Sierra High Route S-N Section 1 – Road’s End at Cedar Grove to Bishop resupply
Aug 23, 2021 at 7:42 pm #3725625
I smiled when I saw that Murali C. just posted his trip report of the same part of the SHR that we did together, his Segment 1. I finally got clear of catching up that I could finish mine.
To celebrate my 65th birthday this year I decided to do the Sierra High Route. Basically, I wanted to see if I could still do a trip like this, and it was a great motivator for training and eating right. We hit the trail on Sunday, July 18 (two days after my birthday) heading north up the Copper Creek Trail from Cedar Grove in King’s Canyon, going south to north on the SHR with resupplies at Bishop, Red’s Meadow, and Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. The details of the SHR have been written about many times, and there are a number of YouTube videos available, so I’m setting out my personal experiences, impressions and lessons learned.
When BPL member Murali put out a call last December for hiking partners I got in touch with him. We also hooked up with Chris a few days later through BPL. And before I go any further, I have to give props to my trekking companions. I was not in anywhere near the condition I had hoped to be (more on that later) but they were supportive and encouraging, and I couldn’t have done it without them. Thanks guys.
It was a great trip. Although I have been camping in the High Sierra for over 50 years I nevertheless had new experiences, new insights, and accomplished a number of new personal bests. Staggeringly beautiful and awe-inspiring scenery, all to ourselves for days. Big, fat, stupid trout that have never seen a lure or fly. Plenty of water, few mosquitoes, wildflowers of many types, full moon, Perseid meteor shower, good companions. And thank goodness fires were not a problem for us this year. We only smelled a little smoke on one day, which is a miracle the way things have been going.
It was also by far the most challenging and physically demanding thing I have ever done. And not because of my age. Every single day except the last was more challenging than the hardest single day on any previous anywhere. I was down from the mountains for three weeks before my feet recovered enough for me to walk ½ mile to a hardware store. (more on that later too). And it’s funny… I realized this morning that I have been unconsciously continuing to “water up” the way I did at the last water before each pass, filling available container and keeping an eye on the levels, topping off frequently.
THINGS I LEARNED/EXPERIENCED
Although I have been camping in the High Sierra for over 50 years I nevertheless had new experiences, new insights, and set a number of new personal bests. These are the ones from this trip that come to mind.
First and foremost, always remember the coffee, not just the creamer!
This is seriously rugged and difficult terrain with a number of “3.9″ scrambles that required four-point contact. There were a couple of passes that if I had not been told or read it in a book, I would never have believed it was possible to go over. Unique in my experience, we had to space out horizontally and vertically several hundred feet to minimize the chance of rolling rocks down onto each other.
It’s a remarkably different experience off trail versus on trail. We went from seeing nobody or only a couple of people in the distance per day off-trail, to seeing tents and campsites every 20 to 50 feet along the trail beside lakes on the JMT. So it goes from very remote wilderness to very social in just a few miles.
It rained for parts of two days so I had an opportunity to use my new Sea to Summit silnylon Nano (5.1 oz), and it totally sucked for my purposes on this trip. My bad! A picture showed a guy wearing one over a pack, and I basically assumed (uh oh!) that a poncho is a poncho is poncho and had not tried hiking with it over a pack in wind and rain. It was so lightweight and slippery and cut so tight that I was not able to put it on by myself. No matter what I tried, whether it was trying to put it on after I had my pack on or putting it over the pack and then crawling up underneath to put it on, or anything else I tried with trekking poles and sticks, it never worked. Without my companions I would have been in real trouble.
I generally prefer ponchos. I’ve had experiences where my companions’ rain shells wetted out and although no water actually penetrated the shells my friends were freezing because of all that cold fabric covering their bodies, and they borderline hypothermic (I had to retie their shoes for instance because their hands no longer worked). However, for off-trail use, I will in the future bring both a poncho and full rain shell. When going hard up very steep slopes or down the other side it is essential that you be able to see your feet at all times. Even with a waist cord the poncho “skirt” blew up and around in stiff winds and frequently blocked my view. So I would use the shell in those instances, but when hiking on more level terrain or a on trail go with the poncho.
I really like my Zpacks pocket tarp, but the system of using it with a ground sheet and occasionally with a bivy, combined with a relatively long set up time to get everything pitched properly and taught, has a very high fiddle factor and is only bug proof inside the confines of the bivy. In the future I will likely use a tent version of the Pocket Tarp or similar (although it doesn’t solve the fiddle factor issue and the need for a relatively “tie out footprint”) or preferably a truly free-standing tent like my Black Diamond Firstlight. It’s crossing 2-pole half dome style that I greatly prefer, but it’s way too heavy at 43 ounces. I really want to try and make a DCF version using the same poles and with some better ventilation, but in the meantime it will be something more like the Zpacks Alta Plex.
That BD FL requires the smallest possible footprint and provides protection from the elements as soon as you crawl inside to set it up, which to me is huge advantage in a high Alpine situation if you get out on a granite bench or other location with very limited choices for a tent site to hunker down when you’re caught in the open by an afternoon thunderstorm. In wind and/or when extremely fatigued I found it quite difficult to pitch the Pocket Tarp, despite having done it successfully many times. But this is a topic for a separate discussion.
I’ve also decided to get a Sawyer mini water filter. I have used Aqua Mira exclusively for many years, but on this type of trek with multiple passes that had no water, it was very inconvenient trying to camel up and fill my bottles with treated water at the last water before we started over the pass. I the biggest advantage of Aqua Mira is that it’s so light, but in this instance at least the time factor was more important. Even with a small bottle of pre-mixed solution, it’s at least a 15 minute wait while it treats the water before you can drink. So if you come in dry you’re looking at a 15 minute wait before you can drink and refill your container(s) or not drinking and taking off with only what’s in your containers. Also , there was one lake where the water was murky and tasted terrible even after I had treated it twice, whereas my companions’ filtered water tasted much better.
I also learned that I like using both a son hoodie and a wide brim hat. When it was very hot and the sun was directly down the wide brim hat was great, and when we stopped to rest or for water I could put up the hoodie underneath the hat to be a bit warmer. The hoodie was also nice when the sun was low to the horizon and the hat did not give enough shade.
I didn’t want to take a canister stove on this trip because I was ruthlessly cutting weight, but I also wanted to be able to have coffee with breakfast and a hot dinner, as well as providing some hypothermia emergency protection. Although I haven’t used Esbits for an entire week-long trip before I took my MYOG 3.3 oz cook kit and was pleased that it worked very well, at approximately half the fuel weight of alcohol.
Another nice thing I experienced and was reminded of is that trout in high, isolated lakes are big and naïve, having rarely if ever seen a lure or fishing fly before. I brought a tenkara rig but forgot to buy a fishing license before hitting the trail (another lesson learned), but Chris had amazing success with his tenkara rig and had multiple hits in just a few minutes of fishing.
Another lesson for me is to always use lightweight boots for this type of terrain in the future instead of trekking/hiking shoes. This was my first experience with hiking shoes (La Sportiva Ultra Raptor trail running shoes) and although they were generally comfortable and had great traction, they just did not support my feet as well as my Lowa lightweight mid-height boots. There was one step fourth day out of the nearly 175,000 steps I took where I jammed the outside of my left foot on a sharply angled boulders and knew I had injured it. I started maxing out on ibuprofen, taking 1000 mg with breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it worked. It was only after we had come down to resupply in Bishop and I stopped that I realized how bad it was, and that my right foot was similarly injured although I don’t remember a specific instance. After the trip it hurt so much and I was so hobbled that I thought I had possibly broken the metatarsal pinkie bones in both feet and had them x-rayed. It took three weeks to go from hobbling a few painful steps at a time to almost normal walking. In all my years of backpacking I have never previously had any foot issues at all, even blisters. So for me, at my age and weight, and on this kind of extremely rugged terrain, boots are the only way to go.
As a result of my foot injuries I stopped after six days to avoid making the injuries worse or chronic, and to avoid serious injuries of other kinds because the terrain we’re on is so challenging and difficult – miles of boulder fields from baseball to school bus size. Drop a leg in a hole the wrong way and it’s toast. Make a serious misstep and you’ll go tumbling off a slope or be swallowed in a hole between boulders. So I decided not to proceed any further at this time. “Live to fight another day” and “getting to the peak is optional, getting home safely is mandatory” and all that.
As challenging and difficult as it was, and although I “only” did the first six days, it was still a great trip and I set a number of new personal bests:
-5300 feet of elevation gained in one day (5,200 to 10,500)
-Most miles covered in a weeklong trip (60.7)
-Largest number of passes in a single day (3)
-Largest number of off-trail passes in a single day (3)
-Largest number of passes in a weeklong trip (12)
-Largest total elevation gain & loss in one trip (15,060)
PASSES (by day):
Copper Creek Saddle 10,600
Grouse Pass 11,060
Goat Crest Saddle 11,470
Gray Pass 10,800
White Pass 11,760
Red Pass 11,600
Frozen Lake Pass 12,320
Mather Pass 11,920
Cirque Pass 12,020
Potluck Pass 12,160
Knapsack Pass 11,660
Bishop Pass 11972
60.7 miles, average 10.1 miles/day
A final lesson form me, and a big one, is that when training for something like this I need to include hills and elevation with HIIT, and full-body strength training. I was hiking 5 miles/day and doing 20 flights of stairs with a 50 lb. pack to train for this trip, but it wasn’t enough. It’s just not the same as doing long, steep climbs and descents. As for the full-body training, training for a trek three years ago training I stopped eating all refined carbohydrates and did tons of bodyweight exercises, in addition to hiking with a heavy pack, and I lost over 30 pounds in four months. This time my thinking was to focus all my efforts on carrying the pack, both heavier and farther, And with some stairs thrown in. So my legs got relatively strong but I ended up barely losing any weight, which was like a sea anchor holding me (and my very gracious companions) back when climbing steep slopes at elevation.
