The Carson Iceberg Wilderness is located in both the Stanislaus and Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forests in northern California, on the crest of the Sierra Nevada range. The Wilderness is 161,000 acres of high country peaks and meadow-filled valleys and everything in between.
This year the weather for Memorial Day weekend was looking quite promising. In our usual effort to avoid the mass of people going camping, we decided to backpack into the Carson Iceberg and spend two nights along the East Fork of the Carson River. We parked at the High Trail/East Carson River Trail trailhead off of Wolf Creek Road (near Highway 4 and south of Markleeville, California).
Matt and I met up with our friends Brian and Thea on Saturday morning and set out on our weekend adventure. Both trails begin together and split a few hundred yards in, to the left is the East Carson River Trail (described as meandering), and to the right, the High Trail (described as strenuous and difficult). We went right. The elevation at the trailhead is 6,240 feet and the climb over the ridge is significant, but it’s beautiful and the landscape seems to be continuously changing.
As we began the descent, we could see glimpses of the Carson River winding through the valley. The High Trail ends when it meets back up with the East Carson River Trail, about a 6.5 mile hike. We spotted a perfect clearing for camping near the river, complete with a fire ring. We set up our tents and settled in for the weekend.
The next morning, we took the East Carson River Trail towards Carson Falls for a day hike. We followed the river for 3 miles or so but then got intimidated by the second river crossing. This early in the season the water is high, running fast, and freezing cold. We stopped for lunch and then headed back to camp.
On Monday morning, Thea and I woke up early determined to get a head start on our hike out. The clouds were building up and the weather prediction for a chance of rain in the afternoon looked like it might come true. We cruised through gorgeous wildflower filled forests and precariously stepped on the skinny ledge of trail above the raging river below.
We cleared several miles and just as we were about to make the big ascent, Matt and Brian caught up. The remaining two miles or so can get pretty steep in spots but it’s relatively quick.
Several sources say this loop we completed is about 15 miles, and I just don’t see how that’s possible. I’m going to go with the Stanislaus National Forest map and say that the High Trail is 6.5 miles and the East Carson River Trail from the junction of the High Trail back up to the parking lot is 5.5 miles. A 12 mile loop.
We’ve hiked this same loop in one day before, going the opposite direction. It’s a great, hardy day hike, but I enjoyed taking it slow this time around and really exploring the landscape. It’s a truly beautiful place and the best part is we didn’t see another person the entire time we were in the Wilderness, not one!
Oh, and we made it out before the rain came, by the time it started pouring we were already at the Cutthroat Saloon in Markleeville ordering a round of burgers.
(If you liked this post, check out my other post on backpacking in northern California here.)