Live from the Sierra High Route

Welcome to the map portion of Steve Howe's solo thru-hike of the Sierra High Route. Steve is BACKPACKER's Rocky Mountain editor, and he started this 37-day, 280-mile route on Saturday, August 26, 2006. He's podcasting once a day from his evening camp, and we'll be updating this map daily with a new waypoint showing where he's pitching his tent.

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The Sierra High Route is a very rugged alternative to the famous and more-crowded John Muir Trail. Both cross some of the country’s most spectacular terrain as they climb across high passes and blond granite peaks in the heart of the Sierra. Since author Steve Roper wrote the definitive guide to the SHR in 1997 (after decades piecing together sections), only a handful of backpackers have tackled the entire route each year. Much of the SHR is off-trail, requiring expert navigation skills and a level of self-reliance that takes years to achieve. Much of the route is also above treeline, exposing hikers to potentially fierce weather–as well as dozens of poster-worthy alpine campsites and wildflower meadows. Wildlife and photo ops abound; check back after Steve returns to see some of his pictures. From this page, you can click on “Trip Details” for brief descriptions of the daily waypoints, or you can click on “Interactive Map” to view and manipulate a route map. You can zoom in and out, scroll in any direction, and look at topo maps, aerial photos, or a hybrid of both. And if you sign up for the site’s advanced membership, you can view any trip on Google Earth — and load your own GPS data, photos, video, and sound clips. To listen to Steve’s podcasts, go to


Day 22: Nancy Pass (10,300 ft.)

Location: 37.6415786743164, -119.147171020508

After a short, brutal 600-foot talus climb, Steve and his crew find “hallucinatory revelations” at the top of Nancy Pass, along with stellar views of the many spires in the Minaret Range. Check in with our editor at:

Day 22: Neck-craning views

Location: 37.6767921447754, -119.167175292969

After a hard day managing only 5.25 miles of hiking, Steve reports from an alpine bench above Iceberg Lake and describes “one of the top 3 scenic spots on the Sierra High Route so far.” Listen to our editor at:

Day 24: Routefinding In A Granite Maze

Location: 37.691276550293, -119.232727050781

Calling from the northernmost of the two Twin Island Lakes, Steve reports on a tricky descent from Glacier Lake Pass and the discovery of a mule trail that helped him navigate a granite maze. Listen to our editor at:

Day 25: Into Yosemite at Blue Lake Pass (11,250 ft)

Location: 37.6840934753418, -119.291282653809

Steve reports in after a stiff climb through the sublime curves of Bench Canyon. Having reached the boundary of Yosemite NP, he’s treated to showcase views of the Ritter and Clark Ranges. Listen to our editor at:

Day 25: Look for the snow-white rock

Location: 37.6875801086426, -119.294677734375

Steve updates a sketchy descent route from Blue Lake Pass. Head right, away from dangerous terrain and toward a rock so white it looks painted–not your typical grey, Sierra granite. Listen to this danger-averting tip at:

Day 25: The Crucial Gully

Location: 37.688060760498, -119.308334350586

Steve finds a key spot after the descent. Reach a gorgeous meadow with a stream, but don’t search for the trail. Instead, head N until it turns to timber and rounded-boulder slabs. Listen to his advice at:

Day 25: A Rough Go Of It

Location: 37.7072906494141, -119.325248718262

Steve reports from camp after rugged travelling over Blue Lake Pass into the Lyell Fork of the Merced River. Contrary to the guidebook’s “breezy descriptions,” he finds the terrain challenging. Listen to our editor at:

Day 26: Bench above Lyell Fork of the Merced River

Location: 37.7092933654785, -119.341171264648

Steve phones in from a bench in granite-slab country dotted with sparse forests. He outlines the route from Blue Lake Pass and meets up with a ranger. They talk food storage and the High Route. Listen to our editor at:

Day 26: Closing in on Tuolumne Meadows

Location: 37.8241310119629, -119.333061218262

Steve checks in after 9 hours and 13 miles of speed hiking through the lower elevations. Listen in as he describes mistakes he made today, and how he recovered after finding himself bonking on Vogelsang Pass:

Day 27: Trail pounding through the heart of Yosemite

Location: 37.9025230407715, -119.289001464844

Steve reports on an arctic air mass that blew in last night, freezing a water bottle half-solid inside his tent. He also describes the hike from touristy Tuolumne Meadows back into a “wilderness aura.” Join in at:

Day 27: Frigid Night at the Great Sierra Mine

Location: 37.9291687011719, -119.267684936523

Phoning from a ridgetop campsite just outside the border of Yosemite NP near the Great Sierra Mine, Steve’s has just four days left after soloing for 197 miles on a demanding and committing route. Listen to our editor at:

Day 28: East ridge of Mt. Conness

Location: 37.9724349975586, -119.298988342285

Making his way from Mineshaft Pass to Cascade Lake, Steve phones in from a class 2 spur near the sprawling Conness Glacier. This true alpine section features firm granite, airy traverses and stunning views. Check in at:

