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A High Sierra Trail itinerary

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A High Sierra Trail itinerary

Postby simonov » Sat Aug 15, 2009 12:48 am

There is surprisingly little written up on SP about trans-Sierra traverse via the High Sierra Trail. This is something I have wanted to do for decades (I did about a third of it in 1976), and I am working on an itinerary maybe for next summer.

Would anyone care to comment on the following proposal?


Day 1
Crescent Meadow to Log Meadow : 0.6
Log Meadow to Panther Creek : 2.1
Panther Creek to Seven Mile Hill Trail : 3.1
Seven Mile Hill Trail to Bearpaw Meadow : 5.5
11.3 miles for the day

Day 2
Bearpaw Meadow to Lone Pine Creek : 1.6
Lone Pine Creek to Big Hamilton Lake : 3.6
5.2 miles for the day

Day 3
Big Hamilton Lake to Kaweah Gap : 2.4
Kaweah Gap to Big Arroyo Junction : 3.4
5.8 miles for the day

Day 4
Big Arroyo Junction to Chagoopa Plateau : 4.6
Chagoopa Plateau to Moraine Lake : 3.4
8 miles for the day

Day 5
Moraine Lake to Sky Parlor Meadow : 0.6
Sky Parlor Meadow to Upper Funston Meadow : 3.8
Upper Funston Meadow to Junction Meadow : 9.3
13.7 miles for the day

Day 6
Junction Meadow to Kern Point Junction : 1.2
Kern Point Junction to Wallace Creek Junction : 3.1
4.3 miles for the day

Day 7
Wallace Creek Junction to John Muir Trail : 3.4
John Muir Trail to Crabtree Ranger Station : 0.8
Crabtree Ranger Station to Guitar Lake : 3.5
7.7 miles for the day

Day 8
Acclimatization Day

Day 9
Guitar Lake to Whitney Spur Trail : 3
Whitney Spur Trail to Mt Whitney Summit : 1.9
Mt Whitney Summit to Trail Camp : 4.2
9.1 miles for the day

Day 10
Trail Camp to Whitney Portal : 6.5 miles for the day

Generally, I don't like to hike more than about ten miles per day, so Day 5 looks a little ambitious. On the other hand, it's a net elevation loss that day. I saw something called Kern Hot Springs on the map along Day 5's route, stopping at which would slow us down, but which might also make an interesting camp site. Does anyone know about that?

I hope I don't seem rude if I don't respond immediately to any suggestions or questions. I will be gone for about five days in the Cottonwood Lakes area.

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Postby KathyW » Sat Aug 15, 2009 3:12 am

If you're looking for short easy days, you might find Day 1 to be a tough day.
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Postby SpiderSavage » Sat Aug 15, 2009 4:48 am

Redneck, You've proposed a pretty standard route. I just did this trail last week and had a really great time. I did it in 9 days and enjoyed lots of time to goof off. Here are some tips:

1. On the first day you don't have to go all the way to Bearpaw. It's a really nice place but your pack is the heaviest on that day. There are good campsites at Mehren (?) Creek [6 mi], 9-Mile Creek. Also at Lone Pine Creek [10 mi] but not as nice. Feel free to poop out early at any of these. We did the first one.

2. Hamilton Lakes great place to camp. Vallhalla/Angel Wings, spectacular. Decent fishing in the lake and creek.

3. Instead of going to Big Arroyo Junction we enjoyed a short day and stayed in the 9 lakes basin. Great fishing in the first lake and the creek. Went to Moraine for a ten mile day on the 4th day.

4. Your long day from Moraine to Junction meadow is not nearly as fun as going short and hanging at the Kern Hot Springs for half a day. It's a great campground. The hot spring is clean with no sulpher and exactly 104 degrees. Perfect! Plenty of fish in the river here but hard to catch the big ones. They are smart.

5. Stayed at Junction Meadow, then to Crabtree. This was good. There are also campsites at the trail junctions in between. At the first junction past Junction Meadow, you keep going up the Kern a few hundred feet and there's a good one.

6. Unless you have a real problem with altitude, there is no reason to hang for a day at Guitar Lake. We hung out there for a couple hours and them camped at trail crest [13,5000]. Bagged Whitney in the morning and then out to the Portal by about 3:00. Sleeping at Trail Crest was very cold and I had to keep waking up and breathing heavy to keep the headache away. I'd suggest spending that extra day down low and hit the hot spring.

If you do this trail cold, with no previous work-outs it could be hard. We saw several turn back. People in my party who missed the previous work-outs did not have as much fun as those who did. Prepare with good hard weekend backpacks in advance of the trip and you'll have a better time.

The trail was better than I had imagined and there were few mosquitos last week.
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Postby KathyW » Sat Aug 15, 2009 8:40 pm

The first day is rolling, so you can't subtract the beginning elevation gain from the ending elevation to get the total gain.

What's hard for one person is easy for another, so it's really tough to give an opinion on someone else's itinerary.

If it's 72 miles, then you might want to look at shrinking it down to 7 days or an average of 10 miles a day. That way you'd be close to the 10 miles a day you're comfortable with and have less weight to carry.

When you get to Trail Camp on that last day, the burgers at McDonalds in Lone Pine will be calling; so you might find you'd rather just keep going all the way to out.
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Postby simonov » Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:41 pm

Thanks a lot Spider and Kathy, this is useful information.

I hiked from Giant Forest to Mineral King in 1976, and then went out to Hamilton Lakes and back in 1986, so I know that part of the hike well. On both trips we didn't make it to Bearpaw Meadow the first day, in '76 because we started late, and in '86 because I probably wasn't in the best shape and didn't anticipate what a haul it would be. At 47 (48 next year), I'm actually in better hiking trim these days. Who knew?

I was under the impression we could only camp at established trail camps, and so felt bad about stopping short on the first day, but I am getting the impression you can camp anywhere you want. Is that true?

The Kern Hot Springs sounds like a good place to stop for a night. I was thinking about cutting east from there and taking Rock Creek straight up from the Kern River and then exiting via one of the Army Passes (and maybe cutting a day or two from the itinerary), but looking more closely at the map I see that's probably impassable due to steep cliffs.

My partner and I are worried about the ten day itinerary. It just seems like we'll need to carry a lot of food, and are not sure how we will achieve it. Doing ten miles a day is probably doable, except we would really like to spend a night at Hamilton Lakes, and in any case I think there should be at least one rest day in there somewhere.

We are now reconsidering an exit via the Portal, and are thinking about going out via Cottonwood Lakes in any case. For one thing, the passes are lower, and for another we wouldn't have to worry about getting a permit for the Whitney Zone.

I'm not at all an ultralight backpacker, but maybe I need to get a book or something and see if I can get a few tips.
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Postby labgloves » Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:02 pm

The most (if not all) of the Creeks that Spider mentioned have established campsites. (Bearbox and all)

Sometimes there are very few spots (i.e. 1 or 2) some have more.

But, it is my understanding that you can camp in any appropriate location.
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Postby simonov » Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:05 pm

labgloves wrote:The most (if not all) of the Creeks that Spider mentioned have established campsites. (Bearbox and all)


Holy cow, would this mean we could hike the entire route without having to carry bear canisters? That would really help with the weight and volume issues.
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Postby labgloves » Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:11 pm

^ Not sure on that. I was last there in May on a Kaweah range trip and only took the HST trail to the gap.

There were boxes at the campsites between Crescent meadows and Bearpaw, at Bearpaw, and at Hamilton. But, that is as far as my knowledges extends.
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Postby econoline » Fri Aug 21, 2009 8:20 pm

This thread actually made me join SP. I've been lurking for a couple weeks and now actually have something to contribute.

I hiked the HST during the last week of this past July. My buddy and I did it 6 days ending at Whitney Portal. Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow
Day 2: Bearpaw Meadow to Big Arroyo Junction
Day 3: Big Arroyo Junction to Kern Hot Springs
Day 4: Kern Hot Springs to JMT/HST Junction at Wallace Creek
Day 5: JMT/HST Junction to Guitar Lake
Day 6: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal

We actually didn't camp exactly at Guitar Lake. There is a tarn just above Guitar Lake with only spots for few tents. I suggest staying there if you don't arrive to late and there is still room. Its less crowded and its gives you a little extra head start in the morning. Furthermore, I don't think an acclimatization day is really needed as said before. With camping at Crabtree and Guitar you'll have 2 days over 10,000 which should be OK unless you really have trouble adjusting.

We did the whole trip without bear canisters by using the bear boxes at each of the campsites. However, Guitar lake is the only spot without a bear box. I was more worried about the marmots than any bears. We just put our noisy cooksets on top of our food to act as an alarm. Luckly we got through the night without incident.

You said you were worried about securing a permit for the Whitney Zone. I'd recommend just hiking out from the summit. Its a long day but you'll be wanting to get away from the hordes of people at trail camp and get those burgers and beers at the Portal. Just get an early start (we got up to the summit for the sunrise) and then had all day to get down.

