Section 13 – South Lake Tahoe to Mamoth

This section went through Mokelumne Wilderness and Carson Iceberg Wilderness before droping into Northern Kennedy Meadows for a resupply. After Kennedy Meadows the trail entered Emigrant Wilderness and soon after that into Yosemite National Park.

After Tuolumne Meadows we joined the Sierra High Route as we had already hiked the JMT/PCT in 2014 and were keen to explore other areas of the Sierras. This took us into the Ansel Adams Wilderness (K reckons that any area named after a photographer must be good) through to the Devils Post Pile (a national monument) at Red’s Meadow.

D92 Fri 13 Sept. South Lake Tahoe (Hwy 50) mile 1090.7 to meadow near Upper Truckee River mile 1079.2

11.35 – 17.00 PCT miles 11.5

Finally finished resupply; we took an obscene amount of food parcels to the post office for the next month’s food and got an uber back to trail.

Pretty hot and uphill now we’ve got all our cold weather clothes to carry again!

Some lovely meadows and past Shadow Lake where we had nutella wraps (such a contrast to all the fruit and yogurt we’ve eaten the last 2 days).

Chatted with some very friendly Tahoe Rim Trail hikers at a stream crossing. They seemed interested to hear about our hike. The Tahoe Rim trail sounds like a nice 175 mile hike – might have to come back and do it sometime.

Found a nice unmarked pitch in an open meadow just after crossing Upper Truckee River so stopped nice and early to enjoy the view. Our yoga session was interupted by a hawk landing in a nearby tree and by K being incapable of not trying to photograph it.

One of the major delights of our resupply in South Lake Tahoe is that we picked up our home dehydrated meals, which have been in storage since June. Tonight’s delight was turkey curry, oh soooo much better than a Knorr side!

D93 Sat 14 Sept. Upper Truckee River mile 1079.2 to Pennsylvania Creek mile 1055

05.55 – 18 15 PCT miles 24.2

Kept awake last night by the hooting of 2 owls (definitely owls and not ptarmigan this time!).

Glad to have gloves again, we started easily along the open meadow valley by the light of the full moon and the soft light of sunrise.

Arrived at Carson Pass, the road (Hwy 88, with pit toilet and trash!) then went up to the “real” Carson Pass at 9068′. Super view of the three ridgelines we would cross today.

Lovely walking on high, open hillsides with views all around. Blue Lakes (reservoir), with dam undegoing some maintenance, which was quite noisy.

Also views of several lakes from the traverse of The Nipple.

Cooked lunch at the outflow from Tamarak lake (in the shade as it was getting hot). Now we’ve got our warm gear, of course the afternoon was very hot!

Uphill to cross the third ridge (above 8000′) of the day including some balcony paths through multicoloured rocks.

Then a draggy couple of miles to find a campsite in the trees near Pennsylvania Creek. Can’t believe its dark by 19.40 now. We’ll have to speed up some if we want to enjoy our final cuppa tea in daylight.

D94 Sun 15 Sept. Pennsylvania Creek mile 1055 to Boulder Creek mile 1030.8

06.00 – 18.00 PCT miles 24.2

Kept awake last night by a ferocious wind, only the second time that wind has been strong enough to penetrate the lower part of the forest and batter the tent. No particular risk, but rather noisy.

Bright moon and nice dawn again as we gradually climbed above the treeline (not quite fast enough for Karen’s liking as we weren’t in a great place for photos of bruising clouds to the East.) Nice light on the surrounding crags though.

We passed through several nice meadows and traversed valleys very much enjoying the open aspects and views.

Climbed past Noble Lake with view back down Noble Canyon and views to Highland Lakes off the other side of the saddle.

Lunch by a creek, trying to shelter the stove from the wind with the rucksacks.

More ascent through meadows in the afternoon with plenty of good views before a final couple of miles down into the forest again.

We found a nicely sheltered spot by a creek. Still windy in the tree tops so all guy lines deployed, though there’s little breeze at ground level for now. Colder than we’re used to. A guy who just turned up suggests it might snow tomorrow!

