John Muir's Range of Light...after visiting this area for 35 years I still find myself in two states of existence, being in the Sierra and dreaming of being in the Sierra.
Deep forested valleys, pristine lakes, beautiful meadows, acres of suncups, huge walls and domes, jagged ridges leading up to windswept nameless summits; all these await you.
Some of the finest granite, most beautiful mountains, and stable weather make the High Sierra a special place for climbers.
Though there are some long monolithic faces (like Charlotte Dome), the majority of climbing is on high altitude mountain walls which follow crack systems. Frequent ledges make for comfy belays. Routes frequently wander a bit, but pro is usually not a problem, and long slings can often be used to tie off a feature and keep the drag down. Of course like all mountain big walls, there are loose blocks, boulders, and rocks on the ledges, so take care with the ropes.
Despite the crowds in a few places, the dreaded permit system means the climbs are uncrowded, the camping is pleasant, and you feel like you've gotten away from it all and found some true wilderness.
In fact some parts of this range are incredibly far from the madding crowd, seek these places out, they are ancient and sacred places. For every crowded classic (a result of the "select" books?) there are a hundred empty just as classic routes.
Some notes about the weather/conditions:-
May-June: Approach to climbs may require taking crampons and ice-axe. Snow can provide a good highway there and back. May and June provide long daylight hours. Weather can be unstable with late arriving winter storms. Cold to cool.
July-Early Aug: Not so much snow, unless it's a big snow year. Suncups begin to develop which can hamper approaches. Still lots of daylight. Stable weather. Mosquitos. Warm.
Mid August - Mid September. No snow, more scree. Late afternoon thunderstorms. Hours getting shorter. Warm to cool.
Mid September - Late October: First winter snow. Less and less hours of daylight. October can be nice though, but not for long climbs. Cool to cold.
Interesting reading from the Ranger Reports
The High Sierra runs from the Sawtooth Range in the north, south to the Whitney Group, and covers an area bigger than the entire European Alps - most of it wilderness.
The easiest access is from Highway 395 on the east side, where several roads (thanks FDR) terminate at 7,000-10,000 foot trailheads within a few miles of the peaks, there are also options to cross high passes to access west country. There are also approaches from the west side, they are very beautiful and they tend to be longer and less steep, these are more useful for peaks or crags on the west side.
From the bay area, Highway 120 through Yosemite is the fastest route, even if you're going all the way to Whitney. If you leave after work, you can stop in Tuolumne Meadows (8,800 ft) or one of the Forest Service campgrounds just beyond the park (from 7,000-9,000 feet, and a bit cheaper). All these campgrounds will be full on summer weekends starting in July, but you can reserve sites in Tuolumne Meadows.
From Los Angeles take Highway 14 to 395 for the east side approaches. For the west side approaches take Freeway 5 then Highway 99.
If you're from out of town, you might find a good deal flying to Reno and renting a car.
Most people backpack and camp before climbing a specific route, and that requires an permit on almost all trailheads. Some are pretty hard to get, and you'll need to plan months ahead. A certain number are available on a first-come first-served basis on the day of the hike, if you don't mind starting late.Permits
For the Inyo and Hwy 395 approaches go here
For the Sequoia/Kings Canyon backcountry approaches go here
For Yosemite backcountry approaches go here
NOTE: There are a small amount of permits available on a first-come, first-served basis at the applicable Ranger Stations. Also, be aware that east side approach permits which end camping in either SEKI or Yosemite will require pick up the morning of the hike - not an option for an early start. East side permits ending in Inyo National Forest can be picked up the night before by calling (760) 873-2483.The permit info here supersedes any info at the peak level.Areas are listed from North to South (01 to 14)Bears and Food Storage
Regulations for food storage differ by area, Inyo National Forest (majority of east side approaches) allows use of the Ursack
which is a good solution for people not wanting to tote a heavy bear canister. Be aware that once you cross over the main crest you may be in a National Park, with different regulations. Check with SEKI or Yosemite NPS before using the Ursack there.
Secure food storage (canister or Ursack) is REQUIRED in Bishop Pass, Duck Pass/Purple Lake Area, Cottonwood Lakes Basin, Mammoth Lakes/Rush Creek, Fish Creek Area, Little Lakes Valley, Kearsarge Pass Area, Whitney Area. Everywhere else in Inyo it is RECOMMENDED.