Sky-high trekking: taking on California’s High Sierra Trail | Walking holidays


As quickly as we set foot on California’s High Sierra Trail, the clamour of the world fell away, changed by the rhythm of our footsteps, the chatter of forest birds and a sense of stillness. Per week of marvel lay forward. It was euphoria of the purest variety.

We would comply with the metre-wide path from the sweetness spot of Crescent Meadow in Sequoia nationwide park to the opposite aspect of the Sierra Nevada, land of the gold rush, the glacier-sculpted granite dome and the enormous tree – a spot “father of the nationwide parks” John Muir described as “probably the most divinely lovely of all of the mountain chains”. It had been pulling on my creativeness for a very long time.

California map

The High Sierra Trail follows an arduous, unbelievable and unfailingly spectacular route throughout the nationwide park within the southern Sierra Nevada. This being an assiduously preserved “wilderness”, there isn’t any cellphone sign, no choices for resupply, no escape route besides again the best way you got here. All meals, shelter and gear should be carried with you. The payoff is the chance to expertise this panorama – with its golden eagles, black bears, mountain lions, glacial lakes, scorching springs, sprawling pine forests and bountiful flora – on its personal phrases. Between late May and late September solely 40 permits a day are issued for the path. (Outside of those occasions, a allow continues to be required, although the quota system shouldn’t be in place.)

Setting off from Crescent Meadow, with the mountains of the Great Western Divide in the distance, High Sierra Trail , Sierra Nevada
Setting off from Crescent Meadow, with the mountains of the Great Western Divide within the distance

The path begins close to what’s claimed to be the world’s greatest tree, General Sherman, two hours’ drive east of Fresno, and ends at Mount Whitney, the very best mountain within the contiguous United States. It may be seen as a counterpart to the extra well-known John Muir Trail however that calls for an annual leave-hungry three weeks or extra. The High Sierra Trail isn’t any much less spectacular however takes six to 10 days. I persuaded two buddies, Jamie and Chris, to affix me, and after months of planning, days of journey and hours of painstaking packing, we have been lastly right here.

At first we have been strolling within the shadow of neck-craning lodgepole pines and big sequoias however the path shortly opened out to disclose the serrated peaks of the Great Western Divide within the distance. Chipmunks rapidly deserted their half-eaten pinecones as we approached. The occasional hen name and the white noise of waterfalls solely accentuated the silence.

Resting and soaking up sublime mountain scenery beside the largest of Hamilton Lakes, High Sierra Trail , Sierra Nevada
Resting beside the biggest of Hamilton Lakes

We spent that evening among the many tall pines of Bearpaw Meadows, the primary of a sequence of minimal, nearly invisible campsites we’d use. The subsequent morning I used to be utilizing a standpipe near our tents once I heard a loud rustling. I seemed up, toothbrush in mouth, to see a black bear and her two cubs nosing via some lengthy grass. There’s a wholesome inhabitants of black bears within the Sierra Nevada and so they solely grow to be aggressive if accustomed to human meals, however for a Yorkshireman accustomed to nothing extra threatening than an otter, it was fairly a sight.

The subsequent day’s strolling was fairly brief (5 miles), which gave us hours to spend on the shores of the biggest of the Hamilton Lakes, a slice of heaven on earth ignored by a towering granite formation often known as Angel Wings. After pitching our tents, we swam out into the blue-green coronary heart of the lake amid a superbly sculpted amphitheatre of mountains. As the afternoon was night, the pale peaks and domes soaked up the colors of the setting solar: vivid yellow, fiery orange and, lastly, a lingering band of ember-red alpenglow.

Sunset as seen from Bearpaw Meadow camp, High Sierra Trail , Sierra Nevada
Sunset, as seen from Bearpaw Meadow camp

Among the handful of different folks tenting close by was seventysomething Bob from Arizona, who recounted assembly a saucer-eyed European that morning. “He’d simply seen some bears, however he seemed like he’d seen a ghost,” he chuckled.

