Tilden Lake North Yosemite National Park Backcountry
Tilden Lake from the PCT in Jack Main Canyon to the
PCT trail junction in Tilden Canyon
The guide page below describes the next 5.36 miles of our hike along the Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trail around Tilden Lake from its Northern trail junction in Jack Main Canyon.
We are hiking the TYT route South rather than following the Pacific Crest Trail's 3.55 mile route continuing down Jack Main Canyon to wrap around Wilmer Lake. We are going to follow the longer Tilden Lake Loop around to where the TYT and PCT rejoin at the Southern end of the TYT's loop around Tilden Lake in Tilden Canyon.
Miles & Elevations
North Tilden Lake Junction in Jack Main Canyon:
Southwest corner of Tilden Lake:
Trail turns South away from Tilden Lake:
South Tilden Junction between Bailey and Macomb Ridges:
At the Northern Tilden Lake trail junction in Jack Main Canyon we turn East to ford Falls Creek. Falls Creek has a powerful Spring flow. Be careful!
Old Trail After fording Falls Creek the trail works its way back upstream a ways to put ourselves below the switchbacks situated South of Tilden Creek leading up to Tilden Lake. The trail up the switchbacks had a rough, underused, and demanding feel in 2012. These feelings were induced by decades of seasonal degradation of this trail; of boulders falling on it and the inextricable movement of the terrain as part of nature's power unmitigated by man. This trail has seen little backpacker traffic and less trail work for decades.
Though a good, easy to follow trail leads us up to Tilden Lake, we have had to carefully pick our way through many boulders and debris decorating the trailbed.
These rustic trail conditions are looking like they will soon be brought up to the super-high standards of Yosemite National Park Trails. Trail crew was working the lower switchbacks during the Summer of 2012, and will likely be moving up to revamp the whole Tilden Lake Loop over the next few seasons.
2012 Trail Crew Work
The Tilden Lake Loop is a rustic and not heavily used route from end to end. The south end of this loop running down Tilden Canyon back to the PCT also has a few rough spots, as of 2012. These have been smoothed out by subsequent trail crew work as observed during July of 2016.
The obstructions and degradations have been repaired and improved, while long sections of new rock trail have been added during the 2012 (& 2013?) work.
Preservation It is nice to see that there are trails in Yosemite where the trail work repairs and maintains the trails against the slow progression of damages done by nature rather than the damages done on nature by man. Yes, there are constant avalanches, tree falls, and the steady pace of natural "movements" in Yosemite that steadily degrade trails. But natural forces pale in comparison to the effects of man on Yosemite.
Protecting the Terrain
Trail work in Yosemite, and in fact the primairy point of Yosemite National Park, is protecting the terrain from the damaging effects of man. Trail Crew does this by preparing the terrain for the density of traffic it will carry, and by repairing the damages done to trail and terrain by man because of the popularity of Yosemite.
Trail Crew not only works to maintain the intergrity of routes and trails, but strives to prevent the effects of so much human traffic from spilling off the trail and damaging the surrounding terrain. The mission of Trail Crew is balanced on a razor: Too much rockwork protects, but creates an artifical surface. Too little durable surfaces invites trail trenching and uncontrollable runoff and erosion.
The remainder of Trail Crew work is repairing and stabilizing damage to trails caused by the constant movements of Nature and all its subordinate powers. Besides the damaging effects of man on Nature, Nature itself focuses almost uncomprehensable physical powers across the range of its raw physical expressions. Storms, floods, destructive thaws, powerful winds, earthquakes and avalanches all work to shape terrain and subsequently the trails through it. The tools of trail destruction are not limited to raw physical forces.
We also find that the power of life itself, the power of the growing grasses, surging insects, and that the rise and fall of trees are both powerful forces of trail degration.
Trail Crew attempts to preserve stable trail routes across the most stable surfaces while or shifting routes around unstable terrain when possible, or alternating the trail's route when moving it is impossible.
Tilden Lake Reaching the top of the switchbacks East up to the Southwest corner of Tilden Lake we are richly rewarded with a unique view up the body of Tilden Lake.
Tilden Lake lays in a "split" canyon running up to the Sierra Crestline. By "split" I mean that the great glacier that cut the main body of this deep canyon coming down from the Sierra Crest split into two directions where Bailey Ridge wraps around the South shore of Tilden Lake.
This ancient glacier split itself into two distinct directions of flow around what we call Bailey Ridge. The glacier cutting the smooth canyon above the current position of Tilden Lake was unable to sweep away the hard rock that now remains as Bailey Ridge.
We can see where this chunk of hard granite split a great flow of ice off to the West off the main body of the glacier coming South down Tilden Canyon. The hard rock of Bailey Ridge deflected this flow between itself and Chittenden Peak into Jack Main Canyon. This deflection split the straight line of the upper glacier into a "Y" shape on the head of Bailey Ridge. This accounts for the shape of Tilden Lake and the orientation of the canyon here. The head of Bailey Ridge split the glacial flow, long ago bending the glacier that still bends the canyon, the lake, and my mind today.
