Walking Among Giants

Day 3: Alta Meadows to Wolverton Cutoff Ridge (November 24, 2012)

The snow had adjusted under my weight during the night leaving me with an uncomfortable position for my back and causing me to get up with the sun. The air was cold as the sun slowly climbed out from behind the ridge, its warmth only reaching us after breakfast.

We took our time with breakfast and breaking down camp since we didn’t have far to hike. We were heading towards Wolverton Cutoff, which would take us over the ridge towards the Giant Sequoias and back to the car.

Descending towards the High Sierra Trail

Descending towards the High Sierra Trail

The sun had warmed the air significantly by the time we started down the trail at about 10 AM. We backtracked 2.2 miles towards the Merhtan Creek trail split, then descended another 2.2 miles to the High Sierra Trail.

Merhtan Creek CampWe quickly dropped below snow line and the trail became wet with snow melt. The High Sierra trail brought us to a rocky clearing where it crossed Merhtan Creek. The warm rocks were a nice spot to have lunch and let the boots and socks dry in the sun. There are also some camping spots tucked away in the trees above the trail complete with fire rings and bear boxes.

After lunch we took on a full load of water since we would be camping on a ridge with no streams this night.

Wolverton CutoffContinuing down the trail, and down in elevation, we wound our way through wooded hillside for about 3 miles before climbing again on the Wolverton Cutoff trail. We climbed a short ways to the top of the ridge where we made camp for the night. Some day hikers were taking in a view of the valley from a rock out cropping nearby.

The view from the out cropping was perfect for watching the sun set. From there were could see down into the valley in one direction, and up to the summit of Alta Peak in the other. We could even pick out our trail in the snow leading up to the summit! Looking at our tracks made me wonder if anyone had been sitting in this spot the day before watching us trudge our way to the top…

View from camp on Wolverton Cutoff Trail (Alta Peak at left)

View from camp on Wolverton Cutoff Trail (Alta Peak at left)

As the sun light faded, we made a small camp fire for about an hour after dinner. The temperature was a little below 50°F and didn’t drop too much after dark, and sitting by a fire was a nice change from going strait to bed after dinner.

Day 4: The Giant Forest (November 25, 2012)

The night was pleasant with the temperature never getting close to freezing, and the morning was comfortable for breakfast. After breaking camp and hitting the trail, we quickly dropped into the Giant Forest.

My pace slowed as I stubbled over sticks every few steps, my eyes gazing upwards  focused on the trees towering above. Looking around at eye level, you could almost forget these were trees and not giant columns holding up the sky.

Giant Sequoias

It was only a few miles back to the car. We arrived before lunch, then made the short drive down the road to go visit the biggest of the giants, General Sherman.

General Sherman, World's Largest Tree (Can you see me at the bottom?)

General Sherman, World’s Largest Tree (Can you see me at the bottom?)

Be sure to check out Days 1 & 2 of this trip HERE

For more photos from this trip visit the album on Flickr

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