Almost done (and now available): Yosemite High Route Guide

I had self-imposed a deadline of March 1 for publishing the Yosemite High Route Guide, knowing that backpackers are making their summertime plans (and in some cases have already made them).

The Guide is not yet complete — it’s about 85 percent of the way there — but today I’m releasing it anyway so that it can be put to use, especially its planning resources. The Yosemite High Route Guide is available for immediate download.

After I complete the remaining 15 percent sometime this month, I will send to all customers a new download link for the missing files or for the fully completed Guide (especially if I end up tweaking anything in the “finished” 85 percent portion). Expect another update in Fall 2019 based on guided trips on the route this July.

Rock Island Lake, a rarely visited alpine basin

The current edition, which I’ve designated 1.0, includes the following materials:

  • “Guidebook — Part 1: Before you go” includes essential preparatory information (e.g. permits, travel, regulations, scheduling) that is supplementary to the existing online information;
  • Annotated topographic maps for the Core Route, all twelve Approach Routes, and eight recommended Section-Hikes;
  • Datasheets for the Core Route, all twelve Approach Routes, five Alternate Routes, six featured Thru-Hikes, and eight recommended Section-Hikes; and a,
  • Rudimentary GPX file to help find trailheads and download maps for off-line use.

The current edition does NOT yet include Part 2 and Part 3 of the Guidebook, which will have route descriptions for the Core Route, Approach Routes, Alternates, and Section-Hikes. I’m working on these documents now, but they’re not ready for prime-time. Thankfully, they’re not necessary in planning a thru- or section-hike of the Yosemite High Route.

Samples of these resources can be found here.

I’m frustrated that I’m not yet done with the Guide — I don’t like missing deadlines, and just as much I’d like to move on to other projects. But I’m satisfied with the current quality of the materials, and I’d rather that Part 2 and Part 3 of the Guidebook be late but good (instead of on-time but shoddy).

Partly responsible for the delay are the multiple revisions that I made to the route’s fundamental structure. Ultimately, I identified a 94-mile Core Route that is consistently world-class: it’s 70 percent off-trail, gyrates 630 vertical feet per mile, and accesses rarely visited pockets of America’s third National Park.

To reach this Core Route, I’ve offered twelve Approach Routes: eight for the northern terminus, ranging from 17 to 50 miles; and, four for the southern terminus, ranging from 10 to 18 miles. All told, there are thirty-two potential thru-hiking itineraries, making it possible that no thru-hikers in 2019 will do the same route.

Posted in on February 28, 2019


  1. Nathaniel on March 1, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    This is fantastic, and I will most likely be purchasing it at some point.

    I’m wondering if you have an estimate for roughly which month this year would be good. I’m keeping an eye on the snow levels and they are above average. Any input?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 2, 2019 at 2:28 pm

      If it’s a normal spring melt, June is out. So you’re left with July, when this year you’ll find lingering snow on the shadiest and most leeward aspect; and August and September, which will be pretty normal, and probably less smoky than they have been in years past.

      • Jason on March 6, 2019 at 1:00 pm

        I might try it in May with my splitboard

  2. Norman Clyde on March 4, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    Normal Spring melt ha!

    • Andrew Skurka on March 4, 2019 at 9:08 pm

      I think you might be misinterpreting what I meant by, “If it’s a normal spring melt.”

      With the current snowpack, water levels will definitely be higher and snow will linger longer relative to average. But if the timing of the melt is normal (i.e. normal temps, normal spring precip) then I think the route will transition in July, from a mountaineering-like experience in early-July to a reasonably normal backpacking experience in late-July. June is looking like a ski trip.

      • Boris Seymour on March 4, 2019 at 9:59 pm

        I’ll go with that…I think we are adding to the disappearing Lyell Glacier this year, but it could be 100˚F in Tuolumne Meadows in late June. Climate change creates wild erratics over normal evolutional changes…snowy year…it will be around out for the hidden snow bridges….the Randy Morgenson demise…

        The book looks good; hopefully it does not add to the crowd prowling around the High Routes…

  3. Rob on March 5, 2019 at 7:53 am

    Any word on lightning predictions this year? Just kidding, but….seriously, how does one do the high route in relative safety from afternoon lightning storms or dontou just have to get lucky for two weeks?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 5, 2019 at 9:20 am

      You avoid lightning by:

      1. Waking up f’ing early and getting in most of your miles when it’s safe to do so.
      2. Playing the storms, by getting over high stuff when you have a clearing and pushing through the low stuff when the weather is not cooperating.

      The longest stretch of exposed terrain is from Spillway Lake (in Parker Pass Creek) to Isberg Pass Trail (between Harriet Lake and the Clark Range). This stretch is entirely above treeline, and there are only a few protected areas where you could get out of the wind (maybe), or at least not be the tallest thing around.

      North of Tuolumne, the route is constantly up and down: from the bottom of one deep canyon, climb up to a high ridge, and drop into the next deep canyon. Rock Island Lake is an exception, but it’s not a long section. Some of these canyon bottoms are forested, others not. But even those not forested feel much safer than the ridgetops, or the section that I originally referenced.

  4. Lucas on March 10, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    Hi Andrew.
    I’m planning a week long trip this summer and trying do decide between doing sections of either YHR or KCHBR and was curious about how they differ from one another in section-hikability, relative scenery, and accessibility (I will be flying to fresno and may or may not rent a car) etc. I’ll definitely be purchasing one of the guides once I decide. I did the Pfiffner Traverse last summer and I tremendously appreciate your efforts into putting these together so a Wisconsin boy can have a world class adventure while only taking a week off work.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 10, 2019 at 4:59 pm

      Woot, woot.

      If you tell me the section hikes you are most interested in, I can tell you the differences. Overall the YHR is probably a bit easier than the KCHBR: less off trail, less vert per mile, no single feature as hairy as King Col or as rugged as the Goddard Creek bushwhack. But individual section hikes vary in intensity, and YHR has hikes that are both easier and harder than sections of KCHBR.

      • Lucas on March 11, 2019 at 9:30 am

        I’m not too partial to any specific section but a few have caught my eye. For YHR I figured it would be easy to get to Tuolume Meadows if I want to save $$ on not renting a car. From there the South Loop and Roosevelt Rock Riviera look like they are about on the money for a 4.5-5 day itinerary

        Am I correct in assuming logistics would be much more difficult to do 1 or 2 sections of KCHBR if I fly into Fresno and want to do without a car? Although it seems manageable to get to Lodgepole using public transport so I guess it would be loop 1 in that case. With a car, loop 4W and 5W look enticing. I’m all for maximizing off trail %.

        Thanks again for your time

        • Andrew Skurka on March 11, 2019 at 11:15 am

          It’s very easy to get to TM without a rental car. Although you will waste some time on travel, because the bus/shuttle schedules may not operate exactly when you need them to.

          With the South Loop, be aware that reserving a permit will be really tough. The hordes of JMT hikers grab all the permits. So you might need to do a walk-up, and it’s safest to get there by 11am the day before you want to start. If you have some flexibility in your dates, you can probably still score a permit for Glen Aulin pass-through (or Murphy Creek, +4 miles).

          From Fresno, you can get to Lodgepole via public transit (via Visalia) but not Road’s End. Loop 1 is excellent. Most of the on-trail is out of the gate, from Lodgepole over Silliman Pass to the Roaring River. But it’s almost entirely off-trail thereafter. Those trail miles are a good opportunity to eat through some food and acclimate.

