Miter Basin and More, John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia National Park, California
- 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
|Dates||Aug 17–26, 2013|
|Difficulty||4 (out of 5)|
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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
The vast majority of visitors to this spectacular region are drawn to the summit of
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
Nine days and 53 miles after we begin, we will follow a lightly-used trail over
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
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
Day 2: We cross the Sierra Crest at
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
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
Day 6: Our second planned layover day. This is a great place to climb a major peak (
Day 7: We resume our trek by hiking back down
Day 8: We continue hiking off-trail, climbing 800 feet to cross a 12,000-foot ridge at
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.
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.
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 (www.tomharrisonmaps.com) 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.