loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

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potatopants
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loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by potatopants » Sat Jan 05, 2019 4:07 pm

I'm looking to do a weeklong solo trip beginning mid July. I'm a level 2.5 -- lots of backpacking trips in CA, CO, MT, and AZ, but no X-country travel. For a solo trip, class 2 scrambling is well within my comfort level, as are river crossings and snow fields. I get out west at elevation a couple times a year, and have day hiked in Yosemite and the Hoover Wilderness a bunch and have done a couple backpacking trips out there. I completed the JMT last year, solo, averaging 13 miles/day. I'm in it for the alpine lakes and meadows and big mountain scenery. I love the sierras so dang much.

In mid July, I can spend 7 nights/8 days in the backcountry. I'd like to average 11 miles/day, no zero days. So somewhere in the 70-80 mile range sounds good.

I'm planning to do a loop from Crescent Meadows--Bearpaw--Elizabeth Pass--Roaring River--Colby Pass--HST back to Crescent Meadows. Looks to be about 82 miles, two passes, and the climb to Precipice Lake. My back up plan would be to come in at Road's End, but a big climb right of the gates isn't ideal, being from Chicago (663ft above sea level).

Wondering if there's anything tricky I need to know about this route? Heavy bear activity? Noteworthy talus? Are there descent spots to camp at Picket Meadow? Is Kern Hot Springs worth mingling with the crowds for?

Or, any improvements to the route? I'm not comfortable doing x-country solo but open to other on-trail suggestions. I'm also interested in the Mineral King Loop, though it's a bit shorter in terms of mileage. I don't necessarily need to do a loop -- I'll be getting picked up/dropped off and/or using public transit.

Thanks so much for your help. This community is pretty great.








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oleander
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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by oleander » Sun Jan 06, 2019 12:02 am

This could be a perfect loop for you, based on your description of your interests and capabilities. The Hamilton Lakes and Elizabeth Pass areas are among the very best scenic spots in the entire Sierra IMO.

Have you thought about going counter-clockwise? That's how I would do it. Scenery-wise, Hamilton/Precipice is best enjoyed going eastbound, while Deadman Canyon/Elizabeth Pass are best enjoyed going southbound. Also, by going counter-clockwise you will get to warm up on the best-engineered trails (the HST is all well-engineered), reaching the rougher/steeper Colby & Elizabeth Passes later in your trip when you're both warmed up and have eaten down some of your pack weight. [Apparently there was a slide or washout at Colby Pass this year, making the trail at the pass more rugged and steep.] Also, this way, you get the crowds overwith in the first half of your trip, and spend the rest in mostly solitude.

If you're concerned about all the altitude gain achieving Kaweah Gap, then on Day 2 you could decide to stop short of there, adjusting your overall mileage plan accordingly. It's 15-16 miles from Crescent Meadow to Hamilton Lakes. Since you have 8 days to play with, there's no reason you couldn't go easy on Day 2. Either Hamilton Lakes or the landscape well above Hamilton but below Precipice Lake would make a good Day 2 stop. (Note that Precipice itself has poor camping.) If on the other hand you feel strong on Day 2 and want to keep to your goal of approx 11 miles/day and can handle the +4000 feet in a single day, you could try camping at the beautiful heart-shaped lake just over Kaweah Gap. It's an easy Class 1, easily visible, 15-minute stroll from below the Gap.

Kern Hot Springs is OK, but don't build your schedule around it. It's nice for a soak if you're stopped there for the night, but on the other hand, it's a crowded camping area, not overly scenic, and if you hit it halfway through your day, you may just be tempted to walk on. Most likely, the hot springs will not be among the top 5 things that wow you during this loop.

If you're ahead of schedule coming over Elizabeth Pass, take the side trail to Tamarack Lake and spend a night there. Lovely camping.

The available 8-day loops out of Roads End are less interesting in my view. Your loop is better than either the Circle of Solitude (which does not actually offer too much solitude) or the Rae Lakes loop.

Mineral King is gorgeous. However, it's also very steep and would be kind of a shock with a pack with 8 days of food. I make it a rule never to do Mineral King as my first destination of the season, for that reason!

- Elizabeth

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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by Lumbergh21 » Sun Jan 06, 2019 12:44 am

I did a 100 mile hike starting on the HST in 2016 (trip report here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=16379&p=123223&hili ... ra#p123223). I enjoyed the hot springs on Day 3 but left in the late afternoon as people began trickling in and camped north of there. The view of Big Arroyo near the end of day 2 was exceptionally beautiful. I am planning a trip at the beginning of July that will include the Nine Lakes Basin, which also look gorgeous, as well as the Big 5 Lakes and Little 5 Lakes Basins. The one thing I would say is that the view from Kaweah Gap, at least late in the day, is not to be missed. If you camp at Precipice Lake, I would suggest a short hike to the gap, preferably late in the day, before continuing on with your planned journey.

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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by potatopants » Sun Jan 06, 2019 6:28 pm

Thanks to you both for the helpful feedback and the specific recommendations. Going counter-clockwise sounds like a very good idea, I will plan on that--I hauled 8 days of food over Muir Pass last summer after MTR and yeah... it was a bit slow-going. :)

There's so much of the Sierra I want to see, and only being able to get out there once a year means I feel some pressure to choose wisely, so I'm really excited to hear this route has some of your favorite scenery.

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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by potatopants » Sun Jan 06, 2019 7:19 pm

One other question, would Wolverton be a good alternate starting point if I can't get a Crescent Meadow permit?

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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by LMBSGV » Sun Jan 06, 2019 9:04 pm

One other question, would Wolverton be a good alternate starting point if I can't get a Crescent Meadow permit?
Yes. Though if you send in your request on March 1, you should be able to get Crescent Meadow if that's preferred.

Along with Lumbergh21's trip report. there are lots of others you can check out that cover parts of your route. One thing you will discover when checking the trip reports is that each person has their own favorite location along the route you've chosen, which is testimony to how great a trip it is. For instance, I'm another person who thinks Kern Hot Springs is highly overrated, but loved camping at Precipice Lake both times I've done it.

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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by Lumbergh21 » Sun Jan 06, 2019 9:59 pm

While I didn't camp there, I thought Precipice Lake would have been fine, but maybe even better would have been the saddle point at Kaweah Gap just before you get the view down into Big Arroyo, though I imagine it can get windy being a gap in the ridge. There were some small tarns there even in August of a drought year.

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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Jan 06, 2019 10:21 pm

The campsites at Precipice Lake are above the trail on the ridge. Go up the trail a short distance, and then turn left and go up hill a bit and there are several flat constructed sandy campsites. Views are great but it could get windy. I too was not that impressed with Kern Hot Springs. It was so crowded when I was there late afternoon that I did not even get in. Next morning I needed an early start, so just skipped the hot springs.
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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by wildhiker » Mon Jan 07, 2019 12:06 am

You can certainly start at Wolverton, and I think it is more scenic that starting at Crescent Meadow, with great views from Panther Gap and the next couple miles of trail before you drop down to the HST. You can also return entirely on the HST to Crescent Meadows and then take the free park shuttles back to Wolverton. I did that last year. It was nice to see some of the giant sequoias at the end of my hike. But it took rides on three different shuttles and about an hour to get back from Crescent Meadow to Wolverton.
-Phil

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Re: loop options: High Sierra Trail and...

Post by bobby49 » Mon Jan 07, 2019 12:26 am

potatopants wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 7:19 pm
One other question, would Wolverton be a good alternate starting point if I can't get a Crescent Meadow permit?
The advantage of starting at Crescent Meadow is that those first few miles of trail are much flatter and quicker. A Wolverton start has more hills.

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