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Kings Canyon High Basin Route

Ascending Adventurer Col, high above Palisades Creek, with a superb view of the Palisades

Ascending Adventurer Col, high above Palisades Creek, with a superb view of the Palisades

“I live in Southern California and have been backpacking in the Sierra for 20 years, but this most recent trip was my favorite of them all.”
— Shad S, Santa Barbara, CA

“The KCHBR is really is a world-class route. It was easy to follow, navigation and route selection was challenging and fun but never really difficult.”
— Nathan R, Coppell, TX

“What we saw if the route was extremely fun and exciting, and also more physically demanding than I ever could have imagined. The directions and maps were perfect. Thank you for making this route public. It’s an awesome one, and I’ll be back for more next year.”
— Kolby Y, Brooklyn, NY

“The Kings Canyon High Basin Route is well balanced in challenge and reward. For those of us unwilling to put in the research or time, it is quite nice to have it and the Sierra High Route as options for high routes.”
Erin “Wired” Saver


The Kings Canyon High Basin Route wraps 124 miles around the upper watershed of California’s Kings River in the High Sierra. It is encompassed entirely within Kings Canyon National Park, which was established in 1940 and which is jointly administered by the National Park Service as Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI). Elevations range from 6,000-12,400 feet but more typically hover in the 9,000-12,000 range. Bring your leg muscles — it averages 725 vertical feet of change per mile.

The Kings Canyon High Basin Route (KCHBR) is exactly that — a route. Two-thirds of its distance (82 miles!) consists of committing off-trail travel and long-abandoned trails that were once used by miners, herders, and early High Sierra explorers; its remaining one-third merely accesses or links up these more standout and engaging segments. It is not officially recognized by the National Park Service and it has no dedicated on-the-ground signage or blazing. I stitched this route together over two summers in Sequoia-Kings — maybe I’ll see you out there this year during my thru-hike of it.

Given ample time, unwavering desire, expert backcountry skills, and excellent fitness, the KCHBR is best experienced as a continuous thru-hike. From end to end, it remains immersed in some of the finest High Sierra wilderness and showcases off-the-charts aesthetics.

But other uses of the KCHBR are both feasible and advisable. For those who seek a more bite-sized experience, it can be section-hiked. The Kings Canyon High Basin Route Guide details nine loop hikes ranging from 30 to 80 miles. And for those who wish to create a unique adventure of their own, portions of the KCHBR can easily be integrated into other itineraries.

A video by Shad Springer, who in 2015 hiked sections 1, 3, 4, and 6 of the KCHBR:

32 Responses to Kings Canyon High Basin Route

  1. David Danylewich April 12, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Andrew, hope you’ll consider adding this to your guided trips in 2016! I’ll sign up now.

  2. Juli Wolter April 12, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

    I am super excited about this….we would definitely have to section this out. I am looking forward to getting your guide and making some plans! Looking forward! Juli

  3. Mark H May 30, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    What are your thoughts about using an Ursack vs. a traditional bear canister on this route? Or an Ursack in addition to a canister? Ursack was recently certified by the IGBC, and is currently under review by SEKI as an approved canister.

    • Andrew Skurka May 30, 2015 at 7:10 pm #

      The Ursack is not an approved canister in Sequoia-Kings, per http://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/upload/2015-Allowed-Food-Storage-Containers-draft.docx.

      I looked very hard at the route and regs to determine if you can legally avoid carrying a canister. You really can’t. (The Guide describes my analysis in greater detail.)

      And since the Ursack is not an approved canister, you’re stuck with a traditional canister.

      All that said, given where I like to travel in SEKI and the types of camps that I make, I have felt for a long time that I carry a canister to avoid having a ranger issue me a ticket, not to avoid having a bear get my food. Given the number of nights I have camped in SEKI, often with groups, I struggle to attribute it to pure luck that I have never had a bear come into our camp. No, it’s much more about where you travel and where you camp.

      • Mike Rogers September 12, 2017 at 6:31 am #

        Hey Andrew, I’ve seen your comment on this in a few threads. I think I get the point, and that’s my experience, too. But I’d like to toss out a conjecture (I’m not a bear behavior expert–and I don’t even play one on TV!) for consideration. It seems one of the reasons we have fewer bears in camp now is because of much greater diligence training bears that people and camps are not sources of food–and one of the ways we do that is by using bear canisters. I don’t particularly enjoy carrying a bear canister, but if it helps keeps more bears acting like bears in the wild and less like people-camp groupies, I’ll keep carrying one.

