Inspiration in Pioneer Basin, John Muir Wilderness, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13131A, Backpacking


  • Backpack in classic High Sierra scenery: deep granite canyons and high passes
  • Enjoy expansive vistas and sparkling lakes
  • Explore or relax on a planned layover day


  • Hearty vegetarian-friendly meals
  • All group cooking gear and bear canisters
  • Dinner and campsite before the hike


DatesJul 27–Aug 3, 2013
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffMike Bolar

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Trip Overview

The Trip

We will lead you over a 12,000-foot Sierra Crest pass into a lake-filled alpine basin where wildflower-strewn meadows lie beneath the snow-capped granite peaks of the Sierra Crest. The route will travel through classic High Sierra terrain without the crowds associated with the John Muir Trail.

Whether you have some limited backpacking experience or you'd like to give it a try for the first time--as long as you enjoy hiking and are willing to do the appropriate preparation--we can help you learn what you need to know to enjoy a week in the wilderness. Your leaders have years of backpacking experience and enjoy sharing their expertise with others.

In pre-trip correspondence, we will make suggestions about getting in shape and provide you with a detailed list of gear to bring. The leaders are willing and able to spend time with you prior to the trip, guiding you as you prepare. Although the trip is not a beginner’s trip, we will teach anyone interested about basic skills such as packing and adjusting your pack, selecting a campsite, pitching a tent, and reading a topographic map. We'll discuss and practice Leave No Trace principles, trail etiquette, camp hygiene, water purification, cross-country travel, and trip planning. During the trip we will learn about conservation issues that affect the area in which we are hiking.


Day 1: Our trip officially starts at 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 27th when we meet at a campground near the Mosquito Flat Trailhead. We will set up a car shuttle at our exit point. In the morning, we will serve an early breakfast and prepare to start our hike.

Day 2: The first hiking day will be our most strenuous with our fully loaded packs and significant elevation gain as we access the high county. After breakfast we will begin the climb to Mono Pass, taking to time to enjoy the views from the pass. The distance is not great (about four miles), but we will ascend nearly 2,000 feet with our heaviest packs of the trip, so we will take it slow and easy. From the pass, we will continue another three miles to Golden Creek, where we will make our first camp.

Day 3: The next day we will hike three miles into Pioneer Basin the centerpiece of our adventure. We will spend two nights in Pioneer Basin.

Day 4: We will have a layover day at Pioneer Basin, where we will be able to climb Hopkins Peak or have another adventure. Or if you prefer a more leisurely time on the layover day you can rest in camp, fish, read a book, or swim. 

Day 5: We leave Pioneer Basin with our backpacks on and continue to our next camp site at Third Recess. The day is not long at approximately five miles, leaving us time to explore the recess in the afternoon.

Day 6: We continue on our journey to Hopkins Basin and our camp at Upper Hopkins Lakes. We will hike over six miles for the day.

Day 7:  The sixth hiking day holds the promise of adventure as we continue the journey to our final campsite off-trail. We will cross over Hopkins Pass on our way to Big McGee Lake. The distance is short--less than three miles--but the going will be slow as we pick our route over the pass.

Day 8: On our last hiking day, with seven downhill hiking miles and light backpacks, we work our way to the trailhead and our waiting cars.

Some additional scouting to locate camp sites may be required during the trip. Flexibility is important. The itinerary described here should be taken as a general plan, and the actual route and schedule may depart from this plan.



Accommodations and Food

We will plan a diverse and appealing menu to accommodate both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Responsibility for cooking will be shared among the trip members. Our first meal will be dinner the evening of Saturday, July 27th and our last meal will be lunch on the last day.

Trip Difficulty

Our trip officially starts at 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 27th when we will meet at a campground near the Mosquito Flat trailhead off of Rock Creek Road.  Rock Creek road begins at route 395, 15 miles south of Mammoth Lakes and 24 miles north of Bishop, California; and ends after 10 miles, at the Mosquito Flat trailhead. Driving time to the campground is about 6-7 hours from Las Vegas, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or about four hours from Reno, Nevada. We will provide a roster before the trip begins, so participants can make carpool arrangements.

We strongly recommend that participants arrive a day early and sleep at altitude in order to get a head start on acclimatization. There are numerous campgrounds along Rock Creek Road, located at elevations of 7,000 to 9,000 feet. Another good option would be to stay in Mammoth Lakes, which is located at 8,000 feet elevation and has numerous lodging and dinner options.

We expect to return to the trailhead by mid afternoon on Saturday, August 3rd.

Equipment and Clothing

A list of suggested personal equipment will be sent to all participants. Each person should keep the weight of personal gear (including your backpack) below 25 pounds so that, with the addition of approximately 15 to 20 pounds of commissary equipment and food, total pack weight will be less than 40 to 45 pounds at the start (not including water).

We will provide all food and cooking equipment, although you must bring your own eating utensils and water purification. Some of the group equipment is relatively bulky; particularly pot sets and bear canisters. Your pack should be sufficiently large enough to carry an item about the size of a full paper grocery bag (alternatively, four or five one-gallon milk jugs) in addition to your personal gear.

A couple of additional remarks on shelter and raingear: although Sierra summers are generally  dry, you still must be prepared for rain. For shelter, tents are strongly encouraged, and lightweight waterproof tarps are the required minimum. Where possible, we will help participants contact other trip members who want to share shelters. For clothing, you should bring a waterproof jacket and rain pants rather than a poncho.

Footwear may be the most critical item. You will need broken-in backpacking boots that fit over the ankle.


It is recommended that you bring your own map and compass as part of your ten essentials. The leader will help anyone interested in improving his/her map & compass skills.


  • Tom Harrison's "Mono Divide “Trail High Country" and “Map of Mammoth High Country.”
  • For detailed topographic maps, see the USGS 7.5-minute topographic maps, “Mount Abbot”, “Convict Lake” and “Mount Tom.”
  • The Falcon Guide Hiking Northern California by Ron Adkison describes the hike into Pioneer Basin.


  • Hart, John, Walking Softly in the Wilderness: The Sierra Club Guide to Backpacking.
  • Curtis, Rick, The Backpacker's Field Manual.
  • Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada (published by the California Academy of Sciences). An excellent guide to the plants and wildlife of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails (published by The Mountaineers). An excellent general reference to trails and climbing routes in the Sierra Nevada


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

We will discuss conservation topics pertinent to the area of the Sierra Nevada, such as development, logging, road building, overgrazing, water pollution, and loss of habitat. The discussions will include a history of the Sierra Club’s conservation efforts, going back to John Muir‘s purpose for outdoor outings.  With a goal to create a greater appreciation of wild places, we will explore literature from great outdoor writers who have been influential in the conservation movement.


Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Inyo National Forest.



Mike Bolar is a new leader who recently completed the National Outings Training Trip in 2010 and led a trip in 2011. He went on his first Sierra Club National Outing in 1994 and has been hiking and backpacking in the western United States for the past 20 years. Mike enjoys spending time with his wife and three daughters, reading, adventuring in the outdoors and introducing others to wild places.

Assistant Leader:

Carol MacFarlane has been hiking and backpacking in the mountains of the west since the early 70s. She participated in her first Sierra Club National Outings backpack in 1971 and began leading backpacking trips for National Outings in 2000. Carol is a retired educator who loves to spend time walking her dog, learning Italian, and volunteering for various organizations. Her participants rave about her backcountry cuisine.

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