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The High Sierra Trail (8/1/1998-8/15/1998): 1 | 2 | 3

-- 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 route.

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. 

Tom Reynolds | >> Part 2 >>

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