Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

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Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by tacetman » Sun Aug 13, 2017 8:14 pm

I have a permit for the week after labor day to go West-East on the HST. I pulled this permit the week it opened this year and have been looking forward to it ever since. I also didn't have a lot of backpacking experience (read: none), but figured I could practice/train between then and now. The plan would be to take 9 days off (including weekends), with a 10th day off as a backup (in case we are delayed)/rest day. Looking at ~11-mile days when the elevation gain is not extremely significant, ~8 days when it is. I've taken four backpacking trips this year to prepare, the most recent of which was shorter TOTAL distance than the HST, but normal HST daily lengths (8-10 miles/day). Elevation change was not quite as extreme, but I am quite confident I'm physically up for it and can handle myself in the backcountry. Of note, I usually get a headache the first night after significant exertion (8 miles or so @ 9,000 feet) but it clears up as I acclimate by day 2.

Here's the question. I have enjoyed my previous backpacking trips SOMEWHAT...particularly the parts where I napped in a hammock or ate dinner. But the constant packing/un-packing, the bruised feeling on my hips from the pack, pain in my feet, and frustration trying to trail-find when the map was sketchy was quite frustrating. At the end of every trip I felt happy, accomplished, and proud...but DURING the trip I was mostly looking forward to getting to the next campsite. I mentioned above that I am confident I am physically able to conquer the HST...after 30 miles/3 days I was quite tired so I am concerned about the mental/emotional toll of such a long trek.

In short, I am concerned that I am about to burn a bunch of vacation days on something that I will enjoy...but that won't be the most amazing thing since sliced bread for me. I don't have experience backpacking with other people (I have only traveled with my wife) to know how "serious backpackers" feel about the sport. Are "serious backpackers" literally having AN AWESOME TIME while they're doing it? Or is it more fun to enjoy the views ONCE YOU GET THERE?

How did you guys feel before your first major backpacking trip? How about after? What do you think about most people? What do you recommend I do?

I feel as if I cancel the plan now, I will have wasted months and months looking forward to it. But on the other hand, I feel like if I go on the trip, I'm in for an exhausting time and wondering if it will be worth it?

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by rlown » Sun Aug 13, 2017 8:36 pm

Welcome aboard the HST!

Sounds like you're afraid that you won't meet some self-imposed goal. Personally, I gave those up a long, long time ago. I move at whatever pace feels good on a given day. If I find a place I like, I stay there until the experience with a place is concluded. I do not like packing up everyday just to be on a schedule to be somewhere else. Hence, I love zero days. Adjust the trip as you go as long as you have a reasonable "out" path.

Only you can decide on what trip enjoyment means..

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by Ska-T » Sun Aug 13, 2017 9:13 pm

There is a reason why most backpackers don't have a long list of friends eager to join them on backpacking trips. It isn't everyone's cup of tea. There generally is some pain involved in order to achieve the joys provided by the outdoors. Don't expect effortless pleasure. For many of us the joys outweigh the small pains, especially months after the trip when the pains are forgotten and only the good memories endure.

Backpacking, like many things, is an acquired taste. If you get a proper introduction when you are young the love for backpacking is almost inevitable. If you begin at a later stage in life then, it may take longer to grow on you, or you may never take to it.

There are certain things you can do to increase the likelihood that you will enjoy the process of backpacking, not just the camping aspects. Here are a few specific examples:
1) Carry the lightest pack that provides you with a safe experience. This reduces stress on most body parts both during the hike and after. (Sounds to me like your pack is relatively heavy.)
2) Focus on the moment. Enjoy the views (far and near), sounds, smells, etc. Look for photo ops, botany ops, biology ops, navigation ops, fishing ops, philosophy ops, etc.
3) Pace yourself, stop and smell the roses. You may also have to tell your partners to slow down and mellow out.
4) Buy your shoes locally (forget mail order) and only after trying on many different brands and models.
5) If you are social, then seek out hiking partners, especially those with a sense of humor and a good disposition (no whiners).
6) Take you trip when conditions are favorable (low mosquito season, small chance of bad weather, pleasant temperatures, etc).
7) Have an activity you like to do in camp (reading, fishing, photography, chess, audiobook, etc).

