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Rambling the High Sierra

There are so many ways to navigate through the Sierras - why not try them all?

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by Ryan Jordan | 2014-05-20 00:00:00-06

(photo essay)


In August 2013, my teenage son and I joined two friends on a two week saunter through the Central Sierras. Our mission was simple and focused highly on entertainment value: we’d take ropes, ice axes, packrafts, and tenkara fishing gear. When we found a steep snowfield, we’d use an ice axe. When we encountered steep rock, we’d use a roped belay. When we found high lakes rimmed with interminable talus, we’d paddle packrafts. And when we found water (and boy, did we find water!), we’d fish. And fish. And fish some more.

These photos represent a small bit of an epic expedition that involved travel by foot, horse, and packraft via trail, talus, and tarn. We carried packs that weighed about 45 pounds apiece, traveled overland most of the day (with one layover day spent day hiking and fishing) and supplemented our anemic calorie plan with fresh trout. We camped off grid, encountered few people, and enjoyed Sierra solitude our way - away from the beaten path of the JMT - a high route where light, storm, and granite meet human soul and suffering.

Let the photos tell the story

 - 1
Mules, horses, and a grizzled packer save us the pain and work of having to haul heavy packs to the high country during the heat of the summer.

 - 2
We made high crossings through endless fields of talus - but with a twist - using ultralight flatwater packrafts for traveling through lake chain corridors.

 - 3
A lot of granite and little tiny patches of tundra make for beautiful, if not somewhat hostile campsites above 11,000 feet. We felt constantly exposed and vulnerable, especially during the mightiest of the many grand thunderstorms we experienced.

 - 4
Atop a 13,000 foot pass that required hours of talus to reach, and hours more of talus to descend. The views were worth it, but the camaraderie gained through suffering was priceless.

 - 5
Paddling a 12,000 foot tarn so as to avoid many more hours of talus hopping. Packrafting was a highlight of this trip, and a unique way to enjoy the enchainment of lake upon lake within a drainage corridor.

 - 6
Caloric supplement.

 - 7
Pitched in a lakeside meadow during a storm, with massive peaks looming, makes you feel small.

 - 8
Tenkara fishing a “lowland” (9,800 feet) stream on our last night in a desperate attempt to have something more than a 2 oz ration of dry beans for dinner.

 - 9
Sierra Golden Trout.

 - 10
Sierra mountain travel via rope, axe, and packraft.


"Rambling the High Sierra," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2014-05-20 00:00:00-06.


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Rambling the High Sierra
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Rambling the High Sierra on 05/20/2014 19:55:37 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Rambling the High Sierra

Robert Perkins

Locale: The Sierras
Rambling the High Sierra on 05/20/2014 20:31:37 MDT Print View

Awesome! Thanks for sharing!

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Rambling the High Sierra on 05/20/2014 21:02:16 MDT Print View

Well done.
I'm buying a packraft in the next year.

Nicholas Viglione
( - MLife
Stunning on 05/21/2014 06:31:10 MDT Print View

What a beautiful take on travel Ryan, it certainly paints a wonderfully romantic picture of high country passage!

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Rambling the High Sierra on 05/21/2014 10:54:57 MDT Print View

I approve.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Rambling the High Sierra on 05/21/2014 11:03:21 MDT Print View

Love these types of show all we need to know with just a few carefully worded captions.

Please have more articles like these.

Better to be inspired to actually get out on the trail vs. spending all of our time researching gear.

There is only soooo much gear porn that one should have in their life. :)


Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Rambling the High Sierra on 05/21/2014 14:36:22 MDT Print View

+1 to all of the above posters.

Arthur Gazdik
(artgazdik) - MLife

Locale: Pittsburgh, PA
Route Summary on 05/21/2014 15:08:59 MDT Print View


Please provide a summary of your route. I spend a week or two every year rambling in the Sierra and am always interested new ideas. Was the pack raft needed to make the route viable?

Thanks, Art

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Rambling the High Sierra on 05/21/2014 18:58:30 MDT Print View

"I'm buying a packraft in the next year."

An excellent antidote for endless talus, not to mention a great way to fish some of the larger lakes.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Rambling the High Sierra on 05/22/2014 06:23:10 MDT Print View

This was very good. How cold are those lakes? I know people swim in them (briefly) but have never heard of anyone swimming across them as a planned strategy.

Keegan D

Locale: Bay Area
Re: Rambling the High Sierra on 05/26/2014 22:33:54 MDT Print View

I'm also curious to know where these places are.

Nick Smolinske
(Smo) - F

Locale: Rogue Panda Designs
Hand Paddle on 05/27/2014 21:53:04 MDT Print View

Wow, what an amazing trip.

I'm mostly curious about those hand paddles. Are they MYOG? Looks like a great idea.