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TYT and PCT across Highway 50 and Echo Summit | High Sierra Backpacker

Highway 50 and the Pacific Crest Trail

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 14 January 2010

 Tahoe to Yosemite Trail---Pacific Crest Trail---Tahoe Rim Trail

From Velma Lakes to Meiss Cabin we are hiking three trails

Getting to Echo Summit 

Starting our backpacking trip from the Classic Tahoe to Yosemite Trailhead at Meek Bay we hike 11.5 miles South to join the other two main routes along the Western Tahoe Basin, the Pacific Crest and Tahoe Rim Trails, just a tad North of Middle Velma Lake.

Hiking South on these three unified routes the Tahoe Rim Trail first peels off to the Northeast near Meiss Cabin, while the Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails split paths a couple of miles South of Meiss Cabin where we hike out of  the Lake Tahoe Basin through the Carson Gap.

Which way you go is up to you. I'm heading South on the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail!

No Worries. The guide follows both routes South to Tuolumne Meadows.

At the Carson Gap we will either hike the Pacific Crest Trail through Carson Pass South to Ebbetts Pass, or we will bend around the Southwest side of Round Top and the Sisters to find the Tahoe to Yosemite route through Summit City Creek's rough trails and terrain to Lake Alpine.

Here at our current position just a bit North of Echo Summit we are still hiking these three named trails along this one path. 

How do you feel about this?

In the meantime, I'm thinking about how to make the transition between the Southern Desolation Wilderness North of Highway 50 and the Meiss Country Roadless Area to the South of Echo Summit.
There's a big gap between these Wilderness Areas lacking good wilderness campsites.

Note: The "roadless area" designation mandates restrictions on use thay lay between regular multi-use designation of "National Forest Lands" and the much more primitive standards of the "wilderness area."

What's Going on Here?

This is the questions, comments, and additional experiences page for the Lower Echo Lake to Echo Summit pages of the Tahoe to Whitney backpacker trail guide.

This is where you can post up your reflections on the guide descriptions.

I'm soliciting you for your experiences here. You're special. You represent a whole population of backpackers who share your gender, your age, your fitness level and your love of backpacking.

Here's where you can tell them how this section of trail can affect them. Other folks who are different than you can learn from your approach.

Everyone's routes, observations, and experiences are helpful for informing others, especially your bad experiences. These help others avoid the same problems.

I'm very helpful! I've screwed up about every way possible, and have always managed to drag my ass back out of the mountains. Knock on Tree!

More Information
Links to the trail guide with maps, mileages, and more trail information are at the bottom of this page.

Register to add pictures and videos to your posts about your experiences at and between Echo Lake to Echo Summit, or post plain text comments.


The North side of Upper Echo Lake

Hitting the last Tamarack Lake trail junction on the North side of Upper Echo Lake told me that there were 3.69 miles between my tired feet and the Echo Lake Trailhead to our South. I'd already hiked 9.05 miles South from Fontanillis Lake.

 The only question I was entertaining was should I hike or should I stop? Should I turn off the trail and camp at Tamarack Lake or should I continue? Beyond my position the Wilderness ended, and the next fine camping spot was over 12.5 miles further South at Showers Lake, well beyond my reach. I was thinking miles must be hiked. When I'm in that state of mind the comfort of campsites becomes a secondary condideration to the miles I need to hike.

The sun was already low enough in the sky to assure me I would be taking my last steps to Echo Summit in the dark, if I made it at all. Independent of that fact I decided to push on until darkness closed out the hiking day. I would camp when I could not hike any further safely.

I thought about the requirements for a campsite, being water and a flat big enough for my sleeping bag, and how few such spots there would be between Lower Echo Lake and where darkness would catch me, as I pressed on. Darn.

Water would not be a problem, as I would follow the creek draining out of Lower Echo Lake that wraps around the Western nose of the Ralston Peak Ridge to join the South fork of the American River after crossing under Highway 50.

Lower Echo Lake Trailhead

I only took a brief break at the outbreak of civilization at the Lower Echo Lake Trailhead. I did not stay long. In late Fall Echo Lake is a ghost town.

The Echo Lake Chalet was closed. I chuckled. During Summer this place is a zoo of backpackers, boaters, and Summer home owners. During late Fall it is a zoo without the animals. I cannot over-state this at all... I once pulled into the upper parking lot during a mid-Summer weekend, and it was literally full of backpackers.

A friend of mine who lived in Meyers had given me a ride up to the Echo Lake Trailhead. I told him to wait, and got out of the car and approached two nice women backpackers. They were total rookies, totally pumped up, and they invited me along.

My observations showed that the crowds extended into the Desolation Wilderness, despite the Desolation Wilderness' permit and zone restrictions. I love women, and this would have been a lot of fun... but I had a car, so I thanked the ladies, gave them great advice, and had my buddie Robbie drive me over to the South Upper Truckee Trailhead, where I would begin a hike South towards Lake Alpine via Summit City.

I saw noone for four of the six days I hiked this section of the TYT.

Local Backpacker Resources
Excellent resources sit around the trailhead at Lower Echo Lake. Garbage cans and bathrooms are backpacker luxury resources. Echo Chalet holds backpacker resuppy buckets and serves fresh food and milkshakes. When they are open. This time I was passing through when everything was closed.

This is no problem for long distance backpackers who need resupply. It is very easy to hitch down to South Lake Tahoe from Echo Lake, and South Lake Tahoe has everything a long distance backpacker needs, plus a whole lot more!

South Lake Tahoe Backpacker Resupply

Visit Lake of the Sky Outfitters when you are hiking by Lake Tahoe!

Peter at Lake of the Sky is a top-notch supporter of long distance backpacking and backpackers.

I saddled up and spilt after taking all I needed, which was just a little break and time enough to take pictures for this guide.

HIghway 50

Pushing past Echo Lake I crossed the end of the ridgecrest separating Echo Lake from Echo Summit.
A root broke off the downed tree over the creek, wounding me bloodily, but not too severely.

I was climbing off the roots over onto the trunk of the downed tree to make the ford when the root I was using to steady myself broke, and I tried to impale myself on the broken root, but managed to offset myself from a direct impalement, but took  a deep, long, ragged cut.

Good think I carry an excellent first aid kit. I mostly use it on other backpackers...

 I stopped long enough to access the wound and scout the surrounding area for a campsite. The former was positive, the latter negative. I figured it was good to let it bleed a bit, to bleed itself clean. I pressed on.

I reached Highway  50 after dark, which forced me into a non-optimal campsite. No big deal. I was expecting it. Backpacking sometimes brings up unexpected situations, and my decision to stop and kick it with the backpacking dudes was my decision to push as far as I could until darkness ended my hiking day, meaning I would be camping was where I could, rather than where I would want to, so I did. 

 Highway 50 sits one mile South of the Lower Echo Lake trailhead, and one mile North of the Echo Summit trailhead. I found a spot just across Highway 50 from Little Norway, and then about a hundred yards East up the trail paralleling Highway 50 to a tiny little flat big enough for my sleeping pad. Sufficient!

The headwaters of the American River along Highway 50 was bone dry, forcing me to backtrack and recross Highway 50 to make the perilous descent to the tributairy that I had almost tumbled into at the ford, for this night's water supply. Yikes, but sufficient!

I carry a 3/4 gallon jug, so I store enough water for the night's needs.

End of the Consolidated Trails

The Tahoe to Yosemite, Pacific Crest, and Tahoe Rim Trails all share the same route through this section, as I said. The Tahoe Rim trail heads NE near Meiss Cabin, while The Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails diverge at the Carson Gap.

A bit further up the trail towards Echo Summit we would pick up a fourth trail, the Pony Express Trail, for the couple of hundred yards it shared route with the PCT, TYT, and TRT.

Wow. This one little section of trail has Four Names!

Time and Distance

The distance I covered backpacking on my  third day out of Meeks Bay, backpacking from Fontanillis Lake to Highway 50 was 15.18 miles. The three day total (2 full days + 2 hours of hiking on the first day) from Meeks Bay to Highway 50 was 29.71 miles. The dawn of day four found me camped one mile North of Echo Summit.

Not bad performance carrying a backpack at or near 80 pounds. I cannot lie. It was a painfully heavy pack. I knew it when I planned this unresupplied TYT trip, and I was not disappointed. I looked forward to each day's pack getting lighter as I ate down the massive food load I was carrying.

Rough campsite for night 3 on TYT along South side of Highway 50.

Above: Campsite #3 early on morning #3, on the South side of Highway 50.

Note the two massive food bags sitting in front of the pack, ready to be securely lashed on. Those are in addition to the Garcia Food Cannister stuffed with food already stashed inside the pack.

As I was carrying more food than three Garcia Cannisters could hold I had two big sacks of food that had to be hung every evening.

The Situation

 I was carrying enough food for an unresupplied 181 mile hike between Meeks Bay and Tuolumne Meadows during September of 2009. And I wanted to take a couple of days off along the way, which I had to plan into the hike and carry the food for...

These sacks, along with the tripod attached to my pack mark me out as a cutting-edge lightweight backpacker. I jest.

How to Convince Yourself a Heavy Pack is Light
My backpack weight "theory" has always depended upon the basic fact that heavy Summer backpacks are lightweight Winter packs. See, I'm an "optimist."

If I can't carry the weight over long distances during Summertime's good surface and atmospheric conditions, I won't be able to travel at all through Winter conditions.

I also carry all the proper survival and safety gear for the range of conditions which may occur. I find many people pack for the conditions that they want to happen, and not for the conditions that can happen.

Can Do!

 This forum is set up for you to tell your trail stories, give trip reports, suggest great backpacking trips and loops, and generally share your experiences.

Each experience shared here makes the guide better, better for a wider range of folks who benefit from multiple perspectives on these multifaceted trails.

More Information

Trail Guide
Highway 50

Echo Lake to Echo Summit Map


 Post your questions, comments, or information about your experiences between Echo Lake to Echo Summit through the comments link below.


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