Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

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awesome
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Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by awesome » Tue Sep 29, 2020 9:05 pm

Earlier this month I did a yoyo of the HST just before trails in Sequoia and Inyo started shutting down. Despite the smoke it was a really fun trip, and here's a quick summary of how it went.

Day 1 - Crescent Meadow to Slightly South of Kaweah Gap (20 miles)
After leaving an Airbnb in Three Rivers, I finally hit the trail around 5:50am, using my headlamp briefly as the sun began to rise. The smokey haze in the sky put a damper on some of the distant views, but this stretch of trail is absolutely astounding. It felt like there was something magical around every twist of the trail. All water sources were surprisingly still flowing well even so late into the summer. I passed other hikers here and there, mostly heading in the opposite direction, but trail traffic was light overall, at least until Hamilton lake. Maybe it was the beauty of the blue water ringed by granite and trees, but I briefly lost the trail. Finally I realized I had to cross a little creek by the lake, and started the infinite climb up to Precipice Lake. I got there...eventually...and lots of people were all bundled up in their puffies hanging out by their tents. After refilling water and taking a small snack break, I continued. The sun was looking exceptionally red in the sky from all the smoke, but I had gotten used to the smell. Reaching the gap felt great, and then I raced the fading sun to find a good camping spot down the trail before it got dark.

Day 2 - South of Kaweah Gap to Junction Meadow (22 miles)
I wasted too much time puttering around camp, so I got a late start. This day was kind of a grind, though some spots along the way still had incredible views. Water sources remained abundant even going up Big Arroyo. During the descent down into Kern Canyon I thought about taking a dip in Kern Hot Springs. Although I hadn't seen a soul all day I figured that there would be people there because it's so popular...and I was right. There was a group of middle aged Indian guys running around the hot springs in bathing suits and there was a bald dude soaking in the spring itself. So I kept going. Kern Canyon really isn't that special. It's beautiful, especially when the trees open up to reveal mountains and rock faces, but it isn't breathtaking like other parts of the trail. Plus, the bugs are bad. This is the only area where I used my mosquito net. There were several nontrivial water crossings, and it felt sketchy doing them in the light of a headlamp. But eventually I rolled into Junction Meadow, set up camp, and called it a day.

Day 3 - Junction Meadow to Guitar Lake (12 miles)
In the morning, inside my tent the smoke smell was much stronger than normal. Outside, visible pieces of ash were floating around. As I prepared to leave,, a guy popped up from behind a big log beside my campsite and introduced himself. He was doing an interesting patchwork of trails in the area and didn't even hear me set up camp last night. We both agreed the smoke situation was getting worse.
The rest of the day was pretty rewarding. Shortly before the JMT junction there's a creek that pours down in a beautiful rocky waterfall then flows across the trail and beyond. I took a plunge into the ice cold water and immediately felt 40% more alive. I started to see some people again, all going in the opposite direction. The last few miles to Guitar Lake took what felt like an eternity, but at last, there it was. It was teeming with people. I found the last open good campsite, near the outskirts of the lake, and settled in. The sky was as hazy as ever and later on the smoke was so bad that my eyes strung. I gave up trying to do camp chores and just dived into my tent to get away from the smoke. Despite the population density of this little tent city, everyone seemed to go to bed early for the day ahead.

Day 4 - Guitar Lake to Whitney, then to Junction Meadow (22 miles)
When I got out of the tent for breakfast around 5:30am, there was already a long line of distant headlamps shining along the trail, like some kind of religious ritual. I got going around 6:15, carrying just the bare essentials. But soon I was forced to use the WAG bag I hoped I would never need. It was just gross and carrying it made me smell like a portapotty. Surely there has got to be a better way. The trail was fairly busy, especially after the junction with the main Whitney trail. The last 1.9 miles to the summit had some very rocky sections which made for slow going. At the top there was a handful of people and a palpable sense of collective happiness.
By the time I got back to my campsite the sun was going full blast. I headed west, feeling tired but satisfied. Guitar Lake was just sparkling there so I couldn’t resist taking a quick swim. Like the waterfall, it was ice cold and invigorating. Soon I passed some JMTers who gave me the bad news that trails in Sequoia were closing, and I started to worry about logistics. Near Crabtree I bumped into a really cool ranger called Chris. She strongly suggested that I turn around and leave via Whitney Portal, then figure out how to get a ride back to Crescent Meadow. I made an early dinner at Crabtree, which is a nice peaceful campsite, and mulled my options over, but decided continuing west on the HST was my best choice. I told Chris my plan, promising that I’d leave a message with a ranger at the end that I was out of the danger zone. The sun set about an hour later and the rest of the hike to Junction Meadow became another night hike.

Day 5 - Junction Meadow to Northern Outskirts of Precipice Lake (23 miles)
When I woke up I realized that I was camping near several other people. Since the trails were officially closed I was surprised to see people here. On the trail I kept seeing lots of people, significantly more than in the first two days. They were all going toward Whitney. During a water crossing the one good spot to cross was over a fallen log, but a rattlesnake was curled up right next to it, so I just splashed across. Finally I got to Kern Hot Springs, and was able to confirm that its legendary reputation is well-deserved. After a short stroll, I started the interminable ascent up into Big Arroyo. The smoke grew exceptionally awful, almost as bad as a summer BBQ. Around dinner time I stopped and made an incredible pot of thick tortilla soup. After another long stretch of hiking by headlamp, I crested Kaweah gap. I put on my shell and sat briefly on a rock to eat an RXbar, feeling the bitter wind howl around me. I set up camp not soon after, in a grassy area that was horribly soggy. It was a chilly night but my 30* quilt kept me warm.

