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So I'm doing the Sierra High Route...
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Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
So I'm doing the Sierra High Route... on 06/27/2013 18:29:02 MDT Print View

Before going back to school in the fall, I've decided to hike the Sierra High Route (or something similar). I plan on spending between 2 weeks and 20 days, generally taking it slow. I would start at the beginning of August.
I've been wanting to do an extended trip for a while now. I originally considered the John Muir Trail, but I am much more interested in cross country travel than trail travel.

Some background info, I am 20 years old and have been backpacking and hiking seriously for a few years. I grew up wandering around off trail at local state parks. I am an off trail hiking fanatic. I do a lot of very difficult off trail hiking in Big Sur in narrow, debris littered canyons and through very dense brush (1/4 mile per hour travel). All of my future hiking goals involve cross country expeditions. I just find on trail hiking to be a little boring at times.
However, I have very little experience in the High Sierras. I don't know anything about any of the locations I will be traveling through. It will all be new to me.

I am very comfortable with walking through challenging terrain and route finding. I understand how difficult, slow, and mentally exhausting this kind of travel can be. Honestly, I have probably been through much worse but not for such an extended period of time.

It's the navigation that is worrying me. I know that the high sierra is one of the easiest places for cross country travel, but this is a huge undertaking and the amount of information on routes is overwhelming. As I said earlier, I know very little about where I am going. Planning resupplies and ensuring that I can bail out is difficult as well. I don't mind getting a little off track and planning my own alternate routes.

I know that a few on here have hiked the trail and I'm looking for general information and advice:

How closely do I need to follow the route? I don't mind wandering in a northwesternly direction, but I don't want to run into terrain outside of the route that I can't handle (cliffs and such).

Should I go all out with maps? Super detailed maps, overview maps, maps of exit points, extended overview maps of surrounding areas, ect.? I will have a phone with gps and a baseplate compass and detailed maps.

I'm considering getting a ride into Bishop or Mammoth to resupply. Is this too much of a hassle?

What kind of weather can I expect at such high elevations?

Is a large flat tarp a good shelter choice?

If I get a permit in a national park or national forest, is it valid for every other national forest and national park that I enter? Is it only valid for the locations I specify on the permit which would end up being mostly inaccurate.

Bear canisters, is there any way around this? I would like to avoid them for most my hike. I don't mind sleeping right next to my food when above the treeline. I'm not scared of a curious bear. Is there any way to secure my food while above the treeline so that I can leave my pack for a quick peak bag or side exploration? Ursack?

I plan on taking this trip fairly slow. I'll do a lot of side exploration and plenty of fishing. I always have to climb every rock formation and check out every lake I see. This might mean that I will have to carry a lot of food, but I can also supplement with fishing (within safe reason).

I am going to rent a PLB for this trip. If I get hurt it's going to be a long time before anyone will start looking for me and it may take them a while to actually find me.

So far this is a solo trip. Am I going to go crazy wandering around a lifeless lunar landscape without any human contact? Will I even see any people at all out there?

Edited by justin_baker on 06/27/2013 18:36:16 MDT.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: So I'm doing the Sierra High Route... on 06/27/2013 18:36:55 MDT Print View

What has been your longest alpine cross country hike?

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: So I'm doing the Sierra High Route... on 06/27/2013 18:44:13 MDT Print View

Alpine? Just a day. I've had issues with altitude in the past (now mostly remedied with Diamox, that stuff is amazing) that discouraged with from going up high.

My longest cross country hike was a week in Big Sur with very difficult route finding, dangerous and loose terrain, climbing up a very long snowfield, and scrambling around a ridge.

Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: So I'm doing the Sierra High Route... on 06/27/2013 18:44:45 MDT Print View


You might want to plan a few trips before this one which go off trail for a section at a time. Plan for a trip which will require route finding skills both visually and with a compass (you may have poor visibility at times). Also, the PLB is a good option especially if you are planning this as a solo trip. I think you've mentioned having issues with altitude sickness before, being at elevation on the SHR, this may be an additional concern that you haven't mentioned.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: So I'm doing the Sierra High Route... on 06/27/2013 18:51:52 MDT Print View

Eric, in my limited experience I get over it completely after a couple days. This has prevented any longer distance weekend trips. With a longer trip I can take it slow at first and acclimate. Either way the altitude is a concern for me and part of the reason I am giving myself extra time to complete the route.
It's also much easier and safer to navigate when you have plenty of time.

Edited by justin_baker on 06/27/2013 18:52:40 MDT.

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
Navigation on 06/27/2013 19:32:24 MDT Print View


last September Andrew and I went on the Sierra High Route. In our trip report you can see that we used the Skurka mapset and the Roper book for navigation. Cross-country navigation can be mentally draining if you do it all day long. We were both glad we could take turns in navigating and just walking. We also carried a GPS with a 24k topo map and all the waypoints from the Skurka map that came in handy when both of us got tired and started to make mistakes. The majority of the time rough navigation will be fine and it doesn't really matter which way you go through a basin, BUT there will every day be parts where you can easily make mistakes and go up the wrong pass or take the wrong turn while you go over a pass and cliff out. There are several tricky passages where Roper's book made all the difference and we followed his description word by word.

