Over a weekend I went out with my cousins for a trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI.) Since my cousins aren’t the backpacking type, we opted for car camping and doing a hike that walks you straight into a redwood grove. Despite going during the Spring season at 7,000+ ft in elevation heavy fog shrouded us and we found ourselves pacing very carefully through snow. Luckily the snow was hard packed and slowly making its way out, which meant that snowshoes and traction devices were not needed! –but traction devices would probably have been helpful since the ground was still slippery. I can still remember looking up and discovering a massive red tree towering over what now seemed to be skinny, weak saplings while my legs were fighting to regain balance on slushy, snow-covered ground. It was gorgeous.
Where to Go:
We car camped overnight at the Lodgepole Campgrounds. Before May this campground is first come first serve and is pretty much your typical car camping sites. There’s space for 2 cars to park, a fire pit (yay campfires!,) a bear vault, bathroom facilities, and neighbors. Loud, loud, obnoxious neighbors! K, I may be exaggerating a bit OR I’m an unlucky car camper because I can’t seem to get away from the noisy crowds. My motivation for making these outdoor trips is to clear out all the mind clutter that living and working in a big city creates. I didn’t come go to nature to find rediscover drinking, singing, frolicking yuppies.
Luckily everyone who visits Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park primarily stick to the paved hiking trails that go around General Sherman. By volume General Sherman is the largest living tree on Earth. He’s quite impressive and as a result he also draws a crowd. If you haven’t visited the trails around General Sherman I’d definitely recommend paying a visit since it really is one of the things to do at SEKI. Otherwise I’d strongly, strongly suggest that you explore the back trails. They’re guaranteed to be filled with the sound of silence and you and walk right up to a massive sequoia. I love General Sherman and the other surrounding giants, but for me that area of the park feels like an amusement park because you’d be standing on a paved asphalt trail and then you’ll be leaning up against a big, wooden fence in order to get a closer look a the giants.
Protip: In the event that you do visit General Sherman and then try to take that group photo in front of the sign put your phone or camera in panoramic mode. This will allow you to photograph the tree in its entirety.
What We Wore
I was hoping to avoid the snow since we hitting the hikes during the shoulder season of April, but thanks to nearby passing storms there was a lot of moisture in the air and plenty of wind. While my cousins juggled between being bundled up in city clothes then layering down because of sweat I stayed absolutely comfortable in attire.
- Waterproof Hiking Boots – Once again I wore my trusty Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots. These guys have yet to let me down! I’ve taken them through sand dunes, volcanic rock, and postholed through powdered snow with them. Hiking through a Spring snow with them was a breeze. On the other hand one of my younger cousins decided to wear a pair of canvas sneakers. Bad, bad idea. From just walking on wet asphalt her shoes were soaked. Luckily for her the Lodgepole Market was open at the campground and we bought her a pair of waterproof Hi-Tek boots.
- Merino Wool Socks – It’s not enough to have good boots, you also need a solid pair of socks. Otherwise say goodbye to your little toes! I wore a pair of Smartwool PhD Outdoor crew. These are merino wool socks that are lightweight, wick moisture, feel comfy, and don’t get stinky. Had I predicted snow I probably would have brought my heavier ski versions to better insulate my feet. My other cousin who wore a pair of Nike shoes felt the cold! For him we picked up a pair of Fox River Heavyweight Wool socks at the campground market. Fox River wool products are extremely thick and very warm. In my experience they’re not as versatile as my merino ones, but they’ll keep you warm. My cousin kept his toes and made it through hiking 5 miles through snow.
- Base Layers – For this trip my base layers very quite simple. A pair of Sahara hiking pants from REI and a Marmot Thermo shirt. Again had I foreseen the snow and wind, I’d probably would have worn the same Nike Tech Fleece pants that I wore while hiking a glacier in Colorado.
- Warming Layer – The Arcteryx Atom LT (there’s also a men’s version)is officially my favorite active jacket. It’s lightweight with breathable polartec sides, has coreloft insulation, and is wind-resistant!
- Soft Shell – I have absolutely no problem with saying that I’m a wimp when it comes to cold. While hiking uphill we felt a draft that felt even chillier with the heavy moisture in the air. I threw my Marmot Precip (men’s version available) over my Atom jacket. The nice thing about the precip is that has a couple of zippered vents that keep you from overheating.
- Beanie – Fun fact? I have a 7 piercing in my ears and when temperatures drop outside the metal in my earrings chill my ears from the inside out. I’d kept my beanie on for the majority of this trip.
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of this trip was walking in the heavy fog and really being able to take time to enjoy the surroundings. Moving slowly allowed me to fiddle with my recently acquired Sony 24-70mm/2.8 GM lens and take photos that I’d normally wouldn’t have time to capture while on a backpacking hike. Typically I’ll have a 28mm/2 attached to my Sony A7r II, which keeps me limited to wide shots. However, with a flexible zooming focal length I was able to go from shooting wide landscapes to shooting beautiful close-ups. In hindsight it might have been helpful for me to have carried my wide angled Rokinon 14mm/2.8 to photograph the massive trees from bottom to top in one single frame. 24mm on the 24-70mm/2.8 lens isn’t wide enough to capture the tree from bottom to top. In order to achieve my goal then I flipped the dial on my camera body to panorama mode and allowed my camera to stitch several frames together to form one, long portrait of a sequoia.
After a bit of walking the dense forest the four of us finally ran into a grove of massive trees. The ones that are deep into the hiking trails aren’t as big as ones around General Sherman, but nevertheless they are monumental. Simply by walking right up to their aged, red trunks makes you feel so small and young.
On our way back we stopped by another 3.4 mile hike to Tokopah Falls before we ended up back at Lodgepole Campground. Time and time again I always find myself mystified when seeing massive waterfalls in California. Perhaps El Niño is finally coming this year. Trail to Tokopah Falls is located inside of Lodgepole Campground and follows the Kaweah River.
Trailhead address: Lodgepole Road, Sequoia National Park, CA 93262
Trailhead coordinates: 36.604883, -118.724921 (36° 36′ 17.57″N 118° 43′ 29.71″W)
Throughout this post you might be wondering why or when I’m going to name the route that my cousins and I took to find the hidden grove. Well, I’m not going to directly name it for a couple of reasons. One being that I really want to encourage you to take out a map and find the less popular trails to explore for yourselves. Just because a trail isn’t popular doesn’t necessarily mean that it lacks in majesty or ornaments. Try something new by something new by walking in direction opposite of everyone else.
Now the second reason why I won’t flat-out name the trail is a little more unsettling. Unless you’re really proficient with navigating and map reading it could be easy to get lost and wander into an area that’s occupied by weed farmers.
I haven’t personally ran into a pot farm yet and hope that day never comes. I was told that if my cousins and I wandered off in the wrong direction for a few miles we were likely to run into a weed garden.
Have you guys walked among giants?
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