Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Sequoia and Kings Canyon, May 2016 - Days 4 - 7

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. 


Vistas Opening Up May 2016.jpg

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.


Woods Creek Suspension Bridge May 2016.jpg

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.


Woods Creek Rest Stop May 2016.jpg

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.


SNow Field May 2016.jpg

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.

Ken at High Camp May 2016.JPG

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..JPG

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.


Andy Climbing Through Snow May 2016.jpg

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.


Ken in the Snow May 2016.jpg

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.

 Dollar Lake and Fin Dome May 2016.jpg

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.

Andy and the Snow May 2016.jpg

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.


BFB Meadow in the Morning May 2016.jpg

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. 


Swimming Hole May 2016.jpg

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.


The Last Supper May 2016.JPG

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.

Mist Falls Mist and Andy May 2016.jpg

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.

Forest and Ferns May 2016.jpg

Taken by Ken Knight. I am quite sure the ferns were nowhere near as abundant just six days earlier.


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).

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.


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