Spiderwoman thru-hiked the Kings Canyon High Basin Route in 2017 with her partner, The Brawn. These are her “tips” about the route, a term that does not do justice to their comprehensiveness and detail. The information has been split into eight posts to improve readability:
- Section 1: Tablelands
- Section 2: Great Western Divide
- Section 3: South Fork Basins
- Section 4: Cartridge Basins
- Section 5: Ionian Basin
- Section 6: Monarch Divide
- Reflections, campsites, conditions, and comparisons
She has shared all of her photos from her trip, available here.
The following document was created in early-2018 to serve as tips for future adventurers on the Kings Canyon High Basin Route. I’ve written these Tips because while backpacking fulfills me, it also makes me angsty. If I’m out there adventuring and the only person the experience is serving is me, I get discontent and start grasping for some kind of meaning. It’s unfortunate that being out there communing with wild places isn’t enough; that it’s actually kinda painful in a restless kind of way. It’s only enough and enlivening when I know I’m going to share it with the intention of helping others on their life-affirming paths. So helping YOU, by way of you taking something useful away from these Tips and our story, helps me stay happy and fulfilled and out there. Help me help you!
I truly hope these Tips dose you with the confidence to take on this challenge…or bump you with that extra nudge to make solid plans…or offer that timely 2nd opinion while you walk and navigate…or substitute for the hug I would totally give you when things get rough.
Before incorporating others’ stories or advice into our own tool kits, I think there’s value in seeing how we do or don’t relate to each other’s style, fitness, and experience. To do that, you can check out my Hayduke Trail Tips and Wind River High Route Tips.
My first trip on KCHBR was in the fall of 2016. Bert From Belgium (we met on the PCT ’09) and I started at Lodgepole and intended to thru-hike it with a finish at Cedar Grove. Conditions were idyllic – sunny, crisp, and calm. Conversations were the sprawling sort as is customary, and so special, between thru-hikers. I was stoked to be bonding with another like-minded person in such a beautiful, rugged setting. But I only made it 4 nights.
From the Colby Lake area, we exited via Avalanche Pass Trail. Bert From Belgium walked on over to the east side and enjoyed a L2H hike while I drove home to Eastern WA and got treated for giardia. But I knew I’d be back. The awe-inspiring vistas of high Sierra divides (notably from Tablelands), and scouring glacial memories made tangible (Horn Peak’s artistic upsway) had me making definite plans for 2017.
My second trip on KCHBR was in the summer of 2017. Bert From Belgium was busy with another consecutive year of multinational backpacking (this dude gets around). But luckily my sweetheart and best friend, The Brawn, the person with whom life both makes serene sense and pops into luminous 3D, let me help him make sure his work schedule allowed him to come this time.
Because planning was so far in advance, my dental surgeon with whom I’d always had neat conversations about the outdoors was able to join us. Kelby’s an accomplished alpine rock climber. He’s working his way through Fifty Classic Climbs and even climbed a feature KCHBR passes beneath (Charlotte Dome).
Pre-trip, I imagined scenarios where the 3 of us would be confronted with tricky terrain. Like, I anticipated watching as Kelby would mentally flip through his repertoire of fancy moves and then pull something off that’s beyond gnarly for the typical thru-hiker. I was stoked to have a front-row seat to watch Kelby, the dexterous alpinist, and The Brawn, the fearless route scrambler, lean into each other’s strengths. I was even more stoked to be a part of ruining a responsible, mortgage-paying, business-owning professional toward needing to take 3, 4, 5 months off work to get his thru-hiking fix! Just doing my part.
My plan was to do a counterclockwise loop with a start and finish at Onion Valley TH (~200 miles). We’d walk out Bishop Pass Trail to South Lake TH for our 1st resupply at Parchers Resort. This is also where we’d part ways with Kelby so he could get back to work. Then we’d descend Copper Creek Trail to pick up our next resupply at Cedar Grove. We’d walk from Cedar Grove using trails and back roads to reconnect, a couple trail miles shy of Lodgepole, with the route. Then we’d finish up back at Onion Valley TH.
This was The Brawn’s first time anywhere near the Sierra. And except for hearing superlative-driven descriptions of my time in the high Sierra (which probably ended up sounding a lot like this one time at band camp), he didn’t know anything about them. They’re my favorite, so I had long been excited to watch him discover their majesty and wild variety for himself. Pre-trip, he kept getting confused about place names, east side vs west side, how everything connected, so I’m including this little key in case it can help someone else new to the area:
- Eastern Sierra = Independence, CA = Onion Valley TH = Kearsarge Pass Trail
- Eastern Sierra = Bishop, CA = South Lake TH = Parchers Resort = Bishop Pass Trail
- Western Sierra = Cedar Grove = Roads End = Copper Creek Trail
- Western Sierra = Lodgepole = Twin Lakes Trail
The Brawn and I drove from home and met Kelby, who flew into Reno and rented a car, at South Lake TH. We dropped our resupplies at Parchers instead of storing them in Kelby’s rental car because a Parchers employee said a bear damaged vehicles in that area a couple years ago. That piece of mind was worth the $25 holding fee they charge. Then I drove us all over to Onion Valley TH where we scored a non-reservation campsite. Spending a night up in that pretty, mellow campground provided a nice opportunity to start acclimatizing to elevation.
Long term parking (and bear lockers for these vehicles) is provided at South Lake TH, Onion Valley TH, and Roads End (I don’t know about Lodgepole’s setup). Open spots for parking were almost nonexistent at South Lake TH. We got there late morning, zipped into the last open spot, and saved it for Kelby. Parking at Onion Valley TH was also packed. A long term spot opened up after dark so we moved into it before going to sleep (and already had stored anything with a scent in the bear lockers). A sign atop the bear lockers asks you to write your identifying info and return eta on your stored items so they’re not discarded.
A hope dear to my heart is that more and more people choose to spend chunks of their lifetime walking through our natural world with their house on their back, home under their feet. For the education. The beauty. The small carbon footprint. The personal growth. The instant trust and fellowship within the community. The quality of interpersonal relating. The falling head over heels in love with our Earth and its web of life. For the Earth-honoring choices they make once back in society. May these Tips help in that effort.