The High Sierra Trail – The Famous Sierra Nevada Traverse
Sequoia National Park, California
I will admit that I had no idea what the High Sierra Trail was until a friend emailed me saying: “I just got permits to hike the High Sierra Trail. Want to go?”
I still didn’t know when I replied, “Yep.”
It’s safe to say that most hikers and backpackers know of the John Muir Trail, a 211 mile trek through the famed Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, arguably the finest mountain scenery in the United States. It passes through the some of the crown jewels of America’s Park system: Yosemite, John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. On the fast-end, the trail can be done in about two weeks or if you take it slow, it’s upwards of three, maybe even four weeks.
Turns out the High Sierra Trail (HST) is like the JMT’s little brother and an incredible alternative. At only 72 miles, it can be completed in under a week (or if you’re completely insane, you can ultrarun it in a day…), but it still features everything the Sierras have to offer; Colossal mountains, jagged peaks and ridges, crystal clear alpine lakes, magnificent lush forests, stunning meadows, towering waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife.
The HST begins at Crescent Meadow in the ‘developed’ area of Sequoia National Park and leads you up the canyon of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River before taking you up and over the Great Western Divide at Kaweah Gap (10,700′). It then descends into Big Arroyo, climbs back up the Chagoopa Plateau, descends into Kern Canyon and after running up nine miles of the bottom of the canyon, it turns east to meet up with the John Muir Trail (and Pacific Crest Trail), 49 miles in from Crescent Meadow. Finally, it follows the John Muir Trail for another 13 miles before culminating on the summit of Mount Whitney (the highest point in the contiguous U.S.) and ending at Whitney Portal on the far east side of the range.
Up until this point, the longest backpacking trip I had done was the 33-ish miles Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park. That was supposed to be five days, four nights, but we even bailed on that a day early due waking up to some unforecasted snow and being miserably cold. But that was the beauty of that trail – there were bailout points if needed or wanted. Other than that, most of my backpacking trips these days are quick overnights on a solo mission with my pup – Find a pretty lake relatively close to home, hike in, take sunset pictures, sleep a bit, take sunrise pictures, hike out, have a hot shower, and head to happy hour. And I really like those quick overnighters.
So needles to say, I was a bit apprehensive in planning a fully self-supported eight day, seven night trip. I wasn’t worried about the physical hiking aspect, but the mental side of the trip – I was nervous I’d just be over it and ready to go home to a hot shower and soft bed.
During the course of the week, I definitely had a few very brief moments of wanting to get back to civilization, but nothing like I had felt on that one miserable, snowy morning along the Teton Crest Trail. Had the weather been anything less than absolutely perfection, maybe I would have felt differently, but overall, there was never a moment of “holy hell, get me the hell out of here!”
It was definitely one of the harder things I’ve done, both physically and mentally, but watching sunrise atop of Mt. Whitney after a week of hiking through pristine wilderness gave me one of the greatest senses of accomplishment I’ve ever experienced. Now I can’t wait for next year’s week-long trip…
General Information & Planning:
- The History of the High Sierra Trail
- Planning for the High Sierra Trail
- Packing List & Tips
- Photography Spots & Tips
- Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw
- Day 2: Bearpaw to Hamilton Lake
- Day 3 (Part 1): Hamilton Lake to Kaweah Gap
- Day 3 (Part 2): Kaweah Gap to Moraine Lake
- Day 4: Moraine Lake to Junction Meadow
- Day 5: Junction Meadow to Crabtree Ranger Station
- Day 6: Crabtree Ranger Station to Guitar Lake
- Mt Whitney: The Tallest Peak in the Lower US
- Day 7: Guitar Lake, up Mount Whitney, and out to Whitney Portal