TR Summit City Canyon

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balzaccom
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TR Summit City Canyon

Post by balzaccom » Mon Sep 04, 2017 3:10 pm

Labor Day weekend is one if the busiest times of the year in the back country. The combination of a long weekend, minimal mosquitoes, and a last gasp effort to get out in the trail means that many wilderness areas can be positively crowded, tent to tent at some lakes.

Which is what we were hoping to avoid by heading into the Summit City Canyon. We'd read the reports. There are no gorgeous lake destinations. It's hard work to get there, and the trail can be minimal at times. And it's not on the way to anywhere else, unless you're trying to hike the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail. We thought we might not run into many crowds.

We'd been warned about this trail: difficult, hard to follow, steep, rough, and unmaintained. That's a junction marker below...

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Labor Day weekend was the perfect time to find out if all that was true. Besides, temperatures were supposed to go well over 100 in Northern California over the weekend. It was time to get up into the mountains!

It started well when I contacted the permit officer at the ranger station. She was so prepared to deal with one more permit for an easy to hike to lake just off the highway, that when she heard where we were going, she wondered if we even needed a permit. We did. And ours was the only permit for Summit City that she wrote for the whole weekend. in fact, she said it was the first one she could remember writing.

By arriving Thursday night at Upper Blue Lake campground, we had a wide choice of campsites. Of course they were all booked for the weekend, but getting there a day early meant we could stay there for one night and start hiking Friday morning. Perfect.

We were the only car in the trailhead parking lot when we started at 8:15, and twenty minutes later we were at 8600 feet at the top of the pass. It was all very much downhill from there.

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Way downhill.

The trail crosses Summit City Creek and then starts to follow the old Pioneer mining road down into Summit City, often straight down the canyon. We were a bit concerned about the smoke from fires that had closed Monitor Pass, and kept looking up to see how bad the air was. It wasn't great.

But as we headed down the canyon past the junction to Fourth of July Lake, we started to really enjoy the hike.

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There was nobody in the trail. Nobody. It followed the creek, sometimes near, sometimes farther away, always within earshot. A glimpse of white water through the trees, or burbling current underneath a cloud of alders kept us entertained. On a hot day, the canyon was pleasantly cool. And we were hiking downhill.

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I had promised M an easy day, so we stopped near Horse Creek and took a look around. We ate lunch, checked out the neighborhood, and found a spot nearby we liked as a campsite. After setting up camp, we took a nap, fished, sat around, and generally dawdled the afternoon away. Lovely.

The trail to this point had been perfectly maintained, except for the last junction post, which had been torn to pieces by bears. Weird.

Some big puffs of smoke coming over the ridge from Round Top that afternoon got our attention, but they soon cleared up in the face of a few CDF planes.

We tried some new Singapore style ramen noodles I picked up at an Asian market for dinner...and fell into bed early feeling relaxed, secluded, and quite happy.

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The next day the smoke had cleared a bit, and we decided to day hike down the canyon. We had no real destination, but we took a lunch, a fly rod, and played it by ear.

What a marvelous hike. The terrain alternated between cool green forests and sunny bare granite slabs that sent the creek into magical cascades and deep aquamarine pools. Each section seemed better than the last. We waded through a sea of ferns, and dipped our toes into pools twenty feet deep.

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At the first ford, we debated continuing. If the smoke got worse, it would be better to head back. And M was a little hesitant about the ford. Ten minutes later, she put on her water shoes and away we went, meandering down through granite domes, navigating manzanita, and overlooking spectacular granite pools.

We did lose the trail very briefly a couple of times, once in the sea of ferns, and again just above the first ford, but each time a quick check of the topo map showed us where the trail needed to go...and we found it there.

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By late morning we realized that we had covered a lot of ground, dropped quite a bit in elevation, and we would have to do all of that in reverse to get back to camp. Which we did, happily, stopping for lunch by one especially nice pool. I fished, M napped, and then we went back to camp and napped again. Despite the relatively easy hiking and crowded weekend, we hadn't seen anyone for two days.

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By the evening the smoke had pretty much cleared up. We had a few clouds form, but that just gave us a little extra shade. The moonlight that night from a nearly full moon lit up our campsite for hours.

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The next day was a cakewalk back to the car, which was now one of seven at the trailhead. We'd only seen one other couple on the way out, and they had hiked down from Fourth of July Lake. Three days backpacking over Labor Day weekend, and we had the place to ourselves. Amazing.

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On the drive home we noted that the cars at the Tahoe Rim trailhead on Meyers Grade filled the parking and lined both sides of the highway, and the backup in Meyers went almost to the top of Echo Summit. Which made our adventure even more delicious.

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A couple of notes about this trip. The fishing, despite the stunning beauty, was crappy. Not many fish, and they were small and skinny. It took me most of two hours to catch five fish over 7 inches long, and the biggest was a 9-inch stringbean that looked like it was starving. With all the bare granite, there may not be that much for trout to eat.

And this trail is not for everyone. If you are not comfortable following rock cairns for long distances, or don't like an occasional scramble up or down the granite, this is not for you. if you feel more comfortable seeing a few people every mile, that wont happen here. And we did not follow this trail all the way to the Mokelumne River. The last mile or two down into that canyon are reportedly more difficult than anything we hiked. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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Still. Three days of backpacking over Labor Day weekend and complete solitude. Mmmmmmm.

The link to the photo log of the whole trip is here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/fdYMzjiebzPUDdvv2
Last edited by balzaccom on Mon Sep 04, 2017 7:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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Wandering Daisy
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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 04, 2017 7:01 pm

I am not seeing the photos.

I have been down Summit CIty Creek a few times, but coming in from Roundtop and down the traip from 4th July Lake. I did one trip early, and could not cross the creek in order to get down to the Mokolumne. I also did it once looping back up the creek to areas you were in. It is a remote, little used area that is quite nice. When I did it early season, the trail was covered with a lot of avalanche debris.

I was at my daughters babysitting the kids in San Anselmo, and it was ugly, ugly , ugly- humid, muggy, smokey, hazy. 97-degrees with no air conditioning! You picked a good trip for the weekend. We went to Point Reyes to hike and it was not much better.

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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by rlown » Mon Sep 04, 2017 7:15 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:I am not seeing the photos.

I have been down Summit CIty Creek a few times, but coming in from Roundtop and down the traip from 4th July Lake. I did one trip early, and could not cross the creek in order to get down to the Mokolumne. I also did it once looping back up the creek to areas you were in. It is a remote, little used area that is quite nice. When I did it early season, the trail was covered with a lot of avalanche debris.
google photos is pretty sad now for third party hosting; check the permissions on your photos. One idea is switch to flickr.
I've done variations on that route thrice. '76 from Carson pass down and then up summit city to blue. Then another loop out of Carson pass down to horse creek and then up (I was younger :) )

I've also come up out of Salt Springs up and out at Carson Pass via 4th of July lake.

As WD mentioned the avalanche damage, there was a sign there as a tribute to "Summit City" as well as a huge number of cow bones. Guess the cows were in the wrong place at the wrong time :(

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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by Vaca Russ » Mon Sep 04, 2017 7:21 pm

P,

For some reason I can't see the pictures you posted. Good thing I went to your website. I was able to see the pictures there.

Great pictures! Great report as always!

Thanks,

-Russ
"...Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master?"

Kahil Gibran.

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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by balzaccom » Mon Sep 04, 2017 7:53 pm

I HATE google photos. I re-entered all the links. Let me know if it works now. It works for me....but they're my photos!
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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by rlown » Mon Sep 04, 2017 7:55 pm

works.. Sweet!! Brings back some memories.

We actually carried 2 bottles of champagne, some pate', waverly crackers and a watermelon on two of our trips. Not sure how the champagne was acquired.. :-k

We turned one of those holes into a "hot tub" with a fire of hot rocks rolled in. It was marvelous.

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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by gplhiker » Tue Sep 05, 2017 1:27 pm

We were just down there backpacking a couple of weeks ago, and did some trail scouting for the Wilderness Ranger who took a work crew down after us to clear as many logs across the trail as they could. The past winter was extremely destructive to what is left of this trail, but they were able to clear most of them down to the Horse Canyon (slivered) marker post but ran out of ability with the manual tools we have to use in the Wilderness at the big one that fell across the trail from the other side of the river! You probably saw it (sic) with a couple of cuts which just couldn't be done.

Past where you camped the trail is pretty much gone from years of non-maintenance. This wild area is part of the historic Tahoe to Yosemite trail, and it sure would be nice to get it at least partially passable one day in the future. Other accounts indicate that the trail north from Highway 4 toward Camp Irene are in good condition, but the trail eventually fizzles out from that direction as well.

Our goal was to get to the old Monte Wolff cabin on the Mokelumne River, but we ran out of time and will have to try again another time. Love, love, love this area and it's remoteness, however, and am glad to know at least someone else has been able to get out and enjoy it! I have some pictures on my hike site from our trek down into the area last summer, but it only goes to the Horse Canyon junction: http://www.greglamy.net/Hiking/SummitCityEvergreen.html

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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by Vaca Russ » Tue Sep 05, 2017 6:16 pm

gplhiker wrote: The past winter was extremely destructive to what is left of this trail, but they were able to clear most of them down to the Horse Canyon (slivered) marker post but ran out of ability with the manual tools we have to use in the Wilderness at the big one that fell across the trail from the other side of the river! You probably saw it (sic) with a couple of cuts which just couldn't be done.
P's Tree.JPG
I think he found the tree.

Thanks for sharing what you did. It would be nice to explore this area someday. I would like to visit Monte's old stompin' grounds. George "Mokelumne Kid" has a lot of stories about this area.

Thanks for sharing!

-Russ
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"...Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master?"

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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by balzaccom » Tue Sep 05, 2017 7:39 pm

We did find that tree. And we hiked at least three miles past where we camped at Horse Creek, and found the trail was acceptable to that point. Don't know what it is like on that last steep plunge down into the Mokelumne....but I'd like to find out.

If you do organize a trail work party next year, send me a note. I'm in!
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Re: TR Summit City Canyon

Post by JBenz » Tue Sep 05, 2017 10:25 pm

My wife and I just completed my dream of 30 years of hiking from Hermit Valley on Hwy 4 to Salt Springs reservoir. We got out yesterday Sept 4, 2017 after 6 days of never seeing a soul or sign. When we joined the old "Pack Trail" (Alpine to Summit City via Camp Irene) at Cole Creek, we were relieved to find well marked yet untrod trail to Camp Irene. The old crossings at Camp Irene appear to still be easy. At least from our junction, that route appears 'relatively' used and very well marked.

I would like to hear from others who have done Hwy4 to Salt Springs about routes from Monte's to the old "Pack Trail". Of all my google earth options, this was the most brutal.

JBenz

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