Santiam Alpine Club
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Sierra High Route

SAC members Rich Margosian, John Coyier and myself, Joanna Picchi, along with Chemeketan Bill Saur recently (Aug 23-Sept 3) completed 12 days/96 miles or about half of the Sierra High Route. This is a challenging off trail, non technical timberline traverse following the Sierra crest. For the most part, the route stays in the "magic zone" between 9,000 and 11,500 feet elevation, above brush and willows and below unstable talus.

The route starts in Kings Canyon, climbing immediately 6,000 ft to the Monarch Divide, which it parallels through lovely lake basins for 30 miles to the Glacier Divide. It then briefly joins the John Muir Trail to cross Mather Pass to Palisade Lakes. We met a packer for a resupply at Bishop's Pass on day 6, then descended down an enormous granite apron to "the most magnificant gorge in the High Sierra", Le Conte canyon, which is the lowest point on the High Route. The route then climbs over Goddard Divide to the Evolution Lakes Basin, crosses Glacier Divide to the vast and austere Humphrey's Basin, then traverses the elegant Bear Lakes region which Roper calls one of the most remote locals in the High Sierra.

Finally we arrived at Lake Italy where we joined the Hilgard Trail south to exit at Lake Thomas Edison and our spotted car. Most of the route wanders through gentle, stunningly beautiful and varied terrain dotted with pristine lakes. The passes were usually a labyrinth of granite ramps on the south side, but loose unstable scree on the north and sometimes involved seemingly endless boulder hopping.

Most mornings found frost on our tents, but days were sunny and warm with cool breezes to ward off the mid afternoon heat. There was always an evening swim. I would especially look forward to morning and evening when the peaks and lakes would magically glow with warm gold to purple hues. The Sierra Nevada truly is the "Range of Light." We rarely encountered another soul.

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