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High Sierra Trail: Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal

HARD 89 reviews
#14 of 91 trails in

High Sierra Trail: Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal is a 59 mile heavily trafficked point-to-point trail located near Three Rivers, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until October.

Distance: 59.0 miles Elevation Gain: 15,475 feet Route Type: Point to Point

backpacking

camping

fishing

hiking

nature trips

forest

lake

hot springs

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

scramble

snow

no dogs

Each paragraph below roughly corresponds to a day on the trail, although there are many ways to break up the hike, and day hikes are also possible. 1. The HST begins at Crescent Meadow, or start from the trailhead at Wolverton. The trail climbs along a steep ridge. To the right, the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. To your left, the summit of Alta Peak at 11,000 feet. The 1st camp is at 9-Mile Creek - this creek is not labeled as such, but is referred to as 9-Mile because it is 9 miles in. Or, move on to the next creek crossing (Buck) or to the backpacker camp at Bearpaw Meadow. All three have bear boxes. 2. The second stretch is exposed alpine terrain. From Buck, the trail climbs 600 ft to Bearpaw Meadow. Here is a backpacker's camp. For the next two miles, the trail descends from Bearpaw to Lone Pine Creek. You will find a bridge over a gorge but it's another mile until easy water. There are some campsites throughout. Here you find granite formations like Valhalla and Angel Wings. Eventually you reach Hamilton Lake. Stay here or continue up to Precipice and through Hamilton Gorge. This stretch ends at Precipice Lake. 3. Hike along through a boulder field and past some shallow ponds in an alpine zone. A mile in you'll be standing atop Kaweah Gap, the pass which marks the trail's crossing of the Great Western Divide. 9-Lakes basin is to your left, but to stay on the trail descend to your right into Big Arroyo. The trail descends through Big Arroyo for several miles, eventually meeting a trail junction near an old patrol cabin. There are many campsites scattered. This junction is the beginning of a gradual, hot climb out of Big Arroyo. It is the driest stretch of the trail so fill up on water in the Arroyo. As you climb you'll get views of the southern peaks of the Great Western Divide before entering the forest atop Chagoopa Plateau. Eventually, if you choose the right fork at the trail junction, you'll arrive at Moraine Lake, a great place for a swim and camp. 4. For the first few miles of this stretch you'll get to enjoy easy hiking as the trail winds gradually through the woods with no steep ascents or descents. If you have a sharp eye, keep a lookout for Mount Whitney in the distance. It's not a clear view, but it's the first peek you'll get of the highest point in the lower 48 states, one you'll hopefully be standing on in a few short days. You'll pass the remains of an old sheep herder's cabin and through a forest of burnt tree trunks. Eventually you'll hike along the southeastern edge of Sky Parlor Meadow with an unobstructed view of Mt Kaweah. After joining back together with the other fork of the High Sierra Trail, the long, ~2500 foot descent into the Kern Canyon begins. It starts off moderate but turns into tight, rocky, steep switchbacks. Before the switchbacks, the trail passes through a dense field of ferns - this is where you need to go on rattlesnake alert. They are common here and on the upcoming stretch of trail. 5. Next is a simple and easy stretch at the midpoint of the High Sierra Trail. The trail parallels the Kern River, climbing gradually through the Canyon. You'll have plenty of water access. Approximately eight miles from the Hot Spring you'll reach Junction Meadow, the not-so-cleverly named open space where other the High Sierra Trail meets the trail to Colby Pass and other destinations to the west. There are many campsites at Junction Meadow. From here, the trail follows the right fork of the Kern River and starts to climb. Before too long you'll reach the junction to Wallace Creek. The High Sierra Trail continues to the right with a sign informing you of the short 14.8 miles left until Mount Whitney. There are a few campsites if you continue straight towards Upper Kern Basin. 6. This segment goes a western-approach climb of Mount Whitney: Guitar Lake. This is a stretch that climbs about 3500 feet in ten miles. Upon meeting Wallace Creek (which is far below you), the trail turns to the east until you eventually meet it at the junction with the JMT. About 3.5 miles in the High Sierra Trail meets the John Muir Trail where it crosses Wallace Creek. At the junction there are many campsites. Finally, you'll reach Crabtree Meadow where there is a backcountry ranger station, places to camp, and water access. From here, the trail climbs another ~800 feet in 2.5 miles to Guitar Lake at 11,400 feet. 7. The summit of Whitney is about a 3000 foot climb from Guitar Lake. The first 2.5 miles and 2000 feet switchback up the western side of the ridge until reaching Trail Junction. Here, drop your pack (keep your food protected from marmots!), grab your camera and water, and head to the summit. The summit is another 1000 feet up in about two miles. After summiting, it's about 11 miles and 6000 feet of descent to the trailhead. Back at the Junction, pick up your pack and climb the final small stretch to Trail Crest, then descend the famous 97 switchbacks.

