June 19th- 23rd
After recovering our car from the parking garage where it had spent almost a week, we left San Francisco to return southeast towards the Sierra Nevada mountain range to visit two great parks: Sequoia and Yosemite. The first hundred miles of our drive was densely developed and as the land opened up to fruit orchards, the temperature rose about 20 degrees. We stopped at a roadside stand to buy some apricots and peaches before climbing the road into Kings Canyon (attached to Sequoia NP) where we found a campground for the next few days. Despite being at a higher altitude, the evening was warm and we slept well.
After spending a week in the city, it was nice to return to the outdoors. Our campground, near Grant’s Grove (named for the General Grant Giant Sequoia), was quiet. After a good night’s sleep, we woke up ready to explore Sequoia NP (just a short drive through the forest from where we were camping.) The park spans many miles, but only a small portion of it is accessible by car and by short hikes. Much of the park is designated “wilderness” which means that there is no development at all (including roads or maintained trails.) We stopped at several look out points, one of the San Joaquin Valley, which is one of the most polluted regions in the U.S. We could see a thick layer of brown smog lingering over the valley, pushed towards the mountains by the winds coming off the ocean. It was a disturbing sensation, standing in the middle of a beautiful forest, looking out at such a polluted area. After the lookouts, we did a 2 hour hike to the Tokopah Waterfall. The waterfalls are particularly spectacular this year because there was an unusually high (3 times normal) snowpack last winter. The highlight of the hike was sighting a mother bear with two cubs feeding and playing in a meadow next to the path. We’ve been hoping to spot a bear since Florida and this was the first one of our trip. We watched them for a while, giving us time to take some pictures (from a distance.)
We continued our visit at the Giant Forest Museum where we learned about the giant Sequoias. The Sequoias with their cinnamon colored bark are often confused with the Redwoods, but they are shorter and wider. They grow to 311 feet high and 40 feet in diameter. We (the humans) look like ants standing next to these imposing trees. From the museum we followed a trail through the Giant Forest, a large Sequoia stand to Moro Rock, a rock precipice that we climbed to the top of for some pretty views and then on to Crescent Meadows where we spotted another bear in the distance eating grass. From there we caught the park shuttle back to our car which we drove through the “drive through” tree and then hiked to the General Sherman Tree, the biggest tree in the world. By then it was late in the afternoon and time to get back to the campsite and dinner.
We had planned to do some backcountry hiking in the area. After studying the map, we found a loop trek that should take about 3 days with a pass at around 11,000 feet. We were worried about the snow and went to discuss it with a ranger. He told us that there was about 15 feet of snow on the trail that we wanted to do, making it impossible to navigate, and recommended that we do a shorter trek. The only downside was that we would have to return on the same trail. The best hiking started in Kings Canyon, so we packed up our campsite and went to visit Grants Grove, with its towering sequoia trees and another one of the world’s biggest, the Grant tree, named for Ulysses Grant before descending into the valley. Then we took the scenic road with some fantastic views of Kings River, a wild and scenic river, which was running very hard. We picnicked next to the river and then drove to Roads End to get a wilderness permit to do an overnight trek. We had to rent a bear container for the trek, a large cylinder to carry our food and scented items. It was designed to make it impossible for a bear to open it or carry it off. After already seeing four bears in the area, we weren’t going to take our chances with the bears. It was already mid-afternoon, so we camped in an organized campground in the valley and prepared for our 2-day trek.
Wednesday morning, we woke up early ready for our two day trek to Paradise Valley. After the first mile which was relatively flat, we came to a flooded are and had to scramble over some rocks to avoid getting wet. We climbed and beautiful views of the snow-capped Sierra became visible. Finally, we arrived at Mist Falls, an impressive waterfall that cast a white mist over the trail. From Mist Falls, we came to another flooded area before reaching our campsite in Paradise Valley. It was indeed that, Paradise. Our private wooded campsite sat next to the river which was quieter at this level. We laid out our mats and took a nice break after the morning trek before setting up camp. Late in the afternoon, we decided to continue the trail towards Middle Paradise Valley. After crossing several heavily flowing streams we came to a part of the trail that was completely flooded. We took off our shoes and continued for about ½ mile through the mud. Finally, we turned back towards our campsite. We realized when we got back to our site that the river was rising at an alarming rate so we moved our tent up hill. The river rose a couple of feet each evening as a result of the snow melt during the day. I think it came within inches of our original site. The next morning we arose early to do the hike down before lunch. It was another beautiful day and we enjoyed the fabulous views of the rivers and peaks before our drive to Fresno and a recovery evening in Motel 6.
Tags: BIG TRIP 2011, California, In English 2005-2006