Camping in the High Sierras

Kept here are reports of travels around Kings Canyon in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. This region, filled with peaks named after famous scientists like Darwin, Mendel, Huxley and others, has the distinction of being a place where one may spend days hiking above ten thousand feet enjoying breathtaking vistas that are among some of the loveliest on Earth. John Muir called the Sierras the Range of Light for good reason. It was a name that would later inspire photographer Ansel Adams' wonderful photographs of Yosemite.

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Backcountry Travel Tips For Newbies

Though not as savage and rough as anything you may find in places like Alaska, travel through California wilderness, like any wilderness area, requires respect and attentiveness, for the sake of personal safety as well as for the preservation of wilderness itself. If you've never been to the high Sierras there are a few things you should know about before making your first trip.

  • Beasties - In no place in California are firearms necessary or even desired. Wildlife can be handled with proper attitude and procedures, and this includes close encounters with bears, deer in rut, skunks and the rarely seen wolverine. Take a bear-can, even to altitude -- it protects against marmots and the oddly named bushy-tailed woodrat as well as bruin. If you are antsy, douse your stuff with cayenne -- at the moment, bears and other critters dislike it.

    A pack of coyotes lives near the high lake on the way to Snowtongue Pass. LEAVE THEM ALONE AND THEY WILL LEAVE YOU ALONE. Coyotes rarely mess with human beings. They do make the evenings lively with music, however.

  • Navigation - Leave the lousy map that shows the entire Kings Canyon park at home and fork over the bucks for the 7 minute maps from REI or the TOPO! program if you plan on leaving trail. Bear in mind that since all maps were drawn, global warming has shut off the spigot to many incidental streams and changed lake configurations. You simply will never find a lake with the exact shape as found on the maps now extant; they ALL have changed.

    The large maps simply do not show enough topo detail to travel safely and effectively backcountry. They exist for people who stick to trail only.

    The key is research your passage before you attempt backcountry travel, especially if you are travelling alone. An inch on a map can turn into hours of frustration and potentially life-threatening situations for the unprepared.

    The "lake" on Darwin bench is now only six inches deep and barely one hundred feet wide at the greatest point.

    The Lamarck Col route regained a sign at the cross-over point, however the sign is not clear. Although the route has become vastly better marked, by myself and others with ducks and clearing, the route remains sometimes invisible, with the assumption that a reasonably experienced person armed with a good 7 minute map will see the obvious way to proceed. Expect to add hours to travel if you cannot distinguish between a fifty foot rise and a five hundred-foot ridgeback and your map does not show this kind of detail.

  • Popularity - The greybeards among us are all astonished at the wildly increased numbers of human traffic through this section of the wilderness. It has practically become a standard route to do Lamarck Col down to the PCT and out Bishop Pass the way a previous generation used to do Italy to Afganistan and on to India. 9/11, an idiotic foreign policy and high airline prices have put the kibosh on that kind of travel. Do get a permit from White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop. Those permits alert the rangers to the numbers passing through their district and enable them to secure funding for all kinds of needed projects.

    But if solitude is what you are looking for, you will not get it here, not any longer.

  • The Lamarck Glacier - Because of dry conditions for two years running, the glacier has retreated to a ghost of its former self. The old notch entering the canyon remains at the end of the long straight castelment to the far left, and the old sign welcoming you into the park is still there for those going in either direction however it is possible to get there without even touching the glacial ice.

  • The References - The Climbers Guide to the High Sierra by Steve Roper, Secor's High Sierra, and Sierra South should all be consulted in their most current edtions before doing any backcountry.

  • Pets - Finally, as a reminder, please leave domesticated pets at home. The Wilderness is no place for Fido or Fifi. Park rules specifically exclude pets for a reason: dogs degrade the environment and the experience for everyone. If I see you with your pet in a wilderness area I will report you to the nearest Ranger Station and you will have to pay a substantial fine for violating permit rules.

Happy Camping!

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Camping In The High Sierra © 1997 -