Day 28: High-alpine camp at Secret Lake

Location: 37.9975090026856, -119.30933380127

Reporting from 10,900 feet, Steve details a difficult ascent and descent, which he likens to a Stairmaster on loose rocks. Tomorrow’s climb over Sky Pilot Col, the next-to-last major pass, could be epic. Tune in at:

Day 29: Sky Pilot Col

Location: 38.0042266845703, -119.309982299805

After spotting bighorn sheep butting heads from his campsite, Steve patiently picks his way up to Sky Pilot Col over heinous, pointy scree. Listen to our editor’s tips for traversing sketchy rock slopes at:

Day 29: Soldier Lake

Location: 38.0470352172852, -119.354225158691

Steve picks a small campsite on the sloping banks of Soldier Lake. Nearby, the Stanton and Virginia Peaks command the high horizon. Listen to our editor relive today’s events at:

Day 30: One last, possibly dangerous, downclimb

Location: 38.0605735778809, -119.359855651855

Taking deep breaths and counting his steps, Steve prepares to downclimb the dodgy, 300-foot dihedral gulley below Stanton Pass. He sees a steep trench with loose rock and good traction only on the left side. Listen in at:

Day 30: Alive and kicking

Location: 38.063835144043, -119.36247253418

Steve checks in from a grassy knoll halfway between Stanton Pass and Horse Creek Pass. Listen in as he describes the dramatic downclimb from Stanton Pass, offering detail on the thinking that went into every move:

Day 30: Finished!

Location: 38.1430740356445, -119.379898071289

Steve reports in safely at Mono Village at the end of his solo thru-hike of the Sierra High Route. One last surprise: He is joined on the trail by a user who’s been following Steve’s progress. Listen in at:

Day 23: Windy On All Sides At Thousand Island Lake

Location: 37.7093887329102, -119.191284179688

An easy day of cross-country travel has turned into a cold night. Swirling winds are still gusting as Steve ponders the class III downclimbs and torrential river crossings to come. Listen to our editor at: htttp://


Location: 36.7950134277344, -118.583656311035

Roads End Trailhead

Day 1

Location: 36.8580474853516, -118.59375

Day 1: Grouse Lake sits in an impressive granite basin just below Grouse Lake Pass.

Listen to Steve’s daily podcast at:

Day 2

Location: 36.9288444519043, -118.567779541016

Day 2: Granite peaks above State Lakes makes for a picturesque, and well-deserved, campsite. The off-trail route from Grouse Lake to here crosses two passes, and a beautiful glacial bowl.

Listen to the podcast at:

Day 3

Location: 36.9513664245606, -118.543853759766

Day 3: Tonight’s camp is on polished granite slabs near a 4-acre unnamed alpine lake below a blade of jagged peaks.

Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 4

Location: 37.0011787414551, -118.483993530273

Steve camps near one of the alpine lakes and saves Frozen Lake Pass for an early morning start.

Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 5: Frozen Lake Pass

Location: 37.0058517456055, -118.481979370117

This is the approximate spot near Frozen Lake Pass where Steve turned around. Icy gullies and dicey terrain made the descent too dangerous. Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 5: Cartridge Pass

Location: 36.9749221801758, -118.487373352051

Our scout rejoins the old rut of the John Muir Trail and goes over Cartridge Pass.
Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 6: Palisade Lakes

Location: 37.0567398071289, -118.478851318359

After 40 miles, Steve camps off the John Muir Trail near Palisade Lakes. Tomorrow he leaves the main trail to continue on the Sierra High Route.
Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 7: Under Cirque Pass

Location: 37.0651893615723, -118.498344421387

Steve camps near an unnamed alpine tarn at 11,400 feet. Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 7: Under Thunderbolt Pass

Location: 37.0922775268555, -118.525108337402

Steve camps at a climber’s bivy below Thunderbolt Pass. Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 8: Loose Boulders

Location: 37.1131744384766, -118.546592712402

After lots of boulder hopping, Steve rejoins the trail in upper Dusy Basin and heads for Bishop Pass. Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 8: Lakeside Camp

Location: 37.130428314209, -118.552131652832

Steve finds “gold” near his camp near Saddlerock Lake just off Bishop Pass Trail. Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 9: Parchers Resort

Location: 37.1854248046875, -118.557540893555

Steve re-supplies and fuels up for leg 2 of his 220-mile Sierra High Route. Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 10: Rest Stop

Location: 37.1042137145996, -118.555511474609

Back on the trail again: Our editor talks about what its like to huck a fully-loaded pack on a solo trip. Listen to today’s podcast at:

Day 10: Incredible Camp

Location: 37.0928611755371, -118.593482971191

The hike into this camp near a waterfall offers splendid views into Le Conte Canyon (note: waypoint is a rough estimate). Listen to our editor describe the scenery at:

Day 11: Upper LeConte Canyon

Location: 37.114559173584, -118.63858795166

Trail leads through Barrier Rock and above treeline. Listen to our editor describe the scenery at:

Day 11: Wanda Lake Camp

Location: 37.1239128112793, -118.68953704834

After a long push over Muir Pass, our editor camps on an isolated bench near Wanda Lake. He calls it: “one of the top three” campsites on the trip with a 180-degree panorama. Listen to our editor describe the day at:

