Kings Canyon High Basin Route (KCHBR) –
2019 Trip Report
The Kings Canyon High Basin Route (KCHBR) was developed by Andrew Skurka around 2015. It is 124 miles long with two-thirds of the route being off-trail travel.
Elevation loss and gain averages 725 feet per mile, compared to 310 for the Pacific Crest Trail.
It is a gnarly hike with difficult terrain and large portions of travel through talus fields. Despite being in shape, starting our trip on the KCHBR kicked my butt.
This trip report covers my hike of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route (KCHBR). We started at Roads End hiking “Southbound” and finished at Lodgepole. Most people hike the route “Northbound” as it was designed to be. For more details of the route click here.
It is part 1 of 4 that covers my summer 2019 hike through the High Sierra.
Myself and two friends hiked these routes back to back in August/September 2019. In total we covered 400+ miles over the course of thirty-six days.
These trip reports are taken from my daily journaling on the trail. They are not intended to be a “how-to” guides but give valuable insight into these high routes through the Sierra. I provide some background info on each of the routes/trails and insert appropriate links to further reading.
Our start date for the trip was the 18th of August. The decision was made to start late in August for a couple of reasons. One, with record snowfall in the High Sierra the previous winter we wanted to give the snow as much time to melt as possible. Two, one of our hiking group Sonic had a serious injury skiing in the early spring. She wanted to give herself as much time to recover as possible.
The timing of the trip was quite good. We hit mosquitoes the first few weeks but they went away when the temperatures dropped. There was strong sun exposure/heat at the start but adjusted quickly. Temperatures did drop dramatically in the middle of the trip. We experienced some snowfall and plenty of below-freezing nights and frost. I would recommend starting a little earlier than this if it is a normal snow year to avoid colder temps.
High Sierra Route – There is NO SUCH THING
There is no such thing as the High Sierra Route – People often think Steve Ropers’ Sierra High Route (SHR) is called the High Sierra Route. It is not. There is no such thing.
To confuse things further there is the High Sierra Trail. It is a TRAIL and not a route and we hiked it this summer, trip report available above.
There is also Alan Dixons’ and Don Wilsons’ Southern Sierra High Route (SSHR) which we also hiked, trip report available above.
There is no High Sierra Route. Hope that’s a little clearer.
Myself and Cheesebeard flew into LA on and had a nightmare of a journey by bus from LA to Visalia. Arriving on time for our bus at eight, we were told it was delayed 2 to 3 hours. It was eventually canceled completely and we got moved to the bus at 12:30 pm. This meant we arrived in Visalia at 4 am. We went straight to the hostel that Sonic had booked, chatted briefly and got a few hours of sleep. A great start.
The next day was a long journey via shuttles and multiple hitchhikes. Passing through Sequoia and on into Kings Canyon National Park. We camped near our destination at Roads End, nervous and excited to get this epic adventure underway
Day 1 – National Park Campground near Roads End to Goat Crest Saddle
Start of Andrew Skurka’s Kings Canyon High Basin Route (KCHBR) – 08/18/2019
We hitchhiked early the next morning. Then we went through the long process of getting permits to finally hit the trail. I felt great but we were starting at 5000 feet and had 6000 feet to climb. Quickly the effects of elevation hit me and Cheesebeard hard and to a lesser extent Sonic. We slowed right down.
Struggling to go further than a few hundred feet without catching our breath. Stopping to let our heart rates calm down. Eventually, we made it to the top of the climb and took a quick lunch at Grouse Lake. From there we climbed up and over beautiful Grouse Lake Pass. Then a slower but easier ascent over Granite Pass. We spent our first night on the other side of the pass at the first suitable spot we could find. The bugs were hellish.
Day 2 – Granite Pass to the junction of Goddard Creek and Disappearing Creek
I didn’t sleep great and awoke to a very moist sleep and shelter system. Condensation is real. It was an easy start to the day and the morning was stunning up at that height. Rolling valleys and beautiful views. We then started making a long and unforgiving descent of over 6000 feet. A killer on the knees and hot heat in the midday sun. Crossing the middle fork of the Kings’ River with little concern once we found the right spot.
After lunch and drying out our gear we started the hardest and longest bushwhack any of us had ever done. Relentless brambles and manzanita clawed at us for four hours. Painful and soul destroying all at the same time. After a few more river crossings and a lot more cursing, we finished for the day and cowboy camped under the stars. Glad that the day was over.
This is the Kings Canyon High Basin Route.
This is the hardest two days of hiking I’ve ever done.
Day 3 – Junction of Goddard Creek and Disappearing Creek to Chasm Lake area
I awoke many times in the night and was fully awake by 4:00 am. I awoke feeling stressed about the days hiking ahead. The potential snow traversing and the fact we were out on these trails for the next four to five weeks. Not a good way to waken, anxious and unsure. Time for breakfast.
The day started with more horrific bushwhacking and trying to safely cross Disappearing Creek. Then the sun came out and made things more brutal. After lunch, we had to climb up high on the valley walls and skirt around a deep, impassable gorge. We were unsure whether we could safely get down the other side.
After a lot of hot hiking, we reached the point of descent and carefully made our way down a talus field. Then it was onto more rolling open, talus fields and glacial lakes and streams. We made it up to the top of the pass without needing to enter the snow. But at the top, we were forced to cross snowfields with rivers running underneath. Snow bridges are scary.
After a few different snow crossings with an ice ax and microspikes, we settled at a great camp spot overlooking a lake with mountains all around. I felt much more positive and confident towards the end of the day. More sure of my abilities and less scared of the unknowns of these routes.
Day 4 – Chasm Lake area to “Le Conte” Ranger Station
A very cold night but also my most restful. Awoke to a damp and cold sleeping bag with Sonic stirring from her Zpacks tent. With a little snow traversing and further climbing, we reached a secluded, beautiful high mountain lake. Swollen with old snow and a thin layer of recent ice on the surface. We reached Black Giant Pass and then began the descent down to the John Muir Trail (JMT) and smoother, easier passage. The first hikers we’d seen for a while turned into a LOT of hikers. We had a chilled day ahead of us so we took a long break by a lake, chatting, eating and chilling.
A hot afternoon of hiking saw us to our destination, just shy of “Le Conte” ranger station.
We’d hoped to find a spot for Cheesebeard to fish. However, the water was moving too rapidly at the spot we chose by the river. We settled in for an early night after a relatively easy day. When compared to the hell of the previous two days.
The John Muir Trail is beautiful, so much flowing water from snowmelt and SO many hikers.
Day 5 – “Le Conte” ranger station into the town of Bishop
Having started to watch The Dark Crystal in my sleeping bag the night before I woke up after a good night’s sleep. I’d woken up at some point being paranoid I’d heard a bear but it was not the case.
Sonic left before us and we made the long slow journey up to Dusy Basin and then Bishop Pass. An uneventful hike, albeit beautiful. We saw a bunch of dead deer that must have been wiped out simultaneously by an avalanche. Their rotting, stinking carcasses massed on the side of the trail.
We got a ride from a toad researcher down into Bishop and found some decent Burritos. We checked into a motel and cleaned up. After hitting the grocery store we spent the rest of the day taking care of town tasks and watching The Simpsons.
Day 6 – Town of Bishop to two miles down the Bishop Pass trailhead
Day 6 was spent doing laundry and town chores around the pleasant town of Bishop. We sampled a good few of the coffee shops and restaurants available. We hit the used gear store and spent a little too much time in the public library.
A phone call to the fiancée brought up some emotions but I managed to not show them. Thinking it’s better to stay strong this early on. We got the almost free afternoon shuttle back up to the trailhead. Hiking a few miles up the trail to get a head start on the following day. I sat down and interviewed Sonic in a haze of mosquitos while Cheesebeard fly fished the lake.
Day 7 – Bishop Pass trailhead to Palisades Creek
Day 7 didn’t start as planned, Sonic’s sleeping pad had punctured just before bed.
We had to backtrack to Bishop to get it repaired, ate a good diner breakfast and got a quick hitchhike back up to the trail. We started hiking in the middle of the heat of the day and managed to make it up and over Bishop Pass. Continuing on for a few miles going further south on the John Muir Trail. Despite being buggy, the area was beautiful. All of us were ready to stop by 18:30 and settled into a nice campsite. Cheesy caught a small Golden Trout and released him, a beautiful thing to watch. Couscous is my new favorite cold soak meal.
Day 8 – Palisades Creek to Lake Basin
Today was a day of three passes. Leaving camp after a solid night’s sleep felt good. Staying on the JMT/Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for a couple of miles before crossing a swift river and bushwhacking up Cataract Creek. We reached our first pass, the aptly named Adventurer Col. Next up was the descent and more climbing up to Observation Peak Pass.
The final pass of the day was Dumbbell Pass. It was a tricky one that required navigating a talus field, skirting over a granite slab and dropping into the pass itself. Donning our microspikes and ice axes to traverse some snowfields, despite the risks being low. We were treated to an epic view from the pass and carefully descended into Lake Basin. It would be our buggy and damp home for the night. If I haven’t mentioned it already the mosquitoes are terrible and a tarp and bivvy combo was not the best choice for this trip!
Day 9 – Lake Basin to the bottom of the stupid “ Avalanche Chute” after Arrow Head Basin
The day starts out chilly and with a good amount of moisture on the sleeping gear. We found the old, rerouted section of the John Muir Trail and climbed the fairly easy Cartridge Pass.
Our second pass for the day leads us into Arrow Basin. I found this climb ok due to loud Sum 41 rocking in my eardrums. We lunched after descending the pass and we all felt a little delirious. We spent the afternoon trudging down Arrow Head Basin chatting and laughing.
