In between two storm systems, we managed to find a dry weekend (at the end of January/start of February). (Remember to click on the pix to enlarge and then hit "back." A couple of these pictures might be worth clicking on.)
We headed up to Wishon Campground above Springville, in the Giant Sequoia National Monument northeast of Bakersfield. The campground (at 4000 feet) is right on the Tule River; the campsites are spacious and are all shaded by oaks. The first night, there was one other group in the campground. The rest of the time, we were alone:
Note -- the four mile road from Highway 190 to the campground is steep and narrow and twisty; and the highway is no picnic, either. Don't go up to Wishon in a big rig, and don't try it with a trailer longer than 20 feet. Your transmission will get a nice workout, both going up and coming down! Fortunately, there was no ice on the road -- that would have made it even more entertaining. Also, clearance inside the campground is a little tight -- watch those low branches.
After setting up the trailer, we took the SUV up a very rocky, muddy, icy road toward Alder Creek:
When the snow got too deep, we continued on foot -- there are quite a few Sequoias on or near this fire road. The next day we took Highway 190 up to Freeman Grove, at 7000 feet. The access road was buried in two feet of snow, so we hopped onto our snowshoes and trudged down into the grove. We had a huge snowy grove all to ourselves -- sort of dreamlike. It was really great to get off-trail and walk among "wild" Sequoias that are seldom visited by anyone; during the summer, we would have to stick to the trail, both because it can be harmful to walk on the soil near the trees and because the undergrowth would get in the way. In the winter, the brush is mostly buried in the snow. The color of the red bark was intense in the afternoon light:
This is the same shot, edited more than seven years later, with Lightroom 5. It is amazing that there are still so few other Google results for "snowshoeing in Freeman Grove:"
Although the weather was clear, it was fairly cold, getting down into the high 20s at night. We tried to run the heater in the trailer as little as possible, both to preserve the battery and to preserve the silence -- we could hear the river roaring right next to us, and it was a pleasure just to listen to it all evening long. The inside of the trailer was a toasty 45 degrees -- we bundled up like Eskimos. Not glamorous, but comfortable:
On Sunday, we took a hike along the Camp Nelson trail, through the Belknap Grove and up toward the Wheel Meadow Grove. The snow was a few days old, and the water vapor in the air had collected on the snow crystals to form fragile "hoar frost:"
There were some tricky stream crossings -- we had to build a temporary log bridge across the river -- and it would not have been fun to fall into the icy water:
Once again, we saw no one else during the entire day of hiking -- just us and the big trees in the snowy forest. The black dot at the base of the tree is Felice:
The higher up we went, the deeper the snow got. Although we were not on snowshoes (the terrain was too rough), we were still able to make good progress in our waterproof hiking boots. Our gaiters (leggings) kept the snow out of our boots. All along the trail, the river tumbled over half-frozen falls:
Back down near the campground, we ran into quite a few red sierra newts -- it was the start of their mating season and they were crawling slowly across the path, stunned by the cold temperatures:
On Monday, before heading home, we hiked up from Wishon toward Mountain Home State Forest; in the mountains, we could see several large groves of Sequoias, but they were across the river and hard to reach. Right where Burro Creek empties into the Tule River, there were thousands of ladybugs swarming on the rocks and leaves:
In four days of fairly strenuous hiking and snowshoeing, we did not see anyone else on the trail.