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TR: Sierra High Route 2017

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TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby CAMERONM » Wed Nov 22, 2017 10:08 pm

The Sierra High Route (SHR) is a largely off-trail exploration devised by Steve Roper in the 70's that runs down the center of the Sierra Nevada. It runs at high elevations of between 9,000. to 11,500 feet and only occasionally connects with the John Muir Trail. It is physically demanding and requires wilderness navigation skills and non-technical climbing skills. Few people attempt the route which enhances its wonderful sense of solitude. This summer I completed the route in four sections, walking a total of 20 days, 214 miles and 62,000 feet of elevation gain, including 33 high passes. Because of the massive snow this year, many decided to avoid the Sierra this year, but for me the snow was an incentive, at least for the snowy first half of the trip, as walking over snow is less onerous than negotiating the many tedious talus (rock) fields. During the course of my journey I meet only five other people walking the entire route.
NOTE: This Trip Report is a summary of a much longer report with altogether too many photos and movies at
https://www.trailnamebackstroke.com/sierra-high-route-2017/
siera high route aerial tailname backstroke.jpg

Section 1- July 12-15, 3 1/2 days. Twin Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows, SOBO.
I pick up my permit in Bridgeport to begin my hike on July 12. Most people take the route going NOBO (north-bound); I decide to go SOBO (south-bound) instead. As a first indication of the unusual snow year, the ranger tells me that she has so far issued only one similar permit this summer. As I climb the trail from Twin Lakes the water is absolutely raging down Horse Creek, hinting at the ongoing snow melt above. I bagged Matterhorn Peak (12,279 feet) on the first day which was a mistake as I was not yet acclimated and in top hiking shape. The theme for this section was very much snow and water.
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Section 2- July 23-27, 4 1/2 days. Tuolumne Meadows to Mammoth, SOBO.
I spend the night at the hikers hostel in Lone Pine, depart early and drive to leave my car at Mammoth, and take the 8 AM bus to Tuolumne Meadows. When I arrive I can't believe it- the place is totally deserted, and most structures are closed and/or under repair. In some years the Tuolumne is sold out in early June and PCT hikers clog the area in front of the store. It obviously got whacked hard this year by the heavy snowfall. The permit office is open however. I go in to find three rangers staring intently at their monitors. One asks me where I want to go. When I say "High Route" it gets their attention and they all look up. One guy says "cool". I get the usual question if I know what I am in for, and am told that I am the first person this season to ask for such a permit. Hard to believe; it just does not seem to me that the people who are qualified to hike this hike would be put off by some snow. The Vogelsang camp was not assembled this year, and Lyell Creek was a challenge to cross. Thousand Island Lake was deserted, and the trip felt a lot like a spring trip with a lot of melting snow.
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Section 3- August 9-15, 7 days. South Lake to Tuolumne Meadows, NOBO.
I enter at South Lake and join the JMT for a day. Now there is less snow but the sound and presence of water are everywhere. I walk through water three times a day. After the second day I leave the JMT and encounter the notorious Snow Tongue Pass, crossed Humphreys Basin, and enjoy many high alpine moments.
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Section 4- August 23-27, 4.5 days. South Lake to Roads End, SOBO, then August 28-29 to Onion Valley.
By the fourth section everywhere is drier, so it feels more like a June trip. As the route drifts west the vegetation becomes richer. Of the many passes on this section, Vennacher was the most challenging, but not terrible. The lake Basin is amongst the nicest, most verdant stretches of the route.The stop at Roads End is a welcome respite with showers and food. I then hike across the Sierra back to my car at Onion Valley rather than take a whole day to drive around.
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This is the most enjoyable long trip I have experienced. I am grateful that I have the health and means to undertake it.

A note about safety: Events can turn seriously bad in the off-trail wilderness very fast. The majority of people die because of uniformed decisions. The many hazards include river crossings, bad falls and hypothermia. At a minimum, you should carry printed maps and know how to use them; have extensive knowledge of backcountry safety and best practices; and leave a trip plan with others in case you go missing. I also think that a personal locat0r beacon is important. Read, take classes, and take smaller experience trips first. BE SAFE !!!
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Nov 23, 2017 10:22 am

Thanks for the trip report. You are correct in that if you are comfortable on snow, and prepared with proper equipment, snow beats tedious talus. The high water part. I do not mind wading, but when it gets thigh deep and swift, I really am scared, and being short, that is knee deep on taller guys. I am surprised you did not mention the south side of Sky Pilot Col. To me, that was really sketchy- ball bearing sand and really steep.

Did you have help moving your car or going to towns, or did you use a shuttle service?

I am a big proponent of doing this route north-to-south. It just makes a lot more sense logistically. I stashed my food in the bear boxes at the Wilderness office parking lot in Tuolumne Meadows. That way, I only carried 4 days food starting out, and picked up my next segment's food at noon, too a quick shower at Tuolumne Lodge (which this year was closed), and continued up the trail. I did end up doing the south segment south-to-north (transportation issues), but by that time I was fully acclimated and the difficult first day was not bad at all. I am just glad it was not Day 1 of the route! I wish I had thought of walking back to Onion Valley so I could have kept going north-to-south. That really is the best solution to the transportation problem.
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby ofuros » Thu Nov 23, 2017 10:27 am

A fitful nights sleep, awoke @ 2am...enjoyed the long version on your website.

Great trip report & great pics, thanks for sharing.
Out 'n about....looking for trout.
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby commonloon » Sat Nov 25, 2017 7:52 am

Great report and fantastic photos! You've really done a great job of capturing the adventure, and the beauty.
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby zacjust32 » Sat Nov 25, 2017 12:42 pm

Nice report, I'll have to find some time to read the full version. I especially like your last paragraph outlining the hazards and risks. A good point to make to those hikers looking to do this without proper experience.
Hiker, adventurer, fabricator, tinkerer, theologian, and occasional student. http://www.zacjust.blogspot.com
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby CAMERONM » Sat Nov 25, 2017 10:50 pm

@Wandering Daisy. In general I like south-north because of the light, but in this case I was certain that I wanted to do the Twin Lakes-Tuolumne section in snow and get it done first. I really did not plan to end the hike doing the big descent into Roads Ends to avoid the ascent, but I am certainly happy that it worked out that way. Climbing 5,000 ft seems like a lousy way to start a big hike.
The order and directions of the other sections fell into place because of transport/ shuttling. I used the YARTS bus to leave my car at Mammoth and start at Tuolumne. I left the car in Lee Vining and had Lou from Bridgeport shuttle me to Twin Lakes. I left my car in Mammoth for the third section and took an ESTA bus to Bishop pick up my permit and Sherpa Max shuttled me to South Lake, and then finally I left my car at Onion valley and Sherpa max shuttled me to South lake.
I barely have any recollection of the south of Sky Pilot Col- but I think it was all snow and I just sailed down. Snow Tongue was the only pass I disliked; Vennacher was mildly difficult for 30 feet descending. Lyell Creek was difficult and not fun, but did not seem deadly. The crossing at Twin Island Lakes was 30" deep, cold but not fast moving or threatening. That's about it for difficulties.
I depend on my photographs to understand afterwards what I did, for when I am hiking off-trail I am in some kind of mental zone that uses a different part of my brain. The photos are chronological and date-stamped, so I look them over and compare them to the maps. Looking back, I hardly believe that I did this hike, it appears that I had a great time, and I would gladly repeat most of it!
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby Lumbergh21 » Sun Nov 26, 2017 10:19 pm

Thanks for the report. I've only hiked solo, but still can't imagine undertaking so much off-trail hiking on my own. Kudos to you. I'll definitely look at the long version soon.
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby xiainx » Thu Dec 14, 2017 9:36 am

Thanks for the trip report Cameron, the pictures are amazing! The best TR of the SHR I've read!
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby Cross Country » Mon Dec 18, 2017 6:29 pm

I REALLY liked cross country travel and therefore I saw many of the places on the High Route (lots of great places). I never "did" the route because I never intentionally "did" any route in 500+ day backpacking. I also never "did" the JMT nor "did" Whitney. I'll never forget the first time I saw Secor's book in late August, 1993. I was with my two sons Jim (16) and Mike (11) at Ampatheater Lake and saw that the pass (which I had crossed solo before) had a cornice. If it hadn't been for the two men at the lake with the book I don't know what we would have done. We continued on our shuttle trip over Bishop Pass to Dumbell Lake to over Taboose Pass. It was the best trip of my life but of course was not "amazed" by anything. I think the word "amazing" is greatly overused.
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Re: TR: Sierra High Route 2017

Postby oldhikerQ » Tue Dec 19, 2017 9:53 am

Very nice trip report. Looking forward to reading the unabridged version next week during my break.
Congrats.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost
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