Summers 2013, 2014, and 2015 || Short is the new long! 124 miles around the upper watershed of the Kings River in California's High Sierra. 84 miles off off-trail travel, a high point of 12,434 feet, and no road crossings.
Summers 2013, 2014, and 2015 || Short is the new long! 124 miles around the upper watershed of the Kings River in California's High Sierra. 84 miles off off-trail travel, a high point of 12,434 feet, and no road crossings.
“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:
Andrew, hope you’ll consider adding this to your guided trips in 2016! I’ll sign up now.
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
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.
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.
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!
In the Yosemite backcountry these days, all you have to do is set out a bear can in plain sight and the neighborhood bears who peruse the campgrounds in the evening will see the can and breeze right past your camp without a second thought. Generations of bears know now that canisters work and there are easier pickins elsewhere.
My knees still ache from finishing the Sierra High Route a few days ago and here I am planning again… I might be hooked!
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?
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.
Are the loops/routes doable during the winter season? (November/December).
Would you recommend it?
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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!!
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.
I would love to do this in 2017. Would anyone be interested in getting a group together?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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]
I emailed you too ;-).
Great route. I did find it very challenging for my level. Brutal, intense but magnificent and well worth the effort as there are tons of rewards along the way in term of beautiful views. Although I didn’t do the full route, I appreciate the difference between the off trail and the JMT ;-). Solitude it is!
I must say the route is clear and very natural to follow, minus the more detailed route finding which you have to do anyway when off-trail.
I made a couple of small mistakes before and during the trip:
– didn’t train for it ;-). I’m a strong bike rider and hike a lot but skipped my normal ‘2-3 days training hike’ before my yearly Sept 7-10 days trip.
– Over estimated my ability for mileage per day. lol. I was planning to go from Road’s End to Reflection lake the first day…took me almost 2!
– Missed my target a few times ;-). For example I missed the climb to Longley, went to the next valley and had to backtrack. Went to high up Cartridge pass and had to go back up after trying to descend from where I hit the ridge but got above mighty cliffs….I should have bought your guide!
Bravo for sharing your experience so others, like me, can experience it too!
I completed the SHR in 2017 and enjoyed using your mapset. I purchased the KCHBR set a few years ago and I intend to do it this summer. Is there an update to the Critical Interim Updates 2.5 document? If so, perhaps it could be posted as a separate accessible download?
It appears that the entire route is available on two Tom Harrison maps: Mt. Whitney High Country and Kings Canyon High Country, at 1:63,360. I will probably transfer your notations to them as I like having a global view of where I am traveling.
I did the SHR in 20 days. At that rate, my sense is that the KCHBR will take me about 14 days. Do you think an estimate of the KCHBR taking about 70% the time of the SHR is accurate?
No additional updates to the Interim Updates 2.5. But what I really need to do is integrate that into the Guide, so that it’s seamless.
The most accurate determinate in pace is vertical feet of change per day. I don’t have that data for the SHR, but I can assure you that there is less vertical gain and loss per mile on it. So the KCHBR will be slower.
More specifically, if you averaged about 3k vertical gain and 3k vertical loss per day on SHR, you should expect to do about the same for KCHBR. But on KCHBR you will reach that threshold in fewer miles, because the route averages 725 vertical feet of change per mile. I would estimate the SHR as probably more like 600. And, yes, that extra 125 feet per mile makes a big difference — it’s 20 percent more vertical per mile.
Viewing Shads crisply done video, looks like he did Sections 3, 4 & 6. I was trying to figure out where he bailed out after Section 1, and then I watched his Video.
I really love what you have going on here with these trips, Andrew! Any thoughts on doing the KCHBR in early to mid-July, given the low snowpack? I’m in Montana, where the year’s snow abundance means July adventures will be tricky.
You’ll be good to go. I did the whole route in the second week of July 2015 (a very dry winter) and there was hardly any now, all easy to get around. This year you may want an axe for some of the tightest passes (e.g. King Col, Amphitheater) and for some lingering snowfields in Ionian Basin that would send you into a lake. But I don’t think it’ll be enough snow to warrant traction.
I loved this trip. Seriously. It is the first of your trips I’ve taken, and I’m sure to find others in future. I did it solo, and I did “loop 1,” as I didn’t quite have time to do the whole thing.
