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Ultimate Sierra High Route
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David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Ultimate Sierra High Route on 07/16/2013 16:39:44 MDT Print View

It seems to me that I should do the Sierra High Route. Next summer, as this one is full. With that in mind, those with experience please take a swing at the following questions:

-Early or late?
-NOBO or SOBO?
-Easiest way to swing logistics?
-Most important: what deviations, if any, to Roper's route are required to make it the best route available? are different THs and substantially different routes altogether a better idea?

Desires:
-miss prime bug season
-see as few people as possible
-take the most aesthetic, clean route irrespective of difficulty
-fine with axe/crampon use, exposure, crappy rock, and complex nav

I've done one significant backpack in the Sierras: the southern JMT a number of years ago. Aside from this trip, I can't see myself visiting very often unless Cali is suddenly and drastically depopulated. So given that it would be a one shot visit, whats the best ~10 day alpine hike in the Sierra. If I do this I'd train specifically and come in firing on all cylinders, intent on making big days the whole time, with perhaps a few fishing stops along the way. No ceiling here.

Marty Cochran
(mcochran77) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
SHR variation on 07/16/2013 17:40:27 MDT Print View

We will be doing the portion of the SHR around Yosemite this summer and I've been thinking about what I would change to avoid some of the more popular trails.
This variation heads south from Tuolumne Meadows and rejoins the SHR at Catherine Lake.
I think the passes will be class 2.

To view a route on ridewithgps, open the site and in the drop box on the top right of the main window select the Ersi topo as the base map:

http://ridewithgps.com/routes/2881823

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
SHR on 07/16/2013 18:40:23 MDT Print View

I would highly recommend an earlier trip vs later. With your snow experience you will likely find it easier to walk on the snow vs. scree or talus. Also, the base route is fairly intense but you could add in all kinds of peak bagging or other side trips. NoBo keeps the sun at your back more but you will end up doing the harder northern faces on the descent. Frankly the biggest reason to go north is that Ropers book is written that way. As far as logistics. You have reds meadow and Toulumne Meadows for easy resupply. we buried canister two weeks before near Italy Lake which kept our starting weight down. Without the cache I likely would have headed in the Bishop for the first resupply.

As far as alternates, I would look at an alternate route north of Banner and rItter. Once you cross into Yosemite it is trail, nice trail all the way to Toulumne Meadows. I think there could be an interesting route around Lyell Peak. haven't done it but I have scoped out a couple routes heading up the Lyell Fork.

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: SHR on 07/16/2013 19:28:50 MDT Print View

Early: Bugs, snow.
Late: No bugs, talus.

September is a nice time to do it. It's late enough that the number of people in the mountains has dropped off precipitously, you won't need an axe, and the weather is more stable and a little cooler.

The easiest logistics involve starting on the east side. It adds an extra day of on-trail hiking over Kearsarge Pass, but it makes the car situation much easier. Fly to Reno and rent a car and hitch/bus your way back to the start once you finish. Or maybe one of us CA folks can help you out; it's likely that I would be out there anyway. In terms of resupply, one bucket mailed to Red's Meadow should do the trick.

Roper did a good job of picking an aesthetic natural passage. I don't think the route itself needs any editing. Per Greg's suggestion, there is a nice alternative that I have done several times now that avoids the trail walking into Tuolumne and gives you an opportunity to climb Mount Lyell, but you'd miss Bench Canyon and the North Fork of the San Joaquin, which would be a shame. I'd suggest you spend any extra energy fishing and bagging a few peaks along the way. For someone from out of town, the High Route offers great opportunities since you come so close to so many interesting mountains. Here's a short list I would recommend:

Windy Point
Mount Sill (or better yet, North Palisade, class 4)
Mount Goddard
Mount Humphreys (class 4)
Feather Peak
Mount Ritter
Mount Conness
Matterhorn Peak

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
High Route on 07/17/2013 15:26:50 MDT Print View

I know from your posts that you're a highly experienced hiker who can handle the High Route without a problem. (You may even find the navigation much easier than some of what you're used to; most everything is above treeline and is line-of-sight.)

