I just finished the first half of the trip I'd planned from Lake Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes. My feet didn't want to go past the halfway point (blisters, etc) so I exited at Sonora Pass. A single trip report can't capture the varied terrain and my impressions of the differences between my familiar "High Sierra" (for me that's Cottonwood Pass north to Yosemite). In general, I'd say "it's a lot different". Not good different or bad different, just different. The trails seem more vertical but shorter climbs. The altitudes are much lower. The foliage in many places is more lush. I saw a lot more wildflowers (probably has to do with the altitude). And I found I needed to much more cautious about water availability - but this last could just be my unfamliarity.
Day 1: Meeks Bay to Lake Aloha
I'd done this section a couple years ago but stopped at Middle Velma Lake for the night. This time I wanted to stop at Lake Aloha and I got my wish. The hike up from Meeks Bay passes several nice lakes that are popular day hikes.
Eventually you cross Phipps Pass and drop down to the PCT where I stayed the remainder of the hike. As I climbed up towards Dicks Pass the daily clouds and showers started. The rain came down hard for about an hour - the hardest the whole trip. Eventually it let up and I was able to get over the pass and on to Lake Aloha. I wasn't disappointed either - it was as beautiful as I remember and as far as I could tell I was the only one there!
Day 2: Lake Aloha to Meiss Meadow
My second day started with a hike out to Hwy 50 past Echo Lakes. Then up over a pass which a hiker told me was Echo Summit (but isn't marked on my maps). The terrain was forested volcanic with lots of open spaces and wildflowers.
After some of the best hiking trails on the trip, I ended the day just south of Meiss Cabin/Meadow. I wasn't really keen on staying there because the meadow implied "bugs" but the sun was starting to head down and I was tired. I guess having the cabin nearby sort of creeped me out a little and when the coyotes starting crying every couple hours from either side of my campsite, it left me a little sleepless. I wasn't scared but I also didn't want to deal with animals in my campsite. On the bright side there were very few bugs.
Day 3: Meiss Meadow to base of Reynolds Peak (Eagle Creek Crossing)
The third day was one of great contrasts. I covered about 26 miles but it was still quite impressive what different terrain there could be in such a small area along the same "Pacific Crest".
The day started at dawn in Meiss Meadow. I was worried that the bugs would be swarming as soon as the sun poked over the horizon, so I got up and was rewarded with some beautiful view of the meadow.
The terrain became arid quickly as I headed for Carson Pass (Hwy 88) to the south.
After passing Hwy 88 I was treated to lots of arid wildflower fields. Then it transitioned to hot volcanic formations above Blue Lake (my umbrella came in handy).
The next section transitioned into a wet lakes area. For me it was a tunnel of green with occasion stream crossings. The one lake I recall distinctly was Lily Pad Lake - yes there were lily pads. I think my impression of "wet" was heightened by the fact that there was the typical afternoon shower as I walked through that section.
Eventually though it turned back into volcanic terrain which the picture below captures. You climb up around the base of Raymond Peak and I recall thinking that the narrow trail would be real sketchy for early season PCTers. It's on slippery volcanic mud and the sides below are steep enough that you probably would be in for a long, long slide.
The day turned long because there aren't a lot of water options for camping. I eventually stopped at a small campsite at the base of Reynolds Peak.
Day 4: Eagle Creek Crossing to Boulder Creek
After rousting myself in the morning I headed south through the Toiyobe National Forrest crossing under the large USA flag on Ebbets Peak, past Hwy 4 and then heading up towards what someone told me was Ebbets Pass although it is unmarked on my maps.
The trail meanders on through occasionally odd terrain like that pictured below. But generally there were lots and lots of downsloping fields with lots of wildflowers. I'm told it's been a "wet" summer so far and I'm sure this has helped the wildflower situation. I probably have 100 photos of individual and fields of flowers. I'm definitely not used to seeing this many.
Day 5: Boulder Creek to Sonora Pass (Hwy 108)
My last day was one long climb up to Sonora Pass. The valley undulates for several miles and then climbs in steep sections over about 6 miles. This section reminded me most of the big passes and valleys on the JMT. You could see almost all the way to the pass. As you climb toward the summit there are lots of nice camping spots with beautiful views down the valley.
My feet were sure glad to be heading down the last few miles to Hwy 108. It was quite a volcanic contrast to the north side of the pass.
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