The Sierra High Route is a 195-mile long route charted through the backcountry — and along some existing trails — of the High Sierra Nevada. It was devised by noted Sierra climber and historian Steve Roper, and originally, discreetly, published in book form in 1982. I first learned about it in 2013 during my thru-hike when the wonderfully thought-full hiker “Manchurian.” Manchurian hiked a section of the Sierra High Route between Reds Meadow and Tuolumne, I’m not sure how much of it he conquered but I remember him telling me it wasn’t too hard, and that the only sign of humanity he found out there was a deflated helium balloon.
When the Pacific Crest Trail and it’s burgeoning “culture” totally disenfranchised me earlier this year, I made a rather knee-jerk decision to ditch the PCT and instead tackle that remote and “not too hard” Sierra High Route.
The only thing I might have changed about how I tackled it might be to have started at Cedar Grove (the Southern Terminus) when I had a chance. It would have involved some tricky hitchhiking from Fresno out the narrow and winding highway 180 to its very end, or perhaps a ride from an acquaintance, but that just didn’t happen. What happened is I still north bounded it, but in a top-down fashion. That broke the trail up into chunks such that at the end of each chunk, I ended up in a place I had already been, was familiar with. It also disjointed time and space, and broke up my thoughts about the trail and its process into… chunks.
And because when a HUGE lightning fire broke out near Cedar Grove on July 31st, my chances of hiking the last chunk, the southernmost 30 miles, faded further into the smoke each day, until the trailhead area was officially closed for the season, and snow hit the Sierra twice in early October. I hate giving excuses for not being able to finish things, but there you go: an excuse.
It’s not over ’til I say it’s over
June 13-15th: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes
July 15-19th: Reds Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows
July 24-27th: Piute Pass to Reds Meadow
August 16-20th: Taboose Pass to Piute Pass
October 18-22nd: Kearsarge Pass to Taboose Pass
Total trail miles: ~160 of 195 (Roper’s main suggested route almost completed)
Total miles hiked (access trails included): Approximately 178
With the Cedar Grove area still officially closed and a fire burning less than 2 miles from the Copper Creek (SHR) trail but wanting to hike something ridiculous and epic for my 28th birthday, I set out on a hike “around” Mount Williamson (14,380ft). While up there I figured I’d also bag Mount Tyndall (14,025ft). That trip is what this blog post is about. That ~30 mile trip completed My Sierra High Route hike (differentiated from “A Sierra High Route hike”), and would definitely make Steve Roper proud.
Sierra High Route Part 1?
September 25-28th: Shepherd Pass to Tyndall to Williamson down Bairs Creek
The Sierra High Route gave me quiet times and tough times, and it gave me a lot of insight into hiking and backpacking culture, and how it evolves, but it was my own re-route of the Sierra High Route that gave me the biggest reward. Adventure isn’t picking out someone else’s route and hiking it according to their GPS routes and descriptions and itineraries and advice. That’s a venture. Adventure is pulling out your maps and connecting the dots yourself (or maybe even taking a wrong turn despite yourself, or maybe even taking a wrong turn on purpose). And sharing those dots with other people is setting them down your path and preparing that path for eventual spoil — as eventually, your path will become popular if it is special. As a man named Jim said to me on top of Mount Williamson,
Smart surfers don’t share their secret surf spots.
Especially in the day of social media, it is perhaps important for us to hold these sacred cards closer to our chests. Yes, we want to encourage other people to break out — get outside — however, we really have no idea who we are sharing with, and not all people understand LNT (Leave no Trace). So few people get out to the woods and spend any time there that… so few people know how to act in the woods. And yet everyone wants a “really epic” photograph on their social media profile. So, even as just last night I spent time at the bar listening to a man recall his recent night and a day shoeless and in cotton clothes lost and stranded without maps or water or food or overnight gear near the Whitney summit at 14,000 feet, I have so many other similar stories of people who set off on adventures they probably fished out of the social media sea, and sliced into, unprepared. They unwittingly spoiled so many other peoples’ experiences.
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
~Touchstone in As You Like It by William Shakespeare
A lot of mistakes are born of overconfidence, and most dick moves are simply ignorance. We’re not overconfident dicks, right? Cool.
So please, when you see other people’s adventures and are inspired to go out, please use the LNT principles like a checklist before heading out and before returning home. In regards to this blog post, pay special attention to #1 and #7.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Without Further ado
I will show you some epic pictures from my birthday party that I hope will make you want to get outside.
And then I climbed Mt. Tyndall. I recommend not fussing too much about how to get up. Take one of the first two ribs from the ridge on the right (northwest) and follow use trails up!