Then it got real, 1800 foot descent in less than 3/4 of a mile. In an unnamed “Avalanche Chute”. Extremely loose rocks flying down the sheer canyon with multiple cliff-out points. The whole thing was sketchy but what rings out the most to me was a 12+ foot jump down a small cliff. It was unavoidable, super scary and with a hard landing. I landed in a squat and bashed my hand on a rock, it could have been bad. Cheesy jumped down after me and I spotted for him. If I hadn’t have been there he may well have fallen forward and hit his head on the rocks.
We finished the descent frayed and in pain. We found a bug free campsite for the night and settled in. Annoyed at Andrew Skurka and the King’s Canyon High Basin Route.
Day 10 – Bottom of the stupid “ Avalanche Chute” to Junction Meadow
After the rough finish to the previous day, we decided to change our route. Skipping the potentially sketchy King Col.
Instead, we made our way to the PCT and much easier terrain. It was a good job as I was in terrible pain. My previously fine left ankle was screaming at me for the first few hours of hiking. Ibuprofen helped and it got better as the day went on. BUT my right knee started playing up in the afternoon. Shooting pains through the knee when going downhill. Ibuprofen also helped.
The hiking itself was beautiful and people hiking the JMT/PCT get treated to some amazing views. Glenn Pass was an easy climb and descent, and beautiful 360 views from atop the ridge.
I got some good photos and videos and ran into a mule train lead by some cowboys which made for some great footage.
Day 11 – Junction Meadow to just after Talus Pass
Visitors in the night! The mule train had apparently been given free rein and stomped through our camp at 1 am in the morning. It scared the crap out of us all. We jumped up and out of our sleeping bags, worried we were about to get trampled. I have mixed feelings about horses in the backcountry and this didn’t help.
We slept a little later (until 7) and immediately began climbing 4000 feet up to Longley Pass. What a treat we had waiting at the top, a scary overhung cornice of snow. There were some other hikers figuring out how to get “around” it so we could copy their method. It was a lot less scary once we were up at the cornice, we able to get right up under it and skirt around the far edge.
It was still one of the most thrilling moments of the hike so far. After a decent, we had a quick lunch and headed up the next pass for the day. It was a steep talus climb but not too terrible.
We thought that was our lot for the day but alas another pass was upon us, Talus Pass. It was steep enough to require putting away our trekking poles and scrambling up with hands and feet.
Thoroughly pissed off and tired, we dropped some elevation and found a passable campsite.
My right foot and lesser so my right knee had been very painful for the past two days, mainly when descending. It slows me down a good amount and I’m quite worried that it won’t get better.
Day 12 – Just after Talus Pass to the start of Tablelands
The start of the day was pretty easy going. Downhill and some of it on a real trail. We began the long climb through Cloud Canyon and up to Copper Mine Pass. Things got scary. We initially got up onto the ridge/pass and realized it was the wrong place and impassable.
We then backtracked and tried to maintain as much elevation as possible. We came out in the wrong place again and were on an exposed ridge with our destination dangerously close. The scary decision was made to hop to the other side of the ridge. It was necessary to slowly make our way across very loose and steep talus. With large rocks falling wherever we placed our feet. It too easily could have been one of us falling.
We made it across to the correct ridge and scampered to the descent point. Glissading down a large snowfield on the other side shaved off some time. Next we got quickly up and over the beautiful and fairly easy Horn Col.
We skirted around the next basin and climbed Pterodactyl Pass. The cliffs to one side clearly resembled a Pterodactyl! Another mile or so saw us set up camp a little earlier than usual. The plan was to awaken early and crush out the last miles to town (Lodgepole visitor center in Sequoia).
Day 13 – Tablelands to Lodgepole visitor center – The End of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route!
I woke up to frozen condensation on my Bivi and sleeping bag. We got an early start but had a frustrating morning of ups and downs, through rolling hills in the Tablelands. Then we climbed our only pass for the day close to Mount Silliman. It was pretty steep and we had a tight chute to descend on the other side.
With that done, we made our long and slow way down to Lodgepole via never-ending granite slabs and light use trails. My knee was EXCRUCIATINGLY painful, I was almost on the verge of tears. Flat and uphill was fine. Downhill with “steps” was ferocious. I caught up to the others at Lodgepole feeling defeated but real food helped. We dirt-bagged for the afternoon. Doing laundry, taking showers and charging devices to funny looks from tourists.
We camped nearby. Glad to be done with the Kings Canyon High Basin Route and excited to have running water and flushable toilets.
That was the Kings Canyon High Basin Route!
Hopefully this trip report from the KCHBR gave you an insight into this gnarly route!
Now I’d like to turn it over to you:
Did I miss some important information? Or do you have a question about the gear I used? Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.
Use these links to head to the next trip report: