I wouldn’t say I had too many surprises this summer on the Sierra High Route (SHR). I was fairly lucky with weather, I had warm gear, almost enough food, and navigation worked out well. I only had two death-defying falls. One thing stands out about this hike and that thing is exceptional amounts of talus. Now that I think about it, talus caused both of my falls (1, 2).
Talus, Talus, Talus
So much talus. Talus fields. More talus than you can shake a stick at. Talus coming out your ears. Talus rainbows. Talus, talus, talus.
What is talus?
ta·lus: a sloping mass of rock fragments at the foot of a cliff.
Pics of SHR talus will give you the idea:
Talus is tricky. Over time, as one hikes over miles and miles of talus field, one might become a TALUS MASTER. One will know in their bones what Steve Roper means by “stable” and “unstable” talus, and the scale of talus will broaden from small to large, to small to gigantic. Some is very grippy and some very slippery. Some is rounded and fairly friendly and some is knife-blade sharp.
Yet talus can break a person. Don’t count on big miles over talus fields. Don’t count on big miles on this route at all. But a talus field will slow a hiker to a crawl, 0.5-1mph, think even slower if there is exposure, wind, or rain, ice and snow. It is a knee-breaker. An ankle-breaker. I got blisters where I’d never had them before.
And don’t be surprised if talus makes you fall.
Perhaps for the reason of talus alone, I recommend hikers consider wearing hiking boots for this route. As a die-hard trail runner fan, I utter this advice through clenched teeth. But talking with hikers who have done this route, I get nods of agreement. Wear boots.
Given the risks that talus present, I would wear some lightweight hiking boots if I did this route again, hopefully as light-feeling as a shoe but with something to wrap around my ankles. (Which ones?!) I lost way too much skin off my ankles on this trip, and destroyed several pairs of socks. And shoes. This trail chewed through a pair of shoes in 200 miles that normally last me 500 miles. The toe box ended up completely ripped open, most the grip was gone, and the padding around my ankles ended up gored.
That’s it! Boots! Except one thing… the other dictionary definition of talus?
ta·lus: the large bone in the ankle that articulates with the tibia of the leg and the calcaneum and navicular bone of the foot.
This is a conspiracy.