Day 6 - Precipice Lake to Mehrten (12 miles)
My decision for this day was to camp near the trailhead and head home the following day, instead of hiking all the way back to my car and making the long drive back home at night. It made so much more sense to enjoy another day on the trail. Everything was just as beautiful as it had been on the first day. Near Bearpaw I met a ranger and gave her a message to pass on to Chris. In the late afternoon I pulled up to Mehrten Creek and found it to be a great place to camp. The bug (hornets, ants, etc.) and rodent activity was high though so cowboy camping under the stars wasn’t an option. Besides, the night sky was too hazy to show many stars.

Day 7 - Mehrten to Crescent Meadow (6 miles)
The hike back to my car was uneventful, except for two things. I passed yet another friendly ranger 2 miles from the trailhead and we spoke a bit. Then, as I was doing the last section of paved trail at the end, there was a small commotion up ahead. Two young bears were nosing around in the bushes. It was amazing that after so many days on the trail I’d see bears just as I was leaving. But I grew impatient for them to move, because I was anxious to get to my car, clean up, and chow down on the snacks I left in the bear box. Eventually the bears trotted off the trail and my hike was complete.
Despite the smoky conditions and being a weekday, Sequoia was pretty busy. I swung by the gift shop, admired the sentinel tree, and headed out. Shortly after leaving the park I stopped at Sierra Subs, got what was arguably the best sandwich I ever ate, and continued the drive home. I should have gotten a few more of those sandwiches, one for every hundred miles of driving.








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Re: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by bobby49 » Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:12 pm

Very impressive speed. Did you get to see anything along the way?

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Re: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by Harlen » Wed Sep 30, 2020 12:18 am

awesome writes:
... I took a plunge into the ice cold water and immediately felt 40% more alive.
Or does this mean that you were now 60% more dead? I stay out of freezing water unless paid well to suffer in it.
Your trip was awesome awesome. Thanks for the post-- we really need them, to experience the Sierra, if only vicariously though smoke-loving guys like you. I agree with you on the amazing nature of the HST on the way to Hamilton Lakes; it really is a wonderful piece of trailcraft-- tunnels and all!

Thanks again, Ian.

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Re: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by sekihiker » Wed Sep 30, 2020 12:07 pm

bobby49 wrote:
Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:12 pm
Did you get to see anything along the way?
Thanks for the report.
I hope you will share photos.

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Re: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by bobby49 » Wed Sep 30, 2020 12:41 pm

? ?

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Re: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by maverick » Wed Sep 30, 2020 4:39 pm

I hope you will share photos.
:nod:
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

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: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by awesome » Wed Sep 30, 2020 4:54 pm

bobby49 wrote:
Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:12 pm
Very impressive speed. Did you get to see anything along the way?
Haha, yes. I saw everything twice. But seriously, the pace was based on the amount of food I could carry. I'd rather be fast and well fed, than slow and hungry. :D
Harlen wrote:
Wed Sep 30, 2020 12:18 am
Or does this mean that you were now 60% more dead? I stay out of freezing water unless paid well to suffer in it.
Your trip was awesome awesome. Thanks for the post-- we really need them, to experience the Sierra, if only vicariously though smoke-loving guys like you. I agree with you on the amazing nature of the HST on the way to Hamilton Lakes; it really is a wonderful piece of trailcraft-- tunnels and all!

Thanks again, Ian.
Well, let's say 40% less dead...and almost human. Beautiful photos! The HST is definitely a spectacular trail, with some clever solutions to natural obstacles. Hamilton Gorge Tunnel was a highlight of my first day.

Maybe I'll post some photos, if I can find some are somewhat notable.

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Re: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by bobby49 » Wed Sep 30, 2020 5:02 pm

awesome wrote:
Tue Sep 29, 2020 9:05 pm
Day 3 - Junction Meadow to Guitar Lake (12 miles)
Shortly before the JMT junction there's a creek that pours down in a beautiful rocky waterfall then flows across the trail and beyond.
That would be Wright Creek. In early season following a big winter, it is pretty bad.

A few years ago I had done the HST (one way), and to get from Crescent Meadow to Crabtree Camp it took me four days... and I thought that was fast. You were much faster.

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Re: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by awesome » Thu Oct 01, 2020 8:44 pm

Yes, the creek is definitely Wright Creek! Thanks for pointing that out. The current still packed a punch even in September.
bobby49 wrote:
Wed Sep 30, 2020 5:02 pm
A few years ago I had done the HST (one way), and to get from Crescent Meadow to Crabtree Camp it took me four days...
And then on the fifth day you went up Whitney and down to the portal? That's not a bad way to do the HST. What's the main benefit of camping at Crabtree vs. Guitar Lake, access to a bear box?
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Re: Trip Report: High Sierra Trail Yoyo

Post by bobby49 » Thu Oct 01, 2020 9:37 pm

Awesome, not exactly. I went from Crescent Meadow to Crabtree Camp by the fourth day. Then for the fifth day I went to the Whitney summit and back to camp. Then on the sixth day I went all the way out to Horseshoe Meadow and hitched a ride to Lone Pine.

Yes, there is a bear box at Crabtree Camp, but I didn't need it. I was carrying my own Bearikade.

I went through Wright Creek on one August. Just imagine what it must be like in June.

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