Tree, Poison Flat, Carson Iceberg Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney: Your Backpacking Guide to the High Sierras Yellow Flower
Fontanillis Lake Rock with Alge.
Fontanillis Lake Rock with algae


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Backpacking to Fontanillis Lake

Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Campsite #2

Hiking the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trail through Desolation Wilderness





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Fontanillis Lake

Bayview Junction

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miles & elevations Miles & Elevations Index Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Local Weather

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Hiking from the North to South
shores of
Fontanillis Lake
to my
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail

Fontanillis Lake II:
South Shore

Desolation Wilderness

Meeks Bay
to the
South Shore of Fontanillis Lake

Trail Around South Shore of Fontanillis Lake
8360 feet

At the South end of Fontanillis Lake we begin a 120 foot climb up .65 of a mile to the Southernmost of the series of three trail junctions that lead East to the Bayview and Eagle Falls Trailheads along the West shore of Lake Tahoe.

Or we don't.

We can bend West off the trail where we see we are passing by the South end of Fontanillis Lake to seek out one of the campsites ringing the South shore of Fontanillis Lake. Or we can begin to climb to our South.

The climb South from the South end of Fontanillis Lake first brings us to a couple of faint trails continuing South to the North shore of Dicks Lake where the main trail turns ninety degrees to the East for the short climb up to the Southernmost of our Bayview trail junctions.

Below is our position along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hiking across the length of Desolation Wilderness:

South End of Fontanills Lake
Middle Velma Lake

2.21 miles South of Middle Velma Lake
+440 feet from Middle Velma Lake's 7920 feet of elevation.

Fontanillis Lake
8360 feet

2.3 miles South to Dicks Pass
+1030 feet to Dicks Pass' 9390 feet of elevation.

South Shore of Fontanillis Lake

14.53 miles South from Meeks Bay trail head.

14.18 miles South to Echo Lake trail head.

16.18 miles South to Echo Summit

Trip Planning
The Hiking Plan in Motion

Phipps Pass to Heather Lake
15 minute topographic backpacking MAP
South Desolation Wilderness
30 minute backpacking MAP

Meeks Bay to Echo Summit
Backpacking Miles and Elevations

Local Backpacking Loops

The two trails Southwest from Eagle Falls and Bayview join together then split apart approaching the TYT-PCT.
The Northern trail leads to Middle Velma Lake to the North of Fontanillis Lake while the Southern trail leads to the trail junction South of Fonatinillis Lake.

It's 3.89 miles from Middle Velma Lake to either Eagle Falls or the Bayview Campsite Trailheads.

It's 3.68 miles from the trail junction South of Fontanillis Lake to either Eagle Falls or the Bayview Campsite Trailheads.

It's 2.49 miles from Middle Velma Lake to the trail junction South of Fontanillis Lake.

North Desolation Wilderness Backpacking
That puts backpacking loops out of Eagle Falls or Bayview Trailheads to Middle Velma past Fontanillis Lake back to our respective trailhead at
10.33 miles

Hiking in through Meeks Bay Trailhead and hiking South to Fontanillis Lake and out through either Eagle Falls or Bayview Camp is
18.07 miles

Fontanillis Lake Forum


Middle Velma-Fontanillis Lake Backpacking Loops

Middle Velma - Fontanillis Lake backpacking loop schematic.

We've got access to Middle Velma and Fontanills Lakes from the Eagle Falls and Bayview Camp Trailheads off Highway 89 along the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.

Phipps Pass to Heather Lake
15 minute topographic backpacking MAP

We can expand trips centered on Middle Velma Lake by hiking North up to Meeks Bay Trailhead or South to over Mount Tallac or Glen Alpine.

Exceptional Exfoliation

Fine granite Exfoiliation featue

Exceptional Exfoliation

Detail. Full picture below. The original huge exfoliation happened long enough ago to be almost filled in and covered by soil from countless rain and runoff cycles.

