What: a long trail hike in the most beautiful region of the Sierra Nevada; we completed the design of this route in 2013 and first published it on Backpackinglight.com in February of that year.
Where: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Distance: about 155 miles.
Highlights: a loop alternative to the JMT with fewer people and great scenery.
NPS: Trail conditions, Permit information, Permit availability, Bear canister requirements. To start at Roads End and hike clockwise obtain a permit for Copper Creek; if hiking counter-clockwise obtain a permit for Bubbs Creek.
Recently published by Calico Maps are two 1:164,700 scale maps quite useful for planning purposes. They are small and easy to carry and would be sufficient for any on-trail navigation on the Loop: Central Sierra Trail Map and Southern Sierra Trail Map; 1.8 oz. total.
Tom Harrison Mt. Whitney High Country and Kings Canyon High Country maps at 1:63,360 scale, 3.5 oz total.
National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map #25 Sequoia Kings Canyon National Parks at 1:80,000 scale, 3.3 oz.
There is now a Facebook group that is focused on the walk: Facebook: Big SEKI Loop.
We have hiked many of both the maintained and the now-abandoned Sierra trails from Interstate 80 south to Cottonwood Pass, accessing the mountains from numerous east and west side trailheads. We have crossed many class-2/3 passes, explored off-trail basins, and climbed quite a few class-2/3 peaks. We think this range of mountains is a superb place to go backpacking.
Over the years, we have seen the John Muir Trail (JMT) get more crowded, and nearly all of the other trails get less use. We mapped, walked, and developed the Big SEKI Loop (BSL) as a long on-trail hike for people to consider as an alternative to the JMT. While certainly not as well known as the JMT, the BSL has several advantages we discuss in this post. The entire BSL is on maintained trails, just like the JMT. There are innumerable fantastic itineraries for people with off-trail skills and a copy of R.J. Secor’s The High Sierra Peaks, Passes and Trails, including Steve Roper’s Sierra High Route. However, many people prefer to hike on maintained trails and a goal of the BSL is to offer a great on-trail alternative to the JMT.
Many long hikes in the Sierra have significant logistical issues as they begin and end at places far distant from each other. Sometimes they begin and end on different sides of the range. Public transit between trailheads is complex if it exists at all. The BSL is just that, a loop. Park your car at Road’s End in Kings Canyon NP, have a great long walk in the mountains, and return right back to your car.
Since we first designed and published this route, it has become reasonably popular and many people have done the loop in its entirety or walked their own variations.
Big SEKI Loop versus the JMT
A major advantage of the BSL is that it starts and ends at the same place which significantly simplifies trip logistics. The JMT is not a loop. The High Sierra Trail, the other major named trail in the Sierra, gets you off the JMT and has good scenery, is also not a loop and is only 72 miles long.
The BSL does not require any resupply. Many lightweight backpackers walk 13 to 22 miles per day on trail; that means it takes 7 to 12 days to complete the BSL. Assuming a base pack weight of 12 pounds, plus 1.5 pounds of food per person per day, starting pack weight would vary from 22.5 pounds for 7 days to 30 pounds for 12 days. Many backpackers we have seen in the Sierra carry far more weight than that.
Getting a permit to start the BSL at the Copper Creek Trailhead is not likely to be a challenge. In the past, we have always been able to obtain a first-in-line in the morning walk up permit at the Road’s End Ranger Station in Kings Canyon NP. Although permits may not always be available at the last moment, they should be easily obtained with a bit of advance planning. Full JMT permits are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain and are usually all claimed the first day they become available on-line.
Everybody’s taste varies, but for us, the JMT includes stretches that are not the best the Sierra has to offer. The JMT from Happy Isles to Garnet Lake is beautiful, but can be easily explored via day or weekend hikes, using the ESTA and Yosemite buses for shuttling if necessary. From Garnet Lake to approximately Silver Pass through the Mammoth region, the JMT is not nearly as scenic as the areas further north or south. From Silver Pass to Evolution Valley the mostly forested JMT runs far to the west of the High Sierra crest and avoids the high country completely. Roper’s very fine Sierra High Route fixes these problems with the JMT, but requires a lot of skilled off-trail travel and and navigation. A high percentage of the BSL travels through some of the best terrain the Sierra Nevada has to offer.
58 miles of the BSL is concurrent with the JMT and its associated crowds. We believe this section includes most of the best of the JMT, including crossing four of the five big passes. The rest of BSL is on lesser used trails where it is possible to hike for long periods of time without seeing other people. The BSL also avoids the very overcrowded Mount Whitney scene. While Whitney is the highest peak in the Sierra and has a trail, it also has a level of congestion and commotion that does not suit everybody.
Click map to open an interactive CalTopo map in a new browser tab. Instructions for using CalTopo.
Disclaimer: Do not rely on our exact tracks for your route; use skill and common sense. Our trail distance chart is based on the Trails Illustrated maps. Use the stated distances as guidance; various sources of trail distances rarely agree. We strongly recommend that anybody engaged in cross-country travel in the Sierra use RJ Secor’s book for more detailed route descriptions and difficulty levels.
|Miles from Prior Point||Cumulative Miles||Altitude|
|Roads End Trailhead, Cedar Grove||0.0||0.0||5035|
|Middle Fork Trail junction, at Simpson Meadow||11.7||22.9||5990|
|Cross Cartridge Creek||3.7||26.6||6400|
|Acquire JMT at Palisade Creek.||4.8||31.4||8070|
|Bench Lake Trail junction, near Taboose Pass Trail junction||6.5||48.9||10795|
|Pinchot Pass (north end of bear can zone)||3.5||52.4||12130|
|Sawmill Pass Trail junction||3.9||56.3||10346|
|Woods Creek Trail junction||3.8||60.1||8492|
|Baxter Pass Trail junction, near Dollar Lake||4.1||64.2||10200|
|Rae Lakes, near ranger station||2.0||66.2||10540|
|Sixty Lakes Basin Trail junction||1.0||67.2||10565|
|Junction with trails to Charlotte Lake & Kearsarge Pass||2.1||71.2||10745|
|Bubbs Creek Trail junction (possible exit west via Bubbs Creek)||1.4||72.6||9515|
|Forester Pass (south end of bear can zone)||7.4||80.0||13180|
|Shepherd Pass Trail Jct (near trail to Tyndall Ranger Station)||4.9||84.9||10890|
|Acquire HST at Wallace Creek||4.4||89.3||10405|
|Jct with Colby Pass Trail at Junction Meadow (start Colby shortcut)||4.3||93.6||8080|
|Low point on Kern River, at Funston Meadow||9.3||102.9||6730|
|Jct with trail to Moraine Lake, south end||3.8||106.7||9160|
|Jct with trail to Moraine Lake, north end||3.2||109.9||10225|
|Jct with Big Arroyo Trail||4.6||114.5||9560|
|Leave HST at Elizabeth Pass Trail Jct||6.0||123.9||7400|
|Roaring River Ranger Station (rejoin Colby shortcut)||10.7||139.0||7400|
|Bubbs Creek Trail Jct||5.7||151.1||6280|
|Roads End Trailhead||3.7||154.8||3035|
May 23, 2023
Status provided by the National Park Service as of May 23: Due to severe road damage along the Highway 180 corridor between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, Caltrans does not expect repairs to be completed before the end of the summer season. This means public access is not expected into the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park for the 2023 summer season.
