Sunday, July 31, 2016
Saturday, July 23, 2016
SEKI Adventure Show Notes
Andy and I start our adventure in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI). There are many reasons a trip can be an adventure and only some of them ares strictly physical. I certainly would experience several of them during the trip. In part 1 we get things going from our flights from Michigan to California, initial meanderings through the mountains in search of a campsite and stove fuel, and then the actual backpacking portion of the trip itself.
You can see the complete trip journal in the A Wandering Knight blog (awanderingknight.blogspot.com). Photos are presented in several different albums and you can find those referenced from the trip journal.
Here is the video.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
We tossed our gear into the car and sped down the road to the nearby campground to ensure we would have a place to stay. We had decided that if we could splurge and stay in a lodge we would but if things didn’t work out we’d have a campsite to stay at. With my Golden Access card it just cost us $9 so we wouldn’t be giving up that much money if we did not use the campsite. We managed to get site 42 again which was nice. By the time we got things settled it was edging past 14:00 and we still had plenty of time to use as we wished. It was a lovely afternoon and we were in no hurry to get anywhere.
There is one road: CA 180. If Sequoia and Kings Canyon ever saw a big surge in attendance I suspect traffic jams would be a real problem. Maybe they’d never rival a place like Yosemite as I rather doubt you could ever have large animals like bears crossing the road which is cutting through steep mountains (OK, there are places where this isn’t true) but it’s just a two-lane road. It’s a two-lane road with fantastic vistas. In May, at least during our visit, the vistas were enhanced by plenty of blooming wild flowers. Over the next two and a half hours we crept towards Grants Grove. A modest number of cars would pass us by as we were pulled off at one spot or another to photograph the fantastically tall yucca, or spray of small yellow flowers clustered at the edge of a cliff, or the one spot of purple flowers clustered in a small place, and so much more. Often we weren’t at a “official” viewpoint and even when we were we found ourselves pretty much alone. A car would pass by now and then but clearly few people were pausing at anywhere near the rate we were. I’m so glad we did this.
Taken by Ken Knight. We thinkt his is a yucca but aren't completely sure. It is a remarkable plant whatever it actually is.
Taken by Andy Mytys. More flowers on CA 180.
Taken by Ken Knight. The slow drive along CA 180 continues as the breezy afternoon passes on by. Just pull off the road and admire the wildflowers and mountain vistas - you'll be glad you did.
Taken by Ken Knight. I've no idea what these flowers are but they're pretty and that is enough for me.
Taken by Andy Mytys.
Somewhere along the journey I realized I’d forgotten retrieve the stuff I had left in the bear storage box at Road’s End Trailhead. By this time we were near, or perhaps past, Grant’s Grove. Going all the way back to recover a shaving kit and some toothpaste seemed like a poor use of our time. Someone was going to get lucky and I’d suffer slightly for my mistake (still feel a bit bad that I left the hairbrush that I’d had for ages and whose bristles just felt right). At Grant’s Grove we , well Andy, were able to make some phone calls to check in. We tried to make a reservation anywhere and quickly discovered that whoever the company is that manages that was really pretty cruddy. We were able to sneak into the visitor center and get some information and make a purchase or two before they closed and we continued on our way. After all, we had to go to Wuksachi Lodge for dinner. We had at least managed to get a reservation there though I think we’d both have been fine just eating in the lobby area. We had a few hours to play with and that meant more time to explore a bit and do a couple important things like find a place to get gas for the car. Along the way we figured out that rooms were not available at Wuksachi but still couldn’t determine the status of other places. At least we learned that a gas station existed at Hume Lake and that turned out to be a nice little place to see. It’s some sort of christian camp/resort. I think people go there who are looking for a christian studies retreat type of place. It looks like it is a nice place and if that is your cup of tea you’ll probably find it restful and enjoyable to place to relax and learn.
After dinner, pricy but tasty, we continued looking for places to stay and that took us to the John Muir Lodge and another place. Failure greeted us in both cases. By the time our travels had exhausted all possible places to stay it was edging past 23:00 and there was no way we were going to drive more than an hour back to Sentinel Campground. We settled in a Lodgepole Campground and quickly learned that the tent sites are awful. Gravel and gravel and more hard gravel. Not at all conducive to setting up Andy’s Oware pyramid. We were tired and it was midnight so we just pulled out sleeping bags (well I just grabbed mad own jacket) and curled up in the car. It wasn’t going to by our best night’s sleep by any stretch of the imagination but since we were stealth camping I suppose that’s the price we paid. At sunrise we shoved the down into the backseat making a nice mountain, hit the bathroom, and then drove on other to Wuksachi Lodge for an early breakfast to start our final day off with properly fueled bodies. We had hoped to hit showers but they weren’t open - I don’t think we had much hiker funk about us.
