We had lots of early interest expressed from many friends to do this trip to Kings Canyon National Park in the fall of 2007. In the end however, there were only three of us that planned to hike the Rae Lakes Loop (about 45 mi., ranging in altitude from about 5,000’ to 12’000’ at Glen Pass), and four others wanting to day-hike. We planned to be out for about 6 days on the Rae Lakes Loop.
The day-hiking crew planned to explore Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. There were plenty of shorter trails and loops to keep them busy.
Heading east out of Fresno on 180, we drove about two hours to Cedar Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park. We had a couple of rooms reserved and waiting. There is a restaurant on site plus a grocery store. Highly recommended!
We all hiked the Don Cecil Trail to Sheep Creek and Lookout Peak on the first day. It gave us a chance to get acclimated to the higher altitude a bit. On the second day we hiked the Hotel Creek Trail to the Cedar Grove Overlook spur, then back to Hotel Creek and up to the Lewis Creek Trail which brought us around a loop back to Cedar Grove –a good workout, and a beautiful hike! Both hikes climbed about 2,500′ and we returned to our rooms each night –a good way to acclimate to higher elevations.
It was finally time to head for the backcountry. On day three we filled our water bottles and bear canisters, hoisted our packs and headed for the trailhead at Roads End, about 5 mi. east of Cedar Grove. (Note- food must be stored in bear canisters when backpacking –they are required in all these National Parks; many campsites do not have bear boxes to store your food. –see NP website above for details.)
We hiked a few miles and came to a fork in the trail, and went left, starting to climb up into Paradise Valley which follows the South Fork of the Kings River upstream.
We took a needed break at Mist Falls, and joked as we topped off our water bottles. We’d climbed about 1,600’ at this point. Continuing north on the trail we soon arrived at the second campground on this leg of trail, Middle Paradise Valley Campsite, our designated campsite per our permit. We dropped our packs and set up our tents in close proximity for the night.
After a good dehydrated dinner of beef stew and chicken-rice, we noticed the winds were picking up. Soon we were getting a light rain, so we put our gear away and decided to retire for the night. Soon the rains became heavy and the winds increased. It was now dark, and the heavy winds blowing down the valley sounded like a freight train- a very loud freight train! You could hear it coming –off in the distance, getting louder, then as it passed, quieting until the next big blow started — in about ten minutes. Very eerie, indeed. The tents were shaking. Steve and I were in one tent, Pat in the other. Suddenly, Pat was shrieking – “Help, someone come in my tent, I’m going to blow away.” I laughed, and she responded, “I’m not kidding, the tent is lifting off the ground.” “Ok, ok,” I said.
Pat had purchased a new tent for this trip, and it just happened to be the same tent I had, and they just happened to be arranged so I could easily slip from mine into hers without getting very wet. Steve was heavy enough to hold down our tent and Pat and I together were heavy enough to hold hers down. Both tents were also staked, and held up throughout the night, keeping us dry. The fierce winds and heavy rains continued throughout the night. By daylight, the winds had subsided, but a light rain continued.
It was a cold morning. We made some hot coffee and had energy bars for a quick breakfast, then headed up the trail again. The sights were unbelievable –big trees completely blown over, roots pulled out above ground; trees broken in half… deadfall everywhere! We had checked the campsite for dead trees and limbs just as we always do. But we were not prepared for such destruction, and we considered ourselves to be very lucky.
Soon we reached the Upper Paradise Valley Campsite and talked with a group of people staying there. We continued a short distance and crossed a wooden bridge to the east side of the South Fork of the Kings River, and followed the Woods Creek Trail to the east. We were still gaining altitude, and after a couple of miles we arrived at Castle Dome Meadow (about 8,000’). We decided to take a break and noticed snow falling in the upper elevations. We sat and rested for fifteen minutes and while resting a group of four passed us on their way down, remarking that the snow was getting heavier up higher. Five minutes passed and a few more people passed us headed down, telling us they heard there was over a foot accumulated at Rae Lakes and it was coming down hard. It had stayed cold all day, so we began to worry. Two guys came by who had been camping up at Baxter Lakes, and they assured us it was BAD up there. We looked at each other and all agreed in unison, ‘let’s head back down.’
As we headed back down Woods Creek Trail, we noticed light snow had begun to fall. Crossing the bridge over the South Fork, we noticed the upper campground was now empty. It took us a couple of hours to reach Mist Falls. A couple passed us, heading down from the John Muir Trail, saying there was a lot of snow up there too. No snow at Mist Falls, however, and that was a good thing! We were making good time as we continued down, and felt we’d be back at Cedar Grove in a couple of hours. As we passed the Bubbs Creek Trail and headed west toward Cedar Grove, the terrain leveled off and we maintained a good, steady pace.
The Ranger station was just ahead and when we stopped, she informed us that the snow was very heavy and still coming down in the high country. As we hiked into Cedar Grove we found people camped everywhere. All the rooms were filled, and people seemed to be coming in from all directions- on trails and roads alike. We met one woman who’d slept under a tarp near the parking lot. She was looking for a ride to the Fresno airport.
We found our day-hiking companions and got something to eat in the restaurant. It was very crowded, and we wondered how long the food would last. We were not getting any snow, just a light, steady rain. Everyone decided to turn in for the night. It had been a long, tiring day for us –first hiking up the trail, then turning around and hiking all the way back down again.
In the morning, Pat decided to drive into Fresno and catch a flight back to Anchorage. She gave the woman sleeping under the tarp a ride to the airport. The rest of us decided to hike a local trail and then drive up to San Francisco the following day, visit Napa and taste some wines.
We had dinner in Sausalito, on the way back to the airport and took the red-eye flight home. A great, but hectic vacation it was. I’m confident that all slept well on the flight home –I did! Cheers!