The Sierra High Route

(east to west)

This classic tour was pioneered by Dave and Susan Beck. The Becks envisioned this line across the southern Sierra as California's answer to the famous Haute Route of the Alps. This tour is best done east-to-west, since so much of the climb east of the Sierra Crest typically lacks snowcover by the spring season, when this tour is best done (average tour elevation is 10400').

  Milestone Pass
Milestone Pass (in the upper right corner)
When I skied this route, in April 1986, it was a revelation to me. The trip had its ups and downs, including a injury on the first day (someone went out with him; his cut hand ended up being OK), a windstorm followed by significant snowfall in the Milestone area (resulting in some wonderful powder skiing the next day), a sub-zero night, pass after pass that looked insanely steep until we actually got close, and the full range of fine touring, turning, mountaineering, and adventure that this trek offers. I couldn't have anticipated just how much I would experience that week.

The tour begins at the Shepherd Pass trailhead, on Symmes Creek, several miles southwest of Independence. The tour ends at the Wolverton Trailhead, on the west side of Sequoia National Park. Parking is available at both trailheads. The car shuttle is truly epic, so consider creative transportation arrangements.

It is a 6000' climb from the eastern trailhead to the first pass, Shepherd Pass. Most of this is hiking, not skiing. A good Camp 1 is at 10500' to 11000', above "Anvil Camp".

Shepherd Pass is fairly steep on the east side, and most people will be comfortable taking off their skis and post-holing up it, ice axe in hand. From Shepherd Pass, ski westward, south of Diamond Mesa, and then a bit south of west. Cross to the north of the Kern River Canyon, and navigate your way westward along Milestone Creek into Milestone Canyon. Make Camp 2 around here.

Ascend Milestone Creek westward towards Midway Mtn., and then turn southwest to Milestone Pass, a high pass just to the left (southeast) of fin-shaped Milestone Mtn. This pass is best reached by staying high to the right (northwest), close to Milestone Mtn. The southeast side of the notch is a little steep at first, but most of Milestone Bowl is a very fine descent. Take Camp 3 in lower Milestone Bowl. And if the snow's good, take a layover day and decorate those slopes with some S-turns!

  Near Triple Divide Peak
John Entriken Near Triple Divide Peak
We called the next pass "Not As Steep As It Looks Pass", based on its description in one of the books (Beck's?) that we were using. This isn't so much a pass as a ridge, and it lies across the valley from Milestone Bowl, a little under a mile south of Colby Pass. Top this ridge around 12000', and then contour along southwest, towards Triple Divide Peak. Next, go over an easy pass, taking you across to the north face of Triple Divide Peak. Continue to contour along, close to the divide, past Glacier Lake, up and over Glacier Ridge, and across the southern reaches of Deadman Canyon. Cross back over to the southern side of the divide at an easy pass just south of Big Bird Peak. Camp 4.

Contour along to the south of the divide now, crossing the next ridge at around 11100', and aim for the fine gentle skiing of the Tablelands, towards Table Meadows. Continue along at a leisurely pace to the Pear Lake Ski Hut, Camp 5.

On the final day, follow the Pear Lake ski route out to the Wolverton trailhead, via Pear Lake and Heather Lake, an anticlimactic finale to a great ski tour.

Sierra High Route in a day, May 2005

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