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On trail crowds

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On trail crowds

Postby emcd661 » Thu Mar 10, 2016 7:52 am

Good morning,

I was curious as to what some of you guys practice in terms of getting away from the on-trail crowds. I am planning a HST trip in July. Obviously, I am not expecting solitude, but also don't want to get caught in some sort of weird 3 group, high sierra centipede style pack train.

I have considered just beating everyone to the punch and waking up early. Any other ideas?



Thanks
//E



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Re: On trail crowds

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Mar 10, 2016 9:39 am

The permit system is designed to reduce crowds on the trail but it does not dictate where everyone will camp, thus clumps of hikers can happen. One way I avoid this is with a staggered start. If I start at a bit after noon and avoid both the first campsites (Merhten Creek) and the typical campsites for those who start in the morning (Bearpaw), I can usually avoid crowds. Leaving very early in the morning is also my preference, more because I prefer the cool early morning hours than avoiding crowds. If you run into a group, just pick up the pace for about half an hour and you will generally get ahead of them for the remainder of the day. I also generally carry a pretty light pack so may only take 2-3 rest breaks per day. And if I encounter a group stopped (typically at a stream crossing), I do not stop, rather continue. If you end up at a rest break with tons of people, you will likely be bumping into each other all day. I find that a steady pace with few rest stops tends to get me past the clumps of hikers.

All that said, I have never had a problem with crowds on the HST (Yes, this happens a lot on the JMT). I am more interested in solitude when I camp, so I go off the trail (as much as a half mile) and camp at less popular spots. I think you are worrying a bit too much about this issue.

It is funny how the direction you hike can change your perception of crowds. If you go with the flow (west-to-east on the HST or north-to-south on the JMT) even though there may be many people on the trail, you will not actually see as many as going the opposite direction, where you meet every group on the trail.
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby balzaccom » Thu Mar 10, 2016 9:57 am

Our technique is simple: we don't hike the most popular trails, we don't hike in high season, and we like to camp (and even hike) off trail. Piece of cake.

On the most popular trails, in high season, in the campsites that get the most traffic, you will have company. But we're talking about maybe 20 people, not 100. And you won't see groups larger than 12 (they're illegal) and usually smaller than six. So there aren't long lines.

But you may get tired of trying to find a place to rest without saying hello to folks, unless you take fifty steps off the trail.
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby limpingcrab » Thu Mar 10, 2016 10:35 am

I didn't have any problems on either of my HST trips and we didn't do anything special to avoid other groups. Like was already mentioned, when you're going the same direction you don't really come across other groups very often.

Just don't camp at Hamilton Lake or Kern Hot Springs. Once you meet up with the JMT there's no avoiding it though.

Big Arroyo was a great place and nobody else seemed to stop along there.

The second time I detoured from Big Arroyo, through Kaweah Basin, and down to Junction Meadow. If you're OK with off trail I think this is a much better alternative to the Chagoopa Plateau and Kern Canyon.

Buck Creek is a great first night and you can walk upstream a hundred yards for great campsites without anyone else.

In the end, you'll see people, but it's really just not that crowded as far as popular named trails go.
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby maverick » Thu Mar 10, 2016 3:51 pm

Welcome to HST!

As mentioned, knowing the crowded places along the route, and avoiding them by camping in alternate spots will make a big different. Places that may be crowded are, Mehrten Meadow, Bearpaw Meadow, Hamilton Lakes, Moraine Lake, Kern Hot Spring, and Guitar Lake. All of these areas can be bypassed, Hamilton Lakes is the only one, if the crowds size is acceptable to you at the time, that it really worth staying a night.

Alternative to Mehrten Meadow and Bearpaw Meadow is Buck Creek, there are also site available near the footbridge after the High Sierra Camp near Lone Pine Creek.

Alternative to Moraine Lake > Nine Lakes Basin, Big Arroyo, or Chagoopa Plateau, there are some small lakes north of where the trail branches off towards Moranie Lake, just above the 10400 contour line.

Alternative to Kern Hot Springs > Junction Meadow, get an early start, the Kern Valley is hot and dusty.

Alternative to Guitar Lake > Arctic Lake, a bit of solitude from the tent city at Guitar Lake.

PS Another similar thread: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=13330&hilit=trail+solitude

This is of course all contingent on the snow levels at the time of you trip, check back here, and at the SEKI trail conditions report: http://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/trailcond.htm
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: On trail crowds

Postby SSSdave » Thu Mar 10, 2016 4:36 pm

Choices on the first day on the HST are rather limited because there are not many options trail side given the topography. However after the first day avoiding people at camp spots is rather simple though not on the trail. The below solution usually works elsewhere in the Sierra also.

Don't camp at lakes that are along trails unless it is a large lake and one has traveled around a lake beyond where there is a trail fit for trail backpackers.
Don't camp right along trails unless one is at least 50 feet vertically ABOVE a trail out of view. Otherwise camp well away and out of sight of trails. Well away does not mean only 100 yards but more like a quarter mile.
Don't camp where trails cross streams. If one wishes to camp along such a stream, then bother to go either at least a 1/4 mile downstream or climb upstream at least 100 feet vertically uphill.

