Miter Basin and More, John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia National Park, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13144A, Backpacking


  • Hike a challenging cross-country route
  • Travel lightly with a smaller-than-usual group size
  • Explore or relax on two planned layover days


  • Great meals for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike
  • Group cooking gear and equipment, including bear-safe food storage canisters
  • Pre-trip campsite


DatesAug 17–26, 2013
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffTom Miller

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Miter Basin is only the first of four high and isolated lake basins we’ll explore in the region of high peaks and sparkling lakes that surrounds Mt. Whitney. The two highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada  Mt. Williamson and Mt. Whitney  are found here, as well as four more peaks over 14,000 feet plus a dozen more higher than 13,000 feet. Perched high among these peaks at 12,800 feet is Lake Tulainyo, the highest lake in the Sierra Nevada. This is simply some of the highest, most rugged, and most spectacular country on the continent.

The vast majority of visitors to this spectacular region are drawn to the summit of Mt. Whitney. We will avoid Whitney and instead explore the surrounding peaks and basins, an area of equally striking beauty but without the overwhelming crowds of Mt. Whitney.

We'll be travelling lightly in a group of no more than six participants, plus two leaders. This is fewer than is typical for these trips; many of which have up to 12 or 13 participants in addition to leaders.

Our trip follows a high and challenging route  part off trail and part on  that traverses the rugged alpine terrain immediately beneath the dramatic peaks of the Whitney Crest. From Miter Basin, we cross a rugged 12,600-foot cross-country pass to Crabtree Lakes Basin, then continue on to explore Wallace Lakes Basin and Wright Lakes Basin. A highlight of our trip is two planned layover days, one in Miter Basin and one near Wallace Lake, which will provide excellent opportunities for climbing peaks, exploring peaceful and secluded lakes, or just relaxing.

Nine days and 53 miles after we begin, we will follow a lightly-used trail over Shepherd Pass and leave the alpine beauty of the High Sierra to descend steeply into the Owens Valley.

Although we start and finish our trip on major trails, over a third of our mileage will be on cross-country routes or unmaintained trails. The off-trail hiking and scrambling is not technically difficult, but there will be enough challenging sections to add some adventure. Altogether, our route includes two cross-country passes and two high trail passes. All camps but one will be above 11,000 feet.


Our trip starts on the evening of Saturday, August 17, when we will meet for dinner at a campground near Lone Pine, CA, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. We will discuss the trip and make preparations for our departure the following morning. Although the trip starts Saturday evening, participants are encouraged to arrive a day or two early to start acclimatizing to the thin mountain air.

Early on Sunday morning, we will serve breakfast at the campground and drive to the Cottonwood Creek trailhead.

Our hiking schedule is not rigid  how far we get each day and where we camp depends on how we feel, the weather, and other factors outside our control. Likewise, our precise route has not been rigidly set since we will be hiking off-trail for much of the trip. There may be portions of the route that were not scouted by the leaders before the trip  some scouting will be required during the trip, and flexibility is important. The itinerary described here should be taken as a general plan, and the actual route and schedule may depart from it.

Day 1: We plan to cover about seven miles and climb about 1,000 feet to a camp near Long Lake. We will be carrying our heaviest loads of the trip – all of our supplies for nine days  and excellent conditioning will be required from the very start.

Day 2: We cross the Sierra Crest at New Army Pass, descend the west side to Rock Creek, and leave the maintained trail. We follow a faint trail up Rock Creek into Miter Basin. Here we plan to camp above 11,000 feet in the shadow of The Miter, The Major General, and Mt. Langley, the southernmost 14,000-foot peak in the Sierra. A half dozen “minor” 13,000-foot peaks surround us.

Day 3: We will take a layover day to enjoy this beautiful place. Ambitious hikers may elect to scale a peak or climb to secluded lakes high above Rock Creek – the choices are abundant.

Day 4: This will be one of our hardest days. Hiking completely off-trail, we climb past Sky Blue Lake and a higher unnamed lake at 12,125 feet on our way to Crabtree Pass, the high point of our trip at 12,560 feet. We then descend the northwest side of the pass and follow Crabtree Creek to the Crabtree Lakes, at 11,300 feet.

Day 5: We continue down Crabtree Creek, eventually reaching a maintained trail near Crabtree Meadow. We will follow the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail north for about four or five miles to Wallace Creek, where we turn east on the trail that follows the creek upstream. We will camp along the creek below Wallace Lake. Again, we are surrounded by 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks.

Day 6: Our second planned layover day. This is a great place to climb a major peak (Mt. Barnard is ten feet shy of 14,000 feet), explore spectacular Wallace and Wales Lakes, or, if feeling particularly ambitious, hike to the highest lake in the Sierra, 12,800-foot Tulainyo.

Day 7: We resume our trek by hiking back down Wallace Creek. This time we leave the creek before reaching the Muir Trail, instead heading cross-country around the west ridge of Mt. Barnard and north into Wright Lakes Basin. We will make camp high in the basin, just south of an unnamed 13,540-foot “foothill” of 14,000-foot Mt. Tyndall. 

Day 8: We continue hiking off-trail, climbing 800 feet to cross a 12,000-foot ridge at Rockwell Pass and then descending 500 feet to the Shepherd Pass Trail. We climb 500 feet on this trail to the summit of Shepherd Pass. Although we will be on trail for the rest of the trip, when we'll be descending into the Owens Valley, this trail is lightly used and we shouldn’t meet many people. We will be thankful we are heading down this rough trail rather than up. Our final night is spent 1,800 feet below Shepherd Pass at Anvil Camp, where we enjoy fine views of the Owens Valley below.

