terrain and route along the bottom of the canyon would tend to break down and wash out under the weight of Western wagon loads during Spring.
The upper Clarks Fork is unstable.
Hard Rock Route
The route carved onto the harder rock surfaces through the much steeper Deadman Canyon would require much more efforts and costs in initial construction. Those costs would be quickly recouped through saved maintenance costs and the relative long term durability of the current hard rock route.
The route up the Clarks Fork through Saint Marys Pass is through very soft terrain that is in motion.
North & South
Oh, I started this off speaking to the boundary between the Carson Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness. Everything North of the North Shore of a line running down Deadman Creek from Sonora Pass down to the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus to where it flows into the canyon of the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus River is in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
Everything to the South of that line, which also roughly follows the route Highway 108, is in the Emigrant Wilderness.
Down to the Campsites on the
Southeast Corner of Relief Reservoir
Relief Reservoir Campsites
Hiking down to the campsites along the Southeast side of Relief Reservoir, checking out the various campsites and trails down there. After walking around the campsites from the top-down on one trip we hike in via the shortcut and check it out from the bottom-up on another trip.
After checking out the Relief Reservoir campsites we'll hike back out to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail along the main trail from the campsites to the TYT just a bit South of Grouse Creek.
No more campfire rings here. There's plenty here already. We won't leave any trash, and we'll clean up after our group & ourselves. We'll pick up any crap we find laying around. Heck, I generally don't make fires at all. I always collect up a bunch of small pieces of debris here.
Below we are standing along the shore of Relief Reservoir looking Northeast at the terrain we hiked to get here from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.
We can make out the faint angled but straight line of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail cutting a line traversing through the manzanita along the mountainside.
We hiked down to the campsites from the ducked shortcut trail (pictured above) through the Manzanita pictured on the far Right side of image below, which is still North of the Grouse Creek ford. That route pushes down through some manzanita into a loose wash leading down to a point above the little inlet where Grouse Creek finally flows into Relief Reservoir.
Just above the lower Right corner and a bit down the shoreline of the image above we see the small triangular inlet where Grouse Creek flows into Relief Reservoir. Let's take a closer look.
Grouse Creek Flowing into Relief Reservoir
The shortcut route down to the campsites North of the Grouse Creek fords brings us down a steep exposed manzanita mountainside through a jumble of brush into a dark stand of forest where we ford Grouse Creek just a few dozen yards above where it flows into Relief Reservoir.
The Lower Grouse Creek Fords
There are two fords of Grouse Creek. One is along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail while the other is below it, where the faint shortcut trail North of the ford along the TYT drops us directly down to the Relief Reservoir campsites.
If we continue South past the typically ducked shortcut trail, staying on the Southbound TYT, we reach Grouse Creek. I call this ford along the main trail the upper ford. Braiding of Grouse Creek has split this upper ford into two segments, nicely dividing up the flow into two easy fords. Well, maybe one and a half easy fords. The Northern of which has had fallen trees crossing it for as long as I can remember, while a reduced flow through the Southern branch does not typically demand a log crossing.
This changes seasonally, of course. Every ford can be dangerous, but there are times during Spring of heavy snowfall years when virtually no ford is safe.
If we hike down to the Relief Reservoir campsites on the shortcut North of the upper ford we will still have to ford Grouse Creek, but we will ford it just yards above where it flows into Relief Reservoir. I call this the lower ford.
The lower down the mountain the ford is located, the more water it picks up. This is typically not an issue along Grouse Creek.
Fording Grouse Creek and continuing maybe forty yards further South down the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, (though now we have begun to gently climb after crossing Grouse Creek), we come to the "main" Relief Reservoir Trail branching off West to Relief Reservoir's campsites. I've noticed this trail can be faint at its junction with the TYT, so look for it when you are around forty yards South of the Grouse Creek Ford. The trail down to Relief Reservoir "fattens Up" a few yards down the trail and is typically easy to follow.
Made It !
View North towards the Dam from the
Campsites along the Granite Flat on the
Southeast shore of Relief Reservoir
Reaping the Rewards
Relaxing with a long view North across Relief Reservoir.
Using my feet as a different form of viewfinder... stationary mode...
Relief Reservoir and
Approaching sunset lights up the Southwest faces of the dam. The canyon leading up to Kennedy Lake is visible in the Left back.