Day 12: Evolution Lake

Location: 37.1725921630859, -118.700820922852

From the N end of Evolution Lake, Steve will leave the trail, heading toward the massive Glacier Divide. Listen to him discuss his route options at:

Day 12: High Camp

Location: 37.1997222900391, -118.693756103516

Stellar views to the corrugated N face of Mt. Mendel. Listen to our editor describe today’s challenges, including a hail storm at:

Day 13: Alpine Col at Glacier Divide

Location: 37.2153472900391, -118.694808959961

After a stout boulder-hopping session to the Col (12,364 ft.), Steve gets visited by a rare pine marten and marvels at what looks to be “refreshingly flat” terrain ahead.

Listen to our editor’s daily updates at:

Day 13: Hunkered Down in Humphreys Basin

Location: 37.2290229797363, -118.701210021973

“Sick of boulder fields” are Steve’s exasperated words after a long afternoon spent negotiating truck-sized rockfall. Now, he’s quickly set camp to get ahead of oncoming storm front. Check in on our editor at:

Day 14: Atop Puppet Pass

Location: 37.2777214050293, -118.72477722168

During an “easier” day of traversing tundra and fighting bitter-cold winds, Steve remarks on a waterfall careening down sheer cliffs and then plans his next move. Listen to our editor checking in from 11,800 feet:

Day 14: Camp on French Creek

Location: 37.2902946472168, -118.764831542969

Steve comments on his descent into the white-bark pine stands lining French Canyon. Upon setting camp, he enjoys a welcome bath and impromtu laundry session in the creek. Listen to our editor at:

Day 15: Feather Pass

Location: 37.3212776184082, -118.782051086426

Steve bumps into a few other off-trail hikers–the first of his trip– and describes the vivid, if bizarre, dreams that occur after a couple weeks off the grid. Listen in at:

Day 15: Black Bear Lake

Location: 37.3361015319824, -118.795967102051

Deciding to stop because it’s “just too beautiful,” Steve comments on his “view of the world” in the rock-bound, stair-stepped lakes of Bear Lakes Basin. Listen in as he ponders logistics:

Day 16: Gabbot Pass

Location: 37.3799514770508, -118.791198730469

Tucked in a windy notch between Mt. Gabb and Mt. Abbott, Rocky Mountain editor Steve Howe talks about the aerial acrobatics of several raptors he spent an hour viewing this afternoon. Check in at:

Day 17: Afternoon Break at Laurel Lake

Location: 37.4596672058106, -118.859428405762

Finished with a steep climb up Laurel Creek, Steve comments on the stunning terrain that surrounds and compares his morning routine to a group of college kids he camped near the night before. Listen to our editor at:

Day 17: Sunset at Bighorn Pass

Location: 37.4661064147949, -118.866012573242

Phoning from his campsite, perched on a sandy bench at 11,272 feet just below the pass, Steve reports on the evening light show, which resembled a “golden lava ball drowning in cherry juice.” Join our editor at:

Day 18: From the East Shore of Lake Virginia

Location: 37.5117530822754, -118.931076049805

Steve reports in after a day of difficult routefinding contrary to the guidebook. He also explains how he plans to repair a boot sole, a problem that’s a potential trip-ender. Listen to today’s update at:

Day 18: Blue Hour

Location: 37.514720916748, -118.936149597168

As alpenglow changes from deep blue to cold gray, Steve describes his camp under a stand of bonsai-like pines, and then outlines plans for future reports on the logistics of thru-hiking the Sierra High Route. Check in at:

Day 19: Waiting Out a Storm at Deer Lake

Location: 37.5641288757324, -118.986999511719

Steve finds a windproof whitebark-pine grove to wait out a wall of crackling thunderheads. Listen to our editor contemplating the changing geology and his current sense of isolation under a million stars:

Day 20: Routefinding Above Treeline

Location: 37.5815391540527, -119.015518188477

Steve reports in at 8:30 a.m. from a knife-edge ridge on the narrow geological formation known as Mammoth Crest. The weather is changing rapidly and the trail is now hard-to-find. Join our editor at:

Day 20: Acres of Giant, Charred Matchsticks

Location: 37.6190719604492, -119.074005126953

Steve reports from his resupply point in Mammoth. Listen as he describes an otherwordly scene upon emerging from stately, groves of towering old-growth pines to discover the abrupt edge of a 1992 wildfire. Check in at:

Rest Day: What It Takes For A Successful High Route Trek

Location: 37.6476593017578, -118.975570678711

Taking a full day in Mammoth Lakes to patch and clean gear, Steve goes in-depth on what you’ll need for such rugged and committing cross-country alpine travel. Listen to our editor talk logistics and pre-trip planning:

Day 21: Back on Trail

Location: 37.6360206604004, -119.146896362305

Steve reports in from on old-growth meadow in the Ritter Range. He talks about his new traveling companions and the gear he’s brought for this next leg. Listen to our editor at:

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