Saturday dawned bright and cold. We finally were experiencing a properly cold day. It was just a bit above freezing. No doubt higher in the mountains it was quite a bit chillier. We settled into seats in a corner, was that because we looked rough compared to Wuksachi Lodge guests, for breakfast. It was an adequate breakfast but I agree with Andy that the buffet lacked professionalism. The food wasn’t always hot or well prepared. The staff just didn’t seem to care as much as they should. We had seen signs of that the previous week with the seeming lack of concern the hostess evinced when getting people sorted out for dinner. It’s a bit of a shame because the place you are at is so nice that it certainly deserves to be well represented by the staffer who are taking care of the people visiting. when we finished our meal and left, breath steaming in the air, we were ready for our last day of exploration.
Taken by Andy Mytys. We are climbing up Muro Rock. Clouds are rising from below and the sky is clear above. You get some great views from this huge rock and it is therefore well worth the 200-foot climb.
Taken by Andy Mytys.
We had no real specific notions of where we wanted to go. At least I did not have any hard and fast ideas of where to go. We drove to Muro Rock, a place I had never been, to see how the views would be. Euro Rock sprouts out from the ground rising perhaps a couple hundred feet. There is a paved trail of ramps and steps that winds around the rock sometimes passing through gaps in the formation as it climbs to the top. Walls rise a few feet along the edge, some with metal railings especially where steps are to be found, so you aren’t going to fall off the rock. You can gaze out across the valleys that fall away and we were in a position to watch the sun, still modestly low in the sky, rise past rising mists and lowering clouds. We felt sure as we climbed through the still chilly air that the mist and cloud formations we were seeing would dissipate but as we neared the top it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. As we talked with a variety of people from all ver the world the clouds we thought were going to move away or burn off thickened and soon the sky which had been clear was overcast. Views of the valley below vanished in the gray-white swirls of clouds. It wasn’t threatening weather but it was certainly not weather to inspire you to hang about. Even though the weather was far from visually ideal plenty of people continued to ascend and descend the trail. I find that heartening as you will certainly know you’ve done some work to attain the pinnacle of Muro Rock and so many people would probably just stay near their vehicles especially when the visual glory is obscured by the weather.
Taken by Andy Mytys. Until you stand among them you don't really grasp how large Giant Sequoia can be.
Taken by Andy Mytys. This downed tree spans the width of Crescent Meadow. If you have normal vision and average balance you'll have no trouble walking across the tree. Getting down , by the root ball, is a bit of a challenge as you are easily 7 feet off the ground.
Taken by Andy Mytys. Andy must have been better positioned because I had to keep my right hand against the tree to avoid slipping down the smooth bark.
Taken by Ken Knight.
We continued our explorations by visiting the start of the High Sierra Route that we had hiked back in 2009. We found a few people out and about and some who were planning, though it seemed to me they hadn’t actually planned much, who were going to do a bit of backpacking. With the clouds thickening more the area in the forest around us, full of tall conifers with plenty of moss hanging off them (Old Man’s Beard perhaps) was taking on an etherial quality. Sounds change in this environment too. With Gandolf-style staff in hand I followed Andy as we climbed towards an overlook we knew would be socked in by clouds. It was still a nice little hike. We returned via Crescent Meadow and Tharps Log and along the way met more interesting people and encountered a cinnamon-colored black bear , a young male we figure vastly smaller than the BFB of several days ago, who was trying to take a nap. I expect we were well within a 100 feet of him which really is closer than you probably should be. But he just stuck his head up from time to time and then settled back down to try and rest. News must have slowly been spreading about the bear because people slowly accumulated on the path to gaze across the meadow beyond the downed log the animal was resting behind.
Our wanderings slowy consumed the morning and then early afternoon. The temperature slowly crept upward but it never really got warm. Both of us were wearing our down jackets for at least some of the morning. Finally a day where the temperature was more in line with what we had planned for. Of course, we were about to leave the area for points far lower in elevation. As we left Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks the skies cleared and the temperature soared. By the time we reached Fresno we were in a wholly different world with high blue skies and boiling temperatures. A few dozen miles and a few thousand feet of elevation lost can make a huge difference in the climate you must deal with. It’s good thing the hotel room has AC.
Our trip ended pretty much as I think we expected it to end. We spent what no doubt seemed like an age getting ourselves sorted out and cleaned up in the hotel room before heading out to a favored restaurant for dinner. After that and early, more or less, bedtime so we could get up very early for our 06:15 flight. Outside of the rush to get through the Fresno airport because security screening was so slow everything went pretty well. Our travel day was easy if tedious. The adventures of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National park had come to an end.
Monday, July 11, 2016
It’s time for summer trail maintenance on the North Country Trail (NCT). Andy and I maintain a section between 13 Mile road (Cleveland Drive) and 16 Mile Road in Newago County. The section also includes the side trail to Highbanks Lake Campground. All told the section is easily 6.5 miles long. This year we hoped to do a lot of re-blazing. Circumstances would rather dramatically affect our plans. Trail maintenance can be saticefying but it can be hard work too.
