Trip Number: 12130A
Staff: Nancy Mathison
- Hike challenging cross-country routes
- Visit spectacular lakes and remote basins of the headwaters of the Kern River
- Climb a peak, explore, or relax on a planned layover day
- Great company
- All on-trip meals, group cooking gear, and bear cans
- Permits and campground fees
Photo: Steve Wilson
Nestled high among the peaks of the Great Western Divide, spectacular Milestone
Basin is located at one of the most remote and isolated spots in the Sierra
Nevada. We'll hike some of the range's most scenic and rugged country to reach
this secluded hideaway. Our nine-day trek includes two high crossings of the
Sierra Crest, as well as a breathtaking traverse of the Kings-Kern Divide.
We will enter the Upper Kern Basin, a vast amphitheater bounded by the Great Western Divide to the west, the Kings-Kern Divide to the north, and the Sierra Crest on the east. Here, most hikers are drawn southward to Mt. Whitney without stopping long enough to truly appreciate this area's attractions. We, however, will depart from the well-beaten path and travel by minor trails and cross-country routes to find solitude in Milestone Basin and the other small, secluded basins tucked beneath the divides. We will be rewarded with grand views of the highest part of the Sierra Crest (including Mounts Williamson, Tyndall, Russell, and Whitney, all higher than 14,000 ft), nearby prominent 13,500+ peaks of the Great Western and Kings-Kern Divides (notably Midway, Milestone, and Thunder mountains), and the striking jagged silhouette of the Kaweah Peaks.
The Upper Kern Basin offers countless opportunities for discovering hidden lakes or climbing surrounding peaks and ridges. We plan to take one or two layover days here to explore -- or just to kick back and relax. For most of our trek we will be near or above the timberline, and we'll camp near 11,000 ft each night.
Photo: Steve Wilson
Day 1: The trip will begin with a potluck dinner on Thursday, August 2 at a campground near the Kearsarge Pass trailhead at Onion Valley (elevation 9,192 feet), and close to the town of Independence on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. We will send you the campground information and directions in a pre-trip letter. The evening will be a great time for us to meet our backpacking companions and relax over a meal with them before beginning our adventure. We will also go over trip procedures, give ourselves one more night to acclimate to the high elevation, and finish preparations for our journey.
Day 2: We will provide a group breakfast at the campground, then drive a very short distance to the trailhead parking lot where we will leave our cars and civilization behind to begin our wilderness adventure. We will hike over the eastern Sierra Nevada crest and enter Kings Canyon National Park by way of Kearsarge Pass (11,845 feet), and plan to spend the night on the western side of the crest at one of the many lakes nestled up against the Kearsarge Pinnacles.
Days 3-4: We will continue on trail westward to the junction
with the John Muir Trail. There we will turn southward toward Bubbs Creek and
the Kings-Kern Divide. Weather and conditions permitting, will cross the divide
via one of several off-trail passes accessed from the drainage of Lake Reflection
and East Lake. The inspiration of the landscape and strength of our group will
determine where we camp on days three and four.
Day 5: We will spend a planned layover day to relax, or explore the many lake basins that lie in the Upper Kern Basin between the Great Western Divide and the Eastern Sierra Crest at the headwaters of the Kern River.
Photo: Steve Wilson
Days 6-7: We will continue our adventure by winding our way
south past numerous lakes through the Upper Kern Basin to meet an old, long-forgotten
trail that will lead us into remote and picturesque Milestone Basin. We plan
to spend another layover day here to relax, explore more remote lake basins
along the Kings-Kern Divide, or perhaps climb one of the many nearby peaks.
Days 8-9: We will resume our journey by briefly following
a trail northward along the upper Kern River, then head off-trail to a spectacular
vista of the Kern River drainage. From there we will traverse the upper Kern
plateau toward the eastern Sierra Crest, cross Tyndall Creek and camp near a
lake close to the Eastern Sierra Crest for a memorable final night of our adventure.
Day 10: On our last morning we will quickly regain the trail to return to our cars at the Shepherd Pass trailhead. We will hike for most of this final day descending the eastern flank of the Sierra Crest.
Our trip begins high in Onion Valley (elevation 9,192 ft), located 14 miles west of the town of Independence on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. We finish at the Shepherd Pass trailhead (elevation 6,299 ft), only 15 miles away by road.
