Backpacking Summit City Creek

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 30 October 2010

 Summit City Creek: Questions, Comments, & Basic Information

This is the Backpacker's Comments and Questions Page for the Summit City Creek page of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail Guide. Post your comments and questions through the link above or at the bottom of the page, if you have any. Or just say hey.

 North and South

The Next Forum Page South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is the Telephone Gulch Page

The Next Forum Page North on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is Fourth of July Lake



To Collect Your Information and Experiences

This page has basic information about Summit City Creek to compliment the trail guide, but is primarily set up so you, the rookie, veteran, or wannabe long distance backpacker can post your experiences, comments, and questions.

If you have hiked this area and have collected pictures, videos, facts, warnings, and hiking stories about backpacking & day hiking Summit City Creek through the trail junction below Fourth of July Lake I want you to Register and post up your information as a stand-alone page in this Forum.

Heck, at least post up a note about your experiences through the comments link if you swung East through Forestdale Divide or Upper Blue Lake from this Summit City Creek Junction.

Click up to the next level to see the Carson Pass to Lake Alpine Forum index. This has all the forum pages for this section of the trail.

I doubt I'll get a whole lot of response, as I've only seen a handful of people South of the Summit City Creek trail junction over the last 20 years. Check out Jim's comment at the bottom of the page about a nice circle route you can craft around the Carson Pass Management Area using a section of Summit City Creek to tie together elements of the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Trails South of Carson Pass.

Click the Comment links at the top or bottom of this page to post text comments here about this Section of the Trail, or register through the dialogue box in the upper left corner of this page to decorate your stand-alone post here with pictures and videos. 084

Summit City Creek: Views on the way down from 4th of July LakeLooking down Summit City Canyon approaching trail junction.

Looking South down Summit City Creek from above trail junction to Fourth of July Lake.


Enterning the Canyon

 Heading down the unbelievably long traverse down to the trail junction with Summit City Creek from Fourth of July Lake brings long views up and down the Summit City Creek's canyon. Note that this trail down the canyon walls has no switchbacks. It is one big traverse.  Check out the Summit City Creek trail guide page for more pictures of both this granite canyon and its captive forest.

In the picture above, we have dropped down a considerable height from Fourth of July Lake's 8164' of elevation, but we are still above the trail junction and the treeline. It looks like our elevation is the upcoming trail junction's 7440 feet, plus just enough to put us above the height of the tallest trees. I think this postion gives the best view of the valley we are about to hike South through.

Enjoy the view now, because you will not see long views of the canyon once you get down into the dense forests that fill it.  We will not be able to see the forest for the trees for a few miles. This will be your last long view for awhile, except for brief moments when we cross vista points with amazing, but brief, views. I call these long-view locations "break time." In the meantime our attention is going to be riveted to the forest floor and surrounding terrain as we search for the best route through this umaintained section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail.

Unmaintained Trail South of the Junction

The nature of our route is going to dramatically change South of the upcoming Summit City Creek trail junction, and not just the change from mountain to valley terrain. The trail itself changes, gradually disappearing into the forest floor South of the junction. 

Unlike normal backpacking, where we can rely on having an established trailbed and regular blazes and ducks guiding us along the route, which allows us to concentrate on rapidly negociating the trail while observing the things around us, the fading of the trail changes the hiking equation significantly.

Now we must both find our way across the immediate terrain, the obstacles at our feet, while keeping our line on the optimum route we have observed  through the near and long distance terrain. We must constantly scan the near and long terrain to keep us on route, which picking our way through the forest floor debris.

This hiking environment demands a great deal of our attention and our powers of observation. We are now going to be focused like a lazar on locating the best route through the terrain while struggling for good footing as we constantly scan near and far for fragmentary signs of the old trail itself. We will do all of this while negotiating our way over and around a wide range of exhausting obstacles that block the route.

 As we are working our way through a particular piece of terrain we must also keenly observe the general nature of the upcoming terrain to locate where we figure the best route through is likely to be.

If we do this effectively, we will (most likely) pick up ocassional indications of the old trail's route consisting of ancient overgrown blazes, bits of faded trail bed that are still visible, and other relics of old trail.

These conditions persist, more or less, from the Summit City Trail junction to Camp Irene as of Late 2009. The trail was previously maintained down to Telephone Gulch from the Summit City junction, but this has not been the case for quite some time.

If you have not been through here for the last decade the great change is that the trail is no longer unmaintained South of the Summit City trail junction below Fourth of July Lake. Parts of the trail from the Summit City junction to Telephone Gulch was observable as of 2009, with large sections of lost trail.

