One of the biggest headaches when planning a longer hike is figuring out the car/parking/shuttle arrangements. Generally, these kind of hikes start and end hundreds of miles apart and it can be a nightmare arranging transportation. The High Sierra Trail is no exception. With the beginning and ending trailheads on opposite sides of a mountain range with no through roads, shuttling between the two is 10x the distance of the hike itself. We were prepared for this and had scheduled shuttle days, and although we weren’t looking forward to that part, we accepted it as a necessary evil in order to have the best trail experience possible.
So you can imagine our happiness when David offered to drop us off at the starting trailhead on Sunday August 9th and pick us up at the ending trailhead the next Saturday. Poor guy didn’t even get to hike with us due to limited vacation time, and here he was volunteering to drive hours and hours to save us the trouble. I knew I married him for a reason! Also, it was a great excuse to drive out for our post-hike party in Lone Pine, but that’s a story for another day.
We started off at the Wolverton Trailhead in Sequoia National Park. Now, the High Sierra Trail officially starts at the Crescent Meadow trailhead, but Wolverton is so much nicer. It has a climb, but it’s shaded and after 2.5 miles of a gentle climb through the woods to Panther Gap you get to experience a sudden and instant view into the high terrain you’ll be hiking through in the coming days. It’s a nice reward, and the trail is less exposed and more enjoyable than the Crescent Meadow counterpart.
After David dropped us off, he left for the drive back to the Bay Area. I had tried to convince him to dayhike with us to Panther Gap, and it’s too bad he didn’t! We had the best wildlife sightings of the trip within this first mile. A fat marmot waddled across the trail in front of us only minutes from the parking lot. Less than an hour in, I came around a curve to see Greg waiting for me. I said (at full volume), “what is it?” and he shushed me and raised his arms in a mimicked ‘rooooaaaar!!’ There was a bear casually poking around a fallen log for a tasty lunch of grubs. We got lots of pictures (unfortunately most were shaded, so didn’t turn out great), and eventually moved on and let the bear have his lunch in peace.
From Panther Gap we got our first view of the Great Western Divide.
Once we passed over Panther Gap the wildlife excitement was replaced with wildflowers. The trail was lined with colorful sneezeweed, larkspur, paintbrush, geranium, and more. I kept falling behind Paige and Greg when stopping to photograph the flowers, my favorite subject. Eventually we reached camp at 9-Mile, not the most comfortable and scenic place to camp, but it’s a good first-night destination when carrying a heavy pack, starting late, and getting acclimated. We got to enjoy some more wildlife when a mama deer and her two spotted fawns passed through camp to get some water. One of the poor little fawns was a bundle of nerves near us and kept squeaking for his mama, so we moved away so they could be reunited. Awww. Didn’t sleep too well due to the slanted campsite (there are no real flat spots along 9-Mile) and the snorts of a bear that kept poking around the campsite for food (unsuccessfully, I might add) between midnight and 2 am.