Cedar Grove at Road’s End is the location of the Bubb’s Creek and Copper Creek trailheads which are used to access the Big SEKI Loop, and the park has canceled all 2023 Road’s End permits as of this date.
As of May 23rd, the snowpack in the Southern Sierra is at 390% of normal for this date. Even if the road is opened, or if a hiker decides to access the BSL from the east side, be advised that the Palisade Creek stream crossing and the unnamed creek at 37.02130, -118.57720 may be too dangerous to cross due to expected extreme amounts of runoff from this year’s record snowfall. There also may be sections of trail that have been damaged or buried in avalanche debris, making hiking the BSL difficult or impossible. Until the snow melts, nobody knows what the trail conditions are.
Before any making plans to do this hike this year, you should carefully research whether it is even possible.
Notes for Potential Hikers
What is SEKI?
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are contiguous and jointly managed by the National Park Service. They are often called Sequoia Kings Canyon, or SEKI for short. The SEKI and the adjacent USFS John Muir Wilderness are the most beautiful high country areas in the Sierra Nevada range.
When to go
- June: usually a lot of snow at high elevations.
- July: severe mosquitoes and great wildflowers.
- August: wildflowers and mosquitoes both in decline.
- September: no mosquitoes and few wildflowers; autumn colors.
- October: transition season with possibility of winter storms dropping snow that does not melt the following day; back-country ranger stations are closed. In October, we only travel deep in the SEKI backcountry when the weather forecast is all clear and then only for a few days at a time.
Information describing when to hike the JMT applies to this route as well. There is a river crossing on the BSL without a bridge across Palisade Creek where it meets the Middle Fork Kings. The crossing could be difficult in early season high water, although in prior years with adequate scouting people have been able to find logs to scurry across.
The timing of the mosquito season is dependent on the snowpack. To determine how the snowpack compares to normal, go to the River Forecast Center, open the Snow Data section on the right panel, and check the box Current Day SWE % of Normal. Our general guideline is that the mosquito season ends sometime in August. If the spring snowpack is well below normal early August is safe. If the spring snowpack is well above normal mosquito swarms may persist until late August.
In the last several years, significant western wildfires have burned in the during hiking season sometimes creating serious smoke problems in the High Sierra. We suggest checking air quality on Purple Air prior to a trip.
There are three map brands listed in the Resources section: Calico, Tom Harrison and Trails Illustrated. These maps are waterproof and cover the entire route including all emergency exit routes should they become necessary. The Calico maps have the largest scale and are the smallest and lightest to carry. The pair of Harrison maps have a slightly larger scale but there is no overlap between the two maps so they is a little hard to use near the Kearsarge Pass Trail junction. Any of these maps are adequate for this route and minor side-trips off route. Those planning to venture off trail should use CalTopo to print more detailed maps.
Weather and gear
We have a complete and annotated gear list series of articles. This gear has served us very well on all of our hikes, including the Big SEKI Loop.
There’s a reasonable chance you’ll have no precipitation at all or you may get just a few short afternoon showers. On the other hand, the monsoonal weather pattern that feeds northwestern Mexico in late summer can misbehave and wander north into the southern Sierra. When that happens, it’s possible to get severe and prolonged storms. You must decide whether to take rain gear and shelter for what is likely or for what is possible. We have made a choice to always be prepared for what is possible. Some people hike in the Sierras prepared only for what they expect. You choose, but DON’T base your decision on ten trip reports or ten friends who said they had no rain. We have been in the Sierra backcountry at least twice during unexpected early season severe storms during which there were weather-related deaths and much SAR activity; we may have been in deep trouble if we had not had proper gear.
With the currently changing jet-stream patterns, we may start to see more unusually strong summer monsoon storms coming up from the south, similar to the anomalous Ridiculously Resilient Ridges that have prevented normal winter storms from reaching California in the recent past. Recently, significant fires in the Sierra have made smoke a problem. These fires and the smoke distribution patterns are completely unpredictable. We suggest checking Purple Air for air quality prior to a trip.
The BSL does not cross any summits, but there are several fairly easy Class-2 peaks near the route climbed by just a few people each year. The CalTopo map show locations of some SPS peaks. Anybody who is planning off-trail travel is advised to get a copy of R.J. Secor’s The High Sierra Peaks, Passes and Trails.
Two options: Colby Pass versus Elizabeth Pass
There are two ways to go from Junction Meadow (mile 93.6) on the Kern River to the Roaring River Ranger Station (mile 139). The shorter option is shown as a purple line on the CalTopo map.
- The BSL follows the High Sierra Trail (HST) over Kaweah Gap, then connects with trail over Elizabeth Pass and down Deadman Canyon. This option is 45.4 miles.
- The shorter alternative, BSL with Colby Shortcut, crosses Colby Pass and descends Cloud Canyon. This option is about 20 miles, shortening the overall loop from 155 to 130 miles.
Both options are very beautiful, and there is no obvious reason to choose one over the other in terms of scenery. There will be many hikers on the 30 miles of the primary routing that is concurrent with the HST, whereas the Colby Pass option is relatively lightly used.
How long will it take?
The standard option, via Elizabeth Pass, is about 155 miles with at least 40,000 feet of gain. The segments concurrent with the JMT and HST are regularly maintained by trail crews. The remaining trails do not see trail crews annually or even every decade, and conditions will vary and may include trail and bridge washouts; it is critical to read the NPS Trail Conditions information.
Backpackers with extensive experience hiking in similar conditions can use this information to estimate their trip duration. Those who have not yet done enough backpacking to confidently predict their pace in these conditions might start by assessing how much gain and loss they are comfortable doing day after day, at altitude, and carrying a pack. Daily gain and loss is often a better predictor for pace than only using daily mileage. A simple way to establish your baseline would be to climb and descend the stairs in a building; 40 repetitions in a ten-story building would be about 4000 feet of gain and the same loss. Consider the effects of altitude, pack weight, and trail conditions when translating your comfortable baseline into a prediction of how long your hike will take.
Clockwise or counter-clockwise both work, and there is no prefered direction in terms of scenery or logistics. In either direction, you begin at 5,000 feet and immediately climb to about 10,000 feet, so neither option has a kinder start. This initial climb is the toughest challenge on the route. Light packs will make this a lot easier.
If hiking clockwise the permit for the Copper Creek Trail is relatively easy to obtain. If hiking counter-clockwise the permit for the Bubbs Creek Trail can be harder to get. Hiking clockwise puts the sun in your face for the long north-south section of the JMT.
Hiking clockwise puts you on the JMT in a south-bound direction, which is the way most of the JMT crowds are traveling, so it will seem less crowded than if you are walking north-bound against the flow of traffic.
Hiking clockwise also puts the junction with the Colby Pass shortcut at mile 94, so if you fall behind schedule you will have a way to shorten the trip. If you hike counter-clockwise, there is no reasonable way to shorten the trip and get back to your car after you pass the Woods Creek Trail junction. In an emergency you could exit via LeConte Canyon and Bishop Pass, but that puts you a very long way from your car. For this reason, hikers who are unsure of their pace or want to have the option of ending early would do better to hike clockwise.