Planning to hike the rest of the SHR to celebrate my 75th birthday!
And now some pictures:
Drying out some gear and about to make dinner after the second day’s hike:
Zoom in on this next one to see Murali and Chris ahead of me on our approach to Frozen Lake Pass. The other side was even crazier. This is “Type II” adventure.
Sunrise on Day 3 (4?) :
My trail buddies Murali and Chris:
Countless cathedrals of granite shaped by the hand of the Creator, however you define it/her/him:
Moonrise (with forced flash) early on the first night of the Perseid Meteor Shower:
The final pass:Aug 23, 2021 at 8:02 pm #3725628obx hikerBPL Member
Good for You!
Man that Frozen Lakes Pass looks a twee rocky.Aug 23, 2021 at 8:08 pm #3725629
Yeah, that Frozen Lake Pass was really tough. It was the one where we had to spread out horizontally as well as vertically to avoid rolling rocks onto each other.Aug 23, 2021 at 8:30 pm #3725631obx hikerBPL Member
OK took the pups for the bedtime walk and managed to make the same post twice. Looking forward to mapping out the route. Checked out some of the other passes and they look fun as well. Which ones would you have thought impossible at first? A lot of them look that way at first it seems until you do them.
PS Can’t resist. I warned you about that poncho….. ;)Aug 24, 2021 at 1:35 pm #3725672Erik GBPL Member
@fox212Locale: Central Coast
That looks like my type of fun! Off trail in the High Sierra – rugged and absolutely beautiful.
You’ll have to knock out another 60 mi next year :)Aug 25, 2021 at 9:18 pm #3725832ManfredBPL Member
Sounds like you had a great adventure and came home with several lessons learned.
Too bad the Ultra Raptors didn’t work out for you. I wore them again during our trip the last couple of weeks and was very happy with them.
What was the lesson learned in regard to the fishing license? While wilderness rangers have never asked me for a fishing license when checking my wilderness permit during all the years I have backpacked in the Sierra, this time – when I had my wilderness permit checked by a law enforcement ranger (with sidearm and badge) who was patrolling ‘some favorite cross-country routes’ – I was also asked to present my fishing license (mind you, not while I was fishing, but because I was in possession of a fishing pole). Interesting times!
I always like to be out in the Sierra when the Perseids pass through. I’m glad you got to enjoy the Perseid meteor shower as well.Aug 26, 2021 at 8:15 am #3725859
Hey Manfred, sorry I missed you! Glad you had a good trip to0.
The lesson I learned regarding fishing on a backpacking trip is like the coffee – remember to bring the license first, and then the tenkara kit. I have always bought fishing licenses because it is legally required and because the fees go to support education and conservation.
I think I would have been fine with the Ultra Raptors a “normal“ camping trip mostly on trail. But I weighed 190 pounds when I started this trip and carried a 20 pound bag, so there was 210 pounds blasting down on the step. They’re probably fine for people who weigh less.
I haven’t purchased a water filtration system yet. Haven’t really done any research to compare the various brands, models, features, advantages and drawbacks and in no rush. Interested in your thoughts on the subject though.
I’m in some kind of camping burnout/recharge cycle. I spent the entire first seven months of the year planning, discussing, making gear lists and revising them endlessly, working on menus and testing different recipes then eating the food for awhile to make sure it would work for me, and even sleeping on the floor with my Uberlite “Small” air mat to get used to it. Time to do some mountain biking and weight training!Aug 26, 2021 at 2:02 pm #3725889Robert SpencerBPL Member
@bspencerLocale: Sierras of CA and deserts of Utah
Great recap and lessons learned. A few questions for this specific route.
1. Besides fiddle factor, is there decent ground for placing stakes for a trekking pole supported shelter or gathering heavy rocks to secure everything?
2. I assume no snow fields to contend with this year? No need for microspikes?
3. What kind of water carrying capacity did you have? Everyone is different, but I’m wondering if 3 liters is adequate between lakes and streams?
4. Pretty late for bug problems, but how about mosquitoes? Okay to go long sleeves and headnet and skip the DEET?
I hope you are proud of your accomplishment. Sounds difficult, but rewarding.Aug 26, 2021 at 2:50 pm #3725893
Thanks. Although I didn’t do the entire route as originally planned I’m very satisfied. To answer your questions:
1. Plenty of both. Rocks everywhere if needed, but I was able to sink stakes about half the time. I used shepherd’s hooks only, the other guys also had some mini Ground Hogs.
2. No, tragically, no snow fields of need for microspikes anywhere that I could see. Saw only a very few small north-facing snow fields.
3. Technically I had capacity for 2 gallons because my pillow is also a 1.5 gallon water bag, but what I actually used was two 1.5 L Smartwater bottles for a total of 3 L. My compadres generally carried about 1/2 L less than I did.
4. Mosquitos were not a big problem, but there were a few places next to lakes and streams that had a bunch. We all did fine with long sleeves, head nets, and a touch here and there of DEET, permethrin and/or picaradin. I wouldn’t want to go without at least a bit of some kind of repellant.
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