Kern Headwaters of the High Sierra, John Muir Wilderness, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13316A, Supported Trekking


  • Trek with only a day pack and let pack animals carry the equipment and food
  • Experience one of the most magnificent sections of the John Muir Trail
  • Four layover days to explore or relax


  • All meals from dinner the first day to lunch of the last day prepared by packer’s cook
  • Wranglers and pack animals, wranglers' gratuities
  • Shuttle by packer back to cars at Onion Valley trailhead


DatesAug 18–30, 2013
StaffMarvin Schinnerer

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Trip Overview

The Trip

On our journey to the headwaters of the Kern River, we'll explore some of the most magnificent and highest elevation country the Sierra has to offer.  We enter on the east side of the Sierra by way of Kearsarge Pass (11,823 feet) into the Bubbs Creek drainage, a tributary of the South Fork of the Kings River.  The view from the pass is impressive, and as we descend to our camp at Vidette Meadows we walk along the shores of the very beautiful Bullfrog Lake.  At the meadows we have a layover day to rest or explore the nearby Vidette Lakes. 

Our entry into the Upper Kern Basin is by way of Foresters Pass (13,200 feet).  In this magnificent region of peaks, streams, lakes and meadows we will have three layover days in addition to our moving days. This should give us plenty of time to sample what the country has to offer, including Milestone Basin and Wright lakes.  We exit the Upper Kern by way of Shepherd Pass (12,050 feet).  A little over 20 miles of our route is on the John Muir Trail and about five miles is on the High Sierra Trail, which crosses the Range from west to east.

The trip has a total of 13 days -- the first two will be for acclimation before starting on the trail, then 11 will be on the trail (four of which will be layover days). On the seven moving days, we will hike about 60 miles and gain about 11,000 feet in elevation.

The packer will furnish delicious meals, with a cook to handle all the kitchen chores including cleanup.  Chairs are furnished to relax in camp.  In case of rain the wranglers will put up a large tarp to sit under.  Each camp will be provided with a sit-down toilet and privacy tent.  Mules will carry all equipment and food except whatever we require during the day and carry in our day packs.


Day 1: Meet by 4 p.m. at a location on Rock Creek. Directions to Rock Creek are given in the Details section of this brochure. We will have a chance to meet and socialize with our fellow trip members before dinner is served at about 6 p.m.

Day 2: This is a day for acclimation to the higher elevation before starting on our backcountry trip.  A day hike in the Rock Creek area will be scheduled.  After the day hike we will move our camp to a location above the town of Independence, where the trail over Kearsarge Pass begins.  Here, at our new camp, we will be served dinner about 6:30 p.m. 

Day 3: After an early wakeup call and breakfast, we will deliver our gear (up to 35 pounds) to the packer, and start our climb to Kearsarge Pass, a distance of about five miles with a 2,800-foot elevation gain.  Another five miles or so, mostly downhill, brings us to our camp at Vidette Meadows.  Distance: about 10 miles and 2,800-foot elevation gain.

Day 4: Layover Day.  You can choose to visit Vidette Lakes or relax in camp and enjoy strolls in the meadows.

Day 5: We'll have a short move to a camp just above the junction of the creek coming down from Center Basin.  Anybody wanting more activity this day will have time to explore Center Basin. Distance: about four miles and 1,100-foot elevation gain.

Day 6: This will be another tough day similar to the first day climbing Kearsarge Pass. We'll climb the high (13,200 feet) Foresters Pass in about four miles and then descend to camp near the junction of the Shepherd Pass Trail.  Distance: about 10 miles and 2,400-foot elevation gain.

Day 7: A short move to a camp on the Kern River which will give access to the lakes of the Upper Kern and Milestone Basin.  A longer route can be taken to camp by way of Lake South America. Distance: shorter route is about four miles, mostly downhill / longer route is about eight miles and 1,000-foot elevation gain.