Day 9: We hike down into the high desert. Our descent is rudely interrupted by a 500-foot climb, but mainly we just go down, descending 4,400 feet in six miles to finish our trip at the Symmes Creek trailhead.



Getting There

Our trip starts at a campground near Lone Pine, California. Lone Pine is located on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, about 210 miles from Los Angeles, 230 miles from Las Vegas, 260 miles from Reno, and 340 miles from San Francisco/Oakland. Trip members arriving from other parts of the country should explore the option of flying to one of these major cities and sharing a rental car or arranging a ride. We will send a trip roster to all participants well before the trip to help facilitate ride sharing. Specific driving directions will also be sent before departure.

Accommodations and Food

We will plan a diverse and appealing menu to accommodate both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. One leader is vegetarian, the other is not  they both intend to eat well! Any food allergies or limitations, including being vegetarian, should be indicated to the leader as far in advance of the trip as possible. Responsibility for cooking will be shared among the trip members. Our first meal will be dinner on the evening when we meet. The last meal of the trip will be lunch on the final day of the outing.

Trip Difficulty

The overall trip is rated 4 (on a scale of 1 for our least difficult trips to 5 for our most difficult trips).  Altogether, we will hike about 53 miles, of which about 20 will be off-trail. Off-trail sections of the trip include some relatively easy walking, but also some hiking on rough terrain with loose footing. These sections are not technically difficult, but can be tiring and demanding. Cross-country hiking requires good stamina, patience, good balance, and good humor. We plan to hike four to ten miles on travel days, and we intend to take two layover days. We will go over one high cross-country pass and one lower cross-country ridge. We also cross the Sierra Crest twice: once on a major trail and once on a lightly maintained trail.

Our elevation gains on moving days will be greater than 1,000 feet on all days but one, with a maximum daily gain of 1,700 feet. The total elevation gain summed over seven planned moving days will be nearly 8,000 feet. Our greatest elevation loss will be on the final day, when we descend 4,400 feet to the lowlands of the Owens Valley. All but one of our planned camps are above 11,000 feet.

Participation in this outing requires that you be experienced, in shape, and have reasonable expectations for the trip. Recent backpacking experience and very good aerobic conditioning are essential. Experience in cross-country backpacking is not required, but hiking on rough, rocky terrain does require good balance and a patient, tolerant attitude, both of which are requirements for the trip. Our objectives are to enjoy some spectacular country and to complete the trip safely as a group.

Equipment and Clothing

A list of suggested personal equipment will be sent to all participants. (If you would like the list before signing up, let the leader know and he will send you a copy.) Each person should keep the weight of personal gear below 25 pounds (including your backpack) 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.

We will provide all food and cooking equipment, although you must bring your own eating utensils. Some of the group equipment is relatively bulky, particularly pot sets and bear canisters. Your pack should be sufficiently large to carry an item about the size of a full paper grocery bag in addition to your personal gear.

Although Sierra summers are generally relatively 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 rain gear, you should bring a waterproof jacket and rain pants rather than a poncho.



  • The USGS 7.5-minute "Cirque Peak," "Johnson Peak," "Mt. Whitney," and "Mt. Williamson" quadrangles together cover our planned route.
  • The Mount Whitney High Country map published by Tom Harrison Maps ( covers the complete trip and, although it doesn't provide as many details as the 7.5 minute maps, is a good general map of the area.


  • Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails (The Mountaineers). An excellent general reference to climbing routes, cross-country routes, and trails in the Sierra Nevada.
  • Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Published by the California Academy of Sciences. A general reference to Sierra life. It covers trees, wildflowers, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and other life in the mountains.


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.

Our route for this trip lies almost entirely within designated wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines "wilderness" as "an area where the earth and its community are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor." This important act established the National Wilderness Preservation System, originally protecting nine million acres of national forest lands. Today some 106 million acres are encompassed by the system, including the John Muir Wilderness and the Sequoia and Kings Canyon Wilderness, where we will be "visitors" for all nine days of our hike.

While the area we're visiting has been protected, it continues to be threatened by outside forces such as climate change and pollution. Many of the surrounding areas are unprotected and face additional threats such as logging and poorly planned development. We'll have an opportunity on our outing to discuss such threats, the importance of large protected areas for habitat resilience, and what we can do to support work on these issues. Participants are also encouraged to share information about other environmental issues such as those in their local communities.

Visitors like us have an effect on the wilderness. Our trip will provide a good opportunity to consider why it’s important we minimize this effect and how to do so. We may also discuss how wilderness practices have changed over the years and how they can be further improved while at the same time allowing for a special experience. 

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



Growing up on a farm in the flatlands of rural Iowa, Tom Miller enjoyed exploring the outdoors, even though there weren't any mountains nearby. After college he joined some friends for a week of backpacking in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming and was hooked immediately. Since then Tom has backpacked throughout the West. His first Sierra Club outing was as a participant on a backpacking trip to the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Since 2006 he's volunteered as either assistant or leader each year for national Sierra Club backpacking outings, often completing multiple trips.

Assistant Leader:

Jocelyn’s first Sierra Club outing was in 1980 at age 15 on a junior’s backpack trip. She has been assisting and leading backpack trips with the Sierra Club since 2000. She loves to run, cycle, practice yoga and bake tasty dessert treats. In the city you will find her practicing architecture and checking out the urban landscape. In the mountains, she is happiest when hiking cross-country and swimming in alpine lakes.

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