Tahoe to Whitney Permit Nightmare: An Existential Threat to High Sierra Long Distance Backpacking

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 23 February 2016

High Sierra Permit Problems


Update: March 2018


Inception: Feb 2017:

 shiveringman was the first to report on Wed the 17th (below)  that the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit was refusing to issue permits for end-points, for any destinations exiting the Tahoe Basin that are not on the "PCT corridor."

Note on the guide my detailed description of long distance backpacker options exiting the Tahoe Basin... This is BIG. We had options to hike either the TYT or PCT South out of the Tahoe Basin. No longer, accoring to the LTBMU. Only the PCT.  I cry for the lost experiences...

I was dumbfounded, but I thought this must be a mistake, a miscommunication.

I immediately contacted the LTBMU, and had the interaction detailed on the report of Feb 17.  

Since then I have two other backpackers reporting being rebuffed by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit for long distance permits to Tuolumne Meadows and Mount Whitney on their desired routes. They are being told they will not be issued a permit other than "down the PCT Corridor."

This defeated the purpose of their trips, and sent them back to "the drawing board."

The   "PCT Corridor"  permits are restriced to within 300 yards of the PCT, and include no "off PCT" variations. In other words, the LTBMU is refusing to issue long distance permits out of the Tahoe Basin, breaking at least three backpacker's plans that I know of so far. Many, many more are to come. Lots of us run long on those classic unmaintained TYT sections, or cut down from the PCT specifically to run them.

Our TWT route options across the Carson Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness Areas are EPIC. These routes are all now cut off for backpackers hiking South out of the classic Tahoe Basin Trailheads described as potential Tahoe to Whitney Trails start-points on the guide. I am so freeking sad.

The Beginning of the End
In an extended set of conversations on 2-23-16 with the LTBMU I determined that "no-one" had come up with this policy, that it was somehow dependent on an opinion of a Law Enforcement Ranger in the LTBMU who stated the only permit with authority down the Sierra Crest were "PCT" permits.
A "recreation manager" agreed, and, along with the LTBMU's  "liason with the PCT," manager, they together determined that the LTBMU would no longer issue permits exiting the Tahoe Basin other than on the route of the PCT, and all long distance backpacking permits would be issued as "PCT Corridor" permits.

This contravenes my last 25 years of obtaining one permit for all trips crossing multiple High Sierra Forest and Parks. This breaks a much longer run of mutual respect for each other's permits between High Sierra Forests and Parks.

Thus ends long distance backpacking in the High Sierra. In secret, with restrained access starting, then spreading out from the Tahoe Basin. If this secret, and I suspect illegal, seizure of permit policy is unchallenged.

A Fistfull of Permits
This policy means that all backpackers wishing to hike the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail route, or any combination of the PCT and TYT routes across the North Sierra (the lifeblood of meaning in my life) and other trails will have to obtain at least two permits. Maybe up to four, just to hike the TYT!

One from the LTBMU through the Tahoe Basin, then from the El Dorado for the next segment of trail to the Highway 4 coridor.

I guess we would be breaking the law when we ford the North Mokelumne River at Camp Irene, (in the middle of "nowhere") without first obtaining a permit from the Stanislaus National Forest.
I have personally walked far and wide up and down the Sierra Crest as I made my way from Tahoe to Whitney FIVE TIMES.
 Telling me I have to remain on one trail is arbritrary, and likely illegal, ultimately. And, it makes me sad...

Here's the ultimate nightmare: LTBMU refuses to honor long distance backpacker's, throwing us into their lottery/reservation system to obtain our permit for the first segment of our hike through the Tahoe Basin.

It will not be hard to obtain Mokelumne, Carson Iceberg, and Emigrant permits crossing the El Dorado and Stanislaus Forests. They are not "impacted." It will be a drag to time our various permits properly, and impossible to obtain them unless each and every forest mails permits to backpackers. They currently refuse to do this.

If they will not mail out permits for "pieces" of each long distance backpacking trip we want to hike, then we would have to drive up the  Highway 88 corridor to "pick up" our El Dorado permit. Then up the Highway 4 corridor to "pick up" our Stanislaus permit. I don't even know about Yosemite for pulling TYT permits.

