General Hiking Information

  • Beautiful Scenery
  • The Challenge
  • Solitude
  • Spiritual Renewal
  • Nature Study


  • Gathering Equipment
  • Food Supplies


  • Wilderness Permit
  • Conservation
  • Wild Animals
  • Hygiene


  • Overexertion
  • Altitude Sickness
  • Lost?
  • Injuries
  • Weathering Storms


  • Topographic Maps
  • Relief Maps
  • Trail Guide Maps
  • Terrain Rating System

  • Introduction

    M arvelous hiking conditions are found in the Southern Sierra Nevada Range. The summer season is mostly dry with occasional afternoon or evening thunder showers. Temperatures are mild and night time frosts are common only early or late in the season or at the highest elevations. Trails in the area are excellent for the most part. Areas without trails are well covered by topographic maps and these excellent maps provide ample inspiration for impromptu cross country hikes. In addition, many peaks in the area can be climbed without special equipment. Fishing in many of the lakes and streams is superb although few record sized trout are ever caught in these waters. Lower elevations are forested while the high alpine country is generally free of any but low lying vegetation. Travelogues at my website and in this report take you into the alpine country where views are wide open and alpine glaciation of the latest ice age has sculpted delicate, yet majestic peaks, basins, and valleys.

    T rips shown in most of the travelogues are for hikers capable of strenuous physical challenges who want to enjoy the beauty and solitude of remote back country. Most trips penetrate into areas that are far enough removed from civilization that they provide true recreational experiences.

    Beautiful Scenery
    T he beauty of the Sierra Nevada results from the combination of light colored granitic rocks delicately sculptured by glaciers and set in a mild summer climate, a combination seen nowhere else. The Range of Light is a uniquely beautiful hiking environment and the primary reason most hikers visit the Sierra Nevada Mountains is to enjoy the unique beauty of this region.

    Physical and Mental Challenge
    M any of the hikes listed in this guide are not easy for most people. Meeting the challenge can be extremely rewarding and they can give the hiker great feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction. I completed most of these hikes solo. I find that solo hiking is particularly satisfying.

    A trip in the back country removes the hiker from the everyday hassles of the modern world. There are no traffic jams, phone calls, or television shows to interupt progress. In remote areas, you can avoid seeing other humans for hours or even days at a time. Such an experience can be relaxing, energizing, and get the creative juices pumping strongly again. It can help you to realize and better appreciate the value of relationships you have with others.

    Spiritual Renewal
    S olo hiking offers a great opportunity for a time of spiritual renewal. Meditation, contemplation, and reevaluation can be carried out as you while away the hours on route. Without the distractions of modern day living, communing with the creator becomes simpler and more rewarding than ever.

    Nature Study
    I n the back country, a few steps off the trail take you into areas that are little affected by humans. Animals are less fearful. There is an abundance of living things to study and enjoy; strange looking insects, gorgeous wild flowers, majestic trees, ever changing rocks. As you move from lower to higher elevations different plants, animals and landforms are encountered. Each area is unique. A cool glade may be within a few steps of a hot desert slope. The variety is amazing. These experiences help you to remember what a special place the earth is.


    G ood physical conditioning is a must if you are to undertake many of these strenuous hikes. If you exercise regularly and are not overweight, you may be in good enough shape already. If not, you may wish to start working out until you easily can run five miles at eight minute per mile pace.

    Gathering Equipment
    P roper equipment means the difference between success and failure, happiness and misery. Good supply outlets are located in most reasonably sized cities, but if you cannot find one, that should not stop you from accumulating the gear that you need. A number of outlets sell equipment through the mail including REI, Campmore, Indiana Camp Supply, LLBean and others. For a more detailed description of equipment, click here.

    Food Supplies
    M ost food can be bought at any well stocked supermarket. Specially packaged dehydrated or freeze dried foods are available in larger sporting goods and outfitting stores and are available from many mail order supply outlets. For a more detailed description of food, click here.


    T he basis for good conduct is to show respect for others. Liberal application of the golden rule, i.e. Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself, is a good starting point. In addition it's a good idea to try to be extra sensitive toward others since they may not want too much of your company, regardless of how scintillating a conversationalist you may be. If you arrive at your planned or favorite campsite and it is occupied you will have to overcome your disappointment and go somewhere else. Who knows, you may find a new favorite spot.