The vast majority of Sierra backpackers have itineraries with a fixation of lake to lake camp spots as though any place without an adjacent lake is NOT WORTHY. Once groups are in an area they want to camp at if it isn't a lake, they are highly unlikely to look at any place up hill above a trail more than 50 feet or so. But instead will look all around for places below a trail.

David
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby markskor » Thu Mar 10, 2016 6:21 pm

Perhaps you were born 20 - 30 years too late?

Back then, when us old farts were in our prime (and way before this trail became famous), you could do (did) this route and would encounter nary a soul - for days. Today, everyone, it seems, is only signing up for these "Big Name" type trails...(Ok with me though as most of my Sierra remains pleasantly vacant).
HST - it's not the Muir but still ~70 miles - even with quotas, expect hiking along/ crossing paths with 20 - 25+ per day, maybe even more come July. Suggest:

Embrace the trail, its quirks, and all of its dubious denizens. While solitude (if needed, as mentioned above), can always be found a couple hundred yards away, some of my best friends have come from the chance nightly trail encounters. Being gregarious and not shy, hanging with like-minded dirtbags, trading trail beta/maybe some route changes, fishing possibilities...sharing food and whatever...swapping lies...trail names...(BTW, sounds a lot like many of my past summers.)

Those prime campsites, lakeside, trail-close usually will be filled - expect late arrivals too. At this point in your hiking life, you should be able to easily discern which hikers you might immediately like, and those who are the douches. As you are solo and self-contained, you can always go a bit off trail, climb into your bag early...or can always pack up and move on.

Bottom line - if you require total solitude, maybe pick another route?
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Mar 10, 2016 9:51 pm

And look out for habituated critters in the crowded places. Hanging laundry around Hamilton will guarantee good pictures of deer eating your socks and shirt.

Another way to avoid crowds is approaching the trail from another route. Like, starting at Lodgepole, Wolverton, or Mineral King, and hitting the highlights of the HST -- join it after Bearpaw and go from the bridge to Kaweah Gap, camp in the lake basin on the other side, and then stagger campsites in between the "usual" stopping places, and jump off well before you get to Crabtree Meadows -- head over to Horseshoe via Army Pass with a side trip to Langley - near, but yet NOT Whitney with permitting issues and crowds -- then out via Cottonwood Lakes, popular enough that you will see people fishing out among the lakes on the way through. You won't need to pick up a WAG bag at Crabtree and won't need to pay that extra $15 to exit Whitney.

But, I hear some saying, that isn't doing the HST.

YEP.

Leaving the bucket list hikes that are the first thing newbies mention as goals alone is the very essence of solitude. When you meet someone on the JMT (that bit you are doing on the way to somewhere from somewhere) and they ask where you are going, and they give you :retard: when you reply, you know you on your way to good fishing and wild animals, and no neighbors.
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Mar 10, 2016 10:16 pm

I understood that the OP simply was talking about avoiding the "leap-frog" problem of a few groups always bumping into each other, not that he/she expected solitude. I have been in that situation on the JMT, where over 30 people (several large groups) had backed up and I wanted to pass them all. Excuse me, excuse me, on and on forever until I finally got past!

Last summer, late July, I had Mehrten Creek and Moraine Lake all to myself. Hamilton Lake was packed, yet I found a site downstream a short distance. It is a spectacular location, regardless of crowds. I did not camp at the Hot Springs, but when I passed about noon it was empty. It is totally hit and miss. I do not let the fear of crowds limit me on where I go. I would not plan drastic detours just to avoid people, if I really wanted to do a specific trail. There is nothing wrong with doing "big name" trails. Obviously, if you can do them off season - either early when there still is snow, or later in the fall, you will definitely get more solitude. But many folks are not free to do that because of work schedules or family obligations. I think the OP will have a great trip, crowds or no crowds. Good Luck and write up a trip report!
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby Mike M. » Thu Mar 10, 2016 10:39 pm

One basic rule of thumb if you want to minimize the risk of crowds is to start your hike on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Another is to avoid the Whitney area on weekends and holidays. For your final night, prior to your hike up to Trail Crest and the Whitney summit, consider camping above Guitar Lake, further up the trail, close to where the switchbacks up to Trail Crest start.

Also, the earlier you go in July, the fewer hikers you'll see. But keep in mind you might run into some snow this July.

Mike
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby NoBoHiker » Sat Mar 12, 2016 3:35 pm

I'll end up doing the JMT/PCT in late July and am curious how busy the trail will be. I usually start hiking early to enjoy the sunrise, I hope at least for the first few hours to not have to 'wait in line'..

Happy Trails!
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Re: On trail crowds

Postby brvoyles » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:03 am

We did the HST in 2008 and other than the last day we only saw a couple people. We camped near Kern Hot Springs and had it completely to ourselves. We did the trip in mid-June and went east to west. Instead of taking the main Mt. Whitney trail we went up the NF Lone Pine Creek and over Whitney-Russell Pass. It's a great route, enjoy.

Brian
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