05 January 2017

Sierra High Route/Mt Whitney - Days 6-9

Having picked up our (somewhat small) package of food for the last three days of the northern leg, we headed east paralleling the Tioga Pass Road and climbed another 650m/1200ft over 12km/7mi in heat to get to the first legal campsite on the Sierra High Route north of Tuolumne Meadows. There are rules as to how close to Tuolumne you can wilderness camp, and then further restrictions about camping near particular water catchments, leaving a small rocky patch just above the Great Sierra Mine. Whilst an austere campsite, there was a lofty silence about it which was quite calming after the hustle and bustle of Tuolumne.
It was quite an interesting day, traversing the eastern flanks of White Mountain, Mt Conness and North Peak (pictured left, from the south, looking like a reclining Mt Rushmore bust, and right from the north), crossing snowy bits, meadows, streams, rocky bits, climbing up and down (only 800m/2600ft this day).

The following day (Day 8) was even more interesting, and the most demanding in this section. We climbed up 200m/650ft of pure scree and talus to Sky Pilot Col. This was then followed by a further 1.6km/1mile of jagged scree as we descended 400m/1300ft to Shepherd Lake (below). It was then an easier descent to Virginia Creek (despite the unavoidable choking willow), and then back up the other side.

The climb from Virginia Creek to Stanton Pass is 610m/2000ft, up more loose rock. We found a tiny patch of shade for our lunch at Soldier Lake, before ducking behind Grey Butte and crossing a delightfully refreshing snow-fed stream, climbing up shelves of rock to the Pass. It was an interesting steep descent on the other side to Spiller Creek, aided by some easy juggy handholds.

Left, Spiller Creek looking towards Horse Creek Pass, with Matterhorn Peak (a "miserable pile of talus") to the left.
Spiller Creek was a very welcome meadow-filled valley, with easy relatively flat walking for the first time in two days. It was also lined with ridges that looked like teeth out of some horrible beast in Lord of the Rings.

The final day (Day 9) began with crossing Horse Creek Pass, and then following Horse Creek as it descended 1227m/4000ft over several waterfalls and through a few beaver dams (introduced to the area, but not that successful) to the holiday park of Mono Village at the Twin Lakes.

This stretch of two and two half days covered 40km/25mi, climbed 3489m/11400ft and descended 3312m/10870ft. Our highest point was Sky Pilot Col at 3502m/11500m, about the same elevation as Namche Bazaar in Nepal.
When we got back to Mammoth Lakes, rather than treating ourselves to a shower, good meal and relax, we went into Bluesapalooza where the big-hearted Michael Franti (the only hip-hop artist we like) was performing.

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.
Disclaimer: The information given is of a general nature only and whilst all care has been taken, no responsibility can be assumed by the author.Conditions change, regulations change. Any reader doing these hikes after reading these notes must show due diligence and be experienced enough to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions.

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