As the sun rose above the horizon on the Saturday of Presidents Day weekend, we savored our breakfast, slipped on our snowshoes, and shimmied our way through the snowfields among the giant sequoias.
OK, so maybe the trip didn’t start exactly like this but I’ve always liked alliteration as a literary device. With a general plan of getting on the High Sierra Trail and snowshoeing however far we felt like. We stumbled upon the Wolverton snow play area.
During the winter, this, and presumably other snow play areas in the park, become the centers of winter activity. Here, for $10 a night, one can pitch a tent right next to (or as in the case of a few individuals we observed, right in) the parking lot.
Backcountry permits (self-issue during the winter) can be obtained at the Lodgepole Visitor Center.
Our trip began at Wolverton; the area is bustling with activity during the day. Sledders sledding, children tossing snowballs, and adults heading out for a snowshoeing trip of their own.
At Panther Gap the forest opens up and allows for a breathtaking view of the Southern Sierra Nevada and the valley of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. We took a long lunch huddling behind a boulder to get out of the wind. A group of 3 made their camp in a nice flat spot on the ridge. The location would have been ideal had it not been for the heavy traffic.
Lunch in our bellies, we continued on our way, hoping to make it to the High Sierra Trail, as per our permit. Before reaching Mehrten Meadow we turned South on a 2-mile spur trail headed for the HST. However, with no blazes that we could see and the path burried below untouched snow we lost the trail.
Heading downwards proved to be a challenge especially with large areas of slick snowmelt covered granite. The darkness revealed the lights of what we believe was the city of Fresno at the foot of the mountains. This was surely a reminder of nearly ubiquitous human presence on this planet.
On Sunday we woke up late and headed out for a 3 -ile snowshoe on the trail towards Alta Peak.
The Lodgepole Visitor Center has a video about the bears of Sequioa NP and we highly recommend this one to every visitor. If you don’t know already, this short film shows just how important proper food storage in bear habitat is. The most touching part of the video talks about a bear named Yellow 27 who was a frequent sight at one of the park’s meadows. The bear didn’t mind as onlookers got close to take pictures until one day an ignorant visitor decided to feed the bear. Getting a taste of human food, the bear became dangerous and “had” to be killed, or destroyed as the NPS euphamism for killing goes.
After looking at some of the exhibits we caught the park shuttle (they’re free and a great, environmentally friendly way to get around) to see General Sherman, the most massive tree in the world. It’s not the tallest, or the oldest, but the sheer volume of wood is greater than that of any other tree known to man. The short interpretive trails around the tree provided for great viewing angles, but were very slippery. We watched as people one by one would hop the fence and go up to the tree. When we noticed a whole family start crossing, Sharon couldn’t bite her tongue any longer and let them know what they were doing was wrong. They listened. I’m not sure why they thought the fence was there in the first place. To keep the trees from getting on the trail? I really wish that that people could have more respect for places like these and be considerate of the visitors that come to see them in the future. Its acts like these why, for example, the location of the tallest tree in the world must remain a secret.
Sequoia National Park is a magnificent place. I can’t believe that it took 5 years since moving to California for us to finally visit. I think we may have been a little apprehensive, assuming the park would be crowded, much like Yosemite, but we found quite the opposite. Though many seemed to be enjoying the snow play areas, the trails provided the solitude many backpackers seek. I’m curious whether we’ll have the same experience during the “three seasons” but we definitely look forward to thoroughly exploring Sequoia and its sibling Kings Canyon National Park.