Considering the Beauty of Fontanillis Lake in the Valley below Dicks Pass

Hiking with Al

The exfoliation feature above highlights the fact that terrain is in motion. Some terrains move slowly, others rapidly, but everything is in motion.

Forever in a Glance

Much of this motion is discernable over a few seasons. Other times we only see the "result," seeing only a thin slice of time and perspective of a scene changing through eons of gradual movement, such as the slow processes happening to the rock fragment above. Subtle yet inextricable forces are slowing moving and sculpting the great mountain ranges surrounding us at Fontanillis Lake.

Around this shard of exfoliation above I can picture countless seasons of cooling, heating, internal stresses and external shifts in pressure first cracking this graceful arc off its mother rock, then tens of thousands of Fall rains and Spring runoffs carrying layer after layer of sand and rocks down slope to deposit sands representing almost unseen forces slowly leveraging this exfoliating formation further and further from its mother rock until it exists as a independent piece of living art partially submerged and still moving in currents of sand and soil for our momentary viewing pleasure.

A sweet slice in time, baby!

The theories about why this happens are as varied as the beauty exfoliation creates.

The semi-submerging of this granite fragment in eroded tailings happened as it peeled off from its mother rock during its transition from a granite block into a granite boulder. We can see that the same exfoliation process that cracked the forms of the great domes rising out of Yosemite Valley is also working on the micro-scale carving granite slabs and boulders up and down the Sierra Crest.

Seasonal Timer
The progression of the seasons times the "bloom & blossom," and times the actions of everything else. From the Fall shut-down of life to its resurgence during the annual Spring Runoff, Bloom and Blossom, everything from the tiniest bacteria and molds through the insects, to the bears and birds, to our very own crops, everything depends on the character and timing of the progression of seasons, which establishes the strength, length, and depth of life's fertility and bounty every year.

Great Engines of Life
The seasonal transitions push what I call "The Engines of Life." These are the great Blooms of Life caused by seasonal shifts in wind patterns with the changing angle of the Sun. These shifting winds push shifts in great oceanic currents that feed great blooms of alge and plankton which in turn drives the movements and feeding patterns of great schools of fish during these seasonal shifts.

The migration and breeding patterns of land animals, the insect kingdom, and the birds are all timed to exploit the Spring Bloom's bounty.

Life on land, sea, and in the air are all tied and interlinked to each other and our behaviors timed to depend on these great seasonal Engines of Life. The character and progression of our seasons is not just limited to timing the rise of life in Spring and its recession in Fall.

Hitting the Brakes
The timing and character of the progression of the seasons does not just affect bloom, blossom, and seed times of the plants and the migration and breeding schedules in the animal world. The character of the weather also establishes the speed of weathering, erosion, and runoff sculpting of the natural terrain itself.

The progression of the seasons determines the rate of change of the physical terrain itself as well as the timing and feeding of the biological cycle of life nestled within the physical terrain. Living things can alter the terrain as much as erosion in some locations.

The changed character and timing of the seasons have already altered the pace and timing of the Spring Bloom as well as the "timing" of erosion of the physical terrain and how living things interact with the terrain in the High Sierra. The character and timing of the seasons continues to change rapidly.

The lengthening of Summertime, Fall stretching into short, abrupt Winters has disrupted the Engines of Life over water, land, and along the High Sierra.

It appears that the rate of changes in the character and timing of the seasons is actually accelerating. Summer is getting yet hotter and drier. Fall is becoming the "new" Winter, and Spring is beginning and ending earlier each year.

These changes have slowed the forces of erosion. The diminishment of the Spring Bloom has lessened the power of life in the Sierra, and the diminishing water supply has slowed the growth and movement of the forests. The forces of water and forest cracking Hich Sierra granite have radically diminished over the past 40 years.

Forever in a Passing Second
Physical engagement with nature while reflecting the natural process through our perception is a fundamental pleasure of backpacking. Backpacking reminds us of what our minds and bodies were originally designed for, within, and by.

