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Backpacker Magazine – October 2011

Perfect 10: North America's 10 Most Memorable Hikes

Ten trails. Ten unmatched miles each. Get maximum bang for each boot step on hikes that our most-traveled contributors call their all-time favorites.

by: BACKPACKER Contributors and Editors

The Lost Coast, Sinkyone Wilderness SP
Photo by BP1011PERFECT_Callaert_S75ElkLostCoast_445x260.jpg
The Lost Coast, Sinkyone Wilderness SP
Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta
Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta
The Jewels Route, Grand Canyon NP
The Jewels Route, Grand Canyon NP
Mt. Eielson, Denali National Park
Mt. Eielson, Denali National Park
Titcomb Basin Trail, Wind River Range, WY
Titcomb Basin Trail, Wind River Range, WY

Take it With You
>>Download a printable PDF for every Perfect 10 Trip

MY 10
BACKPACKER asked some of the top personalities in the outdoor industry about their favorite slice of wilderness. Below are their picks.

Andrew Skurka
Ultra-hiker
>Ten Mile Range in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains

Joe Horiskey
Longtime guide on Mt. Rainier
> East Fork Quinault River Trail to Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park

Brett Dennen
Rock star, camp counselor
> Pacific Crest Trail running 10 miles south from Sonora Pass

Jon Jarvis
Director of the National Park Service
> The Pacific Crest Trail from Rainy Pass, over McAlester Pass, and into Stehekin Valley. “You can hear Julie Andrews. These are the American Alps.”

Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford
Married co-CEOs of Clif Bar & Company
> Lyell Canyon Trail out of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite

Tyler Stableford
Adventure photographer
> Franconia Ridge Trail loop in NH, up Falling Waters and down the Bridle Path

John Gans
Executive Director, NOLS
> Ice Lakes, Deep Creek Lakes, and Echo Lakes in the Wind River Range, WY

Les Stroud
Filmmaker and survivalist
> West Coast Trail in Vancouver, from Pachena Bay to Valencia Bluffs

Wayne Gregory
Founder of Gregory Packs
> North from Agnew Meadows, past 1000 Island Lake and over toward Lyell in the High Sierra

David Startzell
Executive Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
> The AT from TN 143 to US 19E: “It’s 15 miles, but it’s so much fun, it feels like 10.”

Justin Lichter
Ultra-hiker
>The 10 miles surrounding Cataract Pass in the Canadian Rockies

Dana Watts
Executive Director, Leave No Trace
> Mesa Trail, Boulder, CO

Perfect 10 Mt. Whitney, CA
Experience the highest point in the Lower 48 through different eyes.
—Trevor Thomas, as told to Casey Lyons

NO BLIND PERSON HAD STOOD ON TOP OF MT. WHITNEY BEFORE. EVER. I planned my PCT thru-hike so my two partners and I would be there on June 27, Helen Keller’s birthday (we made better time and went through six days early).

We wanted to start from Guitar Lake, but we heard that’s where the snowline was and we didn’t want to sleep on ice. So we began at a camp a mile past the Crabtree Ranger Station, following the John Muir Trail for five miles and 3,700 vertical feet to the summit—and the same back down.

This isn’t the normal summit slog from Whitney Portal. We would climb the peak on the backside’s deep wilderness, and rise steeply above treeline and the half-dozen tarns that pool below this scree-laced tower. The guidebooks all rave about the scenery—a great stretch of serrated, gray-brown peaks linked together like teeth on a giant chain saw—but I experience it in a different way.

When I hike, I navigate by passive echolocation, like a bat, listening to the sounds I make come back to me. Whether it’s us talking or rocks tumbling nearby, it gives me a signature, and I have a basic idea of what my surroundings will be like—whether it’s open or there’s a cliff. Normally, I tune in on the footfalls of the hiker in front of me and put my foot exactly where he did. But when we got to Guitar Lake, we hit snow, and in such an open bowl, the sound carries. I could tell it was huge, but it was hard to judge exactly where to step.

Halfway up the face, the slope steepened to 40 degrees and I knew it. My feet are so sensitive now that I can feel the paint lines on the sides of the roads through my boots, and I know when the snowpack is unstable. It was dicey, but I took it slowly until the slope flattened over the last cornice.

The sound was incredible. It was like a vacuum, and I knew there was nothing above or beside me. Sheer openness. People ask me: Why climb if you can’t see what’s there? I can’t see the view, but I can feel it. I use my other senses to take in a mountaintop. I think of the smells, the wind, the sun on my face. That summit is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever felt—and my sighted partners agree.

PERFECT 10 John Muir Trail from Crabtree Ranger Station to Mt. Whitney
>>
DO IT From Independence, take Onion Valley Rd. to the trailhead and hike west 4.8 miles over Kearsage Pass to the PCT. Then trek 19.6 miles to the Crabtree Ranger Station.
MAP Mt. Whitney Zone ($10, tomharrisonmaps.com)
CONTACT (559) 565-3730; nps.gov/seki
 


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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Conak
Jun 12, 2014

YES! I sadly live on the east coast now, and I always say the exact thing: too many trees! But no one ever agrees with me. Trees are nice, but there needs to be a changes to the scenery. Trees here, meadow there, rocks here, snow there. Variety. West is best. I've yet to make it out to Wyoming, but sounds like the place to be.

Bob
Nov 27, 2011

I just hikes it in Aug, awesome trail, but the Elliot river crossing is officialy closed, the high route mentioned is doable but hazardous, and at the White river the trail ends at a dropoff, you need to bushwack down hill about 150 feet, but the trail is not flagged. Still: awesome campsites, awesome views, and few hikers. definate 10.

Mike
Nov 17, 2011

Maybe a little dated. Along the east side of Mt. Hood the trail was wrecked by an avalanche several years ago and you will have to drop down very low or risk a high route to bypass it. Then, last summer, there was a large fire on the NNW side that burned a lot of the route.
This is not to say that it's still not a great trail, because it is. Just wanted to pass this on. Although the NNW side was closed as of the fall of 2011 and I don't know the plans for 2012.

Joe
Nov 17, 2011

I hiked through here a couple years ago and had an great time. We parked at Scales which is down a long bumpy dirt road. My pontiac Vibe barely made it through some parts. Got there at Midnight and hiked for hours under a full moon with no flashlight. The balds make for spectacular views. We only ran into people on the AT.

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