In the past few years I’ve developed a habit. I didn’t realize it until recently, but looking back it is pretty clear. I have come to find great enjoyment in traversing across mountain ranges by the most interesting routes possible. By interesting, I usually mean high. Taking a route that stays on high ground - on ridges and high valleys, crossing through mountain passes, using a combination of off trail travel and on trail travel. My favorite routes avoid highly technical terrain, but do not hesitate to traverse talus and scree, or resort to bushwhacking if the payoff is a beautiful ridge or isolated valley. Doing that sort of route is not only fun and beautiful, but gives the traveller a deep sense of the terrain and the scope of a mountain range. It creates a level of intimacy similar to a sharing an intense experience with a good friend. What’s better than that?
This summer I will head out on a trio of high routes in beautiful alpine mountain ranges. In July, I will walk the entire Sierra High Route. The Sierra High Route is a quintessential example of this type of trip. It’s an elegant line in a gorgeous range, and relatively well known. Maybe 10 people a year attempt to walk its length. Because I grew up in California, I consider it my home mountain range. Though I have walked about half of the route on assorted trips in the past, I feel compelled to walk the whole thing, end to end in one shot. The snow levels are pretty low this year, which generally makes it a little bit easier than a very heavy snow year. I will head out in mid-July, when days will be long, and weather will likely be perfect. I’ll do it solo. That will give me freedom to move at my own pace, which is the easiest and simplest way to cover a lot of terrain. It’s no easy route, and I expect it will challenge me physically and mentally. It’s easily the most difficult of the three routes I will attempt this year. I will travel as light as possible - no stove, small tarp, and not many clothes. I will have to carry a bear canister, and I might carry a sat phone. Due to the remote nature of the route, and the fact that I’ll be alone, a sat phone will buy a lot of peace of mind. The key to success for me will be hiking long days, and staying focused on navigation to keep from making mistakes or taking inefficient routes. The route is 195 miles long, with about half of it off trail. If all goes well, I hope to do the route in about 10 days.
In August, I will join Alan Dixon and we will traverse the heart of the Wyoming’s Wind River Range, from north to south. The Winds are perfect for this type of trip. The alpine terrain is superb, and the valleys are not as deep or rugged as the Sierra. There is a very popular and excellent trail system, but many of the high valleys are devoid of trails and don’t see a lot of traffic. We will make up our own route for this trip, avoiding the popular trails and crossing the continental divide 4 times. The route will be about 90 miles long. I'm excited by this route; I think it is going to be superb.
Then in early September Karen and I will head to Switzerland and do a variation of the original and oldest alpine high route - the Haute Route which runs from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland. There are many, many variations that can be used between those two iconic mountain towns. We will opt for some of the higher and less traveled sections, probably improvising as we go. We will not travel so fast on this trip. We'll eat at huts and in some villages, and generally take our time. We might even bag a couple of peaks along the way. It’s likely we’ll finish in Zermatt, then head to Courmayeur, Italy for more climbing, and some good northern Italian atmosphere.
Man, that’s an awesome plan. I’m psyched. Higher is definitely better than lower.