My joy in observing this exfoliation feature and the long processes surrounding it are enhanced by my physical stress, while my perception goes beyond the alluring beauty of its shape itself and is expanded by enjoying the processes that controlled and created its beauty over time, and that of the surrounding valley, all of which become visible during this very brief instant we pass through it.

This shit is special. Take the time to consider it carefully, as well as withstand it physically. Take all the time you need to see forever in every second you observe carefully.

New framework of perception
That's the fundamental reason I'm a solo long distance backpacker. Company is nice, but it tends to center too much of my attention on the social environment, rather than allowing my mind to settle on the fundamental operations of the natural environment.

Adjusting the body and mind over many days of hard travel through stunning natural terrain tunes the senses to nature, if you allow it to, which contributes to breaking-readjusting-our mental perceptions, definitions, and assumptions of what actually constitutes pain and pleasure. The natural environment will change the fundamental way we think and feel, if we let it.

Different folks go through this at different rates of adaptation.

Replacing the social environment with Nature is the first step. Elimination of social chatter and social assumptions is a second step.

Dissolve Social Assumptions
Things are not as cut and dried as they may first appear. "Social" expectations condition and frame experiences even when we're outside the city and far removed from social situations.

This "breaking-readjusting" our perceptions and definitions from social to natural is potentially a harsh process. But not necessarily so. Planning and preparation is the Key.

Hardening your body a bit with some pre-trip training and even a short "practice" backpacking trip or two can clear away or solve many of the little problems that will drive us crazy on a long trip.

Blisters, ass rash, and gear issues are best worked out on short trips.

Planning the first days of our backpacking trip with gradually increasing workloads over time can be essential for laying the foundation for successful long distance travel. Independent of how well trained we are, there will be an adjustment phase transitioning between city sidewalk and High Sierra trails.

I call this the "transition" period. I have also referred to this process as "the scraper." Long term high mileage emersion in Nature, especially the harsh beauties of the Sierra Nevada, scrapes away social distortions.

After the trail and us get together to redefine our perceptions, retune our metabolism, and re-set our concepts of time and space, we are properly tuned to accurately perceive and move effectively through the natural environment. Put on your seatbelt! My point of transition is generally three to five days down the trail, from wherever I start.

The transition from social noise to natural noise creates what I call "roar of silence, " when the gaping void of urban background noise makes the lack of noise roar.
The simultanous adjustments of our metabolism to thin air and the muscles to high angle trails is worked out in our heart, lungs, and circultory system.
The specter of working all day long under a heavy pack can test all aspects of our existance. That's why I urge preparation through training and developing skills and breaking in gear on short prep trips. Make the transition as seamless and painless as possible.
Once these pains of transition are accommodated their previous constraints become the foundation for greater physical and spiritual engagements.

Ticket Please

The beauty of nature has a brutal backside in its high admission price. Every step can be hard work. The pack can pain the shoulders, the rocks can batter the feet. Every obstacle can weaken you. Each obstacle must be overcome while laying your own foundation for long term safety in strength, endurance, perception, engagement and growth.
This is our ticket to a lifetime of deep engagement with both the world around us and the things within us.

The end of this process is the beginning. Now that you are achieving access to nature and your inner potential it again comes down to the same question:

What to do with it.

How you answer this final ongoing question defines your character. It is like dotting the "i" or crossing the "T." First you gotta get there, then you gotta do it.

I say "enjoy the hike, the natural environment, your fellow hikers, and yourself."

Details of Trail and Terrain
North and South Shores
Fontanillis Lake

Big, Old, Granitic exfoliation Sunset over Fontanillis Lake and Dicks Pass
Delightful Trail Feature: Full Exfoliation.

North Shore of Fontanillis Lake looking South.

Shadow over trail along Eastern shore of Fontanillis Lake. Shadow descending over the Southeastern side of the Crystal Range beyond.

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Exceptional Views
Lake Tahoe
reward us for our brief hike
up from
Fontanillis Lake's Northern Apron

Crack'in fine view of Tahoe and preceeding Lakes

Climbing South from Fontanillis Lake's Northern shore brings us to a unique view East-Northeast between the two rock prominences on the Northeast side of Fontanillis Lake.

