Hiking The Theodore Solomons Trail South: Horseshoe Meadow To Roads End

  • Updated: August 26, 2019
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 26th to 30th, 2019
Theodore Solomons Trail South
106 miles, 20,800' gain
Day 1: Cottonwood to Kern 24 miles, 1,700'
Day 2: Kern to Wet Meadow 16 miles, 6,000'
Day 3: Wet Meadow to Cliff Creek 25.5 miles, 4,100'
Day 4: Cliff Creek to Deadman Canyon 18 miles, 7,100'
Day 5: Deadman Canyon to Roads End 23 miles, 3,100'

I must say that the most common question I encountered while hiking the Theodore Solomons Trail was "What the heck is the Theodore Solomons Trail?"

This is the first of two posts about my experience hiking the 281 ish mile Theodore Solomons Trail across the Sierra Nevada in the summer of 2019. It will cover Horseshoe Meadows to Roads End and for the northern section see Hiking The Theodore Solomons Trail North: Roads End to Yosemite. If you're interested just in the trail itself and how to do it I made a convenient post called Matt's Guide to The Theodore Solomons Trail which is just that.

I've spent the last 15 years or so climbing and hiking all across the Sierra and in that time I can't recall ever coming across a mention of the Theodore Solomons Trail. Then I just happened to have a random conversation at Mammoth Mountaineering Supply after wrapping up an 11 day southbound trek along the John Muir Trail.

A 280 ish mile trail, largely unknown, that parallels the JMT, visits all the spectacular points of the Western Sierra, and has a fraction of the crowds that currently define that far more popular trail? Sign me up!

And as it turned out when you mapped the JMT and the TST together they basically make a loop. Sounds like the perfect thing to hike and document for your personal hiking blog doesn't it?

So about 10 days after finishing the John Muir Trail I set off.
I initially aimed to do the entire TST in a 12 day period and then meet my girlfriend up in Yosemite so she could give me a ride to another trip. I based this rough plan off the fact I'd just done the JMT in 11 days and that I'd been hiking a huge amount through the summer thanks to my period of non employment. I felt like I was in good shape and ready to kick some more ass.

That plan was also based on what turned out to be a flawed gpx of the route leading me to think the trail was shorter than it actually was. That led to hard days of killing myself to try and make my planned camp only to end up behind.

So instead I ended up doing Horseshoe to Road's End in 5 days and then coming back a week later to spend another 11 days hiking Roads End to Yosemite.

For those interested in this trail please be aware this is not the JMT. It's never marked as the Theodore Solomons Trail, the trail sections themselves vary from well maintained and heavily traveled to sections that see very almost no traffic and some where you would be hard pressed to find anything identifiable as a trail. Also the easy resupply options that make the JMT so attainable for so many just don't exist here. On the other hand it's a great way to see some of the best of what the Western Sierra has to offer without having to suffer through the crowds.

Day 0: Prep

The day before starting the Theodore Solomons Trail I was leading a Wilderness Travel Course backpack out of Mammoth. We were hiking out over Duck Pass and running a little behind schedule after we had someone get lost for a short time on the way up the peak that morning. It was getting to the point I was concerned the permit office might close before I could get down to Lone Pine or Bishop.

Fortunately it turns out that Duck Pass has AT&T cell reception and I was able to call and arrange to get the permit left in the night box at Lone Pine. Also the ranger commented that they only issue maybe 3 permits a year for the Theodore Solomons Trail.

One I had my permit I didn't intent to set off until the next morning. I initially thought to stay down at the Tuttle Creek Campground where I could get cell reception but when I arrived I found it was a balmy 85 degrees and that the badly needed bathrooms were all filled with thousands of flies. The less said about the particulars of having to use a pit toilet in that condition the better. Bleh.

After that I decided to just head up the road and stay at the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead.

Day 1: Horseshoe Meadow to Kern River

I slept in the back of the Jeep and the next morning I was up early making breakfast and getting my gear sorted.

I was in high spirits as I set off up the trail towards Cottonwood Pass. I'd been along here just a few months back while hiking the PCT between Kennedy Meadows and Cottonwood Pass and I was feeling quite strong. Before long I was over the pass and ready to leave the crowds behind.

