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About the Sierra High Route

Description

The SHR is a 195-mile trekking route that runs north-south through the heart of the High Sierra, the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada Range. It passes through two National Parks—Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Yosemite—and two wilderness areas—John Muir and Ansel Adams. It is a rugged alternate to the John Muir Trail (JMT), boasting about 100 miles of cross-country travel, numerous Class III scrambles, and seemingly endless miles of boulder fields. SHR hikers are rewarded with pristine alpine settings, uninterrupted stretches of solitude, and a sense of true adventure. The route was developed by climber Steve Roper back in the late-1970’s.

Starting and Ending Points

The southern terminus is at Road’s End in the South Fork of the Kings River, about 90 miles east of Fresno. Its climbs into the high country via the Copper Creek Trail. The northern terminus is at Mono Village, at Twin Lakes, just outside of the northwest boundary of Yosemite National Park, about 13 miles southwest of Bridgeport. If you do not wish to hike the entire SHR, it is possible to do it in sections, though because the trail is so remote and because vehicle access is so limited, this is logistically difficult and often involves hiking long distances from nearby trailheads before the SHR is even reached. But, in that sense, portions of the SHR can easily be integrated into loop hikes.

SHR versus the John Muir Trail

The SHR and JMT are of similar distance (195 for SHR, 218 for JMT) and both go north-south through the High Sierra. Additionally, the SHR uses about 30 miles of the JMT corridor. But otherwise the trails—and the experiences they provide—are markedly different. First, the SHR is not an official trail; it is a route. It is not labeled on any maps and there is no signage for it on the ground. Very few people know about it, and even fewer hike it. It is not a continuous footpath—about half of its length is off-trail. In almost perfect contrast, the John Muir Trail is an official trail; it is labeled on maps and there is signage on the ground; lots of people know about it and hike it; and it’s a continuous footpath.

Foot Traffic

It’s estimated that about 10 people hike the entire SHR each year, i.e. thru-hike it. There may be more or less, but—whatever the exact number may be—it’s small. Like all long-distance trails, it receives more traffic from section hikers (and, perhaps in the most accessible portions of the route, day hikers). But, again, this traffic is peanuts compared to elsewhere in the High Sierra.

16 Responses to About the Sierra High Route

  1. Dogwood November 18, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    A definite thumbs up! I would highy recommend using Andrew”s SHR mapset on a SHR thru-hike. I used it on my SHR thru-hikes in 2007 and 2009. The mapset is very well organized and designed, which is what I would expect from someone who has been as innovative as Andrew in creating new routes and connecting segments of different trails. I particularly appreciated that he avoided drawing a line on his maps saying this is where the trail/route is. It gives SHR hikers the option of coming up with their own exact Sierra High Routes which increases the sense of adventure and exploration. And, as he says, if one was attempting to piece together and purchase all of the maps needed to cover the route it could not only be time consuming but also substantially more expensive than what he charges for his SHR mapset. The mapset was also easy to print out.

    However, if doing side trips off the route or hiking in shoulder seasons when snow may cover parts of the route or risk of snow is high or simply because one feels more comfortable viewing the “larger” picture I would supplement with additional maps covering larger areas.

    I just wish his mapset for the Hayduke Trail was available when I hiked that trail. It was a tedious and somewhat expenisve task accumulating all the maps.

    • Robert Trick February 24, 2015 at 9:25 pm #

      Hey Dogwood, glad you finished the Hayduke. Met you at Tanner beach in GC, hope you remember, my buddy asked you if you were “cool”. We still laugh about it.

  2. Rob Harlan February 3, 2015 at 5:37 pm #

    Hello Andrew! A true admirer here! I have studied your site, tips, and comments about the SHR for what seems like an eternity now.
    Long story short, I am a typical peak bagger, that fell in love with the beautiful Sierra Nevada as a young man. I learned about the SHR approximately ten years ago while on an annual pilgrimage to the Sierra, but became truly fascinated with the idea of a ‘threw-hike’ when I met a hiker on route back in ’07. I was camping in Dusy Basin on the last evening of a five day loop. He was dropping down off of Napsack Pass. I knew immediately that he was doing the SHR! We met for a short moment, and that is all it took. I was determined from that point on!
    After many early season trips, and trails that disappear under the snow, I have always found ‘off-trail route finding’ my true passion. The thought of a JMT threw-hike just never struck a fancy. I estimate that I have walked only about thirty miles of the SHR thus far, used to access summit tops.
    So finally, after having left my own business/company/career after 26 years of service, and having been granted the “go-ahead” from my ‘boss’ the wife, I am committed to a late summer 2015 SHR threw-hike!
    I have purchased and downloaded the wonderful maps that you have painstakingly compiled. My “Thanks” goes out to you for your efforts on listing the details of a committed hike, and what to expect.
    I don’t mean to write a novel here, but wanted to introduce myself as I fully intend to become one of the few very blessed people to God willing, complete this “wonderful route!”
    Sincerely,
    Rob Harlan

  3. Alex March 1, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    Wow!

    I am trying to bring a group of 10 Candian hikers (myself +9) on a through hike of the JMT. Alas, I had zero luck obtaining a permits. I had hope for one via Hoover Wilderness but a few days after I mailed my permit application, they came out with a new policy: no more permits for their trailheads if you are heading through Yosemite via towards Donahue Pass. Bummed out yet again by forestry regulations not allowing us to hike, I was doing some research for an alternate hike and came across this site! Wow, the hike seems amazing!

