Sierra High Route

by Dave Baker Monday, September 21st 2009

I love off-trail hiking. The mental and physical challenges of picking a way through unmarked wild country are very satisfying, in spite of the fact that off-trail travel is often slower and almost always leaves marks in the form of abraded skin and gear.

And I love the Sierra Nevada of California, especially the high alpine country in the southern portion of the range from Yosemite National Park down to Mt. Whitney. In summertime the Sierra high country dazzles with sparkling lakes, high peaks, and brilliant white snowfields. Summer weather is generally good; in fact one might almost characterize it as arid. However, for a desert rat like me water is seemingly everywhere, the result of melt from huge winter snow packs.

Sierra High Route -- Lake Basin

Evening light in Lake Basin

It was with great interest in the mid 1980’s that I first read about the Sierra High Route, a mostly off-trail route that runs along the spine of the Sierra Nevada for 195 miles, most of its length spent above 10,000 feet, near or above timberline. Conceived by climber and historian Steve Roper, the route is detailed in his book, Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country.

Over 20 years slipped by before I was able to get my act together to hike the Sierra High Route late this summer. I partnered up with my sister Brenda Baker (San Diego) for the trip. Unable to carve out enough time to walk the entire 195 miles, we decided to spend 8 or 9 days spanning late August and early September walking the southernmost portion of Roper’s cross country tour. This proved to be a great time to be out in the Sierra -- mosquitoes were absent, having politely retired for the season; and the high passes we crossed were mostly snow free, greatly simplifying travel through them.

Sierra High Route -- Palisade Lakes

Climbing above the Palisade Lakes

Brenda planned our eight and half day itinerary and applied for our wilderness permit. Rather than walk as far along the route in 8 days as we could, she created a more leisurely plan for a 54 mile trek from Kings Canyon, north to the South Lake trailhead outside the town of Bishop. This gave us time to make several side trips along the way, including ascents of two high peaks.

Using TOPO! software, and referring to Roper’s book, I marked our maps up with 40+ waypoints designating various lakes, passes, and other key landmarks along the route and printed them out for the trip. We decided not to carry the guide book with us, and though the maps provided enough information for relatively efficient navigation, we were left with plenty of enjoyable route finding puzzles to figure out on our own.

Map Example

It’s hard not to gush about the Sierra High Route. The 50+ miles we walked are absolutely superb, yielding a feast of challenging hiking in awe inspiring wilderness landscapes. Roper’s route is exceptionally elegant; climbing, traversing, dipping and weaving through a stunning array of peaks, lakes, ridges, cirques and passes. I can hardly wait to return to walk the next 150 miles.

Palisade crest seen from Mt Agassiz

The Palisade crest from the top of Mt Agassiz (13,893’)

Additional notes:

Our entry point was the Copper Creek trailhead in Kings Canyon National Park, so we used the Wilderness Permits & Reservations page for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on the NPS website to get permitting instructions.

The Sierra High Route passes through bear country. Learn more at sierrawildbear.gov. Find specific bear resistant food container requirements for various National Forests and Parks along the route here.

If you pass through Bishop, take time to visit the good folks at Wilson’s Eastside Sports, one the country’s nicest outdoor specialty stores.

Trips

Comments (2) -

9/24/2009 2:25:17 PM #

This is great to see.  I love the pictures, you were really up there in the thin air.  I can't wait to see more.

Jon

10/18/2009 6:19:41 PM #

Enjoyed tour talk Sat. on going light. Also enjoyed your blog and photos on the High Sierra Route...have to try it some day. Below is a link to our JMT trail journal if you're interested.

Larry


postholer.com/.../viewJournal.php

Larry Simkins

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The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!

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