It is roadless, remote, undeveloped, and big. The High Sierra offers sublime hiking, but the price is difficult logistics. The enormous distances between roads make for good wilderness but difficult resupply. And, as we learned when we found ourselves in Bishop, unless you've got a friend willing to meet you when you finish your hike, arranging transportation is about as easy as solving Rubik's Cube.
You might consider a loop alternative. Start your hike on the High Sierra Trail, a west-to-east traverse of the mountains that begins right in the middle of Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. You'll head out through groves of giant sequoia, leaving the park's tourists immediately behind. Constant, graded climbing brings you to the Sierra's granite monoliths and up-country tarns. Build some extra time into your schedule; this is big country, with big mountains, and big climbs. Plus, you'll want plenty of time to gawk, especially if you've never hiked the Sierra before. After a couple of days, a long descent drops you down to the Kern River, where you can wash off the trail dust in a backcountry hot spring. Then head up the Kern River.
For the return trip to Giant Forest, you have a couple of options, described below. Your choice will depend on the amount of time you have and your ability to carry a heavy load.
Location: Sequoia National Park in central California.
Distance: 95 miles with options of 114 and 58 miles.
Maps and Guidebook: Trails Illustrated's map (#205) and Tom Harrison Cartography both offer maps of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Also available from the Forest Service is a map covering the John Muir Wilderness (Inyo and Sequoia National Forests) as well as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Backcountry. Wilderness Press (Berkeley, CA) publishes guidebooks and maps of the region, too.
The Route: Option 1, or the shorter circuit, takes about 8 or 9 days and follows the High Sierra Trail, Colby Pass Trail (which for four miles is a secondary trail, meaning that it is infrequently maintained), Sugarloaf Trail, Pond Meadow Trail, and JO Pass Trail. From the end of JO Pass Trail at Lodgepole, it's between five and ten miles back to Giant Forest, depending on which of several Park Service trails and roads you choose. Option 2, the longer route (10 or 11 days), follows the High Sierra Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail, where it heads north over the PCT's highest point (13,200 foot Forester Pass) and then loops west via Bubbs Creek Trail back to the Sugarloaf Trail. If you'd like a shorter loop, another option is to leave the High Sierra Trail at Bearpaw Meadow and head northwest toward Deadman's Canyon, which also connects with the Sugarloaf Trail. Be warned: this route includes some steep climbs and gnarly trail. Figure five days. Once you've chosen your route, highlight it on a map.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication