Morning came quickly, and in the dark we made our way towards Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. Alex, Dave, and Doug would drive to the starting trailhead, Marvin Pass, and unload most of the contents of the car into the parking lot. Doug would then pick up the rest of our crew and their packs at the Crescent Meadow Trailhead, stop at the Ranger’s Station for a permit and bear canisters, and bring them back to Marvin Pass. While Alex and Dave waited, a yummy breakfast or potatoes, eggs, and bacon was cooked up. We were dropped off at Marvin Pass around 6:45 AM, and by 10:00 AM, our group of six was assembled and ready to hit the trail.
Day 1 on the trail started with uphill switchbacks, but eventually turned into mile after mile of flat, mile crushing, terrain. Alex and Dave, spent much of the day questioning whether backpacking here instead of Yosemite was the right choice. Doug said the views and trail were supposed to be great, but so far it was nothing but blah-ish, lacking views, and very dusty. We hoped things improved, we wanted Carrie, Pat and Rachel to have amazing trip. Perhaps we were being too picky, because even now they seemed quite happy. We stopped a few times throughout the day to snack and eat lunch, and found ourselves at the Roaring River Ranger’s Station by 6 PM. After doing some calculations, we realized we had hiked 18-19 miles that day, blowing our original goals out of the water. Having hiked that significant chunk helped to make up for the time lost due to the flight delay, and also set us up to be able to reach Elizabeth Pass the next day.
We found a camping area near the ranger’s station, set-up tents, changed out of our dusty and sweaty clothes, filtered water, washed up, started a camp fire, and prepared dinner. Everyone was pretty tired at this point and lounged around the fire, enjoying a delicious Doug dinner (rice noodles, Italian seasoning, and salmon), and some of the absurd amount of wine he lugged in his pack all day. Before long, each of us retreated to our tents to rest our tired bodies.
Friday morning, we woke soon after the sun, and each of us did our part to get camp cleaned up and breakfast prepared. We were particularly happy that Pat made us coffee to sip on and warm us up and we packed camp.
Around 7:30 AM we were on the trail again, headed towards Elizabeth Pass, about 11 miles away. The terrain today turned into what we had been hoping for. Granite peaks and cliff faces began to peak from behind the trees, and eventually come into full view. The “ooohs and ahhhhs” of our friends made us even happier with the trail.
As the pass drew close, we stopped at the edge of the meadow below the pass to make lunch. The plan was tuna, green onion, and cheese in a wrap, but it quickly changed to involve cooking up some orzo to make it a heartier lunch since gaining Elizabeth Pass was going to be a tiring endeavor. Since the break was going to be significant, we all took off our boots and gave our feet and socks a chance to dry out. Everyone lounged and napped at some point before or after lunch. We spent some extra time watching the clouds after lunch, nervous that they could be bringing storms. We did not want to get stuck in the pass area if a thunderstorm was likely. After a while, we decided the sky looked good, and made a move for the pass…. all of us except for Doug. Doug continued to nap on ground where we had earlier had fun throwing rocks at his exposed buttocks. We were all confident that Doug would catch up to us, the question was how soon?
Together we made our way towards the pass. As the terrain turned steep, Dave took off quickly moving up the trail, Alex and Carrie took up the middle position, and Pat and Rachel brought up the rear. Soon we spied Doug in his pink shirt and large pack making his way through the meadow.
Dave crushed the elevation, and found himself sitting at the top within an hour. As Alex and Carrie made their way towards the pass, Doug’s voice caught their attention. He wanted them to stop so he could get some sunscreen from them. The pair was not happy about stopping, but Doug quickly scrambled up the terrain ignoring all the switchbacks to meet them. As they were ready to get moving, Doug asked if they wanted some chocolate and proceeded to empty the contents of his pack onto the ground in order to reach the bear canister that contained the Hershey bar. Alex and Carrie were making their way up the rocky switchbacks, questioning their will to live and whether they were ever going to reach the top. Alex was mentally prepared for what looked to be the end to be a trick, and rightly so. As they came up over the hump, what was skyline turned into flatter terrain before the final push to the pass. Before they could see him, they could hear Dave shouting a combination of encouragement and taunts for stopping. Joyfully, but tiredly, Alex and Carrie joined Dave on the pass, about 45 minutes after his arrival to it.
The three took some pictures and settled themselves on some rocks in an area on the side of the pass that offered shelter from the wind. Doug showed up a short while later, having had to stop to save all the wine from leaking into his pack. A hole had formed in the wine bag, and he stopped to get water bottles from Pat and Rachel to transfer the remains into. As Pat and Rachel came into view of the four of us, Dave wanted to give some encouragement to them. He was going to sing to them, but instead, Doug pulled out his iPod and mini speaker, blasted some Guns N Roses, and the pair threw off their shirts to perform on air-guitars and air-drums.
When all six of us joined on the pass, we celebrated victory…. It was all downhill after this! We decided to cook dinner on the pass since we still had several miles of hiking before we could make camp. Mashed potatoes, summer sausage, and fresh green beans were prepared on the camp stoves and eagerly devoured before we began to make our way down the other side of the pass. The pass was the dividing line between King’s Canyon (where we came from) and Sequoia (where we were headed) National Parks.
