[Note – This is the fourth of five posts describing my 2010 Road Trip]
After a long drive from Stanley, Idaho to June Lake, California, Jon H. and I had a good meal and got a well deserved night’s rest before beginning a couple of leisurely days just day-hiking in Yosemite, NP. This would be followed by eight to ten days of backpacking in Kings Canyon, NP just south of Yosemite. (This was my first trip to Yosemite, but I’d been to Kings Canyon in 2007. In 2007, three of us started the Rae Lakes Loop and on the second or third day we ran into an early blizzard and were forced to abort the climb, and head back down; we ended up in wine country up in Napa.
Hiking Yosemite, NP. –Jon and I drove north from June Lake and took Hwy 120 W, climbing up through Tioga Pass (9,950′) to the East Entrance of Yosemite. The picture below is the view looking back down as we climb Tioga Pass. We day-hiked for two days, returning to our room at June Lake each night. More of that ‘lush living.’
On day one we drove in along Tioga Road and spent time hiking in Tuolumne Meadows, a sub-alpine, lush grassland complete with blue lakes and streams, and wild flowers surrounded by mountain peaks and granite domes. The Lyell and Dana Forks of the Tuolumne River and numerous creeks are all converging in the Tuolumne Meadows, at 8,600′. Lots of short hikes and numerous trailheads for longer hikes are all nearby. What makes the area unique is that it is all readily accessible by vehicle. Usually such locations in the Sierra high-country are reached only by backing miles. While Tuolumne Meadows can get busy, it is nothing like Yosemite Valley with it’s bumper-to-bumper, stop and go traffic.
We spent the day hiking around Tuolumne Meadows including a couple short hikes, before returning to June Lake for the evening.
The next day we returned and drove through the Meadows and stopped at Tenaya Lake, then Olmsted Point for pictures. Then it was on to Porcupine Flat Trailhead where we hiked south through a large pine forest, then up to North Dome to view Half Dome across the Yosemite Valley. There were also nice views down into the Valley, looking west and to the north east as well.
An excellent hike, about 9 miles round trip, with a bit of climbing up top. I highly recommend this hike, the scenery is beautiful even on a cloudy, overcast day. It’s spectacular on a clear sunny day!
We returned to our vehicle and headed down into the Valley, following the Merced River. Traffic got heavier as we approached, and by the time we reached El Capitan, we’d had enough. We stopped and got some pictures of El Capitan and nearby Bridalveil Falls, then turned around and headed out of the Valley again.
Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls are right across the Valley from El Capitan. We continued out of the Valley, enjoying good views looking east down the Valley, then we went south on 41 exiting the South Entrance on our way to Fresno, then taking 180 to Cedar Grove Lodge in Kings Canyon, NP.
A totally great two days in Yosemite. Jon and I agreed, we’d be back again soon.
Backpacking Kings Canyon, NP. – Rae Lakes Loop –Now Jon and I were headed to meet John and Rick at Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon, NP to hike the Rae Lakes Loop, about a 40 mi. loop that ranges from about 5,000′ to 12,000′ elevations. Backpackers departing from Cedar Grove are required to carry bear-resistant containers, leaving the metal bear-boxes for John Muir Trail (JMT) thru-hikers. It should be noted, I’ve seen some pretty big black bears in Kings Canyon, and the canisters work just fine; just put them in some thick brush at night, then the bears can’t roll them off the mountain or into a deep crevice. They might not be able to open them, but they can sure play with them! 😉
As we approached Cedar Grove on Kings Canyon Highway (aka 180), we found small pockets of active fires burning along the South Fork of the Kings River. We started noticing the fires and smoke around Grizzly Falls, about 5 mi. west of Cedar Grove- our destination. And the smoke got heavier at Cedar Grove, where we were told the fires were under control. I always figured a fire was under control when it was out! But that’s not necessarily the case, not technically anyway. No worries, we were told!
I think the flames were just below the horizon, across the canyon. We got our room, unpacked, got a cold beer and found a seat on the deck where we enjoyed a cigar with our cold beer, and contemplated the situation. This photo was shot from the deck!
