View Full Version : Southern Seirras

Sean Chilibeck
9-Apr-2014, 17:41
Not another California question!

I'm going to be doing a quick 2 week road trip through central/southern California, planning on hitting Joshua Tree, Sequoia/Kings Canyon and then up highway 1 to San Fran. It's brief but that's what I have for time off, so not much choice....

I was wondering if anyone has some suggestions for good places to see in the Southern Sierra Nevada? There are two of us (Girlfriend and I) and we are fairly capable backpackers/climbers (although used to more northern latitudes such as the Yukon and Newfoundland), and we're looking at spending 2-4 days there, hopefully get a little deeper into the area than just the parking lot and day hikes, and away from the crowds.

No offroading though, our econo rental probably wont take much abuse.

Thanks for your help.

Edit: Clarifying which Sierra

9-Apr-2014, 17:55
Make sure you de-pluralize, otherwise you may find yourselves in the Sierra Blanca, Negra, Cordillera, etc. rather than California's Sierra Nevada.

What time of year? There is quick road and trail access to high elevations along US 395 all along the eastern side of the range, season permitting. This will be a longer season than normal given the existing scanty snowpack.

Holy Mother of…. Dakotah beat me to it by milliseconds. Sure to garner heated controversy, it looks as though I may actually have someone on my linguistic side! – I think?!? (Francis, always ;)).

Sean Chilibeck
9-Apr-2014, 18:39
The Spanish word sierra means "range of mountains," and is usually found in combination with other words, such as Sierra Blanca (White Range), Sierra Madre (Mother Range, or Central Range), and Nevada (Snowy Range). Occasionally las sierras is used to designate a group of mountain ranges or ridges. In the Spanish narratives of exploration una sierra nevada is frequently found written without capital initials, referring simply to a snow-covered range of mountains. It was in this that our own Sierra Nevada was first designated. Early in the nineteenth century it was sometimes called the California Range by American explorers, but gradually the Spanish phrase prevailed, and after a while it became a specific name and took its place on all maps. The Sierra Nevada is distinctly a unit, both geographically and topographically, and is well described as "una sierra nevada." Strictly speaking, therefore, we should never say "Sierras," or "High Sierras," or "Sierra Nevadas" in referring to it. Nevertheless, these forms are so frequently found in the very best works of literature and science that it would perhaps be pedantic to deny their admissibility. It becomes, therefore, a matter of preference, and for our part we rather like to keep in mind the unity of our great range by calling it simply "The Sierra" or "The Sierra Nevada."

Having thus promised not to look askance at "Sierras," we may perhaps be spared the pain of hearing "Sierra Nevada Mountains." Surely one does not say "Loch Katrine Lake," "Rio Grande River," or "Saint San Francisco".

[This note by Francis Farquhar, the authority on Sierra place names, first appeared in the Bulletin (Sierra Club) in 1928. Largely owing to his editorial effort, the name "Sierras" is even less admissible now than it was then. Some speakers and writers have gone farther than Farquhar would wish: they drop the terminal s all right, but, forgetting the unity of the range, they consider the name to be plural, e.g., "The Sierra are ...." The name "Sierras" is still stuck to by a few recalcitrants who probably concluded that logic has nothing to do with the acceptance place names, and who could cite, in accepted nomenclature, many redundancies such as Little Chico Creek (Little Little Creek).

We cannot argue logically with persons who deprecate logic; nevertheless, we can call them names. So we aver that the man who will say "Sierras" will also say "Frisco," and is probably on a par with the printer who would letter-space lower case type. Such a printer, said Goudy, would steal sheep.]

Excerpt from the 1947 Sierra Club Bulletin. ed. David Brower

Thanks for the linguistic history, I knew that coming here would give me some more interesting results than pondering over maps. The mistake will not be made again, I understand it is a difficult battle keeping prescriptive away from descriptive definitions (and in this case common ill informed mistakes away from prescriptive).

I will edit my original post to reflect the incorrect naming, but I think I have to live in shame of the title. I will be going there mid-late April.

Thanks for the advice ROL, I'll look into the east side, will there be significant snow pack remaining? How is HWY 120 coming back over?

9-Apr-2014, 19:07
Check with the park service. Tioga Pass will most likely be closed................unless there was little snow and they cleared the pass. Very doubtful. The only other pass will be at Truckee quite a ways north. US 395 does have some fantastic scenery any time of year. Mono Lake, Horseshoe Canyon (June Lake), Glass Mountains, Convict Lake, McGee Creek, Mammoth Lakes and the ski area (lodging may be difficult) a bit further south in the Owens Valley is Mt Whitney and Death Valley a couple hours east of there. White Mountains on the east side of the Owens Valley. Bristle Cone Pine forest (not what you might call a forest when compared to Sequoia). A great place for photography. Have a good time.

Bill Burk
9-Apr-2014, 19:21
Here's a thread full of fun suggestions and includes a follow-up from the original poster...


9-Apr-2014, 19:28
Thanks for the advice ROL, I'll look into the east side, will there be significant snow pack remaining? How is HWY 120 coming back over?

There is no significant snowpack this year (e.g., ~30% of normal). 120 through Yosemite, the southernmost trans-Sierra road, will likely be open late April – early May: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tioga.htm (http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tioga.htm), but may be open to the Tioga gate on the east earlier.

BTW, I forgot to mention (shill :o) the recently published iBook, The Range of Light (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-range-of-light/id793011500?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4). While more of a fine art, coffee table style, book, it does include an extensive glossary of locations …and place names.

