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TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

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TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby orbitor » Mon Oct 15, 2012 3:53 pm

It has been almost a month since we completed this amazing journey, though I am only getting to write about it now. I would like to thank all the High Sierra Topix members who shared information and advice with me. Their input was invaluable in helping me plan what turned out to be a very successful trip.

The High Sierra Trail can be, as many have observed, the experience of a lifetime. For me, it definitely ranks as the #1 backpacking trip so far in terms of everything: distance, duration, difficulty, etc. Luckily, our group of experienced backpackers navigated all challenges with strength and determination, and as a result we were rewarded with memories for many years to come.

We took 8 days to complete the trail and we covered a total of 82 miles. On Day 4 we climbed Mt. Kaweah, hence the extra mileage. During the first three days, the remnants of a late summer storm were clearing out and we thus had a few clouds to contend with (and a few sprinkles to duck from at Big Arroyo), but after that it was absolutely perfect. There were one other group and a soloist going in the same direction as us, but otherwise we had the trail to ourselves. We crossed paths with a few people heading in the opposite direction, and we saw surprisingly few hikers once we connected with the JMT. Perfect time of the year to go.

This has been said many times over, however I must repeat it: the HST does live up to its reputation as the ultimate cross-Sierra hike. The variety of terrain, vegetation, micro-climates, ecosystems was astounding. Every day brought something new and different. It would be impossible to select any one day or thing as my favorite, but here are some highlights:
  • Following the trail above the canyon of the Middle Fork Kaweah River
  • Taking in the views of the Great Western Divide from Bearpaw Meadow
  • Cooling off in and then watching the sunset at Hamilton Lake
  • Trying to capture the colors of Precipice Lake on camera
  • Descending into the Big Arroyo from Kaweah Gap
  • Getting mind blown on the summit of Mt. Kaweah
  • Alternating the scalding waters of Kern Hot Springs with the ice cold flow of the Kern River
  • Meeting up at Guitar Lake with a friend who had come in from Horseshoe Meadow & getting a sore neck from looking at the night sky
  • Powering to the summit of Whitney with the full pack (35+ lbs) & feeling invincible
  • The cheeseburger at Whitney Portal

Our trip was done without resupplying. We carried all our food; some guys chose to bring bear canisters, but I went without. I planned our camps such that every night we were at a location with a bear box (except for the last night at Guitar Lake, but by then we had exhausted almost all our supplies). It worked out perfectly. I highly encourage anyone who is a first timer to do it as below.

Our itinerary:
Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Mehrten Creek, 6 mi (we started really late and had to haul ass to get there before dark)
Day 2: Mehrten Creek to Hamilton Lake, 10.3 mi
Day 3: Hamilton Lake to Big Arroyo Junction, 8.2 mi
Day 4: Big Arroyo Junction to Moraine Lake, 13.6 mi (includes the Mt. Kaweah climb ~6 mi)
Day 5: Moraine Lake to Kern Hot Springs, 8 mi
Day 6: Kern Hot Springs to Wallace Creek, 12.6 mi
Day 7: Wallace Creek to Guitar Lake, 7.7 mi
Day 8: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal, 16 mi (the last day was really hard, however everyone was eager to finish and the packs were considerably lighter, so it worked out)

A few pictures:

Moro Rock and the canyon of Middle Fork Kern River
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The canyon of Lone Pine Creek (east of Bearpaw Meadow, not the Whitney one)
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Sunset at Hamilton Lake
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Precipice Lake
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Descending into Big Arroyo
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View NW from the summit of Mt. Kaweah
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Sunrise at Moraine Lake
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Soaking in the pool at Kern Hot Springs
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The classic shot: West face of Whitney and Timberline Lake
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Highest point in the Continental U.S. Mission accomplished!
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Looking back at the Whitney Crest from Bighorn Park, on the descent to the Portal
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Please feel free to contact me for more photos (I took 500!) and any details about the trail.

Thanks again to my teammates and the High Sierra Topix community for a dream come true!
Connect, Learn and Climb: Sierra Mountaineering Club
http://www.sierramountaineeringgroup.org



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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby maverick » Mon Oct 15, 2012 4:22 pm

Sounds like you had a great trip Orbitor! The HST goes thru some beautiful country
as you have shown with your pictures. Thanks for the TR and pictures.
Would there be a link to your pictures that you could include with your TR
that would be great.
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: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby quentinc » Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:30 pm

I salute you on climbing Mt. Kaweah from that side. I had considered it when we were planning the trip, but when I saw that 50 mile long scree slog up MK I just couldn't summon up the energy. :boring:
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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby orbitor » Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:29 am

maverick: I will include a link to more of my photos. Still not completely done with sorting and editing, even a month later!

quentinc: That Kaweah climb was one of the hardest scrambles I've ever done. 3 miles, 3200' of boulder-hopping and scree up, then down. We summited late (~2 or 2:30, I can't remember) and then had to haul ass again to reach Moraine Lake before darkness fell. We made it, but paid a big price in terms of energy expenditure that day. I also got my first blisters during the scramble down, which by the end of the trip grew so bad, my feet were in shambles. However, no regrets: I had wanted to get this summit for a long time and knew doing it then was probably my only chance because the approach is so long. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Some of the finest Sierra views await at the top. Would I do it again? Probably not.
Note: 3 of the guys also climbed Muir on the way down from Whitney. I stayed with my friend who had met up with us at Guitar Lake and decided I needed to save some energy for the descent to the Portal. It was the right call.
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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby quentinc » Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:13 pm

Orbitor, I've always wanted to get to the top of Kaweah too, so I envy you. Given the reputation for loose rock on the other side, I also think that leaving from the HST is the only way I would ever get there.

Now Muir, on the other hand, is a blast to climb so long as you don't mind a little class 3. It's a short hop up from the trail, with some fun class 3 moves.
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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby SSSdave » Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:57 pm

Quite an impressive area of arctic willow in your descending into Big Arroyo pic. I've been part way down into the arroyo early July.

Some info on salix arctica:

http://www.davidsenesac.com/Fall_2006/fall_2006.html
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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby orbitor » Tue Oct 16, 2012 2:33 pm

SSSdave: Thank you for the info on arctic willow! I did not know much about the plant and was wondering what makes it turn that fiery color, which provided a beautiful contrast to the more earthy greys and browns of the rocks, as well as the clear blue of the sky. I feel more knowledgeable now. :) The HST passed through only a few, small carpets of arctic willow on the descent to Big Arroyo, but they left a strong impact on me in terms of visual imagery. Maybe it was also the lighting at the time of the day.

Re: Kaweah, I think the only reasonable way up is the way we went, and even then the scramble is significant in terms of distance and gain. We got off the HST where the trail tops out after climbing out of Big Arroyo (around 10,600' contour line) and dropped our packs. There is a small tarn right off the trail, also marked on the topo map, which we used as our sign. We then followed the scree slope at an angle toward the left shoulder of the bowl on the western side of the mountain. After finally overcoming the shoulder, we found ourselves at the saddle between Kaweah and Second Kaweah. From there we turned SSE and scrambled to the top of the ridge, then boulder hopped to the true summit. To the east the drop into the Kaweah Basin is tremendous and the exposure so pronounced that I could only peer over the edge a couple of times. When looking down, the western slopes look mild, but as we learned the hard way, it takes forever to climb them. If ever committing to the climb, I recommend setting up base camp at Big Arroyo and using 1 full day just for the scramble.
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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby maverick » Tue Oct 16, 2012 2:45 pm

You can also find a lot of Arctic Willow in Pioneer Basin, Upper Mills Creek Lake
and Lower Cathedral Lake area.
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: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby Alpenglow » Tue Oct 16, 2012 4:16 pm

Orbitor, Great TR! Thanks! We are planning on doing the HST next summer; your TR was most helpful! (bookmarked it) Haven't thought about climbing Mt Kaweah until I read your report. Probably the only time we would be that close....I'm intrigued...
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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby mshields » Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:49 pm

orbitor wrote:
This has been said many times over, however I must repeat it: the HST does live up to its reputation as the ultimate cross-Sierra hike. The variety of terrain, vegetation, micro-climates, ecosystems was astounding. Every day brought something new and different.


Orbitor,

Totally concur with that assessment!

Glad to see you made it happen,and kudos on the Kaweah summit. Reading your trail-report gave me an opportunity to relive some very fond memories. If you have time to put out a link, I am definitely interested in some of those 500+ pics.

Take Care
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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby orbitor » Fri Oct 19, 2012 11:16 am

Alpenglow: Glad to be of help! I benefited just as much from the info mshields and others shared, so I thought it only fair to post my experience for others to draw upon. I had my GPS and recorded the whole trek; the trip is divided into segments according to each day and available online. I will be happy to send you the links if you think they will help with your planning. By the way, the reason I carried the GPS was not for fear of getting lost (the trail is very well marked), but just to record detailed stats. Comparing the stats with the pictures and reliving the experience of each day made me appreciate our accomplishment even more. Finally, the Kaweah climb is a beast, so make sure you're firm if going for it. It will quickly turn too daunting should you hesitate.

mshields: Thank you again for your advice! It was a fabulous trip. I will post the link to the rest of the pictures as soon as I finish sorting.
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Re: TR: High Sierra Trail 9-16 September 2012

Postby The hermit » Fri Oct 19, 2012 4:50 pm

How did you arrange travel logistics? Is it possible as a loop, if so how many miles?
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