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The High Sierra Trail

Who: Maxpower & Highanxiety

What: Backpacking 5 nights

Where: The High Sierra Trail to the top of Mt Whitney and out the Mt Whitney Portal. California

When: Started: 3:30pm on 7/20/12, Crescent Meadows trail head in Sequoia National Park
Finished: 10:00am 7/25/12, MT Whitney Portal. Lone Pine, California

Distance: 72.2 Miles to the Whitney portal plus extra .8 mile side trip to Moraine Lake.

After months of planning for this trip, buying new gear, getting permits, plane tickets etc, etc; it was finally time to head back to one of my favorite places on Earth, The Sierra Mountains in California. I’ve been telling myself for years that I wanted to climb Mt Whitney, so when Maxpower invited me along to hike this trail and summit the highest mountain in the lower 48 I was all over the idea. I had not been backpacking for years, but after hearing stories about Maxpower’s journey on the PCT in 2010 I could not have been more stoked for this hike.

I flew from Vermont to Orange County, CA where I would meet up with MP. The only problem was one of my flights got cancelled and I spent more hours at the Newark Airport then I would prefer. When I arrived at the John Wayne airport late at night things got worse when my baggage with all my gear didn’t show and I was told it wouldn’t arrive until the next day… It was a good thing I planned some extra days in my trip in-case something like this were to happen. So instead of leaving Orange County toward Sequoia National Park when we planned we decided to hang out on the beach and get some surfing in where we also had a fire and bbq on the beach. I guess it wasn’t the worst thing to happen and my baggage did arrive the next day fully intact.

Maxpower’s wonderful wife was so kind to drop us off 7-8hrs from home at the Crescent Meadows Trail head in Sequoia National Park.

And the Journey began…

The views were impressive right off the bat..

And that goes for the wildlife as well.. Just a couple miles in and I almost stepped on this little guy.

And on we went…

Since we got such a late start we only hiked 9 miles to 9 mile creek where we set camp, had dinner and a nice little fire.

The next morning it was time to push off toward Bearpaw Camp, but not with out a bear sighting along the way. Just a little guy and the picture isn’t the best as we didn’t want to wait around for Momma Bear to show up.

Bearpaw Camp, which was also a ranger station was a pretty sweet spot with a great view, unfortunately we didn’t hang out long as we needed to push forward.

Onward to Big Hamilton Lake. This stretch of trail just blew me away, one of the best sections in my opinion. The scenery just got better and better..

Maxpower taking it all in…

We were greeted by many many Lizards on the trail.

For such a dry year I couldn’t believe how many water sources were along this trail. Its one less thing to worry about when on trail and it saves weight. I however decided to bring a filter and filter all my water just incase.

We were stoked when we came to this bridge b/c it saved us from dropping a ton of vertical. It goes over the Hamilton Gorge where a suspension bridge once crossed, which was taken out by an avalanche in the Winter of 1937. You can still see remains below.

Looking back on the trail along the rock face.

Onward to Hamilton Lake.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when we arrived, what a magical place. We decided to hang out for a couple hours to rest and have lunch before we started climbing again.

The water was really cold, but I just had to go in for a dip..

It was really difficult to leave this place.

But it was time to move along and start climbing up toward Kaweah Gap on the Great Western Divide.

The trail was super fun on this stretch, which took my mind off of blisters and sore muscles.

Cool tunnel on the trail, I believe this section was taken out by an avalanche also at one point.

Looking back down at Hamilton Lake


Before we went over the gap we were greeted by Precipice Lake, yet another beautiful lake….

Finally made it over the Kaweah Gap 10,700 ft. Sort of felt like being on the moon.

After about 13 miles we set up camp, just past the gap on the other side. We had a 360 deg view, flat places to pitch a tent and water near by. There were some threatening clouds, but it never rained. The sun setting on the clouds and mountain tops made for a great show.

After a good night sleep we were ready for a good long day of hiking. Today’s plan was to hike through the valley of the Big Arroyo and up and across the Chagoopa Plateau where we would take a side trip to Moraine lake and decide if we wanted to go on or not.

