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Backpacker Magazine – May 2008

Hiking The Sierra High Route

On this burly, 210-mile traverse, which crosses 33 passes and barely touches established trails, you can find Alaska-sized scenery, complete solitude, and just enough risk to keep things interesting.

by: Steve Howe

North Palisade, California's third highest peak - Photos by Steve Howe
North Palisade, California's third highest peak - Photos by Steve Howe
Minaret Lake beneath the Ritter Range
Minaret Lake beneath the Ritter Range
Descending Mt. Conness
Descending Mt. Conness
Campsite below Cirque Pass
Campsite below Cirque Pass

Hiking Logistics

Section 1
Onion Valley to Bishop Pass

Distance 64 miles; 7 to 10 days

Southern Trailhead From Market Street in Independence, CA, drive 15 miles west. Forest Service camping is available along the way.
Northern trailhead Drive 22 miles SW from downtown Bishop via Bishop Creek Road (CA 168) and South Lake Road to South Lake trailhead.

Resupply
Parchers Resort is 1.2 miles from the South Lake trailhead and offers cabins, a restaurant, a small general store, and free package hold for guests. Reservations recommended. (760) 873-4177; parchersresort.net

Permits
Free if you start from Onion Valley. Reservations are $5/person, via mail or fax. Inyo National Forest: (760) 873-2485, (760) 873-2483 for reservations; fs.fed.us/r5/inyo. For Kings Canyon start: Apply via mail/fax ($15). Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks: (559) 565-3341; nps.gov/seki.

Section 2
Bishop Pass to Mammoth Lakes
Distance 73 miles; 10 to 13 days

Southern Trailhead
See South Lake above.
Northern Trailhead
Reds Meadow in Devils Postpile National Monument. Take US 395 and CA 203 through Mammoth Lakes to Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort and park. To reach Devils Postpile (760-934-2289; nps.gov/archive/depo/depomain.htm), take the mandatory shuttle bus ($7) to either Reds Meadow or Devils Postpile Ranger Station bus stops (30 minutes).

Resupply
Use the post office on CA 203 in Mammoth Lakes, or Motel 6 (760) 934-6660, which is next door and will hold UPS/FedEx parcels. The Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center (2510 Hwy. 203, 760-924-5500) is located a quarter-mile east of the PO. More than a dozen Forest Service and BLM campgrounds are in and around Mammoth Lakes (760-924-5500 info; 877-444-6777 reservations). Additional lodging info: 888-466-2666; visitmammoth.com. Earlier, pre-shipped resupply is also available at Mono Creek (mile 113) via a 10-mile hike west from the SHR to Vermilion Valley Resort on Lake Edison ($15/package; 25-lb. limit; 559-249-4000; edisonlake.com).

Permits
Same as above Section 3
Mammoth Lakes to Twin Lakes

Distance 77 miles; 8 to 10 days

Southern Trailhead
See Devils Postpile above.

Northern Trailhead
Mono Village Resort (760-932-7071; monovillage.com) on Twin Lakes offers lodging, long-term hiker parking ($1/day), a restaurant, and internet. From Bridgeport on US 395 (760-932-7500; bridgeportcalifornia.com), drive 14 miles on Twin Lakes Road. Resupply
Tuolumne Meadows (mile 192) has a general store, campground, and post office. Send packages to: "Hold for thru-hiker X" c/o Tuolumne Meadows Post Office, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite, CA 95389. Mark food packages so USPS employees can store them appropriately. The post office closes each day at 4 p.m., and all Tuolumne facilities close on September 15.

Permits
Walk-in at Mammoth Welcome Center (see resupply, above). (760) 873-2483; fs.fed.us/r5/inyo

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READERS COMMENTS

petekandu
May 19, 2012

I did the JMT about four years ago and we had 11 straight days of huge storms and torrential rain including three inches of hail. The river crossings were a nightmare, waist deep and bone chilling cold. Bear creek scared the hell out of me. It didnt stop raining until the day after Muir Ranch I have never been so wet nothing kept it out

Alan Bernat
May 17, 2012

The SHR does seem to be an epic trip. I lived in the Sierra for 10 years and I've lived in Colorado for the last 30 years. Many people in Colorado look at me askance when I tell them how nice the Sierra are. Not that the Colorado Rockies aren't very nice, but the Sierra has that long roadless area from Tioga Pass south. Most of the wilderness areas in Colorado are too small for extended trips (with the exception of two and RMNP). I go to the Winds for extended trips. Still, I miss that white granite, the jagged peaks and really great climate of the Sierra. Another comment, I guess that the author would have seen more people if he had gone a month earlier in the season.

Ronnette
May 29, 2011

As for all the aforementioned comments about lightning and thunderstorms, I strongly recomend reading Shattered Air: A True Account of Catastrophe and Courage on Yosemite's Half Dome by Bob Magic published in 2005. Too much to tell here, just read the editorial review at amazon.com. But basically it's the true story about five experienced hikers that got caught on top of Half Dome in 1985 during a summer thunderstorm when they were struck be lightning; two were killed and the other three sustained life threatning injuries. But the book also contains a wealth of information about everything a hiker/backpacked should know about lightning. Everyone thinks that finding shelter under, next to or near a big granite boulder or slab is a wise thing to do. Not so. Read the book.

Caleb
May 21, 2011

I have been backpacking for the last two summers in high-school and I'm currently working on my orienteering skills. What can I do and what do I have to learn to have the skills to hike this trail when I am old enough? Thanks for the help!!

Steve Kazmer
Jan 21, 2011

Two of my son's and I went to a remote lake up above Florence Lake in the West Sierras. The first night we went 1/2 the distance due to a late start then slept and broke camp early, and hiked to our destination. That afternoon at about 3pm it clouded up and began to lightly rain. By dusk we were hanging onto our tent polls. The wind kicked up and it hailed & rained so hard it sounded like it would come through the tent roof. The thunder and lightening were out of this world crazy. The rain stopped for an hour then began again the same as before. It didn't stop till midnight, also with thunder and lightening. All the streams around us swelled up to within 3' of our camp site. By morning all was well and we had a beautiful hike down. Caught (5) 16” Golden’s & (8) 12” Golden’s. I released all of them.

Tom Cox,, Sr, age 64
May 15, 2009

Mid-July, 2008, en route to Mearrian Lake, had to make emergency camp in four hour thunderstorm at Puppet Lake. We picked small depression between granite slabs between altitude stunted tiny gnarled conifers. Rain/hail started at 3:30 PM and was over at 7:30 PM. Resumed High Route trek in AM with no more rain. Feather Pass, Bear Lakes Basin and Gabbot Pass were absolutely glorious.

Amber
Feb 11, 2009

The JMT is lower, of course, but when I hiked it for 22 days in August, we got zero rain. I agree - if it doesn't start raining by 5pm, no problem.

Scott Sinner
Sep 30, 2008

No, and in my case, cuddle with your hiking partner of the same sex under a limp rain fly and wait it out with a Snickers bar. Seriously, though, thunderstorms in the Sierras are rare and only happen in the afternoon. Watch for buildups, plan accordingly, etc. If nothing's hit by evening, you're in the clear. I did the whole route this summer and we experienced this only once in the 23 days. For more info and learn how to stick it to VVR, email me at scottasinner@yahoo.com

Rick Challenger
Sep 20, 2008

I'snt it dangerous to camp above treeline? What do you do in the case of a thunderstorm?

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