suggestions for Sequoia NP 3 days backpack end of June

9:45 p.m. on April 9, 2011 (EDT)
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Hi,

I'm planning our first visit to Sequoia NP last 3-4 days of June and trying to include my first backpack wilderness experience with my girlfriend, and our three teens 14-15-17(pending we can get a permit). As others, I want to make the backpack memorable, so future one would be possible...

Background: I'm 54 with some intermittent knee problems; she is 47. We often do day-hike in mountains, 5-6 miles, 2000-2500' elevation being our typical max. (The boys are always ready for more, and usually do more). Our toughest was Mt Washington (N.H.): 11 miles 4500 feet, WAY too much.

What would be your suggestions for a backpack circuit with great views ? The boys would like it tough and wild but not so my wife! Trails/camping spot where they could do more would be a plus.

Thanks



3:52 p.m. on April 10, 2011 (EDT)
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The 'popular' hiking season in the Sierra is mid July through September.  By then, most of the higher passes will usually be easily traveled and trails below snow free.

Normally on Father's Day in the Sierra there was snow fully covering trails above 11,000'.  That being said, this year is a near record snow fall year.

From the western Sierra, your trails into Sequoia NP start relatively low as compared to the eastern Sierra which trails start around 9,500' to 10,500'.  And a positive for you coming in from the west, is that your trails will usually take days to get to 11,000'. Sequoia is a backpacker, explores Park and has only a single road running along the western small portion of it.  Unfortunately it has few accesses to the high Sierra.  One is the HST.

The High Sierra Trail (HST) begins in Crescent Meadow/Giant Forrest.  The first day to Bearpaw Meadows is a long day (12+ miles), but except for some undulations, generally follows a contour.

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.56794345044977&lng=-118.6317138671875&level=6&type=topo

Lunch spot at Mehrten Creek (assuming an early start) and you can spend the night there or at Buck Creek or press on for another hour past Buck to Bearpaw Meadows.  You will be looking across the valley at some spectacular Yosemite type domes en route.  You can make Bearpaw Meadow a base camp and day hike (or move your camp) into some of the most spectacular scenery in the park on the way up to Hamilton Lake.

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.55755041749668&lng=-118.56866455078125&level=6&type=topo

On a positive note, Bearpaw Meadows has a Sequoia concession run B&B of sorts.  As an alternative, you can rent a horse and packers to take all of you and your stuff to a cabin with one of the best views in the Sierra from an open air bar.   This means you can, if they are open this early, enjoy an adult beverage at the end of the day and kickback and relax overlooking an awesome scene...while the kids knock themselves out. If thi$ intere$t$ you, you have to make tho$e plan$ EARLY!

If you have the energy (trust me the teens will) make it up the head wall on the trail as far as you can get toward Kaweah Gap out of Hamilton Lake.  You may have snow problems near the top well into late July this year.  You have one creek crossing just below Hamilton Lake that will give you a bit of a concern.  The rest of the crossings are bridged or routine.

You can also head up toward Elizabeth Pass for a look see down the other side.  You will have snow for the top portion to the pass.  You should be able to kick steps into any snow.  Probably not a place for tennis shoes.   Tamarack Lake should be near to snow free as well

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.58230510465098&lng=-118.580810546875&level=6&type=topo

Plan on 10 days to do the HST (to the top of Mt Whitney) some late July/Aug time frame.  Then would also be a good time to plan to go to Little/Big Five Lakes from below Kaweah Gap and down to Mineral King via BlackRock Pass (or several other options) then return to Bearpaw.  That is a 5-6 day trip sometime. 

Out of Wolverton via Panther Pass and Mehrten Meadows there is Alta Peak (area). 

 http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.58872532141109&lng=-118.6746826171875&level=6&type=topo

Or even better for some cross country is Pear and Moose Lakes and the Table Lands also out of Wolverton. 

I'm making few bets that any of the above 10,500' will be mostly clear of the snow pack this early this year. But they don't call it the Flatlands for the heck of it.  You should be able to walk on top of most of it - at least early in morning.

The other access into the park is from Lodge Pole and up towards Stillman Pass.

The other (Kings Canyon road end) has significant water crossing problems across Bubbs Creek.  Located there is a later in year popular start on a hike to Ray Lakes and return.