D95 Mon 16 Sept. Boulder Creek mile 1030.8 to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (Hwy 108) mile 1016.9

06.00 – 12.30 PCT miles 13.9

Incredibly strong wind all night and today.

Climbed the 10 miles up to Sonora Pass at 10400 feet. Views back North to the cloud we were under yesterday and clouds boiling off the ridge.

At the pass we could barely keep our feet. The view opened up to the Southeast where clouds were boiling, though we were still under blue skies.

Long snaking descent of open hillside, the wind easing a little as we lost height.

Made the road at around 12.30 pm and waited about 45 mins to hitch a ride wih a friendly local lady (who hiked the trail in 2011 & 2012). Fortunate timing as it began to snow a little as we drove down the hill.

Safely installed at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (small resort) while it rained all afternoon. 🙂 Forecast is better for the rest of the week.

D96 Tue 17 Sept. Kennedy Meadows Pack Station (Hwy 108) mile 1016.9 to Lake Harriet mile 998.2

09.45 – 18.00 PCT miles 18.7

Turns out that the rain down at 7000′ for us fell as snow at 10,000′. So the 6.30am shuttle back to trail was delayed until 09.00 while the road defrosted…which at least gave time for a fried breakfast!

So off up a snow-dusted trail under bright blue skies and little wind, feeling surprisingly warm. 17 hikers were dropped off this morning, all but 3 going South. We chatted with Worm a little, and re-met Firefly with whom we’d shared a couple of campsites back near Lassen NP.

Superb views of the mountain ahead, and surrounding hills.

Views of Leavitt Lake and of the trail ahead across a plateau.

Then down huge switchbacks to 8000′, tree cover and no snow.

Today we passed the 1000 miles remaining mark! As usual with these arbitrary points, it was just a corner in a forest, but we paused for a photo and a hug. For me, 3-digits miles remaining starts to sound feasible!

Finally, climbed again to find a lovely ptch on the shore of Lake Harriet at 9242′. Not toooo cold for making dinner, but we can feel the mercury plummeting. Expecting cold nights for the next 200 miles!

D97 Wed 18 Sept. Lake Harriet mile 998.2 to open campsite before Benson Lake mile 973.5

06.00 – 18.30 PCT miles 24.7

Lots of cloud in the morning, which started to break up as it caught the first rays of light at Dorothy Lake. Some frost in the meadows as well. We had also entered Yosemite National Park on the approach to the lake!

There is a magical quality about the place. The crystal clear water; the bright green of the meadows; the pastel pink, orange, grey and white of the smooth granite mountains; the fresh brown, dry yellow and decaying geen of the horse shit. Seriously, outside the park there’s the occasional pile of horse poop, but in the park it’s some kind of equine conspiracy to cover every trail in a continuous line of poop!

So we descended in meadows alongside Fall Creek to Wilmer lake, then had a couple of short, steep hills to take us to Rancheria Creek which we followed up its wide canyon, before a final up and over towards Banson Lake.

We stopped a couple of miles short of the lake, at an open campsite on the hillside, finishing dinner by torchlight and diving into the tent to keep warm.

Fortunately the rain which threatened all day never fell, so although cold, we were dry and rather tried.

D98 The 19 Sept. Benson Lake mile 973.5 to meadow campsite mile 952.1

06.00 – 18.10 PCT miles 21.4

Well, some precipitation happened overnight. Hail or rain, I’m not sure which, but it was dry when we got up, and very cold. More broken cloud than yesterday, but cooler too, wearing jackets all day, even when the sun came out.

Started with a brutal ascent of Benson Pass. The first section to Smedberg Lake was painfully steep and I was feeling tired after a lot of ascent yesterday. However Smedberg Lake and the views back to Benson Lake were superb.

On and more up to the pass itself to just over 10,000′ had me gasping.

Then down alongside Wilson Creek before up again along Matterhorn Creek. We paused for cooked lunch in a lovely meadow before more ascent past Miller Lake.