Give yourself some time to develop familiarity with the sport. The short trips you are taking are a great way to go, especially the first year. A nine day trip is a long trip for a beginner.

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by kpeter » Sun Aug 13, 2017 9:18 pm

First, you won't have any issues finding the trail. The HST is well manicured and well marked. All the little discomforts you speak about have to be outweighed by the enjoyment you get from the trip. The truth is that backpacking can be hard, strenuous work. But do you enjoy the scenic beauty? Do you enjoy the sense of accomplishment? Do you hike yourself into better physical shape? Do you enjoy the solitude? Or the companionship? Or fishing? Or photography? For most people, the enjoyable aspects of backpacking capture their attention and they find ways physically and psychologically to minimize the discomforts.

For most of my backpacking career I did not pack up the camp every day, but established a base camp and dayhiked from there. I was doing on my dayhikes what today's "ultralight" packers do all the time. It would always be one difficult day "in" with a heavy pack to a good central location, then multiple dayhikes from the base. If you really are sick of moving camp every day then that is an alternative embraced by many. Certain locations are very good for this setup, others not so much. The HST may not be the best place to do that, though. You could go partway on the HST and back out. Say as far as Nine Lakes, then a couple days exploring that area without the big pack, then back out.
Last edited by kpeter on Sun Aug 13, 2017 9:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by Jimr » Sun Aug 13, 2017 9:19 pm

If you feel confident that you can do it, then do it. Weigh it afterward, then begin to decide if backpacking is for you. I've had many miserable moments (read hours) on trips. Sometimes, it's heaven and sometimes, it's hell. But, you don't get those views looking out of your car window. You have to earn them one step at a time.
“Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”

-John Adams

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by franklin411 » Sun Aug 13, 2017 9:34 pm

IMO, don't go.

1. The fact that you're asking proves that you don't want to do it. And who can blame you? Eating crap food, lugging your whole camp with you all the time, and pooping in a cat-hole are no-one's idea of fun.

2. With 10 days...you can see a ton by car camping and dayhiking. If you can hike 10 miles with a 30 lb overnight pack, you can hike 15 miles with a 5-10 lb daypack. You could easily spend 3 nights camped at Cedar Grove and dayhike up to Paradise Valley one day, then up Bubbs' Creek the other, and lounge or do w/e the 3rd day. Then move down to Lodgepole, and hike to Silliman Pass one day, Alta Peak the next, and do Pear Lake on the 3rd day. Then move down to Mineral King and do Sawtooth Pass one day, Franklin Pass the next, and do w/e the 3rd day.

Every day, you have the choice of going out or just lounging in camp if you like. You don't *HAVE* to hike any particular day or you'll run out of food and/or die, as is the case when you backpack.

If you backpack the HST, you're going to get a nice view of the country for about 30 miles in every direction from that trail.

If you dayhike according to the above plan, you're going to get a nice view of the country for about 30 miles in every direction from 3 general areas. IOW, you see more by dayhiking 10 days than you would by backpacking for that long.

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by Bill21 » Sun Aug 13, 2017 10:17 pm

As previously posted a 10 day trip is a long backpack trip, particularly for a first year backpacker. That is ambitious.
You are questioning an arduous and epic adventure as DDay gets nearer. You must be human.
You don't HAVE TO do HST. You don't have to do it this year.
I have had a small # and % of trips where after all was said and done, I said "why did I do that"?
I can never recall having that question BEFORE the trip. I always thought it was a great idea.
Some people hike short and slow, pack uber-heavy, eat, drink, fish, play and be merry.
Some people hike long and fast, even run, pack ultra-light, look like **** and spend no time to smelling the roses.
Both are great.
It is paramount you feel physically fit. Are you going with experienced people? That helps immensely - planning even moreso than journeying.
Do what's fun for you . Introspect and figure it out. It ain't necessarily easy to do that and it is normal to have some apprehension about such an undertaking.

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by TurboHike » Mon Aug 14, 2017 6:01 am

I did the HST years ago, back in September 1989. This was before a permit was required for Mt. Whitney. I went with two other people, we did the trip in 6 days (5 nights). This is my benchmark Sierra trip that I measure all other trips against. It is a wonderful trip if you're up for it.

Your pace of 8 to 11 miles per day is much more reasonable. Of course you'll need to carry food for all those days. If you have a Whitney permit and don't take the trip this year, will you be lucky enough to get another permit in the future? Given your pace, you're looking at 2.5 days to hike from Crescent Meadow to Kaweah Gap. From there to the Kern Hot Spring is a much easier hike. You could even lay over for a day and recover at the Hot Spring if your hips hurt. Up to Junction Meadow isn't bad, but the hike out of the Kern Canyon is steep and can be brutally hot. Also do not underestimate the Whitney portion of the trip. Hiking up to trail junction at 13,200' is strenuous and then after reaching the summit you need to get down low enough to camp/sleep. Stream crossings in 1989 were a non-issue, just rock hopping at the worst. This year might be a bit harder.

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by wildhiker » Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:42 am

I have hiked over a thousand miles of trails in the Sierra (many more than once), but I have never hiked "the High Sierra Trail" or "the John Muir Trail" or any other "marquee" trail for its entire length. The entire high Sierra is extemely scenic and serene and wild for me, so I put together backpack trips to see interesting places and don't worry about any specific goal. If I had blocked out the time (your post-Labor Day period will be a good time this year, in late summer when snow is not blocking the trails and mosquitoes have abated) and had the permit for the HST from Crescent Meadows, but was worried that it would be too much, I would simply plan a shorter and easier hike from Crescent Meadows. You could do a lot out and back to Hamilton Lake or over Kaweah Gap to Nine Lakes basin, with explorations of side trails. You could do this with shorter days, more layovers, and more spontaneity based on how you felt that day.

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Re: Will I Enjoy the High Sierra Trail?

Post by papercup » Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:58 am

Everyone has different experiences, but I'll share my first-time-Sierra story, maybe it'll be helpful:

I grew up on the east coast and had some decent experience backpacking in the Adirondacks, Shenandoahs, etc, which I loved, although I also loved the relief of getting out of the mountains and eating a burger. I had never done more than three nights in a row. A friend of mine recruited me for a JMT hike that he was organizing. At the time, that stood as a huge challenge for me. I was fit, but I had never hiked at altitude or in alpine terrain, the elevation gain was extreme by my standards, and of course I had never been in the mountains for three weeks straight. I had no idea how I would react once I was out there. I remember sitting in Yosemite Valley the night before we started looking up at the size of the mountains and being some combination of terrified and excited.

The first day was brutal-- my pack might have weighed sixty pounds, we climbed all the way out of Yosemite Valley, which is a gain of over 5,000 feet, and I ended up puking on the trail just as I crested over the high point of that day's hike. The next four or five days also had their ups and downs as I shed excess weight at every opportunity, watched my ill-fitting boots rub huge bloody holes in my heels, etc. I have a clear memory of sitting on the trail just past Red's Meadow, rubbing neosporin into my wounds, and wondering how the hell I was going to keep this up for another 150 miles. But then I started figuring it out-- my legs got stronger, I switched to lightweight shoes, I got used to not having cell phone service. By the time I was two weeks into it I would wake up just PSYCHED that I got to spend the day hiking through the mountains again, and I started feeling sad that eventually I would hit Whitney and have to go home. By the time I was done I absolutely loved it; I remember it as a foundational experience in my life and it is absolutely the seed of my continuing love of backpacking now.

So I say give it a shot. For me, the thing that made me love backpacking was pushing through all those uncertainties and discomforts you mention-- staying out for long enough that you just get used to them, forget about them, and start noticing the beautiful and wonderful aspects of being out in the mountains. Who knows if you'll react that way. Maybe they'll just start annoying you even more. But you'll never know unless you try, and what's the worst case scenario? At the end, you realize that it's not for you but you still saw some beautiful mountains, had a wilderness experience that 99% of Americans will never have, and have a story to tell for the rest of your life?

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