Sequoia National Park – Jun 2005

Our trip to Sequoia National Park in 2005 was quite a memorable adventure and I’d love to go back again. The area is exceedingly beautiful in late spring. Being in the mountains for five days, with all the wildlife we saw, the exciting river crossings, and that it was shared among four friends made this a fantastic trip. Below is my trip log with some photos from each of us.

  • Area: Mineral King Valley, Middle Fork Kaweah River
  • Duration: 4 days/3 nights backpacking, June 26-30
  • Estimated Distance: 26.5 miles
  • High Points: Timber Gap 9,450 ft, Paradise Ridge 8,500 ft. Low Points: Sawtooth/Timber Gap trailhead 7,800 ft, Middle Fork Kaweah River 5,600 ft
  • Hikers: Dameon, Jason, Mike, Tom
By the way, the Mineral King area has an interesting history that I learned about through a few sources including a local we talked to after our trip. It was of course a mining area and it nearly became a giant Disney ski resort. I wrote more about it here – Mineral King Cabins.

Day 0

Sunday, June 26, we drove for most of the day to Sequoia National Park and Mineral King Valley from LA. As is the custom, we helped Tom move into a new apartment the day before we left. We ended up taking not the most optimal way out of LA so we had to pass over an extra set of mountains but we got to see some nice views. We also got to eat at Ono Hawaiian BBQ which tasted great, but maybe wasn’t the best thing to eat right before venturing into the wilderness for a few days.

Ono Hawaiian BBQ in Fontana Interesting Rocks Interesting Rocks 2 Joshua Trees and Mt. Baldy area wind farm view east from mountains

East Fork Kaweah River BridgeOn the epic Mineral King road we went over the historic East Fork Kaweah River Bridge built in 1923. The Kaweah River is “one of the shortest drainages in the US from its headwaters at 12,000 ft to Lake Kaweah” and that makes for some incredible whitewater kayaking. I read the section of the East Fork that we drove by was class 6 rapids and upstream of the bridge has never been run before. I recommend not to try if you want to live. Visit the Kaweah River Page for some neat information.

The Mineral King road was originally an old 1870’s mining road. Some is paved, some isn’t, and it’s all pretty narrow with no guardrails and ridiculous curves. I think even horses didn’t have the easiest time on this road. It contains 698 curves according to the NPS. Tom got to show off his mad driving skillz or maybe mad rock-hitting skillz. A low suspension bar in his car was banging some rocks on the road pretty hard. It had scraped pavement in LA so it definitely wasn’t immune on this road. I had read someone say it took them 2 hours to drive the 25 miles (15 miles as the crow flies) of Mineral King road so we had warning. It probably took us an hour and a half, and Tom was rally driving half the time. We scared the daylights out of the driver of a white BMW coming the other direction. The tight turns seemed to go on forever. There was a winding road sign but it was so much of an understatement it was funny. According to the sign where we stopped that showed elevations along the road, it has an impressive 6,380 ft gain from when we got off the main road to our campground at Cold Springs. The road itself helps Mineral King stay a less visited and more remote area in the park.

Overlook from Mineral King road Mineral King road stop Mineral King road elevation sign

Cold Springs campground was a fantastic spot and probably one of the coolest first night camping spots we’ve had. The mountains were right there around us and it’s most of the way up the valley at 7,580 ft. The East Fork Kaweah River rushed loudly by our camping spot. There were outstanding views of the mountains through the trees. We did a little exploring and found some deer and a marmot right away. Jason stalked a deer and got a nice shot. We spoke with a British-accented couple that said they had been coming up to this area for a long time, but someone had taken their regular spot this time. We set up camp, got a fire going, and enjoyed a feast of salmon and leftover Hawaiian BBQ, yum.

