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Splendor Hiking The High Sierra

Take the finest mountains in the world, add high-country meadows, glacial valleys, alpine lakes, pine-and-hemlock forests, and what do you have? A recipe for backcountry bliss.

14. Maclure Creek
Yosemite National Park

25 miles (MOT); 2 to 3 days

Hikers climb Mt. Lyell a couple hundred times a year, and many hundreds more hike the PCT up Lyell Canyon, but the headwaters of little Maclure Creek-just off the trail and just below the peak’s northern brow-are lonely and loving it. Mt. Lyell’s 13,114-foot summit towers overhead, its glacier catching the morning alpenglow. The view across enormous Lyell Canyon will make you wonder about the glacier that carved such a magnificent landscape. From Tuolumne Meadows, hike up Lyell Canyon on the PCT to the outlet of a steep stream that drains the lakes below Simmons Peak. Hike up this drainage to excellent campsites at 10,500 feet, then loop cross-country to a trail at Ireland Lake and back down to Lyell Canyon. Or, spend an extra day exploring Vogelsang Lake or Little Amelia Earhart Peak above Ireland Lake.

Getting there: Tuolumne Meadows is on CA 120 just west of Tioga Pass. Maps: Yosemite National Park; USGS Vogelsang Peak; Tom Harrison Maps Yosemite High Country. Contact: Yosemite National Park.

15. McGee Pass/Silver Divide

John Muir Wilderness

about 35 miles (MOT); 3 to 5 days

This tough but mostly trailed route includes long talus fields, snowfields, and some route-finding challenges on steep, grassy meadows peppered with rocky outcrops. But the Silver Divide offers a high probability of true solitude. Approximately 7 miles of trail hiking take you to Big McGee Lake, just east of McGee Pass. Head cross-country due south over a pass (class 2 or 3) on the Sierra Crest to Upper Hopkins Lakes. A use trail descends 3.4 miles to the trail along Mono Creek. Hike west 2.3 miles to the Laurel Lake Trail, then cross Bighorn Pass followed by Shout-of-Relief Pass down to Isaak Walton and Tully Lakes. Continue over McGee Pass and back to your car. For important information on crossing the Silver Divide between Laurel and Isaak Walton Lakes, refer to Steve Roper’s Sierra High Route.

Getting there: McGee Creek Road is about 10 miles south of the Mammoth Lakes turnoff from US 395. Maps: Tom Harrison Maps Mono Divide High Country, Mammoth High Country; Forest Service John Muir & Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wildernesses; USGS Convict Lake, Mt. Abbot. Contact: Inyo National Forest.

16. Ionian Basin

Kings Canyon National Park

25 miles minimum (MOT); 4 to 5 days

Austere barely begins to describe this place, it’s so barren. And yet that very sterility is also its beauty, assuming your taste-or at least your curiosity-tends toward the eerie and surreal. Yes, you’ll find the Sierra’s trademark alpine ponds, but dropped in stone-hard settings. Some call this the wildest place in the Sierra, and yet it’s just a couple of hours of relatively easy talus-walking from Muir Pass on the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail. The fastest access for cross-country hikers is from Lake Sabrina via Echo Col. Otherwise, take trails from South Lake to the east, Florence Lake to the northwest, or Wishon Reservoir to the southwest. Those with an appetite for rugged exploration will relish the masochistic pleasures of the Enchanted Gorge, which drops 4,000 feet to Goddard Creek.

Getting there: For Lake Sabrina, North Lake, and South Lake, leave Bishop on CA 168. The Florence Lake and Wishon Reservoir routes also strike out from CA 168, but from Fresno, on the western side of the Sierra. Maps: Tom Harrison Maps Kings Canyon High Country; Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; Forest Service John Muir & Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wildernesses; USGS Mt. Goddard. Contact: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.

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