Day 8: Layover Day. On these two layover days we will be able to explore the Milestone Lakes Basin and the lakes of the Upper Kern.

Day 9: Layover Day.   

Day 10: We'll hike down the Kern River and up Wallace Creek to camp on Wright Creek. Distance: about 10 miles and 2,000-foot elevation gain. 

Day 11: Layover Day.  We'll explore the basin containing Wright Lakes. 

Day 12: We'll hike to and up Tyndall Creek, over Shepherd Pass, and down to Anvil Camp.  Distance: about 11 miles and 1,300-foot elevation gain.

Day 13: On our last day together, we'll finish with a hike to Shepherd Pass Trailhead. Distance: about eight miles and 800-foot elevation gain. 

Note: Day 12 and 13 hikes depend on obtaining a permit from the forest service to camp at Anvil Camp. The alternate plan would be to camp at Sheep Camp below Shepherd Pass on the west side. This would approximately interchange the distances indicated for days 12 and 13 and add several hundred feet of climb to day 13 while subtracting the same amount from day 12. Total downhill hiking from Shepherd Pass to the Shepherd Pass Trailhead is about 7,000.



Getting There

Our camp for the first night will be at a location on Rock Creek.  The road up Rock Creek goes west from Highway 395 at Tom’s Place, on the east side of the Sierra, about 15 miles south of Mammoth Lakes.  The sign at the turnoff from the Highway reads both Rock Creek and Tom’s Place.  Directions to the exact location of our meeting place, as well as the second night’s camp, will be given at a later date to those who have signed up for the trip. 

Sierra Club leaders are not allowed to make carpool arrangements for participants, but a list of trip members to contact for possible ride sharing arrangements will be provided before the trip.  If you are flying in from outside of California the nearest large airports are Reno, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  There is also a smaller airport at Mammoth Lakes. 

Accommodations and Food

We will use our individual tents and sleeping bags for accommodations at wilderness campsites after the first two nights of car camping.  At each camp a latrine will be dug, and a sit-down toilet and privacy tent will be set up by the wranglers.  Folding chairs will be provided for comfort in camp.  A large tarp will be set up in camp in case of rain.  All meals will be prepared and served by an experienced cook, beginning with dinner on the first day and ending with lunch on the last day.  The cook will also handle the cleanup after meals.  A food preference sheet will be furnished for trip members to fill out so that the food provided can more closely meet trip members' needs.  If you have special diet requirements, let us know and the trip leader will check with the packer to see if they can be accommodated.

Trip Difficulty

The overall trip rating is moderate to moderate-strenuous.  The relatively light day pack and frequent layover days make the trip suitable for most people in good health who follow a good conditioning program for at least a couple of month before the trip.  Be aware of the effect of the relatively high elevation on your hiking ability.  Refer to the itinerary for the individual day’s hiking requirements.  The days crossing Kearsarge, Foresters, and Shepherd passes require hiking days of up to 11 miles and elevation gains up to 2,800 feet, and should be considered strenuous.  Endurance is much more important than speed.  Our travel on moving days is all on trails, but exploring on layover days may involve cross-country routes over a range of difficulty.  These excursions are optional for trip members.

The weather is usually quite good at this time of the year in this area, but we should be prepared for wet and cold just in case.  In this same area in August of the summer of 1968 your leader experienced a high temperature well below freezing and a couple inches of snow. The high for the day in Bakersfield was 71 F, normal being 101 F. Last year, just to the north of this area we had afternoon thunderstorms most days, but mild temperatures.  Most likely it will be fairly dry with temperatures in the 55 to 70 F range for highs, and the 35 to 45 F for lows, but be prepared for considerable variation from these ranges. 

Equipment and Clothing

Those signing up for the trip will be furnished, a couple of months before the trip, with a detailed check list of required and optional personal items that they should bring on the trip. These items will be very similar to what you would bring on a backpack trip, except that the generous 35 lb. limit means that you can indulge in a little more luxury.  You need only a day pack to carry gear since the mules will carry everything except what you will need during the day on the trail.  The gear to be carried on the mules should preferably be placed in one large duffel bag.  However it is okay to split your gear into two bags. You'll need a sturdy pair of boots, broken in but not worn out, with good quality lug soles.  Your sleeping bag should be comfortable to about 25 F in case we get a cold spell. You can get by with a higher temperature-rated bag if you are willing to wear your warm clothes to bed.  A quality tent is recommended since we are camping at relatively high elevations and need to be prepared in case stormy weather catches us in an exposed location. The packer will furnish stoves, cookware, cooking utensils (including eating utensils and plates for trip members) and food.  You will also have a camp chair provided.  You might want to bring a mug or insulated beverage container for your hot drinks and a plastic container for lunch sandwiches.  The Sierra Club will furnish a group first-aid kit and a satellite phone in case of emergency. You are expected to furnish your own basic first-aid supplies such as band aids, blister material, headache relief, etc.


There are many sources of information on the Sierra Nevada in general, with some relating more specifically to the area we are visiting.  The same is true of maps.  We will list a few of each and leave it to you to search the internet if you want to find others. 


  • “A guide to the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness”.  Go to: and select “Wilderness  Maps” and then the map listed above ($12.00). This map at a scale of  1:63,360 has the advantage of showing the entire Sierra from Mammoth Lakes to the northern end of Golden Trout Wilderness in one set of two large maps at a bargain price.   The down side is that, unless you want to carry the entire sheet, you either have to cut out the section we travel or photocopy it.
  • “Kearsarge Pass Trail Map” and "Mt. Whitney High Country Trail Map” from Tom Harrison Maps.  Go to and select the “ location map” and then the above maps ($9.95).  These maps have the advantage of showing trail distances.
  • The U.S.G.S. 7.5-rninute maps "Kearsarge Peak," "Mt. Clarence King," "Mt. Williamson," "Mt. Brewer," and very small portions of the "Mt. Whitney" and "Mt. Kaweah" together cover our planned route.   Maps may be purchased online at:


  • Blackwell, Laid R., Wildflowers of the Eastern Sierra and adjoining Mojave Desert and Great Basin
  • Arnot, Phil, John Muir’s Range of Light.
  • Storer and Usinger, Sierra Nevada Natural History.
  • Secor, RJ, The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails.
  • Starr, Walter A., Starr's Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra Region.
  • Storer and Usinger, Sierra Nevada Natural History.
  • Horn, Elizabeth L., Sierra Nevada Wildflowers.
  • 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.


Since we are hiking in wilderness, our conservation focus will be on wilderness.  This includes how wilderness is defined, designated, and preserved.  Our contribution to wilderness preservation will be to follow Leave No Trace principles.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and the Inyo National Forest.



Marv Schinnerer, a native of Berkeley, started backpacking in the Sierra in 1948. Since that time he has hiked most of the trails, and numerous cross country routes, from Lake Tahoe to Domelands Wilderness at the extreme south end of the range. He has done significant hiking throughout the rest of California and many Western States. Numerous bicycle camping trips have taken him through much of California, most of New Zealand, and a significant portion of Australia. Marv was an instructor at City College of San Francisco from 1963 until retirement in 1996. He started leading Bay Chapter Sierra Club backpack trips in 1971 and National Supported Trekking trips the year he retired. He has led a total of 17 Supported Trekking trips for the Sierra Club.


Mark Sapiro is a longtime backpacker. He is also a rock climber and enthusiastic bicyclist. He has been leading Bay Chapter backcountry ski trips and assisting on Chapter backpack trips for more than 20 years. He has also assisted or co-led 11 Supported Trekking trips. Mark is a native of the Los Angeles area and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 50 years. He was dean of computer services at City College of San Francisco until his retirement in 1992 (at a relatively young age).

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