 Summit City Creek Trail Junction

The Summit City Creek Trail Junction sits at the bottom of our long traverse down of the Southern flank of the Round Top-Sisters massif from Fourth of July Lake. The Summit City Creek Trail Junction is a short way South on the trail (we are actually heading East by the compass) from the position pictured above.

The post marking the Summit City Creek trail junction has been shattered by a bear as of 2009. Bears sometimes like to use trail posts as an itching stick, if they have not already used it for claw sharpening. Both activities are real pleasing for the bear, but not for the trail post. Other times it seems as if some bear consider trail posts, and other man-mad constructions, as rude intrusions into their space, and express this basic resentment by completely destroying the offending intrusions, in return. 085

Broken Summit City Creek trail junction, since replaced with old unbroken post.
Summit City Creek trail Junction South on the Tahoe to Yosemite to Lake Alpine via Horse Canyon, North to Fourth of July Lake, and East to Upper Blue Lake. Broken by a bear.

The Summit City Creek trail post looks like it was used as a bear's itching stick. I've got pictures of posts used as claw sharpeners, as well as trail posts that bears appear to have just plain torn apart, down to nothing more than big splinters and slivers of wood surrounding the post's ground-level nub. As I proceed with building the guide, I will figure out a way to link these pictures together with bear pictures and reports.

Bear Damage to Horse Canyon Trail Junction

Reported by Scott early June 2014

2014 bear damage to Horse Canyon trail junction.
Scott tell us that,

"Oh, yeah, if you go through the photos you will see one along Summit Creek at the Horse Canyon trail junction with some obvious bear damage.
It had just happened as the wood split was not weathered. Teeth and claw marks were evident all up and down the sign and a piece was split off. Some bear was making some sort of statement.
He/she was on the trail ahead of us for a few hours and while we never saw or heard it there were clear markings (fresh scat, footprints, crushed vegetation) all along the trail. Kind of eerie but we were glad we were not in Grizzly country. "

Many thanks to Scott and Rich for this excellent report of early June bear activity along the unmaintained section of Summit City Canyon.

Down Summit City Canyon
The trail is unmaintained from this Summit City Creek trail junction for   9.52 miles South to Camp Irene. The first section, from this junction to Telephone Gulch, is not in too bad of shape as of late 2009. It's lack of maintenance has developed a semi-wild appearance during the past few years. South of Telephone Gulch the route becomes very difficult to follow in locations, and only expert backpackers, with solid off-trail navigation skills, in good physical condition should attempt this section.

The Tool

In every case your best and hopefully your mose dependable piece of equipment for success through this section is you.

First, your brain. You must have the experience to judge the conditions and the environment to operate and navigate correctly. This brings the next most important piece of your equipment: your body.

If your body is in reasonable condition it will provide your brain with the proper support necessary to provide the conditions condusive to making good decisions.

If you have little experience and poor fitness, you will find this section both perplexing and exhausting, which will reinforce both the physical and the mental stresses.

Being exhausted, thirsty, and hungry in perplexing circumstances is not a situation condusive to making good decisions.


Summit City Creek trail junction: Informative Links

Read a discussion about this
unmaintained section of trail along Summit City Creek

Summit City Creek
Trail Guide Page.

Region Map: Carson Gap to Lake Alpine
(click the red dots for related trail guide pages).

Miles and Elevations: Carson Gap to Lake Alpine.


The Summit City Creek trail junction
with the trail to 
Fourth of July Lake

Elevation: 7440


down Summit City Creek on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail

Upper Ford
4.94 miles

5.94 miles

Lower Ford
7.45 miles

Camp Irene
9.52 miles


North on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail 

Fourth of July Lake
1.23 miles

Round Top Lake
3.53 miles

Carson Gap
7.43 miles via the Lost Cabin Mine trail.


If you hike upstream at the Summit City Creek trail junction you can loop back to the Carson Pass through Forestdale Divide. Or  you can continue East to Upper Blue Lake, where you can see (on the maps linked to above and below) that you can the pick up the Pacific Crest Trail South to Ebbetts pass from the Summit City Creek junction with the trail to Fourth of July Lake. 

   North and South

The Next Forum Page South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is the Telephone Gulch Page

The Next Forum Page North on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail is Fourth of July Lake


Blaze: On the West Coast this is a rectangle cut above a square on a tree along the trail route. Duck: Pile of different colored rocks that marks the trail route 


Post questions, comments, or your experiences through this section of trail through the comments link below. Register to post pictures and videos.