Cold Springs campground and Kaweah River Mike and Tom at Cold Springs Jason stalks a deer Empire Mountain Empire Mountain Filtering water in Kaweah River

Day 1

Morning by the fire, Cold SpringsIt was quite chilly in the morning, 32 degrees F. I got up first, gathered wood, and started a nice warm fire before anyone got up. Actually I was the only one in the whole campground moving for quite a while. Later when I checked the time, I figured I must have woke up at around 5:00am. We cooked and ate breakfast and once 8:00 came around I went to talk to the ranger. The first thing I asked about were the passes since when I had checked conditions on the web, it looked like the big passes might be snowed in still. The ranger confirmed this and showed me some photos taken a couple days earlier. Timber Gap was ok like I thought, but Sawtooth, Black Rock, and Franklin passes were going to be impassable for a few weeks yet. We didn’t have any crampons or other snow gear and I didn’t feel like leading everyone into the snow so my original route was a bust. The ranger said they had a lot more snow than usual that winter and spring. They get a huge amount normally as it is. Timber Gap seemed like the only option and he said we could try Black Rock Pass but any try on it would really be an attempt. I picked up a bear canister and found out we were the only ones renting one. When I got back to our camp, we hashed out a tentative route to go out Timber Gap and back via Paradise Ridge to the Atwell Mill trailhead.

After breaking camp, getting our stuff organized, putting all smellables in the bear closet, and getting the bear canisters and wilderness permit, we took a trip back down the road a bit to the Silver City store to get batteries. I didn’t find out at first that they were for Jason’s MP3 player! I guess that became a high priority after sleeping in the same tent with Tom.

That wasn’t the only thing that didn’t go smoothly. As we drove to the trailhead, there was a mishap with a modification Tom made to his car just before the trip so we were stuck on the road for a while. Some friendly passersby suggested that maybe the marmots got us. I saw that coming, it definitely had crossed our minds. Tom got it working and we made it to the trailhead. After we unloaded the packs, Tom drove back to park the car, and then walked back the mile to the trailhead. The marmots in this area are infamous for eating through radiator hoses and wiring. We were lucky and drove back to LA fine after the trip, but Tom did find some damage from marmots days later, just like what was described in the marmot warning sheet the ranger gave us. If you go to Mineral King, use of chicken wire or tarps is highly recommended. I bet it could cost a fortune to get towed out of there.

Jason Mike at Sawtooth Timber Gap trailhead Dameon Jason at Sawtooth Timber Gap trailhead Jason stalks a marmot Sawtooth Timber Gap trailhead Timber Gap Sawtooth trailhead

It was go time after Tom got back and we started hiking! We had a solid initial ascent to get to the pass called Timber Gap and it was all uphill for the first couple hours and about 1,700 ft. We seemed to get really high really fast and the views back kept getting better. We had a good view of Farewell Gap and Farewell Canyon and also fantastic views down into Mineral King and across the surrounding peaks. We got water for the first time from a steep stream far below the trail. There were lots of small alpine flowers along the trail and we saw a ton of them overall on the trip. In the trees we heard a really deep noise several times and from different directions. It had to be something large. We never saw what it was and I believe it wasn’t deer or elk mating season so we’ll never know.

Mineral King Valley Dameon Mike on trail to Timber Gap Tom overlooking Mineral King valley trail to Timber Gap Collecting water Jason by rocks Jason with view to Farewell Gap Mineral King Valley view Dameon Mike out on a boulder hanging over Mineral King

As we were taking a break in an open area close to Timber Gap, a mule deer came out of the trees way above and trotted down the slope right toward us. It obviously saw us but kept walking as we watched. It got close but finally passed behind us to go down the trail we had came up. Just after that we met a flannelled day hiker coming back down from the pass. We talked about the snow on the pass and he said we should be ok and that we were more prepared than him. I don’t know about more prepared but we were carrying 5 days of stuff. He had talked to someone a few minutes earlier that had said the saw a bear further up. Seeing a bear was on Jason’s to-do list but the rest of us weren’t going to go out of our way to find one.

Mule deer coming down from Timber Gap The deer near Empire Mountain and Timber Gap Group shot ascending to Timber Gap Mineral King shot by Tom

We reached the summit of the aptly named Timber Gap at 9,500 ft. It was interesting to be standing on snow in the 70 degree F weather. We tried to find the trail up ahead since it had disappeared a while back and we got a good view of the valley on the other side, where we’d be hiking the next few days. It was an impressive sight. We took a long break and cooked lunch up there. A herd of some ten deer went by quietly as we ate. A couple day hikers came up from the Mineral King direction and said they weren’t going past Timber Gap, but trying to get to the top of the nearest peak, and they headed west.

Snow on way to Timber Gap Top of Timber Gap on snow

We were still unsure of where the trail was but after heading out on the snow we found our first guess was correct. This snow wasn’t your average snow, probably because it had been there a long time and compressed, it was hard so you didn’t sink in at all. It was actually pretty dangerous on a slope because you could lose your footing and just slide down it. There were also huge tree wells, several feet deep. After we descended a little, the snow was easier and I started ski-surfing down as much as we could. It was really fun in the longer sections! I guess it was technically a standing glissade. We didn’t really have sight of the trail half the time and we just made our way down through the trees. Finally we traced it as we emerged from the trees and we were treated with more great views west to Alta Peak, Sugarbowl Dome, and Little Blue Dome. Timber Gap Creek, which we were shadowing, had also emerged from its snow tunnel and went into a deep slot in the rock. It seemed that there were waterfalls tumbling down the mountain all around us. The Greater Western Divide and its big peaks would be to the right of these long shots and the High Sierra Trail is over there on the other side somewhere.

Waterfalls all over on backside of Timber Gap Waterfalls backside of Timber Gap Dameon Jason Tom descending Timber Gap Dameon heading down Timber Gap Mike by waterfall chasm Jason and Alta Peak Cliff Creek huge pine cones Big Sequioa

As we descended further, there were less big openings in the forest and the trees got much bigger – not Sequoias yet though. After some switchbacks we came to Cliff Creek finally and found a party of a couple German guys and an Italian guy who were sitting and talking. They had somehow “lost” one of their friends and he happened to be the one with the map and compass. We later found out they had an argument and that’s what caused the one guy to go off on his own, but they did find him later when they finished, having already eaten at the restaurant in Silver City. I let them borrow my map to copy it while Tom and Jason scouted ahead. They found the good campsite with bear box across the river, but where the trail crossed did not look good. The other party had made up their minds and crossed in a spot with knee high water and a log across the second half. It worked well. We went next and got our first little taste of how crossings would be, powerful rushing water, slick uneven rock bed, freezing-ass cold snowmelt water, and all a bit tougher with our heavy packs. We did it barefoot to keep our boots dry but that was definitely not the way to go. We had 7 major stream crossings this trip, with 2 having bridges. Most of these are probably easily crossed other times of the year but they were swollen with snow melt in June.

Crossing Cliff Creek Mike across Cliff Creek Jason Mike in camp

The other guys had headed on and there was plenty of daylight left but we decided to stop there for the day. We made a nice fire and cooked supper. There was a sign nearby for the trail junction and it said we had come 5.5 miles. That’s not a lot but it was with 1,700 ft up and 2,500 ft down.

Day 2

Our first morning in the wilderness greeted us with chilly temperatures again, in the 30s, so we made a small fire and had breakfast with our warm clothes on. Just before we left, Jason prepared an offering to the wilderness gods. We headed for Redwood Meadow, 4 miles away. By the time we took off, it was barely warm enough for shorts and short sleeves. We hiked down Cliff Creek valley a while and then it levelled off as the trail left the creek for Redwood Meadow. We began seeing some interesting wildflowers and got some good shots. We also started coming across bigger trees and giant pine cones even but still no Sequoias. Throughout the trip we had to go over lots of large trees that had fallen in the path. We had heard that they had some windy storms and a lot of trees were down. Some we used as bridges to cross small streams. We caught a view north through the trees and clearly visible were Sugarbowl Dome (which we would pass by later today) and Alta Peak behind it.