        This looks like an awesome route in one of my favorite places that no one seems to know about! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Leslie June 27, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

    My knees still ache from finishing the Sierra High Route a few days ago and here I am planning again… I might be hooked!

  5. Mitch July 29, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    This looks fantastic! I just took a group of high schoolers out to the Tablelands last week, that’s one of my favorite areas to hike.

    Are there resupply options along this route, or would a thru-hiker have to start out with food for the whole thing?

    • Andrew Skurka July 29, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

      Resupply options are limited (i.e. few options) and inconvenient (i.e. not near the trail). You have to make a calculation about what’s better: carrying a lot of food but not needing to leave the route, or carrying less food but having to spend at least 1 day off-route. The topic is explained more thoroughly in the Guide.

  6. Leslie October 16, 2015 at 4:25 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    Are the loops/routes doable during the winter season? (November/December).

    Would you recommend it?

    Thank you!

    Leslie

    • Andrew Skurka October 16, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

      If you have extensive experience with winter conditions, avalanche terrain, and skiing or snowshoeing, some of the loops would be doable in winter. Otherwise they are 3-season routes: June-ish through September.

  7. Mike Ramirez August 12, 2016 at 10:06 pm #

    My wife, two boys, 10 & 12, and I just completed sections 1, 2, skipped section 3, section 4 w/amphitheater pass alt., skipped section 5 and finished up with section 6. We spent a total of 11 days on the Route. My wife and I hiked the SHR in 11 days and we have section hiked the SHR with our boys.

    The KCHBR is a real ass kicker!!

    We had to cut out onto the JMT to make up time to meet our resupply at Leconte Ranger Station and the boys were bummed we couldn’t do the entire route. Our inability to make the miles required limited the amount of sections we were able to complete.

    We’ll be back!! World Class Andrew.

    • Andrew Skurka August 12, 2016 at 10:49 pm #

      Nice work, thanks for the report! Your boys must be strong hikers.

      The KCHBR is definitely an ass kicker. I made it as easy as I could but the topography is tough to get around: you are often going over higher passes than on the JMT and you are crossing the drainages lower down.

      Interested to know: What was your favorite section?

      • Mike Ramirez August 13, 2016 at 8:58 am #

        As a group, Copper Mine Pass raised the most conversation topics: “Why the hell were they there?”, “Why didn’t they have a camp in Deadman Canyon?”, “When?” etc. Being on the Peak, reading the Summitt Log was special for all of us. We met a man, in his 70’s, from Vermont who was a son of a Backcountry Ranger as a boy and he answered many of the boy’s queries. He and his wife were camped in Cloud Canyon just below our camp and we spoke on our way down in the morning.

        For me, the active participation by Andreas and Hans are what will stand out most about this trip: “Can I see the Maps?”, “What can I do to help?”. They also had a greater understanding of where we were relative to places they had been before. They began to understand drainages better. Andreas made the suggestion to contour over instead of going all the way to the lakes after Talus Pass. It worked out great!

        My boys are very strong hikers. I’m not sure they even realize what they just did. For them, it was just the next step in their evolution as adventurers. Apparently running to the top of the pass just to beat your brother is normal.

        I just know they were cursing you the entire time and loving it.

        I also really liked walking the 10 miles down the Middle Fork of the Kings River. Beautiful canyon, with nobody in it, just a wrong turn away from the JMT. Lakes Basin is Awesome!

    • Doug Seiersen September 16, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

      Mike, we bumped into you in Leconte Canyon, you were waiting for your resupply … we were the 3 guys hiking the SHR.

      Glad to see your resupply arrived and you had a great trip. We completed the SHR (thanks Andrew for your awesome maps and beta) … what a route it is.

      I am now planning on the KCHBR for summer 2017, Andrew ..thanks for providing such great info packages …. i will be ordering soon.

  8. Mike Ramirez September 17, 2016 at 11:31 pm #

    Right on Doug, glad to have come across you guys. I hope your group had a successful trip. Resupply finally showed up, thankfully. KCHBR much more difficult, Miles/Day much more exhausting on the KCHBR. I’d be down for 2017..conquer this beast!!

    -Mike

    • Andrew Skurka September 18, 2016 at 7:50 am #

      Indeed, the KCHBR is harder than the SHR. Fewer miles on trail, and more vertical feet of change per mile. It is more likely to conquer you than you conquer it.

    • Adam February 15, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

      I would love to do this in 2017. Would anyone be interested in getting a group together?

  9. Doug Seiersen September 18, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    Wow! tougher then the SHR, fewer miles on trail, more vert per mile …. i can’t wait! We better start our training program now.

    Of course, we travel much slower then you gents. We spent 25 days on the SHR, loved every minute of it.

    • Andrew Skurka September 18, 2016 at 9:00 am #

      I point it out so that people adjust accordingly, in terms of their itineraries and mental expectations. It is harder than I would like it to be and too out of reach for many, but the topography is what it is.

  10. Doug Seiersen September 18, 2016 at 10:40 am #

    I appreciate the fact you point this out, we will do our best to prepare accordingly.

    I’m curious how you would compare it to your WRHR? I recently purchased your info on this route as well ..it is on my list for 2018.

    I have thoroughly read much of your input on both routes, just wondering if you had any additional thoughts.

    Thanks

    • Andrew Skurka September 19, 2016 at 8:28 am #

      The KCHBR is more friendly than WRHR. Better weather, more timber, only one ridgewalk (Tablelands), and probably less talus and slabs. Average elevation is probably slightly less. The only thing harder about the KCHBR is that it has more vertical change per mile, by about 100 feet, or about 15 percent more.

      You can find a route in the Winds that is more KCHBR-like. But you’d have to stay lower, and you’d stay out of the range’s northeast region entirely. At that point, it seems like you’re bypassing the most defining features of the Winds.

      • Doug Seiersen October 9, 2016 at 8:39 pm #

        Andrew, thanks for your comparison of the two routes.

        My friend and I recently purchased your information package on the KCHBR. The beta is awesome, I’m thoroughly enjoying studying this route.

        I was wondering if you could help me with a quick question.

        On the White Fork Pass alternative it seems your map label markers “A-WFK-00” etc. may be mislabeled in the data spread sheet. I don’t see that they correlate with the call-outs on the map.

        Maybe I’m totally wrong and just misunderstanding your info.

        Any clarification you can provide is much appreciated.

        Doug

        • Andrew Skurka October 11, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

          This looks okay to me, but it may been edited since I last published info:

          The White Fork Alternate begins where the creek flows under the JMT. And it terminates at the shallow tarn below Arrow Pass, where it rejoins the Primary Route.

          The source of your confusion may be that you must follow from the PR-35 the Castle Domes segment (in reverse: L-CDO-01 to L-CDO-00) and then a section of the JMT (L-JMT-03 to L-JMT-05) to reach the start of the alternate. Obviously, this messiness needs to get cleaned up with a third edition of the guide.

  11. Doug Seiersen October 21, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

    Thanks Andrew, I must have a previous publication. No problem though.

    Another quick question if you don’t mind. Have you hiked the 25 or 30 miles of trail from Roads End to Twin Lakes trail head?

    This seems like a reasonable solution to simplify logistics.

    Obviously this stretch of trail wouldn’t be as enjoyable as the previous trail free wanderings of the high country, but i would assume it’s still a beautiful walk with a good camp site or two.

    BTW … i recently watched the video of your Alaska adventure …unbelievable, hard to fathom such a trip. Well done.

    • Andrew Skurka October 21, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

      Just sent you an email with a link to download the most recent edition.

      I have hiked the all-trail route between Road’s End and Twin Lakes. The only noteworthy section is the climb out of Bubbs Creek on the Avalanche Pass Trail. Otherwise it is very ho-hum, and not worthy of being included as part of the route.

      But if you are looking a thru-hike, this is a very practical way to do it. In fact, this is how I did my thru-hike in 2015. Start at Road’s End and hike trails towards Mt Silliman. To connect with the Primary Route, you can follow a route on the west side of the pass from Silliman Pass to Silliman Pass, or you can follow a smoother route from Beville Lake to the crest ESE of Crescent Lake, where you’ll pick up the Primary Route. This latter route would bypass the Silliman area, but I don’t think you’re missing too much — the best part of Silliman is the gigantic slab further down in Silliman Creek.

