“When I entered this sublime wilderness the day was nearly done, the trees with rosy, glowing countenances seemed to be hushed and thoughtful… and one naturally walked softly and awestricken among them.” ~ John Muir
Time to get high, as in “natural high” or elevation gain, not like some of you are thinking. Temps are starting to creep up so hiking in the higher elevations just makes more sense. For our first high- elevation hike in Sequoia National Park, we opted for part of the High Sierra Trail. I say part because you could traipse all the way to Mt. Whitney if you were so inclined. Our trek for the day was to be 11 miles, versus 60 to the highest point in the lower 48.
This is rated as a moderate hike, with some longish steady uphill slogs. Probably rated more this because of the distance versus the uphill exertion. On our way out to the trailhead, which began in the Giant Forest, a black bear sow and cinnamon yearling sprinted across the road, both evading our camera. We had heard there were bears in the area, but this was to be our first sighting.
Beginning at an elevation of ~7000 feet, which I was still acclimatizing to since we lived at sea level for the past four months, the air was crisp and fresh, fresh, fresh. Part of the trail winds through the quiet, lush green forests, with the trilling of many songbirds, the sweet scents of unknown plants (did recognize sage and what I thought smelled like grape hyacinth) and the deep, rich fragrance of pine wafted up as we hiked across the spongy carpet of needles.
Where the forest opened up, many varieties of wildflowers were beginning to pop along the trail, adding to the sensual pleasure.
Besides the quiet beauty of the forest and the wildflowers that greeted us along the path, gurgling brooks and waterfalls appeared around many bends.
We enjoyed our lunch next to a small cascading waterfall, created from the snow-melt above. Vistas opened through the forest to remind us of how high we were and how much further our feet could carry us.
We were continually amazed at the size of the trees on this trail, sending out cones almost the length of my arm in some cases.
This is definitely a hike worth taking if you like high elevations and grand vistas (and don’t mind a little uphill trekking).
Our next hike (and with a day’s rest between the two, thank you) was to Eagle Lake, out the Mineral King road. The drive out is 25 miles on an old logging road, narrow and not terribly well-maintained. There are 698 twists and turns to get to Mineral King, the teeny town near the trailhead (yes, someone actually counted them) so it becomes a 90-minute drive at an average speed of 15-20 mph.
Given the views, I would say it is worth the time, even if winding roads make you a little “green around the gills” as they can me. Elevations at the trailheads out in these parts are the highest anywhere in the park.
We stopped at the Ranger Station a couple of miles from the trails to get some information and check out which trail seemed most to our liking. Both were rated as strenuous and Eagle Lake was a little longer, but with the lake as our destination, that did it for us.
We had heard that the marmots here liked to munch on wiring and cables in vehicles (something about lacking needed minerals when they crawled out of their den with their babes) so thought we would confirm this with the Ranger. He assured us that no marmots had bothered vehicles parked across from the Ranger Station but an unfortunate hiker who had parked at the trailhead had to have his car towed earlier in the week. Ok, decision made, even though it added another 4.5 miles to our hike for the day.
The Eagle Lake Trail is an 8-mile hike (websites say a little less but I’m goin’ with our GPS reading) at a starting elevation of 7400 feet and an elevation gain of 2500 feet (the part that gave me pause). With what promised to be a beautiful lake at the end, I pushed aside my doubt of ever seeing it and off we headed.
The views along the way were spectacular so if this is what we had to look forward to once on the trail, bring it on!
Gurgling snow-fed streams, lofty waterfalls, beautiful butterflies and gorgeous vistas almost made me forget about the relentless uphill climb (almost). Just when I thought we had hit a little smooth sailing (as in level terrain), around the next bend what should appear but a rather extensive boulder field that needed to be traversed.
By now I’m thinking maybe I don’t need to see another lake after all! With a little cajoling from Terry and a wee bit of whining and sniveling on my part, we crossed over and prepared for the last leg of our journey up to the lake (sounds like I’m trekking Mt Everest, doesn’t it?).
Man, was it worth it! Eagle Lake is a cirque granite lake, crystal clear and looked so inviting. All we had time for was a quick lunch and a few photos, then back down the trail we went. I would have been so disappointed had I not gutted it out.
The hike out took less than half the time to get up to the lake. We both agreed it was one of the toughest hikes either of us had done but one of the most rewarding. Actually, once off the trail, the hike back to our truck seemed like the longest but it assured us that we wouldn’t have furry little hitchhikers on the way back, right? Well, what should we find when we approached our truck but a fat marmot scurrying under it. Terry yelled and raised the hood and who should be sitting on the engine staring back at him but our fat, furry friend wanting a lift back into town! He decided to scurry off instead and no damage done. We noticed as we passed through the parking lot at the trailhead that many cars had been encased in chicken wire and one ingenious hiker had laid down a large tarp, drove onto it, and wrapped it up like a Christmas present! Didn’t even think to take a photo, darn it.
It’s a great time of year to come up to Sequoia National Park and get high, as in a high elevation hike. You don’t know what you’re missing!
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