Learn more about the North Country Trail at their website northcountrytrail.org. Andy and I are part of the Western Michigan chapter.
Get a visual sense of what things can be like from this short video on youtube.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
We were a bit slow to get ourselves going on our third morning. It was a bit cooler though still nowhere near as cold as either of us was prepared to deal with. The high overcast showed signs of waning as the morning wore on and we slowly packed up camp. Our plan was to hike to somewhere well within range of a morning day hike to Dollar Lake the next morning. While we might have been able to day hike to Dollar Lake on this day we wouldn't have gotten there until later in the afternoon when the snow would be pretty soft and thus more treacherous to traverse. We didn't see any reason to rush even if we were capable of doing so.
Taken by Ken Knight. The first two days we sepnt steadily ascending through pine forest. Now and then an open vista would appear like the descent towards the meadow with the BFB. But until we neared the PCT Junction big views like this were definitely the exception.
Taken by Ken Knight. Andy tried to keep his hand off the railing but , like me, that did not last. Still I believe the bridge swayed less as he came across than it did for me.
Taken by Andy Mytys. We spent over an hour here and some of that time was spent hatting with a few fellows attempting to thru-hike the PCT. We met Sprocket, a fellow who hadn't gotten a trail name, and I believe Sam I Am. These are tough folks dealing with the vanishing trail above snow-line to say nothing of the day-to-day challenge of covering the miles. I wish our packs were as light as their packs. I suppose we're less willing to deal with tough conditions. Sprocket was carrying a quilt rated to 20F (and who can say how accurate that is) and I'm sure my sleeping bag is vastly warmer (and heavier). That's just one example.
When we reached the suspension bridge spanning Woods Creek we had already decided to take a long break there and then continue on. That turned out to be a good decision. The sun broke through the clouds and began heating the granite which makes a fine place for drying clothing. My Paramo Mountain Shirt was still damp from. yesterday's rain and my mediocre rain jacket. We relaxed on the warming rock and just enjoyed the morning. We were able to spend some time chatting with three hikers who are attempting a PCT thru-hike. Sprocket, a fellow from the UK, seemed to be having a grand time and was traveling very light (willing to tolerate more than I suppose we were but perhaps when you're in thru-hiking shape you can tolerate more). Another fellow hadn't taken a trail name and also seemed pretty confident. The third guy, Sam I am I believe, also seemed to be having a good time. One, not Sprocket, had snapped a trekking pole so was going to hike down to Road's End and try to replace it. I wonder how that went as there is nothing at Road's End - the nearest general store that might sell staffs that would be little better than a stout stick is probably at Grant's Grove more than 35 miles away on CA 180. I wish I had broken out the audio gear and done a little recording with those intrepid hikers. It was fun chatting with them. They told us what the snow was like ahead and that was useful confirmation of what we expected.
Taken by Andy Mytys. Patches of snow snowed me down. I was always cocnerned about breaking through or sliding. I suspect I'd have been easier in my mind had my pack been lighter.
Leaving early afternoon after a pleasant long lunch break we began the hike through more open country ever upward. Before Woods Creek junction you really feel like you are mostly in forest. While the mountains are still well forested you spend more time strolling through more open terrain with conifers farther away than before. By this time you also start to encounter patches of snow. None were particularly large but you still had to take some care with each to avoid sinking up to your knee or slipping and taking a fall. Somehow Andy always seemed to find the best path through the snow and I did adequately well myself. Toss in a couple stream crossings that required changing of shoes and the few miles we had to walk all of a sudden took longer to cover than you might guess. Not that it mattered too much as we had hours of light to use.
During a rest break just below a stand of trees that would remind us of terrain you might find in the Upper Peninsula a couple young guys carrying minimal day hiking gear came on by. They had set up camp at Woods Creek and were going to go as far as they could during the afternoon. They really did not seem that prepared for the conditions but maybe youth can compensate for some of that. We watched them leave hoping all would be well and figuring we would see them later as they returned passing by wherever we were camped. We found a campsite in the Michigan-like forest nestled in a flat-ish area strewn with razor-edged small pine cones, not too terribly far from accessible water (farther than we thought as Andy discovered when toting a full bucket back to camp. That's when he met the young guys returning from their day hike - not sure how far they got though I doubt it was beyond the snow line). This campsite would be our high camp of the trip, about 9,400 feet above sea level, and so it should also be the coldest. While the nighttime low probably was the coolest we would see it was still nowhere near as cold as it could have been. I doubt the temperature dipped all that much below 40F. We had a thoroughly enjoyable third day - we didn't try to do that much and we were ready for the assault of Dollar Lake the next morning. That doesn't mean we, at least I, expected it to be easy even if I was not going to carry a pack as Andy was going to haul our day hiking gear.