After arriving at Moraine Lake we decided it would be best to keep pushing toward Upper Funston Meadow, into the Kern Trench and spend the night at the Kern Hot Spring. This would put us at 16+ miles for the day.

Moraine Lake

A cool old cabin along the way.

Nice Meadow, if you look closely you can see the ears of a Mule deer sticking up out of the tall grass.

We had to drop a lot of elevation to get down to the river. Maxpower charging along.

After a long day of Hiking we were both stoked to be at the Kern Hot Spring where we soaked our sore muscles. The little pool behind my towel was about 95 degs.

The single person main tub was about 115 deg, so it took some cold water to cool it down a bit. The tub could easily be drained and filled up again.

MP Soakin

My turn

We camped up above the river, it was nice to fall a sleep to the sound of the flowing water.

We even had a visitor

Since I brought my 3/4 wt fly rod set up I figured this would be a good place to try some fly fishing.

Got some little rainbows out of the water. I let them live, releasing them back into the river.

A toasty fire and some chill time before bed.

Before we knew it we were back on trail, hiking up the Kern River.

We reached Junction Meadow Campground and stopped for lunch. The trail then began to to climb out of the glaciated valley of the Kern River where we were once again surrounded by impressive views. Some dark clouds came in and cooled us down with a light drizzle, it felt nice during the climb.

The glaciated valley from which we just came. The Kern River and the hot spring were real nice, but I was glad to be climbing up again.

Our hike for the day ended at Wallace Creek Junction where the High Sierra trail, John Muir trail, and Pacific Crest trail Meet.

Relaxing and cooking dinner.

I tossed some flys in the creek and caught a bunch of these little guys who actually put up a good fight for their size. Again i released them back into the water.

We woke up early with chill damp air and decided we were going to try and push a big day and maybe even summit early.

I met this guy on the way to Crabtree Meadow.

After Crabtree it was off toward Guitar Lake where we would dry our stuff from the night before and fuel up.

It was so early when we got to Guitar Lake we decided to push for the summit of Mt Whitney a day early, giving us an easy hike down from Trail camp the next day.

Time to climb..

This is Trail Crest, it’s 1.9 miles to the summit from here. We could feel the altitude a bit, but our bodies were pretty adjusted by now. We decided to only take what we needed and stashed everything else here to pick up on our way down.

Have to be careful on this stretch, you don’t want to slip and fall. Guitar Lake down below on the right.

We made it!

Its a long way down to Lone Pine.

Since we had the summit of the lower 48 to ourselves there was only one thing left to do before we headed down to Trail Camp.
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BN on top of Mt Whitney!

It was hard to leave, but we still had some hiking ahead of us…

Guitar Lake

And down the 97 or what ever switchbacks to Trail Camp. I thought they would never end, but I was happy to touch some snow.

View from my tent. The shooting stars and night sky were just amazing this night. Maxpower tore down his tent at 1am to sleep under the stars in his sleeping bag. I wish I had my DSLR with me to take some long exposures. I couldn’t wait to get some real food and a beer, but it was also sort of sad to leave these beautiful mountains and the trail behind. I sort of just wanted to keep going.

We got up early and watched the sunrise before heading down the last 6.5 miles of our Journey.

And Done!

Breakfast at the Mt Whitney Portal Store

And a stop on the way back to Orange County

3 comments

  1. Dan

    Great trip report! I’m heading up there next month to do the first section of the Sierra High Route (Roper Route). Your pics are really good and was wondering what you used to take them?

    1. Chris

      Thanks Dan! I really wanted to bring my DSLR, but didnt want to carry the extra lbs, so I brought along a Canon S100 point & shoot, which works very well. Best of luck on your trip. -Chris

  2. Mom

    Wow. The “look” was nothing like what I imagined the High Sierra — all the rock and views.. So used to Vermont TREEs sans views. I was imagining something more like a “redwood forest” kind of thing… NOT.
    What was the little critter, some kind of Woodchuck? The big guy — an Elk? Fabulous photos.

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