Preliminary Plan

Although comprehensive, this is still just a preliminary plan. Take a look, think it over, and make suggestions for changes. You can use the form below to email me.


August 21 - 30, 2019

Over the past dozen years, I've led small groups on week-long trips to California's Sierra Nevada. In 2017, I led a nine-day, eight-night trip. This trip is just a bit longer, both in time and in distance. But it should have a similar level of spectaculosity.

This dramatic trans-Sierra route follows the historic High Sierra Trail. Work began on the High Sierra Trail in 1928, and it was the first Sierra trail built solely for recreational use. From Crescent Meadow, this trail winds eastward high above the Middle Fork Kaweah River, crossing the Great Western Divide at Kaweah Gap. After dipping into Big Arroyo, it crosses the lightly-visited Chagoopa Plateau, visits lovely Moraine Lake, and descends to the great trench of Kern Canyon. Heading up-canyon, it passes the Sierra's most remote — but nevertheless well-visited — hot spring, Kern Hot Spring. Turning east, it climbs the gentler west side of Mt. Whitney and finally descends the steeper east face, where there are stunning views of vast, quiet Owens Valley. This is the quintessential Sierra crossing. Join us for this amazing trip to the crown jewel of the American wilderness system.

The Drives

Because this trip crosses the Sierra Nevada range, we're going to have to stage our personal vehicles on the east side — our exit point — and somehow make it over to the west side of the range to begin our trek. I think I've got it worked out.

We'll leave Tucson early on Monday, August 19th and make the long eleven hour, 710-mile drive to Bishop, CA, where we'll spend the night in the Motel 6. See the links to the right, and make your reservations early.

On Tuesday, August 20th, we'll get up early and get over to the Enterprise rent-a-car office in Bishop. There we'll pick up a (reserved!) rental vehicle that will hold everyone who's going on the trip, along with all of their gear. We'll drive 90 minutes/70 miles to Whitney Portal with the personal cars and the rental vehicle, and park the personal cars for the duration of the hike. We'll take the rental car back down the mountain and around the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Range to Lodgepole Visitor Center at Sequoia National Park. That's another six-hour drive covering about 300 miles, but Lodgepole is the only place where we can pick up our permits for the next day. Then we'll turn around and drive back to Visalia. We've got to get to the car rental office before they close at 6:00 PM so we can turn our vehicle back in. From there, we'll make our way over to the Wyndham Hotel (reservations!), which is very near the rental car office. It's a tight schedule, but I think we can make it.

On Wednesday, August 21st — this is the day we'll finally start our trek! — we'll get up very early and catch the 6:00 AM Sequoia Shuttle (reservations again!) which will take us from the hotel to the Giant Forest Museum in Sequoia National Park. We should arrive about 8:30 AM. There, we board the gray Route 2 shuttle which will take us to our trailhead at Crescent Meadow. We should be hiking by about 9:00 AM or so.

The Plan

Day 1 - Wednesday, August 21, 2019 - Crescent Meadow to Nine-Mile Creek. From the Crescent Meadow trailhead, the High Sierra Trail (HST from here on) circumvents the meadow on asphalt and begins climbing steadily through a forest of sequoias, sugar pines, and white firs. Soon, you break out into the open above the Middle Fork Kaweah River. Eagle View Overlook is awesome. The trail rises and falls over the first few miles, then climbs steadily to pass Mehrten Creek. The trail levels out here for another two miles until you reach camp at Nine-Mile Creek. There should be a bear box available. (Approx. 8.9 mi / +1900 / - 1000 / -LD / )

Day 2 - Thursday, August 22, 2019 - Nine-Mile Creek to Hamilton Lake. This is another up-and-down sort of day. Even more so than the previous day. We start off by losing a few hundred feet then climbing another five hundred feet before we get to Bearpaw Meadow. The trail slowly drops again, with the high walls that surround Deadman Canyon looming over us on the left. We reach a second low point where the HST crosses Lone Pine Creek on a wooden bridge, then we climb in earnest as we approach our second campsite at Hamilton Lake. Pit toilet. (Approx. 7.4 mi / +2200 / -1550 / BLD / )

