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Backpacker Magazine – June 2001

Splendor Hiking The High Sierra

Take the finest mountains in the world, add high-country meadows, glacial valleys, alpine lakes, pine-and-hemlock forests, and what do you have? A recipe for backcountry bliss.

by: John Harlin

Sierra Hikes Key
All distances are approximate
(T) = all trail travel
(SOT) = some off-trail hiking (just a few miles)
(MOT) = moderate off-trail (a day or more's worth)
(COT) = challenging off-trail (tricky route-finding and obstacles)

1. Fish Valley
Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

23 miles (SOT) or 14 miles (T); 2 to 4 days

This seldom-used trail begins at the Corral Valley trailhead. Hike about 5 miles through Corral Valley and Coyote Valley (lots of camping in both places), and finally into Upper Fish Valley. Saddles of 8,500 to 9,000 feet separate the valleys. In the Upper Fish Valley, follow the trail along Silver King Creek. An excellent 9-mile, mostly off-trail loop suitable for experienced cross-country hikers ascends Four Mile Canyon to a broad saddle due south of a timberline tarn, then follows the crest over 10,833-foot Wells Peak and down to a saddle where you pick up the Silver King Trail. Return via the Rodriguez Flat eastbound trail. Near the northern end of Upper Fish Valley, good campsites abound in the lodgepole pine forest, on the western bank of the creek near the Connels Cow Camp cabin, and by the mouth of Four Mile Canyon.

Getting there: On US 395 1.3 miles north of Walker, turn west onto Mill Canyon Road. Go right onto Golden Gate Road, signed for Little Antelope Pack Station. At a signed junction 6.3 miles from the highway, turn left for the Corral Valley trailhead. Maps: Forest Service Carson-Iceberg Wilderness; USGS Coleville and Lost Cannon Peak. Contact: Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

2. Emigrant Wilderness Loop
Stanislaus National Forest

40-plus miles (T); 4 to 5 days

The Emigrant Wilderness is resplendent with craggy outcroppings, verdant meadows, and subalpine pine, fir, and hemlock forests. Trail options abound, as do warm lakes for swimming, near the northern border of Yosemite National Park. From the Kennedy Meadows Resort, hike past Relief Reservoir, then up Summit Creek and over Brown Bear Pass to Emigrant Meadow Lake. Here, the trail follows a line separating dark, volcanic rocks on one side and white granite on the other, with paintbrush and lupine carpeting the trailsides. Descend to Emigrant Lake or continue toward Snow Lake. Continue to Huckleberry Lake, then up through Buck Lakes (beautifully island-studded), then to Deer Lake. After reaching a hard-to-find trail junction at Deer Lake, continue on the more-obvious trail past Salt Lick Meadow and over a saddle to Upper Relief Valley, then down to Relief Reservoir to complete the loop. Horses are common, but the trails are still in good shape.

Getting there: From CA 108 just 9 miles west of Sonora Pass, turn south to Kennedy Meadows Resort. Maps: Forest Service Emigrant Wilderness; Yosemite National Park; USGS Sonora Pass, Emigrant Lake, Cooper Peak. Contact: Stanislaus National Forest.

3. Tilden Lake
Yosemite National Park

45 miles (T); 4 to 6 days

According to writer John Hart's measurements, a spot near the outlet of Tilden Lake is one of the farthest points from a road in all of California: just more than 12 miles. You can get there in a number of ways. From the O'Shaughnessy Dam at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, climb switchbacks to the Beehive Trail, then continue to Jack Main Canyon and on to Tilden Lake. Descend along Tilden Canyon Creek, then past Tiltill Mountain and back to the reservoir, which the trail parallels (providing great views) for 4 miles back to the dam. Be aware that early season runoff can make stream crossings dangerous in the high country; check with the National Park Service.

Getting there: Use the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station to Yosemite on CA 120 and follow signs to Hetch Hetchy. Maps: Yosemite National Park; USGS Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Kibbie Lake, Lake Eleanor, Tiltill Mountain, Piute Mountain. Contact: Yosemite National Park.

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