In the Sierra Nevada, the critters and the weather greet you and help you to quickly understand that this is not city life. Even experienced backpackers must spend the first day of a multiday hike adjusting to Sierra conditions. At first, you have to think about when to put on the next layer of clothes, how to protect the pack from marauding squirrels and black bears, and where the ground is high enough to stay out of a mud puddle if the skies open up and rain overnight.
But by the second or third day, most people stop thinking and begin feeling the rhythm of physical exertion in pristine, wild places. It becomes almost second nature to protect yourself and adjust to outdoor mountain living. Soon, you're completely absorbed in the Sierra's ancient granite, the high-country meadows, and the rush of powerful rivers that bring water to the dry lowlands of California's Central Valley.
There are many long trails in the Sierra, but there are only a few that stand above the others in popularity and acclaim. The Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail, and the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail are probably the most popular and most traveled of the long trails in the Sierra. The Tahoe Rim Trail should be mentioned in the same breath, but it is so connected to Lake Tahoe that it has been included in the Lake Tahoe chapter (see page 137). Another trail, the historic French Trail, is a trans-Sierra route that travels west to east and is located in the Southern Sierra, but it is obscure compared to the Pacific Crest, John Muir, and Tahoe-Yosemite routes.
It also may seem odd that Mount Whitney is included in a long trails chapter, but Whitney defies a neat, single category. It can on the shoulder of Sequoia National Park and the John Muir Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest. It can also be reached from several directions and trailheads. Like the few other trails covered in this chapter, it poses challenges that cross many physical and psychological boundaries. And, perhaps, no other trail gets as much attention each year.
Of all the trails passing through the Sierra Nevada, the Pacific Crest would have to be considered the backbone. It is mentioned in the same breath with the Continental Divide Trail and the venerable Appalachian Trail as one of America's premier long trails. In the Sierra, the Pacific Crest passes through the highest, the wildest, and the best of California's high mountains.
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