The Sierra Nevada Mountains - Main Page timberlinetrails.net
Continent: North America Country: United States State: California
|California's Sierra Nevada, Spanish
for "Snowy Mountain," is a massive
block of granite, called a batholith.
Heavy snow falls during most winters,
and there are many permanent snow
patches and several small glaciers.
Glaciers were much heavier in the past,
evidenced by the extensive erosion in the
range, which has created spectacularly
sculpted valleys and cirques.
Fall Colors are a favorite of nearly all people. Here, you will be not only see the colors of fall,
but you will also hear the beautiful music featured at Rhythm On The Rock. The oranges, reds,
greens, and brilliant yellows seen here are a delight to the eyes, and the rhythm of the included
music will inspire your soul. So take a few minutes out of your busy schedule and enjoy the
sights and sounds of fall.
Bodie, California is a western ghost town located high in the mountains and contains more of it's
original unaltered structures than any other western ghost town to be found anywhere. See the
rare photos that were captured in the eerie fog of a freezing cold day high above the valley
floor. Also take time to enjoy more music from Rhythm On The Rock that goes along with the
images and writings that you will see at this location.
The California Deserts contain some of the driest and hottest places on earth. Yet, they contain
a beauty all their own. See the Eureka Dunes of Death Valley (second largest in the United
States), lonely trains traveling through this desolate environment, Joshua trees that stand as
sentinels of the desert, and the mysterious race track where moving rocks seem to defy gravity.
Our Photo Galleries
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the
trees of the field will clap their hands.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains have so much variety of things to do, that when it comes to
outdoor activities, it would take several lifetimes to explore all the possibilities. For just a small
sample of some of the beauty of this magnificent range, just click on the photo to the left, or
click on the following link to view our Sierra Nevada Photo Gallery. Also take the time out to
enjoy Yosemite National Park. John Muir called this national treasure, "The crown jewel of the
Sierra Nevada" or climb up Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48.
To the left is an aerial
photograph taken from a
very cool ultra light
airplane. If you are
interested in equipment
such as this, you can
check out the particulars
at the following link:
Aerial Photography My
climbing partner Mike
just acquired this
specialized aircraft, and
we hope to bring you a
whole lot more photos
from above so that you
will be able to get a far
greater understanding of
the Sierra Nevada
Mountains. To the left
you can clearly see the
advantage of having these
types of images. By being
able to identify features
from both the ground and
the air you will be able to
get your bearings far
easier than if you only
had ground images to
will just give a you a tour through
what I believe to be some of the
finest alpine terrain in all the range.
To the right, you see climbers
ascending one of the many steep
snow fields in the northern area of
During the spring months, snow
and ice conditions are excellent,
and offer the mountaineer quick
access to glaciated areas above
12,000 feet. In the upper left
corner of the image you can see
one of several beautiful meadows
that lie along the North Fork of
Big Pine Creek. (Sam Mack
Meadow). A great destination for
hikers and backpackers alike and a
great place to camp or hang out.
|Below are aerial views of the upper
half of the Palisade Glacier with
some of the key climbing
The "Doors of
Perception" offer a
challenge for the
|Above you see a climber perched atop a
small pinnacle outcropping near the
summit of Mt Humphreys. Humphreys
is another fine alpine peak with no easy
route to the top.
To the right you see an enlargement of
the above aerial view. Climbers are
working their way up the U-Notch
couloir. This chute along with the
excellent V-Notch just to the southeast
of this location are examples of alpine
ice and snow chutes in the Sierra.
They offer the Sierra ice climber ways
to test their skills. If you are
interested in climbing in this area, check
out some of the below links. They will
take you to the summit of one of the
most coveted peaks in all the Sierra.
The North Palisade:
Base Camp Getting Started Trailhead
The Approach High Camp The Climb
Summit Aerial Photo
|Well, that's just a very small example of some of the climbing/mountaineering opportunities in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There
are countless peaks, basins, ridges, aretes and rock walls for climbers of all abilities to test their skills. But before you begin any
type of climbing activity please get proper training. See our Introduction to climbing, for more information.
We also have a general Safety writeup, along with Backpacking Food, and a section on Climbing Knots and a writeup on Altitude
Sickness. This area is still under construction and we hope to offer a whole lot more information for you in the future. As time
permits we will add more details involving climbing in the Sierra Nevada. Having climbed for over 30 years off and on, it will
take a lifetime to get the thousands of slides, digital images, and stories together. So we will never run out of material for future
As mentioned above, the Sierra Nevada has a trail system second to
none, and opportunities for Hiking and Backpacking abound. The term
High Sierra applies to the alpine region above the main forest (8,000 ft +).
The photo to the right is a perfect example of this. Peaks, lake basins,
beautiful rock structures such as Temple Craig shown in the background
of the right hand image were carved by glaciation during years past.