Jason's offering to the wilderness gods Dameon flower shot Looking up Cliff Creek drainage Mike lupine shot Mike flower shot Dameon snow flower shot

As we got close to Redwood Meadow we finally began seeing the Giant Sequoias! They were pretty amazing to see up close, right alongside the trail. The giants were calmly interspersed among the other trees but their presence was palpable. There could have been some that were 2000 years old in there. I’m really glad I got to see them that way and don’t mind not going to see the famous ones. There is a little name confusion between the redwoods. The species we saw was Giant Sequoia, the largest trees in the world in terms of volume. They are sometimes colloquially called redwoods, but so are the Coastal Redwood species which also lives in California but along the coast ranges and those are the tallest trees in the world. The Giant Sequoia bark was really soft and almost spongy feeling and it sounded kind of hollow when you knocked on it. I guess it is really thick but low density. Many trees, especially the bigger/older ones, had burn marks on them. One giant had a large part of its base burned but it didn’t seem to care. I’m sure they’ve seen many fires. The seeds require fire to open and start growing, and the fire clears all the underbrush making way for baby trees. It was nice to see the younger ones because sequoia population has been declining I’ve read. I picked up a few cones (there were many) and chucked them to nice looking spots. We came to a clearing with some nice views and took a break.

Dameon by huge Giant Sequ Mike by Giant Sequioa Burned out Sequoia base Dameon at clearing Tom with Little Blue Dome and Alta Peak Horses at Redwood Meadow

Redwood Meadow is a seasonally manned backcountry ranger station and there was nobody there, but we were greeted by some friendly horses and mules. They had a really nice corral area, sunshine, shade, giant trees, a little stream. We stopped to pet them, hopefully they didn’t want any food from us because we had none to spare. There was a nice log cabin and what looked like explosives and a gas can nearby, more sign the trail maintainers were here working. Our route was still not set in stone but we had decided this morning on where to go. After Redwood meadow we would go counter-clockwise around a loop crossing some rivers to the north including the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. Dameon was hurting some so we gave him the option of staying here until we got back from the loop. He decided to keep going and from then on to the end of the trip he did a lot better and seemed to enjoy it more. After we resumed hiking, just down the trail I saw a solitary tent with a hiker coming out, maybe for the first time that morning. We headed downhill towards Granite Creek and got some more nice views.

At the last high spot just before we began descending switchbacks to Granite Creek, we thought we saw the spot where the trail split to the left to begin the loop. As we learned later that wasn’t it. About 500 feet downhill later we came to a large boulder at the shore of violently churning Granite Creek. The way across wasn’t immediately visible and it was about lunchtime so that obviously took precedence over thinking. We stopped to eat on the boulder and took in a little sun after. On the boulder and across the creek there were the remains of a stone formation that must have been part of a destroyed bridge and there were no other bridges around. Some day hikers came up as we ate and were going back to Bearpaw Meadow, doing roughly the same loop as us. I filtered some water for their camelbacks, they weren’t as prepared as they thought they were. They convinced us we were on the eastern part of the loop rather than the western. Somehow we had totally missed the junction after Redwood Meadow and were going around the loop clockwise instead.

Looking east, upstream toward the Great Western Divide Stopped at Granite Creek A dayhiker crosses Granite Creek Dameon across Granite Creek Here is how we crossed Granite Creek, Goooosh! Mike about to cross Granite Creek on the log bridge

The creek was quite a sight, water churning loudly through the narrow gap between the steep granite sides. The only obvious spot to cross was a log lying across the creek just upstream of our boulder and a little scouting didn’t give us other options. Dameon went without a pack to check it out with the day hikers. They made it across ok but it still didn’t seem optimal with our heavy packs. I went to check it out and Jason and Tom started throwing logs into the creek near our boulder with hopes of making some kind of bridge across the narrow spot. It looked kind of ridiculous from where I was standing upstream. I sure wasn’t going to walk across anything they created. We finally crossed on the same log as the day hikers. I recall the log wasn’t wide enough to be really comfortable and it was a pretty long walk. You’d definitely be hurting if you slipped off. Once you got to the other side you weren’t done either, there was a tricky jump to the bank, and then the scramble up a practically vertical dirt embankment. There wasn’t room for error.

The others may disagree, but I think this was my least comfortable crossing out of the many we did. It might not have been the hardest but I didn’t like it. I am a good swimmer, have good balance, am not afraid of heights, but I don’t want to fall into that stuff. Later we talked to some guys about our crossings, they said, “yeah, that’s how most people die out here”… good to know.

