Hike the Sierra High Route in California

By Mike Boisvert.

The most spectacular long-distance mountain walk in North America is so little known that only a few hikers have made the trek in its entirety. During nearly 200 miles, the backpacker will cross only one road, see only a few buildings, and walk on established trails less than half the time. And, as a bonus, almost all of the route traverses timberline, that marvelous landscape sandwiched between forest and talus.

The Sierra High Route (also called the Roper Route) is a cross-country hiking route, 195 miles (314 km) long, through the Sierra Nevada. It was scouted by Steve Roper and described by him in his book Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country.

Much of the Sierra High Route runs parallel to the John Muir Trail, staying east of that trail and keeping above the timberline to higher elevations—between 9,000 and 11,500 feet (2,700 and 3,500 m). About a third of the route follows maintained hiking trails (including 28 miles (45 km) of the John Muir Trail); the rest of the route traverses off-trail meadowlands, granite slabs, and, at high elevations, difficult loose-talus terrain. Hiking the route does not require advanced mountaineering skills, but the hiker occasionally encounters class-3 rock faces in which footholds and handholds must be carefully chosen and tested. The route requires the use of route descriptions, topographical maps, and one or more instruments (e.g., compass, GPS receiver) to navigate: "High Route adventurers will not be put off by the lack of an actual trail, since much of the singular joy of cross-country travel lies in wandering through the timberline country as the pioneers did".

Very few people have hiked the entire Sierra High Route in one trip. Roper divides the route into five segments:

  • Cirque Country: Cedar Grove to Dusy Basin, traversing the Monarch Divide, Lake (Cartridge Creek) Basin, Upper Basin, Palisades Basin, Barrett Lakes Basin, and Dusy Basin.
  • Whitebark Country: Dusy Basin to Lake Italy, through LeConte Canyon, Muir Pass, Evolution Basin, the Glacier Divide, Humphrey's Basin, and Bear Lakes Basin.
  • Lake Country: Lake Italy to Devils Postpile by way of Bear Lakes Basin, Mono Lakes Basin, the Recesses, the Silver Divide, and the Mammoth Crest.
  • Headwaters Country: Devil's Postpile to Tuolomne Meadows, crossing the Ritter Range and the Catherdral Range. Roper calls this "Headwaters Country" because the route crosses headwaters of the San Joaquin River.
  • Canyon Country: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes through Yosemite's north country.

From south to north (the direction Roper recommends hiking it), the Sierra High Route passes through Kings Canyon National Park, the Invo National Forest, and Yosemite National Park.

Here are some helpful links:

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