Finally, early in the season crossing the bridgeless river at Palisade Creek can be difficult; on the off-chance that wading is not safe and no log crossings can be found, it would be better to learn this sooner rather than later. If hiking clockwise and Palisade can not be crossed, retracing your steps back to Roads End is the only reasonable trail option to get out to the trailhead. If hiking counter-clockwise you could hike out via Bishop Pass to South Lake, ending up on the east side and far from your car or retrace your path south on the JMT to the Woods Creek Trail and take it out to Road’s End.
There are two bailout trails that return to Roads End: Woods Creek Trail and Bubbs Creek Trail. These are located mid-trip whether hiking clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Where to start and resupply options
We believe the best option is to start at Road’s End in Cedar Grove on the west side and complete the loop without stopping for resupply. Alternately, one could start at Onion Valley on the east side.
Starting at Road’s End has several advantages:
- Once you leave the road you have a long uninterrupted trip through wilderness.
- No part of the route is repeated.
- Permits for the Copper Creek Trail at Road’s End are relatively easy to obtain.
- Bear canisters are only required between Pinchot Pass (mile 52) and Forester Pass, (mile 80). This means that the food for the first third of the trip does not need to all fit into the can.
Resupply: For those who choose to resupply, you would exit the BSL at Onion Valley and hitch to Independence, adding 14 additional miles of hiking. It might be possible to hire somebody to deliver a package to the Onion Valley trailhead or Kearsarge Pass. The availability of package delivery seems to change from year to year; if readers have information about this please add a comment.
Starting at Onion Valley has several disadvantages:
- The wilderness experience is broken half way through the trip when you descend into Kings Canyon to cross the road at Road’s End. The half-day on either side of Road’s End is the least interesting part of the route and putting it in the middle of the trip breaks the spell.
- The seven mile leg from Onion Valley to the BSL must be hiked twice, adding about 14 miles to the trip.
- Onion Valley is one of the most popular trailheads on the east side and permits may be more difficult to obtain.
- Bear canisters are required from Onion Valley to Forester Pass which is the first leg, meaning that all your food must fit in the can.
The main advantage of starting at Onion Valley is that there is easier access to the BSL for people who do not have a car. Fly, bus or train to Reno and take the ESTA bus between Reno and Independence; this bus runs 4 days per week. Then do the easy hitch or arrange a shuttle between Independence and Onion Valley. Reverse all of this to get home. Road’s End, on the other hand, is not served by public transit and the only reasonable way to get there if arriving in California by train, bus or plane is to rent a car.
Resupply: For those who choose to resupply, it might be possible to send a package to an NPS office at Road’s End; if readers have information about this please add a comment. It is not an easy hitch to any town from Road’s End.
Some alternatives that might look tempting
There are variations that look plausible on a map, but all of these require off-trail navigation and are not appropriate for those wishing to stay on well-defined trails. We have hiked all of these variants and all are passable as class 2/3 routes..
Crossing the Great Western Divide via Shepherd Pass ->Junction Pass ->Center Basin.
Secor describes Junction Pass: “Class 2. This is the original route of the John Muir Trail. It has not been maintained since 1932, but traces of the old trail are still visible…” Old maps show a trail over Junction Pass; the trail has been removed from modern maps. The abandoned trail is easy to follow north of Junction Pass; on the south side it is a horrendous talus field.
Crossing the Great Western Divide via Harrison Pass -> East Creek.
Secor describes Harrison Pass: “Class 2. Some maps show a trail over Harrison Pass. Be forewarned: This trail has not been maintained for many years, and the especially critical section of it leading up the north side of the pass has all but disappeared….” Indication of a trail has been removed from modern maps.
Sixty Lakes Basin instead of Rae Lakes -> Arrowhead Lake ->Dollar Lake.
There is a trail into and through part of this very beautiful basin, but the off-trail route from the northern Sixty Lakes down to the JMT north of Baxter Creek requires picking a good line in order to avoid a steep drainage and some cliffs. There are at least three variations for this descent that go. A major advantage of this route is that it avoids the sometimes very overcrowded scene at Rae Lakes.
Cartridge Pass -> Lake Basin -> abandoned Cartridge Creek Trail down to the Middle Fork Kings River.
Secor says “This trail has not been maintained for more than fifty years – if it was ever maintained at all. This is an old sheep route which was once the route for the JMT, until the trail was constructed up Palisade Creek and over Mather Pass in 1938. The Cartridge Pass “Trail” is for all intents and purposes a difficult cross-country route.” The route from the South Fork Kings River into Lake Basin is not difficult for somebody with basic cross-country skills. However, the descent from Lake Basin to the Kings River requires careful choice of routes and is choked with vegetation in the lower reaches. We have done this descent and once was enough. This trail is shown on old maps, but has been removed from modern maps.
From Simpson Meadow to Roads End via Kennedy Pass instead of via Granite Pass.
This is still an official trail and is shown on current maps. The stretch from Pine Ridge to upper Kennedy Canyon had not been maintained when we last hiked it in 2012 and the tread is often obscure or obliterated. It is not a thrash, but it does require care and a good off-trail navigation sense in order to stay on the often missing trail.
SEKI maintains an description of the condition of official park trails. Some of the routes listed above are not included, since they are no longer official trails.
From the CalTopo view of the route, you can have fun switching to different map layers (control in upper right) and view historic USGS maps, dating back to the early 20th century. Gaia GPS on the iPhone offers access to these same historic USGS maps.
Great route and a great new site! Well done, and thanks. Your trip reports, as usual, are thorough and enticing. If I have an extra week or so, would you recommend heading south or north after making the loop? Or jump to another area? Oregon? TRT? Wonderland Trail? Do you often see bears in the SEKI area? I’ve walked the JMT, and agree that this area is primo backpacking territory. Mike
Mike, What to do with your extra week? Return to a place you love, or pick out a new place on the map and explore; both are viable options and have value, so pick one and go! We try to write reports and assessments that give people a sense of what they can expect so each reader can decide if a destination would be appealing, but it’s up to you to decide what would be right.
This is very helpful and a wonderful route. Thanks for all your efforts on this, much appreciated. I hiked a portion of this last August, in particular the section through Deadman Canyon and over Elizabeth Pass to Bearpaw and out the HST. The trail from the top of Elizabeth Pass going south has not been well maintained for the first 2 miles and is essentially none existent. Expect to do some route finding from just below the pass until the switchbacks about 1/2 mile before the intersection with Lone Pine creek. It is not difficult and all class 2 hiking. I recommend having a good topo of the area and a compass or GPS. The trail through Deadman Canyon is spectacular. I camped one night at Big Bird Lake which is 1/2 mile off of the trail about 2 miles before reaching Elizabeth Pass. Well worth the effort to get there!
Mike, thanks for the added info about the trail conditions and Big Bird Lake.
I live in western canada and am not familiar with this area. I didn’t get my permit for Wonderland trail this year and this seems like a great alternative for mid September. Quick question about Wilderness Permit. Once applied for the one permit is that it? Is the whole route considered wilderness camping (no further reservations needed?)
