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Tahoe to Yosemite Trail 2015 Scouting Report | High Sierra Backpacker

Tahoe to Yosemite Trail 2015 Scouting Report

By Johnnys13 - Posted on 22 August 2015

Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
Finding Trail and Fishing Our Way to Yosemite

Johnny 13

Meeks Bay 
Start Time: June 26, 2015.

26 days

Hiking Partners
 Two buddies for three days from Meeks Bay to Lake Aloha.

 Met another buddy at Carson Pass, who accompanied me for six days through the unmaintained segment of trail through Summit City Canyon.

Lake Alpine to Tuolumne Meadows Solo.

The Tropical Summer of 2015

Unsettled evenings formed into fierce weather on June 10 and 11, followed by perfect weather puncuated by sweet afternoon thunderstorms across the 28th,  29th, and  30th of June.

Tahoe Basin
Desolation Wilderness
Arguably the most beautiful and spectacular section of the entire hike, and it's so close to me! It really gives Yosemite a run for it's money and they amount of lakes up there is mind boggling. 

Meiss Country Roadless Area
Very quiet. Meiss was gorgeous and I only passed 1-2 people that day. There was a huge t-storm sitting right on top of the meadow the entire time I hiked it so I was in rain gear. The day I did Showers to Carson Pass was the worst weather I experienced. 

Status Report-Update
on the
Unmaintained Trail Segments
of the
Tahoe to Yosemite Trail 

West Flank of the North Sierra
Carson Pass to Lake Alpine
Approaching the unmaintained segment of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail beginning in the top of Summit City Canyon.

At Carson Pass Ranger Station I spent three hours waiting for my brother to bring my friend Ryan to join me for the next 6 days of my journey. It had been raining fairly hard since I woke up at Showers Lake and rained on me until I reached the ranger station.

Once I reached Carson Pass Station, it started to POUR. Luckily they had hot cocoa and a fire in a woodstove! I completely dried out and made small talk with the volunteers inside.

After about an hour, two trail maintenance guys came in the shack and we started talking about Summit City Canyon. The most experienced of the two was VERY surprised and intrigued of my plans to head down to Camp Irene. He and another employee in there said they’ve both tried to make it down there on separate occasions and have never made it! They said they’ve tried to come in via Munson Meadows as well and were turned around.

He said last year they did trail maintenance down to just south of Telephone Gulch. They planned to go further but a fire near Blue Lakes started and they were called off and never made it back down to complete their work. 

He warned me that there are a “ton” of rattlesnakes down there. Said he saw one last summer near telephone gulch that was at least 4 feet long. He said he knows a lot of folks that won’t go down there because of the snakes.

He says “I sure hope you’re not going alone!” I assured him I wasn’t, but told him that with Alex’s guide, I wouldn’t be worried at all.

He said I will see how far they got maintaining the trail last summer and that I will notice exactly where it stopped and the trail disappears. They wished me luck and when my friend showed up we hiked to 4th of July lake in the pouring rain.

I couldn’t help but be just a little bit worried about the trail ahead!

Into Summit City Canyon
Departing 4th of July Lake the next morning, I could hardly contain my excitement dropping into Summit City Canyon. After researching for so long and picturing myself down there I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom. My hike was more like a jog. On the way down the canyon you could see countless ephemeral creeks that were gushing down the canyon walls from the previous day’s storms. It was like Eden!

Summit City Canyon Backpacking Map

(Picture 20150611_112434)

Top of Summit City Canyon
 Just before the junction with the Summit City Creek Trail we ran into a day hiker taking a break. He had come down from Blue Lakes (map) and was going to day hike up to 4th of July Lake. We told him where we were headed and he started to explain an alternate route up to the Blue Lakes Trail from where we were at. 

I reiterated to him that we were headed SOUTH DOWN Summit City Canyon. His eyes got real wide and he said “But the trail peters out down there a ways!”. We assured him that we were well educated on the trail conditions and he wished us luck. As we walked away I know he was shaking his head thinking we were nuts.