I realised I had spoken to him briefly when he put his head out of his tent. “That was me,” I mentioned.

“Oh yeah!” he laughed.

A former park volunteer, Bob was used to assembly bears. But he advised us a cautionary story a few lone male hiker who had a run-in with a mountain lion a few days in the past on the stretch of path we had simply walked. “It was coming straight in direction of him. He needed to throw rocks and get fairly imply to scare it off.”

Starting up the big climb to Kaweah Gap, High Sierra Trail , Sierra Nevada
Starting the climb to Kaweah Gap

Although the Sierra Trail runs via excessive, wild nation – therefore these shut encounters with wildlife – additionally it is a feat of human engineering. Started in 1928, it was the primary Sierra path designed solely for recreation, and its builders tackled sheer cliff faces, excessive mountain passes and avalanche chutes to assemble a path that racks up round 4,200 metres of elevation achieve over its 72-mile size.

In different phrases, it’s difficult. The subsequent morning we acquired up early to beat the warmth for the lengthy climb over the Great Western Divide via Kaweah Gap. Under the ice-striped north wall of Eagle Scout Peak, we stopped for a swim within the turquoise (and electrifyingly chilly) waters of Precipice Lake, then descended into the expansive Big Arroyo valley, the form of place you count on to see an eyepatch-wearing John Wayne driving out from the timber. We pushed on, maybe unwisely, via the warmth of the afternoon to Moraine Lake, arriving to see sunset-coloured mountains mirrored completely within the flawless floor of the water. It was a tough day, and blisters, warmth and heavy packs have been taking their toll on morale, however the uplifting peace and wonder encapsulated what I had been drawn to on this panorama.

The expansive valley of the Big Arroyo river, High Sierra Trail , Sierra Nevada
Big Arroyo valley

The subsequent day, in oven-like temperatures, the recent springs of Kern Canyon have been novel however redundant. We stopped as an alternative at each mercifully chilly stream. Even in late summer season, in a 12 months when drought and wildfires blighted California, water by no means gave the impression to be missing.

We camped that evening amid the pine groves of Junction Meadow and acquired up early for an additional lengthy climb, unshouldering our packs on the shores of Guitar Lake (our dwelling for the evening) at 3,500 metres, round noon. With tomorrow’s problem, Mount Whitney, looming one other 900 metres above us, we whiled away the afternoon chatting with fellow hikers, shielding our meals from fearless marmots and being reprimanded by a dry-humoured ranger – additionally referred to as Bob – for tenting too near the lake.

Squalls of rain blew via within the evening however we crawled out of our tents at 3am to clear skies. The sky was so densely crowded with stars we couldn’t recognise constellations, simply the bridge of sunshine that was the Milky Way vaulting above the jagged black outlines of the mountains. I felt a elegant shiver.

The High Sierra as seen from near the summit of Mount Whitney, High Sierra Trail , Sierra Nevada
The High Sierra, as seen from close to the summit of Mount Whitney

Several hours of headtorch-lit switchback climbing later, I stood on the summit of Mount Whitney, not lengthy after the primary rays of daylight had struck it. I seemed east, down into the arid Owens valley, the place there have been cities and roads, indicators of the civilisation we had seen and heard nothing of for nearly every week. I knew that by the top of the day, after the spectacular however exhausting descent to Whitney Portal, there could be cellular sign, cheeseburgers, beer, showers and sleep. But then I seemed west, the place the High Sierra was unfold out like a map, and picked out the exceptional route we had walked. I used to be unhappy it was coming to an finish: it had been a kind of experiences which brings life to life.

The High Sierra Trail takes between 5 and ten days to finish – every week is about common. It ought to solely be tried by folks with a good degree of health and expertise of backpacking in distant nation. Zebulon Wallace’s e book, Plan & Go: High Sierra Trail (Sandiburg Press, £9.95), is a complete information. A allow system operates on the path. Three-quarters of the obtainable each day permits may be reserved from 1 March annually at; the remaining are issued on a first-come-first-served foundation. Early reserving is beneficial

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