In part 1 of this series I described what I believe is the perfect alternative to a full John Muir Trail hike for those who cannot get the time off necessary for a full JMT thru-hike. The permitting is easy, the trail well marked and easy to navigate, and the 43-miles distance is over terrain just strenuous enough to provide a reasonable challenge and a sense of accomplishment when you exit the wilderness.
In part 2 I tried to do justice to the beauty of the route with a photo-heavy trip report.
In this last part I’ll recommend a three-day and four-day itinerary complete with campsite recommendations.
I originally intended to hike this trip in three-and-a-half days, but ended up exiting the wilderness at Highway 50 by 4 p.m. on day three. That made for three 14-mile-plus days. I’m a 63-year-old hiker who is in good, but by no means great, shape. I carried about 22 pounds of base-weight, with another few pounds of food & water.
Since my wife was driving me from our home in Reno to the trailhead, I didn’t get on the trail to 9 a.m. That is a late start for me. My first day’s hike took me from Ebbetts Pass to just pass Lower Sunset Lake. It was my intention to camp near that lake, and that was a mistake.
When I arrived at the two Sunset Lakes I found – for the first time ever in the Sierra Nevada – water that I did not want to drink. My purification strategy is to use a SteriPen, and while I have confidence that the water I would have treated would not have gotten me sick, it was full of small larvae and suspended vegetation of some kind. Oh…and it smelled. Both lakes are also difficult to get to because of the steep banks of the lakes. Once I reached the shore, I had to walk through several feet of mud.
There is a campground adjacent to Upper and Lower Sunset Lakes, but it is dusty and unpleasant. There were a few car campers, and even an RV parked in the area.
I ended up doing the best I could with water (had some left over from the day) and dry camped a little ways west of the upper lake. It was not a great site.
The next morning, after less than ten minutes of hiking, I came across a lovely campsite on the east side of Lily Pad Lake. When I hike this stretch again, this is where I will camp the first night.
Day two is a climbing day (see profile, above), but even with a 6:00 a.m. start, and a long lunch break near Lost Lakes, I still managed to reach my campsite, at Frog Lake, before 4 p.m. It wasn’t until the next day, when I visited the Wilderness Center at Carson Pass, that I found out that camping at Frog Lake is prohibited. (At least I think it is; the person at the Wilderness Center wasn’t sure, and there were no signs at the lake.) Instead, I would recommend you shorten day two just a bit, and camp before the climb over Elephant’s Back, north of Forestdale Creek.
Day three will be a bit longer, but with a reasonable early start you should get to Highway 50 well before sunset. A terrific place to stop for lunch is Showers Lake.
If you would like to liner a bit along the trail, or if days with less mileage is more your cup of tea, I would suggest camping near the small stream here on day 1. That should make for about a ten-mile first day. On day two, an easy 8 mile hike will get you to Lost Lakes. Day three will take you to Showers Lake, after about ten miles (see link, above), and day four will be your longest day, but with lots of descending at the end.
As I mentioned in part 1, water was fairly plentiful along the trail in late August. Water was also available at each of these campsites, though – obviously – your experience may be different.
I hope you have enjoyed this series and will consider this hike. It’s a good one!
Good hiking, Ray