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Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

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Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby cunningkeith » Tue Feb 10, 2015 10:43 am

Thanks for this terrific site. I’ve been lurking and now would appreciate some help with picking a route of the SHR.

Here’s my question: what is the absolute best, jaw-dropping section of the SHR (preferably in the 40-50 mile range)?

I’m a Level 4 backpacker (based on this site’s ratings) and am comfortable with x-country, tough terrain, some exposure etc. I get out 30-40 nights/year in the backcountry; most of my experience is in AK, OR, and WA. Plenty of x-country, snow travel, etc. I’m planning an 8-day trip with a friend (also experienced) for the SHR in August.

I’ve narrowed it down to a south-to-north route in either of the following
Onion Valley/Kearsage to South Lake/Bishop Pass (64 miles)
or North Lake/Bishop to Devils Postpile/Mammoth (73 miles)

Both routes above are a bit longer than I’d prefer. I can certainly do that mileage in 8 days, but over the years I’ve come to prefer “smelling the roses” and banging out fewer miles with a layover day, here and there.

So can either of the above routes be reduced to the 40-50 mile range? And, if so, which section would be the most spectacular? Thanks for your help.



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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby maverick » Tue Feb 10, 2015 12:45 pm

Hi Keith,

Welcome to HST! If the described SHR section is to long, just do your own route, why the need to follow
a specific route when you have the experience to explore your own?

You say you want to "smell the roses", so go into the Dumbbell/Lakes Basin area, and then add or
subtract areas of interest/non interest to get the mileage that your looking for, you won't be disappointed
with whatever you choose.

There are plenty of TR's here on HST with pictures that will give you an idea of what to expect in most parts
of the Sierra so you can choose an area based on your personal preference and not someone else's.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby RoguePhotonic » Tue Feb 10, 2015 5:53 pm

The only real way to shorten them would be to jump out another Eastern pass which would cause problems with transportation.

The two sections you picked are probably the best. I actually think the North Lake to Reds is probably the most scenic over all. It never really lets up compared to the start of the SHR up the Copper Creek trail.
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby Ska-T » Wed Feb 11, 2015 10:57 am

Just playing with your original choices . . . You could start at the North Lake trail head and pick up the SHR in Humphreys Basin. When you get to Fish Creek at Tully Lake or Horse Heaven you could take the McGee Pass trail eastward and come out at the McGee Creek TH. You'll have to figure the mileage (i.e., I can't).

To make the trip even shorter you could enter at the Pine Creek TH, pick up the SHR at Lake Italy, and come out at McGee Creek.

You could start at North Lake, and when you get to Mono Creek at the bottom of the Second Recess you could take the trail eastward to Golden Lake. On the east side of Golden Lake there is an off-trail route over Halfmoon Pass which takes you down to the Rock Creek Pack Station on Rock Creek road west of Rock Creek Lake.

-Scott
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby Bluewater » Wed Feb 11, 2015 11:54 am

I agree with Rogue that the section from North Lake to Mammoth/Devils Post Pile is the more scenic of the two sections that you mentioned.

When I did the first section I also entered via Kearsarge, which has the advantage of making shuttle logistics easier if exiting over Bishop Pass, but the first 20+ miles just to get to the Copper Creek TH took a day and was not very scenic. Much of it is in the forest.

Entering via Piute Pass is only 5 miles of easy trail and like Rogue said gets you right into the good stuff. Since a shuttle will already be involved there are several exit options, or alternate entries. Some alternate entry points:

One would be to enter via Lamarck Col and join the SHR at Darwin Bench. The first day would be off the SHR, but you would be set to go over Snowtongue Pass the next day. Camping at DB is nice and there are a few sites with good views up and down Evo Valley and Basin.

Another option would be to enter via Echo Col which would take you right to Helen Lake and Muir Pass, a few of my favorite parts of the JMT/SHR. The access to Echo Col is an easy 5+- trail miles and 2+- x/c miles through Sabrina Basin. This might be a good option if you want to start the route with mostly trail miles the first day (especially if you stay in Sabrina Basin the first night to acclimate) although the JMT corridor is popular and you would be passing many of the south bound thru hikers. If you haven't been over Muir Pass and down into Evo Basin I would recommend it.

I'm not sure if you prefer trail over x/c. Entering via Bishop Pass is an easy 6 miles to Dusy Basin and your first day and some of your second day (depending on speed) would be on trail and possibly a good way to acclimate on easy terrain when your packs are the heaviest. From there an exit via Granite Park after passing through Bear Lakes Basin would probably keep it in the 50+- range.

If entering via North Lake/Piute Pass there are a few places to exit that would help shorten the trip before getting to Devils Postpile. The first is Pine Creek although that is well under 50 miles, but the hike through Granite Park is beautiful.

Next is Mono Pass (just before the steep climb to Laurel Lake) then McGee Pass (just after crossing the Silver divide). The good thing with these exits is that you could still camp at upper Mills Creek Lake. The wildflowers along the outflow of the lake were amazing in July and there are a few nice places to camp by the lake. Ropers description of this area is spot on. It is beautiful.

