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Trip Report: Rich, Scott, & Melika report on Unmaintained Clarks Fork of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, 2016 | High Sierra Backpacker

Trip Report: Rich, Scott, & Melika report on Unmaintained Clarks Fork of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, 2016

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 15 May 2019

June 18, 2017


Status Update

MAY 2019
Carson Iceberg & Emigrant Forest Roads Closed in Aftermath of the Donnell Fire



Tahoe to Yosemite Trail


Unmaintained Trail Report


This Report:
Section Hiking the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail

This Section

Lake Alpine to St. Mary’s Pass

Trip Start Date 
August 7, 2016

The Team:
Rich, Melika and I were dropped off by my wife at Silver Creek Trailhead near Lake Alpine on August for a 7 day trip up to St. Mary’s Pass. We can't do these trips without family support crews. Thanks to all!

Meet The Team

Rich and Scott after route-finding their way South to Saint Marys Pass Rich and Scott found their route up the untrailed Tahoe to Yosemite Trail to Saint Marys Pass.
American Farmers

Escort Companion
Melika, High Sierra Trail & Route Dog
Melika, High Sierra Trail Dog
There is always something out there


Trip Information

Lake Alpine to Saint Marys Pass



Miles and Elevations


The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail



Tahoe to Yosemite, Lake Alpine to Saint Marys Pass


Of Note 
There are extended lengths, of , "Unmaintained trail," (definition) and Untrailed , "Route", (definition) along this trail section.

There are extensive segments of unmaintained trail near the beginning and ends of this section.

The Beginning
At the beginning of the trail we run into diffuse conditions beyond the North Stanislaus River South to Rock Lake, mostly.

The End
Towards the end of the trail we find Extensive unmaintained trail South of the Eureka Vally junction supplanted by untrailed "route" moving South from the "nose" of Clarks Meadow towards Saint Marys Pass.

Between the Highways 4 & 108
It is a physically and intellectually challenging backpacking trip from Lake Alpine to the Saint Marys Pass Trailhead on Highway 108, especially getting through the Upper Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus to Saint Marys Pass.

It's a gas, gas, gas!


Team Challenges

This would be our first “completely off trail” excursion for the last portion of the hike, where we actually had to reach a destination using our own observations, decisions, and route-finding skills, and not just hike around an area to explore. Al gave us a lot of detail about how and where to approach this trailless trek that would come in handy on the second to the last day.


Not Totally True:
Scott and Rich hike unmaintained TYT through Summit City Creek, SNOW-2014

These boys (and their dog) have route-found  before...


This TYT Section

The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Lake Alpine to Saint Marys Pass Section


Trail Guide Index


Miles & Elevations


Beginning of Hike

 Lake Alpine to Rock Lake

 Trail Guide 

Silver Creek Trailhead



Lake Alpine Lake region Trail Map

Highway 4 Corridor Road Map



End of the Hike

Clarks Fork to Saint Marys Pass

Trail Guide

Clarks Meadow to Saint Marys Pass



Headwaters of the Clarks Fork through Saint Marys Pass



Day 1

Silver Trailhead to Rock Lake 

Rough Going: Trail from Frog Lake to Rock Lake moved to "unmaintained" status

We began the trip noting that there was a full on search for a 70 year old woman who had wandered away from the campground never to return. It had been almost a week since she was seen. A lot of rescue searchers where present along the way.

The hike to Rock Lake is an easy 4.6 miles of decent trail with no elevation gain and at a low altitude. A good way to start for guys with heavy packs and not in the best of shape. 

There are sections along the way where a fire had devastated the forest and it was growing back with a vengeance! I had been through there years ago with little trouble but the saplings had now turned into 5 or 6 foot tall conifers. Staying on the trail was a challenge all through this area. (added as unmaintained segment) Some ducks but not many. Oh, and there were a lot of down trees from those that had fallen after the burn. 

Rock Lake camping is best on the southern side of the lake but we elected to pitch our tent on the north. Nice spot but there is a lot of traffic from a trailhead on Spicer Reservoir a few short miles away. 

That night we listened to helicopters all around and then had a military chopper fly right in over the lake in the search for the missing hiker.

 Helicopter searching for missing day hiker, Carson Iceberg Wilderness, August 2016.

Day 2

Rock Lake to Spicer Meadow Reservoir Campsite

The usual late start from camp was no different than many others. We headed for Spicer Reservoir. The good part of this hike is that while it is a minimally maintained trail overall it did not have the forest fire damage of the other area as it is primarily manzanita and low brush. The challenge is that it runs high above the water line with limited access to water itself. Water is good. Especially in August. There were no creeks feeding the lake until we got towards our final destination.

Dardanelles in distance beyond our upcoming long descent to Northeast end of Spicer Meadow Reservoir.
Above: Dardanelles in distance beyond our upcoming long descent to Northeast end of Spicer Meadow Reservoir.

The dog got hot, we were hot, and everyone was thirsty and tired by the time we found a place to bushwhack down for a drink. Everyone was happy. Especially Melika. 

We were happier still when we arrived at a unique campsite high above shrinking lake. The good news was that the wind blowing down the length of the reservoir kept the bugs away.


(Al Note: A hot hike during hot times! Though we find some large sites after we hike Northeast almost down to lake level on our way to the Northeastern end of Spicer Meadow Reservoir, the finest sites for backpackers are on the far NE end of the reseroir.)


Whole Route Map


Day 3

Spicer Meadow Reservoir to Jenkins Canyon

UP Highland Creek and over The Dardanelles (?)

Hiking South up Highland Creek running hard along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail we found access points and a few crossing points. It kept the dog satisfied.

We came upon a family sitting by a creek. Two teenage girls and their parents wearing bug nets (the girls) and in a place that was thick with those biting flies and mosquitos. I had noticed their hammocks along the trail before we saw them sitting by the stream. I think we caught them in a “moment” of breakdown as it was very thick with their own heavy feeling of quiet, and no one seemed to be smiling much. It appeared that somebody was not having any fun at all, while everyone else was trying not to "rock the boat." Oh, well. At least mom and dad were trying to get the kids engaged with Nature.


This was one of my favorite sections of the trail as it skirted The Dardinelles through a meadow of skunk cabbage offering up some great views. Our views of both the towering Dardanells and the surrounding Carson Iceberg Wilderness got better the higer we climbed. 

Meadow wedged in Jenkins Canyon climbing through the Dardanelles.

While I say it was a favorite I have to note that most of route was a pack trail. That is they tend to limit the switchbacks and simply go straight up or down as it were. Who cares about how much effort the horse has to make? This a little like work. I am not complaining. There is no whining on or off the trail. But it is a motherf###er for a backpacker. Again, no whining just an observation. 

We ended up at the trail junction leadiong over to Arnot Creek via Jenkins Canyon, where we found a great place with some good soaking pools to get rid of some of the grit and grime. Not a bad spot.


Day 4

Jenkins Canyon to Boulder Creek

The hike on Arnot Creek Trail out to Clark Fork was primarily along an old jeep trail where it hooked up with the maintained gravel road running down to the paved Clarks Fork Road. The paved Clarks Fork Road was my least favorite part of the hike. Had to leash the dog up and walk past all of the RVs and campers for a few miles up to the Clarks Fork Trailhead marking the top end of Clarks Fork paving. It would have been good to get a ride. The best way to describe it was long and hot.


Clarks Fork Trailhead pic: Trail Guide


Boulder Creek

After finally getting to the trailhead heading up the river we ended up at a good campsite with some pools that had some decent fishing. The folks before us had better luck than we did it seems as there were bones and heads in the fire ring that was left intact. We did OK, though. Or, at least Rich did. 



Day 5 

Boulder Creek to Clarks Meadow

 This was going to be an interesting day as the trail kind of peters out on the map and, in fact, it did the same in a real sense. We met up with a man and woman hiking with their 2 dogs as soon as we got on the trail in the morning (not early but it was morning!). They indicated that the dogs were not friendly to other dogs so we had to put some space between us and them.