Taken by Andy Mytys. This is our high campsite. We are settled down in the forest, a little farther from a creek than we want (Andy had a slow trek back with his bucket full of water). It's in some ways our best site at about 9,450 feet above sea level. Best means flattest. Once you spent minutes clearing sway the ridiculously sharp pine cones that littered the ground we had good places to sleep.
Taken by Ken Knight. Somehow An dy has a neater looking camp set up than I do.
Waking up at sunrise we packed up camp quickly (for us) and began ascending through the forest climbing steadily towards the snow line. It was sunny, clear, and a bit cooler. It got colder, well felt like it, when we changed into our water crossing shoes and forded a truly frigid stream that obviously was full of just-melted snow. You grit your teeth and move on through it trying to get through it as quickly as you can but taking care not to put a foot wrong as drenching yourself would be a terrible thing to do. Over the next not-quite-two-miles we would ascend about 800 feet with half of that being above the snow line meaning we just made our own trail. The snow was firm and that made travel easier and safer than it would be later in the day. The forest thinned out a bit as we climbed under deep blue clear skies. In the distance, coming down a steep route, a couple PCT hikers (one, or maybe both, from Austria I think) were coming down. They wanted to catch up to Sprocket. I rather doubted they would. We forged on through the snow, taking a break at a nice rock outcrop in a foxtail pine grove, but in time we reached the highpoint of the trip. It was a tough 2.5 hour climb (maybe we could've done it more quickly and no doubt the only reason we went as fast as we did was because Andy was schlepping the gear for both of us) but boy was it worth it.
Taken by Ken Knight. We've forded an incredibly cold almost knee-deep stream, corssed a few patches of snow, and we are now ascending pretty firm snow as we creep towards Dollar Lake. The snow-line was at 9,800 feet above sea level.
Taken by Andy Mytys. I am trying to follow in Andy's footsteps.
Dollar Lake is not particularly large but it is pristine and with mountains surrounding it it represents an iconic high alpine lake. Formations like Fin Dome stand out in the distance casting wonderful reflections in the clear,, no doubt icy cold, water. A small copse of trees border a part of the lake. Amongst the trees the snow vanishes and you can easily find places to sit and soak in the scenery. We settled down to do just that. An idyllic quiet place to spend time and we hung about the lake for a bit more than an hour before deciding that we had to head back down the softening snow to our campsite to retrieve the gear we had left behind.
Taken by Ken Knight. It took a couple of hours to cover the not quite 2 miles (and about 800 feet elevation gain half of which was through snow). It was worth it.
Taken by Ken Knight. Both Andy and I have acquired snow in our boots by now. You posthole, punch through snow to varying depths, frequently as the snow softens. But that's a small price to pay for views like this.
That softening snow did pose a bit of a challenge. We could definitely see where snowshoes would have helped prevent us from post holing sometimes up to our crotches (well felt that way for me). Snow invaded our boots and we worked our way down the slopes doing our best to not break through the snow. Now and then we paused to take spectacular photos and have some fun. After all, you can make excellent progress sometimes on your butt sliding down the mountain. Andy was particularly adept at that. Even with time for pictures and fun we made it back to our campsite in considerably less time than it had taken to ascend to Dollar Lake. By this time, early afternoon, the day had warmed considerably and we had a lazy lunch at our old campsite knowing we only had a few miles to go to get to Woods Creek where we planned to camp.
That handful of miles went by remarkably easily. Our packs were definitely feeling lighter and we were now descending out of the high places. It was a glorious afternoon and we made decent progress along the good trail only really slowing down at the inevitable stream crossings. There is no way to deal with those quickly if you want to keep your primary shoes dry. It just takes a while to take shoes off, secure them to your pack (or, at least to each other to carry around your neck), put on water shoes, cross the water and return things back to your standard walking attire. Andy is faster at all this than I am. I suppose if we were true tough men we would just plow on through the icy water with our hiking boots on but why do that when you don’t have too. I thought we wouldn’t get to Woods Creek until sometime between 18:00 and 19:00 (6:00PM to 7:00PM) and figured it would be later rather than earlier. I think we actually got there just before 18:00 though the last bit winding through the forest just before nearing the camping area seemed to last a lot longer than I thought it should. Perhaps that is always the case when you know you are nearing a destination: the last piece just seems to drag. As we settled in to camp at least one other group, I bet the father and son duo, got a campfire going. Smelled awfully nice. Neither Andy or I ever seem to have the desire to do what is required to make a campfire. We will enjoy someone else’s but I don’t think we have ever made one on a backpacking trip.