Wandering about the fine mixture of granite and forest holding the campsites on the Southwest shore of Relief Reservoir, I met these nice backpackers from Santa Cruz.
They had each hauled in two big loads, so they could "drop camp" for 11 days here at Relief Reservoir. The plan was to bring in all the supplies to support an extensive stay of day hikes and scrambles from their well-appointed base camp.
That's long enough to change your perspective.
Two Legged Support
A great idea. I've met bunches of Backpackers in the Emigrant Wilderness, and up and down the Sierra Crest who've struggled with carrying the weight that their desires for depth and duration in the wilderness require. The nice couple above, who's names are lost somewhere in my journal, solved this problem by packing in a couple of pack loads to their Relief Reservoir "basecamp." I've also met folks in Emigrant Wilderness who've had their extremely long backpacking trips remaining in Emigrant Wilderness be resupplied by Horse Packers out of Kennedy Meadows (riders).
Four Legged Support
You can have Kennedy Meadows horsepackers (office) ride in and drop you and/or a resupply load at any point in the backcountry you specify, or to any point you are capable of hiking into and back from. Call and Talk to Matt about riding you and/or your supplies deep into the Emigrant Wilderness.
Long shadows stretch over Relief Reservoir as twilight approaches.
On the Right we can see Nightcap Peak atop the end of the ridge making up the North wall of the canyon holding Kennedy Lake at the base of its Southern-facing flank. On the furthest horizon beyond Nightcap Peak we see shadow and twilight along the top of the main ridge running up to Saint Marys Pass. That is the top of the massive ridge dividing the drainage between the Middle Fork's Canyon on this side from the Canyon holding the Clarks Fork on the other.
The Deadman Route following Highway 108 up to Sonora Pass is located on this side of the low ridge between Nightcap Peak's ridge and the furthest ridge on the horizon.
These two maps encompasses this whole view North out of the Emigrant Wilderness from Relief Reservoir into the Carson Iceberg Wilderness: Sonora Pass Region Hiking Map
Over a fallen tree along a jumble swept down Grouse Creek.
Grouse Creek Ford
Grouse Creek braids out into streams, sheets, and flowing channels depending on the time of year
and the character of the seasons.
Grouse Creek Ford
Looking East, to our Left, up the treefall swept down with Grouse Creek as we cross the first of the two braided streams of Grouse Creek.
Wow. That is a jumble up there, swept down here.
Grouse Creek splits off a little side stream around and South of the debris piled up around the fording spot.
Thus we have two fords over Grouse Creek.
The Faint Main Trail
Maybe forty yards South of the Grouse Creek Ford
View West towards Relief Reservoir
Hiking about forty yards South of the Upper Grouse Creek ford we see the faint trail above tracking to the West, our Southbound Right.
We are standing on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail looking West, to the Southbound hiker's Right, at the unmarked faint trail leading out to the campsites on the Southeast shore of Relief Reservoir.
This is the second, last, and the "main" trail to Relief Reservoir's campsites that Southbound hikers encounter.
Just South of Grouse Creek we Southbound backpackers find this faint unmarked but high quality trail tracking off to our Right, leading down to terminate into the main campsite under the big Juniper Tree, with a series of trails beyond to the wide range of campsites scattered over this wedge of terrain on the Southeast shore of Relief Reservoir. This trail is where mounted parties head to the Relief Reservoir campsites.
Here's Where the Trail from above Grouse Creek Leads
I call this the main upper campsite or the juniper camp. In the background we can see the trail coming down from the faint trail junction South of the Grouse Creek double ford.
That trail runs by the edge of this camp down to the far West shore and the beginning of the line of campsites wrapped around along the delightfully carved granite shoreline of Relief Reservoir.
A trail runs down to the main sites behind the shoreline to the Left behind the tree.
The camp above is a great soft flat overlooking the lower camps with great views of the surrounding terrain and Relief Reservoir.
Overview of Lower Main Campsite from the Upper Main Campsite
View down at the main campsite roughly in the center of the crescent of campsites wedged in along the rough granite shelf wrapping this part of the Southeast shore of Relief Reservoir. There are a bunch of sites in the rock wrapping around this central site.
Hiking down to the Relief Reservoir Campsites via the shortcut trail brings us to the campsites down there, to the shore of Relief Reservoir wrapping around the main campsite area shown in the image above.
