Top

Is the High Basin Route for you?

Approaching Copper Mine Pass at 12,345 feet after a 3,000-foot climb out of Cloud Canyon way below

Approaching Copper Mine Pass at 12,345 feet after a 3,000-foot climb out of Cloud Canyon way below

Is the Kings Canyon High Basin Route for you? Without more personal context, I can’t say. But I can provide information about the route that will help you make your own decision.

A KCHBR thru-hike is extremely demanding from start to finish, and a KCHBR section-hike will similarly be so for at least some portions. Here is what it takes:

1. Physical fitness

Here are some simple facts about the KCHBR:

  • It averages 725 vertical feet of change (up and/or down) per mile, compared to 375 for the John Muir Trail and 310 for the Pacific Crest.
  • It typically hovers between 9,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level, where there is 65-73 percent as much oxygen as there is at sea level.
  • Two-thirds of its distance (84 miles out of 124 total) is off-trail, which ranges from joyous cruising through alpine tundra or open woodlands to slow scrambling on granite slabs or refrigerator-sized talus.
  • Starting food weights will be considerable because resupply points are inconveniently off-route (at least 10 trail miles plus additional road miles).
  • There are multiple Class 2 passes and many sections of extensive talus, ranging in size from basketballs to refrigerators.

In short, the KCHBR is a very physically ambitious route. Expect to get worked, especially if you are under-trained.

Chip studies his 7.5-min topos from Lonely Lake Pass (aka Horn Col) during a 15-mile off-trail segment during which we crossed just one trail.

Chip studies his 7.5-min topos from Lonely Lake Pass (aka Horn Col) during a 15-mile off-trail segment during which we crossed just one trail.

2. Backcountry skills

Regardless of the time of year, the KCHBR demands excellent navigation skills. Know how to read a map, operate a compass, dead-reckon and predict pace, use a GPS smartphone app, and — most importantly — identify the path of least resistance between two points. Those with less navigation experience should expect to cover fewer miles per day and should consider partnering with others to improve decision-making.

In early-summer conditions, other essential skills include river fording, snow travel, and the management of mosquitoes and sun exposure.

East Fork, with views of the peaks surrounding Gardiner Basin. This is big country.

East Fork, with views of the peaks surrounding Gardiner Basin. This is big country.

3. Emotional maturity

The idea of wilderness is very appealing, but being in wilderness can in fact be stressful, if not scary. The considerable distances from safety, the overwhelming sense of solitude, and the discernible presence of environmental risks lead to a very strong realization of self-dependence. Some backpackers become addicted to it, while others return to more blissful endeavors.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply