Earlier this month I completed the Kings Canyon High Basin Route in its entirety, plus several more of its alternates and section-hike segments. All told, my 204-mile route featured 70,000 vertical feet of gain and 102 miles of off-trail travel, and I completed it in about 9.5 days. For much of the route, it was my second — if not my third, forth, fifth, or even sixth — pass through, which detracted from the trip’s adventure element but which allowed me to focus more on field-checking the Guide.
Upper Sphinx Creek. A thru-hike would normally begin at Lodgepole and finish at Road’s End, but I entered and exited at Road’s End in order to avoid a hitchhike or shuttle. An additional upside was hiking again portions of Loops 1, 2E, and 2W — three of the nine section hikes into which the route can be broken.
Mt. Silliman sunset. Lights of the Central Valley, the food basket of the World, shimmer 10,000 vertical feet below and 50 miles to the west. In the High Sierra, such views of civilization are rare.
Wildflowers in Tablelands. There are few walk-able ridges in the High Sierra, with the 11,000-foot Tablelands being a notable exception. Wildflowers were at their peak.
Horn Col (aka Lonely Lake Pass). The weather was uncharacteristically unsettled for the first few days of my trip, with afternoon thunderstorms (normal), morning thunderstorms (not normal), and even marine inversions (not normal for July). That I had done the route before gave me extra confidence to navigate in low-visibility situations.
Looking west from Longley Pass, the route’s highpoint at 12,420 feet. If not for a July snowstorm at the highest elevations the night before, this section would have been completely snow-free. Because of an extremely dry winter, conditions were more August- or even September-like than July.
Table Creek campsite. On a route with such long stretches between good campsites, there is a strong argument for a full-sided shelter, with mids being the most storm-worthy for the weight. Combine it with a water-resistant bivy for cowboy camping on low-risk nights.
Gardiner Basin, south fork. Each summer thousands of backpackers complete the Rae Lakes Loop. About a dozen access Gardiner Basin, which sits in the middle of that loop. It’s just as superb and which you’ll have to yourself. Access is made easier by an old trail that is faint but followable.
King Col (aka Moulthrop Pass). This is the single most intimidating feature on the route. It’s a steep chute, and its upper section consists of hard dirt and crumbly, ball bearing-covered rock. Early in the season, entry is further complicated by a corniced snowfield.
Col Creek. The reward for successfully navigating King Col is Col Creek (unofficial), a tributary of Woods Creek. It’s a fast and brush-free descent on continuous slabs. Pyramid Peak is the tallest summit on the left skyline.
White Fork Pass. From this 12,300-pass, which is a worthy alternate route, there is a stunning view of the Cirque Crest, including the next major landmark: Cartridge Pass. First, however, the route must descent to the South Fork of the Kings River.
Black Giant Pass. The route’s longest stretch of on-trail hiking, which is just 12.6 miles long, ends at Helen Lake just below Muir Pass (its hut is visible in this photo) on the John Muir Trail. From there, it climbs to Black Giant Pass in order to access Ionian Basin.
Mt. Goddard summit. This worthy 13’er is less than 2 miles and 2,000 vertical feet off-route. Its prominence creates outstanding views in all directions. Here, looking northwest towards the headwaters of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River.
Upper Goddard Creek. Between Lake 10232 and Lake 9797, there are two miles of sublime high country. Descend gradually on granite slabs and grass, pass through open lodgepole forest, and parallel a meandering creek of impeccable clarity. No one accidentally ends up here — it’s REALLY hard to get to, and get out of.
Upper Goddard Creek. Without question, the most committing section of the hike is through Ionian Basin and down either Disappearing Creek (Enchanted Gorge) or Goddard Creek to the Middle Fork of the Kings River. It’s rugged country: entirely off-trail, huge vertical relief and littered in talus and scree.
Grouse Lake Pass. This unremarkable pass is one of my favorites: it was one of my first off-trail passes in the High Sierra, it’s been my first or last pass on numerous trips out of Road’s End, and the view over the South Fork of the Kings River to the Great Western Divide, Kaweah Peaks, and Tablelands is a healthy reminder that there is nearly infinite exploration left to do in the High Sierra.