Sierra High Route (2019 Hiking Trip Report)
The Sierra High Route (SHR) or “Ropers’ High Route” was developed by Steve Roper in the 1970s. It is 195 miles long with about two-thirds off-trail hiking and the rest is on the John Muir Trail.
A rugged hike, similar to the other two off-trail routes we hiked in the summer of 2019. The hard work of hiking the Sierra High Route pays off and this is a classic American hike for a reason.
This trip report covers my hike of the Sierra High Route. Because of the nature of our 2019 trip we started in Bishop and finished at Twin Lakes/Bridgeport. For more background on the route click here.
This is part 4 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 whilst hiking the Sierra High Route and the other routes. 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.
Let’s dive in..
Start of the Sierra High Route
Day 27 (Day 1 hiking the Sierra High Route) – Bishop to near Big Pete Meadow
A glorious night’s sleep in the hotel bed was had. Fully adjusted to trail time, I awoke with the sunrise at 6 am and headed to the diner. With a full belly and after a few town chores we hitched once again to South Lake trailhead. It took a while but we got there. The familiar territory of Bishop Pass was underfoot and we got up, through Dusy Basin and down to the JMT by about 5:30 pm.
We hiked a few more miles for the night and setup. Tired of lugging the heavyweight of 6 days of food.
Day 28 – Near Big Pete Meadow to Wahoo Lakes
A warm and a great night’s sleep was just what I needed. I lazily woke and packed up, a long climb up to Muir Pass awaiting us. The energy was low and my knee was sore. Getting up to Muir Pass and seeing the hut there was cool. Good to see it up close after spotting it coming down from the KCHBR a few weeks prior.
We lunched down by Sapphire Lake, near where the Sierra High Route leaves the John Muir Trail. By that point, my knee was in agony despite plenty of Ibuprofen. Downhill and specifically big step-downs being the worst. Fortunately, the next section was uphill and flat, which caused no issues. Contouring around the side of Evolution Valley was annoying but manageable.
Snow tongue Pass was a steep little climb that kicked my butt at the end of the day. The descent on the other side was ok, lots of loose sand and rocks and an easy snow traverse at the bottom.
The rest of the descent down to Wahoo Lakes was over large talus. It was easy going but my knee hated it.
Day 29 – Wahoo Lakes to Teddy Bear Lake
A great night’s sleep but it was cold. Hot coffee and a tasty Paleo Meals To Go breakfast got me up and moving. I hiked ahead and alone for the majority of the morning. Content with good music and undulating terrain. Up and out of Humphrey’s Basin, past Puppet Lake and down into French Canyon without much trouble.
The hike up and through to Miriam Lake and the Bear Lakes Basin was long and steadily uphill but not terrible. In the afternoon we met some hikers headed southbound on the route and a solo northbounder. We all chatted for a good while and Eric the northbounder joined us for the rest of the day and night.
We ascended to White Bear Pass and Steve Roper got it right. The view was one of the best so far on the Sierra High Route and on the trip as a whole.
The descent was fine, despite terrible knee pain. Which seems much worse later in the day once I’m tired. We camped in a cluster of willows by Teddy Bear Lake and I fell asleep to the wind whipping at sil-nylon.
Day 30 – Teddy Bear Lake to Horse Heaven
A horrible night’s sleep due to gusting winds persistently hitting the tent. The temperature itself wasn’t bad but packing up in the wind and hitting the trail was a miserable affair.
The journey up to and around Italy Lake was a pleasant one with epic clouds and lighting. As we started the climb up Gabbott Pass fierce winds hit us again and dark clouds loomed but didn’t deliver. We slowly made our way through the Mills Creek area and lunched at midday. With full bellies and sunshine above we made the long but manageable climb to Laurel Lake. Then onto Rosy Finch Lake and Silver Divide Pass.
On the other side of the pass the cold wind picked up and we could see a storm approaching. We decided to get low and find a good spot to camp. No one wanted to get rained or snowed on, especially as night time temps were forecast at 18 Fahrenheit/ -7 Celsius!
Day 31 – Horse Heaven To the town of Mammoth
Fortunately, we picked a good spot to camp and the brutal weather never hit us in the night. We hiked leisurely on a developed trail down to the John Muir Trail and cruised through the morning. The area was beautiful and the conversation amongst the group was high in spirits.
We took an early lunch at the shockingly clear Duck Lake. Before hiking up and over the pass and down to the trailhead. An easy hitch down to Mammoth itself and ate tacos before setting up our tents at the campsite right in town.
