Getting High with the Kings

There are places that sometimes don’t get paid as much attention as they should. It’s hard to say that Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park are among them, but Yosemite does tend to hog the spotlight. California locals know though, as do other lucky visitors who’ve experienced these parks. We know what’s out there. The deepest canyon in the US. Some of the highest passes in the US. The largest Sequoia trees in the world. The Kern River, Rae Lakes, Evolution Valley… the backcountry. When the chance came to put together a trip recently, it didn’t matter so much where we’d be going in SEKI, just that we’d get out there. In usual fashion, here’s our report along with a little info that might help other’s experience the magic that is Sequoia / King’s.

King's Canyon
King’s Canyon

The Particulars

Destination: King’s Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
Trail Head: Bubb’s Creek via Road’s End
Distance: 64 mile loop, ~17,100 ft gained/lost (avg 534 ft delta / mile)
Remoteness: Very few hikers until North of Forester Pass
Motivation: Incredible views of high alpine country, desolate landscapes, and big country
Notes: Permits can be obtained in advance (via mail) or at the Road’s End Ranger station. Bear Canisters are required *in some areas. See this info contributed by Brian S. Bear lockers in the backcountry are reserved for PCT & JMT thru hikers. This is a strenuous route with quite a bit of time spent above 10,000 feet elevation.

Elevation Profile

The Report From our Trip :: June 23-28, 2015

Day 0 – Sheep Creek Camp

Adam, Dylan and I met up for some much anticipated awesomeness. Since we are all bay area dwellers we decided on a casual start with a layover day of car camping near Road’s End. Read: we were feeling lazy and wanted to drink some beers before hitting the trail. This also allowed us to acclimatize just a little (elev 4,000). We had some time to kill so we also did a cave tour of Boyden Caverns… possibly not worth the entrance fee as it’s a very short tour, but none the less another point of interest to check off. And whiskey makes even the mundane more interesting. Apparently the nearby Church Cave system is very intensive, alas I’m not much of a spelunker so I digress…

Beer Time
Beer Time

Day 1 – Road’s End to Roaring River (~13 miles)

We picked up a permit first thing from the Ranger Station at Road’s End, stashed our extra foods in one of the TH bear lockers and got underway around 8:00 AM. The first few miles of the trail are relatively mellow but by the time we reached the intersection of the trail junction towards Roaring River the climbing begins… The trail is fairly exposed and heads uphill at a good clip with many switchbacks. The view of the canyon is nice and makes you realize how quickly you’re gaining elevation. Eventually the trail leveled off and we came to a nice meadow.

First Views of the Canyon
First Views of the Canyon
A Nice Meadow
A Nice Meadow

On the far side of the meadow the climb toward Avalanche Pass continued. The pass itself was uneventful… more like a saddle dotted by pine trees and not much for a view. We took a late lunch break before moving on. The steady uphill, warm temperatures, altitude, and my ~30 lb pack had done a good job of kicking my butt. We lost the trail for a while but the lay of the land makes it fairly easy to avoid becoming lost. Eventually we made our way down to Roaring River and promptly found a place to camp. I hopped in the river for a cool soak. Felt good.

Near Avalanche Pass
Near Avalanche Pass

Day 2 – Roaring River to Gallat’s Lake (~15 miles)

The mosquitos weren’t too bad and I slept well in my bivy. I baked some bannock for breakfast with coconut oil, orange-cranberries, and Marionberry jam. We got on the trail at a leisurely pace around 8:00 AM. The hike through Cloud Canyon was nice. There was bear scat all over the place, though we never saw any bears there. Colby Pass was the crux of the day, and once again we found ourselves on a long steady climb. Just like the first day, we arrived at a nice meadow aptly named Big Wet Meadow, then the climb intensified.

Approaching Colby Pass, Looking Back at Colby Lake
Approaching Colby Pass, Looking Back at Colby Lake
View from Colby Pass
View from Colby Pass

We lingered at Colby Lake for a while, maybe a bit too long considering we had the pass and some miles still ahead of us. The water was cold. Lots of trout. Getting up Colby Pass was the hardest part of the trip for me. My pack was still pretty heavy and the pass was steep and high. Adam and Dylan were ahead of me and all of us were slowly trudging up the many switchbacks. The 12,000 ft peak finally emerged and soon enough I joined Adam and Dylan in a short siesta up top. Coming down the back of the pass was about equally as steep but very loose as well. We hustled down in search of Gallat’s Lake which is turns out to be a large wet meadow. The mosquitoes made for an absolute hellbroth, so we continued past until we came upon a nice spot near the Kern-Kaweah River. Adam had spotted some waterfalls and was clutching his camera. We figured it was a good place to settle in for the night.

Gallat's Lake Area
Gallat’s Lake Area
Chillin on the Kern-Kaweah
Chillin on the Kern-Kaweah

Day 3 – Gallat’s Lake to Diamond Mesa (~14 miles)

The prior day was a long hot one; the “joke” of today was that it was going to be our easy day – no passes to climb! Our plan was to follow the Kern River North then head up Tyndall Creek to meet up with the PCT/JMT. We were looking for a trail that followed the Tyndall Creek drainage, and at some point realized that we missed it, though none of us ever saw it (apparently this is a use-trail that the Rangers covet. A keen eye will see it branch off the main trail well before the creek crossing). We debated going back to find it, but decided instead to continue following the river, climb out of the valley, then turn due East towards the PCT. The climb turned out to be steep again, not to mention hot, humid, and mosquito infested! Again the climb seemed longer than it should have been and any pause to catch one’s breath resulted in being molested by blood sucking insects. Good motivation to push through it.

