Sierra High Route Part 1: Roads End to Taboose Pass

October 19 – Road’s End to Granite Basin

This 35-mile bit of the SHR took me 5 days (an extra day to hike 20 miles to the trailhead, and an extra day to hike 10+ miles out). On the afternoon of October 19th, I made it to Road’s End. I had already covered ten miles in the morning; here are the next ten.

Going up Copper Creek Trail made for one of the more difficult days I’ve had on trail. It was a gorgeous, groomed trail, even after angry storms blew through the week before. But this trail is straight up. From 5036 feet at the trailhead to of something like that to the 10,347 feet at the Granite Basin lip – that’s 5312 feet in under 7 miles. Even having just completed one of the world’s steepest climbs the week prior (Telescope Peak [11,000ft] from Badwater [-280ft]), this climb found me tired, frequently pausing to rest. I just felt tired. Since I was going so slow, I cleared the trail of many dozens of fallen branches, flicking them with my hiking pole. It became a numbing game.

I wasn’t moving.

But I had to move, because I needed to get to the next highest lowest elevation to camp for the night, and I wanted to beat weather. I could see clouds gathering and darkening, and just the way the wind was made me wonder if I wasn’t going to get caught in a blizzard. But maybe it was the silence that concerned me. I was utterly alone out there and I knew it.

That’s one tough thing about backpacking. People advise me to “take my time” more often and enjoy the scenery, but unless you can gather, hunt or fish, you’re always running out of food. When there are mountain passes to surmount, there’s weather and elevation to take into account. There’s a lot of strategy involved. It isn’t just fun and games.

Sometimes it’s head games and type 3 fun.

I believe I can speak for most people when I say Roper’s SHR initiation via Copper Creek is perhaps… sadistic. But that’s good! It certainly sets up realistic expectations for the rest of the route.



That night I barely made it into my tent before parts of me turned to ice and broke off. The light dropped quickly and coyotes picked up song very close to my tent. Tiny pellets of hail battered my tent for a while, causing me some worry in the middle of the night, but in the morning I saw that not much had changed. It was just very, very cold.

And very, very magical. I can’t really convey precisely how magical these few days were, and how thankful I am for the opportunity to make this journey. I’ll just show you some pictures and you’ll see…

Granite Basin, October 19

Nearing the crest, at 10,000 feet, and it's getting cold. 4:19pm

I LOVE the sound of coyotes howling:

Day 3 (October 20)

I am very thankful for the socks gifted to me by Showers Pass after my PCT hike. I own a Showers Pass cycling rain jacket and pants and used them devoutly especially when I was car-free in Portland, Oregon for three years. So of course I was excited to finally use these socks – and they worked! Since I was in a couple inches of snow most the day, my shoes were soaked. But my feet stayed warm. I’m so thankful for that break!

Once over Granite Pass I was north of the Monarch Divide, and a new view opened up. I followed animal tracks. 8:03am A very cold morning, I could hardly stop to take photographs. All standing water was ice. I crunched along Dougherty Creek for a while. It was hard not to stop every three seconds to photograph while climbing up Windy Ridge. This panorama explains why. Crossing north of Windy Ridge, near 11,000 feet, 2:06pm. I continue to take advantage of animal tracks. They know best! Gotta get over there to that notch. Looks easier than it seems, there's a layer of ice under that snow on the talus. Ankle breakers!

Marion Lake Camp, October 20

A first glimpse at Marion Lake and the Lake Basin above. I plan to camp near the lake (but in that sunny area). Now to get down... Lake Basin, where French sheepherders were met by explorers and where the old John Muir Trail passed through Cataract Creek to Cartridge Pass. Now very remote and lonely. Lake Basin panorama looking west

Cartridge Pass, October 21

The initial view south from Cartridge Pass. Very careful movement from here catches a faint old John Muir Trail, which is delightful until you lose it again.

Old John Muir Trail

I picked up the old JMT in Lake Basin along the edge of the large lake under Cartridge Pass and followed it south and then east back to the current John Muir Trail. In places it was extremely hard to follow; except for in the upper parts, it took total concentration to not lose its traces. But what a cool insight into how trails used to be in the Sierra before the engineers stepped in! This old route, especially the upper parts, seemed more whimsical, intimate, and rugged than the new JMT over Mathers Pass. I feel weird saying that, but trails do have “personality.”

I always wondered why Bench Lake was called Bench Lake. Now it's obvious. bench lake The air warmed up enough to having a comfortable rest by the South Fork Kings River. I'm less than a mile away from completing my SHR hike.

Bonus Miles!

Click here to read about my “bonus miles” hike in.
Click here to read about my “bonus miles” hike out.

Continue to “part 2” of this hike…