The Theodore Solomons Trail (TST) is a route that uses pre-existing trails to connect roughly 250-miles (402 km) of the western central Sierra from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park to Horseshoe Meadow on Inyo National Forest. The TST traverses the lower elevation, west side of the Sierra generally in a north-to-south direction, but also extends from west-to-east along two sections. While the route typically stays in timberline, climbing 11,000’ plus passes over major drainage divides provides the traveler with spectacular views of snowy peaks and glacially carved river valleys. Paralleling the John Muir Trail to the west, the two trails never cross, but do come within around 7.5 miles of each other along the Middle Fork Kings River. Where the JMT is known for high peaks and passes and alpine meadows, the TST offers a stunning mixture of geology, topography, hydrology, and ecology. The TST strolls through lush forests and back country sequoia groves, crosses several creeks and rivers originating west of the eastern crest, and possesses several geological marvels, to include basalt columns like Devil’s Postpile and Tehipite Dome, the tallest granite dome in the Sierra by prominence. The TST also winds through different back country areas including 6 Wilderness areas, 3 National Parks, and 3 National Forests and crosses 11 major rivers. While most of the trail is clear, there are some sections that have seen major neglect over the years. Those who choose to hike on the Solomons Trail can expect that some areas, mainly on National Forest lands, have massive amounts of dead fall, unmaintained trail, a fallen bridge that has not been replaced, and a trove of bear and mountain lion. When hiked at the right time of year, though, it is one of the most beautiful, yet remote parts of the Sierra. Truly the Lost Sierra.
In July 2016, I became one of only a small couple of hundred people to have completed a thru hike of the Theodore Solomons Trail. I decided to travel southbound from Glacier Point to Horseshoe Meadow. The TST is one of the most challenging trails I have ever been on, mainly because most of it isn't trail anymore. The tougher sections were reminiscent of patrolling in the military. No trails, just a map and a compass, terrain features, and a point on that map where you want to be. I also hiked all but 70 miles of it solo. This wasn't a social trail like the John Muir Trail (JMT) to the east. Most people, including the park ranger in Yosemite Valley who issued my permit, are not familiar with the route. There were days of no human contact. In fact, I made more contact with black bears than humans if I was at least a day's walk in from a trailhead.
There are other extreme hazards to look out for as well. The TST has a very narrow season for hiking. This is almost wholly because there is no footbridge over the Middle Fork Kings River at Simpson Meadow on the northwest corner of Kings Canyon National Park. The original bridge was lost in the 1990's and no NEPA or construction plan for a replacement have been filed. Long story short, snow melt can make a safe ford across the river impossible all season, especially in much higher than average snow years like in 2017 and 2019. This fording point also happens to be in one of the most remote places in the range being approximately 3,000 feet below the rim of the gorge, which runs for about 13.5 miles west to east. Even satellite communication devices, such as an Inreach, Iridium phone, or other GPS/Sat linked PLB's like Spot, can be effected by the steep gorge walls narrowing the field of view to communicate a message or for emergency activation. One slip in the river and they won't find you until Fresno. Not a good look.
Other hazards are a little more frequent. Most of the hazards stem from dead fall and burn scars. Erosion, loss of trail, and more tree canopy make navigation a little more tedious. There is a lot more wildlife on the western mountains of the Sierra with denser and more layered canopies providing ecosystems a place to thrive. This means more flora and fauna. In the 19 walking days it took for me to complete the TST, I saw 14 black bear. The Silver City Resort near Mineral King had a mountain lion jump in the bed of a parked truck and chew the cap off a plastic gas can the week before I walked through. Heart warming. There were only a couple of coyote sightings, but I was more concerned with the kitty tracks I saw between Mineral King and Hockett Meadow. Rattlesnakes always seemed to be all the way down at the bottom of the major tributary crossings. I'm sure there were others other places that did not make their presence known.
The biggest hazard overall, I feel, is the remoteness of this trail. There have been only a small handful of people I have met that know about either a) the trail or b) any of the areas the trail meanders through. Add this to the fact that most of the land the TST blazes through is just not as funded as the JMT/PCT side of the Sierra therefore not seeing as much maintenance. What were once well used trails cut by everybody from Miwok Indians to gold miners are now just perforated lines on an outdated map. What I found out, and this seems to be a strong general rule, is if a trail is on U.S. Forest Service managed National Forest land it probably doesn't exist in its entirety anymore and has been reclaimed by the Earth. Sad in part, exciting in another. Learning this early on in my hiking prepared me to expect this as a normal and to plan for the worst.
Luckily this is not the worst hike on the planet! Go with someone who you communicate and work well with and maybe have gone on an adventure with before. The resupplies are fairly easy. The areas the trail goes through are historical and house some true gems, literally. This was a look into a different side of the Sierra, figuratively. And if you want a taste of what the early wanderers of the Sierra experienced this is worth a look.
*In 2020 and 2021, much of the trail was consumed by the Creek, SQF, and Rattlesnake Fires.
Want to see some of the places along the TST? Follow the link below.