According to the trail sign the trailhead at Road’s End is 15.1 miles distant. We had plenty of time to cover that distance. I’m sure a strong hiker could trek out in a single long day. We planned to take a couple days. We would go to at least Middle Paradise Valley and if we felt good tack on the extra 1.2 miles and go to the last campsite we could at Lower Paradise Valley. We figured we’d get a nice early start rising at sunrise and thus have plenty of time to trek the potential 9 or so miles and down about 1,900 feet.
The day dawned pleasantly. It had never gotten anywhere near chilly. A bit before 08:00 we hoisted our somewhat lighter packs and bounced across the swaying suspension bridge that spans /Woods Creek. It was going to be a nice day and we were able to enjoy our hike as we headed towards our stealth campsite of a couple days before. The morning was so much nicer than the damp rainy afternoon of day two as we passed the small glade we had camped in. We wound our way past the site and then continued more steeply down off the ridge leaving the area of Castle Dome Meadow behind. The sun continued to climb into the sky and Andy pulled ahead. In time I caught up to him in the vicncinity of BFB meadow where he was trying to figure out what that huge bear had been devouring a few days ago. It’s a lovely spot and likely a good camping site though water might be hard to retrieve. I think if you were looking for a place to take a short break this spot would serve pretty well though Woods Creek is less than two hours hiking distant. We left the meadow to ascend out of the valley before dropping right back down to cross a raging creek that really should have a name but doesn’t seem to. After all, it’s sizable, deep, and cold. It was not quite noon when we finishing the whole process of fording the stream. We weren’t in a hurry and as we hoisted our packs once more to begin the descent we saw the two young fellows we’d met yesterday who had much heftier packs than us. They’d returned to Woods Creek having decided the conditions weren’t safe enough for them to attempt crossing Glenn Pass (we’d learn later that was a cause of some division between them). The taller fellow, certainly a few inches taller than Andy, eventually caught up to me and I was quite surprised to see him so quickly. It turned out he just walked through the stream. He has much taller boots than either of us and said he found rocks he could use as stepping stones. No way I could’ve done that. His boots must’ve been quite tall and that’s not something I’d want to wear but it worked for the vigorous young man and he quickly strode out of sight. His partner wouldn’t appear for several hours - they were taking time out from each other I guess.
Taken by Andy Mytys. When we last passed here it was raining lightly and the meadow was inhabiited by a staggeringly huge black bear. This morning, about 90 minutes after leaving the junction, the meadow is empty and despite some big puffy clouds the day is really lovely.
I think what irked us the most, and perhaps that’s too strong an adjective, were the occasional slopes we had to ascend as we generally descended towards Paradise Valley. They just popped up now and then. Toss in a stream crossing or three and the day seemed to get longer. The afternoon sported some fast moving high clouds but overall it was a very fine day. We took nice breaks at intervals to relax and now and then replenish our water. Along the way we encountered some wildlife: a rattlesnake rattled at me from well out of striking range. What a relief. That’s twice in six weeks and the one in Tucson was very much within its striking range. It must have just found its way on to the side of the trail as Andy had passed by the same spot only a minute or so before I did. We found ourselves passing through Middle Paradise Valley, the campsite with the privy with a view, around 15:30. We were feeling good and so decided to push on the approximately 1.2 miles to the last campsite we could use: Lower Paradise Valley. We found ourselves a nice campsite and slowly got our shellers set up. After slowly setting up and a leisurely dinner we ventured over to another campsite. I’m sorry at this date I don’t recall the fellow’s name, Paul perhaps, but we spent a nice hour or so just after sunset around his campfire chatting. He was on a Great American Road Trip and driving throughout the west before returning back south to, I think, Tennessee and his home. We gave him some ideas of places to visit and I’m sure we all had a good time chatting.
Taken by Ken Knight. Perhaps halfway between Middle and Lower paradise Valley you will pass this fine pool. If you mind the current I am sure it would make a nice swimming hole.
Taken by Ken Knight.
Our final morning we again awoke at sunrise and packed up in reasonably good time. It was perhaps our coolest morning of the trip so far but that’s not really saying all that much. Still we both were wearing extra layers of clothing to block the breeze and keep our heat where it belonged. Andy pulled steadily ahead and I tromped on alone down the switchbacks that had taken so much longer to ascend on our first day. On May 14 it took me well over two hours to trek from Mist Falls to Lower Paradise Valley. 6 days later I descended that distance, Lower Paradise Valley to Mist Falls, in quite a bit less time. It was considerably cooler this morning and the sky was completely overcast though it was a high overcast. Mist Falls threw off its large amounts of mist as it poured torrents of water down towards the valley below into the King River. On the map I think they call this section Glacier Creek but that seems like too small a name for all that water. It was a great place to take a break and we enjoyed it (Andy for somewhat longer). Then we continued on down more switchbacks as the sun slowly broke the overcast apart and the day warmed up. We reached the trail junction somewhat before noon and at that point we had about two miles to go and on the first day those two miles had required about an hour to travel so we figured they’d go that fast now that our packs were considerably lighter. We’d have been out by 13:00 if I’d not tripped on a slightly bulging out of the ground stone and plummeted to the wide hard trail surface. That hurt. I took a few minutes to catch my breath and then we had to take a few minutes for that last stream crossing. Without a pack on I’m sure I could bounce across the thin log bridge that spans the stream but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that with my pack on so off with the shoes and all that. A little after 13:00 under now mostly clear skies with a temperature that had risen quite a bit from the morning chill we tossed our packs into the car. The bulk of our trip was now over and we had plenty of time still to enjoy ourselves before driving into Fresno sometime Saturday afternoon.
Taken by Ken Knight. The mist coming off Mist Falls is omnipresent today. Perhaps we are feeling it more because it is cooler and overcast. The sun is trying to break through but hasn't managed it yet.
Taken by Ken Knight. I am quite sure the ferns were nowhere near as abundant just six days earlier.
One more part to go: Andy and I have one final night in the National Parks and we’ll spend our remaining time exploring and turning everything into an adventure that I hope will surprise you.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
It has been several years since I did a backpacking trip that could even come close to being called a substantial challenge. That's because I've just not done anything lengthy in terms of time or distance travelled. I've done several overnights or long weekends and some of them had their own particular challenges like the winter kayaking trip of 2014 or even last fall's longer weekend because the weather became so annoying. But this trip into the Sierras of Kings Canyon National Park represented the most challenging trip I've tackled, in several respects, since the 2010 TGO Challenge trek and the challenges presented by that trip were still different in some key ways from this trip. When I woke up on the starting Friday morning of the 2008 TGO Challenge I recall feeling serious butterflies about what I was about to attempt. I wasn't that worried about the physical challenges of the trek. I was worried about finding my way; about getting from point A to B. I wasn't too concerned about the weather in Scotland despite the cries from my UK comrades that you yanks don't know what bad weather really is (ha!). This time my concerns were definitely much more focused upon the physical challenges. Could I get from point A to B carrying my 40-pound backpack, dealing with the altitude and elevation that I'd have to climb and descend each day (we started at just over 5,000 feet above sea level and the trip's high point would be around 10,250 feet above sea level). Was the weather going to kick our butts and what trials and tribulations would I have to deal with with daily camp chores. I wasn't all that worried about finding our way because we would be following a trail and Andy, who has done numerous trips in the region, was confident. But physical challenges certainly can affect mental aspects of the 5journey. I worried about how my capabilities would impact upon my enjoyment of the trip and how that would affect Andy's enjoyment of the trip.
The flight to Fresno is straightforward though a bit rushed. We had to hustle through the airport in Salt Lake City, thank goodness for moving sidewalks, to get to our puddle jumper flight to Fresno. I'm very glad I was able to follow Andy as I'm not sure I'd have been able to zip through the airport nearly as quickly on my own. Once we retrieved our rather heavy luggage in Fresno we stepped out into the oppressive heat of a mid-May early afternoon Fresno day. Not pleasant. Fresno has a climate that is known as cold semi-arid. Cold refers to the wintertime temperatures which can dip to near freezing and summers aren't as hot as a hot arid climate would see. But, that doesn't mean it is anywhere near cool in mid-May. We left the airport lugging our gear under cloudless blue skies with a temperature hovering around 87F (30C). We were glad to get in the car and start on our way into the mountains where it would be considerably cooler. Passing lines of orange trees, farm fields, California poppies, and more growing things you quickly realize just how much irrigation must be going on to create so many growing things. After all Fresno only gets about 12 inches of rain per year. We wound our way ever higher into the mountains and the farm fields gave way to mountain forests full of mostly pines I believe. It is a nice drive with plenty to look at if you have time to stop. We were in a hurry though as we needed to get to a campground to find a campsite. We pulled into Grants Grove and quickly learned our adventure was going to take a detour: they had no stove fuel. We continued along CA. 180, probably too quickly, to get to Sentinel Campground which is just a few miles away from Road's End Trailhead. We would figure out what to do about the lack of fuel after we found a place to sleep. Campsite 42 was vacant and we settled in to figure out our next move. We could drive all the way back to Fresno and the REI there or see if the general store at Lodgepole had fuel. Fresno was now the better part of two hours away; Lodgepole a bit closer and who knew if they'd have fuel. We trusted that the store clerk we managed to reach by phone, Grants Grove is the sole place you can get a cell phone signal, knew her stuff and went to Lodgepole. Lo and behold our adventure was truly a going concern: we hit a pothole and dealt with it.