    Question though: I can hold my own navigation wise but am definitely not a pro. Would we be okay on this trail if 3 of us are simply “okay” at map reading and naving?

    • Andrew Skurka March 1, 2015 at 8:39 pm #

      The JMT is hardly the only worthy thing in the High Sierra. In fact, I’d say it may be the ugliest part of it — industrial backcountry tourism. Maybe the Forest Service is actually doing you a favor in not giving you a permit.

      Without more info about you and your experience, it would be very irresponsible to try to give a yes/no on whether you are qualified for the SHR.

  4. Casey Edwards August 11, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

    Hello and thanks! I’m looking at thru hiking in a couple years…realistically, about how much time should one allow?

    • Andrew Skurka August 11, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

      Completely depends on your fitness and will. The limit seems to be vertical change per day, not mileage, especially on the off-trail sections. I would break the route up into two categories: on trail and off-trail. The on-trail portions will go about as fast as you normally hike on-trail (in the Sierra). So if there are 100 miles and you normally do 20 miles/day, that’s 5 days. The off-trail portions will be limited by the vertical. So if there is 50k vertical for the remaining 100 miles, and you can do about 5k vertical per day, that’s another 10 days. So 15 total.

  5. Marcus March 22, 2016 at 9:46 pm #

    Thanks Andrew. I’ve done JMT in 12 days and it was scenic, but yes, not too serene with the “crowds”. I’m a climber and a runner and love 3rd and 4th class exposed fun. Do you have the cumulative elevation gain loss? Would you recommend nobo or sobo? I do plan on throwing you some $ for your guide but just trying to figure out some preliminary info.

    • Andrew Skurka March 23, 2016 at 4:58 am #

      I don’t know the exact vertical on the SHR, but I’ll estimate it at 500-550 vertical feet of change per mile. Overall, it’s not as intense as the Kings Canyon High Basin Route (700) or the Wind River High Route (620) — the on-trail sections, in particular, will dumb it down.

      Re direction, read this: https://andrewskurka.com/adventures/sierra-high-route/logistical-considerations/

    • Michael Hofmayer July 30, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

      Marcus,
      Are you the French trail runner/Montreal student we met on the JMT last summer and later shared the bus from Mammoth to the Valley? I was the one with the Petzl eLite headlamp. Wonder how you are doing and what your plans are for this summer.
      Cheers,
      Michael

  6. Rob June 14, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    Two friends and myself are planning on doing a hybrid sections of the SHR starting at Devil’s Postpile and going to Thousand Island Lake (on the SHR) and then looping back via the JMT. All of us have mountaineering and backcountry hiking experience; are all in very good physical shape; have spent time together on multiple trips in the past; and have no reservations about bailing out. We are planning on 3 nights, 3.5 days to complete so we can take our time and move slowly. However, we have two members with intermediate route finding skills and one member with beginning route finding skills. Is this feasible or are we getting in over our heads? Thanks.

    • Andrew Skurka June 14, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

      I would switch your route so that you’re doing the SHR with lighter packs, and when you’re more acclimatized.

      When creating an itinerary for these high routes, the most useful variable is vertical gain and loss. With so much vert, your daily mileage will be limited by how much you can climb and descend in a day, not how many miles you can cover. Before you lock into your 3.5-day itinerary, I would run through the numbers to make sure it’s viable.

      I think you guys will be okay. Three heads are better than one. When I travel off-trail, I try to create a consistent story with the data I have — dead reckoning, altimeter, topographic map, GPS. When one of these pieces of data is inconsistent with the others, stop and figure it out.

    • Caroline June 17, 2016 at 8:38 am #

      Hi Rob,
      There is trail and use trail a lot of the way for that section – it’s pretty darn hard to get lost! Keep your eyes peeled for use trail, and there are some cairns coming down from the Minarets. The two areas where there is not use trail are the three passes you’ll get over, and when you’re on a pass (except for the third pass, just before Thousand Island) there aren’t too many choices where to go. It’s up and over. Last year I was able to follow the route in that section without relying too much on my map & compass, because the landmarks (peaks) are all so distinct, and again, the route is beat in. You’ll see! Have fun!

      • Rob June 17, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

        Caroline,

        Good to hear. Thanks so much for the feedback.

    • Caroline June 17, 2016 at 8:51 am #

      I should have given my 2015 blog link for that particular section, Rob. Here it is: http://www.little-package.com/blog/2015/09/sierra-high-route-reds-meadow-tuolumne-meadow

  7. Andrew Purdam January 7, 2017 at 4:02 am #

    Hey Andrew,
    My wife and I did 31 days of SHR north (Mammoth to Mono) and south (Mammoth to Mather Pass) then continued on to Mt Whitney and exited via Cottonwood Lakes.
    Certainly busier once you get on the JMT and PCT!
    Had a great time and really appreciated your detailed terrain maps. They really helped us find our way (most of the time! – we got stuck on one map edge…) Of course, once leaving the SHR, didn’t really need such detailed maps (though we still found some diversions on the way south, Cardinal Lake, Striped Mtn, Sixty Lakes Basin, Kern Circuit Trail, Army Pass).
    We went ultra-light with our gear, but still struggled with bear canisters and up to eight days of food.

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