Oft Forgotten Sister ~ Kings Canyon National Park

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ~ John Muir

Rushing, roaring, majestic Kings River

One day and a kick-back (rest day) before we head north to yet another national landmark so time to see the oft forgotten sister, Kings Canyon National Park.  Even the volunteers at the visitor center recognize that this National Park seems to take “back seat” to its southern sister, Sequoia, but are proud of the fact that it boasts one of the deepest canyons in North America (maximum depth 8200 feet), at places deeper than the Grand Canyon, although lacking in spectacular topography.  John Muir first visited in 1873 and the canyon began to receive attention.  His theory that the valley was carved from massive glaciers during the last Ice Age proved to be correct.

deepest point in Kings Canyon

I am currently reading Angels in the Wilderness, by Amy Racina, which takes place in Kings Canyon.  A most compelling true story, Ms. Racina takes us along on her solo-backpacking journey into the rugged, very lightly traveled section of this canyon known as Tehipite Valley, when tragedy strikes.  Her survival against all odds and the spiritual journey she takes us on is truly moving.  This is a read I would highly recommend.

winding roads of Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon National Park consists of two distinct sections.  The much smaller Grant Grove section, lying to the west, was named General Grant National Park in 1890 but was incorporated into the remaining eastern 90% of Kings Canyon on March 4, 1940 to protect the large grove of giant sequoia there.  The eastern section of the park forms the headwaters of the south and middle forks of the Kings River and the south fork of the San Joaquin River.  Covering roughly 462,000 acres, ~84% of the park’s wilderness is accessible only on foot or by horseback.

In Grant Grove Village stands General Grant Tree, a living memorial to the men and women of the armed services.  As your gaze travels towards the skies, you realize how difficult it is to capture the true size of these giants in a photo.

General Grant Tree

General Grant Tree is the third largest of the giant sequoia, standing over 267 feet tall, 40 feet across its base, and over 107 feet around.  The average estimate of its age is between 1500-2000 years.  It was designated the Nation’s Christmas tree by then President Calvin Coolidge on April 28, 1926.  Still today the marking of Christmas is held here under General Grant’s snow-laden branches.

On our way out to the Cedar Grove area, a quick stop at the Roaring River Falls was a must.  This thundering waterfall descends from the south wall of the canyon, flowing into the Kings River.  A sort paved walk from the parking lot leads to it.

Roaring River Falls
lunch view

Cedar Grove, one of the flattest sections of the park and pretty darn near road’s end, is where we decided to lunch and the views could not be beat!  The waters of the Kings River were sparkling clear in the foreground of soaring granite cliffs.

As we were looking forward to our short hike into Zumwalt Meadow and enjoying our final bites, look who slithered in to join our dining experience!

tiny but deadly rattlesnake
Terry on suspension bridge at Zumwalt Meadow

Zumwalt Meadow is one of the loveliest 1.5 miles in the park and is purported to be one of the finest meadows in all the national parks.  Formed by glaciers, it features deep-green meadows lined with trees, wildflowers, ferns, views of the Kings River, and the granite cliffs of Grand Sentinel in the distance.  Walk gingerly along the path as small slithering creatures could be awaiting you!  Of course, it is always good to practice caution when hiking in the wilderness.

Zumwalt Meadow

If quiet, solitude and space are your thing, they are easy to come by in this  oft forgotten sister, Kings Canyon National Park, another American treasure.

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Get High ~ Sequoia National Park (Part 2)

“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.

I’m quite the flashy little guy, don’t you think?

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.

Terry headin’ on down the trail.

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.

pretty in pink

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.

waterfall where we enjoyed lunch

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.

One big pine cone, and nope, not from a sequoia.

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.

Historic 1923 Kaweah River Bridge on drive out to Mineral King.

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.

fat marmot with a voracious hunger

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.

Anise swallowtail right at my feet!

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.

view out to the trailhead

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.

Seriously?! We’ve gotta cross this thing?

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 prize at the end of the trail
two tired but very happy hikers

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!

Magic mushrooms anyone?

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