Tom bends through steel bridgeWe discussed a little which way to go since there was an unmarked trail between Granite Creek and Kaweah River that would shorten the loop a lot but we decided to continue the way we were going. The Middle Fork Kaweah River crossing was just on the other side of the hill and thankfully had a nice bridge, we crossed five rivers on this loop! In one photo, Tom tries to bend through one side of the bridge and gives it a big dent, hehehe. Actually it must have been hit by a big tree that fell or tumble down the river or maybe a big boulder landed on it. It was strange because both sides were bent in a similar way. Sasquatch?

As we climbed out of the valley we got some of the best views to the west. The panorama shots look southwest towards Castle Rocks and to the west down the Middle Fork Kaweah River valley. All the mountaintops were shrouded in clouds. It makes you want to be there doesn’t it, maybe pick out a nice spot where the mountain meets the cloud. Jason has a great shot zoomed on the Castle Rocks area. I really like one of my zoom shots with a snowfield peeking just below a cloud with a snowmelt waterfall tumbling below, so mountain pure 🙂 I think it is looking east towards Eagle Scout Peak taken from near the junction just southwest of Sugarbowl Dome. We climbed 1,400ft to very near Sugarbowl Dome although we couldn’t see it. This part of the hike got very hot and the black fly scourge reared its ugly head. We used Deet bug spray but that didn’t seem to stop them and the slight relief we got lasted only a few minutes at a time. This was the only part of the trip where bugs gave us any problems and they were ruthless. We hit the next junction. The last leg of the trail to Bearpaw Meadow was to the left, the continuation of the loop back to Redwood Meadow (the way we went) was to the right. Finally as we descended to the valley again, the bugs disappeared.

Looking east toward Great Western Divide Tops of nearby mountains shrouded in clouds Water tumbling from snowfield below the cloud Nice patch of wildflowers Mike Jason Tom take a break before crossing Middle Fork Kaweah River

This time there wasn’t a bridge on the Middle Fork Kaweah River and we looked around quite a bit here for a good crossing. It was very wide but the real concern was the depth and strength of the water. Tom made an attempt but it wasn’t working and came back to shore. Dameon and Jason left to bushwhack upstream further in hopes of finding a better way across. Tom threw a stick with a rope tied on it across the first part of the stream to get stuck in the rocks. He snagged it after a few tries. Tom currently has patent pending on the Stick-With-A-Rope-Tied-To-It River Crossing DeviceTM. He thinks it should come through any day now. He went across holding the rope while I kept it tight. After he got past that part of the stream, Dameon and Jason came back saying there was a very easy way further upstream than we had looked. I undid Tom’s rope and went there with them. Our crossing involved hopping rocks for the first little part, then walking on one log, then a long walk on another log in the river for 2/3 of the way, and finally stepping down (or jumping haphazardly in Dameon’s case) into the river to go the last bit in a U shaped curve in knee deep rushing water. Jason showed us how it was done, then I crossed safely as well, and then Dameon had a tough time of it. Jason and Tom kept their shoes on through this crossing and the rest, I stuck to my flip-flops and Dameon actually did this one barefoot, probably why it was difficult. I’d have to say that Tom took the tougher way but Dameon tried his best to make his crossing more difficult.

Tom's first try at crossing Middle Fork Kaweah River Jason crosses the Middle Fork Kaweah River Mike finishes the last part of the Middle Fork Kaweah River crossing

After Dameon got across, Jason went ahead to look for Tom at his crossing point while I waited for Dameon to get ready again after his crossing. We didn’t see him there and figured he went on ahead since it was getting a bit late. We were still pretty far from Redwood Meadow, where we hoped to camp that night. We noticed some ancient Sumerian cuneiform scratched in the trail so we knew Tom was ahead of us. We also yelled back and forth a bit.