Hiking to the Relief Reservoir Campsites via the main trail South of Grouse Creek brings us to the overlook from the Juniper Tree site, which is our observation point above.
There are more large group-style campsites directly to the Right of the fire ring we see down there. There is another large site off to the Right, out of the view of the image above. Other campsites are located off the Left of the fire ring. In fact, the flat we are looking down into sports the main campsite/fire ring pictured above, and at least five other exceptional sites in nifty flats wedged into the surrounding granite slabs.
Also note the big almost-flat granite slab we have down there to run around on. This place is idea for "scrambling-walks." This is a nifty place to kick back for a couple of nights.
Relief Reservoir Campsites are pretty busy. I was almost alone here when 13 backpackers of a group of unknown size hiked in from the upper ford.
I figure there were "laggars" who would come in after this main body of hikers.
They got off the route that leads to the juniper site South of the upper ford, or deflected off of that route down after seeing that I was in the high site. Or they wanted to camp on the lower site. Or they lost the faint trail down, and picked their way through the rock formations down to the lower sites.
The biggest group sites are located at the lower sites, so it makes sense for a large group to camp down there, independent of how they finally found their way down.
Anyway, I was sitting on a well situated rock for observing all visible terrain when they hiked in. The group never became aware of my presence, though I observed and listened to them.
Two things here: there are generally a lot of folks out here during mid Summer weekends, though not many during the week. Even during mid Summer. Second, this place attracts clubs and recreational groups. The group above was some kind of club or employee group.
Maybe even a church.
Third: can you find all thirteen hikers in the image above?
It's kind of challenging...
As we scramble about exploring the various routes and views we get from between the upper and lower campsites, and all around the Relief Reservoir campsites, we note the steady sound of water falling is the auditory backdrop of this whole place. Our ears direct our eyes to the source of the sound from positions East of the upper site.
See it there? The slash of whitewater in the rock, forest, and meadowed mountainside?
Grouse Creek cascades above Relief Reservoir.
The view of Grouse Creek we get hiking South along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to the upper ford is a restrained view. We really can not see its course.
Getting some perspective on Grouse Creek by backing away to the West, and looking East from the high spots around Relief Reservoir's South shore campsites, first gives us an auditory concert that then draws our eyes to Grouse Creek's magnificent cascade above the upper ford.
This is the source of the beautiful background music reverberating off all the granite faces we hear while camping at the campsites along the Southeast shore of Relief Reservoir.
How loud the music is dependent on the power of, and what part of the season we arrive.
Far South End
Look at the line of granite knobs running out in the distance.
Raindrops decorate the surface of Relief Reservoir as we drop down from the upper campsite approaching its shore. From here we get views of the fishing trails down to the Left, down to the Southwest end of Relief Reservoir.
To our Right we bend around through complex shoreline terrain of forest and rock to the main lower campsite, and all the campsites nestled in flats between arms of rock and forest.
The next morning we watch the last wisps of this storm's clouds disappear into rolling currents of air heating in the piercing rays of the rising sun.
Above is the very last wisp of a moderate-strength Pacific Storm that swept across the High Sierra for the last couple of days during late June of 2013. Fairly rare, but not surprising. Most weather coming across the Sierra during Summer are local weather created by air coming across and that being evaporated out of the San Joaquin Valley. This ride across the valley during hot temps creates vast moist cells of superheated air that subsequently has its rain and electricity squeezed violently out by rapid cooling during its swift passage up and over the Sierra Crest.
Therefore long distance Summertime backpackers must anticipate two types of weather while hiking for long distances and durations along the Sierra Crest. The first and most common are these Summertime Heat Thunderstorms.
These thunderstorms form, as mentioned above, when heat of the San Joaquin Valley reaches 100+ degrees and superheated cells of air and moisture rise off its vast agricultural irrigation system. Matched by the proper gentle West wind coming off the Pacific these superheated cells of hot air can produce quite a show crossing the Sierra Crest.
The violent contraction of these superheated cells of air and moisture cooling rapidly appears to spin a vapor dynamo within these cells capable of generating vast amounts of both rainfall and electricity, when conditions are perfectly aligned.
Summertime Pacific Storms
Less common are Summer storms riding these same prevailing Westerly winds off the Pacific Ocean. During the last couple of decades the strength of Westerly and especially Southwesterly winds have increased during every season of the year. Sometimes tropical storms ride the Southwesterly winds up to the Sierra Nevada. Other times we get cooler storms out of the Northwest.
