To live up to its name, the Sierra Crest Route must be as close to the Sierra Crest as possible. To designate this distance as a maximum of one mile was somewhat arbitrary, but it seemed appropriate. Most of the route, however, is well within one -half mile of the Crest.Due to its nearness to the Crest, the Route must also be cross country. As it turned out, all segments of the Crest Route and its alternatives can be traveled cross-country. Virtually all of the trails encountered on the Route have an east-west orientation and will therefore be crossed instead of paralleled. There are, however, three sections—the ridgeline from Trail Crest to the summit of Mount Whitney, the route through the southern Mono Pass, and the Mammoth Crest—where a trail does closely parallel the Route. On these occasions, it will be up to the individual to decide whether to follow the trail, maintain the intended cross-country character of the Route and parallel it, or take an alternative route. This decision will also have to be made on several parts of the Route where use trails exist.

Since the Crest Route is designed to be a mountaineering rather than a rock climbing route, the last requirement is that there be no individual move on the route that is technically more difficult than class 3. Based on my evaluations, and, where available, ratings in various climbing and mountaineering guidebooks, all moves on the Route meet this requirement. There are, however, two crossings, “Jones Pass” and “Jones Traverse,” that, because of their exposure and route finding difficulties, travelers might feel are more difficult than class 3.

This guide is divided into individual sections that correspond to each of the nine geographic areas that make up the Sierra Crest Route. Each section includes historical information, a description of its segment of the Crest Route, alternative routes, other approaches and escape routes, and mountaineering opportunities.

The areas surrounding the Crest Route all have a unique and fascinating history. It is not my intent to describe this history in detail, but to pick a sample what I think are the major historical events that occurred in each area.

From the several different possibilities, I chose the line of the main Crest Route by evaluating which one best met my three basic requirements. The options that were left are included as alternative routes. These are all interesting and spectacular cross-country routes that are well worth the time and effort necessary to explore them.

The Crest Route and each of its alternatives are described in sufficient detail that an experienced Sierra mountaineer who is familiar with cross-country travel and the proper use of a map and compass should have no problem following any of them. However, it was not my purpose to compile an explicit, step-by-step guide. It is my belief that, because of the route’s remoteness, difficulty, etc, the individuals who attempt it will be those who possess a much more highly developed sense of adventure than the normal backpacker/mountaineer. Instead of just following exact directions, these individuals will want more of a challenge, a chance to utilize their own initiative, skills, and knowledge to complete the Route with a minimum of outside guidance. Therefore, even though the directions are sufficient, they are general. I have included no distances, except the overall distance of the Route. Further, no maps are included, only the eight major cardinal points on a compass are utilized to tell direction, and only the altitude and difficulty of the various features on the Route are included.

There is no description of the route from north to south, which makes this the most challenging direction to travel. Traveling in this direction also allows hikers to save a small amount of climbing because they will start at a higher altitude than they will finish. The advantages of traveling south to north are the included route descriptions, the snow clears earlier because there is less of it, and the sun is always behind the hiker.

Virtually all of the known approaches and/or escape routes have also been listed and described. This allows for maximum flexibility in determining where to begin and end a trip, and also a more rapid evacuation in an emergency.

From the Crest Route and its alternatives, over 115 named Sierra peaks (approximately seven 14,000ers, sixty-eight 13,000ers, and forty-six 12,000ers) along with hundreds of unnamed ones are easily accessible via class 3 or easier routes. Each peak is listed by name, altitude, practical ascent lines from the Crest Route or its alternatives, and the objective difficulty of each. There are also many unnamed peaks to challenge the mountaineer.

The objective difficulty of each peak, pass, and trail included in this guide is rated utilizing the Yosemite Decimal System. This rating system below was determined by utilizing various guidebooks, and my own experience.

Class 1 – This involves cross-country hiking.
Class 2 – This includes scrambling, along with low-angled and/or loose talus. Hands might be needed but only for balance. There is minimal risk of serious injury.
Class 3 Terrain becomes steep enough that both hand and footholds become necessary, but they are large and easy to find. The hands will be used for climbing instead of just balance. A rope and a minimal climbing rack should be carried for inexperienced climbers, or in case the group gets off route. Exposure increases to the point that a fall could result in serious injury.
Class 4 – Much more exposed climbing is encountered. A rope should always be used. Because of smaller holds and much greater exposure, a fall would quite likely be fatal.

As above, class 1 and 2 routes will be printed in normal type. Class 3 routes will be displayed in italic to emphasize the fact each one involves extra skills, experience, and commitment. There are no intended class 4 routes. This rating is included because of the possibility of a group somehow getting off route. Because of this possibility, each group member must have the necessary equipment, and be able to safely climb and descend at the class 4 level.

For convenience sake, I took the liberty of placing names on several Crest Route features. However, it was not my intent, at this time, to permanently name any these features. It’s much easier to refer to a pass as “Lincoln Col” rather than “the large notch on the southeast ridge of Red-and-White Peak.” All of these place names either refer to a distinctive feature bordering the pass or to an individual who played a significant part in the early history of the area. Place names denoting distinctive features include “Trojan Pass,” “Spencer Pass,” “Granite Park Pass,” and “Julius Caesar Pass.” Passes identifed for individuals include “Jones Pass” and “Jones Traverse” (Fred L. Jones), “Sturgeon Pass” (Jack Sturgeon), “Smatko Pass,” (Andrew Smatko), “Lincoln Col” (Lincoln Hutchinson), “Pike Pass,” (Robert Pike), “E.C. Pass” (E.C. Hutchinson), and “Olmsted Pass” (Fredrick L. Olmsted).

Lastly, his guide is not a finished product. It is my vision. It is what I saw when I looked at my goal and the restrictions I had placed on achieving it. Ideally, others will see things differently and will then hopefully take it upon themselves to explore other options, and, in this way, make improvements to the Route. Credit will certainly be given in any subsequent editions of this guide for any changes or additions.

Back To Top