The Sierra High Route, a 15 Day Hiking Adventure

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The Sierra High Route Hiking

Words by PATH projects customer Matt Hyde. Photos by Thom Schroeder (@koaflashboy) and Matt Hyde (@mattalatta). 

This summer I wanted to go on a trip that took in the California Sierra’s all at once.  Hiking the John Muir trail is a nice hike and one way to do it, but the JMT is busy, it frequently drops into the trees and misses much of the best scenery in the Sierras.  So, I decided to hike the Sierra High Route. 

The SHR was pioneered by Steve Roper in the 1970’s and early 80’s and traverses the spine of the Sierras starting in King’s Canyon National Park and runs north 200 miles to Twin Lakes, just beyond Yosemite National Park. It’s estimated that about a dozen parties complete the entire route annually.

Hiking The Sierra High Route

The route stays high; rarely do you drop below 9,000 feet and there are multiple passes exceeding 12,000 feet in elevation. The total vertical gain of the trip is 60,000 feet. It’s the only hike of this distance in the lower 48 where you only cross one road. About half of the route is completely off trail, cross country hiking. About 30 miles follow the John Muir Trail and the rest of the SHR is on old, little used or climber’s trails. Our route, which included 26 miles to get to the start of the SHR and some extra mileage for food drops totaled 247 miles which we completed in 15 days. 

Hiking the Sierras California

While non-technical, the High Route’s off trail sections can be challenging. At times the navigation is unclear, and the traveler can expect to traverse many, many miles of boulder fields; some steep and loose. The passes range from delightful alpine cols to steep, improbable class 3 scrambles. Mercifully, the one impediment you rarely face is bushwhacking due to the high altitude of the route. Hiker’s should expect to complete daily mileages far shorter than they would on a trail.

Water crossing Sierra High Route

Sierra High Route rivers

Sierra High Route lake

Of course, on a trip like this, you want to keep your packs as light as possible. I try to be methodical with gear and my base pack weight came in at 10.5 pounds (without camera gear). On top of that I added 3.5 lbs of camera gear and 1.8 pounds of food per day. The heaviest my pack weighed was at the start with 7 ½ days of food for a total of 27 pounds. 

To keep your pack light, you need to be careful to not take too many cloths. For me, that meant one tee shirt, and just two pairs of underwear and socks. My choice for a tee shirt was the Path Projects Cascade Tee and my underwear choice was the Tahoe Base Liners. 

Hiking clothing PATH projects

Over the years I’ve had nearly every brand of performance outdoor clothing hanging in my closet. And let’s face it, today we’re blessed with an abundance of great choices.  But there are always standouts, and my Path gear has become my favorite performing items. I wore Path’s Cascade Tee for 15 days straight, 24 hours a day, only taking it off periodically for a rinse. 

The tee shirt rebuffed smells as good a Merino wool, while wicking sweat and drying as fast as any synthetic I’ve used. It didn’t pill or stretch and after washing it and I can’t distinguish the heavily used tee shirt from my other nearly new Path Project Cascade Tee. The Tahoe liners held up equally well. These are my new go-to outdoor base layers.

While the performance on my trip was superb, Path Project Gear was designed for trail running. Two weeks after I returned from the Sierra High Route, I was able to test the trail running performance of these products on the Noble Canyon 50K trail race. I ran with three friends and at the finish they all started discussing their chaffing and necessary clothing adjustments during the run. It was at that point that I realized that I had not even been conscious of wearing anything for the entire 50 kilometers – exactly what you want out of your trail running clothes.

Matt Hyde 50k run

Matt Hyde running 50k

Thank you Matt Hyde and Thom Schroeder for sharing an inside look into this spectacular and challenging trek. You inspired us to add The Sierra High Route to our bucket list. 

🚨Enter for a chance to win 1 Cascade T-shirt and 2 Baseliners. To enter, let us know in the comments below, which trail is on top of your bucket list of places to run or hike and why? 🚨

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  • The Colorado Trail from start to finish!

    Collin
  • The Midstate trail in Massachusetts. A ~100 mile through hike which is too much for me to run, but in thirds or halves it’s up at the front of my list for 2020!

    thomas james gothers
  • Mt Washburn, YNP with my twins. They’ve not been on this one.

    Cheryl Bailey
  • Superior Hiking Trail is pretty high on my list

    Jordan Kit
  • Marquette 50 trail both loops. I hope to challenge the course next August.

    Alvin Miller
  • Franklin Mountain trails in west, west Texas. I think they’re some of the best most challenging mountainous trails in my state which invisibly draws me to them.