Since John and Rick had just flown in from the flatlands of the Twin Cities, we planned to day-hike for a couple of days so that they could get accustomed to the higher altitude. Jon and I figured we were good to go, but we were all planning on backpacking together. The extra couple of days would also let us continue contemplating the fire situation.
Our day-hikes went from about 5,000′ at Cedar Grove to 6,500-7,000′ -compared with the 500′ -level we all live at. So this was a good two-day break-in period for them. When we started backpacking we would likely add about 1’500′-2,000′ each day. We planned to reach Rae Lakes (10,500′) on Day Three and then spend two nights there- resting and getting adjusted to the altitude. On Day Five we’d climb to Glen Pass (11,980′ and drop down to somewhere around Vidett Meadow or Junction Meadow to spend the night. Day Five would be a push, but we were looking forward to it.
I adjusted my compass for 14 degrees E declination, based on a 2006 Nat.Geo. Topo Map for Sequoia-Kings Canyon. I’d probably not need my compass much, except for maybe helping identify where we were on the map. But should I get off-trail for some reason- like a fire or a mean bear chasing me, the compass would prove very useful. It’s easy to get turned around in heavy brush or forest, especially on a cloudy or smokey day or at night, and in this kind of country the terrain often dictates which way you can travel (or not) and identifies areas to avoid (steep cliffs)- thus a map and compass should always be carried.
We hiked the Hotel Creek and Lewis Creek Junction Trails which formed a nice loop of about eight miles, including a scenic spur overlook of Kings Canyon near Cedar Grove, and had an elevation gain of about 2,000.’ I’d hiked these trails with my wife in 2007, and it was nice to be back hiking them again. On the 2007 trip several of us left the larger group to backpack the Rae Lakes Loop, but we ran into heavy snows and had to abort that part of the trip- which you can read about here.
The Hotel Creek Trail included crossing this meadow of large Ponderosa Pine, my favorite tree! We also crossed a previous burn area, then joined the Lewis Creek Trail and hiked along a narrow trail overlooking Lewis Creek Canyon- quite scenic. On Day Two we hiked the Don Cecil Trail up about 3,000′ and returned to the trailhead about a mile and 1,000′ short of the lookout on top. In 2007 we hiked to the top, ten miles round-trip.
The fires were not spreading. I guess they were contained- which means they should just go out… if they’re not spreading, right. Oh, stupid me! We were a GO! We were ready to hit the trail and start the Rae Lakes Loop hike early the next morning. We stopped at the Ranger Station to get our pre-arranged permit, and had the Ranger snap a picture of us as we bid her farewell and began our journey. We hiked a couple of miles and took a turn N to follow the South Fork of the Kings River up through the Paradise Valley. We’d hike to Mist Falls and take a good break there.
Break time came sooner than we’d planned; seems everyone got thirsty and tired at the same time. We soon caught sight of Mist Falls through the trees. It looked like a great place for a longer break, and I recalled taking a break there on the ’07 hike as well.
After our break we continued our climb, and the smoke just seemed to follow us right up the valley. How long would we have to hike before reaching clear air, we wondered.
It was getting discouraging! Best to keep moving, maybe we can climb out of it, we thought. We continued hiking; passing Lower Paradise Valley Camp (6,590′), then deciding to stop at the Middle Paradise Valley Camp (6,670′) and spend the night. We set up our tents and relaxed for a few minutes.We figured we’d hiked about ten miles from the Ranger Station, and gained about 1,600′ of elevation.
Next, we filtered water and cooked up some delicious dehydrated dinner. It’s amazing how good that stuff tastes after a good workout! Topped off with an energy bar and all the cold water you can drink. It just doesn’t get much better than that when backpacking!
We ate our dinners and built a small fire. It was probably the last fire we’d have for five or six days, since campfires are usually restricted in higher elevations. We’d seen one black bear early in the day, no other large animals. We relaxed around the fire and talked about the next day on the trail. We planed to hike to the junction of Woods Creek and the John Muir Trail and camp for the night. We hit the sack early and slept well, one and all.