This bend in the canyon and the undulations in the shoreline along Tilden Lake line up the surface of the lake between its pinching meadow and forest shoreline to line it all up with the great granite ridge backdropping it, giving us a "gunsight" alignment looking down Tilden Lake that is very striking.
We only get this unique "gunsight" perspective
along a very short section of trail along the far Southwestern shore of Tilden Lake just South of where Tilden Creek drains the lake into Jack Main Canyon.
Bailey Ridge Dome alone Southeast Shore of Tilden Lake
The Sierra Crestline The ridge on the West side of Tilden Canyon above Tilden Lake runs the Saurian Crest up to the Sierra Crestline. The Eastern ridge above Tilden Canyon runs up to Tower Peak's 11,755 feet of elevation, which dominates this section of the Sierra Crestline. We only reach greater heights a bit further South along the Sierra Crestline where Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak on the Sierra Crestline divide Twin Lakes in the Hoover Wilderness from Yosemite.
We are not so high on the trail here, only at 8920 feet of elevation at Tilden Lake. But we are gradually moving into higher elevations. We touched 11,000 feet coming across Leavitt Peak. Though the Sierra Crestline approaches a 12,000 foot average elevation across the North Yosemite Backcountry the Five Ridges we cross below the Sierra Crestline on our hike down to Tuolumne Meadows stay below Bensen Pass's peak elevation of 10,160 feet along our trail between Tilden Lake and Tuolumne Meadows.
Back to Tilden Lake We have a fine but short .89 mile walk along the breathtakingly beautiful South shore of Tilden Lake. We are surrounded by delightful forest and meadow while taking in the grand views opening up above us of the Sierra Crestline looking across Tilden Lake at the mountains decorating the Northwestern corner of the North Yosemite Backcountry.
After a short but delightful hike along this pristine shore we turn directly South alongside an idyllic lagoon filled with patrolling trout, away from Tilden Lake to reconnect with the PCT. Now we turn South to hike through and then down Tilden Canyon roughly following Tilden Canyon Creek.
Hiking South through the meadow South of Tilden Lake along Tilden Canyon's little used trail hemmed in by the stunning massive granite of Macomb Ridge to our East and the unique granite formations of Bailey Ridge to our West soon ends, bringing us out of the expansive well-flowered meadow into a much steeper descent through jumbled forest and rock.
We descend, sometimes sharply towards our reunion with the Pacific Crest Trail East of Wilmer Lake by compass, but South of Wilmer Lake along the route of the PCT.
Between the South end of the Meadow in Tilden Canyon and rejoining the PCT below we find a couple of sketchy bits of trail that require we carefully observe the upcoming terrain if we want to stay on the trail. There are a couple of spots along the trail where we cannot just put our heads down and push forward, relying on the trail to lead.
That is very very rare in Yosemite National Park.
Unlike the PCT route, the TYT has many sections that require careful observation to follow. It's just rare that any trail in Yosemite requires you to locate it, or offers any obstacles at all, besides the physical challenge. When was the last time you saw fallen trees blocking any trail in Yosemite? Very early Spring, before they get out to cut them, or immediately after a wind storm. Yosemite does not tolerate blocked trails. The typical backpacker complaint in Yosemite is about overused trails with too many backpackers, rather than hard to find trails with too few people!
The Tilden Lake loop is our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route's last divergence from the Pacific Crest Trail. It also retained a bit of its "rough" character that differentiates the TYT from the PCT, even in Yosemite. That will end when the Trail Crews finish their work on the Tilde Lake Loop.
Once they rejoin in Tilden Canyon the now reunified routes of the TYT and PCT share the rest of the trail down to Tuolumne Meadows after taking their respective routes around Tilden and Wilmer Lakes.
5.36 miles from theNorth Tilden Lake trail junction in Jack Main Canyon to theSouth Tilden Lake trail junction East of Wilmer Lake. I call the route around Tilden Lake the "Tilden Lake Loop."
From the North This trail around Tilden Lake is part of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route located deep in the North Yosemite Backcountry. This location is a couple of days hiking South from Kennedy Meadows on the TYT, from Sonora Pass along the PCT, or from Leavitt Meadow. These are the Highway 108 trailheads from the North.
To be more specific, the Southwest shore of Tilden Lake is 27.11 miles South of Sonora Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail route and 24.8 miles South of Kennedy Meadows on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, and 25.06 miles from the Leavitt Meadow Trailhead. This point on the Southwest shore of Tilden Lake is 48.48 miles North of Tuolumne Meadows.
That's three nights at 15 mpd, and we hike from Glen Aulin to Tuolumne Meadows early on the fourth day.
From the South From the South by the compass Hetch Hetchy sits at the bottom of Jack Main Canyon, and Tuolumne Meadows marks the Southern End of this section of the PCT and TYT trails between Highway 108 and 120. It is a rigorous three day hike North from Tuolumne or two days of hard climbing up from Hetch Hetchy to Tilden Lake, depending on your strength, speed, agility, and endurance.
