By Chris Scott
Editors Note: Chris sent several good photos with his report.
Each link in the text will pop-up to one of those pictures.
Wanna run a combo of Laurel Highlands, Western $tates and Hardrock, with additional benefits none of those can offer? Go do the High Sierra Trail, which stretches approximately 72 miles (therein lies your Laurel experience) from Sequoia National Park (13 miles of which looks like lower W$ trail) to Mt Whitney (the climb to which approximates leaving Ouray to Engr Pass). Did it once with the rabbit and Horton-JMT-record (NOT!!)-breaking team of Deborah Askew, Scott McKenzie and Rob McNair; the 2nd time just last week with Club and Event logo artist Pete Scott and C4P'er Rick Miller.
Going west to east is the more dramatic and rewarding direction, beginning at Crescent Meadow and winding through a few giant sequoias. The trail from the Meadow out to Bear Paw rolls gradually, the tread powdery and bordered by scrub oak and dotted sections of other forms of fir tree, with less than 1000 ft net elevation gain. Upon reaching Bear Paw Meadow – yes, bears populate the area, since the Park has a "feed me, I'm a tourist" camp there – you're confronted with massive granite across the canyon, reminiscent of the smooth behemoths of Yosemite. Crossing the canyon, you'll climb another 3000 ft in 6 miles, passing Hamilton and Precipice Lakes before dropping over Kaweah Gap. From there, it's mostly downhill about 4000 ft into the Kern River valley, the wise hiker/runner opting to spend the night at the Hot Springs, now about 36 miles into the trek.
The next day (if you're pushing, your last one), you'll slowly climb out of the cavernous valley and into a tighter and steeper canyon, gladly dissected by the Wright Creek drainage cascading across the trail. A couple more miles up, you'll turn right and join the PCT/JMT over the ridges fanning off 13,000+ ft Mt Young, then turn again off the PCT 3+ miles later on your way towards Whitney. Moving still strongly, you should reach Guitar Lake at the base of Whitney sometime in early afternoon (now about Mile 57). From here, you're a mere 3000 ft from the summit – the decision to press onward now hinges on whether or not you prefer to watch sunset or sunrise from the top. If the latter, you'll hang around to watch sunset over Guitar, and if you're hiking/running during a full moon, you'll do a moonlit ascent to the summit, hopefully arriving at the top just in time to watch moonset and sunrise. Any earlier to the summit, and you'll freeze your buns -- it was 25 degrees this year -- until that magical moment of the new day dawning. From the top, it's pretty much downhill for 11 miles to the Portal, passing an assortment of rock formations and cascading streams, reaching the terminus and quickly ordering the requisite burger and beer, and reliving those miles on the trail.
For the truly aggressive and confident runner, one could relive Laurel's 72 miles (yes, it IS that long) in one day. The less aggressive but no less competent runner ought to make it either a 2 or 3 day experience. The more pedestrian and looky-loo of the bunch will fully appreciate 4-5 days, as almost every major switchback and bench offer magnificent vistas that only roaming the western mountains can afford. In love with Laurel, W$ and Hardrock? Get the experience of all three in one swell foop – test yourself on the High Sierra!!