Day 3 - Friday, August 23, 2019 - Hamilton Lake to Big Arroyo Jct. After a restful night at Hamilton Lake, we are faced with a daunting 2,400-foot climb up and over Kaweah Gap. The only minor respite we get along that more-than-four-mile climb is a short detour into a very narrow gorge canyon. Originally there was a bridge that used to span the gorge. That bridge was put up in 1930 and was destroyed several years later by an avalanche. Since then, a narrow trail (that includes a tunnel!) was cut into the walls of the gorge. Passing Precipice Lake, we eventually make it up and over Kaweah Gap and head downhill into the broad, beautiful Big Arroyo for our third night. (Approx. 7.9 mi / +2550 / -1300 / BLD / )

Day 4 - Saturday, August 24, 2019 - Big Arroyo Jct to Moraine Lake. Today we'll hike up onto the Chagoopa Plateau, beginning with a 1,000-foot climb in the first three miles. Once we reach the top of the plateau, we can take a break to enjoy the views for a few minutes. The hike down wends through dense stands of lodgepole and foxtail pine, with superlative views down into Big Arroyo and across the arroyo to the drainages of Soda and Lost Canyon creeks. This steadily winding-down trail brings you to the wooded shores of Moraine Lake, where we'll spend the night. (Approx. 7.5 mi / +1250 / -1500 / BLD / )

Day 5 - Sunday, August 25, 2019 - Moraine Lake to Upper Funstun Mdw. After traversing a moraine just east of Moraine Lake, the trail descends, passing an old stockman's cabin before reaching superb Sky Parlor Meadow. Views back across this grassland to the Great Western Divide and the Kaweahs are excellent. Just beyond the ford of Funston Creek, the HST begins the descent to the bottom of the Kern Trench. The final climb down to the valley floor is accomplished via a series of steep, rocky switchbacks generally paralleling the plunging drop of Funston Creek. On the Kern Canyon floor, our route turns south for a short distance to Upper Funston Meadow, where we'll camp for the evening. (Approx. 6.1 mi / +200 / -2700 / BLD / )

An alternate and quite viable option would be to actually go to Kern Hot Springs, two miles to the north. This would increase the distance on Sunday and reduce the distance on Monday. The information I'm able to find indicates the Hot Springs are crowded and disappointing. More discussion is warranted. (Approx. 7.8 mi / +500 / -2700 / BLD / )

Day 6 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - Upper Funstun Mdw to Junction Mdw. We've got a bit of a hike today, with a slow climb up the Kern River Canyon. The trail leads gently upward through a forest of Jeffrey pine and incense-cedar. High on the western rim of the canyon you catch glimpses of Chagoopa Falls, a fury of plunging white water when full. The trail crosses the Kern on a fine bridge and you arrive at the south fork of Rock Creek. Continuing north, you ford the upper fork of Rock Creek and traverse the gravelly canyon floor below the immense granite cliffs of the canyon's east wall. The walls of this deep canyon, from 2000 to 5000 feet high, are spectacular, and a number of streams cascade and fall down these walls. Beyond the ford of Wallace Creek the trail enters a parklike grove of stalwart Jeffrey pines that provide a noble setting for the campsites at Junction Meadow. (Approx. 10.0 mi / +1800 / -500 / BLD / ) or (Approx. 8.1 mi / +1500 / -500 / BLD / )

Day 7 - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - Junction Mdw to Crabtree Mdw. The trail leaves Junction Meadow and ascends steeply on rocky underfooting over a slope covered by manzanita and currant. Views down the Kern Trench improve constantly, as the occasional tree offers a frame for photographers who would like a shot of the great cleft. After a mile you arrive at the junction of the Kern River Trail and the HST, where your route turns right, back toward Wallace Creek canyon. At 10,400 feet you reach the junction with the John Muir Trail. Turn right again. Ford Wallace Creek and continue south. At 10,800 feet, take the left fork of the diverging trails toward Crabtree Ranger Station and the fair campsites nearby. Pit toilet? (Approx. 9.0 mi / +3350 / -700 / BLD / )