If you are in the Los Angeles area the east Sierra up US395 is an easier access to the high Sierra.  Out of Lone Pine might have late June possibilities as well.  Cottonwood Lakes trail and the trail head in Horseshoe Meadow is a 6 mile hike to spectacular scenery at just below 11,000'.

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.491139299654094&lng=-118.2127685546875&level=6&type=topo

Other forums you might be interested in asking about trails are:

http://forums.backpacker.com (SOUTHWEST Forum)

http://www.highsierratopix.com/community/ (BACKPACKING Forum)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10:39 p.m. on April 10, 2011 (EDT)
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Thanks for the comprehensive answer!


I'm considering to limit this first one to a 2 night/3d backpacking LOOP, starting July 1... One option on the table is starting in Wolverton with the following circuit (+/-):
- Trail of the sequoia
- High Sierra trail
- Sevenmile Hill trail
- Alta trail with up/down to Alta Peak (if opened)
- Alta trail back to Wolverton (maybe via Lakes Trail).

What do you think?

All the guides I've read mentions only three camping sites along that loop:
- Panther Creek and Mehrten Creek, before junction of Sevenmile on HST
- Mehrten Meadow on Alta, at junction of Sevenmile and Alta.

Isn't there other proper areas where we could pitch 3 tents on that loop...?

Would we allowed to reserve a permit for High Sierra Trail and start it from Wolverton even if the official trailhead which is Crescent Meadow?

Thanks

12:04 a.m. on April 12, 2011 (EDT)
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From the west side you won't have time to get to the high country and back on a three day/two night trip.  With the huge snowpack this year, you would have heavy snow in the high country anyway. 

You can reserver permits on the High Sierra trail out of Wolverton or Crescent Meadow.  In fact, it is easier to get one out of Wolverton.  You could try the Lakes trail to Emerald/Pear Lakes, they should be reasonably clear of snow at the end of June (highly dependent on how hot it gets and how early it gets hot this year).  But you can't reserve permits on that trail.  One option would be to reserve elsewhere, and when you arrive see if there are any spots open to Emerald Lake or Pear Lake, and take those instead if you feel so inclined.

The road to Mineral King will probably be open, but the good locations above Mineral King will all still be buried in snow at the end of June.  The one possible exception would be the Mosquito Lakes basin, which is beautiful and very lightly traveled.  The maintained trail ends at the first lake, where no camping is allowed.  But if you head cross country up the drainage (easily done) there are great campsites at the second lake.  It is only about 9600' and snow won't be a huge problem (but there are a couple stream crossings that should be done with care), and it is only about five miles and 2000' vertical.  One easy day to get there, one day to explore the basin (beautiful lakes further up), and an easy day to come back out.  And don't forget to examine the sink where Eagle Creek disappears into a cave right next to the trail.

Here is Mosquito Lake #2, where there are great campsites


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Looking north from the campsite
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Mosquito Lakes #3 and #4, you will have these all to yourselves


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Looking up, between Lake #3 and Lake #4


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Looking down the drainage from the same general area

100_0714.jpg

And finally, looking across Lake #2, campsites in the trees on the opposite shore


P9200058.jpg


The higher lakes will probably still be iced over with good snow cover (lake #4 is at 10,000') but Lake #2 will probably be doable at the end of June.  There will still be patchy snow, though.  These pictures were taken July 10-11 in an average snowpack year with an average spring warmup.

8:55 a.m. on April 12, 2011 (EDT)
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Much of the trip you outlined traverses fairly steep sided territory.  It wouldn't be impossible to find a suitable place to put one tent, but three would probably have to be scattered out on available 'flat' places.   The campsites they indicate are good ones with water as well.   If you were more north on the 'flat' places (I keep using qualifiers for flat) near the lakes, you have many more options of where you want to put up for the night.  I've spent a few a clear nights in a sitting position more or less wrapped around a tree in my bag. Would rather have been horizontal.  It is bad form to camp on the trail, or even impede other hikers on your breaks.

There are/were significant camping restrictions near Pear, Heather, etc.  Check into those if those are in your plans.

Considering the popularity of the Alta area you will be on, I'm sure the NP people want to restrict camping to areas that are easily cleaned up and damage repaired.  Further out on the HST, there are many more options where to stop.  Bear boxes are almost all within a day's walk (10 miles +-) of each other.

