High Sierra Trail – Sequoia Natl. Park

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Where: Sequoia National Park, High Sierra Trail from Crescent Meadow California  Who: Ben, Jen, Paula     When: June 27th-30th 2016    Permits: Required with a daily quota, book ASAP to get the dates and trail head you want. Fees associated.

Our plan was to do a loop from Crescent meadow on the High Sierra Trail to the Big Arroyo cut off, looping through Little Five Lakes, over Black Rock Pass, Redwood Meadow Grove and meeting back up with the HST at Bearpaw Meadow over 5 days.  However, due to thunderstorms we were forced to turn  back on day 2 when we were almost at Precipice Lake, super disappointing but the safest and smartest thing to do so we did not get struck by lightning, which I am all for!  So this trip turned into an out and back which was still awesome.

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Day 1: Crescent Meadow Trail head to Bearpaw Meadow, Approx. 10.1 miles

We picked up our reserved permit from the Lodgepole Ranger Station when they opened at 7am with several other groups of hikers.  The ranger was super nice and informative about the areas each of us was headed to and specific precautions to watch for, like the broken bear locker at Hamilton Lake.  We drove over to Crescent Meadow and left my car in the parking lot to start our hike in around 8:30am.  The hike starts through a beautiful grove of huge Sequoias and of course the meadow down below, shortly you hit the open ridge that the trail winds along most of the way.  The views are amazing here and very quickly it was getting hot in any areas where the sun was hitting the trail.

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We very quickly saw our first of many marmots hanging around large boulder fields and ledges along the trail.  We also saw a cinnamon colored bear a few miles in about 20-25 feet off the trail in some bushes for about 5 seconds,as it quickly raised its head and turned tail to run down the hill.  It was my first ever bear sighting!  And sadly or luckily…the only one of the trip.

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Shortly the day really heated up and the last few miles into Bearpaw were very long, dusty, and hot.  We switched between the cooking sun and shaded forest where the flies and mosquito’s hung out. We finally reached Bearpaw Meadow where there is a back country lodge of sorts, aka tent cabins, a ranger station, some piped untreated water and terrible pit toilets.  The “store” there is VERY limited and not really a store.  We did grab a little cup of lemonade which was a nice pick me up and then walked down the hill away from the nice breeze and views to the campsites.  This camping area quite frankly SUCKED. It was blocked in by trees, full of mosquito’s and flies, and was not very level.  We quickly ate some snacks, as none of us were very hungry for dinner due to the altitude and heat of the day, filtered some water and got in our tents to escape the bugs by 5:30pm. We all napped and layed around trying to pass the time until we could get up in the morning and leave this crap hole.

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Day 2: Bearpaw Meadow to almost Precipice Lake, back down to Hamilton Lakes. Approx 8 miles.

We woke in hopeful spirits about the coming day and getting up to Precipice lake and beyond where we could see the Great Western Divide.  We got out of camp by 7am and started the walk down from Bearpaw which would drop about 800 ft and then head back up another 1000 ft.  The Sierras are the opposite of gravity where what goes down must go back up.  However the morning was cool, quite, and lovely. We passed over tons of creeks and rushing waterfalls.

img_0641img_0750 We reached Hamilton Lake and took a great lunch break and dipped our feet in the cold snow melt waters.  It was sunny but cooler than the day before which made for better hiking.  However it turns out this cooler weather was due to the storm clouds that were headed our way over the divide that we were headed up to.  img_0656img_0657

As we crossed the Hamilton Lake outlet and began the long slow climb up never ending switch backs to Precipice Lake the sky really began to darken and my watches barometer alarm went off with the dreaded down arrow.  We hoped that perhaps we could at least get up to Precipice Lake and pitch tents before the storm rolled in. From there we could wait to see if the storm cleared enough to make it over 10,700 ft Kaweah Gap before dropping into the Big Arroyo for the night.

img_0659img_0667The thunderstorm had other ideas though and started to really drop some long rolling thunder and light up the sky with dazzling brightness that should not be easy to see this early in the day.  The rain started shortly after that and as we wound through the granite face that the trail had been blasted into we stopped to reassess the situation.  We were in the wide open on a granite covered hill, headed closer to the clouds to another open granite area with a lake…if we turned back we would not have enough time to finish our planned loop, if we kept going we might get stuck or worse struck by lightning.  We waited about 15 minutes to see what the weather was doing, the rain slowed down to a trickle and we counted 10 seconds in between light and thunder.  We decided then to keep going and just come down if things got bad again.  We left our sheltered area back into the wide open, under a very dark sky.

A few minutes up the hill and the rain started again, followed by a big flash of light and a 5 second count until the rolling thunder you could feel deep in your chest.  I saw a couple of backpackers coming down towards us and decided to stop and wait to ask them where they were coming from and how it looked past Precipice Lake.  I yelled over the wind, “Hi there! Where are y’all coming from?”  They stopped to chat a foot away from me so we could hear each other, the woman was in front and said “Oh hi we are headed down from Big Arroyo” I replied with that was where we were planning to go and asked how it was.  Her replied sealed the deal for our plans “It is seriously awful, we came back, there are crazy lightning bolt strikes just on the other side of this hill. I would not recommend continuing.”  I thanked them and headed back to Jen and Paula to tell them the bad news.  They both looked pretty relieved and we decided to rush back down to find a spot at Hamilton Lake before the storm really rolled in.img_0678We luckily found an awesome spot along the Hamilton Creek outlet on the other side from where most campers where with a bear box too!  The views around us were really lovely and the storm never really came over the pass to us, we could just hear the thunder continue to roll in the distance.  Shortly the rain even stopped and the clouds cleared enough for a beautiful sunset.  I sat quietly on a big boulder next to the creek and meadow watching the show and even had a lone deer come within 10 feet of me eating bits of shrubs.

With our loop plans thwarted we decided to head back to Mehrten Creek where there supposed to be a few nice sights and then we would hike out the next day.  We again got out of camp early, crossed a few creeks before the days melt and cruised to the creek.  It was interesting to see the way we came in from different angles and in the morning light.img_0705img_0714We passed back by the angels wings rock formation (see above picture), took a nice break in the sun at Buck Creek and made our way up to Mehrten Creek.  The campsites here are precariously perched up the hill from the creek in a spot you would have no idea existed if there was not a sign on a tree to point out how to find them.  It is a small camping area with only 3 sites and when we arrived there were two men camped at the lower site where the bear box is, not an issue for us since we had bear canisters so we took the middle site up above them.  It is a little tough to scramble up the hill to the site with backpacks on but we all made it safe and settled our tents into the two mostly flat available spots.  About an hour later a group of boy scouts came up the hill and found the last spot higher above us.  The views here made the climb up the hill totally worth it.

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We had a quiet and restful night here as the breeze kept the bugs away and boy scouts were a surprisingly chill group.

Day 4: Mehrten Creek to Crescent Meadow. Approx. 5.4 miles

We again woke early and were on the trail by 7am to make our way back to Crescent Meadow.  The day was another hot one and we were thankful for the shady spots we had coming out.  We made it to the car pretty early and I dropped Jen and Paula off at the visitor center after we had a last meal together in the cafe, where I drank so much delicious orange soda. They had decided to stay another night at the lodge in Sequoia, while I wanted to get back home to Oakland.  All and all a fun and challenging trip!

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So happy to be out safe and sound!

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