Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kings Canyon: The More Beautiful, Less-Crowded Yosemite

Dave and I tried to visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks on our last road trip, but the Sierra actually had snow that year, so we couldn't.  This year, the Sierra received something like 25% of its annual snowpack.  Bad for California...  great for backcountry travel.

On the way into the park, there was a crazy heat wave.  Crazy.

did i mention this is crazy?
Time to escape to the mountains!

We stopped by Sequoia to see some of the Big Trees.  They are Seriously Big Trees.

the boole tree. i took this photo from ~100 meters away. can you find dave in the frame?
Like all of the minor temples and churches listed in a Lonely Planet guidebook, Seriously Big Trees start to look the same after a while.  We visited the Boole Tree, because it required a nice walk in the woods, and the Grant Tree, because we wanted to fill up our water gallons at a nearby campground.  I was suitably impressed and ready to get to the mountains.

hanging with the boole tree
So, how do we pick our hiking routes?  Not too much research in advance, because the amount of information available on the internet is totally overwhelming.  Instead, we talk to park rangers about their favorite locations and get maps and current trail information from land management offices when we arrive.  

And sometimes we pick our route because one of us sees a pretty picture, which is how we ended up on the Bubbs Creek trail headed toward Kearsarge Pass in the eastern section of Kings Canyon!  On this 3-day trip, we started at the Road's End permit station, camped two nights at Vidette Meadows, and a day hike to Kearsarge Pass and Kearsarge Lakes on the second day.

The walk up Kings Canyon was beautiful.  Soaring rock walls as you climb higher and higher.  And yes, there is climbing here - adventure climbing with brutal approaches!

view from the switchbacks, looking toward Road's End

From Road's End to Vidette Meadows is around 12-13 miles with about 4500' of elevation gain, so it took most of the day.  

Didn't help that the few parties walking out kept asking, "Be careful for rattlesnakes! How many have you seen?" (Answer:  2 total on the trip, neither of which were under my boots, thankfully.)

Vidette Meadows has a few nice campsites.  We picked the one that seemed to have the fewest mosquitoes.  Stay away from standing water...

camp at vidette meadows
The next day, we slept in (to 7:30 a.m!) and had a leisurely breakfast, leaving camp around 10:00 a.m.

Kearsarge Lakes are BEAUTIFUL.  It's the type of scenery that makes you rub your eyes and wonder if you're dreaming!

for me... the most beautiful type of scenery! alpine lakes and soaring peaks!
We continued high above the lakes, toward Kearsarge Pass.  This is a popular place for PCT through-hikers to exit for resupply (Onion Valley -> Independence), so we ran into a few friendly faces.

climbing higher above kearsarge lakes
 After a set of rocky, sandy switchbacks above a steep talus field (minor nail-biter), we were at the top!!

kearsarge pass, elevation 11,760 feet
The panorama from the top was stunning.  That's Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48, in the back corner!  This is the best view I've seen since the Khumbu Valley in Nepal.

We ate lunch on top, then wandered back down to camp via the higher Kearsarge trail to make a nice loop.

After dinner, we bushwhacked up the slope behind Vidette to watch the alpenglow on the Kearsarge Pinnacles in the distance.

Very romantic...  and COLD!

On our last day, we got up early to get to the car and out of the park ASAP.  On to the next adventure!  Along the way, we stopped to gawk at some wildlife.

the level of not-give-a-crap was just like the deer at home on the east coast!
what type of snake is this? very pretty.
i know what kind this is...  nice rattle, baby.
I had no idea that Kings Canyon was so beautiful.  Considering my very conflicted opinion of Yosemite Valley (see next post), I might recommend Kings Canyon and the Rae Lakes Loop (or any section of it) over the more famous park to the north!!  Two thumbs up for the Kings Canyon backcountry!

1 comment:

  1. Nico, I am sitting here reading your blog whilst you're commenting on mine. Small world, but big enough for many adventures :) Day 1 is almost here! Miss you and see you in Ithaca in August!