Take the loop trail through Giant Forrest but you might want to drop your packs and retrieve them after you do the loop.  You probably will be at Mehrten Creek before lunch if you get an early start (recommended).  It is a nice area - not so spectacular but provides a welcome area to spread out along the creek. I'm not sure if there are bear boxes there - or elsewhere on your trip.  You will absolutely have to protect your food overnight.  You are not at risk from bears (unless you initiate an argument over ownership), but your food certainly is.

You will have more scenery as you get up to to Mehrten Meadows and of course from Alta Peak.  But even tho it is a loop, you will pretty much be looking at the same scenery from a different angle.

Once you top the low ridge out of Crescent Meadows on way to Eagle View, you leave the redwoods behind and start into a different ecosystem that is dryer and for the next mile or so, the result of a fire some years ago. Castle Rocks across the wide valley are impressive.   The more spectacular Sierra rugged views are more east about 10-15 miles.  You will have more views once you get up on the higher ridge at M. Meadows.

Nail down your wilderness permits now! You can pay the extra fee for reserving more than one trail head (but cancel the others when its time), then pick the one that is snow free or better suited to you when you are closer to taking off.  Starting at Crescent is a good choice.  Wolverton is a good back-up plan and do the route in reverse.  Once you get permits for a trail head you are, for the most part, over the red tape.  Where you go in the wilderness after that may not be controlled.  But check on it.

Plan on afternoon showers, 20's F nights (rare but happens) and very warm to HOT days.  Long sleeve shirt, hooded parka/jacket and thick socks (ankle coverage) for mosquitoes at night and early morning.  Carry a 200 fleece jacket that is handy to put on at rest breaks.  A light weight hooded rain jacket (ala Precip) is good if you get caught in a storm - but then so is a poncho.  Daytime hiking will probably be shorts and t-shirt weather.  Bring DEET - use sparingly.

If Mineral King is snow free up to 10,000', the Mosquito Lakes trip is a good alternative. You only need carry your packs one day and 'lounge' the next. You can let the kids loose to scramble up to higher lakes and even to the saddle just to the west of the lakes looking down into Mineral Lakes.

hhtp://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.42368896107905&lng=-118.61083984375&level=6&type=topo

The road up to MK is a bit of an adventure.  Your shoulders will get a good work out.

All in all, I think you have chosen a good introductory trip that is challenging and should give everybody a good taste of the western Sierra.

 

11:25 a.m. on April 12, 2011 (EDT)
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The NPS' SEKI Permit Reservation form indicates they confirm by MAIL within two weeks.

Is that true?!? 

Why don't they confirm by email?

Two weeks without knowing which plan would work?!?

10:03 a.m. on April 13, 2011 (EDT)
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To complete our intent: coming from a 6 hour flight, we do not wish to backpack only for the sake of backpacking, it must provide a level of WOW factor, the feeling we have seen things we could not have seen in day hiking.  Though call?

We are used to day hike of total 5-6 miles up 2000-2500' and down the same mountain the same day.  We could probably hike longer since the down is not necesseraly the same day... (with heavier pack however...). 

Does that comment add other suggestions? 

What if we add a third night and half-a-day?

Thanks all for your help!

7:14 p.m. on April 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Are you flying into San Fran, Reno, Los Angeles area or Las Vegas.  All are about 5 hours drive from the Sierra trail heads.  LA is closer to the Sierra from the east side. Big difference in where you would want to go.  You don't necessarily have go to Sequoia to see 'sequoia' type WOWs. Except, it is a given that the big trees are there in addition.

I thought they responded quicker than that for permits.  Especially if you FAXd it to them.  But I agree it is too chancy with only two weeks notice.  Not so much that you will get one of the choices, but that you won't have any.  Slim chance of that, however.

10:58 p.m. on April 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Are you flying into San Fran, Reno, Los Angeles area or Las Vegas. 

I thought they responded quicker than that for permits.  Especially if you FAXd it to them. 

Into LA; after Sequoia we are going to Yosemite and flying out from San Fransico.

I've called them: they usually treat the application within one day and we can called to have a verbal confirmation.  The written one will be mailed... and not emailed.  Hello, we are in 2011!

2:49 a.m. on April 15, 2011 (EDT)
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They still ride horses there...don't be too hard on them.

From LA, its about 7-8 hours to the trail heads in Sequoia we've been suggesting. You could do hikes on the east side, probably not getting into Sequoia or Kings since you have to get over 11,000' passes (perhaps too much snow this year), and then scoot over Tioga Pass into Yosemite from Lee Vining above Mammoth Lakes (it will be plowed).

