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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  • I’d love to run the Leadville 100 course some day

    Tim Gunnett
  • Chilkoot Trail in the Yukon Territory

  • I’m new to Path Project and am LOVING my shorts and liners. Having a shirt would be great!

    Martin Criminale
  • Hard to nail it down to just one, but as a North Carolinian, I’ll go with the Smoky Mountain Traverse section of the Appalachian Trail : 70+ miles that include the highest point on the AT.

    Mac McAulay
  • The John Muir Trail would be amazing!

    Adam Tyson
  • Hard to nail it down to just one, but as a North Carolinian, I’ll go with the Smoky Mountain Traverse section of the Appalachian Trail – 70+ miles that include the highest point on the AT.

    Mac McAulay
  • Tour du Mont Blanc!

    Mendel K
  • The Tahoe Rim Trail. I grew up in the Bay Area and great up visiting Lake Tahoe frequently, but since moved further away from Tahoe and rarely get the opportunity to visit. It would be incredible to finally see Lake Tahoe from a new perspective, and to also do it with a big challenge.

    James Blattler
  • Tahoe Rim Trail

    Gio DiDomenico
  • Wonderland Trail!

  • One day rim to rim

    Carter Sinclair
  • The Tour du Mont Blanc trail is on my bucket list!

  • Tour du Mont Blanc!

  • Foothills Trail, NC and SC

    Kim Russell
  • The Superior Hiking Trail is #1 on my list followed by the North Country Trail

    Nate Beaudin
  • Sierra High Trail is on my local list as I’d like to spend some time running from village to village in the Alps.

    Luke Ullett
  • Would love to hike the Greenstone Ridge trail from end to end on Isle Royale. As for trail running, I’ve heard amazing things about the Colorado Trail. A few sections of that are probably on my bucket list

    Greg Smith
  • I’d love to run at least part of the Western States Trail because of its history.

  • Tour du Mont Blanc
    Maybe one day I’ll be able to go there and run

    Nick Helferich
  • Would love to run the entire Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota.

    Dustin Brown
  • Actually the John Muir Trail would be at the top of my list – would love to get back to Yosemite and just go!

    Tim McCleskey
  • The PCT is on my list, but first signed up for the Bigfoot 200 for 2020.

    Steve M Martin
  • Thinking about moving to N Georgia, so the Appalachian trail will be in my backyard!

  • I would love to hike the Wonderland trail around Mt Rainier in Washington State someday!

    Joe Nartker
  • The SCAR or Smokies Challenge Adventure Run, a 70(-ish) mile route through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is top of my bucket list to run. I grew up in the Tennessee foothills thus the Smokies keeps drawing me back. And with only a single road crossing, this route is a nice little swatch of wilderness for the southeastern US.

    Jonathan Mays
  • Another one for the Appalachian Trail. I have done tiny pieces. Would love to have the time to Through Hike it.

    Kenny F
  • Ever since I started listening to “The Pursuit of Endurance” by Jennifer Pharr Davis, I would love to hike the Appalachian Trail. Any part of it would be amazing.

    Evan Rich
  • After moving the midwest and running parts of the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin, I’d like to tackle more sections in larger portions…perhaps one day finishing it!

    Kevin Hirt
  • Ever since I’ve started trail running, the Colorado Trail as part of the Leadville 100 has been on my list. I live in Arkansas, so running the Ozark Highlands would be fun too!

    AJ Neufeld
  • I live near Shenandoah NP in Virginia. I’d love to run the length of the Park on the Appalachian Trail in one go—about 100 miles.

    Christian McMillen
  • The Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon is high on my bucket list to run and hike. I keep hearing many great stories about the North Kaibab Trail and the photos look incredible.

    Bobby Ritzler

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