Vista of Sierra Nevada

Frequently Asked Questions about the Sierra High Route adventure

What made you dream up this adventure?
I wanted to do something special for my 50th birthday, something more ambitious than I would normally undertake.  I wanted some outdoor adventure that would allow for participation and celebration with my friends.  I had been reading Roper's book about the High Route and it sounded like a great trip.

Had you ever done anything like this before?
The longest backcountry trip I'd taken prior to this was three weeks, so this was double that duration.  I'm a very experienced outdoors person and have been an instructor for Outward Bound.  So the challenges of demanding mountain travel and cross country navigation were not new to me.  By backpacking standards, this is definitely an "advanced" trip that requires significant experience and skill.

Did you hike alone or with other people?
Most of the time I was hiking with friends.  My friend Clark joined me for four-fifths of the trip.  Other people joined in for shorter segments.  I hiked alone for about four days.

How much did your backpack weigh?
Fifty pounds on day 1.   It probably averaged about 43 pounds.

How many days worth of food did you carry?
On the average about 7 days.

How did you get resupplied with more food?
I arranged to have friends bring more food and meet me at various trailheads.  I would hike down from the high country and meet them at a campground.  We would hang out together for a day or so and then I would continue hiking.

What did you eat?
For dinner we ate mostly home-prepared dried foods such as rice and pasta.  We added dried or canned meat or tofu and dried vegetables and a sauce of some sorts.  I spent nearly a week before the trip doing meal preparations and it certainly paid off; our meals were very, very delicious.  I recommend Cooking the One-Burner Way.

Did you carry a bear canister?
Yes, it's required in certain wilderness areas.  But it also kept food secure from rodents and served as a handy camp stool.

What was the weather like?
Typically beautiful Sierra summer weather.  Usually sunny in the morning with frequent clouds in the afternoon.  Occasional thundershowers.   Temperatures from high 40's to mid 70's.  One day of "monsoon" rain from a tropical storm.

Did you see many other people in the backcountry?
It was common to see other backpackers on the few sections where my route coincided with the John Muir Trail.  During midday you'll pass a party going the opposite direction every 30 minutes or so.  Most of the time I was not on a trail and there were far fewer people.  You might see one other party all day, and then only at a distance. 

Did you meet anyone else hiking the Roper High Route?
We met one fellow doing a short reconnaisance trip.  In Twenty Lakes Basin we met a pair of backpackers who were also doing the entire route as a continuous journey. 

Did you see any bears?
Yes, on the first day we hiked along with a mama black bear and a cub.  They seemed to not mind us at all.  One night I heard a bear circle my camp at 11,000 feet sniffing for food.

Did you go fishing?
No, I didn't though we did see other people fishing at times. 

How many miles did you hike, on average, each day?
About five miles a day.  However, much of that was off-trail travel so it's much slower going than on a trail.

Did you carry a weapon?
I feel sad that people ask this question.  To me it reveals a view of the wilderness as a dangerous, unsafe, or scary place.  In reality one is much safer in the backcountry than in an urban environment.  There is no significant danger from wild animals in the Sierra. In addition, firearms are illegal in the National Parks through which much of the hike travels.

Did you carry technical climbing equipment?
On the first stage we carried an ice axe, a short section of rope and some slings for the ascent of North Palisade.

What was the average/highest elevation you reached?
We spent a lot of time hiking above treeline, about 9500 - 11500 feet.  The highest point was summit of  North Palisade at 14,242 feet.

Did you ever get lost?
Not in the sense of being disoriented and not knowing one's location.  If one has skill with topographic maps it's easy to find one's way through the Sierra.  No, I didn't use a GPS.  Several times we made micronavigation errors and took a more difficult route down a mountainside than was necessary, or had to backtrack some distance to avoid a dead end.  I don't think of that as being lost, it's just part of the adventure.

Would you do it again?
Yes.  I love the sense of being immersed in the mountains that a long trip provides.  It was a fabulous adventure and it made a big impact on me. 

What was the most important thing you learned?
The biggest lesson came to me when I returned to the city.  After six weeks living in "mountain mode" I was painfully struck by how our lives in contemporary urban society are so disconnected from the natural world.  Our lives are characterized by complexity, abstraction, frenzy, alienation, fragmentation, distraction, compulsion -- in a word, insanity.  It's clear to me now that the first step I can take in leading a saner life, improving society, and healing the planet is to slow down.  It may sound like a simplistic truism, but perhaps simple truths are the most profound; the here-and-now is the only place where we can be truly alive. I posted these photos and stories on this web site to remind myself and others of our essential connection with the earth.  I hope they prompt us to reflect on the beauty of this world and to take a moment to appreciate this wonderful life we have been given here.

Do you have a question not answered here?  Drop me an email and I'll be happy to reply.
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