Trip Type: Loop - 3 Days, 2 Nights
Total Trip Mileage 33.5 miles on CalTopo
Altitude Gain: 7647' gross
Trail Difficulty: Difficult. This trail contains challenging Class 2, possibly Class 3 cross country travel and should only be attempted by those experience with cross country travel.
Season: Mid Season
Trail Traffic: Expect high trail traffic from Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) and on the John Muir Trail sections. VVR is a well visited area by JMT and PCT hikers.
WSH Trip Rating: 4 out of 5 stars: Trail traffic knocks one star off of what would otherwise be a 5 out of 5. Once leaving the JMT and heading up Mono Creek Valley the miraculous Sierra open up to the hiker. The climb from Mono Creek to Laurel Lake is one of the most stunning I've ever experienced in the Sierra - both looking South to Abbot and Gabb but also looking north to Red and White Mountain - truly amazing. In addition the rugged traverse from Big Horn Pass to Shout of Relief pass will tickle the fancy of even those most seasoned cross country hikers - loads of fun but probably not the best place for a first time cross country hiker.
Day 1: VVR to Laurel Lake: ~14 miles (without the VVR Ferry)
On the day we left the ferry wasn't running due to expected weather. This adds about 6 miles to the hike but to be honest not sure it adds much time since you'll have to wait your turn on the ferry and if you're not in the first group it could be an hour or more before you get to the other side of the lake. The hike from VVR to the JMT is pleasant and relatively flat as you follow the northern lake shore. Once on the JMT you begin climbing as the JMT at this point is setting off towards Silver Pass. After about 1.25 miles on the JMT take the junction towards Mono Pass and follow the trail along Mono creek. Lots of low elevation birch but beautiful. At mile 11.5 leave the trail going towards Mono Pass and take the unmaintained trail towards Laurel Lake. This is a HUGE CLIMB, accomplishing about 900' in a half mile!!! So be ready. If you didn't take the ferry you're probably tired but the views of Abbot, Gabb, and Hilgard will keep you going. Once you top out you greeted with one of the most EPIC views in the Sierra - Red and White Meadow towering over Laurel Lake Canyon. You'll see me in the video pumping my arms in excitement at 3:45 into the video. From here stay right towards the buttress with the trees. You'll pick up a trail here and there. Eventually you'll find your way to a ravine along the outlet of Laurel Lake, climb this up to the lake. It's a long day without the ferry but worth it.
Day 2 - Laurel Lake to Squaw or Papoose Lake (~9 Miles) As Roper says in his book locate the two huge boulders on the northeast side of Laurel Lake and start climbing. Navigation is relatively straight forward up to Bighorn Pass. For navigation from Big Horn Pass to Shout of Relief Pass I'd encourage you to look at my video at the 8:10 mark. Once you attain the buttress keep right and target the outlet of the upper most tarn feeding Rosie Finch Lake. Once here you'll see an excellent ramp leading you to Shout of Relief Pass. The hike down Shout of Relief is quite easy and a real joy. Also one of the more beautiful areas in the Sierra and most likely you'll be alone. Target Tully Lake and pick up the trail at the outlet and follow this back down to the JMT. Once on the JMT it's a relatively easy hike (going south) to a lake of your choice. Good camping at either Squaw or Papoose Lakes. Note, be sure to stay right at the JMT Junction, you're not going to Silver Pass - you're going to Goodale Pass
Day 3 - Squaw/Papoose Lakes to VVR (~10 Miles) Follow the trail to Goodale Pass and back to VVR. This section is rather uneventful. You may find some areas within the burn zone (north side of Lake Thomas Edison) where the trail disappears behind fallen trees but most of this is being addressed.
- As mentioned - JMT sections are likely to be busy
- Early season (before August) be prepared for mosquitos
- Great camping at Laurel Lake or over Shout of Relief Pass. Also excellent camping along the outlet of Warrior Lake at 9800' - on both sides of the trail.
- Good food and a small shop at the Vermillion Valley Resort. Check their webpage for what's available.
- No need to book a campsite as there is ample backpacker camping next to the restaurant at VVR.