At just 195 miles, Steve Roper’s Sierra High Route represents less than 1 percent of the total miles that I have hiked. Yet my thru-hike of it in 2008 with Buzz Burrell proved to be one of the most influential backpacking trips that I have done, and is probably the most direct inspiration for the Kings Canyon High Basin Route (KCHBR).
In the six years before, I had hiked over twenty thousand miles on America’s extensive system of long-distance hiking trails like the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, Pacific Northwest, and North Country Trails. But the Sierra High Route was a fundamentally different experience due to its extensive off-trail travel.
These segments required greater mastery of core backpacking skills (e.g. navigation, campsite selection). They were athletically more challenging. They demanded my attention full-time. They felt wilder, with limited evidence of other human use. They had higher consequences for error, and a more appreciable sense of uncertainty and adventure. And, frankly, they made the on-trail segments feel mind-numbingly boring.
But the route’s longest-lasting impression on me was the realization that I could proficiently travel from Point A to Point B without the vision or assistance of a trail crew, guidebook author, or even another cairn-building backpacker. And it was fun! Suddenly, I began to look very differently at topographical maps, and I refocused future trips around accessing remote areas via off-trail routes.
In 2013 and 2014 I spent two months in Sequoia-Kings National Park doing exactly that. Gradually, the Kings Canyon High Basin Route took shape.