Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Backpacking the Sierra High Route -- for just $6495

Recently I've started letting my travel magazine subscriptions lapse. It's not just economics, the backload of past issues I may never get around to reading, or the wish to waste less paper, even if I do end up recycling everything. No, it's just that travel magazine journalism rarely applies to the real world.

Travel + Leisure was once my favorite version of travel porn. But I got tired of salivating over African safari resorts I'll never be able to visit on my freelancer's paycheck. Next I stopped subscribing to Outside, whose inveterate sexism just doesn't come off as cool in that bad-boy way anymore. Now, I'm down to just National Geographic Adventure. After their November 2009 issue's article on the supposed 25 best new trips in the world, I'm done with them, too. (Full disclosure: I once wrote an article for NGA several years ago, but have had no contact since.)

Among the trips that NGA highlights is Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides (SYMG) Sierra High Route, a guided 26-day backpacking trip. The 195-mile route itself was pioneered by Steve Roper
in his 1982 book, and it connects many of the high points in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by little-traveled routes. When I was a trailhead ranger at Kings Canyon National Park, I met hard-core thru-hikers who said it was the best trip they'd ever done, exploring remote areas of Kings Canyon NP and Yosemite NP and the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderenesses.

So far, so good. The Sierra High Route is admittedly a hard trip that requires logistical planning, plus brute strength, endurance and some mountaineering skills. I can see where some backpackers might elect to take along a guide instead of making this an epic DIY adventure. But this is not a new adventure, and I'd hesitate to call it one of the 25 best trips in the world, never mind what NGA claims. More importantly, though, I was slack-jawed at the price of SYMG's guided trip: at least $6495 per person.

Now, you'd think for that price that perhaps you'd get someone to carry your pack for you, but no, you've got to carry your own (it'll weigh up to 35 lbs, with food drops en route). The group size is small (3-6 hikers, plus 2 guides), so that's a bonus. But apart from that, what are clients really paying for? Oh, that's right: a shared hotel room for one night in Fresyes, van shuttles to/from the start/end points of the hike, rental backpacking gear and a wilderness permit ($15 per group when issued by
Kings Canyon NP). And don't forget to tip your guides 10-20%, of course!

That's what has ended my subscription to NGA. I know how these magazine articles are written by committee, and how the emphasis is on content that merely looks and sounds interesting, rather than exhaustively researched information with significant value added. But if paying someone over $250/day to accompany me on a long-distance hike in California's mountains constitutes one of the world's 25 best trips, what is the world coming to? Seriously.

By the way, if any of you would like to trek the Sierra High Route, I'll charge you half as much to be your guide. (Just kidding. And anyway, you'd still have to carry your own pack.)

Yosemite's Half Dome Through the Back Door
How Not to Be an Idiot While Hiking
Free Online Mini-Guides to Offbeat National Parks

Photo: Yosemite National Park (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

1 comment:

  1. Sara I was just going through a bunch of travel mags last night looking for places to pitch and I had exactly this same thought! Why do they all promote such pricey places and activities? Is it because that's what the clientel who buy trave mags want (porn) or because those are the only places/activities that offer press trips?