I have been planning on doing this backpacking trip for several months now... I wanted to explore a portion of the Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia National Park where I hadn't been before including several high country lakes and the Garfield Grove of giant sequoias. So on Wednesday Candace, a gal whom I'd met through the Northern California Hikers Yahoo group who would be joining me on this trip, drove to Springville from Sacramento and we headed up to the Hidden Falls Trailhead in Mountain Home State Forest. Originally we were going to leave from the Summit Trailhead in Sequoia National Forest and hike out to Maggie Lakes. But there is currently a fire burning in that area. It was started by lightning a couple of weeks ago and is being carefully monitored but basically being left to burn to restore natural ecological processes. The trails are not closed but hikers are being discouraged from camping in the immediate area. So we decided to hike up from Mountain Home to Summit Lake instead. The rest of the trip would then go on as planned.
Day 1: Hidden Falls to Upper Tule River Crossing, 4 miles, 1,800’ elevation gain
Day 2: Summit Lake, 2.5 miles, 1,600’ elevation gain
Day 3: Lower Blossom Lake, 7 miles, 500’ elevation gain
Day 4: Blossom Lakes Layover Day, ~2 miles, 600’ elevation gain then loss
Day 5: Tuohy Creek, 8 miles, 1,400’ elevation loss
Day 6: South Fork Campground, 8 miles, 4,600’ elevation loss
From Hidden Falls Campground in Mountain Home State Forest a trail goes up the Tule River tying in with the Long Meadow Trail that leaves from the Shake Camp Trailhead at a place called Redwood Crossing. Here there is a giant sequoia that has fallen across the river providing a natural bridge. We stayed on the east side of the river, however, and climbed ever higher crossing over into Sequoia National Forest and the Golden Trout Wilderness. I've done the lower part of this trail twice before... We hiked through Long Meadow then crossed the Tule River again. After about 4 miles of steady uphill trail we crossed the river one last time then found a campsite on its east side. It was 7:00 pm and we set up camp and made dinner. We had agreed to alternate cooking dinner and Candace cooked this first night. She made curry chicken with rice and carrots and it was yummy We then had to don head nets as it got darker and the mosquitoes came out to bug us. The last light of day was pink and reflected onto high clouds in the sky.
In the morning we woke up fairly early and geared up to hike up to Summit Lake. We only hiked about 2.5 miles the second day but it was steep! We climbed about 1,800’ in steep switchbacks up to the lake. On the way we saw a young buck who was ahead of us on the trail and watched us as we watched him for quite some time. Once we left the dense forest and started climbing up the last few rocky switchbacks before Summit Lake we admired stunning wildflower gardens of scarlet gilia, pride of the mountain, and a bright yellow buckwheat. We also saw a helicopter turn over us, presumably monitoring the fire burning nearby on Maggie Mountain.
We crossed over the border to Sequoia National Park and arrived at Summit Lake right about lunchtime. As we started to eat lunch we began to hear thunder and see dark clouds moving in from the east. That confirmed that we would stay put at Summit Lake for the rest of the day so we set up our tents near the east shore. It didn’t rain until about 4:00 pm and only rained for about 20 minutes so in the meantime I took a brief dip in the lake. After the brief rain the sun came out again and dried everything off again.
We didn’t see anybody else hiking on the first day but on the second while at Summit Lake we saw 8 people including 3 that camped on the west shore of the lake and 3 guys that had a dog with them. For shame, dogs aren’t allowed on park trails! And the poor dog… they had a pack for him that was very lopsided and he was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes
After a nice night at Summit Lake we awoke to clear skies and started off along Windy Ridge to Lower Blossom Lake. The trail was relatively level with only a few short uphill sections. We hiked through a beautiful forest of western white pine and red fir dotted with meadows. At Windy Gap we admired the view looking down the Kern Canyon. We also ran into the three guys with the dog again and they were headed back towards Maggie Lakes. We then stopped for lunch near Green Meadow at a small creek where we filtered water. The wildflowers there were phenomenal - we saw lupine, paintbrush, leopard lilies, ranger's buttons, larkspur, buttercup, cinquefoil, Richardson's geranium, and others.
After lunch we continued hiking along the ridge and began to hear thunder and see dark clouds building. We hiked along cautiously watching the clouds. Fortunately they never came overhead so we made it to Blossom Lakes without seeing any lightning or rain.
At Lower Blossom Lake we found a great campsite near the east shore. I took a swim out to a granite rock island and then rested and sunned on a rock on the shoreline. That evening Candace made another great meal, cheese tortellini with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts.
The next day was a layover day of sorts. We kept our camp at Lower Blossom and dayhiked up to the other Blossom Lakes. I think we saw 13 of the 15 that appeared on the map plus some other small lakes that weren't on the map. The lakes are in a wide glacially sculpted granite bowl and they are each more beautiful than the last. We sat and admired one for a while and watched juncos and hummingbirds fly around and over the lake. Once a hummingbird, presumably attracted to Candace's bright pink Nalgene bottle, hovered right in front of her face for a few seconds. She said she had never been so close to one! About a minute later I felt something on my hand which I had resting on my elbow and I turned just in time to see a Junco fly off. I guess it thought my hand would make a great perch!
