Day One on the High Sierra Trail we hiked 11.5 miles east-bound, from Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw. Starting at the giant forest, we followed the edge of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River – a super deep canyon with stunning views to the south, west and east towards the Great Western Divide. This section of the High Sierra Trail only gains about 1,000 vertical feet from start to finish, there is actually about 1,700′ total vertical climbing as the trail climbs up and down over the 11+ miles.
Time: 7.5 hours
Elevation gain: 1,692 ft / 516 m
When to go: July-Sept.
There are several campground sites along the way to Bearpaw Meadow, including Mehrten Creek, Nine Mile Creek and Buck Creek. Each presents a water crossing, along with some smaller crossings. Rangers warn that some of these creek crossings may be hazardous early in the summer, but none were problematic for us in mid-July, and all were fun to navigate.
Our one and only bear sighting the entire trip came just 10 minutes into our trip – right off the side of the trail spotting a mother and two cubs. We were glad they were a safe distance from the trail!
About one mile in, you reach Eagle’s View, our first great view of the 7,000 foot deep canyon that is the Kaweah River’s middle fork and the Great Western Divide – our eastern ascent target for day two.
We lunched at Mehrten Creek – a beautiful rock formation with water and a wonderful rest spot halfway to Bearpaw Meadow.
After crossing the Buck Creek bridge, there is one final steep set of switchbacks to get up to the ridge where Bearpaw Meadow High Sierra Camp and Campground are located. They even have t-shirts that say “Bearpaw High Sierra Camp – The Last Mile” – and they aren’t kidding – it’s a slog at the end of a long day.
The campground is situated off the ridge from the high sierra camp, and has lots of campsites, several bear boxes, water spigots and fire rings. It’s not the most picturesque of campgrounds on the High Sierra Trail, but serviceable for our first night.
We were the first group into the campground that day, and met Ranger Matt there. He was super nice and even showed us the best camp spot. And there were plenty of local deer coming to visit throughout the evening and the following morning.
Be sure to walk up the hill and check out the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, a $200-$300/night tent resort with fancy meals and a gorgeous deck overlooking the canyon and the Great Western Divide. Unfortunately by the time we rolled in (after setting our camp) they had sold all the backpacker beer and brownies – oh well!