Did This Policy Start in Yosemite?
At that point the nightmare deepens. Or maybe, that's where all this bull**** came from. I'm pretty sure Yosemite is the source of all this, behind the scenes. They are putting pressure on all the Sierra Forests to choke off permits that enter the JMT.

If so, this is a dishonest, backhanded move that punishes the best backpackers, while not doing a damn thing to solve their overcrowding and cheater problems. I, and I suspect that we, we Tahoe to Whitney Backpackers, are down for solving both the overcrowding and cheater problems without weilding such a destructive tool as the LTBMU has pulled out of their...scabbards.

If this "deny everyone" or being forced onto the PCT is perpetuated, this policy  will be fully and publically debated. This policy is clearly denying permission for reasonable access. I am really curious about just who in Yosemite is pushing Forest Service Managers to deny backpackers reasonable access to our wilderness, and the formation of the policies governing it.

(News Note: Dateline, Yosemite, April 10, 2017; Staff Shakeup.)

Reasonable Regulation Welcome
 I believe I can speak for the majority of long distance backpackers when I say I, we, are  totally down for system-wide monitoring and regulation, as well as the local constraints in places such as Desolation and Yosemite.
But not for blanket prohibitions without clear eco or overcrowding necissity. Certainly not any of this "dark policy" creation process. Someone in Yosmite is pusing policy below the standards of democratic access to open policy creation by the public. Unacceptable. Dirty.

To get back to where we started, how can we finish the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail without a Yosemite Permit? Now our Tahoe to Yosemite Trail hike, and every other alternative route hike from Tahoe to Yosemite, would have to balance using the Desolation Reservation System for the beginning of our trip against getting the required permit out of the Yosemite Reservation System.

How's that for "planning" the last segment of our trip?

Yeah, it's getting like throwing straw at the wind,  like winning the freeking lotto in the freeking nuthouse. 

I have not even begun to cite what this rule denies curious, aggressive, and experienced backpackers.

My alternative routes and deep scrambles off the combined route of the "PCT Corridor & JMT" South of Tuolumne Meadows would be PROHIBITED.

Prohibitied by the LTBMU. They certainly have quite a long reach, destroying both the North and South ends of my Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trip...

We could not cross-country hike up the Lake Catherine behind Banner. There are real nice scrambles towards banner that reveal campsites far outside the "corridor," where we camp on the way to climbing, or at least closely exploring it. DENIED by the LTBMU.

We would be denied visiting Iva Bell Hot Springs and walking to VVR. Bear Creek? OUT! Hiking the Enchanted Gorge scramble to Black Giant? NOT HAPPENING.

Want to camp in Darwin Bench? PROHIBITED.

How about Center Basin? Restriced Area!! STAY OUT says the LTBMU!

Who died and made them God? This is really beyond the pale, an open denial of a huge scope and range, the denial of a vast  swath of access to the most incredible terrain on that same God's Granite Earth.

The Limits of Love
I have always loved the FS, but this is testing my affections. Are we here to love, protect and enjoy the wilderness or not? That is the question. They are being selfish.

Those that deny us access are serving none of the principals of the Wilderness Act, nor acting under the legal power of Forest  Managers. This is far beyond the scope of both.

This policy is counter to the spirit and letter of the Wilderness Act, and contravenes decades, if not over a century of mutual-reprecosity of respect for permits between the various forests and parks.

This is the first step leading rapidly to the extinction of long distance access to the totality of the High Sierra.

I am doing mad research into the FSM (Forest Service Manuel) and tapping all my resources in the FS, Park Service, Press, and Politics. I am looking towards legal reviews of policy actions and tapping potential political potentials.

Lining up the Ducks.

Tell me what you know, think, what resources you have, and how we should approach this real threat to our access, our Freedom of the Mountains. The goal of Tahoe to Whitney is to create a vortex of backpacker experience and knowledge. The winds have been blowing into a sweet pattern of info exchange.

Let's put our attention towards keeping access open.

In the next we will locate the genesis of these policies, their phone numbers and email addresses, and begin to apply the logic of our arguments across administrative,  media, and political forums. 


This crazy permit restriction limits all long distance backpackers to the PCT corridor, effectively eliminating 99% of long distance backpacking trails and trips in the High Sierra.


(This post is primitive and under construction; also see the post below)

March 2018


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