What: a section of the Pacific Crest Trail and 4 summits
Where: Ebbetts Pass to Castle Pass just north of I-80
When: August 1-7, 2013 (7 days)
Distance: about 115 miles
Highlights: Simple logistics, pleasant walking, new places to visit
Printable maps and trail notes are available at Halfmile’s website PCT Maps.
Why we went
This was an opportunistic hike. A friend generously offered us a ride from home to Ebbetts Pass. Another friend who lives in Reno generously offered to pick us up at the I-80 rest area near the PCT crossing and drop us at Reno’s Megabus stop, where we could catch a bus to San Francisco. Halfmile’s printable map set and trail notes simplified planning so that we could organize quickly. Although we did not expect this to be as striking as the Sierra range south of Mammoth, we looked forward to exploring a new region.
This section of the Sierra is attractive, but it does not have the knocks-my-socks-off grandeur of the Sierra Nevada between Mammoth and Whitney. This was a pleasant and easy hike and I’m glad we did went. I really enjoy the process: up at dawn; walk all day with many stops for birds, flowers, lunch, photos; find a niche and set up camp; sleep; repeat. I like it enough that it’s very satisfying even when the scenery is good but not great, as was the case in this trip.
We are lucky that we can hike in our favorite destinations and also explore new trails. It’s not likely that I will return to this region again, as it is not nearly as scenic as the mountains south of Mammoth, but I’m very glad that I explored a new part of California.
Although this walk in the Sierra Nevada is not as grand as those from the Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP’s as far north as the Mono Recesses, the mountains north of Ebbetts Pass were interesting to walk through. This was an easy and very low stress trip, both from a planning and hiking perspective. Sometimes it is nice to do a drama-free walk in the mountains with no off-trail complexities to contend with. It was also fun to re-visit the Desolation Wilderness, a place I had not been to in many years. Walking this route has raised my interest in hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail one of these days.
Notes for Potential Hikers
This is an easy low-stress walk on well-marked and maintained trail, without massive gains and losses, and at a lower altitude than some of the areas further south. This would be a good trip for less-experienced backpackers, people who would like to backpack with children, or those susceptible to altitude sickness.
Truckee is only a few miles east of the PCT just off of I-80, and Greyhound runs a bus from Truckee to San Francisco. Anybody in the Bay Area who can find a ride to Sonora Pass, Ebbetts Pass, or Carson Pass could consider walking the PCT from any of those passes north to Truckee.
We took a couple short side trips off the PCT to climb four SPS Peaks: Round Top, Granite Chief, Tinker Knob, and Castle Peak.
- Granite Chief and Tinker Knob are walk-ups just a few minutes from the PCT. Both have fine views from the top.
- Round Top and Castle Peak are more distant from the PCT and are reached via short class 3 climbs. Castle Peak is actually a bit north of Interstate 80, so after reaching the summit, we backtracked a few miles to return to the highway.
- There are also numerous summits in the Desolation Wilderness with Dick’s Peak being the most easily accessible from the PCT.
We were quite surprised by the number of people we encountered along the trail. There were plenty of day hikers, a number of backpackers walking the Tahoe Rim Trail, which is concurrent with the PCT for about forty miles, and a couple of people doing long segments of the PCT. In particular, there were many people in the area around Lake Winnemucca enjoying the easy day hike in from Carson Pass. There were many weekend backpackers in the Desolation Wilderness. Although the PCT was busy in places, we never had any difficulty finding private campsites. Wildflowers were still quite vibrant and colorful, even though it was already August. We had very few mosquitoes and never needed repellent.
During the summer there is friendly staff at an information building at Carson Pass. As PCT hikers, we were offered water and cookies. You can’t buy food there, but you could purchase guidebooks, historical accounts, and stuffed animals.
There is a deli and store open during the summer on the trail at Echo Lake a couple of miles north of Echo Summit. They sell freshly made sandwiches, beer and ice cream as well as a variety of groceries including a small selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Finding water was never difficult as many of the creeks were still flowing.
There is very good camping on top of the ridge between Highway 40 and I-80, about a mile south of I-80. At this place, road noise was not noticeable from either 40 or 80.