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Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek?
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Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek? on 04/24/2013 15:04:04 MDT Print View


Do any of you have a most recommended trailhead entry (late August) to the PCT SOUTHBOUND between Burney Falls and Lake Tahoe?
The options I'm aware of:
- Burney Falls SP
- Belden
- Sierra City
- Echo Lake (Lake Tahoe)

Our trail termination date is set in early/mid-October, so skipping more north of the Sierras will let us experience more to the south.


Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
work backwards on 04/24/2013 15:57:38 MDT Print View


Late August through early October are the months when most everything is melted/dried out. It will be even more dried out this low-snow year.

So I would aim to see the southern High Sierra, where plenty of water will still be flowing and you have more of a chance of still seeing some green or wildflowers. Further north might just be exceedingly dry and dusty.

If it were me I'd aim to end at Cottonwood Pass or Kennedy Meadows. (Probably Cottonwood - not even sure Kennedy would be open that late in the season.) I'd identify my starting point by estimating miles per day and working backward.

Could you go south-to-north? You'd get those high passes (Forester, Glen, Mather, etc.) overwith before the snow returns to them around October 1.

- Elizabeth

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek on 04/24/2013 15:57:59 MDT Print View

I'd say Echo Lake (Lake Tahoe). This will allow you to get completely through the Sierra in the time you have available.

Be sure to get a PCTA thru-hiker permit (500 miles minimum) good for travel from Echo Lake to at least highway 58 at Tehachapi Pass (and Mojave). That will be 526 miles. This saves you trying to get a separate JMT permit At Tuolumne Meadows.

Assuming you start Monday August 19 and end Sunday Oct 13, that's 56 total days. Deduct 2 travel days, 1 more to set the cache and return, plus 1 zero day out of every 7 plus 1 day to summit Mt Whitney and return to the PCT. That leaves 56 days - (2 + 1 + 7 + 1) = 45 trail days to cover the 526 miles. That's an average of 11.7 miles per day. That's easily doable without pushing yourselves, even at the start.

Tahoe is also a very easy re-entry and/or exit point if you are relying on public transportation. You'll want to start or end there next year. There are regular shuttle buses running between Reno airport and South Lake Tahoe.

Another HUGE advantage to a Tahoe entry point is that you can rent a car in Tahoe and drive to Sonora Pass to dig in your bear canister(s) as a resupply cache for yourself. That will save you the both the time and distance hitch or a long roadwalk (downhill) to and back up from (all uphill) Kennedy Meadow north.

As mentioned in the 1st reply, the hiking season is mostly over by the time you really get going. You will DEFINITELY want to contact your planned resupply stops to assure they will still be open when you arrive. While you should be able to hitch a ride down to highway 395 from both Onion Valley and Horseshoe Meadows, getting back in a timely manner may force you to use a commercial shuttle service (I rely on Mt Whitney 760-876-1915) at about $100 per trip one way. I'd strongly recommend you just plan on doing it and avoid the uncertainty, especially for the Onion Valley return.

IMO going south, you are wiser to resupply at Muir Trail Ranch than at VVR. MTR is closer to the trail. There is a short but steep 1/4 mile side trail leading from the JMT down to the ranch, and a 1 mile gentle walk back to the PCT further south before starting the climb into Evolution Valley and Muir Pass. You also don't have to climb Bear Ridge with a full pack; yours will be almost devoid of food by then. When you see the north face of Bear Ridge as you descend the south face of it's equally steep (but you're going down it) northbound counterpart, you'll understand why this is so and bless me for my advice.

Edited by wandering_bob on 04/24/2013 16:17:33 MDT.

Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek on 04/24/2013 16:37:33 MDT Print View

Elizabeth and Bob,
This is extremely helpful, with excellent details that I hadn't considered!

We could consider doing northbound, yes... would that make the trek better in some way? I have family chauffeurs once we're in northern CA (Tahoe and up), but not in southern/central.

There is a chance that we will also be doing Hart's Pass-->Ashland or Snoqualmie-->Ashland if we're able to get on the trail in time, in which case we will be in good shape for a speedier completion of the Sierra section. Otherwise, yes we will need to account time for unacclimated bodies.


Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Re: Re: Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek on 04/24/2013 17:38:47 MDT Print View


If you're open to going north, you'll extend your hiking window weather-wise. You'll clear the highest points in the Sierra early on before any early snow can reach you.

Just one word of warning going north during August and September, - and I can not over-emphasize this point - it is a DANGEROUSLY hot, dry, and often exposed walk from Highway 58 all the way to Chimney Creek campground south of Kennedy Meadows south. There is not a lot of shade and only a few reliable water sources, so plan accordingly.

A lot of folks under-estimate this stretch and that keeps SAR busy. You will probably want to get up before sunrise, hike steadily until 11 or 12, then find a shady spot (such as there is around those thorny Joshua trees) to rest and sleep until 5 or 6 pm before continuing until sundown, or later. Eat your hot meal for lunch as it may well be dark when you stop for the night.

Consider carrying a good sunshield that you can rig up overhead . I used one of those aluminized blankets - the 12 oz solid ones with grommets and aluminum on one side and orange (also comes in blue) nylon on the other. REI carries them, as do most outdoor stores. Forget those flimsy single use mylar space blankets. I tried my umbrella for walking but the winds were too strong and ripped the fabric off. You will want a good insulating pad - preferably CCF rather than an inflatable (due to the thorns lying about) - between you and that hot sand. I carried a full length Ridgerest until Kennedy Meadows for this reason, then used an inflatable from there on to Canada.