I experienced just the right amount of wilderness immersion and adventure to be fully engaged and become fully enriched. I felt like the whole thing was some sort of meditation or something, the way I was so caught up in the moment for the entire journey.
The setting was positively gorgeous.
I did find that reading the primary route’s descriptions in reverse was a bit tricky at times. The cues given weren’t necessarily so helpful when in the opposite direction. I found this to be especially true when going over passes, as with the Copper Mine pass. I think that this pass was the one part of the trip that really pushed me, actually. In fact, I wonder if I didn’t go up in the wrong place. I mean, yikes, that was a drop off on the other side.
Although I do plenty of backcountry adventuring, usually I don’t get far, as I have to do lots of trial and error in order to make progress. But here you’ve done the footwork. So I could go so much farther and experience so much more.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you for making these trips a reality.
Glad it was a good experience for you. If you liked it so much, there are lots of other routes like it now.
I just finished thru-strolling the KCHBR in a leisurely 17 days. Great fun! Well-chosen route, helpful materials, and consistently superlative terrain. I figured I’d share a few things about the route, logistics, and my preparation that might be helpful to others who give this a shot.
I parked at Roads End and walked to the route via Avalanche Pass and Beville Lake. As Andrew says, there’s some pretty lousy terrain in there (Roaring River to Comanche Meadow is particularly dull), but I thoroughly enjoyed Roads End to Upper Sphinx Creek, and Beville Lake up to the route (via Crescent Lake) was fantastic. One note here: I followed Gaia regarding the turnoff to Beville and Ranger Lake (at the intersection with the Lost Lake trail) and couldn’t find the trail for a couple miles. Since once I did find the trail, it was pretty obvious, I recommend just staying on trail until an intersection that I’m sure is marked.
I tried out the “impractical contour that may in fact be practical” below Talus Pass. I got through, but my vote is: impractical. Not only is there a long stretch of huge talus (worse than Thunder Ridge Pass), the crux of the contour, at least on my line, involved sketchy class 4 or low class 5 climbing around a steep granite slab. Scary as heck, and super slow. I didn’t try descending to the lake, but it’s got to be a better route.
The guidebook’s route through Gardiner Basin didn’t appeal to me for a couple reasons. The lower part of the basin sounds brushy and viewless (Andrew says “this is not an enjoyable section”), and I didn’t want to be turned around by a cornice at King Col. So I went to highsierratopix and used their map (great resource!) to create a little high route through the basin: Gardiner Pass > Gardiner Pass East > 60 Lakes Col > Basin Notch > JMT at Dollar Lake. It was terrific! Highly recommended. It includes only two or so additional trail miles (and they’re gorgeous and fast, descending on the JMT toward Woods Creek), stays high, is never sketchy, and goes through Sixty Lake Basin, which is one of the jewels of the Sierras.
I also took a shortcut up Charlotte Creek. There’s a climber’s trail about 50-100 yards left of the creek up to the base of Charlotte Dome (at least… that’s about where I lost it). This saves a ton of on-trail mileage, particularly if you resupply from Bubbs Creek as I did, and it’s truer to the general nature of the KCHBR, but it’s a tough climb. Not sure I recommend it.
The three big changes in v2.5—White Fork Pass, Cataract Creek, and upper Goddard Creek—are justified in the guidebook primarily in practical terms; i.e., that they’re easier. I want to add that I absolutely loved all those segments. White Fork Pass included the wildest, double-black-diamond, Warren-MIller-style scree skiing that I’ve ever done. Probably got down 1000 feet in 5 minutes. A screaming good time.
Regarding upper Goddard Creek, I read some inspiring words in Secor (yep, seriously). He says that shepherds used to bring their sheep to graze in the high meadows up there. Which means that, on descending the canyon, I was constantly thinking: would sheep do this? If not, there was a better way! With that in mind, I got down easily.
The route mostly stays at class 2, but there were a couple of passages of unavoidable class 3 (as a result of needing to climb around snow), and a few passages where I got into class 3 that might have been avoidable with better route selection. My advice is that to do this route, you really need to be comfortable with short but sporty pitches of class 3, even though such pitches are very much the exception.
