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While I find backpacking to be a refreshing experience, it isn't always relaxing! Here are a few of the tougher days on the trail, both in mileage and feet of vertical change. A simple but not universally accepted formula converts both forms of exertion to a common reference point (500' elevation change adds 1 mile); these are in their proper order using that formula. In all cases, the pack began the trip weighing 40-50 pounds; the Whitney and Pine Creek Pass entries were the last day of their trips, so that had to help. The High Sierra entry was a messy day, with a mile or two of cross-country preceding the trail travel.

1989: over Forester Pass, Bighorn Plateau to Crabtree Meadow RS
+3850 -4350 8200' in 15.7 miles
1989: Crabtree RS to Whitney Portal excl. Mt. Whitney summit
+3400 -5700 9100' in 13.6 miles
1997: Pocket Meadow to Tully Lake via Silver Pass, Tully Hole
+4050 -2600 6650' in 11.6 miles
1998: Baptiste Creek to Cross Lake via Hailey Pass, Fremont Trail
+1750 -2050 3800' in 15 miles
1997: Pocket Meadow to Tully Lake via Silver Pass, Tully Hole
+4050 -2600 6650' in 11.6 miles
2002: Merced Lake Ranger Station to Happy Isles (Yosemite Valley)
+200 -3450 3650' in 15.0 miles
1996: Royce Falls camp over Pine Creek Pass to trailhead
+1450 -4350 5800' in 9.5 miles
2002: Lone Pine w. fork to Panther Creek via Eliz. Pass and Hi Sierra trails
+200 -3200 3400' in 14 miles
1996: Marie Lake over Selden Pass to Piute Creek, JMT
+1100 -3575 4675' in 10.4 miles
Honorable mention - longest first day!
2001: Rancheria trailhead to Chimney Lake
+2000 -300 2300' in 11 miles?

Of course, my absolutely worst day ever on the trail would be the 1993 Pine Creek Wipeout.


While I know of no absolute formula for such matters, it's a fact that five miles without a trail are much more strenuous than the same number on a clear path. Not only is the physical exertion higher, but mental focus needs to be maintained to a higher degree. While traversing level ground doesn't entail much work, watching landmarks to determine the next half-hour's work is still necessary; when terrain turns ugly, every step must be placed carefully! With that in mind, the tough cross-country routes get their own place on the page. The other problem is that no two cross-country routes are the same either - so I applied a Personal Sweat Factor to each route to account for its difficulty, visibility (some are rough trails), and challenge to the skills I had at the time (e.g. Italy '96 has a higher PSF than Lamarck '99 because we had no path and I had no prior x-c experience). I discounted the weather I experienced, otherwise Lizard Head '98 would be much higher on this list!

1996: Upper Pine Lake to Hilgard Branch via Italy Pass (12400')
+2200 -1900 4100' in ~7 milesPSF 2.0
2000: Evolution Creek to North Lake via Lamarck Col (12900')
+3000 -3300 6300' in ~11 milesPSF 1.75
1999: Dumbbell Lakes to Middle Fork Kings via Cataract Pass (11500')
+700 -2600 3300' in ~6 milesPSF 1.75
1999: Darwin Bench to North Lake via Lamarck Col (12900')
+1500 -3300 4800' in ~8 milesPSF 1.50
1999: Lake Basin to Dumbbell Lakes via Dumbbell Pass (11700')
+1100 -900 2000' in ~5 milesPSF 2.0
1999: South Fork Kings to Lake Basin via Cartridge Pass (11700')
+2200 -1100 3300' in ~6 milesPSF 1.25
1997: Big McGee Lake to Lower Hopkins Lake via Hopkins Pass (11300')
+1000 -1000 2000' in ~5 milesPSF 1.50
1979 & 98: Lizard Head Meadow to Valentine Lake (11900')
+2000 -1400 3400' in ~8 milesPSF 1.25

Sierra values estimated using Mountain Images' Sierra Nevada CDs