An east side of Sierra hike that would probably be an option then (6 hours to trail head from LAX) is Cottonwood Lakes.  All the spectacular stuff like lakes, 14'r that has a 3000' wall in front of your camp spot, probably some exciting looking VERY LARGE snow cornices that would show blue ice above you.  About 6 miles in.

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.49751802556655&lng=-118.21710205078125&level=6&type=topo

Mt Langley is just a mile to the northwest.  Most southern 14r in US (outside of Hawaii).

But suspect Mosquito Lakes in Mineral King or Bearpaw Meadow or the lakes behind Alta,  would be as good a trip.   But going up US 395 to Tioga passes beside the back bone of the Sierra (on the other side are, Sequoia, Kings, Yosemite), along with the largest concentration of 14r's in the state.  You will see all of them but Shasta from Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes.

In LA there are REI's more or less en route (and an A-16 just off of 405 near UCLA) so that you can pick up stove fuel/canisters and other stuff you forgot.

7:45 a.m. on April 15, 2011 (EDT)
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From LA, its about 7-8 hours to the trail heads in Sequoia we've been suggesting. But suspect Mosquito Lakes in Mineral King or Bearpaw Meadow or the lakes behind Alta,  would be as good a trip.  

From Santa Monica to Three Rivers, why is Google Map calculating between 3h40 (to 4h40 with heavy trafic) with the I5 and CA99...?  Isn't it +/- one hour more to the trailheads.

Your circuit is appealing, however we really want to hike (day or backpack) among the giant sequoias...

2:29 p.m. on April 16, 2011 (EDT)
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Other options for another trip. 

If you get a chance and have the time, the coastal redwoods are also very beautiful.  They are more like graceful women at a grand ball as compared to the battle weary old retired generals in Sequoia NP.  Coastals are in nice groves up in Humboldt County - area.  Or on hiway 1 north out of SF or down near Santa Cruz.

On the Alta or Mosquito Lakes trip you leave the sequoia behind.  Going out of Crescent Meadows as soon as you go over the ridge you leave the large groves (Giant Forrest) behind.  You can see them below you in the valley and its walls on the other side.

And definitely, the trees are something not to miss.

Dunno about driving times. Those were times from first sitting in car until your foot hits the trail.  Maybe they fixed the road or maybe it just seemed that long.   Add in a meal and a pit stop.  The more organized you are the closer it is to driving times. Sometimes a delay at the entrance gate is followed by 25mph behind an impressive camper.  Might have to add in the stop at the visitor center to get the latest info?  Permits?  Maps? Weather report?  Bear canisters?  A last meal?  Then it seems like somebody has to repack their backpack - again.   Then that catches on to others like a yawn.  Finally it dawns on somebody they forgot their boots (true story in Crescent Meadow Parking lot).  Sometimes it seems to take longer to get to the trail head than for Christmas Eve to arrive for a young child.

When you park your car, you must have EVERYTHING out of sight and stored in trunk or if available, the large bear boxes near the trail head.  No wrappers, empty soft drink cans, maps, tissues, laundry bags, ice chest, or brown paper market bags, etc.

On your way to Yosemite, don't forget to stop off at the south portal Wawona Inn for a meal or just a look around.  Breakfast is nice.  Rooms used to be reasonable.  They probably are not at Three Rivers.

11:55 p.m. on April 16, 2011 (EDT)
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From my house in Visalia, it takes 1 hour 15 minutes to Crescent Meadow or other points in Giant Forest on a good day; with the construction on 198 inside the park, you might add 30 minutes to that if you catch the one-way controls at the wrong time, or if you end up behind one of the many giant RVs that refuse to use the pull-outs to let others by.

From my house, it takes 1 hour 30 minutes to get to the end of the road in Mineral King if you like high speed slalom driving; saner people take about two hours.  I have done it in 1 hour 15 minutes, but that was really pushing it.  The last 25 miles (from where you leave 198 above Three Rivers) are nothing but hairpin turns on a road that is only 1.5 lanes wide.  There are supposed to be 698 curves on that road, but I have always been too busy working the steering wheel to count.

11:34 p.m. on April 17, 2011 (EDT)
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Wow ... great thread... reading all this, and seeing those pics posted by lambertiana really has me thinking ahead to summer, and the feeling of being in the Sierra.  Niiiiiice...

July 23, 2014
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