OTI's Excellent High Sierra Trail Adventure

7 days following the High Sierra Trail, from July 10-16, 2005. Fellow lightweight trekkers and old friends George, Tod, Jason, Chris and myself. Months of planning by Jason and Tod (thanks guys!) led to the trip finally coming together. We all met at Whitney Portal a day early and took a shuttle over to Sequoia National Park to get started. These are just rough notes with photos, not a proper trip report. (Note to the OTI Crew - Thanks again for inviting me along!)

Also Jas (aka "Chilli Bistro") has put together another trip report as well, with a little extra background and perspective for those of you looking to wander the route (or just escape your cubicle for a few minutes). I'm fond of "The Blair Witch Deer" photo myself. :-) Thanks Jas!

Day 0

Packing up at Whitney Portal and getting ready to take the shuttle around to Sequoia National Park to start our trip.

Day 1

Outside the Wuksachi Lodge waiting for our ride to Crescent Meadow and the trailhead. We stayed at the lodge the previous night, great dinner and the breakfast buffet was a perfect way to kick off the trip.

All ready to step off at the start of the High Sierra Trail.

Lots of incredible trees in Sequoia National Park. This was the last one along the HST before we left the land of huge trees. Really, you've got to take some time and stroll among the old-growth Sequoias if you ever can. It had been nearly 20 years since my backcountry visit here, far too long.

How do I spell relief? A full week ahead with great friends; without email, cellphones or deadlines; less than 30 lbs on my back, and leaning against an old Sequoia.

Our first clear view of the High Sierras from the Sequoia Nat'l Park side. The great Sequoias were stately but nothing can compete with the sheer scale of the High Sierras.

Trailside flowers were everywhere, I only took a few photos but I could've gone nuts with the macro setting on my digital camera. It was tough keeping myself under control. Hard to keep moving when all you want to do is stop and look around.

A great spot for lunch at the first campsite on the trail. We didn't stay here but I'd consider it next time. Great views across the canyon too.

A nice view of Sugarbowl Dome (I'm pretty sure). But whatever it is, it sure is a beautiful piece of rock.

Day 2

Countless nice spots like this one along the trail. Ferns and granite - not a better mix on the planet. OK, maybe coral reefs and sea turtles, or kelp beds and sea otters. Or Barq's root beer and vanilla bean ice cream. To quote Louis Armstrong, "What a wonderful world...."

The High Sierra Camp at Bearpaw. Talk about dining with a view. George standing by the kitchen patio.

Once again, there's nothing like the bare raw granite of the High Sierras for creating awesome views.

Day 2 we arrive at Hamilton Lake, one of the most scenic lakes I've run across in the Sierras. Well worth the effort. It was rather crowded here, but taking a look at it you can clearly understand why. We met plenty of nice folks, a few of whom had visited this website. Small world in the backcountry. :-)

Jason's bivy setup is cool. He leaves the bivy's poles at home and uses his hiking poles as supports instead.

George's new Lightsabre bivy from Black Diamond. (Thanks for the correction amytys!) It arrived 2 days before our trip, just enough time to get it seam-sealed and ready for the trail. Great piece of gear.

You never run short of marmots (our official mascot) in the High Sierras.

Try as you might, you'll be hard-pressed to find any restaurant with ambience like this. Suddenly chili mac is a 5-star meal.

Day 3

Leaving Hamilton Lakes, we reach the gorge. There used to be a bridge here but avalanches wiped it out and it's now replaced by a short tunnel and routing the trail back through the gorge. If you look closely in the upper left you can see Tod and Chris standing by the pylons of the former bridge.

Yet more nice flowers along the way.

Hamilton Lake from above as we head up toward Precipice Lake and the pass.

There was plenty of snow along the way to Kaweah Gap. Routefinding was a bit tricky, nothing like walking across a snowy stretch and hearing a strong creek running beneath your feet.

Finally we made it to Kaweah Gap. The view here is looking down Big Arroyo Canyon.

Our first tricky water crossing. It was moving much faster than the photo can ever show, hiking poles were a major help. In the faster currents the poles would vibrate like guitar strings. By August it shouldn't be a problem but the heavy snow melt is making July tricky.