From the East backpackers can access the Tilden Lake Loop from Twin Lakes near Bridgeport on Highway 395. Twin Lakes to Highway 108would be a great trip.
This is an interactive guide, if you want it to be.
Every guide page has a comments feature for its particular segment of the trail, and a forum that covers all the pages in a Trail Section.
If you have comments or questions about this segment of the trail hiking around Tilden Lake hit up the comments links. If you have a trip report or substantial information to share about Tilden Lake, and your trip getting there or back you can post up a stand alone article in this section's Trail Forum.
Anyone can post up comments. Only Members of Tahoe to Whitney can put up their own posts in the backpacking gear and trails forums. It's fairly straightforward to post up links, images, maps, and embed google maps or UTube videos in your posts.
This is the "High Tech" version of a classic trail guide!
The quality of paper with the power of pixels!
Honestly, I'm looking for seasonal updates, ANY disputes about my descriptions, miles figures, campsite descriptions, and anything else you experienced. Hikers using the information on this guide to get them out are invited to share their observations upon return.
An interaction between guide and hiker will not just keep the guide up to date, but make it a sort of contemporary history of the Sierra Nevada as we watch it undergo radical changes.
Let's keep each other informed.
Tilden Lake Loop Miles & Elevations
Miles & Elevations
North Tilden Lake Junction in Jack Main Canyon:
Southwest corner of Tilden Lake:
Trail turns South away from Tilden Lake:
South Tilden Lake Junction between Bailey and Macomb Ridges:
Tilden Lake Trail Junction in Jack Main Canyon
East to Tilden Lake
Yosemite Trail Sign
SOUTH to TILDEN LAKE
We are in Jack Main Canyon at the Northern of the two trail junctions connecting the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route around Tilden Lake with the Pacific Crest Trail's route around Wilmer Lake. At this junction we are North of both Tilden and Wilmer Lake.
The Southern junction rejoining these two routes lay to the South of both lakes, in Tilden Creek Canyon between Bailey and Macomb Ridges.
Tilden Lake trail junction in Jack Main Canyon to Tilden Lake
Up to Tilden Lake from Jack Main Canyon
Southbound on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Hiking East from Jack Main Canyon in late July we find Falls Creek's feeble late season flow a relaxing sight. But it is raging in Spring! Though both Spring and Summer flows through Falls Creek are beautiful, the power of the Spring Thaw demands respect and even fear. On the East side of Falls Creek ford we move Northeast towards the switchbacks climbing beside Tilden Creek's cascading flow down the canyon wall from Tilden Lake.
We find this set of middle-difficulty switchbacks working their way up the canyon wall South of Tilden Creek. As we climb higher the North limit of each traverse walks us out to overlooks of Falls Creek, each North turn a bit higher up the side of the ridge giving us unique views of Tilden Creek, Jack Main Canyon, and Chittenden Peak too.
Each step up the trail approaching Tilden Lake under the towering mass of Chittenden Peak aside Tilden Creek's cascading flow down the mountain is a step up into a vortex of increasing beauty. Tilden Lake does not disappoint, but tops off this beautiful hike with stunning views of lake and views of surrounding mountains rising to the Sierra Crest.
We finish climbing by finally shifting off hard surfaces, hiking onto soft green turf through terrain pinched between the North end of Bailey Ridge to our South and Chittenden Peak towering above us to the North.
Tilden Creek rushes out from the tip of a narrowing finger of deep blue water composing the Southwest corner of Tilden Lake. To the East we see this blue finger of lake widening out into the Eastern distance, only to be pinched into a narrow gun sight by an illusion created by our perspective. Our position looking Northeast up the lake lines up protrusions off the opposite shores of the lake, creating the illusion of a narrow channel as we look down the length of the lake from its far West end.
Nonetheless, this unique view down the deep blue of the lake lines up and vividly contrasts the battleship grays of the massive granite ridges and peaks surrounding Tilden Lake. The ridgeline on the East side of the lake runs up to Tower Peak at the head of this great valley holding Tilden Lake, while the ridge on the West side of Tilden Lake is capped by Forsyth Peak, which towers over the Pacific Crest Trail's entrance into Jack Main Canyon at the Northwestern corner of Yosemite National Park. Check out the Map.
We have observed Tower Peak approaching Yosemite from both the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite routes. Tower Peak from Brown Bear Pass on the TYT. Tower Peak from West Walker drainage on the PCT.
We can see the trail continuing on the South bank of Falls Creek.
Falls Creek ford along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to Tilden Lake.
Looking North across Falls Creek Ford.
Backpacking the Tilden Lake Loop
South from Tilden Lake on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail junction South of Wilmer Lake
Tilden Lake South to PCT in Tilden Canyon The Southbound Tahoe to Yosemite Trail follows the Southeastern shoreline of Tilden Lake counterclockwise from the West end of Tilden Lake where we followed Tilden Creek up to Tilden Lake.
around the South shore of Tilden Lake turning South to follow Tilden Canyon Creek down to rejoin the Pacific Crest trail at a lower altitude position between Macomb Ridge to the East and Bailey Ridge to the West.