      By leaving your car at Road’s End, you could set yourself up for an easy resupply when you drop back into Bubbs from East Fork. It’s not perfectly in the middle of the route, but it’d save you from having to carry 10-15 extra pounds of food.

  12. Marcus February 23, 2017 at 5:48 pm #

    Andrew. Route sounds awesome. I plan on buying your guide soon once I decide if its what I actually plan to do this year. Do you think it’s reasonable to send the route in 7-8 days for a couple of fit trail runner/peak baggers? We did the JMT in 10 days (for reference).

    • Andrew Skurka February 23, 2017 at 7:39 pm #

      Vertical gain per day is the best indicator of pace. The numbers won’t lie.

      JMT is 47k feet of vertical gain. That’s 4.7k gain per day for your group.

      KCHBR has 45k feet of vertical gain, and two-thirds of the route is off-trail. Assuming the same effort on your part, you’re probably looking at 10 days still. If you only have 7-8 days, there are a few easy ways to shorten it up, like by bypassing Gardiner Basin or White Fork Pass on the JMT (Glenn Pass and Mather Pass, respectively), or skipping Mt Silliman by departing Lodgepole up Pear Creek rather than Twin Lakes Trail.

      When I thru-hiked the whole route a few years ago (200 miles total with multiple alternate routes, taking 9 full days plus a few hours in the evening on Day 1), I figured it would take me 6 days to complete, or about 7.5k gain per day. That’s about consistent with what I did later in the summer on the Wind River High Route, 30k gain in 4.25 days.

  13. Melissa West July 29, 2017 at 12:53 pm #

    I love to backpack and of the hiking of done, my favorite involves more rocks and rugged mountains. I’m interested in increasing my skills and abilities so that I can do some of the most awesome hikes out there such as the Wind River High Route and was wondering what your stepping stone recommendations would be. I’ve done a lot of on-trail hiking such as AT thru hike, Pennine Way, GR20, part of the Colorado Trail, etc, and some little off trail day hiking in NM and CA. I’m a teacher at a nature school that I founded and can take parts of July or first week of August (with a little more difficulty) off. Right now I’m doing the weekend here or there with my husband and three year old or alone, a women’s only trip at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, but I think I’m looking for a little more at this point without breaking the bank. I live in Giles County, VA near the AT trail town Pearisburg.

    Thanks for your advice. My husband and I are big fans and cheered you from afar during your Sea-to-Sea Route. I think it’s great that you are helping make backpacking more accessible to others. The wilderness is not an exclusive club that as many people should be shut out of as possible.

    Melissa

    • Andrew Skurka August 1, 2017 at 8:32 am #

      I would cut your teeth on a section-hike that seems to have mileage and vertical that is well within your abilities. Identify shortcuts and extensions before you go, so that you can adjust when you’re out there depending on how things are going.

  14. Ryan August 25, 2017 at 8:57 am #

    Hey Andrew,

    Been dreaming of this route for awhile. I worked as a backcountry trail crew worker a few years back and did a fair bit of cross country on the weekends and this route seems amazing. I was wondering though, do you have any beta for this year, specifically this fall? I’m concerned about the snowpack making this more difficult than in prior years – if you or anyone you know has completed this in the last month or so and have some thoughts, please let me know.

    Thanks for all you do!

    Ryan

    • Andrew Skurka August 25, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

      My High Sierra trips are not until later next month, but it sounds like the only snow still lingering is where it really stacks up and then stays shaded. I imagine King Col still has a cornice, but you can probably get around it now. Any snow should be consolidated and soft, especially after mid-morning.

      I’m not sure what the Middle Fork looks like at Simpson Meadow. A few weeks ago I read that NPS okay’d the ford of the South Fork in upper Paradise Valley. Even if Simpson Meadow has more flow, you’ll be there 6 weeks after this NPS decision, so water levels will have come down again.

      Goddard Creek might still be tough because snow lingers for so long in Ionian Basin, still plenty of melt. But Goddard Creek does not channel up like Enchanted Creek, so even if it’s still high it will only make for a few difficult crossings, not constant.

  15. Ryan September 13, 2017 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks for the reply. I think I’m going to try to do a portion of Loop 5E starting on Friday night or Saturday of this week but weather has been pretty nuts here on the East Side so trying to be mindful of being up high with all the lightening activity. If anyone reading this is heading to South Lake or wants to talk about this more, let me know! [email protected]

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