Last week I described what I consider the perfect alternative to the John Muir Trail for those who cannot get the two or three weeks off, who cannot get a wilderness permit, or for those who would like a one-fifth scale model of the 211-mile JMT to use as a training hike. This week I’ll provide a photo-heavy trip report, and next week I’ll discuss campsite strategies.
If you hike these 43 miles northbound, as I recommend (see the far right of the profile, above, for the reason for starting at the left side), you will begin at the PCT trailhead off Highway 4 near Ebbetts Pass. It doesn’t take long for the scenery to get good. Within the first few miles you will pass Kinney Lake.
Although it’s too early in the hike to look for campsites, there is a open granite bench just down from this sign that is a great spot for a short break and a snack.
A few minutes later you can look back at Kinney Lake from above.
During the first few miles there are enough trees to provide shade during most of the day, and the trail compacted dirt (my favorite). Eventually you break out into more open terrain and the rock formations, much different than you would see in the southern Sierra, become prominent.
The first day (assuming you are going to take three to three-and-a-half days for the entire hike) is rolling, but neither the ascents nor descents are extreme. All in all it’s a great way to spend day one in the woods.
I took my first break, and had second-breakfast, at a saddle between Pennsylvania Creek and Eagle Creek. Pennsylvania Creek was flowing nicely, and that is where I topped off with water for the first time since entering the wilderness. Eagle Creek was dry. Once you leave this spot the ups and downs start to get just a little steeper, and there is far less shade.
For those of you interested in cell coverage, you should know that it is very poor throughout the hike. The only exception is when you reach the highest ground, like this spot with a view of Carson Valley in the distance.
Don’t just enjoy the expansive landscapes; also take the time to admire the smaller views, like this orange and green lichen growing in the deep red rocks.
Day two is mostly climbing, but at least it starts out shaded. I found the first few hours of this second day really enjoyable, as I spent most of that time steadily climbing through forested terrain. Look for deer, Steller’s Jays, and day hikers coming in from Tamarack Lake.
Eventually you break out into open terrain again and continue your climb. The vistas are amazing!
If someone were to show me the photo, above, I would not guess that I was looking at the Sierra Nevada. This has more of a desert-like, almost Monument Valley, look. Forest walking is cool and pleasant, but there is much to be said for a scene like this, where the farthest mountains are more than 100 miles away.
At Carson Pass you will cross Highway 88. You’ll walk by the Carson Pass Wilderness Center, which is worth a peek into, and has a good break area. (It also has a bathroom in a separate building.) There are also ample reminders that you are on the Pacific Crest Trail, including this sign that informs you that if you started in Campo, you have not reached half way. After crossing the highway and doing a little climbing you will enter a large meadow (labeled Showers Meadow on some maps). This is where I saw an adolescent bear hurrying across to the forest on the other side.
The last day begins as the first did, with rolling terrain that progressively gets higher. My last break came at Showers Lake, above, where I had some GORP and got my last water for the trip.
The trip will end with a steep descent of a few miles, during which you will often be treated to views of Lake Tahoe.
I hope I’ve given you a sense of this wonderful trek through some terrain that it well worth your time. Next week I’ll talk about where to camp.
Good hiking, Ray