Holly, I am considering this as my first solo trip in sept. Would love to stay in touch and run into you on the trail!
If you are in the women’s only JMT facebook group reach out to me would love to touch base!
Holly – just one permit they are allocated by entry date and trailhead. Once you start the permit is good for the duration.
Holly, I should add that when you get your permit they will ask for your nightly itinerary. However, unlike some destinations, this is simply to help NPS understand usage of regions and you are NOT restricted to camping in the zones stated on your permit. The only part of the permit that matters is entry date and trailhead.
Thanks for the very detailed description – considering this as my Plan B for the JMT this year if the Tuolumne Meadows permit station doesn’t open in time for me to start from Lyell. Quick question regarding creek/river crossings, being especially mindful this year. My window of opportunity starts early July, and I expect a lot of snow and high creek and river crossings as the main challenges. You mentioned the Palisade Creek crossing as one challenge (although is it possible to scout up to the east for an easier crossing where it seems to flatten out?). Are there other particularly challenging ones? Is the Kern River crossing a wade or a footbridge? I’m aware of the ones where the BSL and JMT coincide, but would appreciate your thoughts in the other areas…
I think the best source for current conditions is http://www.highsierratopix.com/community/ and you should probably read any threads there about river crossings this extraordinary year. We take all of our Sierra trips in late August and September and can’t competently speak to river crossings in July of this record snowfall year. I certainly would not hike CCW this year in July assuming that it will be possible to cross Palisade. If there are no log bridges available it could be a dangerous crossing. If you hike CW you’d find out early in the trip.
Also, the NPS trail conditions site has some information about bridge status: https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/trailcond.htm
As to crossing the Kern via either the Colby Pass Trail or the High Sierra Trail, I recommend asking the NPS about conditions there.
Thank you for an excellent write up of an amazing hike. Planning to do this loop in August to finish a portion of the JMT from last year, and to see the SEKI area too. Starting at Onion Valley so I can acclimatize well beforehand (I acclimatize slower than most people). FYI, for anybody considering starting at Onion Valley/Kearsarge Pass, I was able to confirm today that Cedar Grove Visitor Center is accepting resupply packages for the 2017 season, through Labor Day. They are located 6 miles from Road End near the Ranger Station. They recommended UPS (no USPS) shipping in a hard-sided bucket (critter proof). Pickup hours are 9am – 5pm 7 days a week. Bucket labeling: name, “hiker resupply”, pickup date, ship to: 108417 Westside Drive, Kings Canyon National Park, CA 93633. Their number is 559-565-3793.
Lester, thanks so much for posting the information about the Cedar Grove resupply. Amy (and James too)
Great information. My husband and I are hiking the loop (counter clockwise-starting Road’s End) in August 2017 and are planning on 8 days. Does anyone have a breakdown of their trip with water sources/stops included? I want to hike with as little as possible and fill up along the way.
Brittany, As you know, snow pack is well above normal, and all streams shown on the USGS map as seasonal or perennial should have water in August 2017.
Brittany – if you want to hike with as little water as possible, have you considered the BeFree water filter? It allows you to very quickly and easily drink water to your fill, on-site at any water source, so you don’t have to ever carry water (assuming there are frequent water sources every hour or so). Compared to Sawyer filters and Aquamira solution, it’s easier and instant.
Thank you so much for your information. I have my permit booked and am ready to go for mid-september clockwise. I am a bit apprehensive on how cold it will be at night, but getting my gear dialed down.
I replied to your last comment before getting to the end. Where did you go/call for the permit? So excited for you! I was denied JMT this year and want to create a beautiful alternative adventure.
https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/upload/2017-Wilderness-Trip-Planner-Final-2.pdf page 15 has the application and the email to send it to.
This is a great website and I find it very helpful. I’ve got a few questions and I seek advice.
My gf and I are planning a JMT in late July – but it is looking quite unlikely as we were not successful in obtaining the permit. I have read quite a lot about walk-ups, but it seems the only walk up option is from Toulemne TH for Lyell canyon access point, and I am seriously considering SEKI as a great alternate journey.
1. We are not experienced hikers – certainly not someone who can hike 20 miles per day. Both of us are reasonably fit, but we do not hike much at all; multiple day hikes during national parks tour last summer (hiking up Angel Landing in Zion was probably the toughest hike) was about the extent of hiking we do. This would be our first big extended continuous hiking trip. To give an idea – we just returned from Yosemite where we did the Four Mile hiking trail in 5.5-6 hours (return), we found it strenuous and were sore for few days, but didn’t find it impossible. Given our experience, would the SEKI trail be something we can handle? Given the available bailout points such as Road’s end if we start from Onion valley or vice versa, I feel that this is doable, but I would like to know if I may be overestimating myself (my natural tendency is otherwise).
2. I understand direction and point of start depends on each hiker’s preference, but in my case, would it be better to start on Onion valley going clockwise – that way, if we need to exit early for whatever reason, we can take the shorter route via Colby pass, although this seems less traversed route, and this route gives an option to resupply in the Cedar Grove visitor station? Speaking of which, how long in advance should I mail my package?
Anymore unsolicited tips/advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Walter, I think the Big SEKI Loop is best for people who know they are comfortable gaining 4000 feet of elevation in a day, with a pack, and at altitude. Day after day. Based on what you said it doesn’t sound like this would be you. Perhaps try gaining that much altitude on your next day off work to see if you feel good that day and the following day. If you don’t have Mountains in your neighborhood you can always resort to climbing up and down the stairwell in a 10 story building x40.
Thank you guys for your reply – yikes, it sounds like I’m trying to bite more than I can chew. Sounds like I’ll have to bite smaller – or just chew slower!
Amy & James, thanks so much for laying out this route! My hiking partner and I ended up doing an abbreviated (10-day, 120 mile) version of this over the last two weeks (Devil’s Washbowl on the Copper Creek trail was deemed impassable by the permit issuer). I look forward to catching the rest of it another time! The Rae Lakes area, Glen and Colby Passes, Colby Lake, and Mt. Whitney of course were spectacular!
A note to others coming from out East – the hiking there (except maybe in the Smokies and Whites) is not comparable in difficulty. We took our time and had a great hike.
My husband and I attempted the loop starting August 11th (2017). We started at Roads End and intended to go counter clockwise through Elizabeth Pass. The Rangers told us immediately that Palisades creek was impassable and that we would not be able to cross there at all. So we headed on the route thinking that we would do the “1/2 loop” and cut back at Bubbs Creek. First day, the Bubbs Creek crossing was a little scary but we managed to find some logs to scramble over. By the time we went over Elizabeth pass and hit the high sierra trail, the crossing to get over to the lakes was also impassable. So we ended up at Bearpaw High Sierra camp and were told by another hiker that the crossing at Kern was also impassable. Suffice it to say our trip was cut very short! Ended up at the bottom of Sequoia and had to hitchhike back to our car! What an adventure!
JP and Brittany – thanks to both of you for your comments. I just looked at the NPS Trails Conditions page, and as of 8/22/2017 they are still saying that the Palisade crossing is hazardous. The most recent update on the Kern crossing at Junction Meadow is dated 7/19 and as of that date they said they expected at least a month before that would be crossable. They also say they’ve had 4 drownings this year and I doubt they are overstating the hazard.
