A friend of mine asked an innocent question the other day: what is a “thru-hike“? I stammered out an answer “well it is when you hike a trail from end to end in one long hike”. Late I googled it and saw that this is not a straightforward question and answer. Is it really different than backpacking? Do you use different gear? Many of the thru-hike superstars have weighed in on it with slightly different answers. Google them yourselves, if you really want to. Andrew Skurka, Sectionhiker, PMags, REI, backpackinglight.com, etc. I was surprised to see some thought it means hiking long miles with minimal gear to finish a trail as quickly as possible. I will stick to Wikipedia’s definition which is “hiking a long-distance trail end-to-end in one season”.
Each time I have pre-hike jitters and excitement.
I have the same questions: Have I exercised enough? Is our planned mileage per day too much or not enough? Do we have enough food or too much? Am I ok with trail runners when we are scrambling off-trail? Which tent should we bring? Should I write a blog? What do I expect to get from this hike? The list goes on and on.
The Sierra High Route – What It Is and Isn’t
I am excited to hike the Sierra High Route. It is similar to the John Muir Trail in that is travels for several hundred miles in a north-south direction through the Sierra Mountains of California.
But that is where the similarity ends. The John Muir Trail follows an established route for 211 miles and has a trail and signs. The Sierra High Route? Nope. Notta. It is the John Muir Trail’s badass big brother on steroids. Mostly off-trail and rugged, it stays high when the John Muir Trail drops into canyons. It is 195 miles and travels over 33 passes but we have added an additional 100+ miles. And, lots of class 3 scrambling so we will need gloves to grab onto boulders that hopefully won’t roll on down the hill with us attached to it.
Ray has done the majority of the planning for this hike as I was planning the Hayduke Trail at the same time. Because this is our 4th thru-hike we have got it down. It is pretty straightforward:
- Gather the info: usually a book, maps, data sets and gpx files for the Gaia gps app. In this case it was Steve Ropers “Sierra High Route” book, the data set by Andrew Skurka, and gpx files from OnTheTrail.org.
- Put together a plan: it should at least include estimated miles per day and where to be each night. Other planning data could include daily miles, total miles, elevation, date, amount of food to carry and resupply locations.
Estimating miles can be the trickiest part to putting together the thru-hike plan. Mileage can vary greatly based on whether you are on or off a trail, elevation gain and loss, and location of water sources. For the Hayduke Trail, it was all about planning to water which drove the miles per day. For the Sierra High Route, estimated miles per day is based on whether that day is on or off trail, and the elevation gain and loss. A general rule of thumb for us: 3 miles per hour for flatter trails and road hiking, 2 miles per hour for trail hiking (this allows time for breaks or lunch stops), and 1 mile per hour for off-trail scrambling and route finding.
- Get the permit: a wilderness permit is required for this hike. The date for getting this permit drove when #1 and #2 had to be done. We applied 6 months in advance to the Inyo National Forest on-line as this was the earliest we could apply for a permit. Luckily only one permit is needed from where you start (2018) and because we already had a “plan” we could estimate where we were staying each night (you are not currently held to this, the rangers understand you may deviate from your plan).
- Figure out transportation: We drove our truck from Colorado to Independence, CA and will leave our vehicle at the start of our hike. Luckily there is a good transit system in the Sierras so we will get back to our vehicle with a combination of the YARTS and Eastern Sierra Transit.
Gear and Pack Weight
Gear is always a challenge and finding the right equipment for me keeps evolving. Here is a spreadsheet which includes what I am taking in my pack, what I am wearing, food I bring and what is in resupply packages: kerrie gear sierra high route v2 . I will be trying a new pack: the Zpack Arc haul which weighs 24 ounces.
My base weight (everything except food and water) is 13.4 lbs. Most of our days between resupplies will be 5 days or fewer. Food for me per day is about 2 lbs and I plan on carrying 1 Liter of water in my pack. This means that most of the time my pack will weigh 26 lbs or less. My heaviest pack weight will be around 31 lbs when we have a 7 day carry between resupplies.
Training was tough after we got back from the Hayduke Trail at the end of May. We had the 416 Wildfire just outside of Durango, CO where we live and the smoke and air quality was bad for the entire month of June. The Colorado Dept of Health was telling people to stay inside so it made trail running or hiking not possible on a number of days. The challenge of June aside, I usually combine hiking, trail running, yoga and weights. I have a goal of 30+ miles of trail running/hiking, 3 yoga workouts and 3 weight sessions (upper body and core) per week. This worked for me for the John Muir Trail, Colorado Trail and the Hayduke Trail. I am hoping in this case, that some of my conditioning on the Hayduke which we finished in mid-May will carry over for the Sierra High Route.
I am excited about this route and plan on blogging as I go. But I won’t have cell or wifi service for most of the trip. I will post when I can. Let the party begin!!