Hiking Across the Sierra from Deluxe to Ridiculous

Oct 20, 2020

Hiking in the Eastern Sierra is imminently satisfying in and of itself: gaining a ridge or reaching the pass or summiting a peak are all very worthy goals. But there’s something about crossing a mountain range that makes you feel extraordinarily accomplished and closer to the land, somehow pioneering.

Indeed, many trans-Sierra hiking trails are historic paths once trod by native Americans, miners and enterprising explorers. While John Muir made due with a loaf of bread, today’s trans-Sierra hiker has much more to look forward to on the other end, thanks to some choice trailside destinations (which also come in handy when arranging a pickup for these one-way trips.)

Depending on the hiker’s skill level, sanity and credit card limit, there are many possibilities. These trips work as day hikes/runs for the fittest (and logistically savvy) or as multi-day backpacks.  

Mono Classic: Rock Creek to Edison Lake

Start: Mosquito Flat trailhead

Finish: Vermilion Valley Resort

Mileage: 18

Entertainment Value: Hiker High

More Information: www.EdisonLake.com

Jim Clement, owner of Vermilion Valley Resort, winters in Bishop and has made the trek from Rock Creek to Edison Lake many times. The trail along Mono Creek is a classic, he says, especially in autumn. In high summer, he recommends a detour up into the Laurel/Grinell Lakes drainage or second recess for solitude and scenery.

Whatever you do, make to Lake Edison’s east end by 9:45am or 4:45pm for the ferry ride to Vermilion Valley Resort, an oddly appealing mix of simple tent cabins and motel rooms, travel trailers and generator-powered civilization that sits at the end of Kaiser Pass Road.

You can eat well, watch the game and then sit around the campfire listening to thru-hiker trail tales (Vermilion hosts some 1200 John Muir and Pacific Crest Trail hikers each summer—go in June to experience PCT culture). Jim, who logged sixty-plus backcountry days a year himself before he bought the resort in 2004, caters to hikers of every ilk–there’s free camping at Vermilion if you arrive on foot.

Alternative: Four miles from Mammoth Pass to Reds Meadow Resort (ok…it’s not all the way across but it is over the crest, with great diner grub, cowboys and an easy shuttle back up the hill)  

Piute Canyon Hot Spring Cruise: North Lake to Muir Trail Ranch

Start: North Lake, west of Bishop

Finish: Muir Trail Ranch, John Muir Wilderness

Mileage: 22

Price: Moderate

Relaxation Factor: High

Information: MuirTrailRanch.com

Follow a gently ascending trail to Piute Pass, then descend into Humphreys Basin and Piute Canyon to meet the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail. If you’re on a day trip, you’ll get a few stares due to your lack of luggage, but at this point you’re just a couple miles from the paradise that is Muir Trail Ranch. Once tough for hikers to access, the ranch now offers “short stays” in tent and log cabins. These overnights include tasty meals and soaks in the private spring-fed tubs on the historic property, a private in-holding surrounded by wilderness.

Alternative: Skip the ranch and loop back on the JMT to finish at South Lake (or vice versa) for the local trail runners’ favorite long day trip (54 miles). It’s only 16,000 feet of elevation change.  

The Devil’s Deluxe: The Mammoth Trail

Start: Devils Postpile

Finish: Clover Meadow/Mammoth Trailhead

Mileage:19 Price: Expensive

Information: ChateauSureau.com

Disclaimer: you don’t have to stay at a Relais and Chateau property to do this hike, but it sure is a lot more fun if you do. Just grab a day pack, little black dress and your favorite Manolos and drive to the trailhead before 7 am. You’ll be happy for the early start as you trek through sometimes deep pumice to King’s Creek, then up to Summit Meadow (not really a meadow, or the summit) and the Granite Stairway along the old Mammoth Trail, which connected the Sierra mining camps to “Fresno Flats” (a.k.a. Oakhurst) in the 1880s. The trail ends on a steep note, gaining some 1500 feet in a couple miles to go from the North Fork San Joaquin River to the Mammoth Trailhead, which does feature a great view of the ski area. If you’ve arranged things with Erna at Chateau du Sureau, you’ll have a Hummer waiting at the trailhead, ready to whisk you downhill (20 very slow miles) to the luxury hotel and restaurant.

Alternative: Opt for a multi-day trip from Devils Postpile or Agnew Meadows to Yosemite Valley, and book a stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Stacy Corless

Stacy Corless moved to Mammoth in 1998 and has been writing and exploring ever since. She co-founded Eastside magazine in 2007, and served as executive director of two local nonprofits. She'll take office on the Mono County Board of Supervisors in January. See more of Stacy's posts and find her online at stacycorless.com

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