Good Trail to Horse Canyon
We reached the trail junction and it was very obvious that not many people head south here. It doesn’t even look like a trail but after a few steps it gets better. The trail was easy to follow with no downed trees or problems staying on track all the way to Horse Canyon Trail Junction.

Horse Canyon Trail Junction

Upon reaching the junction, we saw that what we think was a bear had destroyed the trail post. It was ripped to shreds and looked real recent. We stopped at the nice little campsite to the east of the junction. Had lunch and spent a little time walking in the beautiful calm section of SSC nearby.

Reasonable Route to Telephone Gulch
After having lunch we headed down to Telephone Gulch junction. I was expecting worse, but the trail conditions really were not difficult at all and we found a post without a sign marking the Telephone Gulch junction.

Telephone Gulch

End of the Line
South of Telephone Gulch a little ways, there was a point that any recent trail maintenance completely ceased. We came to a large meadow of tall green plants with broad leaves deeper than waist high with downed trees everywhere. The trail was completely gone. Figuring we’d pick it up on the other side of the green plant garden we climbed over many downed trees following the contour of Summit City Creek while keeping an eye out for the old tree blazes that had been marking the trail thus far. After about 200 yards or so we saw a section of undeniable trailbed and duck.

Staying on Intermittent Wild Ducks and bits of Use Trail
This theme continued for a while but never that far again without seeing a duck or section of trail. Eventually we came to the large granite area where the ducking was pretty darn reliable. Taking it slow, we made a game out of seeing who could spot the duck in the distance quickest after losing visible trailbed.

Second Great Granite Area to the Upper Ford
Eventually after the open granite section, the ducks led down a wash that was dry, but dumped into Summit City Creek. I thought this might be the upper ford although we did not see any ducks on the other side. We jumped across a few rocks and instead of heading downstream where we thought the trail would be, I had my friend take a break and I went back to see if I could see any other ducks in the area that indicate we shouldn’t have crossed. Well I found them. Coming down the drainage, I had to look to my right where I saw a tiny duck. I inspected further down and I saw the shredded tarp that I think Alex had taken a picture of at some point.
An old campsite, another duck, yeah we weren’t supposed to cross. I went back and got my friend and we came back and resumed the TYT southbound. After more patchy trail and duck following, we got to an open section where it was obvious that the creek walls were getting steeper and I was sure the ford should be there any second. The ducks brought us to the bank but I didn’t see a good place to cross.
We backtracked about 100 yards and could see ducks on the other side of hoppable boulders. This was certainly the upper ford.

Upper Ford of Summit City Creek

South from the Upper Ford 
We crossed and took a small break. We were pretty tired at this point. It was hot out! At first the trail away from the upper ford was not clear. Duck seemed to lead uphill directly east, up a drainage. I consulted a screenshot I took of Alex’s guide and he specifically says to stay along the creek and stay low right away and climb the series of granite bluffs.

Sure enough, after a few steps south along SSC, we found the small campfire right that he had a picture of in the guide. We were most certainly on the Tahoe Yosemite Trail. The next bit was probably the most physically demanding as far as vert gained/lost since we had left 4th of July. Also, this was the first time we had much trouble with heavy manzanita and other abrasive bushes.

Good Ducking-Trail Indications
Ducking was phenomenal and very easy to follow, never out of sight of at least one duck. You could also see “trail” by looking for brush that had been snipped in the past.

Over several bluffs high above Summit City Creek, following the trail up and down, through open granite and patches of brush, I can tell by looking to our left, that the east canyon wall of SSC is lowering and I expect we will soon arrive at the “end of summit city canyon” campsite.

End of Summit City Canyon
Sure enough, after a quick descent through some very thick manzanita, we come to an open flat above SSC with beautiful whitewater pools and a nice little campsite. The view of Mt. Reba, Enchanted Forest and the granite dome separating the Enchanted from Camp Irene is a beautiful sight to behold (picture). We stop for the night, swim in SSC, relax, and sleep like babies.

In the morning, I am mentally preparing myself for the “Manzanita Maze”. I’m expecting the worse and I’m also nervous about finding the lower ford.

