High Sierra Trail

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Sierra Club MWROP Backpacking Trip:
High Sierra Trail, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California

August 23 to September 1

Sequoia National Park & John Muir Wilderness

Estimated cost:
$1000.00 was the initial estimated cost, the actual cost was $705.00 per person 

Date of last revision:

Trip Description

This eight day backpacking trip will cover 72 miles with 13,354' of gain and 11,854' of loss along the High Sierra Trail which is the premier east-west trail in the Sierras. These elevation gains are from the guidebook and after doing detailed navigation and map preparation were discovered to be wildly optimistic. The actual total elevation gain is 19,063' with 17,496' of loss including the optional climb of Mt. Whitney.

We will traverse the entire Sierra Nevada Range from west to east with an optional climb of 14,495' Mt. Whitney near the end of the trip, weather permitting. The route for our climb of Mt. Whitney is a walkup on a hiking trail, not a technical climb. This trail starts in Sequoia National Park at the Crescent Meadow trailhead and finishes at Whitney Portal in the Inyo National Forest which is located in the John Muir Wilderness. These are some of the most magnificent and pristine wilderness areas in North America and will provide a fantastic week of backpacking exploration and adventure. The central portion of this trail is regarded by many as among the most beautiful scenery in the Sierras. Some sections of this trail were blasted out of sheer granite cliffs.

This entire trip is rated strenuous and is suitable for experienced, physically fit backpackers with the appropriate gear. All participants must have previously and successfully completed at least three weekend backpacking trips within the past three years. They also must engage in a regular physical fitness program on a weekly basis. Individual pack weight will vary but most people will be carrying from 35 to 60 lbs. Each person is responsible for providing their own gear and meals. If people want to, they may elect to share tents, meals, stoves, first aid kits, and water purifiers/filters. A roster of trip participants will be posted, and I will try to coordinate this common gear somewhat. We have permits for a maximum of ten people to go on this trip. 

Some rock scrambling is always a possibility on a backpacking trip, so people should have good eye-hand-foot coordination. Participants will have to fill out an information form regarding their relevant medical history, physical condition and conditioning, prior backpacking experience, and backpacking gear – just like on any national Sierra Club backpacking trip. All participants must sign a liability release.


Some Necessary Gear

  • sturdy, waterproof, broken in hiking boots
  • two sets of socks
  • gaiters ?
  • properly fitted and adjusted backpack, 3500 to 5500 cubic inches
  • tent
  • sleeping bag plus pad
  • light weight backpacking stove & fuel
  • personal first aid items
  • water purification tablets or a water purifier/filter
  • rain suit or poncho & gaiters
  • extra clothes (include long sleeve shirt and long pants as well as shorts and T shirt)
  • swim suit ?
  • sunscreen, sunglasses, hat with visor or brim
  • wool sweater or fleece jacket
  • light but warm knit hat
  • light gloves ?
  • flashlight, extra bulb and batteries
  • compass readable to one or two degrees
  • topographic map
  • toilet paper + trowel
  • matches in waterproof container
  • pocket knife
  • whistle
  • biodegradable soap, wash cloth, backpacker towel
  • backpacking food for eight days (first day lunch to last day lunch + energy snacks)
  • 2 quarts or liters of water
  • insect repellant, DEET
  • Gatorade, or equivalent
  • huge, light, cheap duffle bag to protect backpack on airline
  • drivers license, health insurance card
  • money and credit card for gas, meals, and other expenses



Day Date Activity
Pretrip   Ship empty stoves & fuel bottles to motel, allow 10 days for shipping 
Saturday Aug 23 Fly from BWI to LA, pick up rental cars, drive to park, check into motel, buy fuel for stoves
Sunday Aug 24 Pick up reserved permit, start the backpack at Crescent Meadows trailhead
Friday Aug 29 Layover day at Crabtree Meadow
Sunday Aug 31 Complete backpack at Whitney Portal trailhead, ride shuttle back to start
Monday Sep 1 Drive to LA, ship stoves home, fly home


Common Items

If people want to share: tents, stoves & fuel, water purifiers/filters, first aid kits, or meals, you can work that out for yourselves from the trip roster. At a minimum we need one stove, extra fuel, purifier/filter, and first aid kit for every two to three people. I will try to coordinate this somewhat.

In addition to the above items there will be some other common gear that we will have to split up. This includes: plastic collapsible bucket, collapsible bladders (?), and possibly other things. Some common gear that I will carry myself includes an altimeter, and a large detailed topographic map.

Guidebook & Map

Backpacking California, Paul Backhurst, Editor, Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 2001. 

This guidebook covers 62 backpacks in California, the High Sierra Trail is #23 and is the longest and most difficult backpack in the entire book.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Trails Illustrated topographic map, scale 1:111,850, 1 inch = 1.8 miles, this map is a little smaller and lighter, but less detailed, than the alternative below

John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness topographic map, USDA Forest Service, scale 1:63,360
This is a large single piece map, not the set of 8.5"x11" sheets for the John Muir Trail which does not cover our route



The Sierra Nevada mountains of California have aggressive black bears in terms of their trying to steal backpackers food. They are not interested in people, only their food. This trail does not go through a restricted area so we are not required by law to use bear canisters or bear boxes. Every campsite except one that we are using will have one or more bear boxes that we will use. At the other campsite we will have to hang our food using the counterbalanced bag technique. In addition to food we also have to store or hang, our garbage, and any toiletries that have an odor. Bears are attracted to anything with an odor and their noses are 400 times more sensitive than ours!



Everyone is responsible for providing their own backpacking food for meals and snacks. This is not a commissary based trip. Bring more food than you would normally eat at home, but don't over do it. We will be at a much higher altitude than we are used to and many people lose their appetite to some extent. As a backpacker, you will appreciate the concept of food as fuel. Bring things that are lightweight, tasty, and nutritious but easy to prepare, cook, and clean up after.

Don't plan on buying backpacking food out there, it's too time consuming and we really won't have time to do that. All or your food for the entire eight days should be packed before we get on the plane. If you see  some fresh food out there that looks good, add it to your pack but don't plan on it. Also if you remove food from your pack we have to dispose of it before getting to the park. The car will be parked at or near the trailhead, we CANNOT LEAVE ANY FOOD IN THE CAR because of  bears.

Plan for eight days of food from lunch on the first day to lunch on the last day plus snacks. We will have three days of 3500' to 4000' of elevation gain with about 1/3 less of loss, and one day with 5000' of elevation gain. Plan to bring some extra energy food, Gatorade, and salty snacks for these four days. It also might be good to carry an empty water bladder so you have the option of adding an extra liter for these longer days if you want. An empty one liter bladder weighs very little.



We will have to treat all drinking water either with a purifier, filter, or iodine tablets. I would strongly recommend using a purifier but the choice is yours. We will carry at least one plastic fabric collapsible bucket to simplify bringing water from streams or lakes to the campsite and allow silt to settle out of the water before filtering.

Leave No Trace

We will practice "Leave No Trace" backcountry ethics. This means that we pack out all of our trash and garbage. It also means that we do not use soap or shampoo to wash in mountain lakes or streams. Just swimming in the water without using soap works pretty well all by itself for getting your body clean. Use a folding basin and/or wash cloth and soap a reasonable distance away from lakes or streams to wash more thoroughly. It's okay to use a tiny amount of biodegradable soap in the lake or stream just to wash your hands and face.

Stove Fuel

We will be shipping our empty stoves and empty fuel bottles to the starting hotel. We cannot carry our stoves or fuel bottles with us on the airplane unless they are brand new and have NEVER been used. Once used they will contain fuel residue and cannot be taken onboard the plane. Although this policy varies from airline to airline. NO AIRLINE WILL ALLOW FUEL OF ANY KIND ON THE AIRPLANE. We will ship the stoves via Parcel Plus, or Mail Boxes Etc. We will have to buy fuel out there before the trip, and ship the empty stoves and empty fuel bottles back the same way in the same boxes. We need to ship the stoves about 10 days prior to our trip departure to ensure that they are there as we must use regular ground transportation.


The trip cost includes: round trip airfare from the Baltimore – Washington area to Los Angeles, CA,  your share of a rental car, one night in a motel before the trip and one night after our backpack, a shuttle from the ending trailhead, and the required NPS fees. Not included: everything else, such as: any motel meals, necessary backpacking food and gear, rental car gas, tips, personal expenses, and any other necessary but excluded expenses.

The cost of the trip is influenced primarily by the airfare, motels, shuttle, and rental car. It is to our advantage to book the airline as soon as possible to take advantage of lower priced seats. Also the participant costs are heavily influenced by the number of people in the rental car and the number of people splitting the return shuttle which is a 7-8 hour ride and is an expensive shuttle. Also rental car fees are notoriously hard to estimate due to additional charges that are tacked onto the final amount plus possibly a required upgrade in size to accommodate all of our gear. Because MWROP is not  financially underwriting this trip the air fare, and other necessary, upfront deposits, must be paid from trip participant deposits. This is why the deposit is a little high and we need to get deposits as soon as possible. 

It is important that each participant bring sufficient cash/credit cards for incidental personal expenses. Also if the trip plans should change for any reason such as injuries, or the backpack being shortened or extended by a few days due to circumstances beyond our control it could have an impact on your individual cost. 

Make checks payable to: Sierra Club MWROP and mail to the leader.


Cost Comparison

In 2000 I led a one week Paria Canyon backpacking trip to Utah & Arizona for Sierra Club MWROP. The cost of that trip was $900.00 per participant and included RT. airfare from BWI to Phoenix, the participants share of a rental car, two nights in a motel before the backpack and two additional nights after the backpack, plus the BLM permit fees. In comparison the national Sierra Club was running the same week long backpacking trip to Paria Canyon and they were charging $695.00 which included the BLM permits and $50 worth of backpacking food. The airfare, rental cars or shuttles, and motel costs were all extra. I've been on two national Sierra Club backpacking trips and they were both great trips with excellent leaders and I believe that it is a worthwhile and important financial cause but there are limits to my generosity. Spending $100.00 a night to sleep in your own tent is unreasonable. Also the national Sierra Club backpacks require participants to participate in mandatory commissary cooking. They bring way too much cooking and cleaning gear, my pack weight is approximately 6 to 10 lbs heavier per week doing it their way. I would rather carry 6 to 10 lbs of photography gear than pots and pans. Their trips are really best suited to beginners.


Trip Leader:

Ted Fryberger
6259 Deep River Canyon
Columbia, MD 21045
Phone: 443-917-2902(W/H)

Copyright 2000 - 2023 by Ted Fryberger & DeepSoft, LLC, All Rights Reserved