We made our way down the backside of the pass, stopping to filter water on the way. Eventually, the sloping meadow turned into long switchbacks that would drop us into the valley below. The views as we descended were breathtaking, especially with the alpine glow lighting up the rugged peaks. As darkness fell, we pulled out headlamps to aid our journey to the valley. Carrie and Doug walked ahead and located an area for us to set up camp. Once we all arrived, tents were quickly set up, a few snacks eaten, and all of us but Doug retreated to our tents, bodies exhausted from the day. As we lay in our tents, Doug shouted something along the lines of “DAVE! You are NEVER going to believe this!” Uh-oh…. “This map says there is a CONCESSION STAND about 2 miles from here!” We verified this in the morning, the map really did say “camping and concessions (summer only)” at the Bear Paw Ranger Station. We weren’t really sure what this meant, but at worst it meant overpriced snacks… which would be delicious!
As we heard Doug head to the tent, we heard something else outside. It kind of sounded like a deer. Dave stuck his head out of the tent and found it was not only one deer, it was three bucks! One of which was quite large. These deer were very curious and kept coming closer to our tent. Throwing rocks and yelling only made them more curious! It was quite the ridiculous situation, and no one else got out their tents to see this! Eventually, we went back into our tent and ignored the curious creatures that wandered around where we slept.
We enjoyed a slow and relaxed morning on Saturday, eating breakfast and drinking coffee around a campfire. We only had about 13 miles to cover between today on Sunday, so we planned to drop our packs off and do a day hike out to Hamilton Lakes before hiking to our camping spot for the night. When we finally got moving, we made our way towards the split in the trail where we could continue towards our ending trailhead, Crescent Meadow, or turn off towards Hamilton Lakes. We stashed our packs in the bushes, and only took the food, water, and other small items we would need for the 2.4 mile hike to the lake. We meandered up and around the mountain via switchbacks, stopping for lunch at a waterfall. When we reached the lake, we all dropped our outer clothing to take a refreshing dip before lying on the hot stone slabs to dry. At 2:00 PM, the appointed turn-around time, we made our way back to where we stashed out packs, and made our way along the stunning and exposed rim traverse of the High Sierra Trail.
After 1.6 miles of beautiful terrain and raspberry picking, we arrived at Bear Paw Camp. Turns out there WAS a “concession stand”! The camp was a walk in camping area that provided tents and cabins to hikers who reserved them. It also provided its guests with meals. Sadly, we could only drool over the meat cooking on the grill and twice-baked potatoes in the kitchen. They did however, have snacks for purchase for those who were hiking through, and we took advantage! It was an oasis in the woods! We feasted on big delicious brownies, over-priced mini-bags of chips, and apples. Doug kept calling for more “rounds,” but after spending $30 on snacks, Carrie, who carried the cash, shut him down with “No, wallet is closed!”
Joyfully we made our way from Bear Paw another 2 miles towards where we would camp for the night. It was the best day ever!
Alex, Dave, and Doug arrived at the predetermined location first, only to find that there were no more cleared campsites. We searched around for a bit, found an area with good spots for tents, and then cleared the tent areas of debris. Tents went up, dinner was being prepared, and before long all six of us were together again. We ate and relaxed, without ever using the fire ring that Carrie and Dave created, before settling into our tents for the night.
When we arrived at the Crescent Meadow, two of us would have to drive the rental car to the starting trailhead to retrieve the Rav 4, so Dave and Doug planned to start a bit earlier than the rest of the group so they could quickly cover the remaining 9 miles, and retrieve the car. It would take 1.5 hours to drive from one trailhead to the other, so they would have 3 hours of driving before we could all get in the cars.
Dave and Doug set off around 7:10, followed by the rest of the crew at 7:45. The mileage to the Crescent Meadow was mostly uphill, but gradual, which made for an enjoyable hike. Near the end of the trail Alex and Carrie crossed paths with a rattlesnake, just before hitting they started to run into lots of day hikers.
The group of four waited for Dave and Doug to show up with the cars, wandering around the area, checking out the “big trees”. After about an hour, Dave and Doug jumped off a shuttle bus, saying we would need to take a shuttle. Apparently the ranger who issued the permit forgot to mention that the trailhead parking area was closed to traffic on Sundays. Since Pat had the permit in his pack, Dave and Doug had to park at the nearest parking lot and take the shuttle to Crescent Meadow to let us know we needed to ride a shuttle to reach the cars.
Once at the cars, we loaded our packs and headed to the ranger station at Lodgepole to return our bear canisters.
As we headed back towards Fresno, we noticed some large cumulus looking clouds rising from behind a mountain. We quickly decided this was actually smoke from a forest fire. When we stopped at a lookout, we learned from fire information posting that the smoke was from the Rough Fire, the same fire that was over the ridgeline from us when we climbed the Obelisk. The fire had grown significantly in the last week, and the smoke we could see was a pyrocumulus cloud.
Back in Fresno, we enjoyed a delicious Mexican dinner before parting ways with Carrie, Pat, and Rachel. Not wanting to make the 6 hour drive to Vegas that night, we booked a hotel room for the night and enjoyed relaxing by the pool and sleeping in real beds.