Big SEKI Loop (as an alternative to the JMT)
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- This topic has 127 replies, 39 voices, and was last updated 5 years, 10 months ago by Pablo 2000.
Feb 5, 2016 at 1:45 pm #3380411
Hi all, thanks David for this thread. Aplologies if this is a repeat opinion. I didn’t see anyone mention it, but I didn’t read all of the posts..
This looks like a great hike, and I’m thinking about doing it this summer. However, I disagree that the easiest place to start is Road’s End. I am planning on starting from Onion Valley so I can resupply at Road’s End halfway through, allowing me to stretch it to two weeks total. Additionally, you get to start at 9k feet with your full pack (which might be hard altitude for some–it’s never affected me much below 13k) rather than having a really tough first couple days out of Roads End with a full load. As an added bonus, at the end I will be in the eastern Sierra whose towns I much prefer for hanging out and decompressing after a trip. I try to hike in from the eastern side whenever possible. And you don’t have to pay the fee for entering SEKI with a car if that’s an issue.
Another option for folks, that I’ve definitely seen mentioned, could be to exit the JMT at Onion Valley to resupply there. It doesn’t add many miles, and it could be an easy place to take a day or two in civilization to take a break/get some needed supplies. You can easily book it back to Roads End from there if you’ve had enough too.
Looks beautiful! Is it summer yet?Feb 5, 2016 at 1:57 pm #3380415
Also, I’ll add for the folks looking to add Whitney (as I am) that the trail from trail crest to the peak does not appear to be covered in the “permit area map” (http://www.recreation.gov/permits/map_of_Mt_Whitney/r/wildernessAreaMap.do?page=map&contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72201)
That seems to imply that you can summit Whitney from the west without a Whitney permit. Additionally, the rangers checking permits will almost certainly be farther down towards Whitney portal. I couldn’t see one of them hiking up to 13k to check permits.. However, to exit the trail there you would need to have Whitney portal as your exit trailhead on your original permit. In an emergency or injury situation you could probably get away hiking down to whitney portal and explaining the situation if you’re asked for your permit.Feb 6, 2016 at 11:31 am #3380567
In response to Owen’s comment “However, I disagree that the easiest place to start is Road’s End.” HYOH.
Roads End is not the easiest place to start a hike, and the design point for the route did not include being easy. Our goal was to describe the best long backcountry trail hike available in the Sierra Nevada range. If you don’t want a long backcountry hike, i.e. you want to interrupt for resupply, then we continue to believe that there are better options. If your idea of a good time is 150 miles of uninterrupted five-star backcountry hiking, then Big SEKI Loop starting at Roads End is fantastic. Starting the loop at Onion Valley does not result in 10 or 12 days of five-star backcountry hiking.
To be clear, HYOH, find your own sweet spot and make adjustments to this route or design a route from scratch. I hope Owen and others who want to stop for resupply do whatever suits them, and I don’t intend to sound pushy or judgmental about it.
In my mind, my target audience for the original post was hikers coming to the Sierra from overseas or easterners making their first trip to the Sierra:
- We find it easy to design routes in the areas we are familiar with (Sierra, Bay Area, Utah). But when hiking abroad we find it is much easier to start with a pre-defined trail, since we have no basis for choosing one route over another. Europeans can find lots of canned information about the PCT, JMT, HST, and Ropers Sierra High Route; the Big SEKI Loop is offered as one more well described option.
- There is fantastic hiking in Europe, including a plethora of long distance routes. But, outside of northern Scandinavia, there is not much that meets the US classification of wilderness. In most of Europe there is no opportunity to hike for multiple days with no livestock, no hiker huts, and no roads. We love hiking in Europe, but hiking in grazed mountains is not the same as hiking in ungrazed mountains. IMO, the thing that the US and Canada have to offer the the rest of the world is the opportunity to take a long walk in habitat that is relatively unaffected by human use, and so I wanted to help Europeans find hikes that make full use of what the US/Canada uniquely offer.