We finally caught up with Tom at the next crossing, Eagle Scout Creek. It was the last wet crossing of the day and was the easiest of the trip. The water was just above the knee, and the bottom was flat, but as you can see in the photo, there was a nice little waterfall just a couple yards downstream to keep it interesting. To save time and my hurting heels, I left my flip-flops on after crossing and continued to hike in those until we reached Redwood Meadow. It wasn’t too bad, the trail was nice enough for it, but we were going pretty quickly. Unfortunately I had to pick a bunch of little stuff out of my heels after that. It’s a tough spot for moleskin, it only stayed on for so long. I’ll have to check out other brands, maybe they use higher quality moles.

Eagle Scout Creek waterfall Eagle Scout Creek crossing Granite Creek bridge crossing Granite Creek bridge crossing Moro Rock and view to west at Sunset

Mercifully our fifth and final water crossing of the day, Granite Creek again, had a wooden bridge. If you look at the photos, you’ll see why there is a bridge. It looked completely impassable otherwise at this spot. The creek thrashed hardcore through a big crack in the granite, too wide to jump. The sun was going down and we still had about an hour to go so we hurried on, but I stopped a few seconds to take the sunset shot right after the crossing of Granite Creek. That is the top of Moro Rock in the middle.

Giant Sequoia watching over our campsiteIt was beginning to get dark when we made it back to Redwood Meadow. The last part of the trail was through a marshy spot and we walked over huge fallen tree trunks to avoid the mud. It’s no wonder we had missed that trail split before, you really couldn’t see it. We saw a nice fire and the guys whose camp we had passed that morning. It was a fairly established camping site with a few spots for tents and the fire pit was nice. There was a convenient spigot of untreated water also and even an outhouse. I cleaned out the junk I had gotten in my torn up heels from hiking in my flip-flops using the spigot water along with hand sanitizer. We pitched our tents right at the base of a Giant Sequoia, Father Time looking over us. Then we sat around the fire with the other guys and used it to cook our feast of mixed ramen and tuna. We ate and talked in the dark, it was a very nice night under the giant trees. They were actually from Illinois also, a small town somewhere between the Quad Cities and Chicago. Tom hung the excess food and smellables since there wasn’t a bear box here. The stars that we could see through the trees were fantastic.

Day 3

Giant Sequoia watching over our campsiteWe slept in a little this morning. I heard our neighbors taking off and after I got up I saw three guys hiking by that were going to work on the trail. They had probably camped just up the hill, maybe in the log building. I said good morning to them. The horses and equipment we had seen the day before had to belong to them. We made a small fire and had breakfast. Jason didn’t eat much (subtle foreshadowing). We had learned from talking to the other guys last night that our hike today was supposed to be “pretty miserable”. It looked like almost all uphill but not really far in miles.

The beginning of the trail was a short downhill to Cliff Creek, downstream of where we crossed on the first day, and this was our most epic stream crossing of the trip. The water was deep and very powerful. After looking around a lot and testing the waters some (Tom and I aborted our attempts) we decided we needed to use a rope… and boy did we! We were overly optimistic and rolled up our shorts. Once again we required the services of the Stick-With-A-Rope-Tied-To-It River Crossing DeviceTM. Tom tied a sturdy stick onto his rope and tossed it across into the boulders on the other side. After a few tries it was stuck and I tied it off to a boulder on this side. Tom went first bringing the loose end of the rope across so we’d have both ends on that side. I then undid the knot on the first side and Tom tied the second end on the other side, so it was just looped around the bottom of a boulder on the first side. Unfortunately we still weren’t able to recover all the rope and we had to cut it. It stuck itself too well, so someone got a bit of free rope. We gave it a shot but we knew that could happen. We would not have made it across without the rope. At the worst point, the water was going really hard, and it was really up to our chests! I know I put a ton of weight on that rope because of the rushing water. It was very hard to just move your leg to the next spot. The tent got a little wet but amazingly that was it. While you check the photos, I should remind you that this is all fresh snowmelt water so it was quite cold, adding to the exhilaration, hehe.

Cliff Creek Crossing Cliff Creek Mike Crossing Cliff Creek Mike Crossing Cliff Creek Dameon Crossing Cliff Creek Dameon and Mike

You might notice that we didn’t follow a few rules here. For one, we didn’t wear our boots and wore flip-flops instead. It’s much safer to just go in your boots, but our thinking was to prevent added blisters from wet boots. We did ok, but after this experience I’ll probably stick to boots on crossings of this magnitude. Actually I don’t plan on crossing streams of this magnitude anytime soon. Also, we didn’t unbuckle or loosen our packs, which you are supposed to do in case you get swept downstream. This actually had gone through my mind on earlier crossings and I decided against it. On the log bridge crossing of Granite Creek, I decided I couldn’t afford the possibility of losing my balance (just look at the photos), and a loose pack could certainly cause that.

If you remember, seeing a bear was on Jason’s list and the rest of us hadn’t seen one either but weren’t quite as eager. We weren’t worried at all, but not as eager as him either. Partly because of that, at several points on the trip Tom and I were suspicious of Jason deliberately not following certain rules in hopes of inviting a bear to our camp, but this turned out not to be true, he was innocent. Well, Jason did get to see a bear on the third day.

The trail was definitely miserable, the guys from last night were right. After Cliff Creek it was steep uphill the entire day. The map shows a 2,600ft/792m gain from the creek to Little Sandy Meadow, our camping spot for the night. Jason was lagging back so I stayed back with him while Dameon and Tom went ahead at a faster pace. I think they were probably 5-10 minutes ahead of us at this point. We heard some sticks cracking loudly. We looked up and saw a big brown bear bounding down the slope! He crossed the trail in front of us and went on a ways until he stopped before a big tree and looked at us. We had snuck up on him accidentally. He had to be about 60 yards away then. We must have looked at each other for an entire minute. It was amazing. Luckily Jason had his camera accessible and snapped this quick shot. The bear turned and bounded down the slope out of sight. We dropped our packs and with our sticks went in that direction a little bit but the bear was definitely gone. Jason had really wanted to see a bear and there it was 🙂 What a moment that was. People ask if we were scared but it wasn’t like that, it was…. wow.

Bear Bear cropped

We continued on, the trail going up and up, and Jason continued going slowly we took many little breaks. We occasionally yelled to Tom and Dameon to see that they were there, pretty far ahead. I started seeing chunks of quartz just sitting on the ground, some were quartz boulders even. We finally met up with the others after they waited up, and we continued on, but then, after an entire morning of hard uphill hiking, Jason’s body quit. He hadn’t eaten much for breakfast and we found that he hadn’t drunk as much as he should have even with the tough hiking. So it was either dehydration or a bit of a virus from the water (despite our precautions). It had to be dehydration. We made him drink and he wasn’t keeping anything down, so we took a long break. Tom left his pack and scouted down the trail and was probably gone for 30 minutes. I figured we’d be camping there for the night but eventually he got a little better and could hold food and water. He told us we could go again and after that it was miraculous how well he hiked. We kept making him eat and drink, like it was a chore 🙂 We thought he might collapse or something but he really toughed it out. We made it to the spot with the stream, Tom and I promptly put up their tent and we made Jason go to bed. He felt a lot better the next morning. Little Sandy Meadow was definitely sandy and there were some mounds of snow up here too like Timber Gap. We chose to go just off the sand and cleared a couple of spots from little sticks. There was a sort of hole nearby and we used that for our little fire. We were at at 8,000ft and on the edge of a pretty steep slope that faced west so we had a glimpse of the sunset through the trees. Dameon and I swore we heard noises like a bear visiting camp, but found no real evidence in the morning.

Jason hits a wall Little Sandy Meadow campsite Pretty little stream at Little Sandy Meadow

Day 4

I overestimated the number of fuel canisters we’d need for cooking food, partly because we used fires a lot, so I still had two full and one half-full canisters left. We just cooked breakfast by stove with no fire. It was a bit more convenient anyway. We were very thorough in killing our fire pit this morning due to the dry conditions of this spot. Dameon and I filtered some water at our nice stream. We noticed sparkling in the sand under the water and I said, “It’s gold!”  Dameon believed me for a second, it was in the realm of possibility especially being near a place called Mineral King. It was just some mica flakes but it looked really neat.

