Mountains are Better with Snow

King Range from Panther Gap, Sequoia NPDay 1: Sequoia National Park, Wolverton to Alta Meadows (November 22, 2012)

After doing several strenuous trips, it was time for something more relaxed. For this we made our way down to Sequoia National Park to spend Thanksgiving wandering the mountains among giants. We had mapped out a 4 day loop from Wolverton that would take us up to the summit of Alta Peak then down through the Giant Sequoias.

Looking south from Panther Gap

Looking south from Panther Gap

Leaving the Bay Area around 5am, we were on the trail by 10am. The trail from Wolverton took us up the northern side of the ridge to Panther gap. The ground was covered by a crusty layer of snow that had been well traveled. The snow gave way to dirt as we crested the ridge into the warmth of the sun hitting the southern slope.  Here the trail turned East towards Alta Meadow, but before continuing on, it was time for lunch.

After lunch we made our way along the ridge towards Alta Meadows. All day we were following the tracks of hikers that preceded us. At the Alta Peak trail split, the tracks continued up towards the peak, however, we turned towards Alta Meadows and began putting in first tracks in about 5 inches of snow.

After about a mile, we stopped and made camp on the ridge overlooking the meadow. Here we had a beautiful view of the valley dropping below us to the west, and the snow capped mountains to the east. We also had good access to a small stream running down the side of the ridge.

The view from camp. We set our tent up in the trees in the center of the picture.

The view from camp. We set our tent up in the trees left of center

The sun was setting by the time we got settled into camp. The temperature had dropped, and the snow was already forming a crust as we wandered up the slope from camp a short ways to take in the view. The sky was filled vivid shades of red and orange as the sun descended into the valley, but as the sun dropped, so did the temperature.

Sunset from Alta Meadow

Day 2: Alta Peak Summit Day (November 23, 2012)

Alta Meadows CampI had slept fairly well through the night, waking only a couple times to adjust as I gradually sunk into the snow during the night. Just before dawn, I woke to a pack of coyotes howling in the distance. It sounded like a fairly large group.

Our plan for the day was to base camp at Alta Meadows and take day packs to the summit. As we made our way out of camp, we noticed several sets of tracks passing by our camp. Looked like the coyotes had made there way right by us in the early morning light!

The trail started off at a gradual climb, but as we climbed, so did the temperature. It was around 70°F by 11AM as we approached the base of Tharp’s Rock. We had been following tracks in the snow, but they ended here. Continuing on, we began post-holing up the mile to the summit.

The final push to Alta Summit

The final push to Alta Summit

It was much slower going without tracks to follow. The snow was knee deep, and the crust on top was just strong enough to hold my weight for a second before breaking and dropping my foot to the ground. This cycle repeated with every step… It was quite tiring.

After an hour of tiresome post-holing we made the summit! The true summit was a large sloping rock about 4ft above where we were standing. To get to it involved stepping out on a narrow, icy, rock ledge. The ledge wasn’t too high, but it wouldn’t be pleasant if you were to slip off, so we decided not to risk it. Even though we didn’t stand on the summit I could touch it, so I’m counting this one as summited!

There was a bare rock just below the summit that we had a late lunch on. We were the only ones on the mountain, and it was quite. Not even a gentle breeze whistled in our ears.

View from the top!

View from the top! (11,208 ft)

The descent was quick but hot. When we left the summit at 1:45PM it was 80°F! By 4PM we were back at camp where there was noticeably less snow. But as the sun set, the temperature dropped, and I could tell it was going to be colder than the previous night.

Continue to Days 3 & 4