High Sierra Adventure Runs

Much of the FKT focus in California is with multi-day long routes (John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail), but there are numerous single-day loops and routes in the high Sierra that are aesthetic, providing the runner with all the scenery and fun without the sleep deprivation and extreme fatigue. There are a plethora of peaks to scramble and climb in the Sierra so this list focuses on routes that are mainly nontechnical and mostly on trail or relatively easy off-trail travel. There is undoubtedly many more worthy routes to design, these just happen to be the ones I am most interested in at the moment.

  • Rae Lakes Loop (Kings Canyon National Park): The most popular backpacking destination in the Southern Sierra, this 42 mile loop has 7,300 ft of elevation gain and starts at Roads End. This one is popular with fastpackers (aka Rae in a Dae) and is basically a “one-up” meaning there is one major hill climb, which is the ascent up to Glen Pass at just below 12,000 feet. While there may not be many climbs, the trail is apparently not very conducive to opening up the stride for long stretches. Map of the loop.
  • Evolution semi-loop (Kings Canyon National Park): Start at North Lake and end at South Lake. The most aesthetic route in this magnificent region passes through 12,960+ foot Lamarck Col, descends down Darwin Canyon with some off-trail travel, joins the JMT for an ascent through Evolution Basin to Muir Pass, continues on the JMT for a descent of LeConte Canyon, and finally takes the Bishop Pass trail up through Dusy Basin and down to South Lake. This semi-loop is approximately 38 miles with 8,200 feet of elevation gain and 7,700 feet of loss. Map of the route by Jay Helms (route highlighted in yellow).
  • Stanford Loop (Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks):  This one has the makings of a classic. A giant loop around Mount Stanford (South) starting at the Onion Valley Trailhead with four high passes – University Pass, Forester Pass, Milly’s Foot Pass, Kearsarge Pass. This one promises spectacular views of Center Peak, the Great Western Divide, Lake Reflection, and the Kearsarge Pinnacles.  There is off-trail travel between Upper Kern Basin and Lake Reflection with some class 3 scrambling giving this one a feel of adventure.
Kaweah Range from Little Five Lakes
Kaweah Range from Little Five Lakes

  • Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne (Yosemite National Park): This one can be done as a point-to-point or as a loop. The point-to-point goes from Tuolumne Meadows to White Rock in around 30 miles while the loop via Ten Lakes Basin starts at White Rock and is about 47 miles. The best time for this route seems to be in July when there is still lots of water gushing through the canyon’s waterfalls, but not too much water which makes the river crossings hazardous.
  • Carillon, Russell, Whitney, Muir (John Muir Wilderness): The grand slam of the Whitney Region. This one is more mountaineering in nature with several sections of class 3 scrambling.  Ascend to Russell-Carillon Pass, walk-up Carillon, return to the pass and climb the class 3 East Ridge to Russell, descend the south face of Russell, ascend the North slope of Whitney, and take the Whitney Trail back to the portal with a side trip up Muir. Total distance is approximately 18-19 miles with around 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Map of the route.
  • Mount Brewer Loop (Kings Canyon National Park): This loop has a significant portion that is off-trail. Ascend Sphinx Creek to Sphinx col from Bubbs Creek and Roads End. Climb North Guard, Mount Brewer, South Guard, or any combination of these three peaks if you like, traversing south to Langley Pass. Descend from Longley Pass to Lake Reflection where the trail is located. Take the East Lake Trail down to the Bubbs Creek trail and back to Road’s End. This loop is about 32-35 miles, depending on what you climb, if anything.
  • Mount Langley (John Muir Wilderness): Mainly an out-and-back with a variation of going up Army Pass and down New Army Pass. Langley is the southernmost of the CA fourteeners and it’s an easy walk-up. Total distance is about 21 miles.
  • Glacier Divide Loop (Kings Canyon National Park): Start and finish at the North Lake TH. Ascend up to Lamarck Col, down Darwin Canyon, join up with the JMT heading North, leave the JMT heading up Piute Creek to Piute Pass, and then back to the trailhead. I hear the Piute meadows area is gorgeous.
  • Crown Point Lollipop (Hoover Wilderness): Great views of Sawtooth Ridge and Northern Yosemite. Take the Barney Lake and Peeler Lake Trails to Peeler Lake. Scramble up the NW slopes of Crown Point to the summit and then descend the SW ridge of Crown Point to Rock Island Pass where the Rock Island Trail is located. Take the Rock Island Trail back to the Barney Lake Trail completing the loop portion. Total mileage is around 21 miles with loop portion about 7.5 miles.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. These are great ideas for routes. Of course, I’d just be backpacking them rather than running them in a day.

  2. “without the sleep deprivation and extreme fatigue” but then it wouldn’t be as much fun!
    Just kidding
    Thanks for sharing this list. They sound like great routes. I am sure we’ll see these on Peter Bakwin’s FKT site soon (probably with your time as the record).

  3. Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂

    I’m Out! 🙂

  4. Dan Freeh says:

    Leor, I was wondering if you would be willing to contact me with some questions i have about the High sierra Trail. I work at Fort Hunter Liggett for the fire department and have run some of the trails you run in the Santa Lucias. I was stoked to find your site and find others are running and enjoying that part of the big sur. I am thinking about a late august or early september HST and would like to pick your brain. I am not of the same calliber of a runner that you are but look forward to the adventure. Thanks

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