Emigrant Wilderness is one of the most popular places for Northern California groups to complete a 50 mile backpacking trip. There are so many trailheads, lakes, and worthwhile routes, that it would be impossible to name them all. You can enter Emigrant from Yosemite (Boundary Lake), Hwy 108 (Crabtree, Gianelli Cabin, and Kennedy Meadows), or the Sonora Pass (Leavitt Peak). Permits are easily acquired at any of the Ranger Stations and up to 15 backpackers can be accommodated on a trek. Bear cans are not required.
A fantastic 2002 trip took us from Crabtree to Hyatt Lake , past Big Lake to the East Fork of Cherry Creek (mostly bushwhacking all afternoon but a fantastic campsite on the Creek), to Wood Lake (mosquito swarms at Cow Meados), to Relief Valley (encountered drovers with lots of cows), to Brown Bear Pass, to Latopie Lake (beautiful and surrounded by snow), and out at Sonora Pass. With the exception of an adult with a bad attitude, getting lost and adding five miles one afternoon, having to cross a raging stream by walking over a fallen log 30 feet above the raging water, and getting into Hyatt Lake well after dark on the first day, it was an unremarkable experience!
Our 2008 hike was from Gianelli’s Cabin to Whiteside Meadow to Emigrant Lake to Snow and Bigelow Lakes to Lertora Lake to Gem Lake. Very straightforward and enjoyable. Every camp was in a beautiful setting. Remember that the mosquitoes are bad in July and just about any place called a “Meadow” is full of them. Lertora Lake is a great place to swim and camp (one of my favorite places in Emigrant.) There are always lots of day hikers near Crabtree and Gem Lake is a popular destination for them. If you bushwack from Snow Lake to Bigelow Lake (some maps show a trail be we couldn’t follow it all the way over the saddle) remember to stay high. Do not descend into the valley or you will miss Bigelow altogether. Hint: study the map and notice where all the high places are before heading out in the morning.
One difficult places to find in Emigrant Wilderness is Hyatt Lake. There are no trails into the Lake, and only a very experienced backpacker can nagivate the ducks, granite faces, and ridgelines to make it there. It is 12 difficult miles from Crabtree campground, a large part of it uphill. Still, the few who actually make to Hyatt Lake find the ordeal worthwhile. The views hiking over the ridge into the lake are spectacular (a huge granite bowl as far as the eye can see), sandy beaches, and high and low rock faces that are perfect for jumping into the lake. Swimming is a must-do activity.
More than one local unit has organized hikes into Hyatt Lake for the weekend. Older boys carry gear and hike all the way into Hyatt on Day One and set up the camp. Younger Scouts stop at West Fork of Cherry Creek on Day One and continue into Hyatt on Day Two. Everyone hikes out on Day Three. About 24 miles round trip.
A few years back, I was at Hyatt Lake, and as usual it was a great trip. That time we shared the lake with two groups. One a batch of skinny- dipping women who were obviously enjoying the water and the sun. The other group brought fireworks, which they set off at night over the granite bowl towards Big Lake. Totally illegal, but after we got over our worries that they might be emergency flares from stranded hikers, we enjoyed the flashes inter-mingled with the stars.
Your turn. What are your favorite 50 milers in Emigrant?
Download your own copy. “Backpacking for Boys” contains Checklists, “Trail Tips”, pictures and useful references for a fun (and safe) wilderness backpacking adventure. Topics include trail leadership, physical conditioning, planning the hike, what to pack, how to buy equipment, taking care of your feet, navigation, wilderness first aid, setting up a campsite, and ideas for fine dining at any altitude.