The High Sierra Trail (8/1/1998-8/15/1998): 1 | 2
-- Text and Photos ©Tom
Reynolds. All Rights Reserved.
The High Sierra Trail runs 71 miles from Crescent
Meadow on the West side of the Sierra to Mount Whitney on the
East side. From Mount Whitney to the road is an 11mile trail
called the Mt. Whitney trail. The trek is 82 miles if you bag
the peak, 78 miles if you do not. The High Sierra is considered
THE east-west trail much as the JMT is considered THE north-south
The winter of 1998 was unlike
any I had experienced. Snow was 200-300% of normal and was melting
late. Streams were torrents and rivers impassible. I already
had two hikes scrubbed because of the weather.
For three months I had checked everything
available on the conditions. I prepared for ice, snow and raging
river crossings. I read the reports of the few PCT thru hikers
who had braved the sierra. Most did not and simply skipped this
section. It was clear that winter conditions existed in the
sierra as of late July. We needed to prepare for that.
Start-Crescent Meadow to Hamilton Lake
.The first 14 or so miles of the High Sierra
trail is along the Middle Fork Kaweah River. The Kaweah is the
major drainage South of the Kings and West of the Kern. Its
headwaters are along a ridge of mountains called the Great Western
Divide that run from Triple Divide Peak where the drainage of
the Kings, Kern and Kaweah meet all the way South through Mineral
King. It is rugged beautiful country. The trail is essentially
level as it crosses the Kaweah Tributaries of Panther, Mehrton,
Nine Mile and Buck Creeks.
In slightly less than a mile we reach Eagles
View, a point where we can see all the way up the valley to
the Great Western divide. Of course there is a better view from
Moro Rock, just behind us. This section is open because of the
Buckeyee Flat fire several years ago. Only once in the many
times I have hiked this trail had the air been clear. That was
12 years ago before the fire. Now the smog from Fresno has ruined
the view of the Valley.
Panther Creek crosses the trail in five (5)
places. They are all simple walk acrosses. After 5 miles we
meet Mehrton Creek, the first difficult water crossing. It is
noon and the water is low. A simple step across. However, if
you blow it, it is several hundred feet down the cliff. I climb
next to the creek and find the campsites empty. These are the
first campsites with a bearbox. They are small, slanted and
usually filled with campers. The snow covered Great Western
Divide is to the east and the ridge that separates the valley
from Mineral King is to the South. Cathedral Peak stands imposingly
across the valley. It is still smoggy but I say nothing.
We are on the trail early and across Mehrton
Creek. The flat trail continues up the valley and the Great
Western Divide gets closer. Soon Nine-Mile Creek has come and
gone-a walk across! At Buck Creek is a brand new bridge. The
last 1/2 mile to Bearpaw is a 600' uphill. For those who don't
know, Bearpaw High Sierra Camp provides food, tent cabins, showers
and flush toilets 11 1/2 miles down the High Sierra Trail. Reservations
are hard to get and very expensive.
After breakfast we leave for Hamilton Lake.
Wildflowers are 3 feet high as we traverse the river canyon
beyond BearPaw. We drop to Lone Pine Creek to find another new
bridge, then climb to Hamilton Falls. The trail crosses the
creek BETWEEN the falls. You must ford the stream and the rushing
water from the upper falls. If you screw up you slide down the
lower falls hundreds of feet.
Middle Hamilton Lake is a classic glacially
formed lake. To the North is Angel Wings. To the South is the
massive ridge called Valhalla. East is the top of the glaciers
travel, the flanks of Eagle Scout Peak. It is 3000' up in three
directions. On the west is a long trickling waterfall from the
uppermost Hamilton Lake. Try to imagine the alpine glow on three
sides. Got It? OK, now multiple this by two! It was a full moon
and the moonlight illuminated Angel Wings. Moon glow is even
more spectacular than sun glow.
By dinner empty Hamilton Lake is full of campers.
Every possible site is taken.
Reynolds | >> Part 2 >>