Recent and old tree clearing. The shot above was taken in 2016, the recently cut trees look like they were blown down in the Great Blow of 2011.
New washout build during the 2012 Trail Crew work on the trail to Tilden Lake.
Clint from Michigan
Clint explained he was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail by sections, and taking the time to explore side routes such as the Tilden Lake Loop. July 27 2010 at the base of the switchbacks up to Tilden Lake.
You will meet the nicest and best folks hiking along the long trails down the Sierra Crestline.
We had observed the signs along the trail coming down Jack Main Canyon. We could hear the haunting faint sounds of activity echoing off the surrounding mountains at the far limits of our hearing.
Following the twists and turns of the trail around boulders and terrain approaching the Tilden Lake trail junction brought the sounds and signs into clear focus, and I was excited: The faint clinking sounds had clarified into the tinkling sounds of sledge hammer and chisel on rock. The mountain masons were at work. I was now sure that there was a Yosemite Trail Crew working the old trail up to Tilden Lake!
A little over an hour later I encountered a five person crew working the granite on one of the lower corners of the switchbacks up to Tilden Lake.
Unlike the vast majority of super-maintained trails in Yosemite National Park, this under-used little loop of trail around Tilden Lake has not been maintained for a long time. The switchbacks up to Tilden Lake have been reverting back to a natural state, but are still easily climb-able, around and across all the debris, which is a refreshing thing in a place such as Yosemite, where all the trails more often show signs of overuse, rather than this section's under use.
The switchbacks up to Tilden Lake are refreshingly cluttered, as you will see on the page below and the associated videos. This condition will not last for long, now that Trails is on it. This section will soon be brought up to Yosemite's standard of trail engineering excellence.
The trail from the North to the South Tilden Lake trail junctions had a series of "bad spots" prior to the arrival of this Trail Crew during the Summer of 2012.
The length of the trail has been gone over and opened up from North to South trail junctions during 2012, with the majority of the hard-rock work confined to the trail approaching the switchbacking climbing out of Jack Main Canyon to the West end of Tilden Lake. That segment of trail needed, and got lots of work, and was in great shape as of July 2016.
I observed this fine work during a trip around Tilden Lake in 2016.
of Rock Staircases
Rock Stairway up to the switchbacks.
Climbing to Tilden Lake
Yosemite Trail Crew construction during 2012 to Tilden Lake.
The North Ends of the Switchbacks up to Tilden Lake
The North sides of the upper switchbacks climbing to Tilden Lake along Tilden Creek offer us open views of both Tilden Creek flowing down mountain under the North ends of each switchback, with fantastic views of Jack Main Canyon beyond.
The South ends of the switchbacks bring us deep into the forested flank.
Chittenden Peak towering above TYT to Tilden Lake.
The very Southwest end of Tilden Lake where Tilden Creek drains into Jack Main Canyon is wedged in below the Right flank of Chittenden Peak, on the Right edge of the image up by the far end of Chittenden Peak.
Climbing higher Tilden Creek's angle of descent moderates across a couple of rocky shelfs below its outlet from Tilden Lake.
Complex Braiding of Tilden Creek's upper course out of Tilden Lake
Braided ribbons of Tilden Creek break apart below their outlet from Tilden Lake and come back together again above.
Tilden Creek takes a multi-varied route down the first fifty yards below Tilden Lake depending on the time of year and rate of flow.
Tilden Creek draining out of Tilden Lake
Tilden Creek leaving Tilden Lake at Tilden Lake's most Western point.
The end of the rock is a fine place to kick back and get water, while the ford over to the North Shore of Tilden Lake is just to our Right. We can't miss the branch of the trail that bends over to the fording point.
I noticed what I thought was a very small hummingbird moving through the brush.
Moving to track the humming bird bought nothing but perplexity. I caught one glimpse, then another, of this very fast moving "hummingbird," but each look deepened my suspicions. First, it was just too small to be a hummingbird, though its vast size suggested it was not an insect.
Next, it moved "like" a hummingbird, but something was different about its shape and form, which made its "flight characteristics" and look different than a hummingbird.
Then I got a good look at it, and realised it was one of those hummingbird-like moths. I have not seen one of these for years and years! I chased it around until it finally departed, but only got this one bad image.
Its wing span was huge, they moved as rapidly as a hummingbird, and it was really neat to watch it fly around and drain flowers. Very cool.
Tilden Lake Beyond Tilden Creek Outlet Spring Conditions
Looking out East across the Tilden Creek outlet on the far Northwestern end of Tilden Lake at the verdance of Spring.
The cutaway along the brush just up from our position is the fording point.
Oh yes, there are lots of mosquitoes in here...
First Look at Tilden Lake Late Summer-Fall Conditions
West shore of Tilden Lake where Tilden Creek flows out down the West flank of Bailey Ridge.
Much fewer mosquitoes after the moisture of Spring dries out of the terrain and the grasses turn golden.
Look Right, then Climb
Find your way up the rocky hillside to our Right to a fine flat overlooking this end of Tilden Lake, down into a stretch of Jack Main Canyon, right across from Chittenden Peak with Tower Peak on the Sierra Crestline in the distance, and of course Tilden Creek running down into Jack Main Canyon too.
We don't quite climb to the top of the ridge above us to our Right, South by the compass, up to a nice flat wedged-in under the top of the ridge.
I'd say these views and it's position far above the mosquitoes in the meadow make this spot a fine Tilden Lake Campsite! The only drawback is that we have to descend to Tilden Creek for Water.
The details of Snow Peak and its mighty massif line with with our perspective up the Northeast bend of Tilden Lake. Our trail, the line of the lake, and the mountain ridge making up the Eastern wall of Tilden Canyon frame and compliment each other's substantial beauty as we hike Southeast around the South Shoreline of Tilden Lake.
Snow, Craig, and Tower Peaks beyond Tilden Lake in North Yosemite Backcountry. (R to L)
We have been observing Tower Peak hiking South on both the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails. On the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail we first caught sight of Tower Peak crossing Brown Bear Pass. Hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail we glimpsed Tower Peak after traversing Southeast over the ridge from the West West Walker River towards Cascade Creek. Now we have the view of the South flank of Tower Peak from Tilden Lake.
I'm pretty sure I've images of Tower Peak from Sonora Peak (at the Sonora Gap) and from Leavitt Peak above Latopie Lake hiking along the PCT route, but I have not yet located them. We can spot it from up there.
Hiking South around Tilden Lake
In the image above the South flank of Tower Peak rotates into view as we hike around the Southwest shore of Tilden Lake. Each step South is opening up our view up Tilden Canyon. This great granite canyon holding Tilden Lake climbs to the Northeast holding Mary Lake in its highest cleavage, above which the Yosemite National Park Boundary defines the convoluted Sierra crestline across the peaks guarding the head of Tilden Canyon.
To our Southbound Right
South by the Compass
Dome marking North end of Bailey Ridge overlooking Tilden Lake
To our Southbound Left lays Tilden Lake.
Remnant of Swampy Pond to our Southbound Right that made up the wet apron of marshy meadow wrapping around Tilden Lake reminds us how bad the mosquitoes were/are during early Spring.
This place is full of mosquitoes when that pond is full of water.
To our Southbound Left View
North by theCompass Tower Peak beyond Tilden Lake
Tower Peak beyond Tilden Lake. A fine view of the North Yosemite Backcountry. The Yosemite National Park boundary passes through Tower Peak as it wraps around the crestline at the head of the valley.
Since Tower Peak is a local landmark I included it on the Jack Main Canyon-Tilden Lake Topo Hiking Map. Tower Peak sits in the upper Right hand corner of the map. The 30 minute map below and the one that follows it South depict the Sierra Crestline above our TYT-PCT route.
We can see the crest of Craig Peak sticking out beyond Snow Peak's far flank.
Hiking South along the shore of Tilden Lake opens views up Tilden Canyon while bringing us to a rather large circular lagoon. Here our trail turns South by the Compass (we were hiking NE around Tilden Lake) to descend Tilden Canyon to where we rejoin the Southbound PCT.
There are campsites on both sides of this lagoon, nice shady places to sit and enjoy some food and water while taking it all in.
The Top of the Western Flank
Tower Peak on the Sierra Crest
Red reflections of twilight reveals Tilden Lake hidden in the darkening forest below.
Snow, Craig, and Tower Peaks from Right to Left making up what I would call the very top end of Matterhorn Canyon up to Tower Peak on the Sierra Crestline. The line of the Sierra Crest runs North from Tower Peak to Forsyth Peak, which we observed (image) from Brown Bear Pass hiking here along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route, or we actually hiked past Forsyth Peak if we hiked here on the PCT (guide).
From Forsyth Peak the Crestline runs away from the line of the Pacific Crest Trail to Grizzly Peak and Big Sam in the High Emigrant Basin. The Northbound PCT descends the East Flank towards the West West Walker Bridge from Forsyth Peak before running back up to the Sierra Crest at the top of Kennedy Canyon.
Hiking about .89 of a mile around the South Shore of Tilden Lake from Tilden Creek's exit from the lake bends our trail South alongside a circular-shaped lagoon. Our trail will hike South away from the lagoon into a series of strips of forest and meadow beginning our 3.05 mile hike from Tilden Lake down Tilden Canyon towards our reunion with the Pacific Crest Trail.
I may kick back, get water, and see if the Tilden Trout are on Patrol in the lagoon.
Above us tower great peaks and ridges. Around us is fine meadow and forest around a lake that looks like it emerged from ancient myth. At our feet is seemingly boundless life in all its forms.
This big Tilden Lake Trout was patrolling the lagoon, swimming a large circle. Half the patrol circle was along the shoreline, the other half circled around the lagoon back to the start of the shore patrol section. Over and over. I watched three cycles of the Tilden Lake Trout's fishing circle before the necessities of miles on the trail drew me South.
