Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sequoia and Kings Canyon: May 2018

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow; hit "escape" to get back to the text.  As always, both Felice and I took these photos.  I do the editing on Lightroom, trying to reproduce just what we saw.)

To celebrate our 40th anniversary (and the end of my very last semester), we spent a week in the high country, of course.  Lodgepole Campground was still available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so we snagged a pleasant campsite near the river.  (The Giant Forest area is too far from boondock country, so that's why we chose to stay in a campground this time.)

May 17:   We hiked to Tokopah Falls, an easy 4 mile round trip, which left us plenty of time for exploring some stretches of the river that were not right on the trail.   From the riverbank, we could look up at the Watchtower, rising more than two thousand feet from the valley:

The Watchtower looked particularly ominous to us, since we had just heard that a hiker had been killed on that trail a couple of days earlier.  The trail was closed due to ice and snow, but some brave person unfortunately ducked under the barrier.

Most of the snow along the trail had just melted, and there were some "snow flowers" poking up here and there.   These plants look like fungi, but they're not.   Instead, they live symbiotically with a fungus; the fungus provides the flower with nutrients, and the flower provides carbon to the fungus.  The bigger flower on the left is about six inches tall:

As we got nearer to the falls, we saw a well-nourished marmot scurrying through the talus:

The falls were running powerfully; even though this was not a big snow year, we happened to visit at the peak of the thaw:

May 18:  We had always wanted to try the trail out of Lodgepole to Cahoon Meadow toward Twin Lakes, and this seemed like a perfect day for it.  As it turns out, we were not impressed.  There are almost no views from the trail, and the forest is pretty ordinary.  There is one tricky stream crossing -- we chose to cross on a log instead of getting wet:

From one point on the trail, we could see the skyline of the high country near Alta Peak:

We could also see the Twin Peaks area – notice the distinctive "horn" shape of the glacially-sharpened spire:

May 19:   It was a misty day, but we optimistically chose to tackle the Hump, a fairly strenuous hike from Wolverton to Heather Lake:  maybe it would clear up!  As we toiled up the steep hill, however, it got even cloudier.

Along the way, we came across a small pack of mules heading down to the trailhead and carrying rescue baskets.  The mule skinner told us that these were used during the search and rescue for the hiker who had been killed on the Watchtower trail.

When we got to the viewpoint at the saddle above Heather Lake, there was still a fragmentary view of the nearby peaks – Felice quickly snapped this shot:

As we ate lunch, it got foggier and foggier.  We decided to take a "no view" shot, just for the heck of it:

May 20:  Dorst Campground was closed, which meant that the hike to Muir Grove would be extra long and (as a result) would be uncrowded.  In fact, we had the whole grove to ourselves for about two hours!

The dogwoods were coming into bloom:

 We hiked out to the northwest corner of the grove, to visit our favorite trees:

Here is a close-up of that shot, just to make sure that the sign is legible:


 May 21:   To satisfy our craving for some boondocking, we moved north to the Big Meadow area.  After getting set up, we drove down to Redwood Canyon.  The dogwoods look their best against the red bark of the Sequoias:

Shortly after we started hiking, it began to rain: time for ponchos!   Every so often, the sun came out for a few moments; Felice caught these backlit droplets on fir needles.  The raindrops look like thin white streaks due to the slow exposure:

The rain had stopped by the time we got back to the campsite -- Felice's thumb is pointing to a range of snowy peaks to the south:

This is a "view from the trailer" shot -- note the door frame on the left.  Shell Mountain, with a dusting of fresh snow, is the granite dome on the left side of the shot:

Part of boondocking is coping with unlevel campsites -- no asphalt pad out here!  We were on a steeply sloping granite slab -- note the thick pile of orange plastic "legos" under the tire and the flat rocks under the "landing gear" for the steps.  Without the Glowsteps, we would have had a three foot gap between the ground and the original steps:

May 22:  There are very few things more pleasant than being warm and dry inside a trailer during a cold and rainy night.  The next morning was clear, chilly, and fresh.  Felice took this shot on her iPhone:

As we drove out Highway 180 toward the Mist Falls trailhead, we could see evidence of the huge Rough Fire of 2015 -- skeletal groves of dead and dying trees.  Yes, fire is a natural phenomenon, but that does not mean we have to like it.

On our way up the trail to Mist Falls, we passed through a big talus field where we had seen rattlers on a couple of different occasions.  This time, in the same rockpile, we were treated to a beautiful (and harmless!) Kings Canyon kingsnake, about three feet long, slithering across the path.  Felice grabbed her camera just in time:

We stopped for our now-customary shot of the Sphinx, that bat-eared formation in the top left corner of the shot:

Felice waded into the thick mist at the base of the falls:

It looked like fun, so I decided to join her:

We sat by the head of the falls for quite a while, enjoying the thundering water:

This is an overview movie, taken from the base of the falls:

This is a pan, taken with the Slo-Mo app on Felice's phone:

This is a rooster tail formation in the middle of the cascade:

For lack of a better term, this is a huge "cauldron" or "standing explosion," toward the base of the cascade and just before the falls accelerate over the ridge of resistant rock.  This thing is around ten feet tall; every so often, the water backs up and shoots high into the air.  It's hypnotic:

This is the same feature in slow motion:

And here are the boots in slo-mo.  Spoiler alert:  they don't move much:

And now, the grand finale.  The final portion of the Mist Falls trail is very dull: sandy and flat, with an unimpressive forest.  Worse yet, it had recently been subjected to a prescribed burn -- there were even a few smoldering smoky hot spots here and there.  We were trudging back to the truck in a light rain when Felice heard crunching noises behind a rock outcropping.  She peered around.  There was a small bear, gnawing on a burnt stump, licking up ants and grubs:

The bear paid us no attention at all.  If you look closely, you can see that the bear is wearing a rectangular white tracking collar on the back of his neck.  (One would think that the Park Service could design something a little sleeker and more fashionable, but I guess not.)