Sequoia National Park, Sequoia National Forest, Kings Canyon, CA Trip
June 6-10, 2008
By: Steve “CellularSteve”
Departure Date: June 6, 2008
Return Date: June 10, 2008
Who went: Me, 5 friends–they all returned on Sunday I stayed until Tuesday by myself
Vehicle: 2005 Sportsmobile 4x4 V10
Miles driven: 660
Miles per gallon: 11-12 mpg average
Fuel Cost: $4.55 in Sanger for regular unleaded
Miles hiked: about 18
Hikes: High Sierra Trail to Mehrten Creek, Tonopah Falls, Morro Rock, General Sherman Tree, Grant Grove
Offroad Trails Taken: Buck Rock Lookout and beyond, Delilah Lookout, Delilah Lookout to Davis Creek
Camping: Lodgepole Campground, Sunset Campground, Camp 4½
Daytime Temperature: 67-96
Animals seen: 3 black bears including a small cub, 1 Marmot, 1 Deer, bunch of chipmunks
Best meal: Armenian style beef kabobs
Beer: Deschutes Brewery: Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter, IPA, Red
Problems: Took trail for a mile or so and came to a landslide. Had to back out as sun was setting. Backed up 2/10ths of a mile on shelf road and then did an Austin Powers back and forth for about 20 minutes. Finally turned around, damaging Aluminess jerry can holder and a lot of brush scuffs. Took over an hour to recover.
Drove up Friday morning from Los Angeles in a caravan of three vehicles. Stopped at In-N-Out and got gas in Visalia before heading into the park via the South (Hwy 198). Drove from the entrance to Lodgepole Campground for the first 2 nights of camping. The crowds were fairly light, though it wasn’t quite summer yet, and it is not nearly as crowded as Yosemite always is.
We setup camp fairly quickly and went on a short, relatively flat hike from the campground to Tokopah Falls (about 3.8 mi roundtrip). It is a very nice short hike with other people from the campground on the trail. It follows the river up to the falls and has pretty scenery. About half way up we saw a small black bear cub and mother. It was the smallest cub I’ve seen and it was climbing up a tree, like a Koala Bear. Very cute. While I held my distance, several other hikers got too close to take photos. While these bears are much smaller than the Grizzly’s I saw last year in Glacier NP, I wouldn’t disturb them and risk getting close.
After the bear encounter we finished hiking to the waterfall. It was roaring and very pretty with rocks all around it. We spent about a half hour up there and then headed back to camp to make dinner which was an excellent Armenian style kabob with seasoned meat, onions, peppers served with lavash and washed down with Deschutes beer. After the hike we were starving and ate nearly a pound each. After cleaning up we added wood to the fire and setup for poker. It was an eventful game and I came in second. We ate chocolate chip cookies that “Mrs. Steve” as they called my wife, baked for us. Then off to bed for our big hike on Saturday.
Saturday we awoke to a strange breakfast of corned beef mush and eggs. We then headed to the ranger station to inquire about hiking to Heather Lake. The trail was covered in snow we decided to hike the lower elevation High Sierra Trail. We figured we could hike in as far as we liked then turn around. The scenic trail offers beautiful views from the High Sierra peaks down to the Kaweah River.
We decided to go the six miles to the falls at Mehreten Creek. It was well worth it being at the midpoint of the falls and enjoying the vista.
We had lunch, I took a short nap on the rocks, took some photos before hiking the six miles back to the starting point at Crescent Meadow. Though not much elevation gain we were hiking at about 7,000 feet. The twelve miles was a bit tiring at times but in the end well worth it.
We went back had another meat dinner with steak and Korean bbq ribs. We followed that with another poker game where I came in second again. Off to bed. I slept on the bottom bed of my SMB both nights and was very comfortable. The second morning it was a little hot when I awoke around 6:30, so I got up and walked around and then sat outside until we had breakfast. It was my turn to cook so I made pancakes for the first time since I was a kid. Though it was an Aunt Jemimah’s mix I added fresh blueberries and made them along with scrambled eggs and chicken sausage. The breakfast was a hit and one of the guys complimented me on my pancake recipe, commenting that it is so much better than Aunt Jemimah! Maybe the high altitude got to him? We then decided to go on the short climb up Moro Rock. It is really a walk up 300 or so stairs to the top offering sweeping views. We headed back and took our time and broke camp around noon. The guys headed home while I was off on my own for the next two days.
I figured I may as well do some of the touristy things by seeing the General Sherman Tree, being the largest living organism and biggest tree by volume. I then started the backcountry part of the trip by heading north to the Sequoia National Forest (I was in the National Park up until this point) and locating the trail to Buck Rock Fire Lookout. I read about this in a new book I purchased entitled Back Country Adventures by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson. With a little help of the map I located the trailhead of 14S02 which actually starts as a paved road then turns into a dirt road that is used by horses and vehicles alike. The drive up is quite easy and scenic providing commanding views of the Monarch and Jennie lakes Wilderness. Then about 30 minutes into the drive you see the fire lookout perched up ahead sitting on a rocky terrain. Being Sunday afternoon the trail was completely empty save for a couple on a leisurely horseback ride. Two wheel drive was all that was necessary to reach the fire lookout. I parked, walked the short distance to the lookout and wow, 360o views. Unfortunately it was closed, not yet being fire season. When manned, it is open to the public during the day. The good news was I had the whole place to myself. It was a bit eerie being there with no one around. You can climb about a third of the way up until you reach a locked gate. The view is great from here but I can only imagine how it is from the top. After a few photos it was already about 4pm so I decided to continue on the trail. Both Burton Meadow and Kennedy Meadow can be seen as well as Tornado Meadow.
I was now on 13S26. You are really far away from the crowds and this is nothing like staying in the park campgrounds. I went to Horseshoe Bend viewpoint which offers views of Kings Canyon and glimpse of the South Fork of the Kings River so far below. I figured I could camp here as I hadn’t seen a soul the whole time. However, there were no good spots other than a pullout on the trail so I kept driving to Windy Gulch Grove. In the thick forested area it was getting to be dusk although it was only about 6pm and sunset wasn’t until 8pm or so. Once I descended into Windy Gulch Grove I took a right on 13S05 toward Evans Grove. Driving about an eighth of a mile I had to stop out due to a small landslide with boulders on the trail, which would have been passable in my Jeep with lockers but not with the long wheelbase SMB. No problem, I backed out the short distance and decided at that point I would deviate from the guidebook and take what looked to be a shortcut to Hume Lake. The forest marker was on the ground indicating that 13S05 had a landslide. I presumed that it was for the one I just encountered. Not so. The sign was on the ground with different information on each side. It was too late. I had started driving a good mile down the trail which turned out to have a steep drop-off on the right. It was getting dark. I got a little anxious as the trail got narrower. Heavy overgrowth of brush was beginning to rub the side of the van. It then got thicker and whacked the side in certain stretches though I was only going about 5MPH. Normally in my Jeep this would be no problem. Usually I knew where I was and traveled with others. I was alone on this narrow shelf trail noting that the van was too long to turn around. And then, oh crap. Before me was a severe landslide with boulders up to 5 feet tall blocking the trail. A narrow CJ-5 possibly could fit between boulders, but not even my Cherokee would fit, let alone the van. After getting out and surveying the scene in fast approaching darkness, I had two choices: camp where I stopped and wait for morning figuring my nerves would calm down or back out the mile plus. I picked the latter. Being alone, I had no spotter though the steep cliff kept me very alert. It would have taken a couple of hours to back out so I walked ahead looking for a turnaround point. If I remember correctly, it was Bill Burke in his Getting Unstuck video saying you could turn a vehicle around in an area 2 feet longer than your vehicle. Not sure if he had a van in mind when he said that. But I found a place with 2-3 feet of extra space, albeit with a several hundred foot drop off on one side and near vertical rock on the other. Performing an Austin Powers move (you know the one where he turns around the cart between two walls, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth) it turned out to be a 7 point turn. The good news is I got to use my front camera, though didn’t trust the depth so I jumped out on each of the turns. Finally after a good 20 minutes I was turned around and heading back up through the brush and tree branches. It wasn’t until later that I saw this:
I got back up to the downed landslide sign, turned it around and propped it up for the next visitor. At that point I retraced the trail a good part of the way, just wanting to get to Grant Grove in a regular campground-the places I try to get away from.
By the time I hit the Horseshoe Bend viewpoint the sun was setting and I had about an hour drive ahead of me. Fortunately I got to put the Lightforce and Piaa lights to the test since there was a new moon it was dark. I would have looked like the sun coming at you if anyone was on the trail, but still no one. At Burton Pass I took 14S02 back (narrow but paved road with no one on it) to the Generals Highway. Drove into Grant Grove Sunset Campground around 9PM. Put up the top on the SMB opened a beer and sat there not wanting to eat or move for nearly an hour. Finally had a bite and went to bed. Enough adventure for one day.
The next morning I was feeling rested and relaxed and decided to eat at the café in Grant Grove. It was nice having a meal that I didn’t have to cook. I relaxed in the café and chose my adventure for the day. I decided to do the touristy thing and visit Grant Grove to see the General Grant Tree and all the others surrounding it.
It was very leisurely and nice to be around people after my experience the day before. After really enjoying the grove I headed outside the park via the 180 West for my second backcountry trip-this time to the Delilah Fire Lookout (also in the book). This was a very straightforward trip, requiring only 2WD though it took over an hour to reach the lookout.
Once again I saw no one except that near the lookout is a grouping of about 10 homes and some trailers in the middle of nowhere. Driving through slowly some dogs chased me, barking like crazy but I never saw a person come out. Made it to the lookout and this one, though not as pretty of a structure had commanding views all around including to the west toward Fresno.
I climbed to the top and though the room was locked, I was able to sit up there and enjoy the view and have a snack. From here I planned to take another trail in the book (Davis Creek Trail) down the mountain to the Kings River below that emptied into the Pine Flat Reservoir.
The descent took several hours, driving in 2WD-Low. It was a nice 75o at the Delilah Lookout but approached 96o by the time I got to the bottom. It is a scenic trail, albeit repetitive with all the switchbacks.
I finally made it to the bottom and it was so peaceful driving along the creek that connects to the fast moving Kings River. There are three small camps along the Kings River where rafters come to shoot the rapids. I saw a couple of people and moved on to setup camp at Camp 4½ which I had entirely to myself the whole afternoon and night.
Sweating from the high heat and long drive I grabbed a couple of beers and chair and sat in a small pool at the riverbank. The ice cold water was a relief as I enjoyed the last day of my trip before heading home the next morning. I made dinner, listened to music and watched a DVD on my rear screen. This night I slept up top and had all the windows open to get what little breeze there was. It was very comfortable and I slept a good 8-9 hours awakening to some kayakers setting up to go out. I made breakfast and then left, driving along the river until it dumped into Pine Flat Reservoir which is huge.
Taking a good hour I drove around the lake until I crossed Highway 180 and headed toward Sanger then Kingsburg to the 99 and back home.
This was a great trip. It was nice to spend a few days with friends and then spending time alone. I enjoyed this just as I did on my 7 week road trip last summer. I got to try the SMB out on some remote trails, used 4WD more than ever before and saw the beautiful Sequoia area. The hiking was great as were the drives. Even the trail with the landslide. It made me appreciate the beauty of California and realized that the national parks and forests are some of the best things we have. You feel a part of nature, you feel connected but you also realize that we are here but a short time. Appreciate what you have. Go out and adventure.