Ripples through water creates a delightfully distorted lens.
The dry chill of Fall deepens its golden embrace as a prelude to the cold beauty of Winter.
The party of Spring is long over, the long Summer Days are shortening, and all of Nature is hunkering down and preparing for the hard task of Winter survival.
South end of the Tilden Canyon bursting with Spring Life and Color
End Stages of Spring
Late July of 2010. The ferocity of the explosion of life powered by the heat and water of the Spring Thaw has diminished a bit, the great clouds of mosquitoes are a bit thinner, and the ranks of baby chipmunks and birds have been considerably thinned, leaving the survivors wary.
We're walking the faint trail South through fluorescent green lupine shrubbery at the bottom of the great meadow in Tilden Canyon below Tilden Lake. We seem to be approaching a marshalling point of various armies of lupines, each division carrying vibrant lupine spears barbed with glowing blue flowers.
The lupines march down to the bottom of the meadow into the arms of forest reaching North up Tilden Canyon to embrace our hike out of the South end of the meadow.
At the end of this compact meadow stretching South down Tilden Canyon from Tilden Lake we approach the beginning of rough trail descending down through rocky forested terrain and one significantly steep segment of trail down towards our junction rejoining the PCT.
Traversing this meadow brings some pretty big feelings, welling up from Deep Outside. I mean Deep Inside. The depth of the environment tests the depth and substance of our spiritual architecture. This messy interface of meadow lushness, mountain rock, and forest deeply engages my attention.
There's something about how this narrow meadow bursting with life is wedged within the massive complexity of the encircling granite ridge arms that squeezes the air out of my lungs and touches elements of my perception that only ancient things can.
The bottom of the meadow below the embrace of the converging ridglines is a breathless wonderland, an interface not just between ecosystems, but also a link between physical and emotional terrain too big to take in with all external senses on full. It demands internal engagement as well as physical. Placid waters reflect it off their widening pools of late Spring, doubling the depth of the surrounding beauty.
The shape of this meadow- canyon-forest interface focuses both our trail and mind into doing our small part within this vast dynamically functional architecture, which is giving voice to the voiceless, giving up our dominion of explanation and justification, and just functioning as a reflection of the local things. Listening very carefully I found myself saying,
"your consciousness emerges from a rock fountain, an alter of Hard Rock."
So say the mountains. The skies howl that life comes from, "The Winds," the waters splash that it comes from, "The Waves," but it is the fire of the spirit itself which ties all of their songs together here and everywhere into the bounty that the complexity of life brings.
It's just easier to see here, beating our bodies and stretching our minds, deep in the North Yosemite Backcountry.
As we gently descend to the South end of the meadow in Tilden Canyon we can see the canyon walls are constricting, pinching the terrain, our trail, and Tilden Canyon Creek all closer together, which is reflected on the Tilden-Wilmer-Jack Main topo map. Note the location where the trail touches Tilden Canyon Creek just above the "n" in Tilden South of Tilden Lake.
At that point the trail route is not apparent. During July of 2012 I had to look around a bit to find the route South. The issue was a couple of great Spring Thaw washes had resculpted the terrain to the detriment of the trail.
Further North and earlier in the day we observed trail crew working on the switchbacks on the North side of the Tilden Lake trail in Jack Main Canyon, which makes me think that they will soon "maintain" (ie, repair), if not re route and rebuild the South segment of the trail during 2012, if not over the next few seasons.
Post up your updates on trail conditions on the Forum through the comments links.
Nonetheless, we note that this segment of the trail at the South end of the meadow is prone to saturation and wash out damage during the Spring Thaw. Independent of the trail's condition at the beginning of Winter it may wash out during a heavy Spring Thaw, leaving a short untrailed segment for the next Summer's hikers, as I found in July of 2012.
I'd say this section washing out is only a consideration during wet years with a heavy thaw.
The Occasional deposited on the granite feature in the second image above, the bear slashed tree above, and the almost perfectly round granite ball below are all little landmarks we notice hiking the last hundred yards to the upcoming trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.
As the terrain flattens we find ourselves threading through and around intense verdant fountains of life, tiny bright green meadows packed into the smallest of the tiny clearings dotting the otherwise dark and quiet forest.
The brightness and vibrancy of these tiny meadows is contrasted by the somber tones of the great granite formations rising out of the forest that fundamentally organize this terrain.
Once the glacial ice cut the basic forms into the Earth living things immediately began to both beautifully decorate the resulting terrain while continuing to shape the terrain, albeit at a much slower pace than the glaciers.
It's Fast and Slow, it's New and Old, it's Green and Gold, it's hot and Cold, it travels on Wind, Rain, Ice, and Snow, but most powerfully rolls when the climbing Sun runs up Spring Thaw Flows.
It's the forces of construction and destruction through seasons.
Life surfs waves of constructive destruction through Time.