Hot oatmeal with some raisins and coffee/tea got us up and going in the morning. We hiked a mile and passed the Upper Paradise Valley Camp where we found a bridge (a surprise) to cross the Kings River where we started following the Woods Creek Trail to the east. We were still hiking in forest, but after an hour the forest started thinning.
As can be seen, the smoke was still with us at Castle Dome Meadows (8,160). The canyon was opening up to some scenic vistas, but as we hiked we began missing the shade of the forest. It was getting hot!
Following Woods Creek we soon passed a sign announcing the John Muir Trail (JMT) ahead to the right. There was also a nice open-air pit toilet nearby to serve those in need. Another fifty yards and we came to a nice wooden suspension bridge crossing the now wild, Woods Creek. Just over the bridge we joined the JMT. We found a pack train stopping for the night, and we found spots for our tents not far from the bridge. My tent was about five yards from a wooded cliff overlooking Woods Creek below. I added some large rocks to help hold my tent in place. I didn’t want to risk being blown over the cliff if the weather changed.
From here we would take the JMT south, climbing up brush covered slopes (above), taking a right and following the canyon across a slight stream, up and over a ridge to a junction with the trail to Baxter Pass (left to the east) and Dollar Lake (10,220′) also on the left, just a little way up the JMT. We continued climbing, headed for the Ray Lakes Basin ahead.
“Yes, this is work,” says Mike. “But I love it! Beats the hell out of the gym.”
Just follow the trail and take a right up ahead! And before you know it, you’re almost there. You look ahead at those high peaks, and think to yourself… That’s where we’re going!
We just can’t seem to shake the smoke. We get some clear times, but smoke seemed to be in the air pretty much all the time we were there. Smoke on the mountain tops and smoke in the valleys!
After two days at Rae Lakes, we’d hiked all around the immediate area, and decided it was time to make a move on Glenn Pass. It would be about a 2,000′ climb, and the weather was hot, so we got an early start.
Near Lower Vidette Meadow we leave JMT and take Bubbs Creek Trail toward Cedar Grove to the west. The trail began a steep decline near Bubbs Creek Falls.
We encountered more smoke as we dropped in elevation. It was a sunny day up top two hours ago. Look at these canyon walls… amazing!
We camped in Junction Meadow Campground after a long day on the trail. We were ready to drop our packs and relax a bit. Then we saw the black bear at the edge of of the campground. He didn’t give us the time of day… he could care less and just kept moving. Maybe he saw our bear canisters?
Next morning we slept late and hiked a short distance, crossing Charlotte Creek, and then on about six miles to the Sphinx Creek Campground.
After a night at Sphinx Creek, we had about a four mile hike the next morning back to the Ranger Station at Road’s End. Everyone was in good spirits knowing we’d soon be getting cleaned up and eating something that wasn’t re-hydrated with filtered cold water. Cedar Grove didn’t have any fancy food, but after a week of the dehydrated stuff, we were confident that whatever we ordered, it would be fantastic. And we could wash it down with a cold beer! And smoke cigars on the deck or down by the Kings River, and sleep in real beds again. We were ‘happy campers.’
Again we had the Ranger snap a picture for us. She knew we were ‘happy campers.’
After completing the Rae Lakes Loop, Jon, Rick and John flew home. I continued south to Bakersfield, then cut across to Las Vegas to meet my wife the next day. She was flying in to meet me and explore the National Parks in southern Utah. We planned to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon, then drop down to Kanab and see the sun rise over the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Then we drove up to Arches, visited Moab, and then the Needles District of Canyonlands. We camped several days in both Arches and Canyonlands and day-hiked in each. We also visited the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River, UT and dropped down to Gila Wilderness in New Mexico.
The southern Utah portion of the trip will be summarized in Part Five of Five Parts describing My 2010 Road Trip. Drop me a comment and let me know what you think about my blog and/or posts, and tell me what you’re up to in the great outdoors. Thanks for following!