Summertime Tropical Storms
Other times tropical storms approach out of the Southeast, typically composed of strong remnants
of the tropical rainy season escaping the Gulf of Mexico, but mostly out of the top of the Sea of Cortez. These storms run across the deserts running for hundreds of miles Southeast beyond the East Flank of the Sierra.
Summertime tropical storms and remnants typically dash themselves to pieces impacting the massive wall-like structure of the Eastern Escarpment of the Sierra. These "pieces" spew powerful downpours and lightening, putting on quite a show when observed from a safe hiding place.
Hiking around the rock and forest around these campsites I've found more than a couple of excellent natural perspectives. I've always said that nature carves seats and contoured perfectly for each of our unique perspectives. Well, here's two unique seats at the Relief Reservoir campsites that have delivered countless moments of observation and contemplation to decades of hikers. They fit me well.
The early snow-bending this guy survived produced a seat-and-back shape
providing both comfort and cover.
Above and Below: Natural places to kick back.
Rock-eating tree provides the perfect seat and back combination.
Above: Backrest, perfect seat, and amazing angle of runoff for the resting legs...
Back to the
Upper Main Campsite
Fawn coming in and grazing around my upper main campsite.
Not making fires or noise in our campsite complimented by sitting quietly draws our attention to the activities in the surrounding terrain while drawing them into our "camp."
Upper Main Campsite
Juniper Tree Site
Packing the backpack to continue South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. Last bits of gear going in and on the pack.
The main trail back to the TYT on the South bank of Grouse Creek is just out of sight of the upper Right of this image. The above site is the Juniper site at the end of the main trail out from Grouse Creek.
We will follow that trail back to the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to continue our Southbound hike.
South on the
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Hiking South from Relief Reservoir
Back to the Trail
Since we are hiking South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail we trace the main trail from the Relief Reservoir campsites back to its faint junction with the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail above the upper ford of Grouse Creek.
We could use the shortcut trail if we were returning to Kennedy Meadows.
This next segment of our trail South is characterized by our climb from Relief Reservoir to Sheep Camp, on our way to Brown Bear Pass. The first part of this segment is the climb up and into the middle segment of Summit Creek's canyon.
We just completed the first segment of this trip, the hike through the unique lower canyon up to Relief Reservoir.
From Relief Reservoir our trail begins climbing Southeast. Our trail is moving to situate itself under the steep route traversing up into the mouth of the magnificent middle segment of canyon that Summit Creek flows down from Sheep Camp. That canyon and our climb into it is the second segment of our hike.
I measure the second segment of our hike from Sheep Camp to Relief Reservoir.
I figure the first and lowest segment of our hike was the segment from Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir. That segment was characterized by our almost directly Southbound run up the unique trail carved into the granite lower canyon. Now our route is bending Southeast climbing its way up along a wide-angle but narrowing steep approach that get us into the mouth at the middle of this much narrower middle segment of canyon.
I figure the trail from Relief Reservoir up to Sheep Camp is the "middle" segment of our hike to Brown Bear Pass. This segment distinguishes itself by turning Southwest into a canyon bound on its North by a vast ridge of volcanic material running off the Sierra Crest, while its Southern wall presents the contrasting view of a massive ridge of granite running West off the Sierra Crest.
Climbing up to Sheep Camp puts us into the uppermost segment of this hike, being our entrance into the highest run of meadow and forest above Sheep Camp stretching up to our final climb for Brown Bear Pass.
This upper segment is also bracketed by volcanic material to our North and granite to our South.
Each of these three segments of our hike from Kennedy Meadows to Brown Bear Pass via Summit Creek's various iterations of "canyon," are each unique, with each having its own consistent characteristics which are notably different from the other segments.
These segments of our trail to Brown Bear Pass present quite an "evolution" of terrains which tell a number of stories.
Notable trail junctions and camp spots between Relief Reservoir and Brown Bear Pass are the upcoming trail junction to Lower Relief Valley, Saucer Meadow campsites, Sheep Camp campsites, Lunch Meadow campsites, and the Mosquito Pass trail junction.
We have the final climb to Brown Bear Pass beyond the Mosquito Pass trail junction.
Our miles and elevations page lists these upcoming locations of note in order, cites their mileage along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, their elevation, and links to each location's trail guide entry.
