The typical, and logistically most reasonable approach starts at the Mather Ranger Station, which is at the Hetch Hetchy entrance gate on Evergreen Road, about 8 miles from highway 120. The trailhead is well-marked; just north of the ranger station.
Note 1: overnight parking is limited to specific areas and requires (as of May, 2003) an overnight parking permit. Inquire with rangers for details.
Note 2: The Mather ranger station lacks both running water and bear boxes. For those amenities, you'll need to drive an additional 8 miles down Evergreen Road, to the Hetch Hetchy backpackers camp.
Refer to the topo map provided below for further details on the route. Again, the route described herein is the one that starts at Mather ranger station.
Walk 1.3 miles uphill from the ranger station. At a trail junction, follow signs pointing you to the shortest route to Smith Meadows; from here, about 5 miles.
Continue another 1.5 miles over a trail which alternates between deadwood forests, live forests, and City/County of San Francisco access roads. You'll arrive at a small water tower "WT" on the 7.5-minute topo and a placid stream -- good place for a rest.
The trail then climbs 300 feet to Cottonwood Meadow, which can get quite swampy in the early season.
A mile after Cottonwood Meadow you'll come to an unnamed meadow located at 6100 feet. While less swampy than Cottonwood meadow, you must cross a stream that can be large in the early season. As of May, 2003, a couple appropriate logs were available.
After a steep ascent, followed by a shorter descent, you arrive at Smith Meadows, and will likely see many other campers. After locating an appropriate stream crossing log (20 yards east of trail), continue due north across the meadow and look for trail signs. Follow the trail to Smith Peak.
The trail markings on the map for the final push (1400 feet over 1.5 miles) are somewhat inaccurate. As shown on the annotated topo, the most obvious (thick deadwood obscures any trail) "trail" climbs in a gully, then climbs to Smith Peak's northwest shoulder. Here, you take in your first expansive views of the hike. Continue up Smith Peak's northwest face, and traverse east toward the obvious summit. The final summit block requires 20 feet of unexposed class 3 scrambling.
Waterproof boots and gaiters in early season for meadow crossings. Long pants to prevent scratches from the omnipresent deadwood snags and manzanita bushes. If snow conditions on Smith Peak's northwest slope are not agreeable, consider an ice ax.
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