Day 32 – Mammoth to Superior Lake
I awoke sleepily to Cheesebeard saying goodbye. He, unfortunately, he had to head back to Finland early. His renewed residence permit hadn’t come through. Frustrating he couldn’t finish the last few days of the Sierra High Route and through no fault of his own.
Once fully awake, myself and Erik (now officially “one of us”) headed to the dreaded Starbucks. Before hitting up the “Breakfast Club” for a tasty plate of huevos rancheros.
After a few more town tasks we shuttled and then hitched to Reds Meadow. We all paid to take a good hot shower before headed back onto the SHR. Snow, low temps, and wind had all been forecast and we weren’t excited. The weather was threatening for the entire afternoon. But we managed to do 7ish miles to Superior Lake without any major issues. The temperature was dropping and we hunkered down for the night, hoping for no snow.
Day 33 – Superior Lake to Mammoth
We got snow.
And rain and hail.
The clouds over Nancy Pass (our destination) didn’t look friendly so we waited it out inside our snow-covered shelters. As the sun rose it looked a little clearer so we packed up and started to move.
It was cold and slippery going over Nancy Pass. Eric fell hard a couple of times on icy talus, ripping his jacket and smashing his elbow. Eventually we made it up to Minaret Lake. It was beautiful but we weren’t smiling. We were cold, damp and it was snowing on us. We pondered over lunch and decided to bail. To take the Minaret Lake trail back to the trailhead we came from and into Mammoth. None of us wanted to deal with the precipitation and below-freezing temperatures. More of which was forecast for the coming days and no other opportunities to bail out.
We wanted to be warm and to eat pizza.
Day 34 – Mammoth to Maul Lake
After staying in Mammoth being warm and less anxious, we checked the forecast for the Minaret Lake area. It was more of the same weather and we made a group decision to skip forward to the Tuolumne Meadows area and avoid the snow.
It was a hard decision to make to skip a section of the route. But the group wasn’t geared up to get wet and cold and snowed on for consecutive days.
The conditions further north were much more favorable. So with a couple of hitchhikes from Mammoth, we joined up with the Sierra High Route in Yosemite. We started early afternoon and got through the Gaylor Lakes region. We explored the structures and remains of the Great Sierra Mine.
Our day ended near Maul Lake and we had our first fire of the entire trip. A great morale booster after a rough couple of days.
Day 35 – Maul Lake to Spiller Creek
Cowboy camping wasn’t such a great idea. I woke up cold and covered in frost in the middle of the night and it took a long time to get back to sleep.After a slow start, we climbed steeply up a grassy chute before ascending the east ridge of Mount Conness. We were treated to awesome views into the valley beyond.
Then we made our way down to Cascade Lake for a quick snack. Resting before the daunting looking climb to Sky Pilot Col. It was not as daunting as it seemed and proved a fun challenge.
The descent was different. Long, arduous, talus and snow. And did I say long? It was really long. We ate a late lunch at Shepherd Lake. After a post-lunch nap, we continued descending into forested Virginia Canyon. The pleasantness wouldn’t last as we made a steep ascent the other side up endless slabs.
Sometime later and with a turn west we reached Stanton Pass. An easy climb but a slow and arduous descent down to camp. A hard-fought day with lots of ascending and descending.
But Steve Roper really delivers with the Sierra High Route.
Day 36 – Spiller Creek to Twin Lakes – The end of the Sierra High Route & the trip
Our final night on the trail was a cool one. Condensation turned to frost. We woke and started up towards Horse Creek Pass. Eric and Sonic decided they wanted to climb “The Matterhorn”. The Northern Sierra’s highest peak. I was quite content to stay at the bottom, dry gear, and drink coffee back inside my sleeping bag.
Upon their return, we popped over the pass and began the long descent. Some steep talus and route-finding ensued but nothing too crazy. It was just the amount of descent that wore on the knees at almost 4000 feet over five miles down to Twin Lakes.
I found myself with a big smile on my face as I navigated the last few switchbacks down to the Mono Village campgrounds. A real sense of achievement and somewhat of a relief. Having hiked over 400 burly miles through the Sierra and pushed myself for 36 days.
We celebrated with high fives and ice cream sandwiches. Before hitching to Bridgeport and back to “real life”.
That was the Sierra High Route!
Hopefully this trip report gave you some insight into what it’s like when hiking the Sierra High Route. The SHR and our summer 2019 trip in general was a tough one but oh so rewarding.
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 other trip reports: