The Other Big Trees

My southern-most California stop was motivated by a four-year old promise to visit my friend Adrian when he moved to California around the same time I did.   We became friends in high school, dated for a year or so, and managed to salvage a good friendship in the aftermath.   As he put it in the  Grand Tetons between being forced to downclimb a dangerous cliff and getting struck by lightning, “I just don’t think I can be with someone who thinks this is fun.”   Ha!

The plan was for me to check out another “San/Santa” (Santa Barbara) and for us to go on a backpacking trip without getting struck by lightning again.   I gunned for Sequoia National Park so I could work on my bucket list.   I can’t live for years in the Redwoods and not compare them to the neighboring greats, right?

Upon my dinnertime arrival, I thought we’d whip up a meal, catch up, spend some time with his little bro (who is one of his roommates and was my all-time-favorite kid way back when), etc.   I had forgotten what a worrier Adrian is.   It was cute.   Of course he was immediately anxious about ironing out trip details, so we mixed in equal parts trip-planning and Adrian-heckling into the latter for a fun, funny evening.   More cute-ness: Pieter was appreciative of my “home cooking” (adding spices to chicken to make tacos).   Aww…

While Adrian worked Friday morning, I loaded up my ancient  backpack, bought and prepped all our food, and  hung out with Pieter.   We were on the road almost as planned and doing 90  towards L.A.  all afternoon (thanks, Adrian!).   I got to ride shotgun and teach myself about the  iPhone  the whole way.   I love it!

In the town outside the park, we needed to stop for the one thing we hadn’t found – instant refried beans.   We had an old-school/new-school battle of which I emerged the victor!   Not to sound like an old fogey, but not EVERYTHING needs to be done with technology.   Yes, I know you can type in to a google  maps search  “grocery stores Bakersfield” or “gas stations Pittsburgh” and get a few hits.   But you can also ask a person who lives there!   I left the bookstore next door to our 7-11 pit stop with directions to Winco in hand  (which wasn’t showing up in our google search!)   Old school victory!

Turns out Adrian has never been to a Winco – he loved it!.   It’s basically like a huge bulk/discount grocery store, but it’s employee owned.   I first learned about Winco when I moved to Oregon.   (The store’s name is actually an acronym reflecting the states in which the chain does business – Washington Idaho Nevada California Oregon.)   People in Humboldt would probably tell you Winco is the “ghetto” grocery store, and in Humboldt it’s kind of true based on typical clientele and location.   Ironically, this is not the case for any other Winco I’ve ever been to.   We left with many prizes, including a giant hunk of chocolate, wasabi peas, and distilled spirits.

Try as we did, our hope of a solid pre-arrival game-plan didn’t materialize.   At this time of year, snowpack uncertainties mean you can’t make decisions until you see trail conditions for yourself.   Our only goal was not to pay for camping, complicated by a thriving bear population and coinciding need to use bear devices for food storage (a vehicle doesn’t count.)   A five foot snowpack was pretty standard through most of the park.   To buy ourselves time to make a more educated assessment in the morning while meeting our “sleep for free” requirement, we ended up camping 100 yards in from a trailhead and running back and forth between the car/bear box and our tent.   Oh so funny!

We made it through the night on the snow without turning to ice cubes.   However, I decided in the a.m. that I would use Adrian’s second sleeping bag over the top of mine the following night.   After much deliberation and bear drama, we chose a trailhead with a bear box a few miles in instead of waiting for the visitor’s center to open so we could rent a bear canister.

Packing two sleeping bags into my too-small, very basic, ten-year-old backpack was a challenge all its own.   Thankfully Adrian was around to carry the extra stuff. (Gracias, amigo!)   The first mile or so of the Twin Lakes Trail was a snow-free, south-facing climbing switchback that affords better and better views of the valley with each step in the ascention.   It wasn’t long before the trail headed into the trees and we were following trail blazes (signs every 50 yards or so nailed to trees) on top of an enormous snow pack.

Our luck with trail blazes ran out at a junction.   After running in circles looking for the next one and scrutinizing our dubious topo map, we decided to carry on based on landmarks/features.   Follow this creek on the east until we get to “x”, then cross at the confluence and follow the next until we get to “y”, locate valley mouth and continue toward highest peak, etc.   Anyone who has ever actually tried this knows the method isn’t as straightforward as it seems.   First: our map, in the eyes of an outdoor survivalist, would be given an F.   Ideally, we’d want a 7.5 minute map (extreme and precise detail) and should settle for no less than a 15 minute map (half the detail). Ours was more like a 30 minute map.   Second: following creeks is fine in late summer and fall.   Right now, however, all the snow is quickly becoming water, creating a plethora of convincing doppleganger waterways.   Third: Again with the snow – whatever isn’t becoming water is covering the rest.   As a result, the creeks – both factual and faux – frequently disappear into a snowbank and it’s anyone’s guess where they end up!

When it was clear (to me) that we were never safely going to get anywhere of significance, I started lobbying for a return to a melted out clearing on the slope overlooking the valley.   It was early, so we had the whole afternoon to dry out our hiking boots, bask in the sun, hang a bear bag (the last resort), play cards, and of course eat!   Adrian also thought it would be “fun” and “refreshing” to take a dip in the snow-covered stream, so I agreed to capture the moment so he’d end up with full bragging rights.

The double sleeping bag was worth every ounce of space it took up in my pack and delivered a delightful, down-encased night!   After breakfast we hansel-and-greteled our way back down the mountain.   I’ll grudgingly admit that Adrian’s tech-gadget GPS watch thing added a welcome bit of comfort when we reached spots where yesterday’s footprints had melted away.   A little over half-way down we ran into two other hikers who had followed our footprints in a few miles before giving up and making camp.   They missed out on a spectacular view!

On the way out of the park we hit all the hot spots – Giant Sequoia groves, Moro Rock, and Visitor’s Centers.   The Sequoias seem about the same average size as the Redwoods.   The textbooks give the blue ribbon for size-potential to the Sequoias.   They can get bigger around, and their trunks tend not to taper as they grow skyward.   The forest containing the trees, however, is very different.   There isn’t much understory to speak of, compared to a Redwood forest.   The Sequoias have a quiet majesty when compared to the green chaos of the Redwoods.   I liked them!

Moro rock is a giant granite edifice with a ridge-line stone staircase that leads to the top.   It’s definitely Sequoia Park meets Machu Picchu – breathtaking the whole way up!   It was an incredible view and put some perspective on our hiking adventure.   The highlight on the drive back into the valley was all the blooming yucca – amazing!

Sequoia is great, and I’m so thankful that I got to see it before it gets really crowded.   I’d love to see it in the summer, but I don’t think I could handle the clamoring crowds.   I’m looking forward to returning someday, maybe in the fall, but for now it’s officially checked off my bucket list!

Make A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.