Highway 108, Sonora Pass
Words by Haven Livingston
Sonora Pass on Highway 108 is the northern cousin of Tioga Pass. Climbing 7,500 ft. from the oak studded foothills of Sonora on the west side of the Sierra, the pass tops out at 9,624 feet, just a few hundred feet lower than Tioga Pass. Some may say it’s not as beautiful as Yosemite’s Highway 120, but it has its own suite of special features that even Tuolumne Meadows can’t measure up to. Sonora Pass is a destination, launching point, and scenic passage.
The first bonus, which will appeal to thebudget dirtbag in all of us, is that it’s free, unlike Tioga. Secondly, because the grade can reach 25% in certain places, you’re not going to be stuck in a mule train of RVs. Make sure you have good brakes!
Horse and OHV friendly campgrounds dot the west side and lead to destinations like the Emigrant Wilderness and Crandall Peak. Fishing folk get their choice of rivers, reservoirs and lakes all the way through the pass. Starting with Pinecrest Lake, the good fishing extends to the NorthFork of Stanislaus River, and all the way to Mono County’s West Walker River, which claims to be a fly fishermas paradise.
In the winter the road progressively closes from the high points down, allowing closer access to snow parks and back country skiing.
For serious climbers who like to warm up in the 5.11+ range, the climbing starts at Column of the Giants. For milder grades, continue east up the pass into beautiful granite canyons where you will findprimitive camping in Stanislaus National Forest. Although the climbing is generally dispersed, Chipmunk Flat is the name given to the most popular and concentrated of the granite climbing areas. The climbing is both sport and traditional, with lots of new development.
At the summit is the crossing point for the Pacific CrestTrail. This is one of the few volcanic areas the PCT passes through, and it offers spectacular 100 mile views from the windswept Sierra crest. From here, Backpacker Magazine has called an eight-mile hike to Leavitt Lake Pass one of the PCT’s best day hikes.
At the end of your exploits over Sonora Pass, head south at the 395 junction for 17 miles to the outpost town of Bridgeport, where hot springs wait to soak your spent muscles.
For more information:
Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau, (800) 446-1333
Stanislaus National Forest, (209) 532-3671