15 days ago

Awesome

hiking
27 days ago

Did this as a 6 day hike in August 2019. Great memories, stunning sights and I’d do it again!

hiking
1 month ago

Beautiful hike! Perfect for a weekend hiking trip.

backpacking
bugs
2 months ago

Amazing seven day adventure. To see the Milky Way over Mt Whitney from Guitar Lake, complete with shooting stars was awe inspiring. And Precipice Lake was otherworldly and breathtaking. The trail is offering so many different aspects, from deciduous forest to gnarly juniper groves and alpine meadows to the barren world above the tree line. Incredible views. I hiked with three friends. We had not a drop of rain/hail, but is was hot and lower elevation campsites had plenty of mosquitos. Apparently the work on the missing trail section will start this week. If you are considering this trail prepare well, this is a very demanding hike in distance and elevation.

The hike up from where we stayed last night was absolutely gorgeous. The views in this area are phenomenal and I cannot believe that I’m almost done. My pack has never felt lighter and I’m pretty tired, but I am loving every minute of this. I am so, so glad to be here. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. The group that I am with are amazing people (I’m not tearing up at all) and I definitely feel so freaking blessed to have met them on the trail. Team morale is high and we are ready for the summit!!!!!

Stayed with the 2 families today and boy oh boy am I glad! It started coming down around 2:40 when we’re just above the JMT junction (around 1.5-ish miles; see the recording for more accuracy). Set up camp right by a small creek and it was the fastest I’ve ever set up camp!! Literally within 5 minutes. Then it hailed for a good hour!!! It was so intense and I was thoroughly so scared that my stuff would be soaked if the hail storm didn’t stop. Luckily, it did and the sun came out for the rest of the evening. I am very glad to have stayed with these folks because had I gone ahead, then I would’ve been miserable and probably be hiking in that storm trying to get to Guitar Lake. Today was another day full of uphill and 2 last creek crossings that were about calve’s deep. My blisters are wickedly painful and I definitely wouldn’t be okay to walk uphill today if it hadn’t been for Dr. Kristin who helped treat them yesterday. I believe that it was fate that I met these folks on the trail yesterday and even feeling more blessed that they allowed me to stick with them/be a part of their group. We will get to Guitar Lake tomorrow and have an easy day before summiting Whitney on Friday. Super stoked to be 75% done with the HST. I can’t believe it’s almost over and I’m almost back to the car/civilization once again.

bugs
muddy
no shade
rocky
2 months ago

The NPS website is a complete lie... it is NOT 13.7 miles from Moraine Lake. From Moraine Lake to Junction Meadow... it is around 16.3 miles. Add another mile (1.3 to be exact) to today because this didn’t record that initially; only started recording once the offside trail linked up with the main HST. So technically it’s 17.6 miles or so? After the fern area after I past the gate that said ‘keep closed to keep wildlife safe’, it was such a rocky ascend. My feet are banged up like crazy from today. From ML to Kern’s Hot Spring was a descend into hell. Such a gnarly descend just to be greeted with more ascend to JM. Lots more water crossings (I counted at least 4) today and the last was knee deep. Feet are filled with blisters and I met a group of 8 (all family). A lady who happened to be an ER doctor that’s a part of the group of 8 helped me tend to the blisters. There’s still hope for me to be able to summit Whitney!!! Ps- I got slightly lost for like 2 min after a small river crossing but managed to find the trail again and descended into Kern Canyon. Pps- I got chased by 2 bees today!! I’m not sure if they were bees or something along those lines but that’s good enough to get me hiking faster! Ppps- I miss real food. Got so tired of eating mtnhouse after the third day. I want anything and everything but dehydrated food.

Hamilton blowout was manageable thanks to a group of 7 guys who helped me. Today was ROUGH. Lots of ascending from Hamilton Lakes up to Precipice Lake and over Kaweah Gap just to descend into Big Arroyo Meadow and then ascend up and out of BAM to descend yet again into Moraine Lake. The meadow in between Precipice Lake and Kaweah Gap has TONS of mosquitoes. Then then descend into BAM was just as bad for mosquitoes. I practically ran down from the KG just to avoid the skeeters. The ascend out of BAM was rough because it was mostly exposed (all sun) and going up to the second highest part of the day as well. I lost count of the water crossings after number 6? 7? My feet definitely felt the climb today. Switched out to Teva at the main river crossing and kept it on until Moraine Lake. Kind of a bad idea because the sandal scraped my skin. Camped at ML which wasn’t bad at all when it came to mosquitoes. Very surprised there! I was mentally zoinked out after today. Physically drained too. Ate dinner inside my tent and had very little energy left to filter water.