To summarize, if you are familiar with the Sierra, then design your own route to meet your own goals – social or isolated, on-trail or off-trail, 3-day between resupply or 12 day between resupply, etc. If you’re not familiar with the Sierra and you want a long wilderness hike, on-trail, with five-star scenery and some opportunity for a bit of solitude, then the Big SEKI Loop starting at Roads End is the best the Sierra has to offer.Feb 7, 2016 at 4:57 pm #3380791
Thanks for your reply. I agree that there are benefits to starting at Road’s End and I trust you when you say that it offers the best and longest uninterrupted wilderness experience of the different options. However, many of the questions on this thread are about transportation logistics and bear storage for food as a result of needing to pack for the entire trip. Thus, I felt that it would be helpful to share, especially for those who are not very familiar with the region, that there is an alternate starting point (Onion Valley) that is much easier to access without a car (flying into Reno or Mammoth and then taking buses/taxi) and would allow someone to hike the entire “Big SEKI Loop” with a resupply option at Road’s End halfway through if they so choose.Mar 16, 2016 at 1:11 pm #3389540
Received my permit for July, would love to leave tomorrow!:) Amy, you had mentioned that I would be more comfortable if my pack was around 30 pounds. As I am going alone, about 10lbs of my 40 is food/bear canister. Wanted to check if you really meant 30 total, or if that was without food! Thanks!Mar 16, 2016 at 4:11 pm #3389606
Kim, It should be fairly easy to have a base pack weight (not including food, water, or the clothes you hike in) of 14 pounds and food weight of 1.6 pounds per day. Those are not aggressive targets. That means you can start an 11 day trip with a 30 pound pack, since you wouldn’t need to carry breakfast on day 1 or dinner on day 11.
If you care about a lighter load, you should post your gear list over at Gear Lists and ask for advice about the best ways to lighten your load.
And if 25 oz of food per day sounds too low, you can get plenty of help on that too by posting at Food, Hydration, and Nutrition. FWIW, Here’s our 25 oz/day menu.
Please though don’t get me wrong. Hike your own hike. If you’re happy with your gear and your food, then please don’t take this as a critique that you are doing anything wrong. You should find your own sweet spot, carrying the gear that makes you happy. But if you are starting with a heavy pack simply because you don’t know how to make it lighter, know that if your pack is >30 pounds at the start of an 11 day Summer Sierra Nevada backpacking trip you might well have some low hanging fruit ripe for the picking. This is the BackpackingLight forum after all, and participants are generally friendly and eager to help others lighten their loads. 35-50 pound loads might be “average” for those hiking the JMT, but quite high for those who spend much time hanging out at BackpackingLight forums :)Mar 16, 2016 at 4:31 pm #3389612
Thanks, Amy! I certainly took your original advice to heart, which is why I wanted to check back in! I am very comfortable up to about 45 (even on climbs of several thousand feet) but have knocked about six lbs off my target of 40 since your original answer. I also am planning a pretty slow trip as it is and I am built like a fire hydrant so carrying a little more than my long legged skinny friends suits me well:). I have found so many helpful bloggers like yourself to help with the gear and routes. In fact, you were the first thing that popped up when I searched an alternative to JMT, and now I am doing your suggested route, so THANKS!!Jun 4, 2016 at 11:35 am #3406974Ben RBPL Member
Great thread. I’m planning to do part of this route as my first trip to the Sierra in early August, but shortening it to around 80 or 90 miles. Which option should I choose?
- Making a loop of the northern half of the BSL, clockwise from Roads end, starting north up Copper Creek, returning on Bubbs Creek trail. I already have a permit reserved for this loop, as Copper Creek permits are easy to come by.
- Making a more southern counter clockwise loop by starting south down Sphinx creek, taking the Colby Pass Trail shortcut, swinging by Lake South America, coming up around Rae Lakes, and returning via Woods Creek. I think I would need a permit for Bubb’s Creek for this loop (correct?), which are all reserved, but I could try for a walk up permit.
Which loop does the community suggest for the best scenery and overall experience? Any feedback is appreciated.
BenJun 5, 2016 at 9:57 am #3407155
I think both of those routes you propose are equally scenic and I don’t think it matters which you choose. A few things to consider:
If you are not confident in your ability to climb 5000 feet elevation in the first half dozen miles, and if you can get the appropriate permit, then you might be better off to start by heading uphill via Bubbs Creek or Woods Creek instead of finishing your hike descending on those more gentle trails.
The climb up Copper Creek Trail can be hot in the afternoon, since it’s a south facing slope and you start at low elevation. Plan accordingly.
To my eye Lake South America is nothing special by the high standards of Sierra lakes. However, the unnamed lakes west and northwest of there in the upper Kern basin, off trail but easily accessible, are pretty darn stellar. I think it’s worth poking around in that area, but don’t limit yourself to Lake South America.
Have a safe hike, AmyJun 5, 2016 at 12:39 pm #3407192
Hi All, Me Again! My plans for after my hike fell through, so I am planning on taking the recommended side trips and just enjoying my way around the loop. I am leaving from Crescent Meadow since I could get a bus from Visalia into the park, and then the park bus to my starting point. HOWEVER, I am having a VERY hard time finding a resupplier that does not require me going into a town at some point. I wanted to avoid that, and have the name, email, and phone numbers of a resupplier for Onion Valley, which would be a perfect spot, but repeated attempts to contact have gone unanswered. I found another person who used to resupply at the same point but she said she was told she cannot do it anymore by the park. All told I plan on spending about 24 days on the trail and can do that with one resupply. I hate to say that money is no object, but at this point I am getting a little desperate! I know this is backpacking light and most people are able to not resupply, but if anybody has a suggestion I would love to hear it! Thanks much, KimJun 5, 2016 at 1:00 pm #3407198
Kim, if you are coming to California by airplane, not renting a car, and you want to hike the Big SEKI Loop with one resupply, and you don’t want to go into a town, then the best bet would probably be to start at Onion Valley. Fly to Reno, take ESTA bus to Independence, hitch to Onion Valley Trailhead (easy hitching there). I think there is (or was) a way to send a package to yourself at Roads End, if not, then this idea won’t work; I don’t know the status of sending packages there.
Otherwise, if you’re starting on the west side, then plan to hitch from Onion Valley Trailhead to Independence, even though that’s not your preference. Or pick a different route that has different resupply options.
For people used to trails like the AT, PCT, AZT, CT, CDT, etc where resupply towns are part of the deal, hiking in the backcountry of the southern Sierra is just different. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have big backcountry wilderness areas, and there is no easy access to resupply.Jun 5, 2016 at 1:06 pm #3407202
Hi Amy! Thanks so much for responding so quickly. When I first made all the arrangements there were a lot of other blogs talking about “easy” resupply in Onion Valley! LOL, not so easy! Road’s End is still listed as a place you can ship to in the most recent park info, though, so you are correct there! Thanks again, I appreciate you confirming my experience so far! Best, KimJun 5, 2016 at 9:31 pm #3407284
Two things about Onion Valley resupply. Kearsarge Pass is the boundary for the National Park, so if the issue is that the NPS doesn’t like commercial resupply, perhaps the Forest Service doesn’t care. If so, hike over the edge of the park and have your resupply person stay in the National Forest. Perhaps, if all else fails, listing on Task Rabbit might turn up someone willing to hike your resupply package (sent to their name to a local post office) up to you in Onion Valley.
James writing for AmyJun 5, 2016 at 10:00 pm #3407294Gonzalo RodriguezBPL Member
Another option, which I am currently pondering…
Start at Road’s End, carrying enough food to get you to the Vidette Meadow. Start the day there, and hike along Bubbs Creek Trail back to Road’s end (11.9 miles). Pick up the rest of the food, and head back out on Bubbs Creek. It seems that there is no (or barely any) elevation on that trail. If a 23.8 is doable for you (or maybe just cut the way back short), perhaps carrying 1/2 of your entire trip’s weight in food might make the extra day’s hike worth it.
Amy & James, what do you think?Jun 6, 2016 at 7:01 am #3407326
Thanks, all! Between the Kearsarge, retrace, and Task Rabbit I should be able to find something! I tried another email and call yesterday to the recommended Onion Valley place, too, but at this point I think one of your recommendations will probably be my problem solver! Thanks again, so much! I am ready to go except for this one slight:) challenge! Best, KimJun 16, 2016 at 10:10 am #3409190CraigSpectator
@cb83Locale: Tulare County
Thanks Amy for posting this and keeping up with responses over the years. I’m looking to do a Southern Sierra loop route in the 80-120 mi range with a Mineral King entry since I really like that area and also permits are much easier to get there. I don’t want to spend too much time on the JMT just because it is something I’ll probably look to be doing next year; so I looked at coming north past Lake South America and going over Harrison Pass to avoid some of the JMT and using most of the southern short loop you proposed.
Basically going up to the Sawtooth/Empire saddle, cross-country down Glacier Pass to Cliff Creek and then up over Black Rock Pass. Then over Big Arroyo to get to the HST and continuing Northbound on the East side of the loop, going past Lake South America and over Harrison Pass before getting back to Bubbs Creek at Junction Meadow to continue the Southern Loop and proceeding Southbound. Then getting off the HST at the same connection point down to Big Arroyo back towards Little Five Lakes, and then taking Lost Canyon to Sawtooth Pass and back to MK.
