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Backpacker Magazine – October 2010

High Sierra Trail, Ca: 50-Mile Thru-Hikes

Go straight to the top in the Range of Light.

by: Jim Gorman

The Great Western Divide, HST Mile 27 (Paige Falk)
The Great Western Divide, HST Mile 27 (Paige Falk)

Less is More
See all 50-mile thru-hikes
(72 miles, 5-7 days)
This trail has no prologue. The John Muir Trail may hold the high country in a loving embrace for weeks, but the High Sierra Trail gets right down to business. That’s because it cuts against the grain of the Sierra Nevada, from Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park to just shy of 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney.  
Thru-hikers usually go west to east, leaving the Whitney side-trip for the final day. Most of the first two days are devoted to climbing to Kaweah Gap, a notch in the impressively vertical Great Western Divide, a range of 13,000-footers. You’ll shed that hard-won elevation in a gradual drop to Kern Canyon, a long, forested trench that looks like it was scraped out of Sierra bedrock by a giant ice cream scoop. The 49-mile HST officially ends where it intersects the JMT, but that would leave you a long way from civilization. It’s another 23 miles up the back side of Mt. Whitney and down to Whitney Portal. (559) 565-3708; nps.gov/seki

The way West trailhead: From Visalia, go 52.8 miles east on CA 198 to Moro Rock-Crescent Meadow Rd. Turn right and go 2.5 miles. East trailhead: at the end of Whitney Portal Rd., 11.4 miles west of Lone Pine. 

Shuttle DIY or High Sierra Shuttle ($600/pair, highsierrashuttle.com)

Season Mid-August through September, for reliably pleasant, bug-free camping.

Guidebook and map Download the full GPS track and view geo-tagged photos in the online trip trip report at backpacker.com/hikes. Other resources in print: Sierra South, by Kathy Morey ($19, wildernesspress.com); Whitney High Country ($10, tomharrisonmaps.com).



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READERS COMMENTS

Don Hazard
Feb 15, 2012

Two of my son's and I did this trip in 1990. Donnie was 8 years old and his younger brother Tyson was 6. We took 10 days and slept on top of Mt. Whitney the 9th night. Since then we have climbed and backpacked in many ranges throughout the world but the HIGH SIERRA is still my favorite.
A trip we will never forget.

Joe Doherty
Nov 06, 2011

I hiked this with 4 of my childhood friends in 2010 (we are in our 50s), and it was extraordinary. Difficult, beautiful, and ultimately peaceful.
I'm not sure why the article above states that the trail officially ends at the JMT. The plaque atop Mt. Whitney states that it is on both the JMT and the HST.
As for the shuttle, if you have a day at both ends of the trip, you can take various forms of public transportation. On the eastern side, the CREST bus runs from Lancaster to Reno. There is an AMTRAK bus and train combo that will get you from Lancaster to Visalia. There is a park shuttle from Visalia to the trailhead. I did some planning and found I could start and finish at UCLA with minimal fuss (I didn't need to, but I could have). You'll need a thumb to manage the distance from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine. Of course it takes time to do this, but not $600 worth of time for most of us.

Frank
Nov 03, 2011

My son and I did this hike as an out and back from Cresent Meadow to Whitney summit and back in 10 days about 6 years ago. 10 days without resupply a little heavy going out but well worth it--especially the hot bath in Kern Canyon.
It is close to 300 miles one way by road from Cresent Meadow to Whitney portal--hence the $600 shuttle fee.

Steve H.
Nov 03, 2011

The HST (round trip) was my first serious backpacking trip in the summer of 1973. Kelty external framed packs, heavy boots, '70's dehydrated meals, rain, snow, a forest fire and 3 high school guys in a 2-man tent. It was 12 days that none of us has yet to forget. Thank goodness the food and gear has gotten better.

James Card
Nov 03, 2011

Not having researched the competative rates for various shuttles, I do not know about the $600.00 rate, however you should be aware that roads across the Sierras are few. I am guessing that the one way shuttle-the shuttle must return-is over 200 miles.

James Card

Garrett
Nov 03, 2011

Surely you mean $60/pair for the high sierra shuttle...

sierracanon
Aug 15, 2011

Did this trip last summer, and it's awesome. Incredible scenery every day. Butt-kicking hiking on excellent trails. And reasonable solitude during the middle days.

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