Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sierra High Route, California

Hiker: Andrew Skurka, long-distance hiking champ, guide, and writer

Executive summary by darmansjah

The John Muir Trail is an overcrowded highway, and it too often goes low when the best terrain is almost always high. The Sierra High Route is not necessarily more stunning than the other big trails/routes I've done, but it's certainly more concentrated, putting the effort- and time-to-reward ratios off the charts. While the Colorado Rockies may be home for me, the High Sierra is the most majestic and rugged mountain range in the Lower 48. —Andrew Skurka

Length: 195 miles

The Details: Unlike Skurka’s biggest accomplishments, the Sierra High Route is within reach for mere mortals, while still a big challenge and major accomplishment. The route is similar to the John Muir Trail (JMT), but, well, higher, and it’s not a marked or maintained trail like the JMT. It cuts south-north through the heart of California’s High Sierra—starting in Kings Canyon National Park and passing through the John Muir Wilderness and Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest and Devils Postpile National Monument, as well as Yosemite National Park, before ending in the Hoover Wilderness—and more than half of it is off-trail, scrambling over peaks and ridgelines and requiring savvy route-finding skills.

Most hikers knock off the route in several separate trips on its five segments (though Skurka did it, along with ultrarunner Buzz Burrell, in just eight days, four hours) since the exposed travel at 9,000-12,000 feet that it requires is strenuous and subject to the whims of mountain weather.

When to Go: Summer or early fall, when the snows have melted and before they begin again

About Skurka: Andrew Skurka is one of the few people on this planet who can lay claim to the job description of professional hiker. In 2005, Skurka completed the 7,778-mile Sea-to-Sea Route, starting at Quebec’s Cape Gaspé and ending at Cape Alava in Olympic National Park, Washington, and piecing together the International Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail, Long Trail, North Country Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Northwest Trail. In 2007, the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year became the first (and, um, only) person to tick off the Great Western Loop—a 6,875-mile multiplex of a trail that links the Pacific Crest Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, and Arizona Trail. He completed it in just 208 days.

The author of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide (National Geographic Books, 2012), Skurka shares the knowledge he acquired on these trips through guided outings on which he teaches the skills required to cover long distances on the quick.

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