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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.

Expedition Planner
Sierra High Route

This 210- to 220-mile, 20- to 30-day cross-country journey could be the premier mountain trek in the Lower 48. But it is an expert route–not for novices, youth groups, bad knees, or even experienced trail hikers new to loaded scrambling and off-trail navigation. You’ll hop boulders for 40 miles, and cross a sawtoothed succession of steep passes and deep gorges. You’ll traverse two national parks, three wilderness areas, one national monument, 33 named passes, and 11 major divides. If you’re unsure of your abilities, gain experience on less committing trips or section-hike the route. Since this trek crosses much fragile alpine tundra, small groups and Leave No Trace practices are mandatory.

Best Maps
I used the detailed and nicely illustrated Tom Harrison Kearsarge Pass, Kings Canyon High Country, Mono Divide High Country, Mammoth High Country, Yosemite High Country, and Hoover Wilderness maps. (tomharrisonmaps.com)

Guidebook
Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country, by Steve Roper ($17, The Mountaineers, mountaineers.org)

Download
The author’s 63 sat-phone podcasts from the SHR are free on iTunes. Search “BACKPACKER,” then hit the Trail Tours icon.

Getting Around
Park your car at journey’s end, Mono Village Resort ($1/day), on Twin Lakes above the town of Bridgeport. To access the southern trailhead at Road’s End in Kings Canyon (see opposite page), the easiest/cheapest way is to start from Onion Pass trailhead above the town of Independence, then hike 19.6 miles/2 days to Kings Canyon, and begin the SHR from the Copper Creek Trail. While commercial shuttles have operated in the past–you could get one from Twin Lakes to Onion Valley for about $330, or from Twin Lakes to Kings Canyon for $1,000 or more–there are none currently offering the service.

Checklist

  • Solid aerobic fitness
  • Good knees and ankles
  • Off-trail navigation skills
  • GPS and/or compass
  • Ability to downclimb Class III-IV with a heavy pack
  • Tough boots
  • Bearproof canisters
  • Full storm gear
  • A big pack, for the food
  • Freestanding tent
  • Trekking poles (with rubber caps for the tips)
  • First-aid and repair kits
  • Stream-crossing shoes (until midsummer)
  • Ice axe and crampons (often until September)
  • Recommended: PLB, satellite phone, or SPOT beacon (especially for soloists); 40 feet of climbing rope for pack hauling and lowering
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