NOBO is my preference. I've done some of the trail southbound, and it was tedious to read Roper backwards.

Get thee Andrew Skurka's mapset. Additionally, if you deviate from Roper at all, you may need a few 7.5- or 15-minute maps to supplement the Skurka maps. Also get the book, High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails by Secor. Secor offers detail on certain passes, an alternative viewpoint to Roper's. I walk with some xeroxes of pages from Secor's book, and/or have the Kindle version on my phone to pull out and read when scoping out the next day's passes.

Personally, I would pick a starting point and not get attached to a certain pace/ending point. It's not so much that I think you'd overestimate your ability or speed (I'd have that concern about many people but not about you). More because there is lots to see and enjoy along the way. What I really wish I'd done is make more time to stop at the truly jaw-dropping places on the Roper Route, drop my bag and explore for a half-day, or do a full-day side trip. Rather than just rushing through Paradise to the next thing (the "next thing" often entailing the rejoining of a dusty trail somewhere). More on some good side trips later.

Deviations:

1. Agreed that the better starting point is Kearsarge Pass - or, even better to avoid the Kearsarge/Rae Lakes crowds, start at Taboose Pass Trailhead. An eastside entry offers MUCH easier logistics! From the intersection of the Taboose Pass Trail and the JMT, head northwest over Cartridge Pass into Lakes Basin, where you join the SHR. Spend some time in Lakes Basin before rushing on.

2. Thunderbolt Pass instead of Knapsack Pass. It is simply more beautiful. Also, it gets you closer to Bishop Pass, a convenient resupply pass. Send a package to Parcher's Resort, just a couple of miles north on the road from the South Lake trailhead.)

3. Alpine Col instead of Snow Tongue Pass. The latter is just plain suicidal. Secor book will help you get over the Alpine Col.

4. From Deer Lakes, just before Mammoth: The off-trail segment into Reds Meadow is awful. Not too scenic; slog through burnt forest. The only reason the High Route goes through here is that, well, it's trying to get you to (ugly) Reds Meadow for resupply. Instead, just take the darn trail to Lake George. From there, grab the (free) shuttle into Mammoth for resupply. Rejoin the SHR by taking the (other, paid) Mammoth area shuttle to the Devils Postpile area.

5. From that valley (Reds/Devils Postpile/Agnew), skip the part of SHR that goes to Beck Lakes. (Again, just not the most scenic by SHR standards.) Instead, rejoin the SHR either at Minaret Lake (via Minaret Lake Trail out of Devils Postpile); or at Ediza Lake (via Shadow Lake Trail out of Agnew Meadows).

I don't think I could bring myself to miss the SHR north/west bound out of Lake Catherine. Twin Lakes, Bench Canyon, Blue Lakes: That is a positively amazing area. Sure, from Blue Lake Pass to Tuolumne Meadows looks like a lot of trail miles, but the first half of those trail miles is along a rarely-traveled corridor (especially by Yosemite standards). I do not think we saw even one person on that corridor. It is in Lewis Canyon (?) just south of Vogelsang where you will start encountering people, but those are also very fast, easy trail miles that you can dispense with quickly. The alternative - the Lyell Canyon approach south of Tuolumne - will be just as crowded.

SIDE TRIPS:

Someone has already mentioned some interesting peaks. Mount Sill (a day trip from Lake 11,676 on the SHR north of Palisade Lakes) is rumored to have the best view of all the peaks on the route. Even if you don't climb Mount Sill, try to camp about a mile off the SHR on the eastern or northeastern shore of Lake 11,676. I think my best photographs in the Sierra are from this little-trampled spot. And yet most SHR hikers miss this view, because they pass the west side of the lake instead. To reach the east/northeast side of the lake, traverse along its north (not south) shore.

I think there are several lakes not to miss. I have already mentioned Lakes Basin. Most people say they are kicking themselves for not finding a whole day to spend exploring that huge basin.

From near Muir Pass - Helen Lake or Wanda Lake - drop over into Ionian Basin for a day or two of exploring the moon.

