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June 2001

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.

20. Kern Peak Loop

Golden Trout Wilderness

30 miles (T); 2 to 4 days

This route tours the innumerable great camping areas in the relatively gentle meadow and forest landscape of the southern Sierra. After leaving the Redrock Meadows, watered by several small streams and surrounded by a lodgepole pine forest (a perfect first-night campsite), you’ll likely see few other hikers. From the Blackrock trailhead, follow trails past Casa Vieja Meadows, Long Canyon Creek, Beer Keg Meadow, and River Spring for 8 miles to Redrock Meadows. From there, take the northeast-bound trail to the crest of the Toowa Range, which tops out at 10,250 feet. Kern Peak rises above timberline about 2 miles west of the saddle and affords one of the finest wilderness views in California. After hiking up Kern Peak, follow the trail northeast to Templeton Meadows. To make a loop, follow the trail southeast beneath the massive volcanic cone of Templeton Mountain to outliers of the broad Strawberry Meadows, passing first Fat Cow and then Schaeffer Meadows. From there, turn right and follow the trail southwest, climbing over a forested ridge and down into Long Canyon to the trail back to your car.

Getting there: To get to the Blackrock trailhead, use the Forest Service’s Sequoia National Forest map to piece together the various roads leading past Blackrock Junction to the trailhead 59 miles from Kernville. Maps: Forest Service Golden Trout/South Sierra Wildernesses, Sequoia National Forest; USGS Casa Vieja Meadows, Kern Peak. Contact: Sequoia National Forest.

21. High Sierra Trail

Sequoia National Park

55 miles (T); 5 to 7 days

The High Sierra Trail gives you the full flavor of a Sierra traverse in less time than does the much-longer John Muir Trail. From Crescent Meadow, follow the signed High Sierra Trail through the Middle Fork Kaweah and Kern River drainages to the Muir Trail just west of Mt. Whitney, then finish at Whitney Portal. Along the way lie an astonishing variety of landscapes, from large trees to a miniature Yosemite (near Valhalla). Hike past Angel Wings, the biggest rock wall in Sequoia National Park, and, if you want, bag Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower 48. The elevation gains are easy, and the campsites, plentiful.

Getting there: Giant Forest Grove, the start of the hike, is at the south end of Generals Highway. You’ll need someone to pick you up at Whitney Portal. Maps: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; USGS Giant Forest, Lodgepole, Mt. Kaweah, Triple Divide Peak, Mt. Whitney, Mt. Langley. Contact: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.

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