The Sierra High Route

Exit at Mono Village
The southern Clark Range, Yosemite National Park
Route's end: Yosemite

A weeklong segment remains. North of the highway, the High Route closely parallels the Sierra crest, never straying more than a few miles from it and actually crossing it three times. One encounters hardly any trails during this final leg of the journey, but even though five major ridges must be crossed, the terrain is relatively gentle.

Each section of the High Route has something special to offer, and this one offers geology. Not far from the highway, near the rockbound Gaylor Lakes, one subtly leaves granite behind and enters a region of dark, brooding slate. The trekker's boots clink against the new rock, a strange sound for those accustomed to a solid thunk.

The High Route follows this heavily mineralized transition zone for many miles, traversing granitic countryside most of the time but straying into the more colorful slate occasionally. Though it's hard to believe, this windswept area at 11,000 feet sported several commercial mines a century ago, and the prominent ruins and mine shafts afford fascinating rest stops.

At Yosemite's northern border the final obstacle of the High Route — Horse Creek Pass — provides a close view of Matterhorn Peak, the ill-named high point of the Sawtooth Ridge. It was here that Jack Kerouac waited fearfully while Gary Snyder climbed the peak, an episode he described fictionally in The Dharma Bums.

An arduous descent from the pass leads through talus and aspen forests to Mono Village, at Twin Lakes, the northern terminus of the High Route. The town of Bridgeport, with motels, stores, and a bus stop, lies 13 miles away via a paved road.

Preserving the High Route

High Route travelers who finish their journey at Mono Village — or at any of the other trailheads along the way — will have varied emotions. Most will have appreciated the scenery, though some might be weary of clambering over rocks day after day. Perhaps a handful will be glad to escape from what seems to them a sun-bleached wasteland. But most will come away, I think, delighted that such a magnificent wilderness can still be found in the nation's most populous state. They will also, I hope, become partisans in the political struggle to preserve and extend wilderness areas.

Will the High Route remain pristine in view of the inevitable publicity? Absolutely, in my opinion. First, I have faith that modern-day hikers are well informed and act on the principle,"When I come back I want it to look just as untouched as it is now." Second, without pack animals to create trenches, even the fragile places should show scant signs of wear, especially if cross-country hikers spread out and take differing paths. And, finally, the very nature of the route militates against abuse: the High Route, as this article has stressed repeatedly, is rugged and strenuous. Backpackers who make the effort to penetrate deep into this realm are likely to respect its purity.

I've often returned to favorite sections of the High Route. To my pleasure, but not to my surprise, the timberline country hasn't changed much since I first visited it in 1954. I see more people camping, but less damage to the campsites. I see more footprints, but less trash. The high country is on the mend, though that's no reason to get complacent. Let's all swear on a stack of John Muir's books to preserve it forever.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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