  5. Brian J on May 14, 2019 at 7:48 am

    Hi Andrew- I love your blog and site, it’s helped me be a better backpacker. Thanks! One question I have about the YHR is how it squares with LNT principles… seems like hiking off-trail is more prone to damage vegetation, etc. It seems like you’re quite a steward for the environment so I wouldn’t expect that your actions hiking and pioneering an off-trail route would be bad, but I realized that I couldn’t explain why to a casual observer. Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on May 15, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Hiking anywhere leaves an impact, on or off trail. There are identical ways to minimize the impact — eg pack it in pack it out, proper disposal of human waste, campfires and fire rings — plus a few ways specific to off trail, like trying to hike on durable surfaces and not building cairns.

      NPS is responsible for managing backcountry use, and the only off trail specific reg they have is group size, limited to 8 in Yosemite. If they were finding an unsustainable amount of impact from off trail I’d assume they would curtail it, like they have done with JMT and Half Dome, and backcountry use in general via trailhead permits.

  6. Liv on May 15, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    Hi Andrew — wondering what the status on the completed guide is? I bought it a few months ago and am looking forward to getting the missing pieces!

    • Andrew Skurka on May 15, 2019 at 5:31 pm

      I’m looking forward to it, too. I have 2.5 weeks before I leave for guided trips in Alaska followed quickly by California, so it’ll have to be done before I board the plane.

  7. tim on May 23, 2019 at 8:07 pm

    we’ll be on north half of JMT starting July 18, expect snow on passes but a trodden path by other hikers will likely be well established. i think it will be an awesome summer this year following the heavy winter snows.
    our concept is to go up and over lamarck col to evolution, then wander up to Tuolumne, look at some pieces of YHR when we get there (guidebook ordered….); also, probably do a couple zeros and enjoy the territory

  8. Bern on June 13, 2019 at 6:14 am

    Hi Andrew – how’s the guide coming along? Looking forward to the complete route descriptions before we head out. Thanks

    • Andrew Skurka on June 14, 2019 at 2:33 am

      In progress. When do you go?

  9. Bern on June 14, 2019 at 4:59 am

    The last week in August.

    • Andrew Skurka on June 16, 2019 at 12:40 am

      I would definitely hope to have something by then. My goal is by July 10, so that my clients can use the guidebook during our trips in Yosemite.

      • Jonathan Gray on July 8, 2019 at 10:12 am

        Hi Andrew, how is july 10 looking? Thanks!

        • Andrew Skurka on July 8, 2019 at 11:34 am

          I’m optimistic, especially for the northern half and northern section-hikes.

          • Jonathan on July 19, 2019 at 10:16 pm

            Thanks Andrew. I’m not too worried about the complete route descriptions (sections 2/3) right now, but after purchasing noticed you don’t have a mapset included for section hike 8 – the clark range traverse. Do you know when this will be available? This is one we were interested in doing possibly in 2 weeks. Thanks!

          • Andrew Skurka on July 27, 2019 at 6:53 am

            I have this ready but missed zipping it into the file. Email me, or I will try to remember to send it to you this week — I’m flying back from Yosemite right now.

          • Andrew Skurka on July 29, 2019 at 9:07 am

            I just sent you a download link.

  10. John Paul on January 18, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Andrew, used your map set for the SHR and boy what an improvement over Roper (especially for my first solo XX trip).
    I have a bucket list of pieces of Yosemite I haven’t gotten to yet (Clark Range, The Slide, etc ) and was delighted that your route elegantly connects several of them.

    What is the current status of the mapset?


    • Andrew Skurka on January 18, 2020 at 7:29 pm

      The guide for the Yosemite High route is about 80 or 90% done. The only missing piece is a route description for the core route from the triple divide fork of the Merced back to Tuolumne Meadows. The map set is entirely done, including annotations. All of the data sheets are done as well, giving mileage and vertical between key landmarks. I am committed to completing the guide before the start of the 2020 season. It’s not as pressing as some other priorities right now because no one will get on this route until the middle of June probably.

  11. Dom Martinez on December 21, 2021 at 12:15 am

    Hello Andrew…Just curious to see how the guide is coming. Planning on doing the high route in 2022. Let me know how it’s going and can’t wait to start preparing. Thanks for all your hard work.

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