The High Sierra Trail in three days

In keeping with the tradition of doing a crazy trip over Veteran’s day weekend. Matt and I set our sights on the 72 mile High Sierra Trail. This trail is typically done in one to two weeks, but we figured that by hiking light and fast we could do it in three days. Furthermore the cold scared most people away so we had the trail to ourselves, we did not see a single person past Trail Crest. No pre reserved permits were needed.

However, we had to hope that winter would not come early and blanket the trail in snow, as this would certainly foil our trip. The weeks ticked on and winter still did not begin in the Sierras, so the trip was a go, we invited our friends Adam and Jared who we had done a lot of trips with and Sim and Ng too motivated hikers from our school who would go in the opposite direction and key swap with us.

Unfortunately we did not leave Berkeley until 8pm due to numerous delays. This meant that when we got to the trailhead we decided that instead of sleeping for a few hours it would be best to start right away. This however was a mistake as none of us got more then an hour of sleep on the car ride there.

At first the hike went very well, we were all stoked to get out there and finally start the trail, we pounded out some miles and before we knew it we were at trail camp and the sun was rising.

sunrise from trail camp

As we climbed the switchbacks we got more and more tired and we began to feel the altitude. By the time we got to trailcrest I was ready to fall asleep.

View westward from trail camp, the next two days of our route neatly laid out before us

Despite my exhaustion I wanted to go on to the summit. Luckily Matt convinced me that it would be better to get some rest as my exhaustion was only exacerbated by the lack of oxygen and continuing higher would be potentially dangerous. In the moment I really wanted to get to the top of Mt Whitney, but I am glad I rested up instead. I probably could have made it to the summit, but I came here for the High Sierra Trail, not for Mt Whitney which I had already climbed. CLimbing Mt. Whitney would have jeopardized the rest of the trip for me.

So I walked down the trail west of trail crest and found a small bivy spot to take a nap. Two hours later my friends came and woke me up and I was feeling much better. We continued down towards Guitar Lake.

beautiful lakes on the west side of Whitney
Matt taking a well deserved break

We descended to Crabtree meadow and camped the night there, it was in the single digits that night but we were all exhausted so we slept soundly. The next morning we set off westward into the Kern River headwaters and the heart of the Southern Sierra.

Looking ahead towards the Monarch Divide

The miles began to fly by, this was the flattest part of the trail and we no longer were completely sleep deprived like on the first day. We had lunch at the Kern Hot Springs, which were rather underwhelming at this time of year, and we continued west. At around 4pm we were relieved to run into Sim and Ng, they were right on pace as they had an extra day to complete the trail, we screamed for joy and hugged them before exchanging tips on the trail ahead.

But we were all over 30 miles from a road, the draw of getting back to school pulled us back to civilization and the impending winter made us not get too comfortable in the mountains. We are fairly certain that we were the last people to complete the High Sierra Trail in 2017 as a storm came later that week. The snow free trail that we enjoyed soon became buried deep in snow for the next six plus months. All in all se hiked 28 miles that day and made it a few miles short of Kaweah gap.

The trail ahead the next morning

We walked across dead meadows and eventually attained Kaweah gap. We were treated to spectacular view in both directions and took some time to soak it all in.

view east from Kaweah Gap
west from the gap
descending towards precipice lake
first glimpse of precipice lake
Matt overlooking the frozen Precipice Lake
Frozen Precipice lake
Hamilton Lake





As we descended further and further away from Kaweah gap we slowly left the alpine wonderland and entered the forest. We walked and walked and the miles began to drag on, it got dark and finally we reached the car around 6:30. We did it we completed the High Sierra Trail in three days!

the sweet taste of victory

Matt’s trip report:

Short video of the trip below:

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