From here we a glimpse of Lake Tahoe's Eastern shoreline over in Nevada across the lake, backed-up up by the Carson Range. Lower Velma Lake sits in the foreground above.

Carson City lays in the Carson Valley on the other side of the Carson Range.

Lake Tahoe from Fontanillis rise

The same view of the Carson Range on the East side of Lake Tahoe as above, but at the max power of my mini-camera. The Eagle Falls Trailhead is at the bottom of the gorge outlined in the foreground.

Phipps Pass to Heather Lake
15 minute topographic backpacking MAP

That's a shoulder of Peak 8197 in the Right foreground. Maggies Peak sits off to the Right behind 8179, and Emerald Bay sits below and behind Maggies Peak.

Camp on the South Shore
Fontanillis Lake

Around Fontanillis Lake

A brief hike South from the North Shore of Fontanillis Lake brings us up and over the mountain shoulder that separates the bodies of the Northern and Southern wings of Fontanillis Lake.

Climbing up this rock feature on the Northeast shore of Fontanillis Lake our trail bends away from the lake to climb up to a course paralleling the Eastern shore of Fontanillis Lake, but from above.

The trail begins to bend down to pass near the South end of Fontanillis Lake before beginning the climb up to the third Bayview Trail junction.

The Southernmost of the three Bayview Trail junctions is located to the East, above the gap between North shore of Fontanillis Lake and the South shore of Dicks Lake.

Our hike up to the third Bayview Trail junction brings us up to access to our Southbound trail's route traversing up the steep bowl high above the East shore of Dicks Lake to Dicks Pass.

Phipps Pass to Heather Lake
15 minute topographic backpacking MAP

Instead, I cut off the trail at the South end of Fontanillis lake, headed down to the lake, and found a nice little campsite on its Southeastern Shore.

Time to kick back.

Fontanillis camp, Northside View from north Fontanillis Lake campsite
Campsite on Southeast side of Fontanillis Lake. View from camp site: Forest and Rock tilted down towards Fontanillis Lake.


Camping Notes
Departing Fontanillis Lake

Sunrise, Late September 6:42 am or so

Temp before Sunrise: 43°

Clouds in morning, cleared nicely. The lack of mosquitoes and weather allowed me to use my tent as a pillow.

"or so" note: I record the Sunrise/Sunset times, the time of the transit of the Sun, and the Moon Phases for the day each trip begins as the header of my journal.

Astronomical Information

Last page North: Fontanillis Lake I                             top of page                                      South: 3rd Bayview Junction

Night two
Campsite at Fontanillis Lake

The Hiking Plan in motion

Mileage, Food, and Physicality

Twilight was settling in over the basin holding Fontanillis Lake as I was climbing over the hump dividing the Northeastern from the Southeastern sides of the Lake. I was pretty thrashed after covering only 10.4 miles. But the 75 lb+ backpack was really a chore.

The second day out is when your trip planning, your daily hiking plan, and your food and rest calculations all come home to roost.

comments-questions-your hiking plan experiences.

Remember, on my last trip through here I was carrying enough food for the whole 176.04 mile trip between Meeks Bay and Tuolumne Meadows on the Pacific Crest Trail route. Keeping track of food consumption verses planning assumptions is going to be an important factor affecting how many miles a day we are going to have to hike.

Don't worry if you are tentative about the unmaintained sections along the Classic Tahoe to Yosemite route to Tuolumne Meadows: This Trail Guide covers the Pacific Crest Trail routes to Tuolumne Meadows too, and we also have some great options for tying together what we consider the most beautiful sections of each.

Our planning on the Classic Tahoe to Yosemite Trail assumes 185.07 miles rather than the 172 mile distance along the Pacific Crest Trail. I swung up onto the PCT via Highland Creek in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness, then back down to the TYT through Saint Marys Pass.
Our basic task is calculate how many days it will take to cover these miles. This establishes our food supply. Adjust the miles per day and subsequent daily food to suit your capabilities and resupply point preferences.

The food I was carrying constituted a fat 10 day supply of food that would stretch out into a solid 11 days of food if required, but it would be a thin 12 day food supply.

10 days equals 18.5 miles per day

11 days equals 16.82 miles per day

12 days equal 15.42 miles per day

This may appear to be a little extreme, if you didn't know that I had just finished walking a long 470 mile route between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney. Considering my level of conditioning, this mileage plan was a bit pressing, but well within my capabilities.

I was already planning on saving food by filling my belly at the Lake Alpine Lodge when I crossed Highway 4, and at the Kennedy Meadows Pack Station, when I crossed Highway 108. That would save a substantial amount of food, which could allow me to carry an extra day's food into the long 73 mile segment of trail between Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows.

Including the first day's mileage, which was only 4.39 miles, I had covered 14.79 miles in two days. But the first day was a wash, as I arrived at the trailhead at 4:20pm.

Even better, I had eaten no trail food or dinner on the first day, so my 14.39 combined miles over the first two days were done on one day's food. The first "day" was "free," so to speak. So the ratio between my miles per day and my food supply was looking pretty good, so far.

On the other hand, one of my bad knees was bugging the hell out of me, but it was mostly pain without performance deficit. The shoulders were hanging in there, but my strap repairs from earlier in the season were not really up to the backpack's weight. The straps were digging in deep, but they were not yet pulling my shoulder structure apart.

The "saddle sores" I had picked up on my earlier Tahoe to Whitney trip were looking ugly, but I was confident that I would eat enough food to avoid having the weight pull the skin off my shoulders while pulling my shoulders out of their sockets. I'm an optimist.

I eat roughly 2 to 3 pounds of food everyday. Less at the start and more at the end, if possible.

Understand that there are two resupply points, Lake Alpine Lodge and Bear Valley on Highway 4, and Kennedy Meadows Pack Station on Highway 108 between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite where you can resupply. You DO NOT have to carry your whole food load. I am kind of stubborn.

I get these ideas in my head sometimes, like, "I can carry all my food between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite," or, "I can cross that mountain," and I go out and give it my best considered shot.

As it turns out, I can carry all of the food I need to backpack between Lake Tahoe and Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite. Especially as I stopped twice and fed my face like it was going out of style at Lake Alpine and Kennedy Meadows Pack Station. Let's jump to the end of this particular trip:

The final Score

Meeks Bay to Tuolumne Meadows on Pacific Crest Trail Route

185.07 miles, Sept 15 to Oct 2, 2009

17 nights total

13 nights on the trail, 4 nights off on the trail.

Days off

2 nights camping near Highway 4, feasting at Bear Valley.

2 nights camping at Kennedy Meadows, feasting and drinking with the geology team and Cowboys.


14.24 miles per day on the trail over 13 nights.

This average is skewed downward by the first and last nights. The first day I arrived at the trailhead very late in the afternoon and did 4.5 miles, and the last day I departed the trail at Tuolumne Meadows very early in the morning, making the effective time on the trail 11.5 full days.

That makes it 16.09 miles per day.

Consider that on Day 1 of my backpacking trip I hitch-hiked from Berkeley to Meeks Bay. Day 17 included hitch-hiking back to Berkeley from Tuolumne Meadows. I slept in my bed at home at the end of Day 17.

Subtracting the dead time, my two days off, puts my actual average daily mileage at 16.09 miles over 11 and 1/2 days of backpacking. These mileages fell roughly within the parameters of my original planning, for a 12 day trip with two days off.

I feel that days off are vital.

I brought nor sent myself NO additional food onto the trail, but I did not eat almos anything for one day on the trail after each of my "feed my face" stops. My first stop to eat like a pig was at Bear Valley and Lake Alpine Lodge for a full day of eating and restin, and then stopping to gorge at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station for a full day.
Up at Echo Summit Randy gave me some quaker oats bars when I hung with him there waiting for he and his stranded car to get rescued. I think it was 2000 calores he gave me.
Trail Angels are not uncommon. Randy at Echo Summit is complimented by the folks I met at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station.