Since you are doing what is essentially a series of long multi-section hikes. you might want to consider entry/exit points with good public transportation options. that's why I suggested Echo Lake, and Highway 58 (go to either Tehachapi or Mojave). There is reliable bus service all along highway 395 from Lone Pine to Reno so you can also get in and out at Lone Pine, Independence, and Mammoth Lakes with ease. The YARTS buses run between Mammoth Lakes and Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley daily.

Having family vehicular support in northern CA is a big plus; it also saves you the car rental to set the cache. Better yet - no cache. Ask the family to meet you at the day use only picnic grounds at Sonora Pass. It is really nice so they'll have a nice spot - lots of shade, potable water, picnic tables and trash cans, and bathrooms - to wait for your arrival. The PCT runs right through the place so it would be hard to miss each other. They could also run you down to KM north for a meal and perhaps a fast shower, maybe even a real bed for the night if they get a cabin there. Then it's back to the trail and on south to Yosemite or north to Echo Summit.

Vehicular support makes northern CA much easier. There is no public transportation at Sonora City, Belden, or Old Station, and you have to go about 9 miles off-trail to Burney to catch bus service to Redding. Amtrak stops in Dunsmuir (at 5 am) but Greyhound long ago eliminated its stops there and in Yreka. Spotty local bus service connects Seiad Valley to Yreka and Etna.

Edited by wandering_bob on 04/24/2013 17:50:09 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Couple thoughts on 04/24/2013 19:44:51 MDT Print View

If I were in your hikers.
1) I would look at combining a Wa section, harts pass to maybe whites pass with Sierra trip.
2) I would not start further north than I-80. Not near as scenic as alternatives such as central Oregon.
3) be careful of the the Sierra in October. Storms can appear and sting you. I would watch the weather and have some bail out points.

It is a great idea to cherry pick the PCT. there are some gorgeous areas.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Donner Pass to Walker Pass on 04/24/2013 21:23:09 MDT Print View

You might try hiking the PCT from Donner Pass (I-80) to Walker Pass (CA-178). Just over 500 miles, so you can get the PCTA thru-hikers permit. I tried this in August 2003, but got pretty sick after five days and bailed out.

Starting at Donner Pass you get to hike through the sometimes crowded, but beautiful Desolation Wilderness, with peeks of Lake Tahoe. Donner Pass isn't far from lots of services in Truckee.

You skip a big dry-hot section south of Walker Pass. Walker Pass is 17 mi from Inyokern Airport, a hitch-hike or taxi ride might get you to a connecting flight to the rest of the world. Or you can catch Kern Regional Transit in Inyokern to Mojave and the rest of the world. Or you can hitch-hike to Onyx and catch KRT to beautiful downtown Bakersfield!

That late in the season might be challenging for mail drops. Many years ago I bought the last beer sold for the season at VVR in October, as they were closing the doors and a big storm was rolling in.

Have fun!

-- Rex

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek? on 04/24/2013 23:38:58 MDT Print View

A few thoughts to consider on the N-S vs S-N question:
S-N you have the highest elevations and the biggest climbs first.
S-N you have more resupply options still available when you are in the more remote areas.
S-N you are out of the most remote and high-consequence areas before the risk of serious weather events, and have easier bailouts if a big storm does get you near the end before you finish.
N-S the scenery starts out pretty and gets more spectacular as you go, while S-N it may seem like things taper off after a mind-blowing start.
N-S is better for acclimatization to altitude.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Re: Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek? on 04/24/2013 23:47:03 MDT Print View

N-S is harder to follow the PCT guide books.

Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Re: Re: Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek? on 04/25/2013 08:45:11 MDT Print View

Hmm, I am very much liking the Donner Pass / Truckee start point. I have backpacked the Desolation wilderness, but it would be a shame to miss another opportunity there.

For Sonora Pass resupply caching - how do you do this? Find a secluded spot, seal the can with duct tape, and bury it? Draw a treasure map? Don't I need the bear can for the Desolation Wilderness?


Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Re: Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek? on 04/25/2013 18:40:33 MDT Print View

Caching at Sonora - You should be able to find a spot not too far off the trail that is easy for you to find but not obvious to anyone passing by. There are enough trees around the pass to make it workable.

Canisters are not required until you get to Yosemite. Would I take mine to Desolation or the Emigrant? Yes I would, but that's just personal preference; I got sick of hanging food years ago and would rather carry the canister. You would need to hang if not carrying a canister.

You might also consider a Meeks Bay(Tahoe) start - or Tahoe City. Starting from Donner Pass you have to walk through a couple ski areas before you get out of civilization. From Tahoe City or Meeks Bay you are out of town pretty much right away.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
If sb on 04/25/2013 19:15:25 MDT Print View

You could stash a full canister at Sonora. Or better yet, hitch down to Kennedy Meadows North. Good resupply and you can pick up your canister via mail.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Best northern CA entry for southbound PCT/JMT trek? on 04/25/2013 19:34:25 MDT Print View

Caching at Sonora Pass:

2 excellent reasons to cache using a bear can:

1. Cans are required everywhere in Yosemite Natl Park and this is your last resupply point before Tuolomne Meadows - inside the park. In fact, you'll reach the northern border of the park a couple of days before you reach Tuolumne Meadows and, yes, the rangers do patrol out that far.

2. Bears can't get into your cache even if they find where you buried it.

When caching, take the rest of your party with you so everyone sees where the cache is located. It won't do you any good if you can't find it again. Mark your map, take GPS coordinates, whatever you need to do to recover it.