We didn't rise at the crack of dawn on Sunday. Saturday was a long day with the flights, driving to and fro in the parks, setting up camp, having a tasty dinner = despite the seemingly clueless hostess at Wuksachi Lodge, and our trial and tribulations finding stove fuel and discovering that the pita bread the store sold likely tips the scales at well over one pound which was far more weight than either of us wanted to add to our packs for mere sandwich containment. We packed up, managed to get a photo taken of us both with our packs on and then said goodbye to the front country and headed off to Road's End trailhead about 5 miles way. It was a fine sunny morning and we were excited to get going. A little after 10:00 we hoisted our entirely too heavy, though I suspect nowhere near as heavy as some packs we would see, packs and sallied forth.
The trail is deceptively easy at first. In just a couple minutes you come to a stream that has some very wiggly logs spanning it forming an improvised bridge. Had I not been wearing a pack I'm sure I could have walked it easily enough. But with the pack it felt iffy to cross. Andy was kind enough to carry my pack across (after carrying his). I expect most people just walk across the bridge-of-sorts without a thought. Then the trail, exceedingly wide at this point, works its way deeper into the pine forest ascending very slowly as it goes. For the first mile or so you don't actually feel like you are in forest as views are pretty open but eventually the trail narrows down to what you would consider a more standard trail. The forest, lined with ferns, thickens with many trees climbing towards the sky. But for the first two miles, until you reach the first trail junction, it is surprisingly easy going. That wouldn't last.
Taken by Andy Mytys. We had been in camp for somewhat more than an hour (Andy longer than I by 20 minutes or so) when this fellow and some comrades wandered on through. All told we spotted 5 deer at this time and as we packed up the following morning. I'm sure the deer find valuable, though icky leavings. One found a pee-site and turned it into a deer lick: salt is good.
We turned on to the trail heading towards Mist Falls and the traveling began to get tougher. The day was warming and I was sweating and I knew it would only get harder. Andy pulled ahead and I slowly marched on. Along the way we saw quite a few day hikers hiking to and from Mist Falls. It is a popular destination and I completely understand why. The defining characteristic of the hike to Mist Falls is I think the roaring river on your right (east). Maybe later in the year the waters aren't such a torrent but at this time of year you see nothing but raging whitewater. Mist Falls doesn't disappoint. I am not sure how tall a waterfall it actually is but the roiling water that is throwing off plenty of mist is impressive. It was also a great place to take yet another rest and put the 40-pound pack down. We still had about 2 miles to go to reach Lower Paradise Valley and another 700-800 feet of elevation to gain over the remaining distance. What a slog for my too-heavy body and pack. I really was feeling it as I crept up the switchbacks. Andy steadily pulled ahead and I steadily fell further behind. Surprisingly we continued to see day hikers who had gone as far as Lower Paradise Valley. There are some very fine views of the mountains but I am not sure I'd bother if I were doing just a day hike. It wasn't all toil and struggle. Along the way we did see those nice views and saw some neat flora and fauna including a neat, and we are pretty sure non-poisonous, snake (red next to black friend to jack; red next to yellow kill a fellow - this snake was red next to black). By the time I hauled my butt into Lower Paradise Valley Andy had been there for some 20 minutes and I was glad to stop as it had taken well over two hours to cover the measly distance from Mist Falls to the campground and it was approaching 17:00 (5:00PM). Perhaps we could have pushed on the 1.2 miles to Middle Paradise but I was quite happy to stop and start the slow process of setting up camp.
I'm not a very good tamper. It goes beyond my mediocre ability with knots. I think a lot more depends on my poor ability to get things positioned well especially getting the angles of guy lines to tarp just right. While more practice does help I just am not good at tarp setup. Thank goodness Andy is far better at it and willing to lend a hand. But somehow camp setup just always takes a long time. You might be able to improve things by getting multiple things going at the same time. For example, you could have water heating while you spend time - and it seems like a lot - inflating an Exped down air mattress (Exped 7 in my case). But I have never been really good at that sort of time optimization. Eventually we both were settling down to dinner and at about that time two or three deer decided to wander through our campsite. Deer don't care where they find their salt; or maybe urine doesn't taste bad to them. Fun to watch though one did come closer to Andy's tarp than he would have preferred.
Camp life is interesting. We were tired but neither of us was going to fall asleep super early. Sunset was around 20:00 , though the sun vanishes behind the mountains well before official sunset, and sunrise would be just before 06:00 (though the sun itself is not actually visible until somewhat later). That means a lengthy night, 10 hours, and that's certainly longer than we're likely going to sleep. But we aren't going to sit around a campfire chewing the fat. We might chew the fat but not around a fire as we are both too lazy to make a fire. But you still find things to do. Trying to figure out what the little red object in the sky is is a case in point. We were pretty sure it wasn't Mars. In time though we both settled down for bed and I'm quite sure we both slept pretty well even on the uneven ground until sunrise.
We did pretty well breaking camp. Our hope on our second day was to get to Castle Dome Meadow or maybe even the trail junction with the John Muir Trail (and PCT). That would require us to cover something like 8 or 9 miles and we figured it would be pretty much all climbing to about 8,400 feet - an elevation gain approaching 1,900 feet. It would turn out that what we were reading on the map and the reality were definitely two different things. Perhaps that says more about our map reading skills but I'm not convinced of that.