There are two other places to bail out early, and neither would effect where you leave your car at the start. Just before the Mammoth Crest section you could exit via Duck Lake or via Mammoth Pass (after Mammoth Crest). Both of these would take you to the Mammoth Lakes area and there are shuttles to get back to town from there.

Have fun.
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby cunningkeith » Wed Feb 11, 2015 9:49 pm

You guys know your stuff. This is super-helpful.

Too many freakin' choices. Here's what I'm thinking, but I'd appreciate any other advice.

-Park North Lake
-Day 1: Lamarack Col to Darwin Bench (this is the one I'm not sure it's worth dropping down to or just starting at Piute) (weird that it's only about 4 miles as the crow flies from Darwing Bench to the road, but I'm sure it doesn't feel that way)

-Join SHR northbound with camps in Humphreys, Bear Lakes, side trip to Granite Park, Lower Mills Creek Lk, Laurel Lake, exit McGee Pass Trail

I haven't done the mileage on it, but I think it's about right for the relatively easy pace I'm seeking 50 miles in 8 days. I'm wondering whether to do the Lamarack Col/Darwin Bench thing the first night (pretty big detour for dropping down and then going up Glacier Divide). Or would you start at Piute and add miles to the end? If you have thoughts on any of this, they'd be much appreciated.

Thanks again for your help. If anybody ever has questions about backpacking in Oregon or Washington (my stomping grounds), just PM me. Keith
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby Bluewater » Thu Feb 12, 2015 12:06 pm

Have a great trip Keith
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby paul » Thu Feb 12, 2015 12:28 pm

If you reverse that route you mention, then instead of having the big climb to Lamarck on the first day, you have the big drop on the last day. Easier acclimatization for sure, and coming out over Lamarck makes for a nice dramatic finish.
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby JWreno » Sun Feb 15, 2015 3:21 pm

Not intending to hijack but I just found out my wife doesn't have to sake summer classes. I am thinking SHR from North Lake to going out over McGee Pass would be a good trip for enjoying so gorgeous country with fewer hikers. Done the JMT in 2008, 2011 and 2014 and the north end of the JMT in 2007. I think McGee pass exit would save so time and avoid the Tully Hole - Ducks Pass section that I have done 4 other times. Is there a decent place to park a Toyota Highlander at the trailhead after McGee Pass? How many days would be typical for this section. I figure off 8-10 route finding miles would be a big day compared to 15-18 trail miles. I have the SHR book but have only done the section from Thousand Isles back into Yosemite via Blue Lake pass.

I am going to have to reread the SHR book for some estimation of travel challenges in this section. Thanks in advance for any input.
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby Ska-T » Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:15 pm

The McGee Creek trailhead has a nice large paved parking lot that is about 3 mi from hwy 395. Guessing how many days a trip will take for someone else is inaccurate, but here goes my guess. I'm old, in decent shape, and travel light (about 26 lbs to start a trip like that including food, fuel, and water). It would take me about 6 hiking days (or more precisely, 5.5 days) of about 8 hrs/day hiking with rest & photo stops but not including lunch. With a conventional load and moderate exertion, perhaps 8 days would be more like it.
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby sekihiker » Mon Feb 16, 2015 10:43 am

I haven't done the entire route, but the first section from Roads End/Cedar Grove to Dusy Basin was plenty scenic for me. A lot of people hate the first day's climb, though. See: http://sierrahiker.home.comcast.net/~si ... index.html
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Re: Recommendation for Sierra High Route Section

Postby oleander » Mon Feb 16, 2015 3:54 pm

Another vote for Piute Pass to McGee Pass. You'd have to tally up the mileage, but it sounds about right.

Agreed that Lamarck is not the optimal starting place. With 8 days of food, going over that col, though navigationally easy, could be a steep, long, painful haul. Add to that the fact that Snowtongue Pass is widely considered the most dangerous or scariest of the entire HST, and that's the one you'd do next if you are heading northbound after crossing Lamarck, again with a heavy pack but this time on extremely loose rock. You could circumvent Snowtongue by going over Alpine Col instead. [Note: I'm speaking secondhand as I have not gone over either Snowtongue or Alpine; I have only read about them a lot, and have eyeballed each from the north side.]

I like both Piute and McGee passes a lot. Piute spits you right onto the HST with spectacular scenery right off the bat. McGee is a much longer pass, but it's a wonderful and varied trail, with amazingly colorful rock formations, that is not too highly impacted. McGee is one of my favorite eastside entries. And half the point of making McGee your exit point is that just beforehand you will have wandered over the Silver Divide, one of the best gems of the Sierra.

I actually do not find the section of the HST from Tully Hole to Reds Meadow to be among the most spectacular. It's a lot of JMT trail miles. The only good part is the stroll along the Mammoth Ridge. If you do that section, exit at George Lake rather than walking down through that hot ugly burned area to Reds Meadow.

- Elizabeth
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