Gnarly Trees in Cloud Canyon
Gnarly Trees in Cloud Canyon
An Un-Named Lake
An Un-Named Lake

Eventually we reached the higher ground where the landscape goes completely desolate – great views. Although that climb was another “fun” one the plan was to get close to Forester Pass; there were a few miles to go still. We made camp near the lakes at the bottom of the pass, well… dinner came first. Priorities and all. Our “easy day” turned out to be pretty much like the first couple of days. My stomach had been growling for a couple of hours. I guessed that my whiskey-drinking companions were feeling the hunger too. We had a nice sunset and got rained on that evening but no thunderstorms thankfully… not many places to take cover at 12,000 feet!

Desolate Landscape
Desolate Landscape
View of Forester Pass from Camp
View of Forester Pass from Camp
Camp Near Forester Pass
Camp Near Forester Pass

Day 4 – Forester Pass to Bubb’s Creek (~13 miles)

Again we got on the trail a little after 8:00. I am consistently the last to be ready in the morning. My routine is that of the OCD-inflicted individual; things must be done in a particular order with everything away packed exactly as it was the previous day. Anyway, up Forester we went! I was finally feeling acclimatized, finally caught up on my hydration, and cruised up the pass with ease. I was able to get to the top and snag a couple photos of Adam and Dylan coming over, both of whom also appeared to be in the groove, striding along joyfully. We took a short break up top then continued on into King’s Canyon. The views were spectacular.

Looking North from Forester Pass
Looking North from Forester Pass
Canyon Views
Canyon Views

At this point a few people began to appear on the trail. Until then we had only seen one or two others on the trail. Just another reminder that our trip was winding down. We were originally going to camp at Vidette Meadow or Junction Meadow but both were fairly crowded. We also came across a bear wandering around the trail at Junction Meadow… we let him/her go on their way then continued along on ours. There are lots of spots to camp along the creek, but most were taken. We ended up cramming into a clearing just big enough for the three of us. We had our own little shanty town, with a private beach. Pretty good! We washed in the creek with our bare asses visible to passer by’s who would dare to look! It had turned out to be a mellow day (despite lots and lots of downhill) and we burned through all our libations that last night. Good times. I was just wishing I had a re-supply stashed somewhere and could go out for another 5 or 6 days.

Day 5 – Bubb’s Creek back to Road’s End (~8.5 miles)

I slept so heavily that a bear could have sat on me and I wouldn’t have noticed. Sleeping near a creek always does the trick, that constant white noise. Finally something did wake me up, it was Adam dropping my bear can down near my head… Ugh, overslept. Despite it being muggy as hell we had an easy hike out, stopped for a few last photos, and high tailed it back to the car. We passed quite a few hikers on our way out. With the reality that we were all done now realized, thoughts of cheeseburgers and coke drifted in.

On Our Way Out
On Our Way Out

What Worked and What Didn’t

I didn’t have any gear issues on this trip, which is always nice. My backpack, a ZPacks Arc Blast, was loaded with nearly 30 lbs of gear which included a bear canister, food, and water and that’s a bit too much weight for me with that pack. I don’t like carrying more than 25 lbs, and would prefer to carry only 20 lbs. I could have gone a little lighter but I wanted to bring the things I did and I was fine with that. My gear list is below…

Gear Run Down

Backpack: ZPacks Arc Blast 60L
Shelter: Locus Gear Khufu Cuben, Borah Gear Cuben/M90 Bivy
Sleeping Bag: Western Mountaineering Alpinlite (too warm, but my other quilt is too light)
Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Neoair XLite
Stove: MSR Windburner
Water Filtration: Sawyer Mini Filter with squeeze bag
Hydration: 2x 1 Liter bottles
Bear Canister: BV 500

Camera: My good old NEX 5N kit

In Summary…

Sometimes you’ll hear people say something like “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey…”, well this trip didn’t have a particular destination. It was just about getting out and crossing some beautiful backcountry on foot, in the company of good friends. The scenery in SEKI is inspiring to say the least, that is, if you like BIG country with high, desolate landscapes and views of rock and sky that stretch out as far as you can see. It’s hard to not like that kind of thing, isn’t it? While this loop is a challenging one, it’s the sort of trip that requires being fully present in the experience, and that’s a good way to take your mind off other things. For solitude and something different in SEKI, give it a look. For someone with the time and motivation this could be tied in with the Rae Lakes Loop for an extra special trip!! -JD

Jacob D
Pre-Hike Beers
First bit of the climbing...
A nice meadow
Meadow views before more climbing...
Coolin Off at Colby Lake
Colby Lake seen from Colby Pass
Southern View from Colby Pass (elev 12,000 ft)
Heading Down Colby Pass
Gallat's Lake
More Meadow Views
Dylan snoozing after a long day
An un-Named High Alpine Lake
The Desolation...
Burl I
Burl II
Burl III
Supper First...
Flowing Into the Eternal
Alpinglow Over Camp (elev 12,000 ft)
Adam about to top out on Forester Pass
Dylan at Forester Pass (elev 13,200 ft)
Adam on top of Forester Pass (elev 13,200 ft)
Northern View from Forester Pass
King's Canyon
Lunch... Chillin...
Them Feet Tho...
Down "Low" Again (elev 8,000 ft)
Forest View
One Last Look

Jacob D Written by:

Dad, Runner, Student, Berserker, Questionable Partner... on my path to living an exceptional and real life.