Holy crap the uphill climb today was never ending. Got a taste of what tomorrow’s big 2k climb over to Big Arroyo will be like. So happy to have made it here to Hamilton Lake!!! Not very many mosquitoes and bear boxes available here. The deers here are extremely friendly as they’ll definitely approach you within ~5-10 feet. Even friendlier if you have food out. Also- I don’t think this is accurate in terms of elevation gain. It’s supposed to be at least 2k of elevation gain but this app says otherwise.

First day. Got to mehren creek and camped at designated campsite above the trail and close to the creek It was an easy and very doable 6~ish miles for the first day. It’s the ONLY easy day out of this whole entire trip.

hiking
bugs
scramble
snow
washed out
2 months ago

Very challenging this year due to heavy snow pack, damaged trail section, raging water creeks, but very rewarding. love every minute of it.

backpacking
10 months ago

Amazing and jaw-dropping views with great history of the trail! Walk-in permits are easy to obtain. Bear boxes in almost all of the established campsites. Some campsites have outhouses. Favorite campsites: Hamilton Lakes, Moraine Lake, Kern Hot Springs, Guitar Lake. Must do hike!

hiking
Saturday, September 08, 2018

Hiked the HST one year ago this week. We made from Crescent Meadow to Whitney Portal in 7 days (6 nights). We had big thunderstorms with hail at Precipice Lake, Crabtree Meadow and Guitar Lake. Soaking in Kern Hot Spring was a perfect break in the middle of day 3. We did an alpine start on Whitney and got to see the sunrise and lightning across the Valley on White Mountain. I can’t think of a better way to spend a week.

backpacking
Sunday, August 19, 2018

This trail has a little bit of everything. I especially enjoyed the numerous fly fishing opportunities along the way. We saw nine black bears on our trip.

backpacking
Monday, August 13, 2018

It was a great trip! I did see a bear and a rattlesnake. I do recommend stopping my Bearpaw Meadows to buy a brownie for $5.

hiking
Sunday, July 29, 2018

Really great hike! Definitely a challenge, but certainly doable if you're in decent shape. We took 7 days (7/14-7/20) and found that to be a good sweet spot for a challenging but not too aggressive pace. Our itinerary was: Bearpaw Meadow, Hamilton Lake, Big Arroyo, Kern Hot Springs, JMT Junction, Guitar Lake, and Whitney-Whitney Portal. There was absolutely no snow and it was easy going the whole way through. There are plenty of spots for water throughout, but bringing a bladder is recommended for those draining sunny days. A few things to note: 1) Highly recommend that you bring bug spray as mosquitoes are all over this trail. They're not unbearable, but it can be very annoying at times. 2) We ran into a couple rattlesnakes along the way, so watch your step during the day as they sunbathe on the trail or in campsites 3) Trekking poles are highly recommended for stability across all the various river crossings, slowing down for steep descents, and helping up the long ascents.

backpacking
Sunday, June 24, 2018

Incredible hike. Did this from Crescent Meadows to Whitney Portal from 6/15-6/20 (6 days, 5 nights). Very demanding hike but no major issues in terms of stream crossings or snow. Kaweah Gap does not require snow gear, and while we used axes and spikes for a couple sections of the Whitney Trail switchbacks, the snow will likely be gone soon. The sun is very powerful and draining at these altitudes so it is best to start hiking early and bring appropriate clothing. Highly recommend for anyone looking for a challenging hike that rewards with awesome views throughout.

hiking
Thursday, June 07, 2018

I did only to the pass after precipice lake. As of late May, it was still fully covered with snow. You need to know what you are doing, but it was amazing. I'll come back later in the season someday! Also, I did this back and forth in a day hike, about 36 miles. Very doable since up to hamilton lake (and even later - up to where there was snow) the trail is extremly well marked and easy to follow, you can do 3 miles/hour easily

hiking
Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Extremely discouraging with all of the constant gains and immediate losses in elevation but the views are second to none. Would only do it again if i went through rather than out and back from Hamilton

hiking
Tuesday, May 01, 2018

This is my all time favorite trail so far. I have only done it once but will hope to again, my son and I hiked it in 2015. We hiked in early August and the weather was excellent. Breathtaking views at every turn. The altitude is a challenge, but if you are reasonably fit and take your time you will be well adjusted by the time you summit Whitney. One of the best weeks of my life!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

❤️❤️❤️

backpacking
Friday, February 23, 2018

A buddy and I began our hike late into November and we went for about 28 miles before we were caught up in a pretty good sized snowstorm that was a little too much and had to turn back. Thats what youll get when you come late into the year though. All the snow and ice aside, this trail is absolutely amazing. At least make your way up to Bearpaw, the views here are awesome!

hiking
Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hiked a few miles but didn’t complete. Planning on overnight camping to Crescent Meadows.

backpacking
Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thru hiked this amazing trail in 2007, and will be doing it again next year. One of the best experiences of my life! I made a video of my HST hike on YouTube. Search for Four Feet Up, High Sierra Trail. Hope you enjoy!

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