In general, use trails mentioned in the guidebook were sometimes impossible for me to follow and were sometimes present in places the guidebook doesn’t mention them. This isn’t a criticism—the presence or absence of a few crucial cairns can make all the difference. One early use trail I really wish I found was around Lake Reflection. The ledges I followed kept cliffing out. My advice for that bit: when in doubt, go up.
Glad you had a good trip. Thanks for all the notes.
Regarding KCHBR logistics, I was happy with my choice to park at Roads End and resupply via Bubbs Creek. But I’d strongly recommend reserving a campsite (or a room) for your resupply day. I didn’t, and the rangers send overflow campers down into the national forest to sleep by the side of the road. It was too hot to sleep in my bivy, and too buggy to sleep without it. Miserable! Also note that Cedar Grove’s store is very much pitched to car campers.
My most significant gear failure was my shoes: the route ate my new Brooks Cascadias alive. By the end of the route, they were filleted. They had more holes than Birkenstocks. If you prefer to hike in trail runners, it might be a good idea to throw an extra pair into your resupply.
Except for that one night in the valley, and one ridiculous hailstorm in Lakes Basin, I never missed having a tent. Maybe I just got lucky with the weather and bugs.
Regarding my background and preparation: the KCHBR was my first off-trail backpacking trip. I realize this means I ignored the advice offered by Andrew and by the experienced folks over at highsierratopix. But it went great for me, and I think this was no fluke. There are a couple reasons, I think: I’m an experienced trail hiker comfortable with 20+-mile days in high mountains, have a decent bit of light (class 2 and 3) mountaineering experience, and trained enthusiastically for four months. I suspect the mountaineering experience made a difference—I knew how to handle class 2 and 3 terrain comfortably.
Speed also made a difference. There are different kinds of difficult terrain: difficult to move through safely at all, difficult to move through quickly, and difficult to move through on tired legs. The KCHBR has very little if any of the former, and the latter two can be managed with a slow, comfortable pace. I kept things deliberate enough that I never really experienced fatigue or muscle pain.
I also knew, from previous experience, that I was OK with solitude. Solitude’s a real thing on this route: I went one period of 4.5 days, and another of about 3 days, without seeing another person. Once I went 50 hours without seeing as much as a footstep. I thought this was glorious, but it’s an aspect of the route one needs to be conscious of.
I’m writing this comment because I suspect there are others out there with a similar background—lots of trail hiking and enough scrambling or mountaineering to handle the terrain—and I want to encourage them to try out amazing off-trail experiences like this one.
Hi Zack, thanks for the helpful beta. Did you take and use traction devices of any kind or an ice axe this year?
Nope, and I didn’t miss them. The only place they would have been helpful is Ionian Basin, but it was always possible to scramble on rocks around the few steep snowfields.
In the summer of 2018 I walked my version of the KCHBR, broken up into three sections, in June, July and August. For my version I added extra mileage to include some more northern destinations including the annual meet-up of the HighSierraTopix.com website, and I did not walk the last leg of the route as it somewhat duplicates what I walked the previous summer when I completed the Sierra High Route (SHR). My trip took a total of 22 days, where I traveled 186 miles and climbed 58′,000’. I trained reasonably hard for several months in advance, including climbing over 22,000’ of local peaks, running up 1,600 steps every day for months, and completing a quick 67 mile hike in March. I post a summary here but invite you to visit my website to see the complete report:
For the first section I started at Lodgepole and returned back at Cedar Grove. I hit a snow cornice at Longely Pass which made me turn around, but as I have already traveled around West Vidette I did not miss out on much. For the second section I added some northern destinations and entered the Ionian Basin from Goddard canyon/Martha Lake, and then went out Black Giant Pass to Bishop Pass. For the third section I followed the route closely, entering at Kearsarge Pass and exiting at Bishop Pass, using the White Fork alternate which I enjoyed a lot and I support the notion of making it be the primary recommended route. My major omissions from the standard route were to not go down the Enchanted Gorge, which seems more like a compromise added in to contrive a loop hike rather than a desirable or even safe path, and the portion below Simpson Meadow that largely overlaps with the Sierra High Route, which I did the previous summer.
For me, the full traverse of the Ionian Basin was the most unique and special of the destinations and I consequently think that the recommended KCHBR primary route is unfortunate advice, as it only goes through half of the full experience. Yes, there is a sidebar note in the alternates text about taking an alternate up to Mt. Goddard and back, but I think that this should just be folded into the primary route. One suggestion on how to achieve this would be to take the route across and through to Martha Lake and then cut south over Reinstein Pass, and continue on down Goddard Creek. I also wonder if a passage through the Volcanic Lakes, and then up to Granite Pass, might make the final part of the route more unique and differentiated from the SHR.
I really enjoyed myself and I appreciate the effort required to put together a route such as this. Bravo!
I see that the consensus above is that the KCHBR is more physically challenging than the SHR. Is it also the case that the KCHBR is more technically demanding, in terms of the amount and difficulty of scrambling and scree/talus walking?
It’s more physically demanding because it has more off-trail and more vertical change per distance.
But the KCHBR has less talus, and the passes may be marginally easier (i.e. more simple walk-ups, and pure Class 2). One notable exception is King Col, which rivals the most difficult passes on SHR (e.g. Snow Tongue, Sky Pilot).
When was the last time the guide was updated?
I’ve learned a few thing while writing three more high route guidebooks that could be applied back to this one. But I haven’t gotten around to it.
Such great content you have. I’ve recently retired and had purchased both KCHBR and SHR from you using my previous work email. Can the record of these be transferred to my new email below? Specifically, I’m wondering if there have been any modifications to the KCHBR materials in the past several years, as I finally have time to get it done this summer! My plan is to go from Lodgepole to South Lake, resupply in Bishop and go back in over Lamarck Col to Helen Lake, then do the 23 mile segment from Cedar Grove back to Lodgepole at the end. Sweet!
Thanks very much and keep up the great work.
I updated your email address, and you should get notified of any future updates.
Neither guide has been updated since your purchases in early-2018.
At 2:20 , is that going down Millys Footpass?
No, that’s the wonderful King Col.
Curious, what was that super-dicey sandy pass descent where the guy cut his hand a bit? That looked tricky, especially without poles.
Any chance this route is in already this season? I haven’t done any satellite recon yet but wanted to see if you/anyone here had beta on the snow right now.
I’m having a hard time deciding on which loop (60-80 mile range)to do from your guide. If you had to pick one that captures the route the best, what would it be?
Loop 1 is pretty classic, but you miss out on some of the big vertical relief later in the route.
Loop 4W is probably the heart of the route.
Loop 5W and 5E get into the most remote pockets of SEKI, but you have to work for it.
Had planned to do the SHR starting Friday & just learned about the National Forest closures. So months of research & careful prep up in smoke at least until next year. I had bought this route from you a couple of years ago & now looking at doing it as an alternative. So 2 questions if I may:
#1 we have a copper creek permit already so what are your thoughts about reversing the direction of the hike? Is there anything we should look out for in doing so?
#2 our only resupply for SHR was going to be reds meadow which we had planned on reaching in 10-12 days. That’s pretty much our limit on carrying food (around 20lbs) – with your experience of hiking both (albeit a lot faster than us mere mortals) do you think at that pace we can do the KCHBT in 12 days? Do you think that still would still be true if we also hiked between the end and start of the hike to keep logistics simple?
You, me, and many others are very, very disappointed this morning. I understand the context of the USFS decision, but I can’t help but feel loss for the hundred (?) hours of prep time that has gone into upcoming trips.
Generally speaking, sub’ing KCHBR for SHR is a good bet. SEKI will likely remain open — NPS is an entirely different agency with a different mission and funding level, and SEKI is not currently contending with any fires (assuming that the Walkers Fire to its south doesn’t jump into Mineral King). However, it could get smoky, especially if the wind is pushing from any direction besides the prevailing west/southwest — if it comes in from the north, it’ll blow smoke from Dixie and Caldor your way, and it comes in from the south it’ll blow smoke from Walkers and French your way.
1. Starting up Copper Creek and then bushwhacking up Goddard is a tough start, but that probably should be your Plan A. Personally, I’d check with the rangers at Trail’s End to see if any permits for Bubbs (and Avalanche Pass) are available as walk-up. That’d be a tough start, too, but not as a brutal.
