The High Sierra region runs from Lake Almanor in the north, down to Tehachapi in the south, from the Nevada border west to the Gold Country. Home to the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountain range, the highest on the continent, it is an outdoor-adventure seeker’s paradise.
Notable features of the region include Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America; Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet, the highest point in the contiguous United States; and Yosemite Valley sculpted by glaciers out of 100-million-year-old granite. The Sierra is home to three national parks, 20 wilderness areas, and two national monuments. These areas include Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks.
One of the highlights of the Sierra is several world-class ski resorts, with a vertical drop of 1,300 meters, there are snow areas for all types of skiers, from beginners to experts. A climber’s paradise, the High Sierra has almost everything a climber desires: rugged peaks, glaciers, and splendid, isolated chunks of granite. This region has many whitewater rafting locations with plenty of professional guide services. From the class V+ Cherry Creek, considered one of the most technical stretches of whitewater in the country, to the Merced River that pours down from Yosemite’s high country, the area offers whitewater experiences for any skill level.
Wildlife and dramatic views abound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Mule deer, beaver, river otter, marmot, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, black bear, and hundreds of bird species may catch your eye. The High Sierra is not only home to wilderness areas with pines and giant sequoias, spectacular falls, tranquil valleys and meadowlands, but also home to resorts, historic Old West towns, cultural festivals, fine dining, golf courses and night life of the human kind.
The first indigenous peoples of the Americas in the Sierra Nevada, from the period of 3000 BC to AD 500, were the Mono and Sierra Miwok tribes on the western side, the Great Basin and Northern Paiute tribes on the east side and the Kawaiisu tribe was in the south. Washo and Maidu were also in this area prior to the era of European exploration and displacement. The Sierra range was first spotted by Pedro Fages in 1772 and European-American exploration of the mountain range started in the 1840’s. In 1846 a group of traveler’s known as the Donner Party became trapped in the Sierras. Historians have described the episode as one of the most spectacular tragedies in Californian history and in the record of western migration. The California Gold Rush (1848-1855) dramatically increased white travel and population in the area. In 1851 Major Jim Savage led the Mariposa Battalion into the Yosemite Valley in pursuit of around 200 Ahwahneechees during the Mariposa Wars. Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, the company physician, later wrote in The Discovery of the Yosemite, his awestruck impressions of the valley.
The High Sierra is dominated by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The height of the mountains gradually increases from north to south and from west to east from the Central Valley. The peaks range from 5,000 feet to more than 14,000 feet, with Mt Whitney as the highest at 14,505 feet. South of Mount Whitney, the range quickly dwindles. The northwest slope of the Sierras is drained by the Sacramento River, and the west-southwest by the San Joaquin River. On the west slope some of the smaller rivers are the Feather, Yuba, American, Mokelumne, Stanislaus, and the Tuolumne. The Kings, Kaweah, Tule, and Kern rivers drain the southern part of the mountains. The High Sierra has many geological wonders including Devils Postpile, a dark cliff of columnar basalt created by a lava flow sometime between less than 100,000 years ago to 700,000 years ago.
Most of the Sierra Nevada is governed either by Mediterranean or microthermal climates with some areas having a Polar/Alpine climate. During the fall, winter and spring, precipitation in the Sierra ranges from 20 to 80 in where it occurs mostly as snow above 6,000 ft. Below about 6000-7000 ft. Mediterranean climates prevail with warm to hot dry summers and cool to cold wet winters. Microthermal (or Boreal) climates dominate the high Sierra in elevations typically above 6,000-7,000 ft. These climates are characterized by severe winters and heavy snowfall. Polar/Alpine climates occur only in the highest parts of the Sierra, typically above 12,000 ft. Characterized by extremely severe winters and cool summers the average temperature of the warmest month is 50°F. Summers are dry with low humidity; however, afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon, particularly during the North American Monsoon. Summer high temperatures average 42 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.