Yes and we had said we didn’t want to be 5 and 6! It is hard to let go of your plans and/or ego and take a different route, especially when you have planned for so long and are carrying 10 days worth of food! But sometimes a different adventure awaits. We can’t control mother nature and I hope everyone stays safe out there!
I emailed the ranger a few days ago and they said it is now passable (people have been passing) but it is between knee and thigh and swift moving. Hoping it will be improved for my start of mid September.
Hello! Great site – thanks. I have been rejected for 4 days in the JMT lottery now, so looking for alternatives. If I get a permit from Road’s End and hike clockwise, would my permit allow for a side trip to Mt. Whitney? I did the High Sierra Trail a few years ago, but couldn’t summit Whitney due to a snow storm – so I would love the opportunity to try again. Thanks!!
Ryan, We are not familiar with the current permit requirements for Whitney. I believe the info you need is on this page: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/inyo/passes-permits/recreation#Whitney
Thanks so much! I will look into that!
If you have a wilderness permit from SEKI, no additional permit is required to add a Whitney summit to the loop. This is based on NPS Ranger input and my own experience of adding Whitney to my hike of the loop in 2018.
Hi, thanks for the write-up. Is there any way to get to the Road’s End without a car?
Stephen, The main advantage of starting at Onion Valley is that there is easier access to the BSL for people who do not have a car. Fly, bus or train to Reno and take the ESTA bus between Reno and Independence; this bus runs 4 days per week. Then do the easy hitch or arrange a shuttle between Independence and Onion Valley. Reverse all of this to get home. Road’s End, on the other hand, is not served by public transit and the only reasonable way to get there if arriving in California by train, bus or plane is to rent a car.
You can hitch hike up there.
I had to get a ride when the trail spit me out about 100 miles south of my car. It was relatively simple and people seemed used to it. Apparently it is done so frequently inside the park, it’s not illegal. That’s what two seperate Rangers told me anyway.
Hitching to or from any of the east-side trailheads is easy. Hitching down the hill from a west-side trailhead is pretty easy too. However, hitching up the hill, starting for example at the airport or bus station in Fresno, is not so easy. The problem is that if you’re using public transit to get to Fresno you’ll need to start hitching in a more urban area, and that’s always harder than hitching in a more rural/recreation area. You can try hitching up from Fresno, I’m just saying that it won’t be as easy as hitching down to Fresno. I’ve often hitched up and down on the east side, and twice I’ve hitched down-hill on the west side. I’ve never actually tried hitching up-hill from the west side and maybe I’m wrong.
If renting a car is not an option, you might be able to take a bus to Visalia, then take the Sequoia Park Shuttle to Sequoia NP, then hitch from Sequoia to Road’s End.
I am considering a variation of this loop in a figure 8 shape. Leave my truck at Roads End, head North until I reach the JMT then turn Southbound until taking Paradise Valley back to Roads End to resupply. Then back out Bubbs Creek to the JMT southbound where I would join the HST to Bearpaw Mdw then I would head North up Deadman Canyon, over Avalanche Pass and back to Roads End.The advantage to me is being able to resupply with my truck and having the option of adding Whitney to the second part. Would this be considered two separate hikes needing two permits ? I wouldn’t want to do this distance without a resupply and it also gives me a few bail out options just in case that is needed. Does anyone see any problems with this itinerary ? Thanks…
Dermot, sorry we’re not familiar with the permit requirements for the itinerary you describe. In some instances the NPS/USFS allows you to re-enter within 24 hours using one permit, but that special arrangement might only apply to certain situations. Best to call them to find out.
Got my permit to do this in July! Will be doing the clockwise route, and hitching to Independence from Onion Valley for a resupply on day 7. Decided to spent 17 days on this loop, with side trips to Onion Valley and to summit Mt. Whitney (didn’t get to do Whitney when I backpacked the HST a few years back because of a snowstorm). All in all, my route will be around 193 miles. Super excited. Thanks for all of the amazing information.
Good luck and enjoy!
This company offers supply drops and other horse related services. They will go to Roaring River. That isn’t the best resupply on the trip though unless you started somewhere other than Roads End. They may serve other areas.
Do you have any sense of how much more difficult route finding might be on colby shortcut vs HST? And might one route be better if you like less alpine and more trees? Thanks for all your work, great info!
I don’t recall offhand which route has a higher percentage of alpine versus trees, but a quick look at the CalTopo map using satellite imagery map type should give you the info you need to make that assessment.
It’s quite difficult for us to answer your question about route finding because we don’t know your skills and comfort level. Both options follow designated NPS trails. However, there are stretches of trail that have not seen a trail maintenance crew in years and there may be places where a recent avalanche has dumped trees across the trail, or where shifting boulder fields mean you have to pick your way over rocks for periods of time, especially near the tops of passes.
Neither Colby nor Elizabeth Passes have intensely maintained trails like the JMT or High Sierra Trail. See the Apr 10, 2017 comment from Mike L for his impression of Elizabeth. If you’re uncertain about whether that would be a problem then you might want to call SEKI and ask to speak with somebody familiar with current trail conditions. Their phone number is listed on their Trail Conditions page. https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/trailcond.htm
Good luck, and if you take the hike please let us know how it went. Amy (and James too)
We just got back from 12 days on the route. We did the Colby/ Cloud part at the end. We loved the hike. It was tough esp at the start with the uphill fr Roads End north with all of our food weight- but we knew that would be hard. It was fun to see some of the JMT again esp Rae lakes truly a lovely area. Part of my favorites were the lovely stone and water parts of going up Colby Pass, and Colby lake is wonderful. I really appreciate your suggestions and enjoy reading about other potential trips. Your posts are a great service, really, so thank you. Sam and Barbara
Sam and Barbara – thanks for letting us know that you hiked using the Colby alternative. Glad to hear you had a good trip.
You can do Whitney from the west without a permit, I’ve done it twice that way now.
Great website – I’m considering this hike rather than doing the JMT again next summer. Does the permit for this include Whitney (as a side hike) or is that separate?
I believe it does not give access to Whitney, but am not sure. There’s thorough data about Whitney permits you can check. I’m on the trail now and don’t have time to help.
I completed a ten-day, solo, no-resupply, clockwise Big SEKI Loop from Roads End on 8/16/18. Absolutely fantastic! A couple of comments on current conditions for certain sections of the trail:
1. I missed the following before I left on the NPS website, under “Middle Fork Kings/ Tehipite”:
“7/31 – It is very brushy from the JMT Junction to 2 miles west. There is a 50′ wide washout about 2 miles west of the JMT it is impassable to stock and very difficult for hikers to navigate- from that section of trail, there is a 200′ vertical drop to the river. Route finding skills are required and caution is urged.”
This is the section of the trail that you encounter between Granite Pass and the JMT. While I didn’t find it to difficult to follow where the trail was supposed to be, I can attest, it was quite difficult to get across the washout.
