Planning for the High Sierra Trail
Sequoia National Park, California
Planning for the High Sierra Trail – I would argue that planning to hike the High Sierra Trail was more difficult than the hike itself…
First off, permits are absolutely required for the High Sierra Trail and although they’re said to be easier to obtain than permits for the John Muir Trail, they’re still tough to get and done through a lottery.
Honestly, this part was actually super easy for me since I didn’t actually have any part in obtaining permits at all… I heard it was a real pain in the butt! So since I don’t know anything about this aspect, hit up the Sequoia National Park’s permits page.
(Bear in mind, the permit must be picked up in person at the visitor center so you’ll want to consider that when figuring out your transportation…)
Getting to and from trailheads was easily one of the biggest challenges in hiking the High Sierra Trail. Being a thru-hike, west-to-east, through a mountain range with no roads, does not make life easy. There’s a bunch of different options and combinations, but from what I saw, you can:
- Have Awesome, Local Friends – Having someone drop you off at Crescent Meadow and pick you up at Whitney Portal would be just awesome for you. It’s just probably not awesome for your friend though…
- Drive Two Cars – Other than having awesome, local friends, driving two cars seems to be the most convenient option. The main issue with this is that you need to build in a lot of extra time for the trip because driving from Whitney Portal (exit point) to Crescent Meadow in the park is nearly six hours with no traffic or construction. Depending on where you’re home-point is could really add to these drive times. If you’re not local either, like most of our crew, you’ll be renting cars for a week simply to leave them parked in a parking lot.
- Buses – There are public bus options to get around, particularly Greyhound, but I didn’t dive too far into the specifics. It’s worth a look if the first two options don’t work for you.
- We did use the Sequoia Shuttle from Visalia into the park, which was fantastic. They’ll pick up at certain hotels in Visalia and get you into the park for $15 (reservations required). Even if you have two cars, I’d recommend leaving a car in Visalia anyway instead of having to drive all the way back into the park to get your car – it’s a looooong drive back up to Crescent Meadow.
- Hitchhike – Not my style. Good luck.
We had a lot of moving parts with our crew, but essentially:
- Beginning – We dropped one car (mine) at Whitney Portal, drove a second car down to Mojave (about 2 hours south and on the Greyhound route) and dropped it there, we got picked up by the other part of our group in a rental car coming from LA, drove all the way to the Lodgepole Visitor Center to pick up our permit and drove back to Visalia before getting rid of the rental car. All in, I think I was in a car for nearly 11 hours the day before we got on trail. (Construction closures in the park did not help.)
- Hike – We took the Sequoia Shuttle from Visalia to Giant Forest in the park (again, reservations required) before hopping the final in-park shuttle from Giant Forest to Crescent Meadow.
- *Hike for a week….*
- End – My car was at Whitney Portal so we piled in and I got everyone down to Lone Pine where we stayed at some hostel (not too bad!!) for the night. I then went north to Yosemite while the rest of the crew hopped a Greyhound to Mojave. Some hopped off in Mojave and grabbed the second car to head for Vegas; The others continued on the bus to Los Angeles for flights out of LAX.
From everything I read and researched, life’s just easier for this if you live in the Bay Area and have 2 cars…
Whitney Portal & Car Break-ins…
Note that if you’re leaving a car at Whitney Portal, there is apparently some concern of break-ins… by bears. According to everyone I talked to “theft” is not an issue, but bears have been known to destroy cars to get at food. DO NOT leave anything in your car that has any sort of scent (including something as small as chapstick) or bears might go through your windshield or rip a door off trying to get it. This also includes not leaving anything in a hard trunk.
I was advised to:
- Not to leave a clean/empty cooler because there’s still a scent to it.
- Not to leave a clean propane stove because that also will still have a scent. (Mine was brand-new and only used twice for foil-wrapped burritos so I risked it…)
- Not to leave a clean/empty water bottle because that visually represents potential food
- And to not even leave one of those blue 8-gallon water jugs because it’s too visually similar to a cooler which means food.
This might be overly dramatic, but this was also something I was absolutely not going to mess around with. My car was so clean, it looked like it just came off the lot. I can’t imagine coming off trail after a week to find a totaled car because a bear thought my chapstick was a meal…
If you have to leave food or scented items at Whitney Portal, there were a bunch of bear lockers all around the parking lots. Just label anything with your name and expected return date and store it inside the lockers.
The nice thing about my High Sierra trip is that the person who grabbed the permits also did a lot of research as to where to camp and how to break up the trip. (I’ll get more into the camp site specifics later.) No matter what though, there were a ton of sites, many of which included bear lockers and pit toilets.
I found that whether I’m heading out for one night or seven nights, with the exception of food, I bring the same crap regardless. I wish I was one of those people that could go ultralight by cowboy camping and not lugging around legit camera gear, but that’s just not my style. Mentally, I need my luxuries…
Personally, I had three huge points of stress for packing:
- Food – I needed eight-days-worth of food while making sure not to overpack (extra weight) or underpack (no energy). I’m 5’11”, 160lbs and I ended up settling for 3,000 calories/day which included freeze dried meals for both breakfast and dinner, a trailmix that is just simply terrible for me (but high in calories), and a lot of bars, gels, and nut butter. Looking back, 3,000 calories was pretty perfect for me. I ate a little less a couple of days, but then a little more on the harder ones. I dropped some L-B’s on trail, but I was never overly hungry.
- Camera Gear – Or more precisely, how will I make sure I have enough juice and storage, especially if I find I want to run some timelapses. I had a Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel and Venture 30 Power Pack and luckily absolutely pristine weather to keep a decent charge. If we had clouds, I’m not sure if I would have been able to last the whole week
- Weight – Both food and camera gear is heavy and when initially all put together, my pack was just south of 60lbs. Before hitting trail, I was able to get that down to 53lbs, which I felt was more respectable given that I had 10lbs of camera gear alone on top of eight days worth of food. In the end, it worked out, but I was still incredibly nervous. Even getting off-trail, my pack was still 45lbs!
Looking back though, I used everything that I brought with me and I still don’t see what I could have shed. I did end up having some extra food, but that was a given since we got off trail a day early. I also did not use an ace bandage or a patch kit, but I would argue that was a good thing.
Click here for my full packing and food list.