Home Backpacking Sonora Pass

Backpacking Sonora Pass

I just finished scrubbing the dirt from underneath my fingernails and I can’t wait to tell anyone and everyone about my 24-mile, majestic as heck backpacking adventure this past weekend at Sonora Pass. The best part about the trip was that in one weekend, you can gaze at the likes of THIS:

And THIS:

I’m still in shock from the grandeur of the miles and miles of Sierras laid out in front of us. We decided to do an in and out hike, as it was difficult to make a loop hike out of the trails that we were hoping to traverse. The following are my stories and tips from the trip so that you too can tackle the Emigrant Wilderness.

Friday Night:

We took off from San Francisco around 3:30pm and hit the road headed toward the Sonora Pass trailhead. The drive took us about five hours, which included the inevitable traffic and the very necessary Taco Bell break (Scroll down for review). By the time we reached the Summer Ranger District Office to pick up our wilderness permit, it was dark and well past closing time. Luckily, we called ahead earlier in the day to request that they leave a permit out for us. The permit was free and a cinch to secure. After picking up the permit, we continued down 108 in the direction of the Pass, hoping to make it a ways closer to the trailhead before setting up camp. We made it about 11 miles to the Cascade Creek Campground and pitched our tent there for the night.

Saturday:

We woke up bright and early Saturday morning to continue on the road the trailhead. On the way from the Cascade Creek Campground, we passed a number of tiny little “resort” areas that contained campgrounds, small stores and bathroom facilities. We stopped by the Dardanelle Resort to pick up an extra water bottle each and continued on our way.

At 9am we reached the Sonora Pass trailhead, sitting at an incredible 9,624 feet above sea level (our route took us as high as 10,865 feet). The trail we hiked also happens to be a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Even as we pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead (located to the left of the highway), we saw weary thru-hikers (people attempting to hike the entire PCT) and trucks delivering packages of supplies.

As we started on our backpacking adventure, we were immediately met with some pretty constant uphill trekking, speckled with snow patches that my friend and I braved in our running shoes. Luckily, I only took one embarrassing tumble. I would definitely recommend bringing gloves if you hike around Sonora Pass. They would have come in very handy (pun intended) when I was sticking my bare hands into the icy snow, hanging on for dear life, and when sauntering across the very windy ridges.

When we made it to the first pass, we decided to take shelter from the extremely vigorous wind behind a convenient boulder. Since my friend and I are not people to shy away from shenanigans, we each decided to pack out a couple of cans of beer. My friend punctured one of his cans rummaging through his pack and decided to shotgun the beer on the spot. Let’s just say that it didn’t turn out awesomely for him.

He quickly regained his composure and we sauntered on. My friend actually hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 and was very eager to stop and talk to every PCT hiker that we met as we hiked south along the route and they were headed north. Every PCT hiker adopts a trail name on their journey and there is an insane network where most hikers have heard other hikers’ names that are on trail the same time as they are (Shout outs to our new friends: Pocket Sand, Wing It, Chef, Cookie Scrambler and Rusty).
Photo Credit: @jortsnotshorts
Photo Credit: @jortsnotshorts

One amazing coincidence that occurred on our trek happened about a fourth of the way through our day. I happened to cross paths with a woman who was in my sorority in college. Seriously! I knew that she was hiking the PCT, but didn’t notice what section she was up to. When I mentioned her trail name to the first thru-hikers we came across, they told us that she was about thirty minutes behind them. So, Night Rider, keep on keeping on! Can’t wait to keep up with the rest of your journey north to Canada.

The rest of our hike took us up and over a couple more passes, across some extremely windy ridges and by some picturesque frozen lakes. The terrain was dotted with vibrant wildflowers and there were an abundance of butterflies that crossed our path.

Around 4pm we finally started our descent down below the tree line to our campsite for the night. We didn’t have a set endpoint in mind, so we hiked until we were sufficiently tuckered out from hiking and the altitude (which made it pretty hard to breathe at points along the hike).