South Tilden Lake Trail Junction
Tilden Lake is linked by two trail junctions with the Pacific Crest Trail. The North junction is West of Tilden Lake in Jack Main Canyon, and the South trail junction to Tilden Lake, pictured below, is located East of Wilmer Lake by the compass, which is South of Wilmer Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail route in Tilden Canyon.
The Tiltill trail junction is located a tenth of a mile South of the Tilden Lake trail junction.
South Along the Re-Unified Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails
A few feet South down the trail from this trail junction brings us to another junction, a second trail junction, the trail South to TilTill Valley. TilTill Valley is a hanging canyon on the North wall of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
The trail down to TilTill Valley would be a great return leg following a hike up Jack Main Canyon from Hetch Hetchy. From TilTill the dramatic trail along the North flank of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne returns to Hetch Hetchy Dam.
PCT Hiker encounter at the South PCT-TYT Tilden Lake Trail Junction
Red Cash and Lures
Red Cash and Lures
Wednesday July 28 2010
Now that we are back at the Pacific Crest Trail our "quiet time" hiking around Tilden Lake is over.
Hiking South down the Sierra Crest during late Spring and Early Summer always points us against the massive flow of the thundering herd of Pacific Crest Trail hikers pushing Northward.
What a great group of folks!
When the main body of PCT hikers moves North across the Sierra we count PCTers by how many we meet per hour. As the season progresses, we count how many we meet during the span of a day. Late in the season we can count the PCT section hikers we meet during a five day trip on one hand, and the main body of PCT hikers is far to the North of the Sierra Nevada.
I figure by now I've met well over a thousand PCT and PCT section hikers as I've hiked South down the Sierra Crestline over the past 20 years.
Let's get some context. We pass as many people walking the length of a busy city block as PCT hikers we meet over 20 hiking seasons and thousands of miles of trail. Just saying... that this is an argument for cherishing the hikers you meet on the trail, rather than the unfortunate dismay that so many backpackers show upon meeting other hikers.
You will meet the best folks out here, if you let yourself.
Hikers from the Past during the Present, and into the Future
* * Trail Ghosts from the Past, This Generation, and Future PCT Hikers * *
This guide is written for the PCT hikers from the past as much as for present and future PCT hikers.
For this generation's crop of PCT hikers I say "the more you know about Sierra before you go, the more you will see when you hike through it." To past PCT hikers I say, "The guide will help you remember, identify, and put the dense terrain you experienced so rapidly, if not intensely, into context."
The density of experience and rapidity of travel required of those who have a shot at completing the PCT compromises both their ability to engage the terrain and remember what they've seen. It's too much, too quick for deep engagement, for deep experience and detailed memory.
Very few PCT hikers remember details of the trail the first time through.
Maybe it's time for some of you PCT Vets to come back and deeply investigate the unique terrains of the High Sierra between Tahoe and Whitney.
You must have been wishing you could linger at Bensen Lake, take the time to explore the basin in Seavy Pass, camp on the overlook below Forester Peak, took the time to hike through Yosemite Valley, and had the leisure-time to watch the rhythm of life in the mountains from the intense heart of the Spring Bloom transitioning into the long quiet days of Summer. Unless you are damn crazy. Then you need it even worse!
No need to move along, no need to rush, what you need to see is right here.
Imagine what you will see if you spend 40 days backpacking the Sierra, rather than 20.
If we start South from Lake Tahoe at the correct moment in time we will meet virtually every Northbound PCT hiker leading the pack (excepting those who crossed the Sierra through Spring snow, and I've met a few of those during my Spring snow trips over the years...), the main body of the PCT "pack," and a wide range of slow "stragglers" and PCT section hikers.
It is such a joy to sample each year's crop of PCT hikers. I believe it is a cross section of the flower of American youth.
Rookie Start Experience is a vital issue. Every year there are many prospective PCT hikers who's first backpacking trip is the PCT. Really. A huge percentage of every year's PCT hikers are typically rookie hikers, with little or no hiking experience, let along long-distance high-altitude experience.
Many years they are hiking across Sierra snows in Spring! Wow. I believe that a lot of PCT hikers would be a lot better off if their first long distance backpacking trip was the Tahoe to Whitney, rather than the PCT.
Hiking the PCT is a great idea! Hiking it as our first major backpacking trip is not.
As I always say, "Stupid, Strong, and Lucky are triplets, and have a weird way of balancing out." I've seen bunches of dumb-ass dudes do downright stupid shit, suffer greatly, and get through their selected short, medium, and long distance hikes. Chicks are not as prone to this type of bone-headed-ness. Chicks are generally "ambushed" by the harsh conditions, rather than how dudes run headlong into it. I've seen more women than I can count confront and defeat unexpected trail challenges.
Subjecting ourselves to unaccustomed, harsh environments invites unexpected and unpleasant outcomes, in both its masculine and feminine forms.
This is not wise. Having our luck run out in the Sierra Nevada is dangerous, especially if we have not skill or strength to counter the dangerous conditions.