Here's a detailed trail breakdown (not done by me). I actually printed this and took it with us. It was extremely helpful.

If you got anymore questions, just ask and I'll try to answer. Good luck!
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Postby brandon » Fri Aug 21, 2009 9:04 pm

redneck wrote: It just seems like we'll need to carry a lot of food, and are not sure how we will achieve it. Doing ten miles a day is probably doable.... I'm not at all an ultralight backpacker.....


Going lighter is a matter of mindset. Get rid of all the things you don't use every day.

Going farther each day, well that lets you have options to stop and chill whenever you want. An hour or two in the morning, then breakfast, a few hours more, then a long stop for lunch, several hours in the afternoon and then stop where looks good camp and fish or whatever you like to do in the evening.

Have fun on your trip. Don't miss out on Whitney. Try to head up in the night, and head down towrads the portal at dawn. You'll miss the heat and crowds this way.
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Postby zcando » Sat Aug 22, 2009 5:54 am

When I did the HST 10 years ago my intinerary was almost identical to Econoline's. I found it to be pretty manageable.
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Postby simonov » Sun Aug 23, 2009 7:35 pm

Thanks, econoline, that was very helpful, especially the link to Kurt Schenk's site.

So right now, my itinerary is shaping up to be maybe something like this:

Day 1 Crescent Meadow to Nine Mile Creek 9.4 miles
Day 2 Nine Mile Creek to Hamilton Lake 7.3 miles
Day 3 Hamilton Lake to Moraine Lake 14.3 miles
Day 4 Moraine Lake to Kern Hot Springs 7.5 miles
Day 5 Kern Hot Springs to JMT/HST Junction 12.1 miles
Day 6 JMT/HST Junction to Guitar Lake 6.6 miles
Day 7 Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal 15.9 miles

I consider Days 2, 4 and 6 to be partial rest days, with Day 3 being the only real question mark, given the 3,500 foot elevation gain and long distance. But I am trying to stop only where there's a bear box so we don't have to bring bear canisters.

The Whitney Zone thing is still bothering me. Are you guys suggesting to simply not bother with a Whitney permit? How do you get away with spending a night at Guitar Lake in that case?

I checked the moon charts and it looks like the best time to do this will be the last week of August 2010.
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Postby econoline » Sun Aug 23, 2009 9:38 pm

Guitar Lake is not within the Whitney Zone. And as long as you have Whitney portal as your exit on your SEKI permit than it'll be honored in the Whitney Zone. You only have to have a "Whitney Zone" permit if you start at the portal or intend to camp in the zone its self. That's my understanding at least. Here's a map of the Whitney Zone.

Your day from Hamilton to Moraine Lake could be tough. Obviously there is the climb up to Kaweah Gap but you also have the climb from Big Arroyo Junction to the top of Chagoopa Plateau. The good news is, besides those climbs, it'll be a gentle downhill or level hiking. It'll also be a very scenic day.
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Postby simonov » Fri May 28, 2010 11:53 pm

Been fighting with my hiking partner over the final itinerary. She wants to spend more time out there, I don't want to run out of food. Here is a compromise plan:

Day 1 : 21-Aug-10 : Crescent Meadow to Nine Mile Creek - 9.4 miles
Day 2 : 22-Aug-10 : Nine Mile Creek to Hamilton Lake - 7.3 miles
Day 3 : 23-Aug-10 : Hamilton Lake to Moraine Lake - 14.3 miles
Day 4 : 24-Aug-10 : Rest day
Day 5 : 25-Aug-10 : Moraine Lake to Kern Hot Springs - 7.5 miles
Day 6 : 26-Aug-10 : Kern Hot Springs to JMT/HST Junction - 12.1 miles
Day 7 : 27-Aug-10 : JMT/HST Junction to Guitar Lake - 6.6 miles
Day 8 : 28-Aug-10 : Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal - 15.9 miles

After a night in Lone Pine upon our return, we will need a ride back to Orange County. What do you think the odds are of finding someone on the Whitney Trail on Saturday who might be willing to do this? Or should we make arrangements ahead of time?

Also, we really don't want to carry bear canisters. Can we be pretty sure there will be bear boxes at these locations, or do the rangers move them around (as I have heard)?
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Postby Day Hiker » Sat May 29, 2010 12:19 am

Don't know if this helps much, since you probably already found the same page: http://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/bear_box.htm
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