North to South

Not everyone loves Pinchot Pass. I do. It may not be as beautiful as Mather or as dramatic as Glen, but it's got its own character, aided tremendously by the charm of the landscape around it. The climb up from South Fork Kings River is long, but the only sustained steep stuff on this segment comes right at the beginning. The trail clambers up from the river in a series of switchbacks to the junction with the trail to Bench Lake (not to be missed if you have the time) and the mini-spur to the Ranger Hut (which is only sporadically occupied.) The trail mellows out a bit after this and winds in a generally friendly fashion up past a series of lakes, including sizable Lake Marjorie. From there the trail steepens for a while, but before long it tops out at Pinchot Pass. The views in both directions are marvelous. Southbound hikers then begin the long downhill walk to Woods Creek. This is true High Sierra country, and that the trail takes its time to descend is something of a blessing. There's plenty to look at. When you do finally drop out of that basin, just past the trail to Sawmill Pass, the descent to Woods Creek (through a large stand of pines) is swift. By the time the Woods Creek crossing finally arrives, you've descended a full 3000 feet since the pass. Believe me, you'll be ready for a little uphill.

South to North

Though the distance to Pinchot Pass is greater from the south, and the uphill more extreme, it's really not a bad trek. The backpacker traveling at an average speed should be able to hike from Woods Creek to below Lake Marjorie north of Pinchot Pass without too much trouble. The stretch just north of the Woods Creek crossing can get quite hot. The trail is on a south facing slope and the altitude begins at 8500 feet. But if you're joining the trail from further down the creek and Paradise Valley (coming in from Cedar Grove) you've already been through far worse. Eventually, the trail makes a steep ascent out of the canyon through a wide stand of pines. Once you've cleared them, you're in the main basin below the pass. You won't see it for a while, but who cares? There's plenty else to look at as you wind your way up past the timberline. Though never outrageously steep, that last section leading to the top of the pass can be heart-stopper. Happily, it's short and then the downhill begins. It doesn't take long before Mather Pass, your next obstacle, slides into dramatic view in the distance.