The Sierra High Route

This is “it”; the ultimate Sierra Classic ski tour. First skied in its entirety in 1975 by Sierra veteran Dave Beck, this subtle line linking high passes and long contours around huge snow filled bowls has become the goal of many a backcountry skier. Starting in the low desert of the Eastern Sierra and crossing some of the more rugged parts of the Sierra Nevada this is not a tour for the beginning skier.

Often compared to the famous “Haute Route” of the European Alps or Colorado’s Tenth Mountain Trail, this is a true extended wilderness ski tour, with no huts, few other people and no nearby roads. For the experienced backcountry skier with good backcountry skills it will be a truly outstanding venture; the essence of ski mountaineering.


Kearsarge start
7 days, 6 nights. 37 miles. 12,800 feet of ascent; 14,700 of descent

Shepherd start
6 days, 5 nights. 36 miles. 13,000 feet of ascent; 12,200 of descent

This is a long tour and pack weight needs to be kept as low as possible. We will be carefully selecting equipment to reduce weight and we will work with you to ensure that packs do not weigh more then about 45 pound plus the weight of your skis when we start out. For those coming from the Bay area, or nearby, we will try to arrange a flight prior to the trip. If there are enough people to warrant this you will drive to and meet the plane the evening before the trip starts.

We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000 feet) just prior to the trip. Spending a night or two in Mammoth or camped at the trailhead campground would do the trick.

SMC does not rent ski equipment, but we work with Mammoth Mountaineering (760-934-4191) to get you set up on the correct equipment. MMS has a very wide range of rental equipment that is probably the best you will find anywhere in California. All gear is current state of the art, well tuned and rental fees are deductible if you buy a set up from them. (We highly recommend renting before you buy so as to find what suits you best, since a full setup is pretty pricey). We can coordinate the rental and suggest that if you can you arrive Mammoth the night before and get fully set up since boot fitting can take some time.

Read an account of skiing the High Route with SMC by Ray Purcell

Return to Backcountry Spring Tours

We offer two variation starts to this wonderful route:

  • The classic and original route starts from the sagebrush and pines west of Independence and ascends Symmes Creek spending the first night at Anvil Camp. The next day we cross Shepherd Pass before descending Tyndall Creek to the Kern River and camp alongside Milestone Creek.
  • For those with a little more time we offer our favorite variation start that offers uniquely remote travel and steeper pass crossings than the regular route. For this we start at Onion Valley and cross Kearsarge Pass, dropping down past Bullfrog Lake to Bubbs Creek. Travelling up Vidette Creek we crossing Deerhorn Saddle and Erickson Col before rejoining the regular route at Milestone Creek.

Both variations join in the upper reaches of the Kern River where we climb up Milestone Creek, climbing to just below the summit of imposing Milestone Mountain as we follow the divide between the Kings, Kern and Kaweah Rivers. Steady contours lead us around vast bowls of prime snow and the legendary slopes of Cloud and Deadman’s Canyons. The problem here is resisting the overwhelming temptation to drop the packs and ski a several thousand foot run to the valley floor below; and then be faced with the long haul back up.
Miles of gentle downhill takes us through the amazing undulating Tablelands, below Alta Peak, and down to the giant sequoias at Wolverton. From here we are picked up by our shuttle van and head to Visalia and return back to the east side by either van or plane flight depending upon availability

No matter which start variation you choose, this is one of the finest ski tours in the world and one to be long remembered.

Program Prerequisites:

You need SMC Advanced Ski Skills or better for this tour.

You need advanced ski skills for this tour. You should be able to ski advanced ski area runs confidently and be proficient at kick turns, traversing on 40 degree slopes, side slipping and parallel or telemark turns all while carrying a pack of about 40 pounds. Prior winter camping and mountaineering skills are required. You will be travelling up to seven miles a day and gaining up to 3000 feet a day so an excellent level of aerobic fitness is required.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, van shuttle, air charter, permits, all necessary group gear, avalanche beacons, tents, kitchen gear and dinners, lunches and breakfasts (you bring snack items).

We do not include accommodation in the pricing but can make local suggestions for you.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details and itinerary
    Equipment list
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

SHR ski tour map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.