Northern Yosemite's Remote Lakes, Canyons, and Passes, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14137A, Backpacking


  • Experience Yosemite’s remote northern High Sierra country
  • Spend time at “Yosemite’s Riviera,” Benson Lake
  • Enjoy a layover day by exploring the surrounding countryside or resting


  • Great camaraderie
  • Delicious vegetarian-friendly meals
  • Group cooking gear and bear canisters


DatesAug 9–16, 2014
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffMike Bolar

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Trip Overview

Please note that the trip dates have changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.

The Trip

The route travels 54 miles thru the more remote northeast section of Yosemite National Park and Hoover Wilderness. The area has many wonders minus the crowds of much of the rest of Yosemite National Park thanks to the lack of roads, which makes it less accessible. You can expect to enjoy the area's rivers, waterfalls, deep glaciated canyons, and granite peaks.

The trip is for experienced, physically fit backpackers. Although we will have several moderate days and a layover day, many days are more strenuous, with significant elevation change and fully loaded packs that weigh up to 45 pounds. Many days will start early, requiring early wake-ups and efficient camp breakdowns.


Day 1: We will meet at the campground at 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 9th, giving us time for introductions and last-minute gear checks. We will have dinner (not included) at a nearby café. 

Day 2: After our first included breakfast, we will begin our hike from the Twin Lakes trailhead. We will climb quickly for one of our most strenuous days, hiking eight miles and gaining 2,500 feet, with fully loaded back packs, to our destination at Peeler Lake.

Day 3: We will hike into Kerrick Meadow and camp near Seavey Pass.

Day 4: We will stop at the largest sand beach in the Sierra, at Benson Lake. From there, we continue on to Smedburg Lake, which will be our location for a layover day.

Day 5: On our layover day, we'll be free to climb nearby Volunteer Peak, wander off to nearby lakes, or just rest with a good book.

Day 6: We will hike over Benson Pass (10,130 feet) and enter Matterhorn Canyon. We plan to camp so that we'll have views up the sweeping canyon to the majestic mountains: Finger Peaks, The Whorl, and Matterhorn Peak.

Day 7: We will continue up Matterhorn Canyon and over Burro Pass, before descending down to our campsite along Piute Creek.

Day 8: We will start our last day early and it will be a full one, with 11 hiking miles, as we cross over Mule Pass. We will get back to Twin Lakes in mid- to late-afternoon on Saturday, August 16th.



Getting There

Our trip starts Saturday, August 9th at a reserved Forest Service campsite near Twin Lakes, about 15 miles southwest of Bridgeport, California off of Twin Lakes Road. (Bridgeport is located on Highway 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.) The leaders will be at the campsite by late-afternoon on August 9th. Please plan to arrive by 4:00 p.m., which will give us time to have introductions and a trailhead talk. We will have dinner at a local diner (not provided) or you can bring your own meal to eat at the campsite. Our first provided meal will be an early breakfast at camp on August 10th, before our short drive to the trailhead. There is a $10 charge per vehicle (not included) to park at the private trailhead parking at Mono Village Resort.

The closest major airports are: Reno (150 miles from Bridgeport), San Francisco (250 miles), and Los Angeles (325 miles). A group roster will be provided well before the trip to assist trip members who want to share rides to Twin Lakes.

Accommodations and Food

We provide delicious meals that are lightweight and simple to prepare, offering good variety and sufficient quantity. Examples of meals provided are tortellini with pesto, parmesan, and pine nuts; and rice with ginger-curried chicken, coconut, and veggies. Several meals will include chicken or fish, but we can easily accommodate vegetarians by adding these items last and providing a protein substitute. It's likely that you'll learn several new menu ideas you'll want to try on your own trips; we'll be glad to share the recipes. Participants will be expected to assist with meal preparations and cleanup. We will provide all meals, from breakfast on day one, through lunch on the final day. This includes a snack bag for each participant, containing energy bars, salted nuts, and raisins. Because all food is required to go into a bear container, we ask that participants do not bring their own food. 

Trip Difficulty

The overall trip is rated 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest trip and 5 being our most difficult. High-altitude backpacking is physically demanding. A disciplined training and conditioning program will be necessary to achieve the required excellent level of fitness. Trip participants are encouraged to arrive a day or two prior to the trip to allow for altitude acclimatization.

Total trip mileage is approximately 54 miles, with an average of eight miles per day, although some days will be more strenuous with elevation gains up to 2,500 miles and fully loaded backpacks.

In years with high snowfall, late-melting snow on the high passes may also make hiking more difficult. Although we can reasonably hope for the High Sierra reputation for excellent hiking weather, we will have to be prepared for freezing temperatures and the potential for storms.

Equipment and Clothing

The Sierra Club will provide the group equipment, including bear-proof food canisters, pots, cooking utensils, stoves, fuel, first-aid kit, repair kit, toilet paper, trowels for burying waste, Ziploc-type bags for packing out toilet paper, and iodine drops or chlorine tablets for purifying water. Although we try hard to keep the commissary weight down, each participant's share of the group equipment and food will be about 12-15 pounds at the start of the trip.

As soon as you are approved for this trip, the leaders will send you a detailed list of personal equipment to bring. You will want to bring all the items on the list and nothing more (well, maybe one lightweight "luxury" item). It's critical to limit your personal gear to 25 pounds (with pack) to maximize your enjoyment of the trip and to assure that you can keep up with the group.

For starters, we'll mention the two most important items you will need: boots and backpack. Make sure your boots are made of leather, have lug soles, cover your ankles, and are well broken-in but not worn out. Blisters are the most common problem experienced by backpackers. As for the backpack, make sure that it fits you well, spreads the load evenly between your shoulders and hips, and has enough capacity for all of your personal equipment plus a bear canister (a cylinder 12 inches long and 9 inches in diameter) as well as one or two smaller pieces of group gear. You will also need a tent (or need to share one), a sleeping bag and pad, warm clothing, and waterproof/breathable raingear.



  • U.S.G.S. 7.5-minute quadrangles: Buckeye Ridge, Falls Ridge, Matterhorn Peak, and Piute Mountain
  • Tom Harrison Cartography: Hoover Wilderness Region Trail map


  • Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. The California Academy of Sciences. An excellent guide to the plants and wildlife of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. The Mountaineers. An excellent general reference to trails and climbing routes in the Sierra Nevada.


We will discuss conservation topics pertinent to the area of the Sierra Nevada, such as development, logging, road building, overgrazing, water pollution, and loss of habitat. The discussions will include a history of the Sierra Club’s conservation effort going back to John Muir‘s purpose for outdoor outings. With a goal of creating a greater appreciation of wild places, we will explore literature from great outdoor writers, some of whom have been influential in the conservation movement.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Yosemite National Park and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.



Mike went on his first Sierra Club National Outing in 1994 and has been hiking and backpacking in the western United States for the past 20 years. This will be his fourth year leading trips. Mike enjoys spending time with his wife and three daughters, reading, adventuring in the outdoors, and introducing others to wild places.

Assistant Leader:

Since living in California and the Bay Area for the past 20 plus years, Michele Diamond has been backpacking the Sierra and hiking the local trails. She's been a supporter of the Sierra Club since living here, but just recently got involved with the Club's outings. It's been a wonderful experience: exploring new trails, meeting great people and now new friends. She loves to share the hidden gems of the backcountry and local open spaces. And she really enjoys photographing her journeys and adventures to share with friends and family. Off the trail, she loves her time volunteering as a sea kayak guide, bringing people with special needs on adventures on SF Bay. She works as a physical therapist assistant and is certified in wilderness first aid.

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