The Big Kuna

  Cathy on the Kuna Crest
Cathy Bianco on the Kuna Crest
This tour is best done just after Tioga Road opens to traffic on the east side of Tioga Pass. If you wait another month for Tioga Pass to open through Yosemite, you'll be doing a lot more hiking than if you get out there in mid-spring. The average tour elevation is 10000'. The reason why you want to wait until you can drive up to Tioga Lake from the east is to save yourself a full day of slogging up on foot. Assuming that you can get up to Tioga Lake without hoofin', you should do this tour north-to-south, as the southern trailhead, Silver Lake on the June Lake Loop, is pretty low. Parking is not a problem at either end of this tour.

  Kuna Crest above Helen Lake
Kuna Crest above Helen Lake; our ski route goes over the crest near the upper right corner
Start by skiing up over Tioga Pass to Dana Meadows. Ski southeast, then south, up Parker Pass Creek to Spillway Lake, and then on up the hill to Helen Lake, Camp 1 if you're doing a 3-day trip. (While skiing there, consider all the great ski descents that you could enjoy some other time off the Kuna Crest to your right.)

Ascend the steep pass to top the Kuna Crest northwest of Helen Lake. On the other side of the Kuna, drop down southward, then cruise to the southeast. Pop over the Sierra Crest west of Blacktop Peak, and descend south to Lost Lakes (a good camp spot if you're doing a 2-day trip).

  Mt. Banner from Thousand Island Lake
Mt. Banner from Thousand Island Lake; photo by Andy Luks
Drop down southward to Rush Creek west of Waugh Lake, and ascend the gentle Island Pass. Ski on down to the expansive Thousand Island Lake (Camp 2 if 3-day trip), where this tour touches the next tour in the series, Mammoth to Mammoth. Ski up and over the Sierra Crest to Sullivan Lake, and then down to and around the north side of Gem Lake. Continue on down to the ending trailhead at Silver Lake.

If you are doing this tour late enough in the season that you were able to drive to Tioga Lake, you will probably be hiking by the time you reach the steep trails around and down from Agnew Lake. To avoid this steep hike (which could be also be nasty earlier in the season when it is partially or fully snow-covered), consider extending this tour all the way to Mammoth Lakes as a 4 to 5 day tour.

An account of our 5/98 Big Kuna trip

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