Open main menu

Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

Maybe this is a sign of where we are headed...

Registration for the backpacking permit is all on-line, and easy as pie.  And so we headed up to the Stanislaus National Forest to hike a loop out of the Arnot Creek trailhead.  This area got badly burned in the Donnell Fire a couple of years ago, but we hoped our route would take us up and out of the fire damage.  And we wanted to see how bad it really was.  

The first two miles were through a decimated forest--not much green to be seen, and mainly just stands of blackened trunks.  But once we made it to the Woods Gulch Trail we immediately climbed up out of the fire damage into a steep climb up over the pass towards Highland Creek. 

And this is where the real adventure began.  I don't think a trail crew had seen that trail in fifteen years.  Downed trees everywhere.  Often overgrown with manzanita or, even worse, whitethorn,  At times it was hard to find the trail.  Once down to Highland Creek, it didn't get any better.  This had once been a really nice trail, but now it was an obstacle course.  

At Highland Lakes we were surprised to see the campground open...but sadly, the water system wasn't working yet.  From there we tried to follow the trail back down to Arnot Creek, but there were so many use trails and short cuts that we never did find the junction.  

Eventually we decided that we knew where the trail had to be and where it  had to go, and just went there.  And found it.  And followed it back down tot the burned area at the trailhead.  

A total of 22 miles, more or less.  Some spectacular scenery in this part of the Sierra--volcanic peaks, lots of beautiful granite, the flowers were just starting, and we only had mosquito issues in two short stretches.  And we saw exactly one other group of backpackers in the entire three day trip.  

Not for the inexperienced...

Here's the full trail report, with photos, and the complete photo log:

There is not a wilderness area in the West that is suitable for the inexperienced.   Carson Pass is less than a 1/2 hour from my house.  It is a great area and just far enough from Reno.  I always meet the best people on the trails there.  Sometimes we have long chats  and make new friends.  There are a lot of old school people from the Lake that hike the area.   A grand place to be. 

My suggestion about the inexperience was to warn those who think this might be like Desolation or Emigrant, where trails are clearly marked, easy to follow, and full of other hikers.  Not true of the C-I!

Good info.  The old signs are not being replaced much.  Few wilderness areas have good signs these days.  People can't really rely on them. 

Nice reading over lunch and great photos. I have a love-hate relationship with areas like that. I relish those wilderness areas with no maintenance and fewer people, then curse my way over the blowdowns and bushwacks ...the price I pay for solitide...well worth it!

For me it is all love all the time.  I do not care about trail improvements or trail maintenance.  I do not mind fording rivers or climbing over logs.  Foresters rarely have the luxury of trails. 

My new plan in the area is to travel by PCT, then veer off and wander in the woods for awhile and find a place where no one has ever camped before. 

Im with you is a poor choice of words on my part. The only times I really cuss up a storm at least in my head is when my off trail wanderings end me up in a sticky crawling through a quarter mile of rhododendron thicket with a full pack on my hands and knees!

Nice post Phil.  The first thing that happens in forestry school is they take the eager young students out to north facing slopes full of brush and Devil's club and have them run long transects.   I remember being in country where our feet never touched the ground the brush was so thick.  For people that have hiked trails all of their lives it is unnerving.  Within a week, people are packing up to go home and find a different career.  

Wild country often has places to avoid.  Maybe bogs and muskegs are the worst.  Thick brush is right up there.   I really like the Carson-Iceberg a lot .

One really appreciates trails in places like the Andes.  We once did a climb that included a long bushwhack approach through the rain forest.  The jungle portion of the route was far more physically demanding than the alpine portion of the trip.  We had to ascend almost 5000' through dense forest and ground cover to reach tree line.  There were bugs that left toxic, infected bites.  A mile a day for our group was really good work in the forest.  Non living surfaces were coated in moss or slimy algae.  Every other plant bristled with thorns.  It was steep, slippery, hot and humid.  The canopy blocked most breezes, the air felt heavy, steamy, stifling, like trying to breathe in a plastic bag.  We were well conditioned for the alpine climb, but were not in condition to be swinging machetes all day in a sauna-like environment. It was similar to bushwhacking through the thicker, arboreal forests of the NE and PNW, except higher, more humid and hotter.


Nothing wrong with a good high speed trail carved through extremely rugged terrain to shoot you out into the perfect area to bushwhack into places apart and wildly unknown. 

I always breathe a sigh of relief when I get in far enough to be past the trail maintenance.  It has not happened that much in California, but in places like Colorado and Wyoming it was easy. 

May 22, 2022
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply