PCT 2008: Sonora Pass to Virginia Canyon


My second trip for 2008 was a 71 mile hike, southbound on the PCT from Sonora Pass to Return Creek, and then exiting Yosemite NP via the Virginia Lakes trailhead. During this six day journey I was accompanied by Jim Slade and Jim Keogh. On 21 July Lucy drove us from Reno to Sonora Pass and collected us at Virginia Lakes Resort on 26 July.

This section of the PCT is characterized by deep spectacular canyons, crossed one after another ... with the trail moving mostly against the grain of the landscape. Unlike the PCT/JMT sections south of Yosemite NP, the many mountain passes along the trail are below tree line, except within the 15 miles south of Sonora Pass, an area of volcanic sediments rather than the granitic domain of Yosemite. So our first day of travel was dry and dusty, across a barren volcanic landscape, well above the tree line and any sources of water. After 9 miles of this alpine desert, we thankfully descended into the green environment of Kennedy Canyon where we made our first camp.

We'd calculated the trip would require an average travel rate of 13 miles per day ... a plan that was harder than expected because of the vertical lift involved to enter and exit the many canyons along the trail. 

 

  • At Sonora Pass before heading south on the PCT:  Jim Keogh, Peter, Jim Slade & Ricky At Sonora Pass before heading south on the PCT: Jim Keogh, Peter, Jim Slade & Ricky
  • Hiking the PCT a few miles south of Sonora Pass ... a dry volcanic moonscape. Hiking the PCT a few miles south of Sonora Pass ... a dry volcanic moonscape.
  • The two Jims taking a rest stop with Koenig and Leavitt lakes to the south The two Jims taking a rest stop with Koenig and Leavitt lakes to the south
  • Peter and Jim K. with Latopie Lake below ... a 400' descent/climb to fetch water! Peter and Jim K. with Latopie Lake below ... a 400' descent/climb to fetch water!
  • The PCT guide book warns this section dangerous in early season. The PCT guide book warns this section dangerous in early season.
  • Back in granite country on the north shore of Dorothy Lake Back in granite country on the north shore of Dorothy Lake
  • Peter and Jim S. at the buggie campsite in Grace Meadow ... south of Dorothy Lake Peter and Jim S. at the buggie campsite in Grace Meadow ... south of Dorothy Lake
  • On the edge of beautiful Wilma Lake on our third day south of Sonora Pass On the edge of beautiful Wilma Lake on our third day south of Sonora Pass
  • Jim K. wading Stubblefield Creek in the early morning after breaking camp. Jim K. wading Stubblefield Creek in the early morning after breaking camp.
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  • The two Jims at our camp by the magnificent Smedberg Lake The two Jims at our camp by the magnificent Smedberg Lake
  • Peter crossing Benson Pass, with Volunteer Peak behind. Peter crossing Benson Pass, with Volunteer Peak behind.
  • The two Jims hiking along the shore of Miller Lake ... a surprise gem of a lake. The two Jims hiking along the shore of Miller Lake ... a surprise gem of a lake.
  • Jim K. after swimming in the waters of Miller Lake Jim K. after swimming in the waters of Miller Lake
  • Our last camp before exiting Virginia Canyon. Our last camp before exiting Virginia Canyon.
  • Jim K. on our climb from Virginia Canyon and above Summit Lake. Jim K. on our climb from Virginia Canyon and above Summit Lake.
  • The ultimate heart shaped rock, located near the trail above Summit Lake. The ultimate heart shaped rock, located near the trail above Summit Lake.
  • Jim K. and Peter on the high point between Summit Lake and Virginia Lakes. Jim K. and Peter on the high point between Summit Lake and Virginia Lakes.
  • The two Jims on the last day of the trek from Sonora Pass to Virginia Lakes Resort. The two Jims on the last day of the trek from Sonora Pass to Virginia Lakes Resort.
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Most of our overnight camps were on the canyon floors and therefore warmer than the Sierra average, but the pleasure was diminished by plagues of mosquitoes.  One exception was on the shores of Smedberg Lake, a beautiful high elevation lake surrounded by granite slabs and with waters teaming with large trout.  Apparently a popular destination for wilderness fisherman despite its remoteness from trailheads, the closest being at least two days hike.

After leaving Smedberg Lake and crossing Benson Pass, we descended the 1800' into Matterhorn Canyon, possibly the most impressive scenic feature of our journey.  Of course, we then had to climb out of the canyon, 1000' up to Miller Lake (a hidden gem!), followed by an immediate 1000' descent to the Spiller Creek crossing.  Then this longest day became easier after leaving the PCT at Return Creek, turning off on the Virginia Canyon Trail which we then followed northeast for two miles before making our last night's camp.  The final day involved a relatively easy 8 mile hike out to the Virginia Lakes Resort.

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