/ High Sierras California advice

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greatshearwater 13 Aug 2019

Hi, heading here in October. Hope to get up some of the higher mountains. Not fussed by sticking to popular routes. Would rather not have to bother with a hire car. Would like to head off into the hills for some days at a time and summit some high mountains. Any advice on how to make the most of my time? Is it worth bothering with an axe/crampons? What are the best sites for condition reports? Cheers Gareth 

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jon 13 Aug 2019
In reply to greatshearwater:

Best advice is to rent a car, the Sierra is huge! To say that public transport on the east side isn't great is an understatement.

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Dave Garnett 13 Aug 2019
In reply to greatshearwater:

I see by your profile that you are pretty competent and experienced but I really wouldn't underestimate how big and wild the Sierras can be.  I've done a little there but have good friends who regularly do major hikes into wilderness areas and even they sometimes get caught out by the inaccuracy of many maps, the underestimation of times and distances (which sometimes seem to be complete guesswork) and changeable weather.  And don't forget the altitude - a lot of California is higher than you think!

Would you just rock up in a remote and unpopular area of the Alps and just set off into the mountains without telling anyone where you were going?  I'm sure you'll be doing a lot more planning than that.

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L JustJess 14 Aug 2019
In reply to greatshearwater:

You'll get a lot more useful information posting on Mountain Project, which is also a good place to find partners for the area. You will need a car to go climbing in the High Sierras, and in most of the United States (indeed, outside major cities, you need a car just to go to the grocery store).

I recommend you check out Chris McNamara's book, High Sierra Climbing, which you can download digitally from Supertopo. The Supertopo website also has good information for recommended routes in the Sierras, how to get there, etc. 

 http://www.supertopo.com/climbingareas/highsierra.html

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kenr 18 Aug 2019

The idea of climbing around the Sierra without a car is pretty hopeless.
. . . (unless you're going to do all your climbing in one small region).

The approaches to most of the big-name summits are long and lacking in huts. So either need to fast for reaching and climbing and descending high mountain routes car-to-car in a single day, or bring Camping gear.

Note that summits are high, so the approach campsite spots are high, and most of the nights are clear -- so it can seriously cold just before sunrise in October.

McNamara guidebook is worthwhile, but kinda weak on long easy solo/scramble routes with shorter approaches. Better for moderate / hard multi-pitch with a Trad rack and a partner (a partner who is strong and willing to slog up long approaches hauling camping gear as well as trad rack). For that purpose, also want new edition of Peter Croft's "Good Great Awesome" guidebook.

But the quality of the _climbing_ on the Sierra high-mountain rock routes usually doesn't measure up to the top-quality areas in the European Alps.
. . . (and bring your crack-jamming skills).

The reason to visit is a certain style of semi-remote adventure. Likely best if you want to combine climbing with backpacking-camping.

. . . (or if you're looking for styles of climbing other than high-mountain roped Trad multi-pitch).

Ken

Post edited at 19:26
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greatshearwater 19 Aug 2019
In reply to greatshearwater:

Thanks for all the info. Looks like car hire will be required alright, thought so, my friend lives in a town of 15,000 in CA, no public transport. 

Got Secors book- The High Sierra- plenty of good ideas for through routes and assents and extremely comprehensive. Looks interesting and should make a nice contrast to the Alps for once. 

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In reply to greatshearwater:

Couple of things to consider:

  • Beware of Secor "Class 4". This can involve 5.8 sections even if you don't get off route.
  • October can be the start of winter in some years.

We climbed all of the Sierra 14ers in September 2001. These are the ones I would do solo:

  • Tyndall - 29 mile round trip but nothing technical.
  • Wiillamson - Combine with tyndall for a mega-long day - but may have a ban due to bighorn sheep
  • Midde Palisade - East Face looks intimidating but goes at Class 3
  • Split Mountain - get a tough 4wd driver to get to trailhead
  • Langley - long scenic hike.
  • Whitney Muir - OK, permit issues
  • Russell - Exposed but probably only 3rd class - E ridge.

Here's an account of our trip:

https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/destinations/californias_14000ft_peaks-11

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Gerry 19:11 Mon
In reply to greatshearwater:

Went there two years running about 20 years ago, so some of my info may be a bit old.

Think of it as the Alps but with no huts, no people, (no queues on the mountain routes), no mobile signal and no easy rescue like there is in the Alps. Camped out amongst it is just awesome (and scary; see 'bears' below).

You need a car otherwise you can't get to the roadheads, or anywhere else for that matter. Nobody does so much as walk to the shops in America.

October sounds pretty late season to me, and most campsites will be closed (Tuolumne Meadows closes end Sept). People we met on our trip out to Mt Clarence King in early Sept told us that the average date for snow on the Kearsarge Pass (our way in and out) was 17th Sept. Getting caught out by bad weather on the wrong side of a pass could be a real adventure, and if you need help then a (long) walk over it and down to the nearest town may be the only way to get it if the roadhead sites are closed. I really suggest that you do some research to find out what is still open and accessible between the end of the summer season and the resort skiing season, and what the weather will be like.

You must bear-proof your food. A portable bear-proof box placed well away from the tent was the way then. Maybe they will be sleeping by October, though; something to check.

You will almost certainly need a permit for any overnight wild camping. The rangers carry guns, by the way, so best to conform to the rules.

There may be a 'pack out your poo' rule, depending where you go. Where necessary then kits for this may be provided at the start of the trail. Gets pretty whiffy after a few days!

The mountains are Alpine scale so some acclimatisation is necessary. Don't think of high summits otherwise. We came across people who thought they could do it, and they couldn't. However, bearing in mind the time of year and the potential for bad weather then you may not get anywhere high anyway.

Secor's book is good but think of it as all the Alps in one volume. The route descriptions are basic and a nose for the correct line is essential whether hiking or climbing. It's too heavy to carry so copy the pages you need.

If I were to say only one thing then I'd say go in the summer. The weather is usually sunny and that white granite is just super to climb on.

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jon 19:49 Mon
In reply to Gerry:

> October sounds pretty late season to me (... ) Getting caught out by bad weather on the wrong side of a pass could be a real adventure

You're not kidding. We walked the JMT in 2004, finishing in Whitney Portal on October 15th. A day later a huge storm hit the Sierra that lasted a couple of weeks (I think) and killed two climbers on El Cap. I've often wondered what we'd have done if we'd been stuck on the wrong side of Whitney. On the other hand the JMT was very quiet...

Post edited at 19:49
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In reply to Jonathan Lagoe - UKC:

Thanks, I think I read your article years ago, had completely forgotten about it. 

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kenr 21:28 Tue
In reply to Jonathan Lagoe - UKC:

> Tyndall - 29 mile round trip but nothing technical.

> Wiillamson - Combine with tyndall for a mega-long day - but may have a ban due to bighorn sheep

> Midde Palisade - East Face looks intimidating but goes at Class 3

> Split Mountain - get a tough 4wd driver to get to trailhead

> Langley - long scenic hike.

> Whitney Muir - OK, permit issues

> Russell - Exposed but probably only 3rd class - E ridge.

If you're not stuck on that "14000 feet" number, there's a holiday visit's worth of routes with lots more interesting 4th and low-5th class climbing (and great scenery) than those.

. . . (keep in mind that "14000ft" is higher elevation than "4000 meters").

Ken

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