The Sierra High Route
If you enjoy walking cross-country through austere timberline country, the Sierra High Route is paradise. More than half the route is trailless, and you'll almost believe you're a pioneer. Although no technical mountaineering skills are required, the route is extremely rugged in places. You might spend an hour a day on talus, and steep snowfields can be perilous. Get in shape, go late in the summer, and you'll have little trouble. The rewards are enormous.
You'll walk across sparkling granite slabs, mosey around untrammeled lakes, cross high passes offering 90-mile views, and sleep under dwarfed whitebark pines with streams burbling a 100 feet away. Although the High Route is 195 miles in length, few will have the time for the complete trip. No problem, for it can be broken up into weeklong segments.
The following trip planner covers one such segment, near the middle of the route. It's about 50 miles in length and can be done in a week, but ten days give you time for rest days and side trips. Many other similar trips are possible, but this leg has always been my favorite, mainly because it doesn't have too many stretches of talus.
The 50-Mile Hike, in Telegraphic Prose
Follow the Pine Creek Pass Trail over the Sierra crest and descend into French Canyon. Leave the path and head cross-country past Merriam Lake to Feather Pass. Work through the Bear Lakes Basin to Lake Italy, cross Gabbot Pass, and descend the Second Recess to Mono Creek. Climb up north past Laurel Lake, cross the Silver Divide, and meet the John Muir Trail at Tully Hole. Follow this to the Duck Lake turnoff, then cross the crest and descend to the Mammoth Lakes area.
The eastern flank of California's High Sierra can be reached by road from Los Angeles or San Francisco in six hours. U.S. Highway 395 runs along the base of the range, and spur roads branch off every dozen miles or so and wind up into the mountains. Many portions of the High Route can be reached by trails starting from the ends of these spur roads.
To reach the beginning of the 50-mile segment described above, drive north on 395 from the town of Bishop for 12 miles, then follow the Pine Creek Road 10 miles up into the mountains. The trail leading to the High Route begins at the pack station near road's end.
The trek's end is near the town of Mammoth Lakes; if you plan a shuttle, park the second car above Lake Mary, near the Duck Lake trailhead. Don't leave valuables or food in the car!
When to Go
Summer in the High Sierra arrives about July 20; snow can be a major problem earlier. It's smart to call a ranger station around April 1 to find out about the winter's snowpack and plan accordingly. Autumn is a great time to hike, but by October 20 one should plan on leaving the range; that cirrus above you may well presage winter.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication