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Backpacker Magazine – June 2001

Splendor Hiking The High Sierra

Take the finest mountains in the world, add high-country meadows, glacial valleys, alpine lakes, pine-and-hemlock forests, and what do you have? A recipe for backcountry bliss.

by: John Harlin

17. Agnew Grove
Giant Sequoia National Monument

9 miles (T); 1 to 2 days

Though short in miles, this up-and-down, in-and-out trail will give your legs a workout. The reward is equally powerful, with an overnight in one of the few remaining wilderness groves of giant sequoias. With a maximum elevation of 8,600 feet, this trail opens much earlier in the year than those in the High Sierra. You'll also have an intimate "low"-elevation view of the great trough of Kings Canyon, and you'll be getting all this with little human contact. Follow the Deer Meadow Trail north from the trailhead past Deer Meadow and into the Monarch Wilderness. A mile into the wilderness, turn left on Trail 30E04. Agnew Grove covers at least 30 acres surrounding a saddle at 6,320 feet that's just below Peak 6,531. The steep drainage of Rattlesnake Creek lies beneath. A smaller ancient grove is at about 7,400 feet on the northern slope of the small ridge separating Agnew Grove from Deer Meadow.

Getting there: From Generals Highway (the main road in Sequoia National Park, connecting CA 180 and CA 198), take the signed Big Meadows turnoff onto Forest Service Road 14S11. Bear right toward Horse Corral Meadow at the eastern end of Big Meadows Campground. Stay on the paved road until it bridges Horse Corral Creek, then turn north onto dirt Forest Service Road 13S11, 10.1 miles from Generals Highway. The brushy dirt road ends at the trailhead a mile away. Maps: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; USGS Cedar Grove, Wren Peak. Contact: Sequoia National Forest.

18. Wright Lakes Basin
Sequoia National Park

25 miles (SOT); 3 to 5 days

This is where the High Sierra reaches its crescendo, with several 14,000-foot peaks, including Mt. Whitney, within skipping distance of each other. You won't have the lower Wright Lakes to yourself, because they're too close and easy for thru-hikers to reach from the John Muir Trail. But walk a little higher-or, better yet, scramble up any of the peaks-and you'll leave the other hikers behind. The dawn and sunset panoramas across the Great Western Divide illustrate the meaning of awesome, while the slew of little lakes in the flower-filled basin do the same for intimate. From the Shepherd Pass trailhead, gain 6,800 feet of elevation as you hike. Anvil Camp at 10,000 feet has water and is the traditional first camp, but Mahogany Flats, at 9,200 feet, also provides water and a few campsites. Hike about 2 miles down the trail west of Shepherd Pass before heading cross-country to the south over an easy saddle into the Wright Lakes Basin.

Getting there: From Independence on US 395, take Onion Valley Road west to Foothill Road south, then Symmes Creek Road west. Maps: Tom Harrison Maps Mt. Whitney High Country; USGS Mt. Whitney, Mt. Williamson. Contact: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; Inyo National Forest.

19. Colby Pass Loop
Sequoia National Park

65 miles (T); 5 to 7 days

This hike catches most of the glories of the High Sierra Trail, but instead of climbing Mt. Whitney with the thundering hordes (followed by transportation difficulties returning to the trailhead), loop back over Colby Pass. You'll very likely see fewer people on the return than on the hike out. From Crescent Meadows, follow the High Sierra Trail to and then along the Kern River. Where the High Sierra Trail climbs east to Mt. Whitney, cut west up the Kern-Kaweah River and cross Colby Pass. Below Cloud Canyon, follow the trail either through Deadman Canyon and over Elizabeth Pass back to the High Sierra Trail or down to Scaffold Meadows, then choose among the trail leading back to Crescent Meadow. At Colby Pass, you'll brush shoulders with Milestone Mountain, one of only three places in California farther than 12 eagle-miles from a road.

Getting there: Giant Forest Grove, the start of the hike, is at the south end of Generals Highway. Maps: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; USGS Giant Forest, Lodgepole, Triple Divide Peak, Mt. Kaweah, Sphinx Lakes. Contact: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.

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