2. The NPS posted the following advisory about Avalanche Pass after I was already on the trail (although I was warned by the super-helpful backcountry ranger at Roaring River):
“8/7 – Both sides completley [sic] washed out, hard to navigate and easy to lose the trail.”
I found that the southern side was okay, but that the trail on the northern side was almost impossible to follow. I pushed my limited cross-country skills to their limits to get to the switchbacks that start at the highest crossing of the trail and Sphinx Creek.
3. To respond to a concern expressed in posts from previous years: Elizabeth Pass was lovely on both sides. While there was not much of a trail to follow on the Sequoia side, somebody had placed cairns beautifully to indicate the way to the pass. No problems on the Kings Canyon side.
Quick question: you mention that there are numerous Class-2 peaks near the trail that are fairly easy. Are there any in particular that you would recommend? I did the route while recovering from an elbow injury sustained earlier in the summer, so I did my best to take it easy and avoid scrambles; but I hope to do the loop again next year, sans broken elbow.
Thanks again for sharing your expertise on this website. This is one of the best hikes I have done, and I wouldn’t have known to do it without your posting!
Excellent information. Thank you
Sorry for the brief reply we wrote on Aug 20; we were on the trail without a keyboard. You asked about peaks near the route. We are hesitant to recommend anything in particular since we don’t know your skill level. That said, we have found that ANY peak on the SPS Peak list (http://www.climber.org/data/SierraPeaks.html) is worth climbing. That is a curated list. It’s not simply the highest peaks in the range, but a selection of peaks that has been deemed to be worth climbing. SummitPost.org has good descriptions of each peak and you can read descriptions of each peak near the route and decide which ones sound like they are right for you.
Good luck, and enjoy the view from whatever peak you choose!
Need advice. We received our permit at Roads End for entry into Copper Creek on 7/23/19. We are staying the night 7/22 at the Cedar Grove Lodge. Doing the Loop in 11 days ( taking Colby Pass ) back. Where do we park car?
There is a National Park Service parking lot at the Copper Creek trailhead where you can leave your car for the duration of your hike. You can confirm this at the ranger station when you pick up your permit. Sometimes the NPS will have separate areas of parking lots for long term parking and other areas closer to picnic tables limited to day use, but the ranger or signs will make that clear.
Comparing distances on CalTopo map and in the trip table, I’ve noticed difference about 10 miles (155 mi in the table, 145 on the CalTopo map) for the full loop and 8 miles for a loop with Colby shortcut, which could takes a day for a slower hiker. I’ve read the disclaimer, but still… Which distances would you say are more accurate?
Konstantin – I recommend you use the distance chart, which is based on Trails Illustrated maps. The distances given in the CalTopo lines will depend on the resolution of the lines we created, the less resolution the lower the distance since small twists and turns and switchbacks get dropped. Alternately you could use the distances stated in RJ Secor’s book, which will be different from Trails Illustrated or NPS maps. And, if you use Gaia GPS on your phone and record a track while hiking you’ll get yet another variant on distance. It’s safe to say that our CalTopo lines will understate distance because we do not capture every switchback.
Hi Amy and James,
I have a permit for BSL clockwise, start 2nd of june 2019. Do you have some information about temperature in the evening and night at this period, especially around 9 000 feet ? I’ve just finished a 4 days tramp south of new zealand with minus temperature in night, it was tough and i want to be well equipped !
Considering your distance chart, is it possible to make a fire at each stop ?
Also, it seems to be a high snow season this year. What is the impact for crossing Palissad creek beginning of june ?
Thank you for your experience.
Campfires are not permitted above 10k feet elevation so you could plan your stops accordingly.
Palisade Creek will NOT be possible to wade. You may or may not be able to find a log crossing, not predictable because the storms dislodge and move them around.
All high passes will be snow covered. You will need the skills and equipment for travel on snow, including steep inclines.
There’s one article about the snowpack this year. There are better resources on snowpack, but I am on the road now without access to a computer.
Early June always has potential for substantial snowpack, but this year in particular will be a problem. We recommend you call the ranger station to discuss your skill level and plan with them.
This site has links to snowpack information:
Big SEKI Loop is in the general region called “Southern”. In particular you can pay attention to the stations in the following three river basin: Kings, Kaweah, Kern. As of today the Southern Sierra is at 151% of normal for this date.
First of all thank you so much for putting all of this information together- the backpacking community really appreciates it!
Last summer my sons and I did the Rae lakes loop (+ a day trip into 60 Lake basin) with a few other members of his boy scout troop. We had a simply amazing time and knew the minute we left that we’d be back at some point. We want to share this incredible backcountry with my wife and daughter in a couple of years, doing a modified version of the SEKI loop you have described. 4 of 5 of us are experienced East Coast backpackers. Due to coming from the East at near sea level and various other factors, I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect this whole group to be able to hike much more than 10 miles/day, so tackling the big SEKI loop without resupply is not feasible . Therefore, I was think of doing either of the two following shorter loops:
South SEKI Loop ~ 85 miles
Begin and end at Roads End
Roads End – Paradise Valley – Woods Creek – JMT to Junction Meadow – Colby Pass – Avalanche Pass – Bubbs Creek – Roads End
Pros: more gradual acclimatization
Cons: Have to put everything in bear vault from day 1
North SEKI Loop ~85 miles
Begin and end at Roads End
Roads End- Copper Creek – JMT to Vidette Meadow – Bubbs Creek – Roads End
Pros: Easier permit
Cons: long, high altitude climb day 1
Any thoughts you might have of one route vs the other would be greatly appreciated and probably helpful to other folks as well.
If hiking in 2019 do the South loop. This is a very high snowpack year and the un-bridged river crossing will pose a challenge.
You ask an excellent question and we will respond more fully when we have access to a real keyboard.
Thank you so much for this guide! You inspired me to not do the JMT again. After much time on CalTopo, my itinerary is:
South SEKI loop counterclockwise via Elizabeth and back to Roads End via Woods creek in 9 days. (RESUPPLY)
North SEKI loop clockwise via copper creek, and the South Lake/North lake loop via Bishop pass (RESUPPLY) and Lamarck Col, SOBO on JMT to Woods creek again in 10 days
So total of 220 miles over 19 days, all southern SEKI
My biggest problem is figuring out how to get back to Fresno at the end. My current plan is to hitch a ride from Cedar Grove to Grant Grove, and order a Lyft/Uber from there. Looks like they both go to Grant Grove and it will only be ~$70.
I’m very excited! 🙂
Thanks for this route info! I definitely want to do this loop someday, especially after having done the PCT last year, and I’m doing the HST this year! Which leads me to my question: If I’m doing the HST this year, and since there’s a decent amount of overlap of HST with the Big SEKI Loop, would you recommend doing the Colby shortcut on the loop? Without knowing the terrain and highlights and how awesome the views are, I’d say it would be good to do the Colby shortcut if I’ve already done the HST, unless the scenery from Bearpaw and over Elizabeth Pass is just absolutely spectacular – moreso than the Colby shortcut. Any thoughts?
Colby Alternative makes sense if you’ve already hiked the HST. Have a great trip and please add a comment when you’re done.
