- Nov 23, 2017 at 5:57 am #3503622
Cameron MBPL Member
@cameronm-aka-backstrokeLocale: Los Angeles
The Sierra High Route (SHR) is a largely off-trail exploration devised by Steve Roper in the 70’s that runs down the center of the Sierra Nevada. It runs at high elevations of between 9,000 to 11,500 feet and only occasionally connects with the John Muir Trail. It is physically demanding and requires wilderness navigation skills and non-technical climbing skills. Few people attempt the route which enhances its wonderful sense of solitude. This summer I completed the route in four sections, walking a total of 20 days, 214 miles and 62,000 feet of elevation gain, including 33 high passes. Because of the massive snow this year, many decided to avoid the Sierra Nevada this year, but for me the snow was an incentive, at least for the snowy first half of the trip, as walking over snow is less onerous than negotiating the many tedious talus (rock) fields. During the course of my journey I meet only five other people walking the entire route.
NOTE: This Trip Report is a summary of a much longer report with altogether too many photos and movies at https://www.trailnamebackstroke.com/sierra-high-route-2017/
Section 1- July 12-15, 3 1/2 days. Twin Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows, SOBO.
I pick up my permit in Bridgeport to begin my hike on July 12. Most people take the route going NOBO (north-bound); I decide to go SOBO (south-bound) instead. As a first indication of the unusual snow year, the ranger tells me that she has so far issued only one similar permit this summer. As I climb the trail from Twin Lakes the water is absolutely raging down Horse Creek, hinting at the ongoing snow melt above. I bagged Matterhorn Peak (12,279 feet) on the first day which was a mistake as I was not yet acclimated to altitude nor in top hiking shape. The theme for this section was very much snow and water.
Section 2- July 23-27, 4 1/2 days. Tuolumne Meadows to Mammoth, SOBO.
I spend the night at the hikers hostel in Lone Pine, depart early and drive to leave my car at Mammoth, and take the 8 AM bus to Tuolumne Meadows. When I arrive I can’t believe it- the place is totally deserted, and most structures are closed and/or under repair. In some years the Tuolumne is sold out in early June and PCT hikers clog the area in front of the store. It obviously got whacked hard this year by the heavy snowfall. The permit office is open however. I go in to find three rangers staring intently at their monitors. One asks me where I want to go. When I say “High Route” it gets their attention and they all look up. One guy says “cool”. I get the usual question if I know what I am in for, and am told that I am the first person this season to ask for such a permit. Hard to believe; it just does not seem to me that the people who are qualified to hike this hike would be put off by some snow. The Vogelsang camp was not assembled this year, and Lyell Creek was a challenge to cross. Thousand Island Lake was deserted, and the trip felt a lot like a spring trip with a lot of melting snow.
Section 3- August 9-15, 7 days. South Lake to Tuolumne Meadows, NOBO.
I enter at South Lake and join the JMT for a day. Now there is less snow but the sound and presence of water are everywhere. I walk through water three times a day. After the second day I leave the JMT and encounter the notorious Snow Tongue Pass, cross Humphreys Basin, and enjoy many high alpine moments.
Section 4- August 23-27, 4.5 days. South Lake to Roads End, SOBO, then August 28-29 to Onion Valley.
By the fourth section everywhere is drier, so it feels more like a June trip. As the route drifts west the vegetation becomes richer. Of the many passes on this section, Vennacher was the most challenging, but not terrible. The lake Basin is amongst the nicest, most verdant stretches of the route.The stop at Roads End is a welcome respite with showers and food. I then hiked across the Sierra back to my car at Onion Valley rather than take a whole day to drive around.
This is the most enjoyable long trip I have experienced. I am grateful that I have the health and means to undertake it.
A note about safety: Events can turn seriously bad in the off-trail wilderness very fast. The majority of people die because of uniformed decisions. The many hazards include river crossings, bad falls and hypothermia. At a minimum, you should carry printed maps and know how to use them; have extensive knowledge of backcountry safety and best practices; and leave a trip plan with others in case you go missing. I also think that a personal locater beacon is important. Read, take classes, and take smaller experience trips first. BE SAFE !!!Dec 1, 2017 at 5:47 pm #3505022
Alex WallaceBPL Member
@feetfirstLocale: Sierra Nevada North
Wonderful report, Cameron. Thank you.
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