Mokelumne Wilderness 2020-08

In August, my backpack trip in the Mokelumne Wilderness started with a trip to Camp Winthers. My friend Steffani picked me up in Auburn, and we spent three days visiting the environmental education summer camp we used to work at, and friend John, who now manages the camp. Of course there were no kids there, but it was a nice visit anyway. After the visit Steffani dropped me off at Carson Pass for my backpack trip. Though I can get many places to backpack on transit, the Mokelumne is not one of them, so the drop-off saves me a day of walking from South Lake Tahoe.

I headed south on the Pacific Crest Trail, and camped on the ridge south of Forestdale canyon. The night was clear but incredibly windy, and with no protection up there on the ridge, I got little sleep. Morning, I headed down Summit City Creek. The upper part of this trail has been maintained sometime since my last visit, when it was almost impassable with brush in several sections. Then comes a section long unmaintained, and then part of the lower trail has been maintained again, but not all the way to the lowest crossing of the creek where it meets the Mokelumne River route. It is a wonderful place, however, well worth walking.

Summit City Creek

The Mokelumne River routes heads downstream, up on benches and through forested flats where it is difficult though not impossible to follow, eventually climbing to a junction with the Munson Meadow trail. I camped there, with the night spitting rain but never raining hard. Next morning, down to the river at Camp Irene. The river is low enough that crossing was just a boulder hop.

Mokelumne River at Camp Irene

I then climbed out of the canyon up the Lake Valley trail (not sure of the name, it may still be called the Munson Meadow trail). This trail has not been maintained in a long while. Some parts are obvious, some parts not, and some parts are definitely a push through thick brush. I lost the trail in the meadow, but eventually picked it up again. It actually leaves the meadow to the east almost immediately after entering it. The trail tops out on the Mt Reba ridge, and follows an old road east.

I then followed the Underwood Valley trail north, back into the wilderness. The top part is a road, which I’m not sure whether is an incursion into the wilderness, or is outside the wilderness, but in any case is unnecessary. It should stop at the crest. I lost the trail in the many cow-trampled meadows, and then picked up a trail which I thought was the right one, but turns out was a cowboy trail up over the ridge and into the Jackson Creek canyon. Being on the wrong trail, I headed in the wrong direction when I got to the correct trail, and spend quite a while wandering around trying to make the reality on the ground match the map. It was not until the next morning that I figured out where I really was when I got to the junction of the Underwood Valley trail with the Frog Lake trail. Frog Lake, as one might suspect from the name, it a shallow lily-pad pond, but is pretty nonetheless. Now that I knew where I was, I was able to follow the Underwood Valley trail back out to the trailhead. The trail is mostly in good condition, with a few brushy spots, and is generally not hard to follow, except for the cow meadow where I first lost it going in.

Frog Lake

From the top of the Underwood Valley trail, I followed the Bee Gulch trail down to Lake Alpine. What a mess that place is. The ‘backpacker’ campsites have been converted by the private campground manager into regular high priced sites, same as the drive-in sites. The roads were full of people driving, driving, driving, in and out of the campground. I suspect they were going to Bear Valley for coffee, but who knows. The campground roads felt like urban arterials. Leaving this travesty, I headed up along the Emigrant Trail eastward. The trail edges Stanislaus Meadow, which is beautiful, in part because it is the one place along the trail that is fenced off from cows which were ubiquitous in every other meadow. I camped near Mosquito Lakes, and enjoyed the quiet.

Next day I walked down Hwy 4 to the river, and then headed north on the Deer Valley jeep road. I had walking this once years ago, north to south, and had seen no one, but this time there were a number of vehicles on the road. It apparently attracts the same jeep people that the Rubicon Trail does. The road leads to the Blue Lakes area, where I picked up the PCT northbound, and camped in the Forestdale Creek canyon.

I then walked north back through Carson Pass, continued on the PCT to Meiss Meadow and Round Lake, where I rinsed off some dust, and then down to the Upper Truckee River where I camped. In the morning I walked through Washoe Meadows state park, which is a beautiful area I’d never paid that much attention to, and to South Lake Tahoe. Morning tea and snack at Alpine Coffee, then beer at South Lake Brewing, and caught the Amtrak bus home.

This was my first trip into the Mokelumne in two years (Mokelumne Wilderness 2018-07). It is an area I really like, and would like to get to more often, but it is an entire day’s walk to get there from South Lake Tahoe, and another day’s walk to get back. The trails there are deteriorating with time, and I suspect many of them shown on the map will eventually cease to exist in the future. I have been using the US Forest Service Mokelumne Wilderness map (2002) but may start using the Trails Illustrated Carson-Iceberg, Emigrant & Mokelumne Wilderness Areas (807, 2008) map because it has trail mileages and trail names for the major trails, which the FS map does not. The scale of both maps is 1:63,360.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157715837267621

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