5 of 10 on the Difficulty Scale
Although I’m also pretty optimistic because from 4th of July to this point, on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst I could have imagined as far as difficulty of route finding goes and 0 being the “Paved” trail of the PCT, I thought that section was about a 5 honestly.

We lost the trail a few times, but it was never hard to find again. We depart the “End of SSC Campsite” and were immediately following ducks again.

Pretty much the same characteristics of the section between the upper ford and the campsite. Some steep sections, lots of thick brush. I could always see above the brush and see our destination at the North end of the Enchanted Forest, or at least what I thought was our entry point.

Jumble to Lower Ford
Once we got down to where we could hear SSC, we entered the “jumble” which was much smaller and shorter than I thought it was going to be. We followed ducks slightly to the east upon entering the jumble and quickly came to the banks of SSC. We could see ducks on the other side and unfortunately a few rocks that had been painted on with nail polish. 

We removed the nail polish. The ducks and tree blazes are sufficient enough to find the crossing. We crossed the river and immediately picked up the trail marked by ducks and a large fallen tree.

Up Into the Top of the Enchanted Forest
Up and out of SSC, we started climbing on the trail and soon arrived at the Black Pond. Just before reaching the black pond we snuck up on a coyote. Around the black pond to the right, ducks led us into the unmistakable boundary of the Enchanted Forest. Immediately the trees are massive and so close together! It was truly eerie taking the first few steps. Sounds are SO muffled, it’s very quiet. The footing in on the forest floor is really spongy with a TON of downed wood so it’s not real fun to walk through. We passed 2 drainages, and decided to take the third down towards the N. Fork Mokelumne.

Trail Guide 
Three Basic Routes to and Through the Enchanted Forest

Exploring East to North Fork of the Mokelumne River
Arriving at the bank of the river in only a few minutes, I decided we were too far north as I did not see sand beaches. The banks were very steep and you couldn’t get down to the calm, slow moving water. We walked along the bank and finally arrived at the flat beach spot. It’s really beautiful and right in front of camp is a great large boulder in the middle of the river that served as an excellent fly fishing platform.
We arrived at around 9:30 AM, only took us a little over an hour to come down from camp. We spent the rest of the day (My 30th birthday) fishing and hanging out in the sand.
Around dinner time, we took the fishing pole and headed south along the bank through the trees. We walked about a half mile down river. Found a spot to cross and waded to the other side. On the other side there was a large dried up pond with a few VERY old fire rings nearby. It felt very secluded here! Walked out to a sandbar and found fresh bear tracks almost as big as my own hand!!! Walked back to camp, had a nice evening and slept on the sand.

To Camp Irene
Next day woke up early and hit the trail bound for Camp Irene. Straight West we headed until we came to a fairly robust little creek coming from the SSW and heading NNE before taking a direct easterly route, terminating into the Mokelumne.

Southern Exit Point from Enchanted Forest

Unique Route out of the Enchanted Forest
We boulder hopped up this creek thinking it would lead to “the notch”. Well following the creek ended in about a half mile as we came to a waterfall underneath a HUGE boulder and a nice little pool.
The creek then turned straight west and up the steep canyon wall. Knowing we needed to stay south and get UP out of the bowl, I spotted a route, not ducked, but doable, heading up from the pool straight south to the top of the bowl. We easily scrambled up to the top and once at the top, we did find a duck after looking around in a 50 yard radius. I

Back to the TYT
de-packed and tried to follow the ducks down the hill so I could find out where that route came up from the enchanted forest, but I could NOT find another duck! We continued heading south and soon there was no mistake that we were in fact on the designated TYT.

Dropping down through mostly good trailbead and the occasional duck, we finally were on the south side of the GIANT granite dome separating the Enchanted Forest from Camp Irene.

Approaching Camp Irene the trail enters a very dense section of 7 foot pine trees and the trailbed becomes very defined. This leads to a large cedar that fell over the trail which you step over and are all of the sudden in Camp Irene.

Camp Irene
Did not look like anyone had been there all season, but we had been seeing a single set of boot prints every so often the whole way from SSC Trail/4th of July Junction. It’s a really pretty place, calm water in front of camp, good camp site. VERY secluded and underused. Doesn’t look like a very easy creek crossing…matter of fact, I don’t see how we are getting across without being in nipple deep water at some point.

