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Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go?
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Bradley Jay
(standupdouble) - F
Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go? on 01/17/2012 10:54:56 MST Print View

Hi everyone,

I have been contemplating/planning for a N->S thru-hike of the Sierra High Route later this summer [most likely mid-July]. I have done a lot of reading and I am wondering if this route is appropriate given my background. Here is what I have done of note during the last 8 years.

Biked Trans-Am
Climbing: Rainier, Grand Teton [mixed snow/ice/rock]
Last season I completed the following single day traverses - Presidential Range [NH], Adirondack Range [NH], Devils Path [NY]
I have also done multi-day section hikes on the AT.

I can say that I am confident in my navigation skills [compass/topo...] and my general ability to function outdoors.

Still, some of the posts I have read make me wonder if the SHR is in another league all together. Generally I am cautious when deciding to take on a new trip which is why I am writing this post. To me it seems like the SHR is a good next step. I feel like the remoteness is really what is new compared to what I have done in the past.

If there is anyone here who has completed a thru-hike of the SHR and is familiar with some of the trips I have listed I would be grateful if you could add your two cents as to whether the SHR is an appropriate next step?



Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go? on 01/17/2012 11:02:56 MST Print View

I don't know if you read this already(I gave this link on your other post)if not it has lots of great info,lots of clickable links on the right side of page in red for you.Andrew went in July of 2008,he also posts on this site and is a staff member you could PM him he is always happy to help.

Edited by annapurna on 01/17/2012 11:09:13 MST.

Bradley Jay
(standupdouble) - F
Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go? on 01/17/2012 11:11:03 MST Print View

Thanks for the link Anna,

Of everything I have come across Skurka has made me feel most like I am on target. His descriptions of the route seem to be honest and clearheaded while many of the the other accounts I have come across seem to be more hyperbolic [especially when I compare the accounts to the hard facts.


Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go? on 01/17/2012 11:38:28 MST Print View

first off ... no I have not done the SHR.
But I have spent a fair amount of time in the Sierras, including cross country travel on climbing trips.

probably would not call SHR a hike,

navigation competency is important.
comfortable being alone in the wilderness.
level headed and conservative while alone in the wilderness.
comfortable doing class 3 scrambling with a pack.
comfortable on snow travel.
fitness for multi-day.

if going solo, probably one of the biggest issues is injury on the talus fields.

there are bail out points, if you consider hiking on trail a bail out relative to pure cross country.

did you do Rainier and Teton with a guide or on your own ?
your answer to this would speak to your confidence in yourself and your abilities.

Edited by asandh on 01/17/2012 11:54:20 MST.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
SHR on 01/17/2012 12:08:48 MST Print View

I have done the SHR and I would not do this as a first Sierra trip, I would do the JMT or other trails in SEKI instead. Normally I would encourage folks to push themselves but as Art said this route is less about hiking then other aspects such as navigation. As harsh as this may sound, if you have to ask then I believe you have answered your own question.

One option would be to do a section in combination with the JMT and other trails. I would suggest the southern section, possibly bypassing Frozen Lake Pass via Cartridge Pass or the section between Thousand Island lake and Toulemne Meadows, that makes a great loop when combined with the JMT via Donahue Pass.

And as far as Andrew's Skurka's account of the SHR, remember he is very experienced and has "super-human" hiking abilities, so did his partner. Most of us are not in his league.

Edited by gg-man on 01/17/2012 12:43:20 MST.

Bradley Jay
(standupdouble) - F
SHR on 01/17/2012 13:10:51 MST Print View

The only reason I mentioned Skurka was because of the nature of his descriptions which seem to be the most comprehensive I have come across.

As for my own experience. I did rainier with a guide and also did two days of instruction. I completed Grand Teton with a climbing partner in winter conditions.

I think my issue isn't so much navigation skills or being competent solo as not being familiar with the Sierras in general. I think that maybe moving forward I will look into a JMT/SHR combination.

Greg, I don't think I expected people to respond here saying "of course you should do this" still I don't know if I subscribe to the "if you have to ask" school of thought in general but you do have a point. No one here is going to be able to give me the answers I need to make a responsible decision. I should do a section or two of the SHR while doing the JMT and then decide.

Thanks again,

James Castleberry
Good video of solo SHR hike on 01/17/2012 13:31:57 MST Print View

I really enjoyed this video of the SHR done solo. The dude's clothing is a bit thrashed by the end of the hike, but other than that, maybe just life-threatening enough?:). I'm planning for Sept. 2012.

Edited by Winterland76 on 01/17/2012 13:36:40 MST.

Steve S
(idahosteve) - F

Locale: Idaho
Re: Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go? on 01/17/2012 19:31:42 MST Print View

I did the southern section of the SHR last season, and I'd throw out a couple of ideas....

Get Ropers book on the route and familiarize yourself with it. This will prob answer 99% of all your questions. Then you can ask yourself just what you want out of the route, and if you want to do it.

I'd go S to N, as per some suggestions by Roper, and Skurka....

Since you have to do some training anyway, combine some trips that will excersise the skills you will need for the SHR.

Finally, if you want to push yourself, and want to do the route, go do it.

If you want any specifics from my trip, drop me pm and I can give you more info.

Robert Perkins

Locale: The Sierras
"Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go?" on 01/17/2012 19:51:39 MST Print View

I have done the Southern 1/3 of the SHR from Roads End to Dusy Basin. It is 'hands-down' my favorite hike I have done and is well worth doing. Having said that, I am very comfortable in the Sierras and have done several trips cross-country, but there were a couple of sections I am VERY glad I was hiking with other people. , namely Frozen Lake Pass, and a little route finding around Horse Shoe Lake and Windy ridge. If I were to go again, I would find a hiking partner again because of the size and distance of some of the talus fields you cross, it could be a long time until someone came along. We saw no one in our time on the HSR, and many, many people while on the JMT sections.

Add on Edit - This potentially could be a fantastic year to do the SHR if our lack of snowfall trends how it is currently going. We are 180 degrees different from last years 'bomber' snow far.

Edited by rp3957 on 01/17/2012 20:57:19 MST.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: "Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go?" on 01/17/2012 20:33:16 MST Print View

"I am VERY glad I was hiking with other people. , namely Frozen Lake Pass"

Hi Robert,

What, specifically, did you find unusually challenging about Frozen Pass? I am probably going to be going over it this August, and am looking for all the first hand info I can lay my hands on.



Robert Perkins

Locale: The Sierras
"Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go?" on 01/17/2012 20:53:13 MST Print View

It was pretty loose, small scree on a pretty steep chute with a long tumble if your feet slipped or got away from you. I found that if I took a small zig-zag descent while always keeping a trekking pole planted on the downhill side it went pretty smoothly. It was only unstable for maybe 200 feet or so, but it was steeper than anything I had encountered until then. I have since done some worse sections, and in retrospect it probably wasn't as bad as it would be if I faced it again, but for me, I would still go with another hiker. I'm not %100 sure that I would have did it had I been solo. I may have went over Cartridge Pass as an alternative, but I'm glad I did it. There is a large bouldery talus field for about 1/2 - 3/4 of a mile that takes a bit of time getting through, but with some good grippy shoes, I actually had fun boulder hopping for awhile, but it does wear you out after awhile.

I really want to take on Snow Tongue Pass one of these days. It is supposedly the worst pass of the HSR. Maybe we can get a few BPL-ers together and put a good cross country trip together some year.

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
Frozen Lake Pass & Snow Tongue Pass - Photos on 01/17/2012 21:19:18 MST Print View

Here are photos from a S-N trip in September 2011. In both cases the photo has been taken looking back up the pass. Standing on top and looking down one of these passes can be intimidating. I was fine and had no problems navigating them, but everyone has to decide for themselves whether that terrain is for them. I loved it and will most likely go again late this summer (August/September)


Coming down Frozen Lake Pass

Snow Tongue Pass

Andy Duncan
(bluewater) - M

Locale: SoCal
"Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go?" on 01/18/2012 00:33:22 MST Print View

Thanks Bradley for starting this post and to all who have replied. I have not hiked the SHR. I have been reading everything I can find on the SHR non stop for the past few months in prep for late next summer. . . Ropers book, Skurka's map set & data book, countless trip reports and a few vids.

I feel comfortable x/c in the Sierra's and did the JMT last summer (not in 8 days like Robert, that is impressive) but Frozen Lake Pass and Snow Tongue Pass look challenging.

BTW, I appreciate the details in your SHR trip report Steve. I read it a few weeks ago and have it saved for reference. Also, thanx for posting your photos Manfred. I can't wait to get out there.

I found a few videos that might be helpful to other first timers. There is some amazing footage of the hike down the talus from the top of Frozen Lake Pass at 11:19:

The second one has some great footage of a father/son team with large traditional packs on the way down Snow Tongue Pass at 1:16:

To provide some reference there is an older experienced female hiker on another forum that hiked the entire SHR in 2010, most of it solo. If you're interested here's a link to one of her trip reports called, "Granny Does Ropers High Route":

I hope this helps. I would be interested in joining a BPL group on the SHR if it comes together in the future, although I'm not sure I could do the whole thing in two weeks like these guys:

Skurka & Burrel (

or San Gabriel (

Robert Perkins

Locale: The Sierras
"Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go?" on 01/18/2012 07:15:33 MST Print View

Andy, Thanks for the links to Frozen Lake Pass and Snow Tongue Pass. It gives you a little better idea of the 'feel' of them'

I'm pretty sure Tom has covered a lot of back country in the Sierras, so I think for him at least, Frozen Lake will not be too big of a deal. It was one of my first cross country experiences, and I was still a little intimidated at the time. I want to return to that route again and I'm curious of what I think having done more XC now.

Steve S
(idahosteve) - F

Locale: Idaho
Re: Re: "Sierra High Route - Should I stay or Should I go?" on 01/18/2012 07:42:15 MST Print View

I found Frozen Lake Pass to be pretty straight forward. Sure it was a bit loose, but overall I felt it was pretty typical. A steep, but obvious route; keep your attention and your focus and it was fine.
I thought that Pot Luck Pass was much more daunting. The view from below is nuts. It looks like a big pile of jagged slabs with no real route. Ropers book hints at grassy gullies and troughs, but with all the snow, we found no clues. We stayed way left, and still had some very technical 3rd class scrambling at the very top. But once again, with some focus, it all came together. I think that sums up the whole route. With some focus, it all comes together. Its a real jewel.
The overall route finding isn't any more or less difficult than any other x country forays I've been on, but the sheer fact that it goes on for days on end adds a degree of difficulty that you don't usually find in other ranges.
I would think that this upcoming year could be the golden path with regards to conditions. After all that snow last year, to have a mild winter might really open up the route early and often to travelers this season.

looking back up Frozen Lake Pass
Frozen Lake Pass
Looking up at Pot Luck Pass
Pot Luck Pass

Hobbes W
(Hobbesatronic) - F

Locale: SoCal
Sierra High Route on 01/18/2012 08:57:36 MST Print View

I've never hiked the entire length of the SHR, but I've done various sections in search of remote fishing holes. Since I live in SoCal, my hiking style is typically 4 day quick strikes, rather than longer distance thru-hikes.

If you are new to the Sierra, you might consider some of the advice others have provided in terms of cutting down the hike into separate & more manageable portions. That way, you will be afforded various entry & exit points to get a feel for the route.

As many others have pointed out, you should get Roper's book and read AS's trip report @ his web site. You will quickly realize that certain portions of the route are tougher than others eg Snow Tongue & Frozen Lake.

At the risk of revealing too much, if you are a Sierra newbie, you may wish to initially forgo the SHR and focus on the south. Roper ignored the area below Kings because it already IS @ high elevation, relatively isolated (other than the PCT) and has many, many XC opportunities.

For anyone into fishing, the region south of Forester is the holy grail. Nuff' said.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
What makes the SHR tough? on 01/18/2012 12:08:29 MST Print View

I have given a lot of thought to the question of "what makes the High Route so tough?" Frankly I didn't entirely like the answer I gave to OP's question because it was missing something. Having a day to think about it and reading some of the posts above I think I have the answer.

Steve hit the nail on the head. The thing that makes the SHR so tough is the duration of the Route. To illustrate I will use the Day 2 of my trip. We started the day camped below White Pass on Cartridge Creek, mile 19. The day was only 14 miles and started off pretty easy as we crossed over Red Pass and dropped down by Marion Lake (likely my favorite place in the Sierra) It remained easy as we approached the final approach to Frozen Lake Pass where the day became interesting.

During the climb the clouds were building. We were hoping to get over the Pass before the storm but we didn't quite make it. We heard the first thunder and found a huge bolder to hunker under since there was no cover at all for miles. We spent two hours under ground clothes as hail pelted us and lightning crashed off the surrounding peaks. Finally it calmed down and there an acumulation of hail as we reached the top of the Pass at mile 26.

The descent down the north side was not particluarly hard, it was just slow. When we reached the Lake we thought we were home free but then we had a pretty long stretch of boulder hopping. Again it wasn't individually difficult but the combination of the Pass, storm and earlier miles made the boulders seem that much worse. I suspect if I were to go through the same area, starting the day at Marion Lake and without the storm delay we would have tiptoed through the boulder fields with ease.

We ended the day early after only nine miles because we didn't have the energy to attack Mather Pass especially since we still weren't aclimated to the elevation.

So individually the Pass and descent weren't that tough but the combination of all the factors adds up to the day/trip being tough. I also think that snow level could make huge differences in relative difficulty, both positively and negatively. I would not assume that less snow is easier. Check out this picture of the north side of Snow Tongue. The snow in Andy's video would make the last part of the descent and boulder field crossing much easier.

North Side - Snow Tongue

Also, here is my picture looking back up at Frozen Lake Pass.

Frozen Lake

Edited by gg-man on 01/18/2012 13:03:08 MST.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: "Sierra High Route @Robert/Frozen Lake Pass on 01/18/2012 16:38:53 MST Print View

Thanks for the beta, Robert. Exactly what I was looking for, and nothing to give me pause. And thanks to Greg, Andy, Steve, and others for their comments. Things are coming into focus. The YouTube links were especially interesting, as there is only so much one can derive from maps and written descriptions. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and video even more so.

Edited by ouzel on 01/18/2012 16:52:47 MST.