A nice feature of this area is that you tend to see almost no one once you leave the PCT which is both a plus for me and kind of a shame for everyone else because they're missing out on a lot of really beautiful trail.

I adore this area. The meadows are all spectacular and the camps all have fire pits and easy access to running water. This time of year it can get a bit warm in the lower reaches so I was hydrating enthusiastically each time I passed a stream.

I was actually surprised to run into two other groups back here that were doing shorter loops and they were equally as surprised to find me.

The TST follows well established trails through this section and the only hitch came around the Little Whitney area. Following the GPS track I did a boots of crossing of Trout Creek only to find a fence preventing me from continuing west. Rather than recross and have to take my boots off I bushwhacked along the north side of the creek.

This worked after a fashion but I later confirmed with an older track from when I did Tower & Overlook that the trail does run along the southern side. That would have saved me a bit of energy since the cross country along the north side wasn't trivial. I took some solace in the fact that someone else had recently made the same mistake since I found some ducs and a relatively recently abandoned nalgene bottle.

The trail passed through a series of meadows with striking lava flows and then descends down roughly following Golden Trout Creek. On the old USGS topo maps there's a natural bridge marked which you can see above.

Past the natural bridge the trail became a bit rougher as it descended to the Kern with a lot of loose rubble and overgrown vegetation. I was over 20 miles in at this point and started to drag so I was grateful to reach the Kern just after dark and find a camp on the far side of the bridge. There was a nice fire pit here but I was to exhausted and just cooked a quick dinner and sacked out in my bivy.

I'd ended up doing around 24 miles total which was more than I'd planned based on the gpx I'd found online. And it was just getting started.

Day 2: Kern River, Coyote Pass, Wet Meadow

Day two was a bit less pleasant than the first due to the deteriorated condition of the trail once I made it past the 3,000' climb up and over Coyote Pass.

I was feeling a bit tired after yesterday but I was eager to get moving once the sun was up.

I thought I'd smelled smoke while cooking breakfast and sure enough a short distance up the trail I found a very obviously occupied Ranger Station. No one came out to say hello so I decided not to bother them and picked up the trail leading up Coyote Creek.

The climb to the pass was relatively straightforward but right after that the trail became heavily overgrown. I'd been wearing shorts that morning but eventually had to relent and go back to my hiking pants after my legs were scratched bloody.

For some reason the TST makes the interesting call to turn south instead of having you go over Farwell Gap to get to Mineral King. This does add quite a bit of mileage taking you on a big loop to the west so FYI you could make a shortcut here if you were so inclined.

I was of course determined to do the full and complete TST so after a brief diversion to look over at the Broders Cabin site I dutifully followed the Little Kern south reaching Wet Meadows right around the time I was ready to stop.

And found an atrocious amount of mosquitos. I'd expect that sort of thing in July but not late August but so it goes in 2019. They didn't swarm until I'd already unpacked and I didn't have the will to continue on after the last few miles had lacked any viable campsites with access to water. So I had dinner while wearing my bug net and then settled in for a sweaty night zipped inside my trusty 4 season bivy.

Day 3: Windy Gap, Hockett Meadows, Mineral King, Timber Gap

I was more than happy to leave Wet Meadow in the morning. Sometimes you get lucky and the mosquitos disappear at night and you can get packed up and through your morning rituals in peace. But not last night.

The trail was in better shape through this section and I found what would have been a much nicer camp a few miles further on. But ah well.

Most of the day involved descending into Hockett Meadows (not to be confused with the meadow of the same name out of Jerky Meadows)

The Hockett area was spectacular and I passed a few other backpackers and another ranger station with no one home.

The trail after Hockett made a big arc and descended down into Mineral King. Along this section I came across a mother bear and cubs which is always near to see. (Look really close near the center of the picture above)

After what felt like a very long time the trail dropped me in the Cold Springs Campground. I'd had the option of trying to resupply at Silver City but had elected to save money and just push through.

It was odd being in Mineral King mid week when no one was around. I found plenty of cars at the trailheads but the ranger station was closed due to some sort of SAR activity and I only ran into 3 other people as I hiked up the road to the Timber Gap trailhead.

I was beat but just told myself I had to get over Timber Gap.

Timber Gap is both fairly gentle and feels a bit long towards the end of the day. I pushed over the top and set a quick pace down aiming for a camp I'd seen before where the trail joins Cliff Creek.