    Wilderness Permit
    T he Park Service and Forest Service do not want the mountains to suffer from overuse. Wilderness permits are issued to limit the number of hikers who can be in an area at one time. You should always get a permit before you leave for the above reason and so rangers know where you are in case you get lost or hurt.

    M any parts of the back-country are fragile. It takes years for abused areas to recover from the thoughtless actions of careless travelers. Wood fires should be limited. Above certain elevations they are forbidden. Fires often leave a black stains on rocks and fires can sterilize the soil to the point that it prevents plant growth for years. Everything that you bring in should be carried back out. If you find trash that someone else has failed to pack out, pick it up. Trash takes the wild out of the wilderness. Use old campsites. Building new ones encourages erosion and overuse. Minimize water pollution by following the guidelines for camping near water. Lend a helping hand with trail maintenance. Push deadfalls off trails when possible and replace out of place rocks. Stay on the trail rather than cutting switchbacks. Avoid leaving behind a trail of ducks on every cross country route you take. Give others a chance to have a feeling of discovery.

    Wild Animals
    A nimals other than humans make the back country their home. Don't feed animals on purpose or inadvertently. Every year, bears have to be destroyed because careless campers have left out food which made innocent bears into human food addicts. After a while the bears feel it is their right to take whatever they want. Find out before you leave where there has been bear trouble. If bear-proof food lockers are available, use them. Otherwise hang your food as directed on your wilderness permit leaflet.

    B ears are out of control in several areas including the Paradise Valley of the South Fork of the Kings River, Bubbs Creek, Big Arroyo, Hamilton Lakes, and the Five Lakes area. The bear problem is similar to human abuse of the welfare system. Some bear cubs are raised by their mothers to steal food from humans. Chronic "camp bears" have to be killed. If you are not careful, it takes only one bear to destroy your long awaited trip. Be especially careful in areas that are rumored to have camp bear problems.

    H iking can be dirty business. Improper disposal of dishwashing soap and bathing with soap in streams and lakes results in mounds of ugly soapsuds and death to many aquatic organisms. Avoid polluting our waterways. A periodic bath may be called for and it is possible to get clean without ruining streams and lakes. Heavy dirt can be soaked off during a soapless dip in the creek and remaining dirt can be cleaned away with a warm water washcloth spitbath from your cooking pot. Dispose of soapy water from baths and dish washing in a pit that is well away from lakes and streams.

    H ardly anything is more disgusting than discovering a smelly pile of human feces encrusted with toilet paper. Be sure you don't leave such a mess. Follow the example of the cat by digging a hole and burying it. Burn used toilet paper before filling in the hole. Otherwise, animals tend to dig up the toilet paper and scatter it around. Some rangers are encouraging hikers to pack out used toilet paper.


    W hat do you do if you become lost or get sick or injured? Good planning can usually help you avoid these problems, but sometimes bad things happen anyway.

    O ne of the most likely problems you may have on these trips is overexertion. People who like to push themselves physically sometimes end up working too hard. Pretty soon headache, dizziness, nausea, and muscle aches make you think you are about to die. The cure is simple. Sit down and take a break. Have a cup of soup or some other food and relax until you feel well enough to continue. If you can't make it to your goal, relax. As you get into shape it will be easier to cover more miles in a day.

    Altitude Sickness
    S ymptoms of altitude sickness are similar to those of overexertion. If you have rested, had a bite to eat and still feel bad, you may be suffering from altitude sickness. The only cure is to return to lower elevations. Most hikers who are in good shape do not have major problems with altitude sickness in the Sierra Nevada because there are no peaks above 15,000 feet in this range.

    G etting lost is no fun. If you are lost but you have a general idea of where you are it's not a lot to worry about. It can add a sense of adventure to your trip. Maybe you will see or find something new or unexpected as you make your way back to the trail or to a familiar place. If you are seriously lost, that is a different matter. Usually panic settles in. A horrible feeling of disorientation follows. Whatever you do, you need to stay put until you formulate a plan for figuring out how to get unlost. If you have a good topographic map, it's a good idea to sit down and try to look for landmarks so you can become reoriented.

    I f you are thoroughly lost and unable to determine which way to go to intercept a trail, stay put. The itinerary you left with your family or friends should guide a rescue team to your location as soon as you are missed.

    Prevention and Treatment of Injuries
    S ome of the injuries that you may sustain on a hike are preventable. Two of the most vulnerable parts of the body are your feet. If you have not adequately tested your boots and socks you will probably get a horrible case of blisters. Blisters are almost inevitable if you have not tested your foot gear on a shakedown hike. If your socks are too thick, it's just as bad as having boots that are too small. Take along several extra pairs of socks so as your feet swell you can change into a pair that gives just the right fit.