I'm told that the Bear Lakes basins are worth stopping to explore. As is Vee Lake, to their southwest. I am planning a trip to this area myself this summer, and don't have the fun recon yet.

On the Silver Divide, Grinnell Lake is a photographer's favorite, and is said by some to be their favorite lake just a mile or two off the SHR. If you go there, consider continuing directly over Pace Col (see Secor) to Red and White Lake. On the north side of the Silver Divide, the hundreds of little lakes and ponds are pristine, full of birds, surrounded by the brightest granite you've ever seen, and not worth rushing through! You might want to drop your pack for another half-day exploration, to lakes such as Hortense.

Next, you are spit out onto the JMT for a few miles. Avoid camping at the too-popular Virginia, Purple, or (outlet of) Duck Lake. Instead, go for a pond off-trail above Virginia Lake; or to Pika Lake or Deer Lakes.

Alternately, if you have spent days exploring and are low on supplies, exit the Silver Divide via Tully Lake to the McGee Pass Trail and out over McGee Pass. That is a much nicer trail than the JMT in that section. Not heavily traveled. From McGee Pass Trailhead it is pretty easy to hitch to Mammoth for resupply.

From Lake Catherine, Ritter Lakes are worth exploring. It is extremely rugged, and you may have trouble finding a place to park your tent. From the farthest (southernmost) Ritter Lake, I believe, you can find the easiest way to summit Mount Ritter.

From the northernmost of the Twin Lakes, take a day to explore the big basin above (to the north). The geology in that basin is just out of this world. There are entire rock walls full of fossils. It is like nothing else I have seen anywhere in the Sierra.

However far north you get in x days: Exit an eastside trail and hitch back to a town along the 395 corridor. Yes, there is a daily bus that runs up and down the 395 to Reno. I think you can do this whole trip via bus + hitchhike. If you need to get from Bishop to the Taboose Pass trailhead, a little-used spot, you may need to hire a shuttle out of Bishop. If you're worried about being a smelly hitchhiker, take note that there are shower facilities at or near most eastside trail exits. You just need to look around or ask. Often it's a resort or an RV park a couple hundred yards down the road from the trailhead.

If you do have a car, consider leaving it in Bishop. Thus, it will be easy to bus or hitch back to at end of trip. Don't leave it in Mammoth: There is a big bear problem there, and no bear boxes to store you food in, and so the bears WILL break in to your car.

If you have any equipment needs, the best outdoor stores are in Mammoth and Bishop.

My biggest piece of advice is to post your question on the High Sierra Topix backpacking forum. That is the best collection of experienced x-country Sierra hikers that you will find anywhere. They will have much in the way of pointed and specific guidance. In particular, these people have amazing recon on the trickier passes - Cartridge Pass, Alpine Col, Sky Pilot Col - the kind of detailed info you will find in NEITHER Roper nor Secor. Additionally, High Sierra Topix has a climbing subforum, and on there you will find detailed accounts of how to climb peaks such as Mount Sill, should that be of interest to you.

- Elizabeth

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Alpine Col on 07/17/2013 16:08:10 MDT Print View

NOOOOOOO don't avoid Snow Tongue. While it has some pucker factor it is what makes the high route the high route. Alpine col is OK but you still have quite a bit of talus to navigate which is the only drawback to either of these routes. But there is a great little side trip that I would include in the must see, Darwin Bench. There is a side trail just west of evolution lake that goes up to the Bench. I would camp up there if I were in that area again. (It would be described in Ropers book on the Alpine Col alternative.

This is bringing back memories, need anyone to carry your bags?

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: Ultimate SHR on 07/17/2013 16:39:13 MDT Print View

Malto, Andrew, Elizabeth: thanks a ton. Exactly what I was looking for, and lots to think about. The admonition to be flexible and keep an open itinerary is well taken. Peak bagging generally isn't my thing anymore, but I'm not opposed to some 4th class (or even easy 5th without a pack) to see the views and put everything in better context.

When planning I try to get enough beta to make sure I have a good route and don't miss too much, but no more. Know that a pass goes, but leave the exact to be figured out on the ground. Will probably have a few more questions once I sit down with maps, a beer, and a few open hours.