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Backpacking Carson Pass to Forestdale Divide | High Sierra Backpacker

Backpacking the PCT between Carson Pass across Forestdale Creek to Forestdale Divide

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 24 September 2010

Backpacking South of Carson Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail


Carson Pass South past Elephant Back

Trail Guide Page: Carson Pass to Forestdale Divide

Rounding the Northern Side of Elephant Back reveals long views East. Below sits the valley draining Forestdale Creek. On the far flank of the valley one can see a dirt road, the Forestdale Creek Road, winding along its fragile track up through the terrain towards where it crosses Forestdale Divide, on its way over the divide to Upper Blue Lake. Little shapes of slow-moving cars can be made out slowly tracing their way up the road.

Below: Trail South off Elephant Back towards Forestdale Creek. Note pale track of Forestdale Road on the far side of the valley.

Trail South off Elephant Back towards Forestdale Creek. Note Forestdale Road on the far side of the valley.

Dropping down into the valley we are hiking to the Southeast, the compass point where our Southbound PCT route  is now pointed, and we can see the low saddle in the Sierra Crestline called Forestdale Divide.
Our trail and the road on the other side of the valley  are both pointing towards Forestdale Divide. The road passes through left shoulder  of Forestdale Divide, while our trail makes a couple of long switchbacks up to the divide from the ponds at the head of the valley. 

We have made a considerable traversing descent from the expansive rounded flat coming around under the North flank of Elephant Back down to the ponds. As the trail descends from Elephant Back it stays high on the NW flank above the valley as it traverses and switchbacks its way South along the West flank of the valley towards the ponds laying at the top of Forestdale Creek's headwaters. Aproaching the ponds we finally come off the flank of the valley. Sierra trails always try to stay above terrain that will be saturated during the Spring Thaw, as possible.

Below: middle pond looking West

Looking West across one of the Forestdale Creek Ponds

Forestdale Ponds to Forestdale Divide

We follow a few gentle switchbacks up from the ponds at the head of Forestdale Creek's drainage up to the Forestdale Divide, which is a low saddle sitting between mountain masses. Looking North along the crestline to the Northwest traces out the Southern profile of Round Top and The Sisters.

Looking South out of the Forestdale Divide down the PCT route we can see the crestine bending Southeast as The Nipple before the crestline sputters out past Blue Lakes Road into a long undulating high altitude flatland until we reach the climb up onto the North flank of Raymond Peak.

Our PCT route South climbs up to Forestdale Divide, the low spot between mountain shoulders, but does not pass through it, but hikes across Forestdale Divide and its road, the trail turning South with the changing angle of the Sierra Crestline out of the saddle of Forestdale Divide, to hike down off the divide to approach the next massif to our South, The Nipple.

Keep your eyes open. The trail South has been significantly re-routed, and may show some confusing faded route and road options that have been formally closed, if informally used.

The Big View from the Forestdale Divide

As we are crossing Forestdale Divide we stop and examine the surrounding terrain, especially our view of the Southern Horizon, which has been obscured on our way up here. We have had great views East hiking up here, and now great views to the South open up.
      Carefully scanning the Southern terrain, looking from the Southeast where the Blue Lakes lie hidden behind forest and terrain over to the Southwest where massive granite terrain rises like a great temple of rock out of the forest primeval we can observe a subtle seam running through the forest between these two points, between Upper Blue Lake and Devils Corral.
The presence of  Summit City Creek is marking a line in the forest where  it begins its Westward  trip towards the Pacific.

Looking Southeast from the Forestdale Divide

Above: Looking Southeast from the Forestdale Divide. The Blue Lakes lie below the forested ridge line in the center right of the image. Note the curving shape of the treeline on the mountain in the Left background. See this view up the canyon from below Fourth of July Lake.

The Blue Lakes sit below a rise separating their drainage from Summit City Creek's drainage. They are back-to-back drainages draining in distinctly different directions, but ending up in very much the same place. The Blue Lakes drain to the SW, while Summit City Creek drains West before turning SW. Both end their courses in the North Fork of the Mokelumne River.

 The seam through the forest is possibly also a subtle indication of the trail route that joins Upper Blue Lake to Summit City Creek's headwaters.
  The headwaters of Summit City Creek actually sits just below our position on the Southern flank of Forestdale Divide, though the flow coming out of the Devils Corral is certainly a big part of Summit City Creek's headwaters flow.

In Forestdale Divide we are standing above the headwaters of Summit City Creek that shortly runs down to meet the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route.  

From its headwaters just below Forestdale Divide Summit City Creek flows down from its ravine to join the drainage from Devils Corral. Both join and pass under the shadow of the massive rock formation topped by Deadwood Peak, who's NE flank makes up the sheer flank that gives Devils Corral its name.

This point marks Summit City Creek's entry into the forest preceeding the impressive granite valley above where the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, coming out of the Carson Pass Management Area via Fourth of July Lake, enters Summit City Canyon to follow it down to the North Mokelumne River. But we have different plans. We are going in a different direction on a different trail. But observing this terrain gives us some context on the terrain for future trips on the Tahoe to Yosemite route down Summit City Canyon.

Check out this large topo map I made of the Mokelumne Wilderness which shows both the Pacific Crest and Tahoe to Yosemite Routes from the Carson Gap to Highway 4 along their respective routes. This map highlights the differences between these two classic High Sierra routes.
Click the black-dotted trail routes for more detailed maps, and the red dots for that location's guide information.

We are hiking South from the Forestdale Divide to Ebbetts Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail. But from this position we are getting our last view, and a bird's eye view at that, of the great granite valley threaded with a tough unmaintained section of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail enters after crossing over the Round Top and Sisters massif. 

 More Information

PCT Trail Guide Page
Carson Pass to Forestdale Divide

Topo Hiking Map
Carson Pass to Lost Lakes

Mileage and Elevations
Carson Pass to Forestdale Divide


Have you been here before, either on the PCT, the Forestdale Creek Road, or Car Camping at the PGE camps at Blue Lakes?

Post up your impressions and advice for those who have not.

Have you backpacked past Devils Corral, or down Summit City Creek from Blue Lakes to make a killer circle route through the Carson Pass Management Area? Me, I did this loop once as part of a Lake Tahoe to Ebbetts Pass Trip. I dropped down to Summit City Creek from Fourth of July Lake then headed upstream to Ebbetts Pass...Just call me "long-way"...

What's your killer routes through here? Your experiences and information are valuable.

Do you have any experiences, questions, or Comments about this area? If you have experiences here,
I invite you to Register and post your experiences as stand-alone Forum Topics or Trip Notes in this Forum that covers the PCT between Carson Ebbetts Passes.

Otherwise you will be limited to commenting on the Forum Pages that describe the main route.

For general posts about backpacking, post on the front page.

Post comments & questions through the  link below

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