We can be neither dependent nor surprised at the appearance of Trail Angels!
Just Delighted!

Also a caloric consideration was making this trail guide. I did a minimum of 50 deep-knee bends a day chasing pictures of bugs, moths, snakes, ants, and squirrels. Almost every picture of lake and mountain required that I scramble up-mountain, and get up on that big boulder, to get the best picture possible.
Each image requires I freeze and defer breathing for a second. It takes me a couple of seconds to "calm" myself into a stable platform for picture taking. Sometimes that is almost impossible. I am incapable of providing a stable platform. That's why I carry a tripod.

It appears that seriously pursuing an accurate pictoral, video, and written record of the trail and its travelers was adding the equivalent of six miles a day in "TIP" time. TIP time is "Time in Pack."

How much TIP time you spend to cross a distance is a measure of your true trail efficiency. There is a big difference between completing 15 miles by 3 O'Clock in the afternoon and finishing this distance at 7:30 in the evening. That's TIP Time.

Observing takes many extra calories. Observing and recording takes more.

I was already running full TIP days, being in my pack harness from before sunrise to twilight, though a big chunk of this time under pack was spent recording, rather than hiking, the trails. Under a heavy pack.


These time, distance, weight, and observation factors are all always part of my ongoing food, mileage, physical, and personal considerations. How you feel and see your experiences on the High Sierra trails will be different from everyone else's in that your perspective and the content of your character differs, but the mileage and difficulty metrics we all have to track externally and the fitness, endurance and food factors we consider internally are the same.
But if you do not seriously consider your relevant issues as they evolve, change, and affect your body, your mileage, and your food situation as you hike down the trail you can really set yourself up to suffer more than required by the constraints of the trip itself.

Knowing the situation we are in will arms us to make the proper decisions, deciding on slack time or to push on, even when the options are grim. Notice I spoke above about a food supply being thick for "X" days and thinner for each "X+" day, and so on.

What you have to do and what you have to do it with are the basic elements of the evolving equation of trip planning that we've got to re-calculate and re-form down the length of the trail.

Sometime you're the Lightening, sometimes you're the Rod.

I know that if you spend enough time on the trail everything will happen to you out there.

I have been noted for my careful considerations concerning difficulty, distance, calories, and physical capacities. When I was backpacking between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney during 1998 my given trail name that year was "The Calorie King."

They, backpackers up and down the trail, just started calling me that. Through-Hikers laughed after meeting me. They would say, after a little conversation, "Why, you're the Calorie King. they told me to look for you."

The Trail Speaks To and Through YOU.

The Calorie King is Hungry!

Hungry for your information, experiences, and perspective. We're each one piece of a grand puzzle, each a slice of a great picture that we can only see by combining each other's perspective. I want to see it all.

Thus this guide and the forums.

Each of our individual roles' are designed to reflect upon what we see and hear as a part of a greater whole.

Between all/each of us we reflect and can see the full picture and hear the full range of sounds that can be heard. Individually we are cool, but the sum of our collective experience and perspectives is quite powerful.

Destructive, if mis-aligned.

Delightful, if cordinated, balanced, and aligned.

Comments-Questions-And your Experiences setting up a hiking plan through here

Topo Hiking Map North: Meeks Bay to Dicks Pass                   Hiking Topo Map: Phipps Pass to Susie Lake

Miles and Elevations

Tahoe to Yosemite Trail

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Bayview Junction

Backpacking North

Trail Guide

Fontanillis Lake I

Compass up and down the trail.

Backpacking South

Trail Guide

3rd Bayview Junction

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Trail Section
Meeks Bay to Echo Summit
Trail Segment
Fontanillis Lake

North: Fontanillis Lake I                                                                           South: 3rd Bayview Junction


Alex Wierbinski

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