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Backpacker Magazine – March 2011

America's Best-Kept Secrets: John Muir Wilderness, CA

by: Michael Lanza

In A cross-country traverse that you can pull off in a week or less
Out Yosemite National Park’s infamously strict permitting system

This 32.2-miler traverses one of the highest, harshest, and most achingly gorgeous strips of California’s High Sierra, from North Lake, outside Bishop, to Mosquito Flat, between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes. It links up swooping valleys surrounded by razor granite peaks that glow in rosy light each evening, drops into lake-studded alpine basins, and tops six passes between 11,150 and 13,040 feet. It’s Yosemite in everything but crowds. The entry fee? You need expert navigation skills for a mix of trails, abandoned footpaths, and cross-country travel, and you must be comfortable with traversing cliff bands, descending steep scree, and scrambling class 3 terrain over talus blocks that could crush a Suburban. From North Lake trailhead, link the following landmarks and trails: Lamarck Col, Darwin Canyon, Alpine Col, Goethe Lake, Piute Pass Trail, Desolation Lake, Puppet Pass, Elba Lake, Pine Creek Trail, Italy Pass Trail, Lake Italy, Cox Col, Dade Lake, Little Lakes Valley Trail, and Mosquito Flat trailhead. Local knowledge Payoffs for scrambling and routefinding? Edenic campsites. Here are the best: Darwin Canyon, Humphreys Basin, Granite Park, and between Lake Italy and Toe Lake.

Do it From US 395 in Bishop, take CA 168 17.8 miles to a right onto North Lake Rd. Find backpacker parking for the Lamarck Lakes trailhead in 1.2 miles.

Permit Available first-come the day before your start date. Reserve it two to three months prior for start dates from mid-July through August.

Map Mono Divide High Country Trail ($9,

Shuttle High Sierra Transportation, (760) 258-6060;

Contact (760) 873-2400;

GPS data

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Reader Rating: -


Oct 17, 2013

Loved California, but its been taken over by Liberal extremists who are running it into the ground with debt and a disregard for the 2nd Amendment. Boycott California!

Nov 08, 2012

High Sierra Shuttle link/site seems to be disabled.

Jun 24, 2012

we'll be in this area WITH a GPS :)

Jeremy Troop 586
Jun 21, 2012

I would agree, this stretch of the Sierra is awe inspiring. Though I have not through hike this section, I have been on most parts of this trail. Usually the only one fishing, as most are through hikers and rarely stop to fish.
In to weeks I will hike Cotton Wood lakes just south of Whitney, probably the southern most dramatics that Michael writes about.


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