9-Apr-2014, 21:34

As ROL noted above, this winter left with a very shallow snowpack. In fact most of the snow that we did receive came within the last couple of weeks and a high pressure is presently building up and the big melt has begun. This is likely to continue and the high country may very well be open for the experienced, well equipped, and fit visitor much earlier than normal. For a snap shot opinion of the current conditions on the PCT and JMT, see http://www.pcta.org/2014/state-snowpack-pctjmt-high-sierra-18573/ posted just yesterday on the PCTA website. Thru hikers on the PCT traditionally start from Mexico in April and arrive in the central Sierra around June. Personally, I like to hike the JMT in June because its much more scenic with snow in the passes and on the peaks.

One option (out of many possibilities) that you may want to consider is a 50 mile loop hike over Kearsarge Pass and back out Whitney Portal summiting Mt. Whitney on the way out. Kearsarge Pass (~12,000') is the quickest (and easiest) way to access the PCT/JMT (5 miles from the parking lot over Kearsarge Pass) from Hwy 395 and is a traditional resupply point for PCT thru hikers.

For up to date trail conditions in Kings Canyon and Sequoia, see http://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/trailcond.htm and google other sites. For an "...accessible introduction to one of the most magnificent regions of the American West, detailing the geology, natural history, and the early explorations of the highest part of California's Sierra Nevada range..." see Exploring The Highest Sierra by James H Moore, Stanford University Press 2000.


9-Apr-2014, 21:59
So in just a week or two. Even with a low snowpack too early for all but lowest elevation Sierra backpacking so you will need to adjust from the usual summer mindset to what is less known. Passes for SR120, SR108, and SR4 will remain closed thus any notion of US395 would require driving far north before returning to the west side. Won't be that worthwhile in any case with most of backpacking trail destinations under snow and looking up at the crest from the Owens Valley. Web search on places I mention below and might check the wildflower hotlines on the desertusa.com site.

Leaving Joshua Tree drive northwest SR247, SR18, SR138, north on 170th St E to Saddleback Butte, west on E Ave J past Lancaster north on 110th St W to Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Continue west on SR138 to I5 then north over Tejon Pass and down into the San Joaquin Valley. Take US99 north to Visalia then SR198 east into Sequoia NP and Giant Forest. Visit Moro Rock late afternoon. Your only small hope for any high country trails will be Alta Peak though expect forest areas will still be under the considerable recent snows.

Backtrack east to Visalia then west on SR41 to San Luis Obispo. Might vist Montana del Oro State Park. Then north on route 1 north along the Big Sur Coast, where there are several well known places of interest. At Soberanes Creek take the Rocky Ridge Trail and trail around Soberanes Point. Then north at Carmel spend a whole day at Point Lobos State Reserve and Carmel River State Beach then drive into Monterey with a half day at the aquarium and drive along the shore at Pacific Grove.

Drive east on SR152 to Pachco Pass where at Pacheco Pass State Park take the Dinosaur Lake trail through blue oak savana that is nicely green and flowery. Drive back west to US101 and north into the SF Bay Area.

16-Apr-2014, 16:09
Changes are coming fast in the high country: http://blog.sfgate.com/stienstra/2014/04/14/yosemites-glacier-point-open-at-noon-monday/ Expect an early hiking season.


Drew Wiley
16-Apr-2014, 16:24
Everyone who ever grew up in the Sierras calls them the Sierras, and anyone who can't respect that is what we call a "varmit", whether or not even that is correctly
spelled. Otherwise, just remember those high country streams will still have dangerous runoff early on, drought year or not. And yes, I'm anticipating getting up there soon, and anticipating the usual post-melt greeting by about ten million mosquitoes. Fortunately, in years such as this, their onslaught abates earlier than
normal - maybe around mid-July this round, but it all depends on the elevation. And it's not always a good idea to be in the first wave of cars over the high road passes. Meltwater still tends to freeze up in places. ... But sound like in this case, most of the exploration will be on West side of the range ... and roads giving a
view of Sequoia and Kings will be open well before the passes themselves.

Drew Wiley
16-Apr-2014, 16:31
But Reallly .... two to four days?..... Better stick to just one spot if you want to get past the herd, which is more easily accomplished in Sequoia/Kings than in Yosemite. You could go any number of places. There are only thousands of choices in the Sierras. Try too many at once and you'll miss it all !

Drew Wiley
17-Apr-2014, 11:11
Back to nomenclature ... I don't think anyone who goes around with the name of Farquar has the right to tell anyone what to name something else. Sounds like
someone in a Jackie Gleason episode. .. And my apologies to anyone in 'Frisco who might be so named themselves. Blame your parents, not yourself.

17-Apr-2014, 11:20
I wonder if dogwood is in bloom in the valley now?


Drew Wiley
17-Apr-2014, 11:28
Seems awfully early for dogwood.

17-Apr-2014, 11:44
Traditionally sometime in May. But it bloomed in late April last year http://www.jmg-galleries.com/blog/2013/04/30/dogwoods-blooming-yosemite-national-park/ and with the warmer than usual winter it may also bloom early this year.


Drew Wiley
17-Apr-2014, 11:52
On weird year like this, it's not just the winter temperatures, but when sufficient rainfall and light hits, and then... Maybe somebody has been there recently. Kinda like our Mt Diablo around here, which started instantly blooming everything at once, just as soon as things finally got green - everything from late Feb to May flowers
all at the same time (quite a treat). Ironically, it was the lack of tall grass competing for the light which was one of the factors. Dogwood is a bit shade-loving, but
still wants some light. On the road up to Crane Flat, it's more in sync with other places in the "Sierras" at similar elevations. The meadowy environment down in the
Valley changes the rules a bit.