Timing would be late July. I spent a lot of last summer at MK and the peaks around the Cliff Creek drainage and it was mostly snow-free and pleasant in early June; but I was out at MK this past weekend and there were lots of bugs and still plenty of tricky snow patches even at the 8,500 ft levels; but I think it should be OK by late July. I’m very concerned about the North side of Harrison Pass in late July though.
Any thoughts on the route in terms of scenery and conditions?
Thanks again!Jun 16, 2016 at 11:15 am #3409207
I don’t think there’s any route in the SEKI high country (above 9000′) that would be disappointing in terms of scenery, and your route looks AOK to me.
The best source of information about mosquitoes and snow conditions are the forums at HighSierraTopix.
About snow on Harrison Pass — we haven’t been over that pass in years and I’m not qualified to guess what it will be like. I’d rely on the HighSierraTopix forums for advice on that topic.
Good luck, AMyJun 16, 2016 at 11:52 am #3409214
If it helps, I just spoke to Dee at Sequoia Kings Pack Station the other day. She said the reports from the hikers right now are 2-3 feet at the top of the passes, but they are reporting no problems getting through it!Jun 20, 2016 at 2:58 pm #3409858
It is time to get serious about preparing for my Big SEKI Loop hike. I’m planning to take the Copper Creek Trail up to the Simpson Meadow Trail, to the JMT, to the Colby Pass Trail, to Avalanche pass and out Bubbs Creek over 10 days. I have a few comments and questions:
1. I’m taking a BV 500 at 2 pounds and 9 ounces. To my Eastern back that just kind of sucks and that’s all I’m going to say about that. I’m assuming 3 days of food out of the canister with a hang and 7 days inside once I hit the JMT. Will that work?
2. Planning to use a Borah Bivy with either a TT SS2 fly or get an 8 x 10 tarp for 2 people. I haven’t done too much tarp camping but have some time to practice. Makes about 9 ounces difference between two people. Opinion?
3. Our first day of hiking will be up Copper Creek…should be a cake walk at this point because I’ve hiked it in my sleep about 10 times now and only stroked out once! I’m planning to make it to Granite Lake for the 1st night and I saw something written about limited camping options except for Upper Tent Meadow. What do you think?
4. To help with campsite planning there are some interesting-looking side trails on the map. Are any of these locations a don’t miss?
State Lakes/Horseshoe Lake?
60 Lakes Basin Trail
Charlotte Lake, Bullfrog Lake
5. At Tyndal Creek we can either go straight on the JMT and the Bighorn Plateau, or to the left there is a loop to get to Junction Meadow. Any preferences?
Thanks for the insight.
Happy Trails – RussJun 26, 2016 at 9:25 pm #3410952
Thanks James and Amy! Happy to report Dee, from Sequoia Kings Pack Trains, and I spoke and she is AWESOME! I did have trouble getting through, left voicemails and sent emails, but she is busier than usual due to the Park Service cutting back on resuppliers who were not following regs. She was very apologetic and as such gave me a great deal on picking up my resupply at Onion Valley. The company has been around awhile and she is very familiar with the rangers all around the loop, and last year they went out to bring in hikers caught in the smoke and fire. Highly recommend her, 800-962-0775. I know a lot of you are not resupplying, but my plan is to wander the SEKI and I will need a resupply!
Also wanted to tell folks I am leaving from Crescent Meadow to do the loop circuit. Great transportation options and I am going counter-clockwise. Curious if anybody else has heard horror stories about Keweah Gap? Following a blogger who basically used ice axe and swung to get through. I will be a month behind him and will check with the rangers, but don’t want to miss that part of the trail, but also will not be swinging from ice axe:). Thanks as always, KimJun 26, 2016 at 9:46 pm #3410957
Responding to Russ on June 20:
- If you can afford to buy or rent the Wild Ideas Bearikade you won’t regret it. 30% more capacity and lighter than the Bear Vault. If not, then you’ll make do. The middle part of the loop is the only part that requires a canister.
- We still use a free-standing storm-worthy double-wall tent, so we’re not the right people to comment on light-weight shelter options. We have been in a couple of very severe overnight storms in the Sierra (as in SAR efforts and deaths in the back-country). We are in the minority of lightweight hikers on this front, but we like knowing that we can quickly set up a storm-worthy camp anywhere.
- Granite Lake area has good camping options. The challenge is during the climb up from the valley floor. And again between Simpson Meadow and the junction with the JMT – the trail is reasonably level but it’s on the side of a fairly steep slope and doesn’t offer lots of camping options.
- Everything over 9000 feet in SEKI is great. If you’ve got time to leave the trail and explore, then get a copy of RJ Secor’s book, choose a class-2 peak, and go for it.
- Both options are AOK, no preference here.
Happy Trails – AmyJun 27, 2016 at 10:44 am #3411019CraigSpectator
@cb83Locale: Tulare County
I don’t see how Copper Creek trail could be a cake walk for anyone! That is a never ending climb it seems.
Definitely don’t stop short and camp at Upper Tent Meadow. There is a small bear box there, but there are plenty of camping options in the Granite Basin… just beware of the bugs.
When are you leaving? I went up to the Granite Basin yesterday and bugs were relentless in some spots there. I went down to Granite Lake and I had about 20 jump on me every time I stood still to take some pictures. They aren’t much better near the meadow south of the lake either. If I were camping in Granite Basin right now I would choose a spot far east of the meadow… lots of options out there, but you won’t have lake views unless you go all the way to Granite Lake. Do a side trip to the Lake, or swing by it in the morning.
You might also have some places further north, going towards Glacier Pass, but I didn’t go that far yesterday so I am unsure of the conditions.Jun 28, 2016 at 4:06 am #3411145
Thanks for the info Amy & Craig….. you know I’m kidding about Copper Creek….I fully expect to hurt from elevation gain and my oxygen-deprived lungs. My trip starts on August 18, and I have a few questions about conditions.
How about the bugs? My thinking was moderate to light at that time of year, and I planned clothes and DEET…will that be sufficient?
Temperature…I’m expecting highs somewhere around 65-70 during the day and lows in the 30-35 range. Is this about right?
Precipitation…thinking about pairing a GoLite poncho and umbrella with an 8×10 tarp….or using a more robust jacket and Tarptent SST 2 fly with a 10 ounce weight penalty for two people. Everything hinges on expected precipitation….what insight can you provide?
Finally, I’m either going alcohol or Esbit with the latest Zelph Caldera and Toaks creation. I’ve never used either above 10,000 feet. Any surprises?
Thanks again…RussJun 28, 2016 at 8:18 am #3411159
Mosquitoes: my rule of thumb is that the Sierras become “safe” sometime in August. Timing depends on the snowpack. Average snowpack I wait until mid August. Heavy snowpack I wait until late August. Low snowpack it should be OK in early August. We had below average snowpack in spring of 2016, so by my reckoning you won’t encounter mosquito swarms. June and July are always bad, so don’t let current reports scare you.
Temperatures: Your forecast temps are about right above 9000′. At lower elevation it will be warmer. Roads End, for example will be hot during the day. If you camp at high elevations then you’ll likely see frost on some nights.
Precipitation: There’s a reasonable chance you’ll have no precipitation at all; that would not be unusual. It’s reasonably likely you’ll get a few short afternoon showers. On the other hand, the monsoonal weather pattern that feeds northwestern Mexico in late summer can misbehave and wander north into the southern Sierra. When that happens, it’s possible to get real honest to god storms, not just a brief shower. For example, after descending Goddard Creek in early September we were camped in the Middle Fork Kings (Simpson Meadow) when a storm moved in. It stormed for 18 hours without a break; in Simpson Meadow it started as rain, turned to hail, and then to snow. Accumulation ranged from 6″ (at 6000′) to 18″ (at 11000′). We have a friend who sheltered in his tent in upper Tyndall Creek for a 68-hour long severe monsoonal storm. You must decide whether to take rain gear and shelter for what is likely (no precipitation or short burst precipitation), or what is possible (severe storm conditions). Jim and I have made a choice to always be prepared for what is possible. Many people hike in the Sierras prepared only for what they expect. You choose. But DON’T base your decision based exclusively on ten trip reports or ten friends who said they had no rain.Jun 30, 2016 at 8:59 pm #3411679
Amy – Thank you for everything you’ve done to share this opportunity with the rest of the world. I really appreciate the significant effort and thought you’ve provided in your creation of this thread and subsequent responses and advice. Same goes to the rest of the west coast crowd on BPL….Lori P., Paul W. (prevented me from getting seriously killed in April), Craig, etc…. this is why I love BPL. Thanks.
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