Mica from the stream Stream shot from Dameon

The trail amazingly kept climbing but not as difficult as the day before. Today was the easiest hiking day by far. Jason was doing fine. We lost the trail for a little bit in some glades but eventually found it after spreading out pretty far. After hiking hard uphill for pretty much a day and a half, we made it to the last high point on our route on Paradise Ridge. We took a break and ate some beef jerky before starting our descent back into Mineral King. This is 8,500ft and the valley floor at this point is about 5,400ft  so that makes for a very good view. I had seen a short trail to Paradise Peak on the map that I thought about taking to climb my first mountain, but I didn’t try it since it was fairly far. It probably would have had an outstanding view to the west. When I talked to a ranger afterward, he acknowledged the trail wasn’t on any signs and said it was just a “social trail”.

Tom and Mike hiking along stream Taking break at Paradise Ridge From Paradise Ridge, looking across Mineral King Paradise Ridge

There were only three miles left to the Atwell Mill area and the road according to the sign, and it went like a blur. It was all downhill switchbacks the whole way and we went pretty fast. We met an older couple that was going up the trail on a day hike and we talked for a while. They asked about our trip and seemed impressed. We saw lots of Sequoia trees in this area also, it is called Atwell Grove. Partway down, we stopped for some lunch. We decided to cook another meal since we were going to finish on Day 4 instead of 5. It was a neat lush spot with Sequoias all around, lots of green plants, ferns, and the little stream.

We pretty much jogged down the last part of the trail. Tom made it to the road first right when a car passed but it didn’t stop. Luckily the next guy in a truck stopped right after I finished. He kindly offered us a ride, which we gladly accepted. We had him take a photo of us together also. We put our packs in the back and piled in for the ride back up the valley. He talked the whole way. He has one of the cabins close to the Cold Springs campground on the river that he comes to sometimes. He told us a little of the history of Mineral King and the issues with the cabins. I researched it and wrote some about it here. We talked about the marmots eating on cars and he thought we might have some trouble. He said they loved the low clearance cars like Tom’s, and they “don’t eat that oriental shit” speaking about the other cars in the lot. That was funny. Thankfully the car started. He even offered us beers at his cabin so after we got back to the car and organized stuff we stopped there and had a drink on his small deck overlooking the stream. Then came the mind-numbing road back to civilization. Back in LA, we hit the beach and bars, good times.

Sequoia in Atwell Grove Burn scar below Paradise Ridge Finishing up on Mineral King Road End of hike shot Marmot warning flyer


 Old Sequoia NP 2005 webpage banner

4 thoughts on “Sequoia National Park – Jun 2005

  1. Hey Mike, I had 2 quick questions for you. I realize this trip was about 10 years ago, but it’s proved invaluable. My buddy & I were going to do a backcountry trip + Half Dome, but we were too late for any type of reservations. I think your route seems like a great alternative & we’re probably going to do it. My first question is that I noticed you started on the Timber Gap trail head, but ended @ Atwell Mill. If that guy hadn’t picked you up, how were you planning on getting back to your car? 2nd Question is do you know if there is a park shuttle that services that part of Sequioa National Park? Thanks again for the blog!

    • Hey Scott, great to hear and good luck on your trip! We were actually prepared to walk the road back if we needed to, or at least one of us, while the rest hang out at Atwell Mill. But we also hoped for a hitchhike and that worked out. We did kind of wing it, and sometimes we do but we’re prepared enough so it’s not a problem. We’ve had good luck with that while in the mountains on a few occasions. Hitchhiking is probably a safer and more friendly thing for both parties than just randomly doing it say outside a suburban town or something, so it may be easier than you think, as long as it’s daylight and there are some drivers going by. You’re not going to have random drivers on this part of the road, so you have a good chance approaching any driver to see what they’ll say and they’ll surely stop to see what you want to say. There is definitely no shuttle in this area, unless maybe you hire one on your own.

      • Awesome – that’s what I was thinking it would probably be like. Even in Yosemite, it was reasonable to hitch a ride. Appreciate the info!

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