The Sierra High Route (SHR 2016)

The Sierra High Route (SHR) is a 314 km (195 mile) long backcountry hiking route in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, USA. It runs from Roads End in Kings Canyon National Park to Mammoth lakes in Yosemite national park. The famous climber Steve Roper wrote a book about this route back in 1997. In his book, he went through the north bound version of the route, this is also why we decided to follow the same direction. 

GPS track of the Sierra High Route shown on a topographic map
2/3 of the Sierra High Route. 


We are Zeno (29) and Ann-Lauriene (30), a married outdoor-enthusiast couple. We were born in Switzerland and Germany and lived in Montreal for the last 4 1/2 year to get our doctoral degree in Physics. During a roadtrip through the USA back in 2009, we first hiked together more seriously and loved it. Since then, we hiked Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in continuous US), Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, Mana Loa in Hawaii, all 46 peaks in the Adirondacks and many more. 
Possible times to complete the SHR is from June to Early October. In the early (May/June) and late season (September/October) snow might still or already be present. During the sSummer months large amounts of mosquitos are found on the route. Due to our ongoing travel plans, we had to start our hike rather late in the season on 17 September 2016. The risk here is that winter can come at any time and that the days are significantly shorter (12:13hr on Sept 17th and 11:49hr on Sept 29th). Unfortunately, the early winter terminated our trip at Red's Meadow so that we completed 2/3 of the route in 13 days. 
Packing and planning the food you want to bring is very crucial. Our complete food plan can be found here. We planned to resupply at Parcher's Resort in Bishop and at Red's Meadow in Mammoth Lake. The first charges 25$ per box and the later 40$ per box. To package our food we used a 32qt (30l) plastic box from Target. For each resupply station, we used one box. We packed everything two days before our trip and sent it off via USPS and UPS the day before we were heading to Fresno. The one thing to keep in mind when going late in the season is that Red's Meadow closes at then end of September (or earlier, if snow is already present). So, if you want to resupply at Red's, this would be the last day to pass through there. 

We already owned most of the necessary gear. Our full packing list is linked here. What we learned on this trip, is to go as light as possible. However, we always made sure that there is still some comfort. One example is our tent, which is a Black Diamond Sklight (2-3 person) with a weight of 5 lb (2.26 kg). We already owned this tent and did not want to invest another 500 USD in a lighter tent. Looking back, we definitely could have reduced our weight even further, however, that would have meant investing more in new gear. Regarding safety, we bought a DeLorme InReach SE device that offers two-way communication in case of an emergency. We that device you can call for help at anytime and be rescued by a helicopter if necessary. Having this device on hand, made the trip much more safe and our family were more relaxed as well. 

Hygiene in the Sierra High Route is very limited. A full shower can be taken before the trip, at Parcher's resort (day 6) and Red's Meadows (day 13). On other days, hand sanitizer and baby wipes are your best friends. As you'll be traveling through national parks, you have to pack in what you pack out, that means ALL of your garbage. In terms of toilet paper, we found a perfect solution to avoid stinky garbage. We put a small ziplock bag with baking soda in a larger ziplock bag. In the smaller one we put our used toilet paper and then closed the two bags. This effectively kept all the stinkiness inside. We brought a deodorant creme which we actually did not end up using. After 1 day, you are smelling anyways, why even bother with deodorant :) Also I made sure to not be on my period during that time by continuously taking my birth control pill. I did this to avoid any hassle with tampons and their waste. Other than toothbrush/toothpaste, hand sanitizer and baby wipes and vaseline, we did not bring any cosmetics with us. On 'bad hair' days (which is every day), just wear a hat :)


Our plan was to hike the full route in 20 days and with no rest days. We roughly followed Erin Wired's 2016 SHR plan. Unfortunately, due to the winter coming during our trip, we had to abort our trip after reaching Red's Meadow. However, we will continue and finish the last section in August this year (2017) and the blog will be updated then. We were in fairly good shape before the hike, but never hiked more than 2 days in a row with large and heavy backpacks. Also, this was our first time going off-route. Fortunately, every day we achieved our daily goal. However, do not be discouraged if you do not achieve this goal. It is a very hard route and you might need to adapt from your regular hiking schedule. In addition to the physical fitness that is necessary to finish the route, the mental is fitness is as crucial. Being so remote for a long, can be mentally exhausting. I think it is very important to only attempt this route with a partner you can fully rely on. Zeno and I supported each other in ways we have never done before. Here is our day-by-day plan (click on the day to jump to the post):

Day 1 (Sep 17)   -  Road's End to Lower Tent Meadow                  15.4km (9.6mi) - 7:13hr

Day 2 (Sep 18)   -  Grouse Lake to Horseshoe Lake                      17.3km (1.7mi) - 9:12hr
Day 3 (Sep 19)   -  Horseshoe Lake to Lake Basin                         14.2km (8.8mi) - 10:30hr
Day 4 (Sep 20)   -  Lower Lake Basin to Palisade Lake                  17.7km (11.0mi) - 11:13hr
Day 5 (Sep 21)   -  Palisade Lake to Barret Lake                            13.3km (8.3mi) - 10:06hr
Day 6 (Sep 22)   -  Barret Lake to Parcher's Resort                        18.3km (11.4mi) - 8:08hr
Day 7 (Sep 23)   -  Willows Campground to Little Petes Meadow   24.6km (15.3mi) - 10:26hr
Day 8 (Sep 24)   -  Little Petes Meadow to Darwin Bench               25.0km (15.5mi) - 10:19hr
Day 9 (Sep 25)   -  Darwin Bench to Puppet Lake                           17.6km (10.9mi) - 12:32hr
Day 10 (Sep 26) -  Puppet Lake to Lake Italy                                  19.7km (12.2mi) - 10:44hr
Day 11 (Sep 27) -  Lake Italy to Laurel Lake                                    21.6km (13.4mi) - 10:13hr
Day 12 (Sep 28) -  Laurel Lake to Duck Lake                                  24.5km (15.2mi) - 10:51hr
Day 13 (Sep 29) -  Duck Lake to Red's Meadows                           17.3km (10.7mi) - 6:34hr
Day 14 (Sep 30) -  Red's Meadows to LAX

Out total hiking time was 5 days 8 min and 6sec with a total elevation gain of 22,041m. In the graph below, each color represents one day of hiking. 

Graph showing the elevation gain per distance traveled along the Sierra High Route