    Ryan Brown
  • The Continental Divide

    Chris Hines
  • Running the Cliffs of Moher has been on my bucket list for at least ten years.

    Nick
  • The AT baby! planning on doing about like 100 miles of it this February.

    Brandon Lamb
  • Bosque Trail in NM! I am a student in Austin so would be a sick road trip!

    Seff Keegan
  • CDT Trail through Southwest Montana!

    Michael Potter
  • Tough one, as it’s a three-way tie at the top of the bucket list. So I shook that bucket up, did some random sifting, and out popped the JMT-John Muir Trail. I’ve already hiked some of each end, including about 7 mi in Yosemite to the North, and more recently from Whitney Portal to Mt. Whitney at it’s top. Ever-since, I’ve hungered for what’s in the middle of that juicy JMT sandwich! Now what should I wear for such a journey???

    Andy
  • JMT in late spring 2020!

    Jenna
  • Wonderland trail and the Alpine Wilderness route in the North Cascades

    Jerry
  • The GR20 on Corsica, for sure — looks very intense but it starts and ends on a Mediterranean beach, always a good incentive!

    Matt Kohlstedt
  • Tahoe Rim is in the bucket!

    Christopher T. Headrick
  • Someday I’ll get back to California. For now I’ll just dream while I’m wearing my Path Projects shorts and liner!

    Christopher T. Headrick
  • Great wall of China!

    Nathan Flickinger
  • I would love to cover the Continental Divide Scenic Trail in Rocky Mtn. National Park.

    Ben Johnson
  • Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim! Went there before I started running and thought that would be impossible to do. Now it’s something that’s definitely at the top of my bucket list.

    Cade Baade
  • The Western States Trail. One day!

    Todd Mordhorst
  • I am a current runner and a new hiker that would use the t-shirt and baseliners to run/hike trails in the Adirondacks.

    Michael
  • Tahoe Rim Trail !!
    I failed to finish the TRT100 in 2018, and I would like to get it done next year .

    I-Tao Tsai
  • I want to hike the West Coast Trail to see the beauty of Canada’s west coast!

    Tyler Lewis
  • Western States Trail!

    Dave
  • The Tahoe Rim Trail is at the top of my list. I have seen some amazing race photos from different Ultras. In addition to hearing about the beautiful scenery from multiple people on the TRN podcast.

    Eric Roddy
  • great photos

    Andy
  • Living in Atlanta I would love to get to know more of what the AT provides and see more of what the nature around it offers.

    Naoya
  • Rim to Rim and back. Hills, views, dirt and general bad-assery!

    Mark
  • A thru hike of the AT. I grew up doing day hikes all up and down the trail on different vacations – I would love to see the whole route from end to end.

    David Porter
  • The John Muir Trail in California is my pick. I hiked a short stretch of it 15 years ago, and I’ve long wanted to return to experience the entire length of the trail.

    Steve Jungkeit
  • Tour du Cervin around the majestic Matterhorn between Italy and Switzerland because I use to spend my holidays at the very base of this beautiful mountain every holiday of my life since I was a newborn child :D

    Fulvio
  • Chugach front range trails.

    Bill Cloonan
  • Kungsleden in Sweden. 450 km of beautiful swedish mountain trails

    Johan Larsson
  • Stairway to heaven in New Jersey. It’s local, part of the Appalachian trail, and has some good views of the valley and if you head the other direction at the parking lot it’s a flat trail that crosses farm land

    David Kher
  • The Colorado Trail!

    Eric
  • The Escarpment Trail in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!

    Paul
  • Superior Hiking trail in Northern Minnesota.

    Nathan Bliss
  • The PCT. Being from the north east would love to explore the west coast via this trail.

    Scott Frasca
  • Candice’s Tahoe 200 is my bucket list race… Don’t know that it’ll ever happen but would love it!

    Colin Chapell
  • Candice’s Tahoe 200 is my bucket list race… Don’t know that it’ll ever happen but would love it!

    Colin Chapell
  • The Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains!

    David
  • Timberline trail around Mt. Hood!

    David Evans
  • K’esugi Ridge Trail at mile 137.6 at the Upper Troublesome Creek Trail head, Alaska. 30 mile trail race that I’d love hike in and cheer my wife Julianne at (I’m generally on Sherpa duty).

    I’ve hiked up to the ridge on the Byers Lake side (race end) and it was beautiful!

    Joseph Dickerson
  • Pikes Peak. Living in the North East, running in Colorado seems like it would be a good time.

    NSchultz
  • Just getting into train running. Right now I would love to do the Foothill trail in SC and the AT.

    Timothy Rapp

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