Travel Postcard: In the Sierras, a trail-less treat for hikers

Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:46pm EDT
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By Jon Hurdle

SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS, California (Reuters Life!) - Hiking through a trail-less wilderness where cell phones don't work and help is days away may not be everyone's idea of a great vacation.

But for those willing to find their own way and do the hard work of climbing into the high country, the Range of Light offers the rich reward of a constant succession of jaw-dropping landscapes.

The eastern California mountain chain, made famous by the 19th century naturalist John Muir and photographer Ansel Adams, is seen at its best from the Sierra High Route, a 195-mile (314-km) south-to-north journey that visits the range's peaks, valleys, lakes and gorges while avoiding popular tourist areas.

Steve Roper, author of the only guidebook on the route, was so concerned to preserve the wilderness experience that he devised an itinerary that avoids trails for about half of its length.

In trail-less sections, hikers must use map and a compass (or GPS if they insist) to navigate rocky passes, cross the snow fields that linger long into summer, wade through rivers and creeks, and pick their way through fields of boulders known as talus.

And they won't get a whole lot of help from Roper since he deliberately avoids detailed route descriptions so that hikers get the maximum reward from their wilderness experience by blazing their own trail.

"We are not sheep," Roper said. "We want to have some pride in finding our own way. Route-finding is one of the great pleasures."

He conceded that he has had some complaints from readers that his route descriptions are not clear enough since the book, published by The Mountaineers Books, first appeared in 1982, but he makes no apology for making his readers take responsibility for their own navigation.   Continued...

<p>A hiker makes his way without a trail across the Sierra High Route, a high-altitude journey through California's Sierra Nevada mountains July 31, 2009. REUTERS/Jon Hurdle</p>