As we followed the Clark Fork up the mountain we found that the trail was OK and then somewhat nonexistent in places. At one point we encountered the day hikers stopped along the route with the dogs and there was an interesting interchange between us as the man indicated that “this is not the trail”. It seemed like the trail to us. Sketchy in places but it wouldn’t just stop with no campsite or river access or something. 


(Al Note: I consider the trail to Eureka Valley (Guide) where formal trail upkeep ends. Above that it gets sketchy, then dissappears South of Clarks Meadow.)


Trail Guide
Eureka Valley trail junction


 Beware the Local "Expert"

The day hiker continued, “We missed the cutoff. It goes on the other side of the river. Believe me I know. I am coming back here to bow hunt when deer season starts next week. I have been all over this country and I know it. I hunt here often,” he was emphatic. 

He then took out his Garmin GPS device and said, “See? The trail goes off that way,” pointing to the river. And then, “I am 100% sure.” They went on their way expecting us to follow. We didn’t. 

We weren’t convinced. Yes. It did get lost going through a meadow. We followed something that looked like a trail but then Rich said it could have been them who headed that way. Scouting around we came back to what we were fairly sure was the route. You just have to head up river.

This is mostly pack trails at this point. The horses go up, around, down and sometimes cheat the path. It split up a few times and, again, it would go straight up and straight down if that was the shortest route. 



We started looking for ducks and found some along the way along with a few blazes on the trees. 

Then we arrived at what can be considered one of the best campsites along the TYT. 



A beautiful wildflower meadow with the river flowing through it cascades down through a sheer narrow rock formation. This slot or crevasse is tight and beautiful. The best site is where the water begins to fall quickly from the meadow. Scouting around we found where the horse camp was amidst the trees but this was the premier spot to pitch a tent. 

Rich stream fished and caught a few good sized trout and we did our best to cook them on the open fire that we built. We will bring a pan next time. Trying to save weight means you have to do without some things.


Trail Guide 
North end, the "nose" of Clarks Meadow


Day 6

 Clarks Meadow through Saint Marys Pass

to Fine Campsites along Highway 108


On to St. Mary’s Pass. The trail ended at the horse camp and we did just what Al told us to do. Stay near the tree line of the meadow and follow it up to what he described as “the slot”. There was no indication as to where we should cross the river and start our cross country trek “south” and “up”. He was adamant that we should head in a southerly direction up the mountain. 


This is “duck hunting” at its best. It is kind of fun looking for something that appears to be a single rock placed on a boulder or large rock somewhere. These are not cairns in the traditional sense. They are single aids from someone trying to help a fellow hiker. Rich was told when we got our Wilderness Permit to remove any and all of these along the way. They are no allowed in these areas. The ranger was clear about this. We didn’t get rid of them. 


In the forested areas with no sense of where you are really headed there is a lot of second guessing as to whether you are going in the right direction. It is kind of fun but a lot of work. 


Finally, we left the forest and started up what we thought was the headwaters of something that feeds Clark Fork River. If we were following the river itself we would be going the wrong way, according to Al. As the land opened up we could see what looked to be a pass through which we would find St. Mary’s. Up, up, up we went. Occasionally we would find animal trails to follow but for the most part it was pick your own way. 


We made it to the top with a great view of everywhere we had been on the trail for at least a few years. Remember, we were dividing the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail up into sections, completing one each Summer. First, Meeks to Carson. Followed by the challenging Carson to Alpine. Which was followed by the even more challenging Alpine to St. Mary’s. The final and longest piece of this fine puzzle being possibly the hardest section of all, the 71.4 miles of physically demanding trails from Kennedy to Tuolumne Meadows to come next year. 


Miles by Section


Hiking off Saint Marys Pass, we strayed off the main trail and found a good campsite along the highway, if there is such a thing. Just a note: If you go up the mountain not far from our site and the highway you will see a marker up there. I’ll find the photo of it. 


Happy Trails!! 


Tahoe to Yosemite Trail

Unmaintained Trip Reports 


All Summit City Canyon to Camp Irene Reports


Status reports from the rough regions of the Upper Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus 


 Originally Published
2017-06-18 14:45:21

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