The hike started out gently enough as we headed towards Middle Paradise Valley. You gain a bit less than 100 feet over the 1.2 miles. We had a spot of self-created challenge trying to get across a stream. We definitely ended up making our lives a bit more difficult than we had to but it really did look like the stream crossing where the trail was wasn't practical. Live and learn. The trail began to surprise us when we left Middle Paradise as it seemed to rise and fall somewhat more than we expected. While the trend was ever upward we encountered descents too and the biggest of those was a total surprise after we forded a gushing chilly creek just before ascending again to a spot above a lovely valley with possible campsites.
Taken by Ken Knight. While Andy was checking out a preivvy with a view (I think he collects them as it were) I hung out by the river here at Middle Paradise Valley. Maybe we could have made it here last night but I know I would've been pooped. But it really is a pretty easy mile and change to this spot from Lower Paradise Valley.
Taken by Ken Knight. Andy is just over 6 feet tall so that should give you an idea of how big that downed tree behind him is. It's a lovely morning in the pine forest and we have forded a couple creeks as we approach Upper Paradise Valley.
Taken by Andy Mytys. Once you take your pants legs off once their is little reason to put them back on. It is surprisingly warm already and I wish I was wearing a lighter shirt than I am. I really expected it to be much cooler.
But for all the surprises I think we both found the going a bit easier than yesterday. Perhaps the enforced breaks at the stream crossings we had to contend with after Upper Paradise Valley played a role. We had several significant ascents with some nice gentle stretches between Upper Paradise and the descent towards a large meadow that would surprise us. Along the way we met a handful of people along the way. They told us that the trail was not too bad. While we took them at their word I think they forgot about some of the ascents and descents they had tackled on the way up and back down. It is easy to forget what the terrain is like after you have successfully crossed it. For example, while an agile person can ford some of the streams by crossing tree bridges I suspect many, and I'm in that group, will want to switch to water shoes and walk through the icy water. If time is a driving concern for you add 15-20 minutes for each crossing because it takes time to go through the gear changes on either side of the crossing (OK, maybe it's not quite that long but it sure felt that long). I believe we had 3 streams to contend with (or was it 4?). After crossing a big unnamed creek, should have a name; it's big with cataracts) we found the weather changing: it began to rain. We climbed out of the creek valley and to our surprise, and chagrin, found we had to descend a couple hundred feet. The views opened up to some really wonderful vistas that included some lovely fields of snow cascading down mountain slopes to the valley we were heading into but we weren't happy we were losing altitude that we'd have to regain later on.
Taken by Ken Knight. Sometimes you just need to see the world in black and white. To be sure a mildly rainy afternoon which is what this had become would cause some objects to truly stand out the glory here is best seen in stark contrasts.
Taken by Andy Mytys. By this point we have, in some ways worrisomely, closed the gap to this massive bear to certainly less than 100 meters. Andy swears he's 800 pounds and who am I to say he is wrong. It's hard to believe he did not know we were around but until I accidentally whacked a rock hard with a trekking pole he showed no concern. Once that happened he looked up and loped off away from us.
However, you can forget a lot when you see something special. The "Big Fucking Bear" we first saw some 400 yards away is a case in point. Andy couldn't tell if it was one truly huge male or, more worrisome, a sow with cubs. Our trail was going to take us nearer whatever it was. The bear, it would turn out to be a huge male, was in the meadow we thought we would camp at as we wanted to get out of the rain. But when you are confronted with such a grand beast the decision to let him have the meadow and keep going to find an uninhabited location to camp is pretty much a no brainier. You leave him be. Until we made a distinctly loud noise, a trekking pole whacked a rock, the bear didn't seem to care (hard to believe he hadn't known we were about) about us. The noise caused him to look up, we were probably less than 100 yards distant, then sauntered away. Personally I am glad I had company. The two of us should have looked bigger than we were and obviously I'd not have seen the huge bear anywhere near as quickly as Andy did. We would find a good campsite 30-40 minutes later - a campsite that was well above the valley of the bear (a mile away and 300 feet above). Again we adjusted our plans to better suit the actual conditions on the ground. Given the rainy weather our campsite was likely a better choice anyway as the trees may have provided some additional shelter from the rain. The only downside was the lack of accessible water.
In the next part, Days 4 through 6, we'll reach our highest point in so many senses of our trip./p>
Monday, July 4, 2016
Those of you who actually listened to the Top of the Park Wrap Up from the last post might have noticed my mistakenly uploaded incorrect audio. This is now fixed and you can check the episode out in the previous post or just click on the player below.
Performers featured this time include: Shari Kane and Dave Steel, Whit Hill and the Postcards, and George Beddard and the Kingpins.