‘High Sierra’ Section of the Pacific Crest Trail Is Even More Beautiful Than the Himalayas

Posted by on April 18, 2013 in Appalachian Trail, John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Skywalker--Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail | 2 comments

“You’ve never seen anything like it.”This is what I was repeatedly promised by countless people before walking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009 and the Annapurna Circuit in 2012. I can assure you that both were correct.

The Himalayas, of course, are the mecca for outdoor enthusiasts the world over. Almost all of the world’s greatest peaks (Everest, K-2) lie within this mountain range. The greatest hikers and climbers in the world come to Nepal, Pakistan, and India for Himalayan challenges. There is even a footpath–the Annapurna Circuit–which allows the average person such as myself to embed himself or herself right in the midst of many of these great peaks. Heck, ten of the world’s fourteen greatest peaks lie within the smallish country of Nepal. On the Annapurna Circuit I found myself at one point staring, at what seemed like close range, at four of the world’s 16 tallest peaks. But despite all of this, I found the ‘High Sierra’ portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to be more beautiful. Why?

In Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, I discuss how I was struck by a certain ethereal quality about the ‘High Sierra’. The alpen glow off the granite rocks along with the yawning quality of the Sierras–range after range of snow-capped peaks disappearing off into the distance–abide in my mind to this day. Added to this sensation was all the rushing water (I walked the Sierras during the early summer snow melt); a PCT hiker (or John Muir Trail hiker) has afternoons in which he or she fords more streams than an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker does their entire journey. The PCT also passes straight through Yosemite National Park. “It’s easy to see how John Muir fell so in love with this place,” we remarked on several occasions.

This is not to take one thing away from the Himalayas. What I realized was that there are different brands of beauty. The White Mountains in New Hampshire and northern Cascades in Washington state have a certain rugged bleakness about them. The desert has a saline austerity about it; and of course the Sierras have their ethereal majesty. The Himalayas have a unique brand of daunting beauty.

The thing that struck me on the Annapurna Circuit was how upright the peaks were. It almost felt confining at times to be surrounded by world-class peaks that had vertical angles in the 90 degree range. Yet at various points there would be ‘revelation’ as we cleared precipices and staggering snow capped peaks would beckon out in the distance. I am grateful that the Annapurna Circuit is so well designed that an average person such as myself can embed himself in their environs. Having said that, these peaks are for climbers! Wow. I have never seen anything so daunting in my life.

The great thing is that it is not a competition between mountain ranges. In fact, it is a happy circumstance that they are so distinct in certain respects. Which one do I recommend? That’s an easy question. An outdoorsperson has no logical choice other than to take on both the Sierras and the Himalayas.

Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as Getting High–the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail and The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.


  1. Sitting in my kitchen, planning a 5 day backpacking adventure in late July, came upon your site. I live in northern Vermont. Have hiked the LT, hiked the 48 4,000 footers in NH, dream of being in big mountains with glacial lakes. Getting to the west coast seems wonderful. Concerned about getting permits at this late date. Do you have ideas about getting around that issue? Thanks!

    • Madeleine,

      The permits shouldn’t be a big issue at all. You should be able to get them once out there. As for the west coast, if you don’t have the time and inclination to do the entire PCT (but from your biography, it sounds like you do have the capabilities if so inclined), then I would recommend the John Muir Trail. It is the 219 very best miles of the PCT, except you go south from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. Utterly spectacular.

      Good luck,

      Bill ‘Skywalker’

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