Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

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Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by RGTPSB » Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:31 am

Hi all,

I am planning to go from Devils Postpile to Tuoluome Meadows via the Sierra High Route in mid-August this year with a group of 2-3 and would appreciate some advice.

I found some useful comments on BPL about preferred deviations and detours from the SHR. Following their advice, my itinerary includes the following modifications from the SHR proper:

- follow Minaret Lake Trail out of Devils Postpile, rejoining the SHR at Minaret Lake
- spend a day exploring the Ritter Lakes, maybe peakbagging Mt. Ritter
- spend a day exploring the basin above the Twin Lakes

Budgeting 4 days for the SHR itself, plus 2 days for the detours, this puts me at 6 days from DP to TM. I'd like to budget an extra day for unplanned incidents (either good and bad - maybe we're slower than expected, maybe we want to explore something interesting, maybe we just want to relax more), so that puts us at 7.

Some concrete questions:

- Are there any other detours along the way that might be enjoyable? We can plan on 8 days at the most, so there's space for an additional day's worth of hiking. Maybe summitting Vogelsang Peak and spending a night camping out by Iceland Lake? The little lakes upstream of Bernice look fun as well.
- Can you comment on the difficulty of the Sierra High Route? I have done cross-country navigation before. Since most of the SHR is above treeline, and since a large proportion of the section I'm hiking is on-trail, I'm not overly concerned, but it will be the longest and possibly most technically challenging trip I've ever done. I'm viewing the challenge, and the preparation required, as part of the fun, though :-)
- We need to get walk-up permits. How likely is it that we'll be able to get up early on Saturday morning and get permits for 2-3 people to start hiking that day? That failing, I was thinking we can just get permits for starting on Sunday instead. Will this work out?
- Logistically, I was thinking about taking Amtrak from the Bay Area to TM, taking YARTS from TM to Mammoth Lakes, somehow getting to Devils Postpile, and then taking Amtrak back after the hike. Are there better options?
- I've heard that the last couple of miles into TM, especially after Vogelsang Pass, aren't that great and tend to be packed with people. Can anyone recommend a cross-country option that might be more enjoyable?
- It is my understanding that we won't be encountering the more difficult passes of the SHR. Nevertheless, are there any particularly tricky parts of this section that I should be aware of in advance? I don't necessarily want to "over-prepare" and spoil the fun for myself, but I want to have some basic understanding of what I'm getting into.
- If we find the SHR far too difficult, we can just backtrack and bail out to the JMT. Is this true?
- What alternatives might we want to consider in case the Ferguson fire renders the air too smoky around Yosemite? I think if the air is clear enough around Devils Postpile, we'll just go with the route as planned and push through to TM even if it's smoky around there, but if the conditions deteriorate enough, we might want to have a southbound trip planned in case. I suppose by default we could just follow the SHR in the opposite direction, but I'm not familiar with how the logistics of this would work out.

Thanks in advance. Any thoughts and comments are appreciated! :-)








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Re: Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by balzaccom » Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:32 am

Wow! Lots of questions. I can't answer some of them, and won't even try to answer others. But here are a few thoughts;

Mid-autumn is when? By the calendar, it's early November. If that's the case, then you will have no problems getting a permit, but Yarts and a lot of other transportation options will have significantly different schedules, or no schedule at all. And you should count on getting snowed on--possibly quite heavily. Tioga Pass will certainly be closed to overnight parking, and may be closed to traffic.

If you mean mid to late September, which is technically still summer, I still think you permit chances are good, especially if you are a bit flexible, and the weather will almost certainly be less dangerous. But you should still expect the possibility of snow.

From Vogelsang Pass you can either descend via Rafferty Creek or take a side trip to Evelyn Lake and descend through Lyell Canyon. I don't find either of those routes unattractive, but they do both have hikers on them. There is no real cross country alternative---nor should there be one. It's only about six miles, anyway. There will be fewer people in September than there are now, and way fewer in November.

The JMT runs North and South through this whole region. At any point in your hike, you can go back to the JMT and get yourself home without any complicated routes, techniques, or navigation. That assumes that you will know when you need to do this--which is always the hardest part of bailing on any route.

As for other options, just about every side trail and canyon in this area leads to something worth seeing. Do as much of that as you want, and enjoy yourself. I always prefer having a zero day from time to time on the trail, just to poke around and check things out, without worrying about where I need to camp the next night.