Thank you so much for your detailed guide! I am hoping to do the full loop going clockwise from Copper Canyon starting on September 12. Do you think that it would be possible to do this, given the large snowpack this year? I am really hoping trail conditions will be improved by then, but am not sure and permits have already filled up for Bubbs Creek for that date. I would really appreciate your thoughts on this!
We think it should be fine. Best to call the ranger station and ask their opinion too, especially if you can get through to talk to a backcountry ranger. Also, monitor the SEKI site trail conditions page; the backcountry rangers tend to update that every week or so. Have fun!
Wow… I truly appreciate your speedy reply! The ranger station was closed just now but you replied so quickly! Again, many thanks – very much looking forward to this trip. I’ve been browsing your site ever since I got the backpacking bug earlier this year with my first backpacking trip, and am so excited to put your guide into action! All the best, Ellen
Hi Amy and James, about to set out on our trip and had a few questions that we are still waiting on answers to. We were wondering if you guys knew the answers off the top of your head: 1) Are there campsites available for those who have arrived after a full day of driving and won’t be able to pick up their permit until the next morning? 2) Does our permit allow us to camp at Cedar Grove or do we need to walk along the trail for a few miles before setting up camp? 3) Where can we park our car for the ~10 days that we’ll be backpacking?
Ellen, its best to call the ranger station for help with those things. Have fun!
Hi Amy and James,
My boyfriend and I just completed the loop (from Copper Creek w/Colby shortcut, 12 days no resupply) and agree that it was the trip of a lifetime. Thank you so much for all the information you provided which made planning a breeze. We had originally planned to do the JMT but found your site while doing research, were won over by your list of advantages, and are very happy that we chose this hike instead. We found the JMT section (southbound) crowded but not uncomfortably so. In fact, we enjoyed the friendliness and sense of camaraderie with other hikers on this section, and made many friends. That said, it was very nice to have the rest of the trail mostly to ourselves.
I’d like to share one great tip we were given on the trail (Biru, if you somehow read this – thanks!). The top of Avalanche Pass doesn’t have any view from the trail, which is too bad after gaining all that elevation. But if you walk a few minutes due north from the very top, you’ll find a small boulder field and from the end of it there’s a clear, steep, and gorgeous lookout over King’s Canyon which is well worth the short detour. Hopefully this will redeem Avalanche Pass for some future BSL hikers! We met another hiker at Colby Lake who’d just done Avalanche Pass southbound, which is a TON of uphill for very little view, and he was understandably pretty grumpy about it.
Thanks again and happy trails!
Thanks! We’ll add a note about your viewpoint.
Hi Amy and James – thanks for all of this super helpful information.
In summer of 2018, my partner attempted this route and we failed to make it the entire way – there was a number of reasons why, primarily because my partner got super sick and was coughing so much (all day and night), I developed runner’s knee, and both of our packs were being held together by duct tape. In any event, we did about 75 miles of it, starting at Road’s End and then using the cut-back at Wood’s Creek to get back to our car.
We are thinking about tackling the rest of the loop next summer, starting at Road’s End again and cutting across Wood’s Creek to avoid the northern section we’ve already done.
My question is this – we’re thinking we want to do this in 12 days, but without a resupply. The longest I’ve gone without a resupply is 7 days, so I’m not really sure how to pack for that long and be able to fit everything into a bear canister. I’d love any tips, food suggestions, or general advice from anyone on what they’ve done for a trip this length.
Thanks in advance! Cheers!
Update: There’ a bear canister that claims it can fit food for 12 days!
Also, with the route I’m taking, there will be bear lockers the first 8 nights of the trip, though I know I shouldn’t completely rely on this.
Thank you for sharing this route! I am planning to do a modified version of it in mid-August. Instead of heading up Copper Creek TH, I plan to do the Rae Lakes loop clockwise for the first part, then continue south on JMT and return to Road’s End via Cloud Canyon. I’ll be leading a group of 5, and all of us are in good shape but live at sea level. We’ll camp near the trailhead the night before to help acclimate. Do you think 8 days is enough time to complete this route without my friends hating me?
When traveling on trail, James and I average about 18 miles per day and have maintained that average for decades; that’s 8-10 hours of hiking at 2-2.5 mph. That is a very comfortable pace for us, and we use that pace to plan our trips. Our pace off-trail (not relevant to this route) is slower and depends on the terrain.
Very strong long-distance hikers will often hike for 10-12 hours at 2.5 or 3 mph, for a total of 25-30 miles per day. Although we occasionally hike 25 mile days, sustaining that pace day after day is neither enjoyable nor achievable for us. My nephew, on the other hand, is young and very athletic, but he and his friends sleep late, cook pancakes, play cards, and carry too much stuff. They hike 8-10 miles per day.
You can use CalTopo profile feature to figure out the total altitude gain for the hike, and factor that in when you plan your hike. We are comfortable gaining ~4000 feet per day, day after day. If you don’t have mountains in your neighborhood where you can determine your comfortable gain/day, you can always resort to climbing up and down the stairwell in a 10 story building x40.
You’ll need to decide what pace you and your friends want to maintain. Hike your own hike. 🙂
Hi, thanks for this guide and GPS files!
My brother and I recently completed the upper portion of the trail over 6 days in early July. The mosquitoes were only really an issue at our first night’s camp near Granite Lake, the weather was agreeable (no rain!), and the passes were all crossable with no snow equipment.
However, the main purpose of this post is to make sure people know that the Middle Fork Trail is difficult, dangerous, and exhausting. We made it through, but I’d like to give a brief description of our experience to help hikers attempting the loop. Firstly, parts of the trail are almost completely overgrown with thorny bushes. Progress through these areas, which sometimes stretched for a mile or more, was slow and tedious. Other sections of the trail were flooded and muddy. We also had to cross a dangerously fast-flowing snowmelt stream a couple of miles past Cartridge Creek. We saw several rattlesnakes on the trail, one of which was a baby and did not warn us with a rattle! Crossing Palisade Creek was also extremely tough. We tried to reach the safe crossing point marked on your GPS file but it was so overgrown we were forced to cross at a less-than-ideal point. The water was high and flowing rapidly, but we are both tall and took care placing our feet, and eventually we made it across. Once on the JMT, the trail was well maintained and beautiful.
We talked to some backcountry rangers about the Middle Fork Trail a few days after finishing it. They both made remarks about just how overgrown and difficult the trail is. One called it “the hardest trail in the Sierras.” The other ranger enthusiastically agreed.
I’m not trying to dissuade adventurous hikers from attempting this loop — the scenery of the Middle Fork is truly wild and breathtakingly beautiful. Just make sure you are prepared for potentially dangerous river crossings and tough terrain. Reading back through what I wrote, I can’t seem to capture how hard this trail was for us. Please, please make sure you are physically and mentally equipped for such a tough section!
Otherwise, the loop was spectacular. I can’t wait to go back and do the southern half.
Stay safe and keep hiking!
Thank you for the helpful update. It has been a few years since we last hiked the Middle Fork Trial and based on your description, maintenance has been lacking. This is not unexpected as Park Service trail budgets have been poor for some time. Since this trail suffered a slide and was closed for some time in the last couple of years, it also has had less foot traffic than normal. Thus we are not surprised to hear that the trail has become overgrown: that is the fate of all of the lower elevation trails in the Sierra that get little maintenance and/or use. But it is a beautiful trail and those who are not put off from the effort to walk it will be rewarded.
There are a few other notes in the comments section that discuss the possible difficulties crossing Palisades Creek. Water levels at the crossing vary from season to season and year to year. Since you had an early July trip, we are not surprised that water levels were high as there is usually still a lot of snow melt run-off at that time of year. Sometimes there are fallen trees that provide a bridge but these come and go as well. As always, caution is advised at any water crossing.
Kiefer (and James and Amy), thank you for the very helpful comments. I plan to do BSL clockwise from Sept. 9-17 2020, and think I have most things in place. But Keifer, I’d love to touch base with you about your experiences, especially from Road’s End up to JMT. And also what you figured out for transportation during this Covid year. Is it possible to connect via e-mail?
Sure! My email is kiefermrtn(at)gmail.com. I’ll try my best to answer your questions.
Thanks for the great info on this site! My wife and I just finished a nine night CW version with a Colby Pass return. One good thing to note is that a trail crew was working to clear the thick brush in the MFKR section that so many have noted so it shouldn’t be an issue any more. Unfortunately they’d only made it as far as Devil’s Washbasin so we still had to push thru a lot of brush thereafter – really more of an adventure than any real problem.
Another thing to note is that the MFKR section is prime bear country as it’s absolutely loaded with all kinds of berries. We spooked two bears, each of which took off running when they saw us. Be really careful of food storage along this section.
The detour to State Lakes is absolutely worthwhile. Lower State Lake is gorgeous and we had it all to ourselves. The trail back past Upper State Lake is hard to follow but you can’t really go wrong… if you lose the trail just head down the same contour thru the open woods and you’ll hit the main trail eventually. A topo map is really helpful.
We took the unmaintained trail down Tyndall Creek to the Kern, then Junction Meadow. It’s an adventure, with a cool old abandoned cabin and a tough steep drop. Probably faster to go via Wallace Creek but not as much fun!
Highlights for us were Lower State Lake, Devils Washbasin, the upper stretch along the MFKR, “the Gap”, and Colby Pass.
It can be a really hard trail (much more so than the JMT), especially with a heavy pack going up Copper Creek, but it’s well worth it for the adventure and real backcountry experience. We saw nobody for 2 1/2 days past CC, and two people in 2 1/2 days after Tyndall Creek.
A quick note to second Bruce’s comments above regarding the MF Kings trail maintenance. We traversed that section on August 27th and the trail was clear from Simpson Meadow all the way to Palisade Creek. No route-finding or bushwhacking issues. Based on prior comments here, Trail Crew had a big job, and they came through big time.
James and Amy, thanks for your informative and inspiring website. Lots of good information. And hats off to the family photographer(s) — great pix!
Completed the Big SEKI/Colby Pass loop. A humble bow to Amy and James for the inspiration.
Started August 3rd, 15 days solo, no resupply. At age 63, I’ve learned to embrace wilderness wandering – enjoying zero days (2), adding off-trail days (2), and tossing in a spicy peak bagging. Yes, 19lbs of food to start was heavy (+12.4lb base weight), but well worth the unscheduled time and immersion into the SEKI wilderness.
Trail comments & conditions:
Clockwise seemed the way to go and Copper Creek was an easy permit to snag. Took Colby Pass cut-off which returns to solitude after the JMT crowd (vs. HST section) and delivers a beautiful trail with meadows, streams, Colby Notch/Pass/Lake plus really remote off-trail options.
1. Started the Copper Creek 5k-in-8mi grind up to The Lip and Granite Pass bringing scenic, early, 10k passes (note start early, not in the 1:30p midday broiler like I did).
2. Middle Fork trail is being brushed out by trail crew – a great trail is coming back!
3. Only met 1 hiker and trail crew into JMT
4. Low water year = rock-hop crossing of Palisade Creek.
5. JMT trail family was good camaraderie for the 12k passes. Highlighted by the dawn reflection of Painted Lady upon Rae Lakes.
6. Peak bagged University Peak off-trail via Upper Kearsarge Lakes Col (middle chute) with car-sized boulders and talus to saddle at 12k, dropped pack and hiked the peak along the NW ridge line (Class 2 with a few low-exposure Class 3 bits). Then scree skied down from the saddle dropping into Verdette Meadow rejoining the JMT.
7. Post-Forrester Pass took the High Tyndall/Upper Kern Cutoff and immediately lost the JMT crowd along this beautiful high alpine view trail. Great lake/campground at the junction with the Upper Kern and Kern Canyon trail to Junction Meadow is very scenic.
8. Colby Pass trail just up from Junction Meadow has a nasty 1/4mi. section of thick brush, otherwise clear.
9. Did two off-trail days up to Pickett Creek Lake and jumped over into Kaweah Basin Lakes. Put this one on your bucket list it’s that wild n tasty.
10. Colby Lake and Cloud Canyon are heaven, and after seeing no one for five days, met 6 solo off-trail hikers all of us converged at the lake for one night – lots of stories around the stoves n cold soakers.
11. Never lacked for water in drought year, carried 1.6L max, had to plan carefully as not all creeks on the topo were running.
I just completed the southern SEKI loop over Forester, Kaweah Gap, Elizabeth & Avalanche passes over seven days, and it was the most fabulous trip ever. I’ve done the JMT and the northern SEKI loop, and other top PCT segments, but the gorge from Kaweah Gap down to the Elizabeth Pass trail was mind blowing, as stunningly beautiful as anything anywhere. Precipice Lake alone was worth the whole trip. The hot springs on the Kern were heavenly and uncrowded. I wasn’t expecting three mile burn zone just north of the springs. Luckily the springs area was only scorched.
If I repeated this route, I’d take the Moraine lake detour, which I think is more scenic than the Chagoopa Plateau, which had few views and some significant fire damage. I recommend going up to the campsite at the foot of the Elizabeth pass trail 1.5 miles from the HST.
It’s a really steep trail, but so is ALL of Elizabeth pass NB, and doing it the afternoon before starting the main pass climb made it doable, in four hours for three miles. The campsite is up Lone Pine Creek trail 1/4 mile in the trees. The Trail up was easily lost after the first mile, and took lots of cairn hunting and Gaia GPS searching for where to go. Once near the top it’s a short switchback the last few hundred feet, then miles of cobbled switchbacks down the north side. The NPS trail guy I saw in Deadman canyon said they get about five people a week on the trail. I am amazed at the enormous amount of work to make this trail from Roaring River for the number of users, but no horses ever.
One incredible sight was at the first downstream creek I crossed below Kern Hot Springs, where the slowly running water was dark brown, opaque with mud. It turned the whole Kern river muddy below that point. I’m trying to imagine how some dirt embankment collapses in late August.
One word of caution to clockwise SEKI loopers, the trail up from MFKR to Granite Pass is very steep and pure sand for at least 1000′ vertical, and the NPS trail re-supply horse guy I met above it said they call it the “bitch.” Going down is a breeze, up might be hell.
Thanks so much for this site, which helped me have the confidence to make this loop and plan it well. I look forward to my next trip in the area south of the HST, up from Mineral King.