The summer of 2014 on the Sierra High Route I was taken to places in the mountains and within myself that were beyond my imagination. There had been whispers and mentions of the Sierra High Route among my backpacking comrades, and somehow those little whispers turned into solid plans. An earlier blog post recounts the weekend in February 2014 that we planned with maps on the table, beer in our hands, and friends by our side, but the trip had so much more in store for me than I ever could have planned.
Steve Roper’s goal in creating the Sierra High Route in the 70’s was to traverse the Sierra through gorgeous timberline country staying between 9,000 and 11,500 feet as much as possible, while using trails as little as possible. The nearly 200 mile route stretches from King’s Canyon to Bridgeport crossing over 33 passes through terrain that is wild, rough and secluded. As the editor of Backpacker Magazine said when he wrote about his venture on the route, “Curtains up. Lights on. This is some big, bad wilderness. It’s showtime.” It is a little traveled route, and even less traveled as a through hike. Most Sierra High Route hikers break the trip into sections, and complete it over a few seasons. We decided to attempt it all in one trip, the good Lord willing.
Our first day of hiking promised to be our most difficult. Unusually high temperatures were forecasted and our maps showed a 5,500 foot elevation gain over 7 miles. We carried our heaviest packs, loaded down with 8 days of food on legs that were yet to be hardened by the trail. It was the admission fee we had to pay to get access to one of the greatest attractions in the world.
After a predawn breakfast of cinnamon rolls, eggs, bacon and orange juice served out of my parents’ motorhome we drove down the road to the trailhead. It was a head down and plow ahead kind of day. There were moments I wanted to cry, fleeting moments I thought I’d give up, and not so fleeting moments when I questioned my intelligence regarding vacation planning. I don’t believe I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. But shortly after lunch break we had conquered the hill and took our first steps off trail.
The remainder of our trip we’d be following directions laid out for us in Roper’s Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country. “Contour due north through the open lodgepole forest for half a mile until reaching the creek dropping from Grouse Lake. Now ascend gentle terrain to the lakeshore.”
By 5 o’clock I was sitting at Grouse Lake. My rinsed out shirt was drying on a rock in front of me, my bare toes massaging the mossy lakeside grass. Rick was calling from across the lake “Fish on!” nearly every time he cast his line. Karen was around the corner, rinsing off the trail dust in the lake and somewhere behind me Val and Rich were making camp. I was sitting beside a 10,000 foot lake cradled by granite hills, the birds singing, the breeze blowing in an unmarred landscape existing the way God created it.
This is why I backpack.
I slept well that first night, because little did I know, that had been far from the most difficult day of the trip. A few days later I would send a rare message out to my parents via satellite technology that read “As magnificently beautiful as it is difficult.” This trip was going to take me to some incredible places. I hope to take you along to some of those places through this blog!