The only way you can avoid the smoke from the Ferguson Fire is to hike where the wind isn't blowing the smoke. If you tell us where the wind will be, we'll give you some options for smoke free hiking! The area North of Tuolumne Meadows is stunning...so is the area South of Devil's Postpile.
Balzaccom

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Re: Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by RGTPSB » Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:33 am

Oh no! I meant mid-August, not mid-Autumn. :-) Thanks for the advice!

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Re: Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by maverick » Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:36 am

Welcome to HST!
- Are there any other detours along the way that might be enjoyable? We can plan on 8 days at the most, so there's space for an additional day's worth of hiking. Maybe summitting Vogelsang Peak and spending a night camping out by Iceland Lake? The little lakes upstream of Bernice look fun as well.
Ireland Lake not Iceland Lake. :)
Bernice is pretty, areas above also worth the effort. Upper Lakes Basin of the Lyell Fork, one of the premier places in the Sierra.
- Can you comment on the difficulty of the Sierra High Route? I have done cross-country navigation before. Since most of the SHR is above treeline, and since a large proportion of the section I'm hiking is on-trail, I'm not overly concerned, but it will be the longest and possibly most technically challenging trip I've ever done. I'm viewing the challenge, and the preparation required, as part of the fun, though :-)
Nope, you will have to figure that out for yourself, I don't give out info. If you possess good crosscountry skills and are comfortable on rocky class 2 terrain, you will have a blast.
- We need to get walk-up permits. How likely is it that we'll be able to get up early on Saturday morning and get permits for 2-3 people to start hiking that day? That failing, I was thinking we can just get permits for starting on Sunday instead. Will this work out?
Sat is iffy, but you can try, just be there before the office opens, by at least an hour. Just so you know, here are the regulations:

Inyo NF regulations for first come, first served permits:
Walk in permits must be requested in person at the visitor centers. During the quota season (May 1 to November 1) walk in permits cannot be issued more than one day before the entry date. Permits are issued for same day entry or for next day entry; you must enter on the date stated.

- Walk-in permits are subject to space available* at the time the permit request is processed.
- Person requesting the permit will be listed as the group leader. Leader must be a person going on the trip and must be in person at the visitor center.
- Group leader can request a permit for the whole group; all members of the group do not need to be present.
- Leader responsibility includes the terms in Permit Policy
- Walk in permit cannot be held by phone or web.
- No night box service for walk in permits.
- Walk in permit is free.

*The amount of space available for walk-in permits may vary. For all trails except Mt Whitney, 40% of the quota space is saved for walk-in permit requests. In addition, space from any reservations that did not fully book, cancelations, group size reductions, and reservations that are not confirmed or picked up (No Show) will be made available for walk-in requests. Some specific trails are identified as non-quota and are only limited by maximum group size.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/pass ... n%20permit

- Logistically, I was thinking about taking Amtrak from the Bay Area to TM, taking YARTS from TM to Mammoth Lakes, somehow getting to Devils Postpile, and then taking Amtrak back after the hike. Are there better options?
There is a shuttle you take from Mammoth to Devil's Postpile: https://www.nps.gov/depo/planyourvisit/ ... mation.htm
- I've heard that the last couple of miles into TM, especially after Vogelsang Pass, aren't that great and tend to be packed with people. Can anyone recommend a cross-country option that might be more enjoyable?
Yes, there is, use your map, you will see it.
- It is my understanding that we won't be encountering the more difficult passes of the SHR. Nevertheless, are there any particularly tricky parts of this section that I should be aware of in advance? I don't necessarily want to "over-prepare" and spoil the fun for myself, but I want to have some basic understanding of what I'm getting into.
Easier relatively speaking, the section getting down to Twin Lake, then up to Blue Lake thru Bench Canyon, takes good route finding abilities, otherwise you can get yourself in trouble really fast. There are several SHR trip report here on HST, use the search feature to find them, also use the "Crosscountry Pass" section for some of the passes in that section of SHR.
- If we find the SHR far too difficult, we can just backtrack and bail out to the JMT. Is this true?
Yes, you can bail and use the JMT.
- What alternatives might we want to consider in case the Ferguson fire renders the air too smoky around Yosemite? I think if the air is clear enough around Devils Postpile, we'll just go with the route as planned and push through to TM even if it's smoky around there, but if the conditions deteriorate enough, we might want to have a southbound trip planned in case. I suppose by default we could just follow the SHR in the opposite direction, but I'm not familiar with how the logistics of this would work out.
Mammoth webcams are showing a lot of smoke currently, but your trip is a ways off, hopefully conditions will be much better by then, that is if another wildfire doesn't start.
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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 advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by RGTPSB » Thu Jul 26, 2018 4:57 pm

Thank you maverick for the advice and the warm welcome. I have purchased two wilderness permits to leave from Beck Lakes TH on Thursday, August 9th, rendering the logistics somewhat easier. The current thought is to pack 10 days of food and take a fairly relaxed pace, as there's a tremendous amount of beautiful geography to explore between DP and TM.

I am incredibly excited for the trip and will be sure to post a detailed trip report here afterward - this forum's archives have been an immensely valuable source of info and inspiration. :-)

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Re: Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by BBchris » Thu Jul 26, 2018 10:40 pm

I have done this 2x and went through that area area a 3rd time all during August. Trickiest section is from Lake Catherine to Bench Canyon. Follow all the trail advice to Twin Lakes and you will be fine. My 3rd trip we went all the way down the intersection of Bench canyon and the North Fork San Joaquin. Brutal climb to Bench Canyon. Bench Canyon is one of my favorite places. If you have a half day and like to fish xc from Blue lakes to Rockbound lake is a nice hike.
Once you pass Lake Catherine you are committed.
If I did it again I would cut across to JMT from Volgesang camp. Vosbesang camp to TM is hot, dry, dusty. I prefer the views in Lyell Cyn.

Have Fun. I'm headed out for 30 day trip through sierras starting in August

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Re: Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by wildhiker » Wed Aug 01, 2018 12:07 am

Plan to spend some time in Bench Canyon - a truly beautiful spot.
When you get over Blue Lake Pass and head down to the High Trail and then down to the Lyell Fork Merced River, you absolutely MUST head upriver on the north side for 1/2 mile or so to the big meadows. The east (higher) meadow has a stunning view, particularly at sunset. I would try to arrange to camp there.
From Bernice Lake, it is easy to follow up the creek to the next lake and then cut north to the big meadows above Gallison Lake and then follow up the meadows to the upper lakes. You can go cross-country over to Ireland Lake. This is class 2 up a big talus slope, with maybe a little class 3 at the top, and then easy class 1 walking all the way down to Ireland Lake. Parsons Peak is also an easy climb from the pass.
If you stay on the main route and go over Vogelsang Pass, and still have extra time, you can go cross-country from Tuolumne Pass over to Nelson Lake. Just head north gradually uphill along the slope until you can round the corner at a pass with the branch of Echo Creek draining down to Reymann and Nelson Lakes. This is all easy class 1 walking - I took my 7 year old son on this route. Nelson Lake is one of my favorite campsites in Yosemite with a great sunset show on the big cliff to the southeast. A use trail leads from the outlet of Nelson Lake down a bit and then turns up the main branch of Echo Creek over a pass to Elizabeth Lake and then on the maintained trail to TM.
-Phil

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Re: Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by maverick » Wed Aug 01, 2018 9:04 am

Heads up:

Inyo NF 7/31:
There is an emergency trail closure for the Fern Lake and Beck Lake Trails on the Inyo National Forest and emergency trail closures and a Forest Order to close the area on the Sierra National Forest (west of the North Fork of the San Joaquin River, north of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River and South of Iron Creek)
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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 advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by RGTPSB » Wed Aug 01, 2018 9:16 am

Thank you. I'm still optimistic about the fire and smoke clearing up within a week or two, but trying to explore alternate options, suggestions welcome.

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Re: Trip advice: Sierra High Route section (DP -> TM)

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Aug 01, 2018 7:54 pm

When I did that section, I did a side-trip to Hutchings Creek. You can climb up north of the outlet stream. Good camping at the lower lakes. Good day-hike up to the higher little lakes. To return to the trail, you drop/contour to the north. You could also just day-hike up to the basin. This is a really beautiful basin.

The basin above the Twin Lakes is a good choice. I did that years ago and it is well worth the effort. Very interesting colors for photography- red rocks and green grass. However, mid-August this year there may be much less green grass. I did it early season

Personally I do not think Ireland Lake is worth the effort. It looks more interesting on the map than it is in reality.

Not as impressive as the first two suggestions, but you could also go up to Harriet Lake.

Blue Lakes are very scenic with great views back to the Minarets, so do not short yourself on time here. Definitely camp at Blue Lake.

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