High Sierra Trail
The High Sierra Trail is a trekking trail in Sequoia National Park, California, United States. The path traverses the Sierra Nevada from west to east. The High Sierra Trail turns from Crescent Meadow up the canyon of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, crossing the Great Western Divide by the 10,700′ (3261 meters) pass called Kaweah Gap. It descends into Big Arroyo, then goes up to the Chagoopa Plateau, and then descends once more into the Kern River Canyon.
After going down to the base of the Kern Canyon, it turns east, hiking parallel to Wallace Creek, to the junction with the John Muir Trail, 49 miles (79 km) from the kick-off point. After that, you can stick to the John Muir Trail about 13 more miles (21 km) to reach the peak of Mount Whitney.
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How to Go:
Prepare to stay on this trail for about 10 days, and factor in a couple extra if you really want to enjoy it.
Day 1 – to Bearpaw Meadow (18.2 km)
Begin Day 1 in Bearpaw Meadow. The path departs from Crescent Meadow on the southeast side of the Giant Forest.
For the initial half-mile, the path goes through a shady, well-watered area enclosed by heavy forests of white and red fir, sugar pines, and random huge sequoias. The path after that comes forth to a warm, south-facing hillside at Eagle View. From this point on, you will find the way to Moro Rock to the west, right down to the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, and forward to the glaciated mountains of the Great Western Divide.
The nearly-level trek subsequently goes through sections of the area that were scorched by the Buckeye Fire in 1980. Spring-fed channels go across the path in later months, so creek crossings may very well be dangerous at the beginning of summer. Make sure you verify conditions before you get your permit.
Past the junction along the Seven Mile Hill Trail, which links the High Sierra and Alta Trails, the path traverses the vertical inclines and hills of the south area of Alta Meadow and Alta Peak. In 1930, a trail team making use of an air compressor and rock drills worked almost the whole summer season blowing a 1-mile (1.6 km) expanse of trek throughout this region.
Nine mile creek – hikers going for a much more relaxing walk to Mt. Whitney may want to camp out on one of the two forks of Nine Mile Creek (8.8 miles/14.1 km). Right after moving past Nine Mile Creek, the path goes down to Buck Canyon, a magnificent canyon popular for its flooding, avalanches and also rockslides. Once you’ve crossed Buck Creek, the path ascends several 500′ in a bit more than a mile (152 meters in 1.6 km), reaching the Bearpaw Meadow region 11.4 miles (18.2 km) from the trailhead.
Along with camping areas, this is actually the location of the Bearpaw Meadow Camp, a standard tent hotel operated by the park concessionaire (early bookings recommended).
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Day 2 – to Big Arroyo Junction (17.6 km)
East of Bearpaw, you start your climb into the Great Western Divide. Once you’ve moved past several good camping grounds at Lone Pine Creek (13.1 miles/21.0 km from the trailhead), the path becomes a lengthy series of switchbacks, overshadowed by the Angel Wings, a massive granite wall towards the northern part of the trek.
The path traverses Hamilton Creek just across the lower Hamilton Falls and ascends yet another series of switchbacks to Big Hamilton Lake (26.6 km). The well-known camping grounds in this area provide exceptional scenery and reasonable fishing spots for brook, rainbow and also golden trout.
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Outside of Big Hamilton Lake, there is certainly no place to go but up! The ascent starts with several sweeping switchbacks over the hills to the northern part of the lake, just before moving east in the direction of the sheer-walled avalanche chute called Hamilton Gorge. In 1932, Park Service engineers constructed a steel suspension bridge along the Gorge, but during winter of 1937, an enormous avalanche ripped the bridge from its moorings and took its twisted debris right down to the shoreline of Big Hamilton Lake.
You could still view the bridge’s concrete footings and some scrap metal remains, but the trek now runs through the corner and tunnel blasted by the Civilian Conservation Corps the following summer, in 1938.
East of Hamilton Gorge, the path gets into the alpine life area of the Sierras. This spot is somewhat barren for part of the year, as the short rising season, avalanches and the absence of soil make life all but impossible for vegetation besides herbs and low bushes. Precipice Lake, which happens to be situated under the northern wall of Eagle Scout Peak, normally remains frozen, even in mid-summer.
Past the lake, the path goes by several shallow glacial wetlands, to eventually reach Kaweah Gap over the Great Western Divide (20 miles/32 km). Out of this pass at 10,700′ (3261 meters), it is just several hundred or so vertical feet into the open valley of the Big Arroyo. The path goes on a comfortable to moderate descent towards the camping grounds at Big Arroyo Junction (22.5 miles/36 km).
Day 3 to Moraine Lake (8 miles/12.8 km) or Upper Funston Meadow (12 miles/19.2 km)
(To be continued….)
Don’t forget to read our Essential items for camping and Trekking!