Fire Ice Time Life
We've been pretty much surrounded by granite terrain on the climb up to Relief Reservoir from Kennedy Meadows, but we may have noticed that the tops of these great canyons running East, up the final runs of the Western flank to the Sierra Crest, have been composed of volcanic terrain. Interesting.
Our lower climb has been through granite. Though we cannot yet see it during most of our hike up to Relief Reservoir, above the granite terrain to our East is a huge volcanic ridge covering the granite.
Hiking above Relief Reservoir we are bending our route Southeast to get up and off the West flanking base of this great ridge running up to the Sierra Crest. Our route is getting around the Southwestern-most corner of this ridge and into the valley below its Southwestern facing flank.
Across this next segment of our hike to Brown Bear Pass we are hiking ourselves up and out of the granite zone wrapping around the Western base of this vast ridge, up into its volcanic-capped terrain running under its Southwest flank, all the way up to the Sierra Crestline.
The Big Picture
Though we cannot yet see it, above the granite terrain to our North and East is a huge volcanic ridge that will soon be completely covering the granite.
Looking South across the canyon we begin getting views above the treetops climbing above Relief Reservoir we will note the monumental granite of the well-named Granite Dome.
Here at Relief Reservoir we are beyond the Western reach of these ancient volcanic flows capping the ridge to our East. Yet we can see indications that this granite wrapping around the East shore of Relief Reservoir is protruding out from under a massive volcanic topping.
Hiking Southeast up into Summit Creek's middle segment of canyon above Relief Reservoir we begin to see that we are hiking out of this lower elevation granite terrain into higher elevations under the coverage of these ancient volcanic flows. The terrain to our North-Northeast is transforming as we climb to the Southeast.
Thus we are climbing out of this lower granite terrain into volcanic terrain.
Well, the ridge making up the North flank of this middle segment of valley is capped by a vast coating of volcanic materials. It's lower Western nose wrapping around the East shore of Relief Reservoir is not.
Now we are hiking through this geological transition zone from the lower elevation granites around Relief Reservoir up into the volcanic zone in Summit Creek's middle canyon running down from Brown Bear Pass to Relief Reservoir.
Looking closely around our trail climbing along the base of the Southwestern-facing flank of this canyon we can see that this great ancient volcanic feature capped by Relief Peak is covering even older granite features we see sticking out beyond the furthest reaches of the volcanic flows here and there as we climb up into the volcanic zone. In other locations we can see that the harder once-covered granites have actually eroded out from under the coverage of these soft over-covering ancient volcanic flows.
This granite and volcanic layering becomes more apparent as we hike higher up into the middle canyon to eventually emerge from obscured views into wide open vistas.
We will see that the whole North side of this once grand granite canyon has been flooded, drowned, and capped by what were most likely a series of massive volcanic flows. Then it was all, both granite and volcanic materials, covered, crushed, and sliced by ice.
Epic Vistas are Opening...
Despite all of this volcanic activity sufficient to cover the massive ridge making up the North flank of the upper canyon, the limit of its flows still allowed the South side of this beautifully bifurcated canyon to remain clear of volcanic debris, surviving to eventually be named Granite Dome.
This name expresses, while not quite capturing, the vastness of the granite ridge making up the South wall of our canyon running up to Brown Bear Pass. It is Epic.
Red & White
Thus this canyon is composed of Deep Volcanic Burnt Red on the North flank and ridge, while vast stretches of reflective granite characterize the granite ridge making up its South flank. This is a canyon mapping out the ancient limits of lost volcanoes, of burnt red and granite grays, displaying ever-changing variations under ever changing light.
Wow, what a magnificent juxtaposition to cut across the center of a High Sierra Canyon. The fundamental forces of Rock, Ice, and Fire over millions of years (and Time) are all visibly combined in front of us now, each feature an enduring testament to its own ancient time when it once dominated. The rock, the fire, and the effects of ice all still sit here, with each bit of ice-carved granite separated from its near cheek-to-cheek ice-carved volcanic neighbor by millions of years and almost nothing at all?
In the Meantime...
While fire and ice fight it out over eons the force of life taps Nature's daily energy to create and fill every crack within and between the divergent realities of fire and ice with a slowly growing life of greater and greater power and sophistication over these vast deserts of time... until the blossoming of life itself supercedes and crowns the power of glaciers and the heat of volcanoes to become the "main event," the crown jewel of consciousness forged by fire and ice in this grand machine of life.
