Nine Lake Basin, Sequoia National Park, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14142A, Backpack


  • Hike a challenging cross-county route
  • Visit spectacular, secluded Nine Lake Basin  
  • Explore or relax on two planned layover days


  • Great meals for vegetarians and non-vegetarians
  • Group cooking gear and equipment, including bear-safe food storage canisters
  • Campground before the hike 


DatesAug 23–Sep 1, 2014
Difficulty5 (out of 5)
StaffTom Miller

Trip Overview

The Trip

We start and end our trip on the west side of the Sierra, entering on the Alta Meadow Trail out of Wolverton and finishing nine days and 45 miles later on the spectacular High Sierra Trail through Kaweah Gap and Valhalla. The highlight of our trip is a challenging cross-country route over a succession of high passes—including Pterodactyl, Coppermine, and Lion Rock—leading to Nine Lake Basin, a rugged alpine sanctuary nestled high between the Great Western Divide and the Kaweah Peaks Ridge. We intend to spend one of two planned layover days in the basin, which offers countless opportunities for exploring sparkling lakes, climbing surrounding peaks and ridges, or just kicking back and relaxing.

Although we start and finish our trip on major trails, roughly 20 of our 45 miles will be on cross-country routes. The off-trail hiking and scrambling is not technically difficult, but there will be a few challenging sections to add some adventure. Altogether, our planned route will include four cross-country passes and a trail-crossing of the Great Western Divide. Most of our camps will be above 10,000 feet.


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: On Saturday, August 23th, we'll meet at a campground near Lodgepole in Sequoia National on the western side of the Sierra Nevada.  Our hike starts at Wolverton (7,100 feet) and ends at the Crescent Meadow trailhead (6,700 feet), both of which are relatively close to Lodgepole.  

Day 2: In the morning we’ll provide a group breakfast and then we’ll drive to the Wolverton trailhead. From there we'll follow an established trail over Panther Gap, continuing on to a camp near Alta Meadow, where we plan to spend the night. This first day will be strenuous, as we will have our heaviest packs and will climb about 2,200 feet.

Days 3-8: The established trail disappears not far beyond Alta Meadow, though we may follow a faint trail that comes and goes for much of the second day. We’ll climb another 1,500+ feet to a camp near high and desolate Moose Lake, one of several possible locations (along with Lonely Lake and Lion Lake), where we may choose to take our first layover day.

We will continue off-trail, traversing rugged country to cross Pterodactyl Pass before descending to a camp along the creek below Lonely Lake. Our fourth hiking day will most likely be our longest and hardest. We will hike off-trail a short distance before we reach the Elizabeth Pass Trail, which we follow over Elizabeth Pass to the top of Deadman Canyon. Here we again leave the trail. We will ascend Coppermine Pass -- possibly on snow -- to cross Glacier Ridge, after which we will drop into upper Cloud Canyon. Then we will cross our second cross-country pass of the day, Lion Lake Pass, and descend rocky slopes to camp near Lion Lake.

We will cross Lion Rock Pass to reach Nine Lake Basin, where we plan to spend our second and final layover day.

Days 9-10: We will return to established trails for the final two days of the trip. We will follow the spectacular High Sierra Trail through Kaweah Gap, past beautiful Precipice Lake, and through the dramatic Valhalla region to a camp near Bearpaw Meadow. From there, we continue on to reach the Crescent Meadow trailhead on the final day. A ride on a National Park Service shuttle bus through the forest of Sequoia trees brings us back to our cars.



Getting There

Our trip officially starts at 5 p.m. on August 23 at a campground in Sequoia National Park near Lodgepole, when we will gather for introductions and final trip preparations. We also plan to go to a nearby restaurant for dinner. This is the only meal not included in the trip price.  If you prefer, you can bring your own food for dinner at the campground. At 7 a.m. on the morning of day two, we'll provide a group breakfast at our campground near Lodgepole. All meals are included in the trip from this first breakfast until lunch on the last day.

For improved acclimatization, participants are encouraged to arrive earlier and do some day hiking at altitude. An extra day or two also makes it easier to recover from events such as a missed connection and still make it to the trailhead in time.

Lodgepole is located on the west side of the Sierra Nevada, about 80 miles from Fresno or 250 miles from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. 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 in order 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 breakfast on the morning of day two (our first hiking day). The last meal of the trip will be lunch on the final day of the outing.

Trip Difficulty

The overall trip is rated 5 (on a scale of 1 for our least difficult trips to 5 for our most difficult trips). Altogether, we will hike about 45 miles, roughly a third of which 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.

We plan to hike four to 13 miles on travel days, and we intend to take two layover days. We will cross four rugged passes off trail. We also cross two divides on maintained trails.

Our elevation gains will be greater than 1,000 feet on four moving days. On the first hiking day, we will ascend 2,200 feet to cross Panther Gap. We will climb about 2,500 feet on the fourth moving day, which includes crossing one pass on trail and two passes off-trail on this day. The total elevation gain summed over seven planned moving days will be about 9,100 feet. Our greatest elevation loss will be 3,300 feet on the next-to-last day. All but two of our planned camps are above 10,000 feet.

Participation in this outing requires that you be experienced, be 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.



Maps covering our route include:

  • Two U.S.G.S. 7.5-minute quadrangles: “Lodgepole” and “Triple Divide Peak.”
  • The 15-minute "Triple Divide Peak" quadrangle published by Wilderness Press.
  • The Mt. Whitney High Country map published by Tom Harrison Maps.
  • The two-sheet map set for the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia/Kings Canyon Wilderness published by the U.S. Forest Service.


  • Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. Published by The Mountaineers. An excellent general reference to climbing routes, cross-country routes, and trails in the Sierra Nevada.
  • White, Mike, Sequoia National Park: A Complete Hiker’s Guide. Published by Wilderness Press. Describes the trail portions of our route.
  • 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.


In 2014, America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, plus the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. The Sierra Club’s Outings program is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our Outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: the need to set aside, by civic agreement, certain special places—forever—from human developments. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving vastly more designated wilderness since then.

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, 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 that 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 simultaneously allowing for a special experience.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park.



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:

Ted Lenzie has been leading Sierra Club Outings for 9 years. Ted has been backpacking for over 25 years and has completed routes such as the Tahoe Rim Trail and the John Muir Trail. He has been a resident of Northern California his whole life. He has been camping since his childhood, and loves sharing his favorite places with others. Besides being an avid backpacker, Ted is also an accomplished mountaineer with climbs on mountains such as Denali, Orizaba, The Eiger, and all the 14,000-foot peaks in California. When not backpacking or mountaineering, Ted enjoys cycling, kayaking, skiing, and traveling with his spouse.

Contact the Staff

Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture.
Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.

Try Another Trip

By Date