Hiking the Tahoe to Whitney will give you the tools to hike the PCT. I don't even recommend the Tahoe to Whitney hike as your first long distance hike... but if you are planning the PCT as your first, I gotta point you to the TWT as an exercise of mercy and wisdom.
If you are a first-time long distance backpacker I say to you, "It's a hell of a lot better to complete the TWT than fail on the PCT." Then I'll say, "why don't you knock off a ninety mile loop to get everything working?"
I'd feel a lot better about your chances of finishing the TWT, let alone the PCT, if you hiked a big 90 mile loop around the perimeter of Emigrant or the Carson Iceberg Wilderness first.
To put yourself in position to deeply experience the Sierra and succeed at reaching your PCT goals you might just have to "slow down to speed up." It may be wise to translate your well-placed enthusiasm into valuable experience by deflecting it into the motivation necessary to build a strong physical and technical basis for a successful PCT hike before you put one foot on the long trail.
Or we may Crash & Burn.
I want you to succeed.
I've been on the trail long enough now that about everything possible has happened to me out there that can happen. I've done two major self-rescues, having to get my seriously injured ass out of the mountains, once during Summer and once during mid-Winter.
I've had at least three major "incidents" requiring on the trail self-rescue/emergency first aid (self-done stitches, near Wintertime drowning, fording "failures" requiring self-recovery) along otherwise successfully completed trips.
That's 8 events (off the top of my head) over 24 years of High Sierra backpacking.
My point is that you should not hang your ass out over seriously dangerous situations unless you have developed the skills, experience, and fitness to pull it back in, and deal with them when shit goes way wrong.
This will become crystal clear when strength dwindles, luck runs out, the river knocks you down, the ice breaks under your feet, the fording tree breaks, or the storms just won't stop and we solo hikers are somehow left alone on a cold mountain with stupid. It happens more often than we assume it does.
Miscalculating the fitness and experience required by the PCT (and the TYT, JMT & TWT) puts us at risk of experiencing great pain, physical danger, and even death. I much prefer having reasonable odds that the physical and spiritual obstacles will bring great pleasure and esthetic exhilarations rather than pain, injury, or death.
A few wisely placed prepatory backpacking trips can not just make the difference between success and failure, but can determine the degree of personal safety and pleasure you will actually enjoy.
Matching our evolving skills and fitness to our progression of trips is vitally important for rookie backpackers seeking to successful execute PCT, TYT, or JMT plans.
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail in North Yosemite
A delightful hike. Up out of Jack Main Canyon on grand sweeping switchbacks under forest cover across boulder-strewn terrain. The North ends of each of our switchbacks are coming closer to overlooking Tilden Creek as they climb higher, until the North end of each switchback brings us to views overlooking Tilden Creek cascading down the steep side of Bailey Ridge carrying a cool breeze along with a surging symphony of water sounds.
Then we turn away into quiet forest to hike to the South turn of each switchback.
At the top of the switchbacks the beauty intensifies. The trail straightens and flattens out a bit to find its way through the gap between Chittenden Peak and the North side of Bailey Ridge, where Tilden Creek drains from the West shore of Tilden Lake.
Passing through this gap reveals the blue beauty of Tilden Lake rimmed by verdant green grasses and surging forests, all backdropped by massive High Sierra granite mountain ridges running up to the Sierra Crest. Delightful. Though the map indicates that the terrain around Tilden Lake is barren, thin forests are rapidly surrounding the lake.
In fact, all the USGS maps from the 1990s and before do not reflect the current distribution of forests and meadows in the High Sierra. It appears that a very rapid growth of lodgepole forests over the last 20 years that currently decorates the terrain at middle-high elevations are omitted.
This rapid rate of change makes me think. I strongly suggest you observe the Sierra Nevada Terrain now, while the flora and fauna of our traditional ecology are still trying to hold on to the last remaining bits of the departing seasons, to the patterns of seasonal changes they depend upon for survival.
In another 20 years the traditional distributions of flora and fauna will have failed, and be gone. The seasons, the flora, and the fauna are currently undergoing significant alteration, and their traditional relationships and expressions will soon end.
See it NOW if you want to see the last bits of the natural world!
The hand of man has altered the fundamental natural balances of this planet. There is no longer one spot on this planet that has not been altered by man. Even if a human has not visited that spot, the effects of humans have. We have changed where the winds blow from, when the seasons begin and end, and have violently altered the character of seasons the whole world experiences.
The very "Engines of Life," the planetary systems that capture energy and convert it into great blossoms of life at the base of our food chains have been unbalanced.
These changes will prove much more costly than the short-term profits our greedy depredations have generated.
If you have experiences, comments or questions about the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail around the Tilden Lake Loop between Sonora Pass and Tuolumne Meadows, you can post them up through the bottom "segment" link below.
The section link above that allows us to review forum information about the trail to the North and South of our position hiking from Stubblefield Canyon to Seavy Pass.
That's where you can post up your own trail notes about this section of trail.
I want to hear about your experiences one way or another.