Notice the green tint of Third Lake visible in the left hand portion of the
photo. This coloration is due to the fact that it is fed by Glaciers up
above. The grinding of hard rock produces a green silt that gives the
water it's color. Here you see hikers/backpackers negotiating the North
Fork of Big Pine Creek trail. For more about this particular trail, check
out this link: North Fork of Big Pine Creek.
The High Sierra as described above, extends about 150
miles from north of Yosemite to Cottonwood Pass and
spreads on both sides of the crest, with an average width
of about 20 miles. Between the peaks there are extensive
highlands that are relatively flat and open. This is the land
of the hiker and packer, accessible only in summer by
most, and by only the hardiest of individuals during the
winter. To the right, you are looking down into Sequoia
National Park from a vantage point known as Trail Crest
situated well above 13,000 feet in elevation. The shores
of the lakes below are accessible only to hikers,
backpackers, and pack trains. The large flat expanse
below is a perfect example of the extensive highlands
Another incredibly popular trail in the Sierra is the Mount Whitney Trail. In the above panorama, you can see Mt Whitney in the
background, with Lone Pine Peak dominating the foreground in the upper left hand portion of the photo. Below right, you see hikers
working their way up the trail. On the lower part of the Mt Whitney Trail, the path is graced with beautiful lakes, stone walkways
and meandering steams. They provide delightful camping areas for overnight stays. For many folks, a hike to the top of Mt Whitney
Beautiful Yosemite National Park is also part of
the Sierra Nevada Range. I found Yosemite to
contain some of the finest hiking in all the range.
To the left you see a view of spectacular Vernal
Falls that treats visitors, who take the time out, to
hike the wonderful Mist Trail. To the right of
Vernal Falls is a very cool stone staircase that
ascends to the top of the falls. For the more
adventurous, there is the Half Dome Cable
Ladder. It allows the non-climber to access the
summit of half dome (seen in the right hand image)
where the views are nothing short of inspiring.
Early on in my marriage, my wife and I hiked
nearly every trail out of the valley floor and found
the experience of hiking Yosemite very rewarding.
On the far south end of the Sierra Nevada is the Cottonwood Lakes Trail.
This trail offers a very high start at 10,000 feet, and provides a gentle rise
to the beautiful Cottonwood Lakes basin. I found this trail to be extremely
enjoyable. It also provides opportunities for the fisherman to test his or
For more about this trail check out the following links:
Cottonwood Lakes Trail
The Ansel Adams Wilderness is about the finest hiking/backpacking
areas in the whole Sierra. The Shadow Lake Trail is a fantastically
beautiful path that criss crosses the Ansel Adams Wilderness. John Muir
found this section of the Sierra to be his all time favorite. And it is of little
wonder. The trail skits some of the most beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and
meadows anywhere to be found in the range. The area is graced with
heavy snows during the fall, winter, and spring and this assures a provision
of plenty of snow to feed pristine glaciated slopes that will later in season
be used to bring waterfalls, lakes, and streams to full capacity. The
wildflowers (in season) and greenery found on the lower sections of the
trail will delight your senses. Shown to the right, you see backpackers
skirting picturesque Ediza Lake with the jagged Minarets in the background.
To the left you see a photo of Banner Peak
reflected in one of the lakes in the Thousand Islands
Lake District. This is a one of the all time favorite
sites for fishermen, photographers, and
backpackers. If you decide visit this area, make sure
to follow the rules and carry a bear canister to store
your scented items. During most of the year, it is
almost a guarantee that you will be visited by a bear.
Every time we have backpacked in the Thousand
Islands Lake District, there were bears in the area.
For more on Mt Ritter and the Ansel Adams
Wilderness, please check out the below links.
Base Camp Getting Started Trailhead
Shadow Lake Trail Ritter / Banner Aerial View
Sequoia National Park also
provides the back country traveler with
multitudes of opportunities for hiking
and backpacking. The scene to the left
is what you will see if you hike the
gentle Giant Forest Trail. This trail is so
accessible and mild that you will want
to take your little ones with you.
If you have not seen the Giant
Sequoias (photo to the right) you are in
for an incredible treat. The shear scale
of these trees (the largest on earth) is
nothing short of awe inspiring and there
is a whole forest of them available on
this special little trail. Just get a map
from the ranger as you enter the park,
and drive to Giant Forest. The trail
begins right out of the parking lot area.
One of the most spectacular summits in all the Sierra Nevada is Starlight Peak. Stephen F.
Porcella and Cameron M. Burns in their book "Climbing California's Fourteeners"
describe the peak this way: "The summit is a single rock monolith standing over 30 feet
high and tapering to a point only 2 feet wide. Upon reaching this diminutive point, the
climber's senses are besieged by vertigo as well as euphoria. The ridge below, much like
one's stomach, seems to drop out from beneath. More than 1,000 feet below to the east
lies the magnificent Palisade Glacier. To the west lies the incredible expanse of Dusy and
Palisade Basins. The view, like the exposure, is nothing less than exhilarating." To the
right, you see a climber standing on this very small piece of real estate known as the
Starlight Peak Summit. For more about this climb, please visit some of the below links:
Base Camp Getting Started Trailhead Along the Trail
High Camp The Climb Summit Aerial Photo
|The Sierra Nevada offers so much for the mountaineer/climber, it would be impossiblefor us to
describe even a small fraction of all the opportunities for the above types of adventure. So we
|Above is an uncontrolled slide on North Palisade. For more on this
subject, please check out the following Link: How to Glissade
|WATER IN THE SIERRA
One of the most important resources for any outdoor activity is water. With all the lakes,
steams, and rivers, the Sierra hiker, backpacker, climber, and or fisherman is rarely
without a source. But in this day and age, it is not quite as simple as just dipping your
water bottle in a lake or stream. When I first started hiking and climbing in the Sierra's,
I did just that, dipped my water bottle into a lake or stream and drank form it. But today
with the threat of all sorts of bacteria, water borne viruses, and other such undesirables,
it is now necessary to either boil, filter or chemically treat your water. Boiling is the surest
way to treat the water, but it is also the most resource hungry and time consuming of all
methods. To the right you see hikers at Mt Whitney's Trail Camp located at 12,000 feet
filtering water in order to resupply their water bottles. For heavily traveled trails (such as
the Mt Whitney Trail or the Bishop Pass Trail) filtering is more important than ever. Also
if possible try to get to an area where the water is flowing and not stagnate. Higher less
traveled areas of the Sierra are safer than lower sections where lots of human activity
(along with stock travel) pollute the water below.
quickly set in if you are not prepared.
Normally dry conditions on the eastern side
of the Sierra can give people a false sense
of security, and I have run across
backpackers and climbers who make it a
habit to go into the back country and not
carry any rain protection (such as a tent
and rain fly for overnight camping). But
even though 70 percent of all days during
the months of July and August are sunny,
there is still that 30 percent chance that
there will be some sort of rainfall. I
remember meeting one back country
traveler in the morning after a previous
night of heavy rainfall while climbing
Mt Williamson. He told me that he never
carried night time rain gear for years, but
this time he got caught. He said it was an
exercise in torture having to endure unusually cold night time summer temperatures while being soaked to the bone. He said that he
talked himself into surviving five minutes at a time until morning. We always bring rain gear for the night no matter what time of
year, and the above story should encourage us all to do so in the future. Snowfall is one of the most wonderful features of the
Sierra. Being the second snowiest mountain range on the continent, (only exceeded by the Pacific Northwest Cascades) brings with
it plenty of snow pack during the winter months. It is difficult to put a number on how much snow falls in the Sierra, however,
because it can vary greatly. For instance at Tamarack, Alpine county only 13 feet of snow fell in 1880-1881 and 73.5 feet fell in the
winter of 1906-1907.
FISHING IN THE SIERRA NEVADA
There is no end to lakes, streams, and rivers for the Sierra
fisherman to enjoy. Though not a
fisherman myself, I have certainly come across many an
angler while exploring the back country
waterways in the Sierra. I have to say there are far more
fisherman out there than climbers. After many a
conversation with anglers, they tell me that I am missing out
on one of the best activities
that the Sierra Nevada has to offer. I hear the fishing is
fantastic in these mountains. And I must confess that I do
get a bit envious around dinner time when I think of how
they must be enjoying their fresh catch while I chock down
my freeze dried chilly mack dinner. Some of the guys that
have joined me on some of my Sierra adventures are
fisherman and they tell me that
they are going to give me some
pointers on the art of fishing.
As I become a bit more
knowledgeable in this area, I will
certainly share it with you.
To the right is the fishing
regulation notice at the
Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead. It
leads up to the 7 lakes that make
up the upper meadow basin
below Mt Langley. I also hear
that the Shadow Lake Trail which
goes to Thousand Islands Lake
district has outstanding fishing
opportunities. I have a couple of friends that go up there year after year to go fishing in this
section of the Sierra Nevada. They never come back disappointed.
Hiking, Mountaineering, and Fishing are not
the only things to do in the Sierra. There are
other areas of interest that Sierra travelers
can enjoy. Just taking a ride along the
massive eastern escarpment of the mighty
Sierra Nevada Mountains on highway 395 in
the winter (as shown in the photo to the
right), is a wonder all on it's own. I love being
out and about during the winter months
exploring along the base of the Sierra.
Also, the little towns along highway 395 have
much to offer. They are part of the history of
the Sierra Nevada, and no story on the Sierra
Nevada is complete without considering the
activities that go on at the foothills of these
world famous mountains.