I arrived a bit after dark only to find that campsite taken and the several others located right after the stream crossing also occupied. So after bumbling around in the dark a bit I pushed on and pretty much by accident found an isolated site with a fire pit down by the river right at the point I'd basically accepted I was going to have to sleep on the trail.

Day 4: Cliff Creek, Redwood Meadow, Bearpaw Meadow, Elizabeth Pass

Being by the river gave me a chance to clean up a bit and do laundry the next morning which was badly needed after the last few long sweaty days. So I was in much better spirits as I set off the next morning.

The trail takes you through a giant redwood grove that was just spectacular before climbing up towards Bearpaw Meadow

There was a ranger station at Redwood but again it was locked up with no sign of anyone home. I did pass a pair of backpackers here but they were decidedly uninterested in anything outside of their conversation.

From here I started a sustained climb that would take me from 6k to 11k as I went over Elizabeth Pass. And I finally started to get a few of the more traditional high sierra views.

This was my first visit to Bearpaw and I mostly knew it as a stop along the High Sierra Trail and where Jen had run for help after my injury in 9 Lakes Basin.

They are currently building a new ranger station and the signs request that you not bother the work crews there. You can also find water pumps (which warn you to filter) and outhouses here along with bear boxes in the developed campsites.

I took a short break and then pushed on. The climb up Elizabeth was a beast.

I did stop for a rather nice lunch of raman on the way up. I'd just passed two guys who said they were doing the Roper High Route and had been annoyed they had taken the lunch spot I'd really wanted but considering this was my fallback I couldn't be too mad.

The trail disappeared for a bit during the last thousand feet or so only to reemerge as switchbacks right at the end. I crossed at 6:15 pm and was looking forward to a nice descent on trail and hopefully locating a campsite soon.

Unfortunately the far side was a bit more problematic. I did my best to follow ducks and what trail there was but soon found myself racing sunset following vague indicators along boulders and wet vegetation that was so deep I kept posthiling in it.

I raced to get down off the pass before dark and fortunately the trail reestablished itself once I reached the bottom of Deadman Canyon. Unfortunately the grove of trees a few miles down that I'd been aiming for in the hopes of finding a campsite was small and already occupied so I had to push on a bit further to something that was a lot less ideal.

I ended up on a small patch of dirt a short distance between the trail and river.

Day 5: Deadman Canyon, Roaring River Ranger Station & Ranger Cindy, Avalanche Pass, and Roads End

Today was another day that ended up being a lot more difficult than I'd anticipated.

It started out pleasant enough with pretty meadows and great views.

When I reached the Roaring River crossing I saw people sitting outside the ranger station and approached to say hello.

As it turned out I knew the ranger here from a trip years ago. Cindy is a legend of the park and I have fond memories of drinking coffee and swapping stories with her during a downpour.

I stayed here for two hours chatting and drinking coffee which was much longer than I should have. I'm going to blame the lack of social interaction over the last week or so combined with my slightly frazzled state due to constantly finding the trail to be longer than I'd planned.

By 3 pm I set off from the ranger station and did the long climb up Avalanche Pass.

At Cindy's advice I did a short detour at the top of the pass along the northern ridge to where you actually get a view. The standard trail route is just lost in the trees so you barely see anything. Cindy said she's been trying to get them to reroute it for years.

The descent from Avalanche Pass proved to be a bit longer than I'd anticipated. I'd planned to meet Jen and hike past Roads End to Lower Tent Meadows but around dark I had to text her on my InReach and change out plans.

I arrived at the parking lot at Roads End around 10 pm and gratefully set about demolishing all the fresh food, soda, and candy that Jen had so kindly brought along.

I'd originally intended to continue on from here but based off the experience of the last few days I really didn't think I was going to be able to finish it before I had to lead my next scheduled Wilderness Travel Course backpack on the 7th & 8th. So I decided to come off the trail for a few days, get some diving in, and return to it on the 9th to finish off the northern 180 ish miles.

That did mean that we had to drive over Walker Pass and then back up to Lone Pine to get the Jeep before driving home but Jen was kind enough to find me beer and nachos along the way so everything was good.

Next up: after a brief muster back on the trail for the next 180 miles!

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