We have been home from our trip to Sequoia for almost two weeks now and I have been a bit slow getting around to this trip report. That is because we have had an amazing swell and a record breaking heatwave, so we have been spending our days surfing and drinking margaritas. I know, I know, not a bad life if you can get it! But alas, Michole went back to work today, and because drinking alone is not much fun, here is the lowdown from four fantastic days in Sequoia!
Neither of us had ever really been north of L.A., so we were extremely excited as we rolled out of our apartment complex at 5 am. About 6 hours of driving later, we arrived at Crystal Cave for our first activity in Sequoia: an hour long tour through Crystal Cave, one of some 275 known caves in the parks, but the only one open to the public.
It was a neat experience for both of us, our first real experience under ground. I was a little disappointed that the entire tour stuck to a, mostly, paved and lighted path through the cave, but there was a moment where we all took a seat, turned off the lights, and spent several minutes consumed by the impossible darkness of the cave. If you have several hundred dollars to burn, there is a four to six hour “wild cave tour” that explores the cave far away from any paths or lights, and comes complete with fat man squeezes and belly crawls! Unfortunately, it was out of the budget for two aspiring dirtbags, but we had a great time on our tour, and then headed for a short hike through the Giant Forest, and another up Moro Rock for some panoramic views before making a final drive up to our campsite.
One thing that surprised me about sequoia was just how much driving we did. Most of the roads are carved right into the side of cliffs, are very narrow, and often have no guardrails. Coupled with just how large the park is, and you can spend hours each day driving to this trailhead or that overview.
With sunset fast approaching, we finally arrived at Sunset campground. As we set up our tent, we ran into the Watts sisters, whom Michole coaches, and their family! We would spend that evening, as well as the next eating and watching the sunset with them from their camp site which sat right on the campgrounds West facing cliff, cooking s’mores over a their fire, stargazing, and Michole rocking the girls to sleep one after the other. It was a great surprise, and goes to show that even when you flee civilization for the natural, wild things, human interaction and newfound relationships can still be a highlight of the journey.
Our second day in the park was planned around the Mist Falls Trail hike, a 9-mile, out and back route with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The GPS marked the drive to the trailhead at one hour, but racked nerves from driving along the edges of sheer cliffs meant that we took closer to two. Oh well, more time to enjoy the scenery!
The trail begins at roads end, which is appropriately named for obvious reasons. I won’t go into too much detail about the hike itself here, because we will be adding a full trail guide for it soon, but the highlights were hiking nearly the entire way next to a stream, with the massive King’s Canyon walls towering above you the entire route. The one negative to the hike was the flies. Tiny black flies, swarming so thick that you could literally see the cloud of them around other people’s’ heads as they passed, could make the hike nearly unbearable. After getting used to them, they didn’t bother me too bad, save for when they flew up my nose or into my mouth, but they drove poor Michole nearly insane. She even went as far as saying that it was probably one of the most beautiful hikes she had ever done, but just couldn’t be enjoyed due to the flies. We saw several people along the way with bug nets over their heads, and if you are the least bit sensitive about being swarmed, then I would highly recommend one for this hike!
We stopped on our way back to the campground at Grizzly Falls and cooked up some ramen noodles on the Jetboil for lunch. If you want a close up waterfall without the hike to Mist Falls, then Grizzly Falls is certainly the answer. Just off the side of the road, there are picnic benches so you can eat lunch right next to the thundering falls, which were particularly heavy this year; I suspect due to the surplus of snow from winter melting above.
One more stop took us to Hume Lake for a bit of relaxation before finally returning to the campground. In my opinion, Hume Lake was really nothing to write home about, but I think there are more, “beachier” sections than the one we were at, so don’t write it off if you find yourself nearby and needing a cool dip! We wrapped up the day with a feast of hotdogs, hamburgers, and s’mores with the Watts family, who were much more outfitted for cooking such a feast, than we were with our little Jetboil. Stargazing, conversation, and Jack Daniels made for a great night.
On our final full day in Sequoia, we did all of the little things that hadn’t really fit in anywhere else. We saw General Grant’s Tree and General Sherman’s Tree: the third and first largest trees in the world, respectively. Both were extremely impressive, but the paved paths through the forest to them, and the conveyer belt of people using the paths, made the trees feel more like Disneyland attractions than marvels of a wild, natural world.
Our desires for this would be fulfilled first by a short hike through Big Stump Grove, where a number of Giant Sequoia trees were cut down many years ago. The largest of these was the tree that’s remain is now known as “Mark Twain Stump.” The tree was cut down to have sections sent East to museums as proof that such gargantuan trees truly existed, though most still believed it was nothing but a hoax, believing the disks were taken from multiple trees and simply fitted together!
From there, we ventured even further from the black tops. Enter “Little Baldy.” Not something on our initial itinerary, Little Baldy was recommended by our tour guide in Crystal Cave, after we asked for a particularly great hike. At just over three miles, and just shy of 1,000 feet of elevation, you could not possibly ask for more out of a shorter hike than you get from Little Baldy! Again, I will not go into too much detail because we will be posting a full guide for the hike, but Little Baldy featured incredible views on a climb up to a subalpine meadow that resembled a fairy garden, and finally ended on a granite dome with breathtaking panoramic views.
Thinking that the views couldn’t possibly get any better, we headed to our final destination of the day: Buck Rock Lookout. What we didn’t know, was that the road to Buck Rock lookout is not only unpaved, but probably should have been marked as four wheel drive only. The three miles took us about 45 minutes, as I inched along, hoping not to destroy Michole’s car crossing rocks, potholes, and rain ruts that threatened to bottom us out at any moment. Eventually, we had to start getting out periodically to clear rocks from the road that her car couldn’t clear! The final stretch up to the parking area looked completely impossible so we pulled off and hoofed it the rest of the way.
Buck Rock Lookout is one of the few still functioning fire lookout towers in the park, and if you brave the, beyond precarious, stairs suspended over nothing up to it, you find yourself on a granite dome, in a tiny house with glass walls and views that somehow even edged out those from Little Baldy! The lookout herself was extremely friendly, giving us the rundown of her job and how it’s done, as we took in the views from this precariously perched tiny house on the top of the world.
Our camp buddies having departed earlier in that day, we spent our only night alone by a fire that I dare say was the envy of the campground. Searching deep into the woods for firewood, I found several felled trees with limbs snapped or cut off, that we hauled back to camp. One more sunset, leftover hotdogs, hamburgers, and s’mores all heated over the fire on coat hangers, and a bottle of camp store crown royal ensured that we lived like a king and queen for one last night. This might have actually been the first camping trip where I gained weight!
After our standard breakfast of instant grits, we broke camp and went for one last drive, followed by one last hike up to the extremely appropriately named “panoramic point,” for one last lookout before finally making our way back south.
Sequoia was a tremendous getaway for us, and it was great to get back in the woods, and in the mountains. Coming home was made a bit easier though, by that swell that we have enjoyed for the last couple of weeks!
One of the biggest surprises of the trip actually had nothing to do with the trip itself. In a rare moment of cell service at the campground, I received a text from a friend inviting us on a three-day backpacking trip in the high Sierra! So stay tuned for that, as well as trail guides for Mist Falls and Little Baldy!