Alex Wierbinski's picture

These up to date conditions reports were sent to me by Eric, who was kind enough to share them with us.

This was my third summer hiking the original Tahoe-to-Yosemite trail, all parts as originally proposed in Tomas Winnett's guide book.

Summer 2011 - had to turn around at the upper Summit City Creek crossing. It was a death wish, too much water going over the boulders. A heavy snow year. Resupplied at Echo Lake.

Summer 2012 - Completed thru-hike, Meeks Bay to Tuolumne Meadows, 11 days, resupplied at Echo Lake and Kennedy Meadows. All water crossing were dry.

Summer 2013 - Completed thru-hike, Meeks Bay to Tuolumne Meadows, 9 days, resupplied at Echo Lake and Kennedy Meadows. All water crossing were dry except one which could of been dry with hiking poles.

My interest is a GPS map of the trail. I have a GPS record of the trail, with a track point every 10 meters (32.8 feet) I also recorded a GPS waypoint at most trail intersections, highpoints, creek crossing, etc.

Clark Fork Meadow - St. Mary's Pass

2011 - did not do

2012 - followed a different route, found about 5 rock ducks, ended too far to the left and had a very difficult traverse to the right just below the broken granite (?) outcropping, then up and to the left to the pass.

2013 - followed a very well ducked route about half way up, then lost the route. Ended too far to the left again. And again, a very difficult traverse to the right, then up and to the left to the pass.

In 2012 and 2013, found a very small "arch" in the decomposing granite at the end of the traverse to the right.

No ducks in Clark Fork Meadow, but non really needed if (a big if) you can find the starting point for the ducked path up the side creek. I walk the meadow on the right side (going up the meadow), at the boundary between the meadow and the rocky sides, and found the start of the ducked path up to the pass.

Summit City Creek, upper half (a well constructed if you can find it, but very much unmaintained trail) No change in maintenance status from 2011 to 2013. Still unmaintained, with downed trees, etc.

In general, this is a very difficult trail for both navigation and physical effort. Can be mentally very challenging as you attempt to find your way. Even with my 2012 GPS data, parts of the trail are still hard to find.


Also See:Saint Marys Pass

Alex Wierbinski

I found this site searching SS canyon. We used to stay at the camp site you mention for years.

Went there last weekend and saw not only the log in your photo, but yet another log that has fallen across that one- right over the fire pit!

Our group thinks the forest simply had enough of people camping there and reclaimed it. There is a really nice site (although small) just down stream above a water fall. We stayed there.

Great site with great info. Thanks!


Alex Wierbinski's picture
Hey Jeff, This is a great update. Thanks dude.

I'm getting ready for a big trip and cannot justify hiking Summit City again until next year... all hiking is now dedicated to guide needs... and the guide needs the Southern Sierra... Next week or two I head South from Kennedy Meadows to the Portal.

I like your view of nature: It does things that we must consider and plan around, attempts to defy it through main force will fail over time.

Nature is much more patient and persistent than we are.

Did you hike the whole section South to Lake Alpine? How'd the "trail" look? Did you check out the N Molk in the quiet bowl about a mile N of Camp Irene?

Man, I miss that trail... thanks for the reminder of how nice it is in there.

Summit City Creek is the last section of the trails that I don't have film of yet. I figure I'll use this Summer's trail time for my 5th hike of the Muir Trail before I start writing the guide for that section. Notes, films, and images are a good start, but a fresh hike brings it all together.

Thanks again dude, Keep us posted!


Alex Wierbinski

A very pleasant walk.

I day hiked to the summit of Round Top from Blue Lakes, and the trail was in good condition the entire route.

If solitude is what you like, then this is the way to Round Top or 4th of July Lake. Ascending out of Summit City Cyn to 4th of July is full sun and brush, but the trail was in excellent shape.

This winter's snow will undoubtedly affect the track. If you have a 4x4, there is excellent primitive camping near Lost Lakes, just above Upper Blue Lake. From here you can head west and intersect the trail without having to go down to the trailhead at Upper Blue.

Jim Kalember


Alex Wierbinski's picture

Thanks for the information. I linked to your note from the Summit City Creek Trail Junction page of the Trail Guide:

Your note is linked to under the "East, or Left, at the Junction: Local Loop, or the long way to Ebbetts Pass..." topic heading.

Thanks for the input, I look forward to hearing from you,


Alex Wierbinski

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