McCabe Creek provided a beautiful water stop before we began a long descent towards Glen Aulin first through old decaying forest, then through lovely open meadows, racing the sunset. However we were clearly walking towards heavy clouds and rain, so we stopped a mile or so short of the intended site, dived off the trail to find a sheltered pitch, got set up and then the sky cleared again!

So we had a comfortable meal and cuppa, but the temps are plummeting and it’s going to be a very cold night!

D99 Fri 20 Sept. meadow campsite mile 952.1 to Tuolumne for resupply mile 940.1 then DEVIATION! Voglesang Lake

06.00 – 11.00 & 13.30 – 17.30 PCT miles 12 plus Sierra High Route miles 7.5 = 19.5

Coldest night on trail by far. Frosted tent, ice in water bottles, and we both wore pretty much all of our available clothing save the waterproofs in our sleeping bags. Took ages to warm up after dawn.

Nice miles down to Tuolumne falls, which were still in the shade and chilly when we reached the top of them.

Warming up by 9ish, views across Tuolumne meadows to Cathedral Peak, although still some frost around.

Made the visitor center at 10.30 am to find they don’t issue backcountry permts, so had bonus 1.5 miles to the ranger station where we were lucky enough to get the last 2 available permits to Rafferty Creek trail head for today!

Back to the post office to pick up resupply; the adjacent grill for double ccheeseburger, potato wedges and hot chocolate; the again adjacent shop for gas and desert of 2 bananas and 2 ice creams each.

1.30pm ready to go again and the day finally warmed up, though it had been beautifully sunny all day.

So, what’s the plan with this permit? Well, we did the John Muir Trail back in 2014 and the PCT overlaps 99% of it. So we’re going to try the Sierra High Route in order to see some different parts of the mountains. As some of this is off trail on quite challenging terrain we’ll have to see how it goes.

So the first 7.5 miles was up Rafferty Creek, a lovely open meadow valley, ovr Tuolumne pass at the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and to a lovely balcony pitch by Vogelsang Lake watching the sun set past Yosemite Valley with Half Dome a perfect silhouette. Absolutely beautiful.

No doubt it’ll be cold again tonight at 10k’ but it’s just altitude cold, not a weather front like yesterday….hopefully it’ll not be as uncomfortable!

D100 Sat 21 Sept. Vogelsang Lake to Blue Lake via Forester Pass (not the famous one!)

06.00 – 18.00 PCT miles 0 Sierra High Route miles 14

Not as cold overnight: no ice in the water bottles, though the tent was heavily frosted. Very bright half moon made getting under way pre dawn very easy.

A steady 800′ up Vogelsang Pass to give views of Gallison and Bernice Lakes above Lewis Creek.

Steep drop into the valley on a well switchbacked trail, cooler lower down than at the pass.

Second breakfast at Florence Creek Waterfall before a large climb South out of the valley on a trail signed for Iceberg Pass in 12.6 miles with views of Half Dome. This trail felt much less well used. A balcony traverse took us to lunch at the crossing of Lyell Fork, 10 miles and 6 hours into the day.

After lunch another switchback climb where we met two park employees on their way out of the backcountry after some biosurveying. Their packs looked very heavy with kit!

Views from the top of the climb were expansive:

At the top of the climb we were supposed to find our way off-trail, but overshot a little before we could find our way through the trees and a steep crag band to pop out on a fabulous high meadow above the treeline. Here we were free to choose our own line towards Forester Peak, contouring in above Harriet Lake to make a complex ascent of the scree and boulders of Forester Pass (not the famous one in Kings Sequoia NP, further South). The line was not obvious and the rocks more mobile than I’d have liked!

Great views off both sides and a massive sense of achievement/relief to have made it.

Slightly less steep descent, but again complex route finding; we were cragged out once and had to reascend to try an alternative line. But we made it to the beautiful pair of lakes and have a pitch near Blue Lake sitting on sun-warmed granite slabs eating dinner and watching the colorful sunset with just the quiet gurgling of a stream in the background. Perfection. Camped at 10200′.