In regard to altitude sickness you should keep in mind that you are going on day 1 above timberline. That is the whole point of the Sierra High Route. There is really no time for acclimation like on the JMT. So I would be careful -- especially when going solo.

In regard to re-supply it worked well for us to re-supply at Reds Meadow and Tuolumne Meadows. You can of course leave the SHR over Bishop Pass after coming through Dusy Basin if you want to cut down on weight. I would most likely just stay out there and carry more food.

We both used a tarp and were fine. Most of the time we cowboy camped anyways.

The permit you get at Road's End is valid for the whole distance. You need just that one.

Bear Canisters are a pain, but we were checked twice for bear canisters by rangers -- so I wouldn't risk it.

Yes, you will see people along the trail segments. Half the SHR is on trails. You will use for example parts of the JMT -- and if you go NOBO (like most SHR hikers) you will meet many JMT hikers since msot of them go SOBO. Once you leave the trails you will see way less people, but almost every basin you cross has a person or two somewhere. Often you will just see their tent while they are out climbing a mountain.

Have fun and stay safe,


Edited by Orienteering on 06/27/2013 19:41:08 MDT.

(drown) - F - MLife

Locale: Shenandoah
Re: So I'm doing the Sierra High Route... on 06/27/2013 19:35:07 MDT Print View


How closely you follow the route is your choice. Roper describes alternate routes and the terrain will suggest others as well. The JMT is always fairly close by so if a section is too intimidating it's easy to bail and skip it.There are no rules here.

Maps: Take what you need to safely complete the trip. I would suggest buying Skurka's map guide and using that. You can add a couple of sections cut from some Tom Harrison maps to get context and escape/exit routes if needed. A very basic GPS or smart phone can be very useful to get a location to plot on the map to help locate yourself.

Resupply. If planned properly doesn't have to be a hassle especially in August.

Weather: Typical Sierra Weather in August is sunny, dry, cool, with thunderstorms possible in the afternoons.Evening can drop into the 30s depending on elevation, highs probably 70-80's in the sun, much cooler in the shade. Possibility of a day or two of rain too so have rain gear even if minimal. But plan for intense sun and have appropriate clothing/sunscreen/hat.

Tarp. Yes, if you are competent to set it up to obtain adequate shelter when the time comes.

Permit: You should be able to get a single permit for the entire route from the agency that controls your access point. If traveling NOBO that would be SEKI NP if entering at Roads End or Inyo NF if entering via Kearsage. I recommend the latter as you can use the online reservation system at vs. mailing in an application.

Bear Canisters. Required in most of the area ( if not all) you will be traveling.

Having written all this I must add a few caveats.

1. Do more homework including at least one trip to elevation in the Sierras. Become familiar with the terrain. I appreciate your enthusiasm and energy but your questions hint at inexperience and IMO you would be better served by taking on the JMT first. Your chances of success will increase with a few shorter trips to elevation in the Sierras before tackling what is a rather serious route.

2. Spend some time on High Sierra Topix reading trip reports. Read the Skurka pages on the SHR and the Roper books. Most of your questions are answered there as well as much more info.

3. I'm planning a similar trip in Sept. Coming from sea level we are planning 2 days of acclimatization before starting. One day in Yosemite hiking and sleeping at 6,000' and a second day in Onion Valley sleeping at 9,200. I typically acclimatize well and quickly but I have also had two episodes of altitude sickness which left me with a generous amount of respect for elevation. I would not rely on Diamox, but would suggest a few days of acclimatization prior to departure to make sure your body is adjusting well especially given your previous experience.

Feel free to PM me as your planning comes along and you have more specific questions. I'll try to help.

Edited by drown on 06/27/2013 19:43:26 MDT.

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: High Route on 06/27/2013 20:48:13 MDT Print View

Justin, I'd recommend three things:

1) Buy Roper's book and Skurka's map set- this will give you a better idea of what the route really is;
2) Find a partner who wants to go with you, it is hard enough with two people;
3) Do at least a few shorter 2-3 day weekend off-trail trips in the Sierra to get some experience. It's not appropriate to plan on doing the SHR until you've done this one. (This part is fun anyway.)

Why don't you come along on the Emigrant group trip in a few weeks? It'll get you some more above treeline Sierra experience (albeit on trail) and we can talk all you want about the SHR.


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: High Route on 06/27/2013 23:27:20 MDT Print View

Andrew, I would love to meet you all in Emigrant but my current job schedule has me working weekends and I can't even backpack at all (mondays and thursdays off). This is one of the reasons I want to do a long trek- to make up for all of the backpacking I should have been doing this summer before going back to school.
I went to Emigrant a few weeks ago and it was nice but seriously hot (over 100) and loaded with mosquitoes. We were going to hike up to Big Lake but our driver needed to be back Sunday at a reasonable time, so we settled for Cherry Creek.

