Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sequoia and Kings Canyon, May 2016 - Days 7 and 8

Flowers on the Road.JPGTaken by Andy Mytys. One of many spots along California 180 between Road's End and Grants Grove.

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.

Andy and Super Yucca.jpg

Taken by Ken Knight. We thinkt his is a yucca but aren't completely sure. It is a remarkable plant whatever it actually is.

Flowers 6.JPG

Taken by Andy Mytys. More flowers on CA 180.

Flowers and Mountains.jpg

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.

Mixed wildflowers.JPG

Taken by Ken Knight. I've no idea what these flowers are but they're pretty and that is enough for me.

Purple Flowers.JPG

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.

Above the Clouds - Muro Rock.jpg

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.

Giant Life Small Life.jpg

Taken by Andy Mytys. Until you stand among them you don't really grasp how large Giant Sequoia can be.

Walk on the Sequoia Side.jpg

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.

Ken and the Roots.jpg

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.

The Root Ball.jpg

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.

You can find complete photo albums that document the whole trip in Apple (doesn't show photo captions and EXIF data), Flicrk, and Google (same photos different presentations).

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