    S nakebite is not a problem at higher elevations but can be something to worry about below 9,000 feet. Avoid sitting down in rocky areas before you look them over carefully. Rattlesnakes will often give a warning buzz if you get too close but sometimes scary encounters can not be avoided. Be on the lookout for snakes. If you don't bother them they won't bother you.

    Y ou should carry an assortment of first aid gear to treat the minor cuts, scrapes and burns that are inevitable on hikes. The most important treatment is to keep the area clean so healing can progress as quickly as possible.

    Weathering Storms
    S torms may build up suddenly and they can be very dangerous depending on your elevation. It's a good idea to have reliable rain gear. Most Sierran storms do not last very long. They are usually over in a few hours or less. Sometimes all you need to do is wait it out under a tree. Nonetheless, a tent, bivouac sack, or tarp are essential to keep you dry during night time rains. Rain clothing is necessary for preventing hypothermia if a soaking rain begins to fall during the day. As clothing and bedding become wet, they lose their insulating powers and leave you open to a lot of shivering at the least. Death may result if your gear becomes so wet that it is unable to keep you warm.

    A t higher elevations, lightning can become a major threat. If thunder clouds begin to gather, it is a good idea to stay off peaks. If possible, peak climbing should be done in the morning to avoid the afternoon thundershower and lightning activity.


    I deally, you carry a map in your mind of the route you will be following on every hike you take. However, it takes a number of trips before you will have enough experience to leave your maps behind.

    Topographic Maps
    T opographic map coverage of the entire Sierra Nevada Range has been prepared by the United States Geological Survey (USGS.) Maps are available at a number of different scales. The maps that show the most detail are in scales of 1:24,000 (one inch on the map is equal to 2000 feet on the ground) and 1:62,500 (one inch on the map is equal to about one mile on the ground.) The inch to a mile maps are readily available at most large sporting goods stores. The detail of these maps is sufficient to plan and execute cross-country routes in seldom traveled areas. Waterproof versions of these maps and composite maps at other scales are usually available at many trailhead shops and Park visitor centers. The composite maps may cover entire Parks. A particularly good bargain in composite maps is a set that covers the John Muir Wilderness and the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks back country. It is published by the U. S. Department of Agriculture at a scale of 1:63,360 and it is available at most visitor centers for a few dollars. It is not waterproof, but at its low price you can afford to buy several copies. If you need to get a feel for the topography of even larger areas, maps at a scale of 1:250,000 are available from the USGS.

    Relief Maps
    E ven if you are experienced at reading topographic maps, a relief map may come in handy when planning trips. A relief map is just a scale model of the earth's surface with a little vertical exaggeration thrown in so you can get a feel for what an area really looks like. These maps are available at park visitor centers and shops and can be ordered through most map stores. Most of these are made of plastic at a scale of 1:250,000.

    Trail Guide Maps
    S ometimes a trail guide map is all that you need to complete a trip. There are several disadvantages in depending on these maps during a trip. They seldom show many details. Generally only the major geographic features are named on such maps so you will not be able to learn the names of many of the streams and mountains that you see during your trip. They usually do not show topography so it will be harder for you to predict how difficult climbs and descents are going to be. They are printed at scales that may be unfamiliar, so a route that looks like an easy one day hike on one of these maps may turn out to be a much longer haul. Until you get used to a particular trail guide map itŐs probably best to carry a good topographic map as well.

    Terrain Rating System
    The most common system for rating the difficulty of crossing terrain is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). I propose an alternate system because it does not seem that there are enough divisions at the lower levels of the YDS. There are five levels of difficulty in my system, Bill's Terrain Rating System (BTRS), that can be used as alternatives for YDS classes 1, 2 and easy 3. When finished crossing B-1 terrain, you don't think at all about its difficulty. After a B-2 ascent or descent, you think about how hard you are breathing. A B-3 crossing will cause you to think about how hard your heart is pounding. During and after a B-4 passage, you will notice how bad your armpits smell. The criterion for determining B-5 terrain is to check the wrappers on the candy in your pocket. If the twists at the ends of the wrappers are puckered especially tightly, then you definitely are talking B-5. If you aren't carrying any wrapped candy, to confirm crossing of B-5 terrain just inspect your shorts instead.