I would rather not do this trip alone, but it will probably be that way. If anyone wants to do a SHR route starting on August 1st with reasonable mileage (no speed hiking 40 miles a day with 4 hours of sleep) and side exploration, then I would like to do it with you.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Navigation on 06/27/2013 23:32:11 MDT Print View

Good advice on changing leads Manfred. When doing off trail trips with my main hiking buddy (unfortunately he will be gone while I'm hiking this) we switch leads in route finding. When faced with layers of deadfall and dense brush it's a puzzle to find any kind of way through. It gets really mentally exhausting fast and we almost never hike the entire day. I can see it being similar with endless boulder fields.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 15:23:50 MDT Print View

I just about have my gear list set up.

clothing worn:
mesh trucker hat
polycotton button up shirt
running shorts
vivobarefoot neo trails
mountain hardware scree gaiters
synthetic socks
BHK tiger knapp kneck knife + firesteel (around my neck)

clothing packed:
icebreaker long sleeve wool base layer - 6 oz
c.a.m.p. down jacket - 9.5 oz
patagonia houdini - 4 oz
golite running tights - 8 oz
wool socks - 2.6 oz
fingerless wool gloves - 1.6 oz
beanie - 2 oz

pack: ula ohm 2.0 - 29 oz

equinox 8x10 tarp - 14 oz
polycro ground sheet - 1.6 oz
western mountaineering summerlite - 19 oz
3/4 length z-lite - 7.4 oz

water storage: gatorade bottle - 1.8 oz

head lamp + spare batteries - 2.8 oz
compass - 1.6 oz
bear vault bv500- 41 oz

I still need to add some things to this list but I'm looking at about 11.5 lbs base weight with the canister and fishing gear. Add 10 lbs of food and 1 litre of water, I should be around 24-25 lbs at the max.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 15:34:24 MDT Print View


No map? This will be interesting.

No trekking poles to erect the tarp on? Note that you will be well above timberline.

No first aid kit with prescription medicine like Diamox?


Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 15:39:59 MDT Print View

Water purificaton?
Tent stakes?
Tarp Cord?
Repair Kit?
Stove & Fuel?
Cup and Spoon?
Basic FAK?

You're going to have a 6" long, sheathed, 3 ounce knife hanging from your neck?

Personal Preferences -
Paper and Pencil

Edited by greg23 on 07/04/2013 16:33:14 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 15:56:23 MDT Print View

It's a quick gear list, I left out a bunch of small stuff. I'll finish it later.

I will have maps and my phone for gps. Iodine tabs for water purification (will probably drink untreated most of the way.)
Repair kit is a good idea for such a long trip.
I have a prescription for Diamox.

Bob, I plan on improvising with my tarp. Pitching off of boulders and such. I only need one high point to tie of to. Is that a bad idea?
I don't use trekking poles.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 16:02:14 MDT Print View

"It's a quick gear list, I left out a bunch of small stuff. I'll finish it later."

Good idea.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 16:05:14 MDT Print View

"I have a prescription for Diamox."

Well, that is outstanding. Now you need to carry the actual pills.

Pitching a tarp off boulders and such will work, but often that requires you to carry a lot more cord. The boulders do not necessarily want to cooperate.

I don't use trekking poles, either, but I have some segmented carbon fiber poles that get the job done so that I don't have to go looking for boulders.

Ten pounds of food may last you for about one week. Then what happens?


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 16:06:34 MDT Print View

"You're going to have a sheathed 3 ounce knife hanging from your neck?"

Yes. I know it sounds dangerous, but neck knives are very popular and I have never heard of anyone having safety issues with them. A knife won't fall out of a good kydex sheath even if you bang it against a rock. The neck knife and firesteel stay on me as a survival tool in case I get separated from my pack. It's also a handy place to carry a cutting tool.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 16:11:51 MDT Print View

I will look into some light poles for setting up the tarp, thanks for the suggestion. After a long day I might not have the energy or patience to find the perfect spot.

"Ten pounds of food may last you for about one week. Then what happens?"
I will resupply out reds meadow and/or bishop.

...or I start eating marmots. They are fat and slow.

Edited by justin_baker on 07/04/2013 16:12:50 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 16:20:13 MDT Print View

"I will look into some light poles for setting up the tarp, thanks for the suggestion. After a long day I might not have the energy or patience to find the perfect spot."

You have a few choices there. If you take trekking poles, they will be heavier, but they can serve as a walking aid should you twist a knee and need a crutch. They would need to be adjustable length poles.

Dedicated tent poles are much lighter. I think my carbon fiber Fibraplex poles go about 2.5 ounces for the pair (one is longer and one is shorter). The advantage of "folding" poles is that you can fold them up, maybe wrap something around them, and stick them completely within your backpack. That way, they are unlikely to be lost or broken.

Also, I fixed some tiny pieces of Velcro to the underside of my shelter tarp, and then I fixed (epoxy) some tiny pieces of Velcro to the top ends of my poles. That way, the poles do not slide around against the tarp, which would lead to collapse.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: SHR gear list. on 07/04/2013 16:28:23 MDT Print View

" ...or I start eating marmots. They are fat and slow."

You would be surprised.

Besides, I hear that they are pretty greasy. I don't think that you would want to eat them raw no matter how hungry you were.