Day 8 - Wednesday, August 27, 2019 - Crabtree Mdw to Tarn Above Guitar Lake. From the camp near the Crabtree Patrol Cabin, join the John Muir Trail by turning right toward Timberline Lake and Guitar Lake. The trail ascends the north side of the valley of Whitney Creek, then passes a lovely meadow before skirting the shore of Timberline Lake, about one mile above the cabin. The area around Timberline Lake is closed to camping. From Timberline Lake, the trail climbs a moderately steep, rocky trail then crosses the outlet of Arctic Lake before reaching Guitar Lake. Consider camping near Guitar Lake or, better yet, continue about 0.3 mile and camp near a tarn at 11,600 feet. There are also numerous campsites a little higher at 11,900 feet near a series of small tarns linked by a small stream flowing toward Hitchcock Lakes. (Approx. 3.4 mi / +1200 / -200 / BLD / / )

Day 9 - Thursday, August 28, 2019 - Tarn Above Guitar Lake to Mt Whitney and on to Outpost Camp. From our last high-elevation camp, the trail climbs steadily for three miles and nearly 2000 feet up the steep west slopes of Whitney. A series of switchbacks seems endless but finally ends at the junction with the Mount Whitney Trail. The views of Hitchcock Lakes, Guitar Lake, and the mountain panorama steadily improve as you gain elevation. The trail itself is impressive as it climbs through the talus, large rock faces, and imposing granite towers. This segment of the trail and the ninety-seven switchbacks below Trail Crest on the east side are engineering marvels and tributes to the workers who built them.

There are only two more miles to the summit and a little more than 1000 feet of elevation gain. The most difficult hiking is over as the trail gradually reaches the highest point in the Lower 48. Drop your pack and head for the summit. If you are not suffering from the altitude, the next two miles will be enjoyable as the trail snakes through impressive rock towers and past windows in the Sierra Nevada crest that provide breathtaking views of Trail Camp, the Mount Whitney Trail, and the Owens Valley far below. On the other hand, this may be the most strenuous portion of the trip because the altitude may have depleted your strength, energy, and desire to continue.

From the summit of Whitney you will be greeted with impressive views of Mount Langley and Mount Muir to the south; the Kaweah Range and Sawtooth Peak to the west; Mount Russell, Tulainyo Lake, and more. If the weather is nice, spend some time on top; take in the scenery and savor your accomplishment. After an hour on the summit it is time to consider the hike out. Return to your pack and prepare for those ninety-seven switchbacks.

From the trail junction where you donned your pack (again), hike another 150 feet up and over Trail Crest, where you'll begin the long, long hike down the famous ninety-seven switchbacks. There is no rush, but there are quite a few miles to cover before you reach camp this afternoon. The switchbacks descend a narrow granite buttress from Trail Crest. Soon enough, you'll reach Trail Camp. You're finished with the switchbacks. Do not fill your water bottles from the lake near Trail Camp. If you need water, use the stream that flows into the lake. Continue for another mile through Trailside Meadow, then drop 800 quick feet in the next mile to pass Mirror Lake. You have just another half-mile to hike until you finally reach Outpost Camp and find a place for your tent. (Approx. 11.3 mi / +3150 / -4400 / BLD / / )

Day 10 - Friday, August 29, 2019 - Outpost Camp to Whitney Portal. The final relatively short hike down to Whitney Portal from Outpost Camp is relatively straightforward. Bighorn Park is the first section of the outbound hike, with the trail crossing Lone Pine Creek several times as it drops through the willow-covered meadow. Over the next mile, the trail gradually loses 400 feet and you walk through a healthy forest of foxtail pine, limber pine, Jeffrey pine, and lodgepole pine. That forest gives way to brush and switchbacks as it wends its way down from camp. Finally, in the last mile, the trail traverses the mountainside above Whitney Portal, then drops down a shallow slope in a number of tiny switchbacks to bring you directly out into the parking lot adjacent to Whitney Portal. Drop your pack, discard your wag bags and other trash into the appropriate receptacles, and make your way over to the Whitney Portal Grill for a bit of late breakfast or lunch. (Approx. 3.9 mi / +100 / -2100 / B--)

The Prep

Despite the length of the hike and the number of days involved, I'm hoping this will be a relaxing trek. That's why I've limited the miles hiked each day and extended the time spent lazing in our various campsites. If we're up and out of camp by 8:00 AM each day, we should have several spare hours later on during which we can have an extra cup of tea, take a few more photos, read another page in whatever book you've brought, or snooze in the sun or shade. Whatever you prefer.

This trip is planned for only three or four people. The cost for the backpack permit will be five dollars per person, plus two or three dollars each to offset the ten-dollar fee for the permit. Cost-sharing for fuel, the rental car, and incidental travel expenses must also be considered. Of course, there will also be three nights in motels, plus meals and snacks along the way. Plan accordingly.

You'll need food for nine breakfasts, nine lunches, and nine dinners, plus snacks. Bear canisters are required for everyone, even though we won't need them for the first week. Bear boxes are available until we pass Crabtree Meadow and the Ranger Station there. The requirement exists because we're passing through the Whitney Zone in the last few days of the trek. The Whitney Zone extends from just below Timberline Lake on the west side to just above Lone Pine Lake on the east. We will certainly take advantage of those bear boxes early in the hike, though.

Also because of the aforementioned "Whitney Zone," we'll be required to pick up "wag bags" as we approach Crabtree Meadow on Day 7. Wag bags are meant to capture and contain your solid waste, which you must carry out to our exit trailhead. Those wag bags are 100% required for 100% of backpackers 100% of the time while we're in the Whitney Zone. Fortunately, your pack will be much lighter by the time we pick up the wag bags. You'll drop off the full bags in a special repository at Whitney Portal.

The Elements

There should be water all over the place. I don't foresee any problems.

The weather in the Sierra Nevada can be very nice at higher elevations, but will be warm in the lower portions of our trek. Daytime highs will be in the 70s or even the low 80s with nighttime lows in the mid 40s and low 50s. There might be one or two nights of temps in the high 30s. Be prepared! Click the links for the different campsites below () to get spot weather forecasts for that particular area. Remember that those forecasts will as much as ten or twelve days into the future from when you're able to look at them. Even so, you will probably only need a cool weather sleeping bag for this trip. I'm hoping to be able to take my mid-weight 30° bag.


The Hike

day miles elev gain elev destination
Mon 477 miles driving - Motel 6, Hesperia, CA
Tue 219 miles driving - Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Bishop, CA
Tue 69 miles driving - Whitney Portal
Tue 254 miles driving - Wyndham Hotel, Visalia, CA
Wed 0.0 / 0.0 / 0.0 000 / 000 / 000 6625' Crescent Meadow Trailhead
Wed 0.1 / 0.1 / 0.1 +50 / 50 / 50 6650' Trail jct; bear right
Wed 0.4 / 0.5 / 0.5 +100 / 150 / 150 6750' Three-way jct; keep right
Wed 2.3 / 2.8 / 2.8 +350 / 550 / 550 6800' Jct with Wolverton Cutoff; keep right
Wed 3.2 / 6.0 / 6.0 +875 / 1425 / 1425 7525' Mehrten Creek; water
Wed 0.4 / 6.4 / 6.4 +75 / 1500 / 1500 7600' Trail jct; keep right
Wed 2.5 / 8.9 / 8.9 +450 / 1950 / 1950 7500' Nine-Mile Creek;
Thu 1.7 / 1.7 / 10.6 +275 / 275 / 2225 7450' Ascent to Bearpaw Meadow
Thu 0.9 / 2.6 / 11.5 +325 / 600 / 2550 7600' Bearpaw Meadow; keep left
Thu 0.5 / 3.1 / 12.0 +300 / 900 / 2850 7700' Bearpaw Meadow; watch for deer
Thu 1.8 / 4.9 / 13.8 +175 / 1075 / 3025 7350' Bridge over Lone Pine Creek
Thu 1.5 / 6.4 / 15.3 +575 / 1650 / 3600 7650' Ford of Hamilton River
Thu 1.0 / 7.4 / 16.3 +575 / 2225 / 4175 8175' Hamilton Lake;
Fri 3.4 / 3.4 / 19.7 +2100 / 2100 / 6275 10250' Precipice Lake; trail may be faint
Fri 0.9 / 4.3 / 20.6 +425 / 2525 / 6700 10650' Kaweah Gap
Fri 2.5 / 6.8 / 23.1 -950 / 2525 / 6700 9750' Ford of Arroyo Creek
Fri 1.1 / 7.9 / 24.2 -300 / 2575 / 6750 9500' Big Arroyo Jct;
Sat 4.8 / 4.8 / 29.0 +1225 / 1225 / 7975 10200' Trail jct; keep right
Sat 1.0 / 5.8 / 30.0 -200 / 1225 / 7975 9950' Overlook of the Big Arroyo and Chagoopa Plateau
Sat 1.7 / 7.5 / 31.7 -700 / 1250 / 8000 9250' Moraine Lake;
Sun 1.5 / 1.5 / 33.2 -225 / 150 / 8150 9150' Trail jct; keep right
Sun 4.6 / 6.1 / 37.8 -2450 / 150 / 8150 6700' Upper Funstun Meadow; half-way point;
Mon 2.1 / 2.1 / 39.9 +300 / 300 / 8450 6875' Kern Hot Springs; keep right through marshy forest
Mon 7.9 / 10.0 / 47.8 +1500 / 1800 / 9950 8025' Junction Meadow;
Tue 0.2 / 0.2 / 48.0 +50 / 50 / 10000 8025' Trail jct; keep right and ascend Wallace Creek to JMT
Tue 1.1 / 1.3 / 49.1 +700 / 750 / 10700 8700' Trail jct; turn right
Tue 3.2 / 4.5 / 52.3 +1675 / 2425 / 12375 10375' Trail jct; turn right and ford Wallace Creek
Tue 3.5 / 8.0 / 55.8 +850 / 3275 / 13225 10750' Trail jct; turn left
Tue 0.8 / 8.8 / 56.6 +50 / 3325 / 13275 10675' Trail jct; turn right
Tue 0.2 / 9.0 / 56.8 0 / 3325 / 13275 10625' Crabtree Meadow; Ranger Station; Wag Bags;
Wed 1.6 / 1.6 / 58.4 +525 / 525 / 13800 11075' Timberline Lake; no camping; entering the Whitney Zone
Wed 1.3 / 2.9 / 59.7 +525 / 1050 / 14325 11475' Guitar Lake; possible campsites; bear canister required
Wed 0.5 / 3.4 / 60.2 +200 / 1250 / 14525 11600' Tarn above Guitar Lake; bear canisters required;
watch for wily marmots;
Thu 2.3 / 2.3 / 62.5 +1850 / 1850 / 16375 13475' Drop packs; turn left for Mt Whitney
Thu 0.6 / 2.9 / 63.1 +300 / 2150 / 16675 13725' Take a brief look down through the Windows
Thu 1.4 / 4.3 / 64.5 +775 / 2925 / 17450 14505' Summit of Mount Whitney; take a breather
Thu 2.0 / 6.3 / 66.5 +50 / 2975 / 17500 13475' Retrieve backpacks; prepare for 97 switchbacks down
Thu 0.2 / 6.5 / 66.7 +50 / 3025 / 17550 13600' Trail Crest
Thu 2.2 / 8.7 / 68.9 -2700 / 3025 / 17550 12025' Trail Camp; keep going
Thu 2.3 / 11.3 / 71.2 -1700 / 3025 / 17550 10325' Outpost Camp;
Fri 3.9 / 3.9 / 75.1 -2075 / 3025 / 17550 8350' Whitney Portal Trailhead; Congratulations! Relax for a while
and get a burger at the Whitney Portal Grill!
Thu 12 miles Driving - Lone Pine; visit the Alabama Hills and/or
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center
Fri 30 miles driving - Comfort Inn, Lone Pine
Sat 650 miles driving - Tucson

The End

After ten days on the trail, we'll stop at the trailhead to have lunch at Whitney Portal. Then we'll travel a short distance back down the road to the fun little town of Lone Pine and will stay at the Comfort Inn for the evening of Friday, August 30th. This hotel is a bit more expensive than a Motel 6, but I think the cost is worth it after an arduous trek.

The ten-hour drive from Lone Pine back to Tucson on Saturday, August 31st, covers nearly 650 miles. With the usual stops for fuel and food, we should be back in Tucson sometime in the late evening. It's very unlikely, but we might stop in Blythe on the way back and stay at the Motel 6 in that ugly little town that evening. We stayed there once before on a previous trip to the Sierra Nevada. We'll make a consensus-based decision before we go.