We continued hiking and got to the big upper Blossom Lake around lunchtime. We ate lunch and then went over to the lake to soak our feet. Candace heard something and turned back towards our day packs and saw a furry tail poking out of my pack! She said, "Hey!" and turn and ran over to the pack and out jumped a marmot. He had gotten into my leftover cheetos! Brat :p Oh, well, it was my fault. That marmot will probably never be the same after getting a taste of junk food, sort of like the animals in the movie, "Over the Hedge," we joked. We named the marmot Mr. Cheetos as he came back several times to try to get more.
On the way back down to our campsite I saw a pika and we both enjoyed the views that stretched all the way down the Kern Canyon to the Needles. We also saw two fishermen but never saw where they were camped. Back at our campsite we saw another backpacker who set up camp near us but never came over to say hello. We called him the "Silent Backpacker." He made very little noise and ended up leaving early in the morning so it was if he was never there.
That afternoon I went for a swim then took a nap inside my tent. I woke up once startled to see a lizard that had crawled up between my tent body and the fly! That night I made a Thanksgiving-like meal - stuffing with chicken and dried cranberries. It hit the spot. It was breezy that night which was fine by me because it kept the mosquitoes away!
The next day we hiked south then west and downhill towards South Fork and Hockett Meadows. The wildflowers along the way were outstanding, especially right near Hunter Creek. We then turned left on a trail that I thought would lead to the Kaweah River and Tuohy Creek junction. Well, it did... eventually! We ended up hiking a mile or more extra that day due to me choosing a trail that wasn't even on my map. It was a good trail, though, and it took us through several beautiful meadows. We saw two young bucks and a doe with a fawn (Bambi!) along the way. We also ran into a backcountry ranger on horseback. He was the only person we saw on the trail the last two days of this trip. We camped that night at the "V" where Tuohy Creek meets the South Fork Kaweah River. There is a horse camp there with a fire ring and nice log benches. We had a two course dinner that night, pasta salad with pepperoni and some chili with sundried tomatoes.
In the morning I woke up at first light. I wanted to get an early start - we had 8 miles to hike and my boyfriend Todd was going to meet us at the South Fork Campground at 1:00 pm. So we got hiking by 7:00 am. We had to cross the creek and then the river twice in the first 1/3 mile of trail so we just wore our Crocs until then. This trail is called the Hockett Trail and it is one of the oldest built trails in the Sierra. It starts its decent down the north facing side of the South Fork Canyon soon after crossing the river for the final time. After a couple of miles you enter the Garfield Grove of Giant Sequoias. This grove is one of the largest in wilderness condition in Sequoia National Park. The trees grow on that north facing slope which is lush and green and is criss-crossed by many streams but there aren't very many flat areas in which you could camp. After a little while though you start to notice that up above the grove ends abruptly at a boulder field. This was the site of a very large landslide back in 1867. This is from the book "A Guide to the Sequoia Groves of California" by Dwight Willard:
"One of the most cataclysmic events affecting the Sierra Nevada in historic times impacted the Garfield section of the grove. On December 20, 1867, a warm rain fell on heavy snowpack blanketing the higher elevations of Dennison Ridge. One observer wrote that "the north side of Dennison Mountain" fell through the heart of the grove into the South Fork of the Kaweah, destorying a reported one-third of the grove's forest. The avalanche and landslide swept down from as high as 7,500 feet, covering hundred of acres, and devastating an area about 2.5 miles long and ranging in width from 1,500 to 4,000 feet. A natural dam was created measuring a half-mile wide and 400 feet high, and the reservoir that formed behind it breached the dam on Christmas night."
"The flood scoured the canyon, then flooded Visalia in the Central Valley to a depth of five feet. Sequoia logs and tree sections were carried to the valley, where they floated far and wide beyond the riverbanks. Though new growth has disguised most signs of the 1867 avalanche in the grove, its effects are still dramatically apparent in the vicinity of Snowslide Canyon, where dense sequoia forest ends abruptly at an avalanche boulder field which swept away all that was growing there before the slide."
After snowslide canyon the trail started descending ever steeper. It was here that I noticed Torreya trees growing. I stopped to tell Candace about them as these are one of my favorite trees to find. To most people they look like just another fir tree, but they are not. Torreya trees are an ancient lineage of trees and now only 4 species are found in the world. One grows in California, one in Florida, one in China, and one in Japan. I think there are more Torreya Trees growing along the trail below the Garfield Grove than I have seen any other place.
The last 2-3 miles of trail descend through dry cedar and oak forest. Parts of this trail are also very overgrown and we found ourselves bush-wacking through thimbleberry many times. Thank goodness thimbleberry isn't a spiny or hard shrub to get through, but it was still taxing. There is also a lot of poison oak along the trail. By the time we got down to the South Fork Campground at 1:15 we were beat. We had hiked 8 miles and descended 4,600 feet. I didn't see Todd right away so we put our packs down on a campsite table and rested a little while. I then managed to get up and walk uphill to the trailhead parking area and he wasn't there. So then I went back to the table to rest a little before I could muster up the strength to go to the lower part of the campground, lol But before that happened up drove Todd in the Subaru. Bless him, he had cold water and Gatorade and a turkey sandwich for us. We loaded up then headed for Three Rivers then south to Springville.
As is tradition, we all ate at El Nuevo. Many a hiker that has visited me has eaten at this little hole-in-the-wall Mexican food place now It was a great way to end another adventure...
Click here to see all the photos from the trip http://www.tarol.com/blossomlakes.html
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir ~ www.tarol.com