Oh well we have 2 FULL days to relax here. We will figure it out.

Spent the rest of the day fishing up and down the river. Caught a ton of small rainbows but nothing over 6 inches to my disappointment.

Alternative Route Linking Enchanted Forest to Camp Irene
Next day we decide to set out upriver to see if we can get over the dome and into the enchanted forest from Camp Irene.
There are some ducks leading north and we follow them to a very steep section of smooth granite. With backpacks, this would be very hard and dangerous, especially alone! To your right is anywhere from 60-250 foot drops into the river, and they aren’t straight down. They are sloping but steeper than 55 degrees in most places. If you fell here, you would pretty much be skinned and scraped alive before falling into the rocky river below. So don’t do that!

Camp Irene Topo Map

We scrambled up the granite to where it leveled off and we could see the enchanted forest only a few hundred feet below us. The scramble down was also quite steep and it would be very hard and dangerous to do with a backpack. We made it down to the river, and could walk right into the enchanted forest! (picture).
We tried to fish down the river, but the canyon walls get too steep, and there’s just no way to get down there. You have to go up and around back the way you came.

Virgin Fishing Terrain Achieved
Fished for a while and headed back up over the dome. It only took about 30 minutes from Camp Irene to scramble to the South end of the Enchanted Forest. While we were still up high above the river, I found a little canyon that I was barely able to get down that brought me to the river’s edge. I was able to climb/rockhop along the canyon wall and fish each pool on my way back to camp.
I am pretty sure that I fished a few pools that very few if ANYONE has ever dropped a line into. Back at camp we relaxed the rest of the evening and prepared ourselves for the big climb the next morning.

Unique Upriver Fording Point
Alternative Camp Irene Ford
We woke up to the sun quickly heating up the day. Ate fast, got packed and started to decide how to cross the river. We decided that instead of surrendering to basically swimming across, we would go up river and boulder hop. I believed there was ONE place where you could hop all the way across.
Upstream about a quarter mile is a HUGE boulder in the middle of the river. The size of a small house. Just after this boulder, there is place where we were able to hop across rocks and make it to the other side.
Then you have to bushwhack down river until you are across from the main camp. Here there is another campsite.

Picking Up the Southbound Trail
 We walked around in a 100 foot radius to the South and east to try to find a duck or any semblance of a trail. I didn’t see anything! After consulting the map, it looked to me that the trail (route?) stays pretty close to the banks of the river for a while, so we bushwhacked with no sign of trail for about a half mile, staying about 50 yards to the east of the river bank.
Eventually we found unmistakable trailbed and a few ducks and were were on path. From that point onward, there was no problem finding trail all the way up to the top of Mt. Reba.


Whew, what a climb, but a beautiful view at the top. One thing of note, about halfway up the climb on the open rockface covered in dense Manzanita, my friend was about 50 feet in front of me and after he made a switchback, a rattlesnake slithered right in front of my feet across the trail into a hole, rattling his tail the whole way!

He was about 3.5 feet long, just a little guy in my estimation. The ranger at Carson Pass did warn us! After not seeing one the whole way down SSC, I was thinking he was full of it.

South of Lake Alpine
Faint Trail-Difficult Route Finding
Leaving Lake Alpine the trail was easy to follow all the way to the North Fork of the Stanislaus. After that you could tell not many people travel the trail. Once you get up to the burn area, the new growth has made route finding quite difficult. Every bit as difficult as Summit City Creek in my estimation.

I actually lost the trail somewhere real close to Rock Lake.

Lake Alpine to Spicer Meadow  Reservoir Map

I used the map to follow a creek that I knew would eventually bisect the highland lakes trail and I re-picked up the trail after about an hour and a half of cross country, but it was east of the trail junction with Rock Lake Trail and the Highland Lakes Trail. Oh well, I just kept heading towards Spicer. Easy trail all the way to Spicer which is dismal with it’s lack of water. 

Highland Creek Campsite
Highland Creek area is beautiful and I spent the night at a great campsite near it’s banks. The next day I followed the HC Trail to the junction with Jenkins Canyon trail. The crossing here was easy but on the other side, the trail is very faint at first. After going through a stand of very dense trees and vegetation, you are soon on better more worn trailbed.
I thought the hike up Jenkins Canyon was BEAUTIFUL! The flowers and green meadows below Dardenelle’s Cone was amazing! Real long descent down Arnot to the Clark Fork Campground. Didn’t see a single person from Lake Alpine until I got to the blacktop at Clark Fork.

The Clarks Fork Road
By the time I got to Clark Fork I was already really tired. Did not want to walk the road, but only one car passed and he did not pick me up. The three miles seemed like five! It was about 7PM when I got to Iceberg Meadow. I said to myself I was going to stop at the first available campspot because my feet hurt so bad! I was hoping there was something before Boulder Creek junction.

Highland Creek to Clarks Fork Road backpacking map

 To and Through Boulder Creek Campsites

Lots of cars in the parking lot left me scratching my head wondering where everyone is camping. Well I soon found out. About a mile into the trail I see about 12 tents off to the right. Keep going, walking at a snail’s pace now, I finally reach boulder creek junction. I see a camp spot and de-pack. The mosquitoes are horrible and there are at least 3 groups camped nearby.
They are being very loud, shouting and hooting. I’m not really in the mood, so I put my pack back on and lament that I have to head straight uphill on the trail to Clark Fork Meadow! About a half mile up the trail there’s a campsite to the right.

I depack again. It’s almost dark now, the sun has set. I hear water so I grab my water bottle and hike about 200 yards toward the sound. Much to my chagrin, I see the Clark Fork at the base of a very deep and steep canyon, 150 feet down. I go back to camp, pack everything up, and head even further up trail! My feet hate me.

Another half mile and I come to a set of great campsites in a level area with access to water. I put my pack down and immediately put on my headlamp, because it’s dark! 16.5 miles that day I estimate….I slept real good that night.

Clarks Fork Road to Boulder Creek backpackpacking map

Upper Clarks Fork
End of Maintained Trails
In the morning I followed the trail up towards Clark Fork. I come to creek ford and think it’s the lowest ford of the Clarks Fork, but I realize it’s the unmarked Eureka Valley trail junction leading over to Seven Pines Trailhead on Highway 108.

A faint trail continues east along the Clark Fork and I decide that’s my trail up to Clark Fork Meadow. The trailbed is alternating weak then strong as we meander along the Clark Fork.

Upper Clarks Fork unmaintained route backpacking map

Lowest Ford
Finally I come to the ford it’s no problem hopping across a few rocks onto the other side. You really have to watch for ducks here, it looks like the trail goes up river along it’s bank, but you actually follow ducks DOWN river only for a brief moment, then you turn uphill to crest a small rise where you will find solid trailbed again.

(Al Note: I follow a route up along the river for a short distance. This well illustrates that there are many variations on a route,)

To the North Edge of Clarks Fork Meadow
Across the canyon floor I can tell the trail is heading towards our ascent up to Clark Fork meadow along a SW bearing up the West wall of the canyon. I was preparing myself for some difficult route finding but there was never even 50 feet without a duck, and the ducks led me all the way to the campsite at the north end of the Clark Fork Meadow. Very easy to follow in my opinion. I stayed in the meadow for 2 days by myself, thinking someone might come up the trail, but no one came! It’s a very quiet and secluded place.

The camp sites do not seem very well-used. The N end campsite is the most used obviously, but if you head south towards St. Mary’s pass there are several campsites that are 150 feet or more to the east of the meadow’s edge. The second day, I climbed to the top of peak situated on the NW side of the meadow. (Picture)
Getting this overview gave me a great idea of the route to take up and over St. Mary’s Pass.

(Al Note: Johnny's images gave us great shots for the guide)

I also walked over to the South end of the meadow and scouted for a stream crossing and hopefully a duck leading uphill.

(Al Note: From this point Johnny diverged from the route of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail and began self-selecting his own unique route through the terrain.

 This reminds us the route of the Tahoe to Yosemite is not the only way out of this complex headwaters bowl. As Winnett said,

"Hikers have found or invented dozens of routes into (Northbound) or out of (Southbound) Clarks Fork Meadow, and the one I describe is not the only safe one, but I believe it is the easiest to follow, and the easiest to hike."

Winnett, Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, 1989 ed., p.85.

This cross-country approach-situation is addressed in the section of the guide concerning the route of the TYT and its alternatives.)

(Trail guide Information)
The Standard Route of the TYT

Alternative Routes

The Map Collection 
Scroll up for current map

Alternative Route out the Upper Headwaters Bowl
There are a few unused campsites right at the base of the south wall of the bowl before you cross the headwater stream and head uphill. I never did find a duck on the opposite side of the stream marking any kind of ford. On my way back I noticed a metal sign (blank) sticking out of the ground at about the 5 o clock position of the North Meadow campsite is 12. This sign is blank. 100 feet to the north of it and 100 feet to the south of it you’ll see an orange sign high up in a tree saying “end of snow depth monitoring” or something to that effect. If you find this spot, you are pretty close to where I believe you should cross the Clark Fork headwaters and head up to St. Mary’s pass. Then again, maybe you shouldn’t take my advice, I kind of got lost the next day when I attempted my route out but in hindsight I know why.

I woke up in the morning and packed up, anxious to get to Kennedy Meadows for a beer and some human interaction. I hadn’t talked to anyone in over 90 hours! I passed the blank metal sign and found a good place to hop across the creek. I started heading uphill and soon found a couple of ducks.
I was following what I thought to be the trail, paralleling a seasonal (?) creek uphill to the south. Uphill I could see a large granite outcropping I was coming to and in my mind I knew I was supposed to head around it to the right based on my day hike to that peak the day before.
But somehow I got pushed around the left and found myself in very steep, rocky terrain with no ducks for a long time. I kept skirting the base of this outcropping hoping I wasn’t going to have to turn around. There were a few times I had to use my hands to climb up a section and if I’d have slipped, it would not have been good! I was just beginning to get worried when things started to level off a bit. I had come up WAY further to the east than I had planned, totally off course from my plan. But I was at the top!
I could see what I believed to be St. Mary’s Pass, gained the saddle and headed down to civilization. I looked all over the place and even headed straight east for a while to try to pick up a trail down to highway 108 but I never did see anything that looked at all like a trail. I just headed downhill towards the highway I could see in the distance. Before I knew it, I could make out the yellow lines on the highway. Walked downhill for about 3 miles and thumbed 30+ cars before I finally got picked up. It was Saturday too!

Cinko Lake PCT Alternative Route
 The only other “unmaintained section” of trail I did on my TYT trip was between Grizzly Meadow and Cinko Lake. It was a side trip instead of going down Bond Pass into Yosemite. I turned left just before you reach Grizzly Peak trail junction. The trail leads northeast along the backside of Grizzly Peak. This is the headwaters bowl of the West Fork of the Walker River.

Emigrant Wilderness backpacking map

The meadow of the headwaters bowl was SO SOGGY and the mosquitoes were horrendous, so I skirted the east side of the bowl and re-connected with the trail above the N. Fork Walker once I reached the north end of the boggy meadow.

High Sierra Mosquito Information

The trail is pretty faint, but good ducks. It is not a very well used trail. It heads downhill gradually and brings you to a ford of the Walker. Here there is a sign saying Cinko Lake .5 miles. Cinko Lake is a little slice of heaven. Great campsites, cliff jumping into the water, brook trout fishing that is out of this world (although all 8-11 inches) and there was no one there the whole time I stayed. The mosquitoes were terrible. I stayed for 2 days and then headed out to re-meet the PCT.

The section from the Cinko Lake/PCT junction past Lake Harriet and up to Dorothy was real fun. I met a super cool fly fishing PCT Thru Hiker at Dorothy Lake that I’d have never met had I not taken this route. Little extra climbing to get up Dorothy Pass but totally worth the detour.

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