2. Without any information about you, I can’t say whether you can hike the entire route in 12 days. It’s all about vertical, https://andrewskurka.com/high-route-time-days-management-vertical/. If you start at Red’s, you could leave a resupply in a food locker there, then pick it up when you get to Bubb’s (after East Fork). But I’m unconvinced that this would save you any time (which is your real limitation; the limitation is not comfort), so maybe you just see how far you can go in 12 days, and shortcut the route if you don’t think you’ll make it.
First of all thank you for the fast reply. Since posting I’ve read a good deal more on the route & the various options. My current thinking is that I will park at Roads End and try to get a permit for Bubb’s and Avalanche Pass. The current plan is to leave Los Angeles at 4am on Friday to get in line at Roads End Rangers Station, if we don’t get a walk up then we will start up Copper Creek and do it all in reverse.
On one of your posts you suggested that if parking at Roads End if may be possible to leave a resupply in the car and hike down Sphinx Creek to pick it up. Wondering if you think that is still a good idea since it would give us an easier start (if we go up via Avalanche) of only around 5-6 days back to the car & then we could carry the 9-10 days from there making it far more feasible to do the whole trip. To give you some idea of my abilities I have done a reasonable of cross country in the Sierras, though the SHR was going to be a step up in terms of continuous effort, and was planning on trails at 3mph & 30 mins/1000 fit gained, and off trail at 1mph – I’m quite comfortable walking 10-12 hour days once altitude acclimatized. After reading more of the postings I was thinking that we would walk at about 80% of this rate since as you pointed out average gain loss is about 20% higher for the KCHBR. I’m still trying to work out the implications of that since I’ve had less than 24 hours to absorb the news and I’m having to pretend that I’m working today. Tomorrow I have to be up at 4am to go pick up my car from Twin Lakes, Bridgeport & the resupply box from Reds Meadow that I only dropped off on Sunday, so that will eat into the available planning time. That said Im hopefully that this evening & Thursday I can work through the whole guide/maps in detail & research as many of the passes on High Sierra Topix as possible. Thanks again for your help.
I forgot about that possibility. Definitely is more efficient to use Sphinx Crk to reach your car, and while you’re not following the “official” KCHBR it is way better for your planning and time efficiency. So make the route work for you!
Planning 4W route. You mention clockwise is the optimal direction to do route, but the maps and datasheets go counter-clockwise. What way do you recommend? Is the big determining factor in direction the preference of going up or down Copper Creek? Is the listed 23,666 overall route gain for starting at Roads End and heading up Copper Creek trail? or going counter and staring on Bubbs Creek Trail?
Vertical gain/loss is the same if you start and finish at the same point.
The recommended direction is up Bubbs, down Copper, so that you can ease into the altitude and avoid the biggest climb with your heaviest pack.
I don’t know why the maps and datasheets are in reverse of the recommended direction. It might have been a technical limit at that time, as I just hadn’t figured out how to run those calculations in Sheets.
King Col is not class 2 even though that is it’s description from Secor. I descended it summer of 2021. It is a no fall zone with less than stable footing.
I’d say that it’s crumbly and uncomfortable Class 3. Not sure why Secor would say Class 2, unless the decades of low snow have altered it (unlikely).
Disagree that it’s a no-fall zone — I wouldn’t want to fall, but I think you’d just slide and bounce on your butt some until you reached the softer materials below that uppermost crumbly bit.
My general understanding of what distinguishes Class 2 from Class 3 is the degree of combined hands and feet climbing, with the irony that some passes that qualify by the Secor definition as Class 2 are significantly more unpredictable and dangerous than Class 3. So in the case of nasty “Class 2” places like King Col or Pants Pass, one could conceivably do a downwards glissade on feet or butt without hardly using hands, and a fall probably won’t be fatal. Whenever I can, I cling to / climb along the sides of these passes, so my own experience probably qualifies more as Class 3. The amount of snow changes the experience, as well as the length of time the pass has been “dry” after the snowmelt. There is conjecture that some passes *might* have changed over the past 80 years, most particularly Snow-Tongue Pass (SHR), due to foot traffic dislodging the already precarious larger rocks.