Above and below is just a small example of some of the things that you can do in these magnificent mountains. We hope to
add much more in the future.
SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAIN CLIMBING OPPORTUNITIES Mountain Safety Hypothermia
Mountain Climbing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is like none other in the world. The shear scale, the fine granite rock, the
magnificent lighting, along with varied terrain and mild weather (in comparison to other mountain ranges on earth), make the Sierra
Nevada a mecca for mountaineers and climbers. After climbing in the Sierra Nevada for years, I can say with confidence that these
mountains have something to offer climbers of all ages and abilities. From easy scrambles to heart stopping sheer walls of smooth
granite and vertical ice. No climber will come away disappointed. Yosemite offers the rock gymnast climbing opportunities that are
the envy of the world. If you are in to more remote and mixed climbing that offers glacier travel, snow and ice climbing, and rock
walls to boot, try the most alpine region in all the Sierra Nevada, the Palisade Crest.
from Hwy 395
most of the winter, and near perfect
corn snow during the spring months.
If you are a climber/mountaineer
there are more than enough rock
walls, high angle gullies, ridges,
peaks and summits to last a life time.
Keep a camera handy on all your
trips, because the lighting conditions
and scenes are so beautiful that you
will be constantly reaching for it.
Add to this the fantastic California
mountain weather, and no wonder
folks from all over the globe travel
huge distances just to visit this
"Range of Light"
Below are detailed descriptions of
just a few of the outdoor activities
that you can enjoy in the Sierra
Nevada Mountains. But for a quick
photographic overview of the Sierra
Nevada, Click Here. This is a
quick way to see some of the beauty
that these magnificent mountains
have to offer.
|The Sierra Nevada Mountains -
contain some of the most beautiful
landscapes in all the world. The
terrain is so varied that one may start
out in desert conditions and end up
with the sound of crunching ice under
foot and the ring of a distant ice ax in
a remote frozen gully well above
timberline. The Sierra Nevada
Mountains extend 400 miles from the
shore of Lake Almanor in the north,
to Tehacahapi Pass south of
Bakersfield and varies from 60 to 80
miles in width. With 13 peaks that
exceed 14,000 feet, and 500 peaks
that exceed 12,000 feet there is much
alpine territory to explore.
For the fisherman the Sierras are a
playground of lakes, streams, and
rivers that will delight the most
zealous of anglers. For the hiker and
or backpacker, the mountains have a
system of trails and camps that are
unrivaled anywhere else in the world.
Cross country skiers will find
outstanding snow conditions during
The North Face of Mt Morrison
"The Eiger of the Sierra Nevada"
Ediza Lake Trail
Kings Canyon National Park
The west receives 75 inches while the eastern slopes receive only 20 inches on average. The reason for this discrepancy, is because
of the so called "Sierra Rain Shadow." The sheer height of the imposing wall of peaks reaching heights of over 14,000 feet, exert an
incredible influence over the amount of precipitation that the Eastern Sierra receive each year. This influence continues to make it
self felt, and is the reason why, thousands of feet below, we have the extensive and arid "Great Basin" that extends clear into Utah
The exception to all this, is the Mammoth Lakes area of the Sierra, which Mt Morrison (photo above) is a part of. Mammoth Pass,
which is a low point in the crest, allows for the moist air of Pacific storms to funnel through to the east side. This break in the crest,
makes the Mammoth area the wettest part of the Eastern Sierra. Mammoth Mountain Ski area receives an average of 342 inches of
snow annually making it the premier winter sports destination for the multitudes who live within a days drive to reach it's slopes.
During the summer months, the only moisture that the Sierra gets is from the now and then afternoon thunderstorm. They are short
lived, but this does not mean that you do not have to prepare for them. Temperatures can fall to dangerous levels at any time
during the year, and this is especially true at higher elevations. Getting wet in the mountains can be deadly, and Hypothermia can
(Left to Right) Third Needle,
Crooks Peak, and Keeler Needle
(Mt Whitney just out of sight on
the right hand of photo)
Bishop Creek Canyon
and Sabrina Basin
Lone Pine Peak
WEATHER - TEMPERATURES /
PRECIPITATION / SNOWFALL
Sierra Temperatures are generally warm in
summer with a maximum ranging from
80-100 degrees F. and a minimum of 15-37
degrees at higher elevations. In the winter,
maximums are typically 55-70 during the high
point of the day, and between 0 to -32
degrees F. in the night. In general,
temperatures decrease 3-5 degrees for every
1000 feet of elevation gain.
In the Sierra Nevada, 95 percent of the
precipitation falls between October and May,
with more than half falling in January through
March. But there is a great discrepancy
in the amount of rainfall between the western
slopes and the eastern slopes.