D101 Sun 22 Sept Blue Lake to Garnett Lake

06.00 – 18.00 PCT miles 0 Sierra High Route miles 9

That was a lesson in brutality and beauty! 12 hours for just 9 miles! But what views!

It was a milder night than expected, which was nice – we had under floor heating from warm granite slabs.

Easy start down an open valley by a stream through grass and heather, it could have been Scotland.

Then the brutality started. Intricate micro-navigation on a steep ascending traverse through crag bands to be above a steep drop off but below a rocky ridge, hard to see more than a couple of hundred meters ahead due to the complex folds of the land. Good views down the valley though.

Eventually made it to Twin Island Lakes and sat on the grass at the southern most lake for a snack. More crag traversing into the northern lake followed by an unpleasant scramble up a chossy gully. Met two guys at the top looking for the way down. We exchanged route finding info, which was really helpful for both parties, and took photos.

Our onwards line was an improbable climb up a gully next to a waterfall into a hanging valley. More snacks needed.

Then more ascent by a second waterfall before finding a way to traverse southeast to a different water course. More ascent up water-polished slabs next to the river lead to an unnamed pool and waterfall with no obvious continuation of the route, being blocked by a 50′ wall. Lost 30 mins trying to find the way forward, finally working out a line much further west than suggested on the route map.

The wind picked up as we approached the snow-lined pond below Lake Catharine. Collapsed on the beautiful shore for another break before boulder hopping along the shore to ascend North Glacier Pass.

Finally downhill towards Thousand Island Lake, using the crampons to make an easy descent on snow before finding a use trail (small) to bring us to the shore of the lake. Weather started happening as we reached the lake with clouds building.

One final, short col to get into Garnett Lake, but pitches are hard to find so just plopped the tent on a very exposed flat patch, deployed all guylines and fingers crossed we don’t blow away in the wind. Nice sunset colours.

Some amazing scenery today but the route certainly made us earn the views!

D102 Mon 23 Sept. Garnett Lake to Mamoth Lakes

06.00 – 16.00 PCT miles 0 Sierra High Route miles 12

After a very breezy night, what better way to start the day than a steep scree ascent to a snow slope? Certainly got the heart pumping, and we made the col with Nydiver Lakes to catch the dawn light.

Relatively easy off-roading through a basin brought us to a use-trail down to Ediza Lake where we met several groups packing up camp.

On trail up to Iceberg Lake was luxurious, no route finding or boulder hopping here!

A cold basin in the shade with a faint scree path lead up to Cecile Lake in the sun. Some now still around but fortunately we found ways around it. A final bit of fun finding the decent at the very far end of a tall cliff band brought us to Minaret Lake and a poper, maintained trail.

A 7 mile race downhill to the Devil’s Post Pile trailhead, hoping to get a ride to Mamoth in time for the post office. We were picked up by a lovely German couple on vacation, but made it to town 5 minutes after the PO closed. So close!

Feeling very tired from this section of the Sierra High Route, but thoroughly enjoyed engaging the brain in the hiking, and the fabulous views!

Summary: Ah, that’s so much better. Mountains and views are just good for the soul.

The Sierra High Route was hard, but also a highlight of the trip thus far. Not sure we’ll be able to continue the high route south of Mamoth – something to come back to when we are fitter, have more time, and are earlier in the season.

Gear Notes

My bag broke: the frame punched through the retaining pocket. On inspection this is because the tube was cut at the factory but not deburred or filed smooth so it has worn through the plastic cap and now the cordura pocket. Broke 3 needles putting a few stitches in to hold it back together. Good news is SeekOutside are mailing a brand new pack to Independence, so good customer service!

Current stats:

Total miles walked: 1801.3

Miles to Mexico: 980.3

Days out: 102

Days when it rained or snowed: 19

# free beers: 9 (5 for D, 4 for K) 🙂

One thought on “Section 13 – South Lake Tahoe to Mamoth

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