The closest major airports are at Los Angeles (240 miles), Reno (260 miles), Las Vegas (270 miles), and in the San Francisco area (340 miles). Trip members flying from other parts of the country should consider sharing a rental car or arranging rides from one of these airports. We will provide a trip roster with contact information to help facilitate shared travel arrangements.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Steve Wilson
All on-trip meals, beginning with breakfast on our first hiking day (Friday, August 3) and including lunch on our last day (Saturday, August 11), are included in the trip fee. The leader enjoys planning meals that are flavorful, diverse, and at times, atypical of usual backpacking fare. We will provide a menu that appeals to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Trip members will share the responsibilities for meal preparation and clean up.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the easiest and 5 the most difficult), this
trip is rated "5/Strenuous" and is suited for experienced backpackers
with off-trail experience on rugged, alpine terrain. Mileage on our hiking days
ranges from 6-11 miles per day, with a total of nearly 52 miles for the entire
trip. Our first hiking day will be the most challenging as we gain over 2,660
feet and six miles with full packs, all while still acclimating to the high
elevation. We will hike entirely off-trail for four of the eight hiking days,
and off-trail for a portion of another two days during the trip. The off-trail
segments will include some hiking on rough terrain with loose footing. These
sections are not technically difficult (no greater than Class 2), but can be
tiring and demanding. Cross-country hiking requires mental and physical stamina,
and good balance.
Participation in this outing requires that you have recent backpacking experience,
are in excellent physical condition, have very good aerobic conditioning, and
have realistic expectations for the trip. We prefer that you have previous off-trail
backpacking experience as we will traverse some talus fields and rough, rocky
terrain, which require good balance and a patient, tolerant attitude. Our goal
is to enjoy the spectacular country and complete the trip safely as a group.
Known for its
temperate summer weather, the High Sierra can experience sudden, unexpected
spells of rain, hail, snow, heat and cold. Daytime temperatures can soar into
the upper 80s, while nighttime temperatures can dip into the 30s, or lower.
It is essential that you be prepared for extremes in weather conditions, and
also be flexible so that we can adapt our route to accommodate unexpected conditions,
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Steve Wilson
We provide the following items: food (including all trail snacks), pots, cooking
utensils, stoves, fuel, and bear-proof cans. At the beginning of the trip you
will receive one bear can loaded with group food, plus a portion of the group
gear, which together will weigh up to 18 pounds. Please limit your personal
gear to under 25 pounds, so that your total pack weight is less than 50 pounds,
including 1-2 liters of water. You may bring your own water filter, or we will
provide information regarding alternate water treatments prior to the trip.
We recommend that you wear sturdy, fully broken-in leather boots with rubber
lug soles for this trip, and that you waterproof them before beginning the trip.
For shelter, we strongly encourage you to bring a tent with a rain fly -- a
lightweight waterproof tarp is the required minimum. For raingear, bring a waterproof
jacket and pants instead of a poncho. The leader will send detailed equipment
recommendations to participants well in advance of the trip. More information
regarding personal gear may be found at the following link: http://www.knapsack.org/basic_equipment.html
Please bring your own map and compass, both for your personal safety and to
more fully appreciate our route and the inspiring landscape surrounding us.
- The U.S.G.S. 7.5-rninute maps "Kearsarge Peaks," "Mt. Clarence King," "Mt. Williamson," "Mt. Brewer," and very small portions of the "Mt. Whitney" and "Mt. Kaweah" quadrangles together cover our planned route
- The 1:47,520
scale maps published by Tom Harrison, "Mt. Whitney High Country,"
and "Kings Canyon High Country"
- The 1:63,360 scale map of the John Muir Wilderness published by the U.S. Forest Service
Maps may be purchased online:
- Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. An excellent general reference to climbing routes, cross-country routes, and trails in the Sierra Nevada.
- Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada (published
by the California Academy of Sciences), is an excellent guide to the plants
and wildlife of the Sierra Nevada.
Photo: Steve Wilson
The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about
conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our
work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging
grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater
understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club. Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park and Inyo National Forest.
If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it. -- President Lyndon B. Johnson
We will venture
off-trail into pristine alpine lake basins, which appear today much as they
must have to the early mountaineers of the 19th century. We will share the mountaineers'
stories and their visions for ensuring the preservation of this treasured wilderness
for many generations to come. As a group we will diligently observe Leave No
Trace principles, and invite discussion of current efforts to protect our wilderness
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Nancy Mathison took her first wilderness trip in the Sierra Nevada in 1972, and since then has returned every year to its spectacular landscape to backpack and cross-country ski. She began participating in the Sierra Club National Outings Program in 2001 to venture off the beaten path with other backpackers who share her love for adventure and the wild, pristine beauty of the Sierra. In her other life back down at sea level, Nancy is a professional clarinetist and teaches instrumental music in the public schools. She enjoys competitive ballroom dancing and joins other local Sierra Club members for weekly hikes in the mountains behind Santa Barbara.
Growing up next to the Cascade Mountains near his childhood home of Lynnwood, Washington, Chris Franchuk was introduced to backpacking at an early age by his father and the Boy Scouts of America, where he earned its highest rank of Eagle Scout. He has participated in Sierra Club Chapter trips since 2000, backpacking and climbing throughout the Sierra Nevada, and has adventure-traveled throughout the United States and abroad, including Belize, Peru, Switzerland, Australia and Tanzania. Chris currently lives in San Jose, California where he is a Project Manager, and enjoys reading, photography and riding his bike on the levees around the salt marshes in the bay.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips