I‘ve been busy for the last couple of weeks getting my gear ready for the upcoming High Sierra Trail trip in Sequoia National Park for 9 straight days. It involves an average of 3,000 plus feet elevation gain and 8 plus miles of distance per day. My friend and I tested the weight of our packs by backpacking Mt. San Jacinto. And based on what I learned from it, getting the pack weight as light as I could was my goal.
HIGH SIERRA TRAIL
The High Sierra Trail, aka HST, is one of the best thru hike trails in Sequoia that an avid backpacker thought of hiking at least once. Of course, it doesn’t have the popularity of the John Muir Trail (JMT), or the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Many backpackers dream of hiking those two and many also have done them.
The HST is in Sequoia National Park and the trail crosses the south part of the Sierra Nevada from west to east. It typically starts from Crescent Meadow to the Whitney summit, and exiting Whitney Portal. Since it ends up at the Whitney summit (although some exit Horseshoe Meadows instead), it shares some parts of the JMT as well as the PCT.
NOTE: As I was writing this, a fire broke out at Horseshoe Meadows Campground. The area got closed and the permits are no longer issued. The fire spread so quickly that within five hours it’s estimated that twenty five acres have been burned already. Hope that it gets contained soon. Please, check the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page for updates.
WHAT’S INVOLVED IN HIKING HIGH SIERRA TRAIL
Unlike the JMT and the PCT, though, the High Sierra Trail has no stations to send resupplies to. It means that however many days one would like to finish it for, he/she must carry in all the food with him/herself.
However, the most difficult part of the High Sierra Trail trip is getting the logistics secured. It involves how to reach the starting point as well as how to go home once the end is reached due to its far distance. It may be 72.2-73 miles of the backpacking trail from west to east. But, in terms of driving, 5 hours is given from one end to the other.
In my view, these are the two main culprits of the High Sierra Trail being not as popular as the two aforementioned trails. Especially, getting to Crescent Meadow isn’t as popular as getting to Happy Isles in Yosemite.
Of course, doing the PCT is a no joke. For one, taking more than 3 months off from whatever you do – work and/or school. But, at least one can leave the trail for a day to gather resupplies. Or one can send him/herself resupplies in advance to the anticipated stations to reach.
TESTING GEAR FOR HIGH SIERRA TRAIL
My friend and I as a team got the logistics part taken care of by planning to bring two vehicles, which is typical (some use paid rides). And we tested the weight of our packs by backpacking Mt. San Jacinto.
Lugging my backpack, which weighed about 65 lb., was not an easy task when the elevation gain was 4,230 feet. Unlike in Sequoia, lack of water was an issue in backpacking Mt. San Jacinto. Especially, considering the afternoon heat.
So, we carried extra water.
Please take a look the track on Gaia GPS if you’re interested in backpacking Mt. San Jacinto.
However, it turned out that we didn’t actually have to carry that much water with us from Deer Springs trailhead. Because North Fork San Jacinto River stream, which Deer Springs trail crosses, was quite flowing nicely. And it is only about 1/2 mile away from the first campground at Little Round Valley, which was our destination.
While spending the night at Little Round Valley, the weather cooperated with us. Contrary to the initial rain in the forecast. So, it was a perfect night for gazing stars and the Milky Way, in spite of the light pollution from Hemet.
LEARNING FROM TEST RUN
Each of us learned so much from this one nighter as to what to unload to reduce the overall weight of the pack. Of course, the weight will get lighter as the food disappears each day.
But, for me, 65 lb. wasn’t it.
I definitely had work cut out for myself.
The weight of a backpack is usually broken down into two categories – base weight and food (and water). In my case, as you guessed it, three categories. The third being camera gear. After the backpacking trip to Little Round Valley, I got to work.
My aim was to reduce the weight from 65 lb. to under 50 lb., preferably 48 lb.
Some may ask why I would be carrying 9 day worth of food for the High Sierra Trail backpacking, when some did it in 7 days. Can’t I finish it in 7 days?
To answer that question, I’d like to point out that my goal is to take as many (hopefully amazing) photos as I can. This is an once in a life time opportunity (although some may have done it more than once). And as a landscape/adventure photographer, if I can’t bring my camera, there’s no point of backpacking there, to be honest.
In other words, I do not want to nor plan to rush through it. Backpacking the High Sierra Trail for 9 days is a balancing act that I believe I can manage, not too long or not too short, considering the amount of weight that I would be carrying.
This was the easiest category where I removed a lot of weight. Currently it stands at 22.19 lb.
ESSENTIAL VS. CONVENIENCE
I am taking a bit of risk in terms of lightening the load by not taking all the usual layers of clothing. But every ounce matters on this trip, where I seriously have no control over. So, I decided to leave out anything according to the essential vs. convenience logic.
Since buying new items that are much lighter and replacing some of my gear wasn’t an option, it came down to working as efficiently as I can with what I have. I didn’t give it a second thought if anything deemed to be in favor for convenience rather than essential.
Considering how cold it is at night at certain elevations, and thanks to the warnings about almost unavoidable afternoon rains from a backpacker who finished the High Sierra Trail backpacking literally a few days ago, it was crucial to keep the warm layers and down jacket.
And I opted for the poncho, instead of my usual rain jacket. It is lighter but is also easier to handle my camera under the poncho than the jacket when it actually rains.
One of the adaptations that I made along with this effort to reduce the overall weight was the water system.
This is a very popular Sawyer filter combined with SmartWater bottle system for many backpackers. Obviously, it would not make the weight a whole lot lighter but certainly provides an easy access. No more keeping those typical reservoirs inside the pack.
Notice that I hooked up the tubing to the dirty water end of the Sawyer filter, which stays inside the SmartWater bottle. The rest is self-explanatory.
I am also carrying a 1L Platypus foldable water bottle to carry some extra water in case I need it. The backpacker who recently finished the HST advised that it was not necessary to carry more than 1L of water between water sources, which I believe. However, the Platypus bottle will be also used for cooking at the end of each day.
NOTE: I will also carry a 0.5L Vapur foldable bottle as well if you look at the base gear photo above, which I would be using for powder shakes.
In terms of counting to the ounce, what I did was ditching as many containers and casings as I could. One of the items that I could do just that was toothpaste. Of course, smaller tubing helps in general, but that is only so much. And we all know that we don’t need a whole lot of it while on the trail.
So, I decided to dehydrate it. I had read about this practice for ultralight backpackers, and it always lingered in my mind. Till now.
And by doing so, shave off more than a couple of ounces?
At the end of the day, it is me who would be carrying so much weight. It is me who would be having hard time climbing uphill. So, yes, I am wholeheartedly embracing it.
And now the 9 day worth of toothpaste weighs 0.30 oz as you see it above.
NOTE: Some leave it out for days, depending on humidity level, and let it dry, but also dehydrating it is recommended if one has one.
Repacking all the meals and snacks were the most difficult challenge I faced. To begin with, I wasn’t even able to fit all of it in the bear canister that I thought I needed.
As you may be well aware, a bear canister is a must for backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, except for the areas where they are not required. So, stuffing all 9 day worth of food that I had along with anything that had odor and would attract bears was an extreme challenge to say the least.
So, in order to solve the problem, I decided to replace anything with something that would provide similar or more amount of potassium and sodium.
As I noted in the previous post about potassium intake, potassium was one of the major nutrients that I closely kept my eyes on.
Because my body would need it. Being out of food when you’re so exhausted and hungry is one thing. Being out of the nutrients that your body needs is another.
And of course, there’s dinner meals – dehydrated spaghetti.
In this photo, one thing that is missing is coconut milk powder, which is the item that I chose for a good amount of calorie (350) and a bit of sodium (55g) for breakfast.
This has been carefully calculated and chosen based on the level of hiking that I would be doing, burning about 2,500 calories a day.
It meant I need;
- 375g of carbs
- 4,700mg of potassium
- 2,400mg of sodium
- and others
Reorganizing food consumed the most amount of time.
However, it now stands at 12.61 lb.
This was relatively easy when I only focused on the essential vs. convenience logic, although I struggled with some of the items for a bit.
The one item missing in the photo above is my MeFoto tripod, which weighs 3.58 lb.
CAN’T HAVE ENOUGH BATTERIES
In spite of the fact that I could go as conservative as I could in terms of taking shots, which would lead to less usage of battery, I wanted to make sure that I was fully covered no matter what.
No (amateur or professional) photographer wants to walk away in the middle of a shoot because he/she ran out of battery.
I learned from my last road trip that on average I used 2 Canon batteries and 2 GoPro batteries on a decent length shoot. They are a few long exposure shots on 5-6 different setups, including night photography, and a few 10-20 second time lapse videos on 7-8 different setups.
And we all know, unless you’re not too familiar with, how terribly solar panels work. For one, it takes long time to charge a battery bank. even when scorching sunlight beats down on the panels.
It simply takes time.
Considering all the unforeseen factors while backpacking (for instance, overcast), it could be a challenge to have the batteries charged up at all times.
So, I decided to take as many batteries as I can carry in my backpack. Of course, it resulted in giving up other items. Because the same essential vs. convenience logic kicked in.
LIGHTER, LIGHTER, LIGHTER
However, I had to think hard about giving up on certain items. Such as two lenses (70-200mm and 50mm), another set of GoalZero solar panel and power bank, and my GoPro dedicated tripod Joby.
Then again, I didn’t think twice about ditching my heavy duty Manfrotto tripod, weighing 5.65 lb.
Bottom line for my camera gear – 15.02 lb.
TOTAL PACK WEIGHT FOR HIGH SIERRA TRAIL BACKPACKING
So, after all this shaving off excessive weight that I could compromise, the total weight of my pack before water has become 49.82 lb.
And as a test run, I put the pack on my back with the SmartWater bottle filled with water and went for a 1.25 mile walk. Since it didn’t involve much of elevation gain and loss, it’s hard to tell how heavy it would actually feel going uphill.
But it certainly weighs a whole lot less than it was before – 65 lb. vs. 52 lb., including 1L of water (2.2 lb.).
Am I happy about that?
Well, ask any photographer if it would make them happy about that.
But I know this much. My knees, shoulders and waist will really appreciate this on the trail.
NOTE: I have not included the part of the base gear that I would be wearing on the first day and onward. They are a shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of socks, a pair of sock liners, a hat, a pair of boots and a pair of trekking poles. They weigh 1.62 lb in total.
LEAVING FOR HIGH SIERRA TRAIL
NOTE: Because there’s a construction going on in Whitney Portal parking lot, hikers are allowed to park their vehicles there only up to 3 consecutive days this year. Many JMT thru hikers and other backpackers starting or exiting Whitney Portal have to park their vehicles either near Lone Pine Campground (not in the campground because it is strictly reserved for its campers) or in Lone Pine and get a ride in and out. Because of that reason, some backpackers also exit via Horseshoe Meadows instead.
In terms of transportation, we are bringing two vehicles. My friend and I travel separately to Lone Pine Campground and then leave one vehicle there. Then, we drive together in the other vehicle to our destination Lodgepole Campground.
We start from Crescent Meadow trailhead and exit via Whitney Portal. Once we are done, we retrieve the other vehicle parked at Lone Pine Campground and drive back to the other side of the Sierra Nevada to get to the vehicle parked at Crescent Meadow trailhead.
Once we are all done with backpacking the High Sierra Trail, we will stick around the area because we also have a Half Dome day hike scheduled that week, which will be also an unforgettable highlight of the trip!
Have you ever done the High Sierra Trail? Or other thru hikes? What was the heaviest amount of weight you carried? For how many days? What do you think about the overall weight of mine?
Thanks for reading.