Have A Nice Trip
Now climbing up, through, and out of Summit Creek's Lower Canyon gives us the elevated perspective to best observe these unique juxtapositions, this split of fired and iced terrain meeting down the center of this canyon.
Turning around to hike through Brown Bear Pass we find it marks the highest gap between these two very divergent terrains, being a passage between the volcanic terrain to our North and the granite to our South.
Not to worry.
Hiking through Brown Bear Pass continues the cavalcade of unique terrains characterizing our upcoming hike across Emigrant, Grizzly, and Snow Meadows, i.e., the High Emigrant Basin.
Back to the
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Faint Junction at Relief Reservoir
Looking West across the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail at the faint trail to the Relief Reservoir Campsites. It appears as a sandy, washed-out bit of faint deer trail.
Forty Yards South of Grouse Creek
feet of elevation
North to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station Gate.
South to Brown Bear Pass.
Note the deeply grooved bed of the North-South route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail across the bottom of the image compared to the faint crease of trail angled off to the Northwest, to Relief Reservoir at the top Right of the image.
Now we continue hiking South deeper into Emigrant Wilderness, to our Left in the image above, along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail up through Brown Bear Pass and into Emigrant Meadow.
Deer pointing ears at us along ridge line between Tahoe to Yosemite Trail and Relief Reservoir, hiking South from the Upper Ford trail junction towards the Lower Relief Valley junction.
South End of
As the trail begins bending Southeast to bring us up into the awesome canyon holding Summit Creek we get fleeting views back through breaks in the forest cover, when we turn around, of the South end of Relief Reservoir.
Trail to Lunch Meadow: Approaching Lower Relief Valley trail junction.
Moist areas create zones of temperate forest, and above we climb into a temperate zone leading up to the trail T junction at the bottom of the canyon running Southeast. Thus the armor-plated trail protection.
Hiking Left, to our Southeast will lead us up through Lunch Meadow to Brown Bear and Mosquito Passes.
Turning Right, to the Southwest, from the upcoming T-junction leads Southwest to Lower Relief Valley.
Enter the Canyon
Southeast climbing up under the outstretched lower Western Flank's Granite
of the Summit Creek Canyon
towards Brown Bear Pass
Granite wall towering above as the trail begins bending Southeast from the South end of Relief Reservoir, bending up towards the canyon cut halfway through solid granite and halfway through pure volcanic debris that brings Summit Creek down the Western flank of the Sierra.
Far above this granite foundation this mountain is topped by volcanic terrain.
As we climb into the valley we will see that the granite is solid on the South side of the valley, but that the granite on the North side of the valley has been drowned by ancient lava flows. The granite terrain only emerges from its volcanic jacketing in selected lower elevation locations, such as the lower Western flank of this ridge wrapping around the East Shore of Relief Reservoir.
Such as the great slab pictured above, beyond the furthest reaches of the volcanic flows.
As we climb higher we will see the center of the valley precisely divides the granite to the South from the lava to the North.
Along the flanks of the Northern canyon wall we will see great granite features eroding our of their ancient volcanic jacket.
This trail gets better and better as we climb higher and higher.
This is just the beginning of a great show with many acts.
This page begins the Emigrant Wilderness section of our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail backpacking trip through Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. The Tahoe to Yosemite route across Emigrant Wilderness is a good start for exploring the backpacking possibilities both across and within the High Emigrant Wilderness.
The following trail guide pages and their associated maps point towards some grand backpacking loops around the Emigrant Wilderness as well as a guide to the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails across Emigrant Wilderness into the Northern Yosemite Backcountry. The 70+ mile hike from HIghway 108 to Tuolumne Meadows is a classic, whichever trailhead you begin through, or whichever final route you select.
However you approach the Emigrant Wilderness, as a long distance backpacker, a weekend warrior, or with a grand nine-day loop around the Wilderness, you will find this an intriguing and beautiful place that offers us as much depth of experience as time we can put in.
Though this guide is fairly detailed, it merely scratches the surface of the Emigrant Wilderness. The High Emigrant Wilderness is a scrambler's paradise. Once you figure out the routes of the trails and the basic layout of the Emigrant Wilderness terrain along the Sierra Crest and its Upper Flanks you will see miles and miles of trails, routes, and cross-country scrambles open up before you.