Let me introduce you to Glen, Pinchot, Mather and Muir, the four main passes of the High Sierra Nevada. All at an altitude of around 12,000 feet or 3,636 meter, they make up the big test of the Sierra Nevada.After an unplanned extra zero in Lone Pine (one of us got turned around by a ranger), we traverse Kearsarge Pass and camp 4 miles from Glen Pass. The next morning we set out to take this first test.
At first we take a wrong turn and are headed down to Charlotte Lake. This would have cost us 5 extra miles, if I had not asked people coming up how the pass was and they responded with ‘we do not know, going there now’. Shortly after, the snow started and micro spikes were needed. When there was no snow, the trail was mostly rock scrambling, slow going either way. At 10 am we finally made it up to the pass.
Pinchot Pass was waiting for us the next day. Standing 12,107 feet (3,668 meter) tall, the highest pass of all four. Both the uphill and downhill were very snowy, so it was slow going for the day. We ended up only doing 8.7 miles, as we had to wade through Kings River, which we wanted to do in the morning.
Just after Pinchot we met a John Muir Trail hiker, who was hiking the trail by herself. At camp she joined us and the agreed to traverse Mather Pass with us the next day. As she was carrying two bear canisters, we gave her the trail name ‘Toucan’.
The Pacific Crest Trail basically follows the John Muir Trail (JMT) from the base of Mount Whitney to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. The JMT officially starts on the summit of Mount Whitney and ends in Yosemite Valley, or vice versa. Most JMT-hikers go from Yosemite to Mount Whitney, you then build up to higher and higher passes.
The JMT is known to be amongst the most beautiful trails in the world. That we PCT-hikers get to hike most of it just incredible.
The next morning we got up extra early for Mather Pass, the most challenging of all four passes. Almost as high as Pinchot, but way more snow and a steeper climb at the end. With all the snow this year, most hikers end up rock climbing up to the last snow chutes to the pass. This rock climbing is paired with slow and careful planning on the next step. The final chute has a vertical climb to the pass, making it very sketchy. We all made it to the pass safely.
On the descend, Toucan told us to go ahead as she couldn’t keep up anymore. Our pace (PCT hikers are generally better accustomed to hike long distances) was to high for her and caused knee issues. As a group we decided to not leave her alone for the day with a possible injury and camped earlier then planned. Leave no one behind.
A good night’s rest did her knee well, as the next morning the pain had subsided. We went our own ways, mainly forced by the fact that we had planned for less days of hiking then Toucan and would run out of food if we stuck with her.
Our initial plan was to got up and over Muir Pass, the lowest of the four, but with more miles to go to the pass we hoped to get to the pass and sleep in the shelter on top. Muir Pass is the most gradual ascend of all four, but is known for its miles and miles of snow. Coming from only 8,700 feet, the climb was 3,300 feet over 14 miles of which the last 4 were snow packed.
As we climbed and climbed, we got demotivated each time we got over a hill and just saw more snow and more climbing. But by 6 pm we finally made it to the shelter on top of the pass. Too late to go further, we did indeed sleep in the shelter. The sunset was incredible and made all the climbing worth it.
The day after we descended and officially left he High Sierra Nevada. We hiked a couple of days in the Low Sierra Nevada before getting to our next town Mammoth Lakes, where we ended up taking two zeros.
The last view on the beautiful High Sierra. The stretch was not easy to get through, lost of snow hiking, uphill and downhill beating down the knees, slipping and sliding, finding the trail under miles of snow pack. But it was also the most stunning part on earth I’ve visited so far and hiking through it was incredibly rewarding. High Sierra, Bye Sierra.
More on the days through the Low Sierra Nevada from Mammoth Lakes to South Lake Tahoe in my next post.
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