We settled on a campsite by a river around 5:45pm and settled into our sleeping bags to play cards, read and rehydrate our dehydrated dinners using boiled water from my Jet Boil (read on to hear about my backpacking food stash).
The chef at work.
The chef at work.

Sunday:

Again, we woke up bright and early to start the hike back to the car. Even though we were walking along the same path we traveled the day before, there was so much beauty to be seen the second time around that it was certainly never mundane. I mean, how can you possibly look at a scene like this and think “Ugh, been there, done that”?

One highlight of the Sunday part of our hike for me was my introduction to the sport of glacading. Glacading is when one slides down a mountain along ice or snow to make travel more efficient (or when harsh weather conditions arise). Check out the videos I took of my friend and my decent down one of the many fairly steep declines we encountered:
Around 2pm, we once again returned to the Sonora Pass trailhead! The section of the trail we completed was one of my friend’s favorites when he was hiking the PCT and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

We also treated ourselves to a burger, beer and pizza at the Strawberry Inn on the way out. I just wanted to make sure this picture made it into the post.

The Food Stash:

I want to tell you about the food that I brought on trail to give you an idea of what I eat on a 2-day backpacking excursion. It’s important to stay fueled while backpacking because you burn calories like crazy, but it’s also optimal to minimize the weight that your food adds to your pack.

I brought along my bear canister (required on many trails where you might encounter bears) with the following items:

Dehydrated burrito bowl
Dehydrated spaghetti and sauce
Dehydrated bacon and eggs (would not recommend)
Oatmeal
Tortillas, peanut butter and Nutella (the best anywhere, anytime meal)
Instant Coffee and instant hot cocoa (to make morning and evening mochas)
Emergen-C powder (Great for fighting off trail sniffles and for covering the taste of Iodine when you treat water)
I use my Jet Boil to boil any water that I need for my meals or beverages and I am 100% obsessed with it. Almost as much as I am with Taco Bell. Which is why we also stocked up on Taco Bell hot sauces to add to all of our meals that it could be reasonably added to. Luckily I can still find friends that are willing to go on adventures with me.

As far as water goes, there were several streams along the route. The main concern when drinking fresh water from streams is Giardia. Luckily, we didn’t have to worry much as we were at such high altitude and we could literally see the melting snow that was the source of the streams. I always bring iodine tablets with me in case I’m skeptical of water, but we were fine. I carried two one-liter water bottles with me and they were perfectly adequate as I periodically drank from them, used water for my Jet Boil and was able to refill them.
Water collection on fleek.
Water collection on fleek.

Taco Bell Critique:
Yes, I packed all of those sauces in my backpack.
Yes, I packed all of those sauces in my backpack.

This review is for the Taco Bell located at 2050 Daniels St. in Manteca, CA. We pulled into the parking lot of this glorious Taco Bell location around 6:30pm Friday on our way along Highway 120. Slightly hangry (hungry + angry) from sitting in traffic, we exuberantly exited my vehicle and made our way into the taco-scented sanctuary. I ordered a Cheesy Gordita Crunch and a bean and cheese burrito. If you are unfamiliar with the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, it’s a taco covered in cheese with another tortilla around it. Of course, my friend and I loaded up on all the types of taco sauces as well: Mild, Hot, Fire and the all-importand Diablo sauce. While I was more than satisfied with my food, my friend ordered a quesadilla as a part of his haul. It came wrapped in tin foil, so the whole thing came apart and was super messy as he tried to unwrap it. I would suggest that Taco Bell find another method of encasing their tortilla-y, cheesy goodness so it is more convenient to eat. The woman who helped us at the counter was extremely friendly and entirely on board with us taking an “adequate” amount of sauce to go with our order. This particular establishment was also very clean, including the restrooms. Very important as this was the last *real* restroom we would use for the next couple of days. My final rating is as follows:

Ambiance: 9/10
Service: 10/10
Food: 8/10