Our third camp, this one in Big Arroyo. Chris and I were sharing my Sierra Designs Clip 3 CD (the "backcountry palace" but still only around 2.5 lbs each), Tod was using his 1-person tent (Flashlight? quite nice), and Jas and George went the bivy route for minimalist loads while still offering shelter from the hordes of mosquitos.

Day 4

With break spots like this one I wonder if one could ever get jaded from all the sights the High Sierras have to offer. I don't think so.

Jason taking a dip in Moraine Lake. Unlike Hamilton, Moraine was pleasantly cool for swimming as opposed to turn-your-lips-blue cold. Swarms of electric-blue dragonflies made for a seriously sublime atmosphere. And apparently kept the mosquitos down to about nil - this was about the only stop where we didn't have to worry about them. I could have spent all day here without a second thought.

Sky Parlor Meadow, where two true backcountry deer (as opposed to campsite beggars) went bounding fast and hard across the grass at the sound of our approach.

A nice shot of the Kern Valley as we descend. Sitting on a seismic fault and scraped by glacial action. Add the pure granite and you'd have a little Yosemite.

Another easy section of trail *cough*. Did I mention the heavy snow melt? Yes, that creek is actually the trail.

More easy trail. Well at least we were never bored.

Kern Hot Springs, a must-do destination for the backcountry travel who enjoys the finer things in life. :-) Jas, Chris and George took in what Nature's spa had to offer.

Day 5

The trail along Kern Valley alternated between thickly forested stretches of ferns and much drier stretches of manzanita and pines.

By this point it was beginning to feel more like cross counry trekking.

But hey, without a little spice to keep the hiking interesting, we might have taken the good sections of trail for granted. This log had a severe bounce that only started when you were halfway across it. Good fun. :-)

After a nice lunch and quick swim (short due to mosquito swarms) we left Junction Meadow and eventually got to our decision point - do we go up, or go up? Yeah. We went up.

Yet another mellow water crossing *cough* along the way. The photos just don't show the power of this stuff. Really glad we had our hiking poles.

Just when you thought it was safe to wander your camp... We figure it was the squirrels hoping to bring down a big one and put an end to their vegetarian ways in grand style. "If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings!" Or maybe they were in league with the mosquitos.

More flowers along the trail. I could've taken dozens of shots, there were some great blooms along the way.

Day 6

Our final camp at Crabtree Meadow, with a backcountry throne fit for royalty. Well as long as you're not shy. Later in the day some people set up their tent in direct sight not too far away.

Everything tastes good by Day 6. Well, almost.... (Bagel, mayo and relish - what the Blues Brothers referred to as a "Wish Sandwich".) Chris offered up an extra tuna steak and I had an extra dinner and 2 extra breakfasts, but I'd been eating a lot already. Stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Perhaps the coolest flower I saw along the entire route. Also the stretch from Crabtree Meadow to Guitar Lake was one great sight after another. Almost as if the High Sierras were going out of their way to remind you how much you're going to miss the place.

Day 7

Guitar Lake, our parting view as we start the switchbacks up Whitney's west side.

Summit at last. The official end of the High Sierra Trail. And this time around my camera actually worked! (Unlike my sunset ascent during my John Muir Trail thru-hike - Argh!).

A look back at the terrain we'd come over, including the Great Western Divide. With views like this it was hard to think of getting back to the desk.

The second largest piece of trail trash I've ever packed out, and the largest from the Sierras. Bonus points for carrying it out from the west face of Whitney? :-) All of us collected various bits of debris we'd found along the way (plastic spoon, rope, nylon bags, wrappers, stakes, etc.). George also packed out a few rusty cans and scored even more bonus "trail karma" points when he found a cigarette butt on the Whitney approach.

A nice break heading down to Whitney Portal. And not a mosquito in sight for once.

A grouse clucking emphatically on our way down into the brush and sage of the lower Whitney drainage.

The end of the High Sierra Trail. Well technically that would be the summit of Whitney, but that doesn't do you much good when you're 11 miles from your car. :-) Over 18 miles for the day with a summit of Whitney included, full packs. Dinner at the High Sierra Cafe well-earned! (Great cafe by the way - highly recommended after coming off the trail.)

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